I have decided to finish out my Torah studies, which requires that I journey through two of the graveyards of year-long Bible readers: Numbers and Deuteronomy. (Sure, I know that assumes that most make it through Leviticus, but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here.) Anyway, with all of the specific accountings and rules listed in these two books, I can understand why many would warily undertake a read of these books. And, yet, some of the most amazing stories are buried in Numbers, including a talking donkey! (Not nearly as entertaining as Donkey from Shrek, but pretty darn close, just without the pop culture references.)
Back in Exodus, God gave instructions for building the Tent of Meeting, aka “The Tabernacle.” This glorified (literally!) tent would serve as the focal point of God’s interactions with His people, the Israelites both during their journey to Canaan and after settling into the land. The tent would move around, guarded by a contingent of able-bodied Levites, leading the people through the wilderness, and then bringing the presence of God near.
I have to wonder how an Israelite town would react to the news that the Tabernacle would pass by or dwell near town for a while. What joy mixed with fear and awe would well up at the thought of the Mighty Lord of Hosts being so near. Would there be an outpouring of thank offerings? Would there be an outpouring of prayer and worship? Would people breathe a sigh of relief to know that God had not forgotten them?
I also have to wonder at the split that was exacerbated by the Temple’s presence in Jerusalem, Judah, as opposed to Israel, the northern kingdom. Suddenly, people found themselves cut off from that meaningful presence of the Temple and the Tabernacle.
So which are we today? Are we a Temple, who stays in one place, beckoning to one and all to come up to the mountain and worship? Are we a Tabernacle, packing up and heading out at the Spirit’s leading to where the people are? Is one more right than the other?
Of course, you can probably note where my bias lies. I do see the church as a tabernacle rather than a temple. We should be mobile, going out and “making disciples of all the nations.” There is something to be said, though, for having a rallying point, a stationary hospital where we can bring the wounded, torn, and broken for healing. But where are the ambulances?
So when is a tent more than a tent? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in another question: when is a human more than a human?
Photo Credit: Stiftshuette Modell Timnapark.jpg via Wikimedia Commons