God’s Reputation is at Stake
Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1–40:38
by Rabbi Aaron Allsbrook, Ohev Yisrael, Springfield, VA
God is a specific God. He loves details. He shares these details with his servants. His children hear his voice and they obey. This week’s parashah deals with many details of the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). It reminds me of building Legos as a kid. One saw the final product on the cover and then went through page by page, step by step, as to how to build the foreseen picture. Bezalel, Oholiab, and many unnamed others had the privilege of constructing this heavenly design here on earth. Dimensions were given, materials were specified, how to connect the parts was explained, and the people all gave of their own possessions so that this could be accomplished. It was to be an amazing structure, something praiseworthy, a true treasure to have in the midst of this newly redeemed people.
The purpose of this building was to house the presence of God and allow the people to approach him, with certain degrees of closeness for different people. It was situated in the midst of this nomadic camp. Eventually, God would specify where he wanted it to rest permanently once the Hebrews dwelled securely in the land of Canaan.
Reading through the descriptions of the exactitude and specificity of the mishkan’s materials and design, one can’t help but be impressed. The amount of gold, silver, bronze, and copper is staggering. The tapestry and craftsmanship were of the highest level. And to make it even more impressive, this was all collapsible and able to be reassembled so it could go with the people on their journeys.
This awesome transportable building eventually became the temple of Solomon, a structure made of stone and cedar, one even more ornate and grandiose than the mishkan. It was a sight that gave the people hope, pride, and security, knowing that the house of the presence of God was in their midst.
While this house was amazing in both its incarnations, one had to be of a certain level of cleanness to be able to enter into it. If someone became unclean through contact with a dead person, say on the field of battle, or being in one’s home when a relative died, that person was unable to enter God’s home. This person had to be cleansed, and, once again, God is very specific as to how one does this.
In this week’s special maftir (additional reading) for Shabbat Parah (Num 19:1–22), we read about an elaborate procedure in which a red heifer is burned outside of the camp, whose ashes, mixed with some other specific elements, would purify the impure and allow that former outcast to be welcomed back into the presence of God.
All of this, however, can go a step further. In the haftarah for this Shabbat (Ezek 36:16–38), God is quite upset with Israel. Israel is in exile, the temple is razed, and the people have done something much worse than becoming unclean: they’ve defiled the name of God in the eyes of the nations to which they have been exiled. The people did terrible things while in the land of Israel, spilt innocent blood, created and worshiped idols, and sacrificed to false gods alongside the temple service. This made the land and the people unclean, and it defamed the name of God, the worst sin of all.
The nations knew that Israel is the people of God and yet they were driven from their land (Ezek 36:20). While this embarrassed Israel for sure, it made God look really bad. The God that took his people out of mighty Egypt, destroyed the seven nations of Canaan, gave Solomon the wisdom to build his mighty empire, now must deal with the question, “What happened to the nation of Israel? Weren’t they supposed to be different?”
God won’t let his reputation become tarnished, so he tells Ezekiel about a time to come when God himself will cleanse his people so that their behavior will bring God glory, so that he may once again dwell in the midst of his people, and so that they nations may know that “the Lord, he alone is God” (1 Kings 18:39).
Yeshua teaches us to let our good works shine so that others may see them and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16). What we do either gives God glory or makes him look bad. The good news is that now, in the new covenant, prophesied about in the haftarah, the Spirit of God guides us to walk in his way (cf. Ezek 36:27). Why? So that God is glorified! He does this for his sake (Ezek 36:22), so, starting with Israel and going out into the nations, all may know that he alone is supreme and indescribably merciful.
With this amazing work of God, we are to broadcast what he’s done. So I pose a question: who knows what God has done? Only you? Your family? Your congregation? Is God receiving glory for how he has purified you from dead works into righteousness, how he is bringing you from glory to glory, deeper into his presence, now accessible to all in boldness through the work of Messiah Yeshua? Our congregations and all our congregants are to be living billboards that market the glory of God. We cannot hide this, minimize this, or rationalize not sharing it. God went into such painstaking detail to build his earthly dwelling place and to purify those who were unable to enter it. Likewise, he guided Yeshua specifically where to go and what to say (cf. John 5:19, 8:28) so that he could bring us into a deeper intimacy with his presence, something that would transform us.
We are transformed so that we may bring him glory by our good works. More than the beauty of the mishkan, our behavior makes our Father look good. So, be specific about what you do; God’s reputation is at stake.