Importance of community effort:

All the skilled men among the workmen made the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purpose and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. All the curtains were the same size – twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide.  – NIV Exodus 36:8-9

Making cloth (spinning and weaving) took a great deal of time in Moses’ day.  To own more than two or three changes of clothes was a sign of wealth.  The effort involved in making enough cloth for the tabernacle was staggering.  The tabernacle would never have been built without tremendous community involvement.  Today, churches and neighbourhoods often require this same kind of pulling together.  Without it, many essential services wouldn’t get done.

[..and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. – Exodus 35:21. Those whose hearts were stirred gave cheerfully to the Tent of Meeting (also called the tabernacle).  With great enthusiasm they gave because they knew how important their giving was to the completion of God’s house.  Airline pilots and computer operators can push test buttons to see if their equipment is functioning properly.  God has a quick test button he can push to see the level of our commitment – our wallets.  Generous people aren’t necessarily faithful to God.  But faithful people are always generous.]

[And all the women who were willing and hand the skill spun the goat hair. – Exodus 35:26. Those who spun cloth made a beautiful contribution to the tabernacle.  Good workers take pride in the quality and beauty of their work.  God is concerned with the quality and beauty of what you do.  Whether you are a business executive or a shop cashier, your work should reflect the creative abilities God has given you.]  [Compare = Hair. See Pirates of the Caribbean.]

[They made the curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.Exodus 36:5.  Cherubim are mighty angels.]

[Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood – two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. – Exodus 37:1. The ark (also called the ark of the Testimony or ark of the covenant) was built to hold the Ten Commandments.  It symbolised God’s covenant with his people.  Two gold angels called cherubim were placed on its top.  The ark was Israel’s most sacred object and was kept in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle.  Only once each year, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place to sprinkle blood on the top of the ark (called the atonement cover) to atone for the sins of the entire nation.]


Importance of community responsibility:

If a man is found slain, lying in a field in the land of the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighbouring towns. Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke and lead her down to a valley that has not been ploughed or planted and where there is a flowing stream.  There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck.  The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault.  Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.  Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man.”  And the bloodshed will be atoned for.  So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the LORD. NIV Deuteronomy 21:1-9

When a crime was committed and the criminal got away, the whole community was held responsible. In much the same way, if a city has a dangerous intersection and someone is killed there, the community may be held responsible for both damages and repairs.  God was pointing to the need for the whole community to feel a keen sense of responsibility for what was going on around them and to move to correct any situations that were potentially harmful – physically, socially, or morally.

[They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us.  He is a profligate and a drunkard.” – Deuteronomy 20:20. Archaeologists have uncovered the remnants of many well-fortified cities in Canaan.  Some had tall walls (up to 30 feet high), ramparts, moats, and towers.  Accustomed to fighting on the open plains, the Israelites were going to have to learn new battle strategies to conquer these massive fortresses.]

[If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious.  He will not obey us.  He is a profligate and a drunkard.”  Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.  You must purge the evil from among you.  All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.Deuteronomy 21:18-21.  Disobedient and rebellious children were to be brought before the elders of the city and stoned to death.  There is no biblical or archaeological evidence that this punishment was ever carried out, but the point was that disobedience and rebellion were not to be tolerated in the home or allowed to continue unchecked.]


Need for a holy community:

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayed:

“O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our forefathers until now, our guilt has been great.  Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

“But now, for a brief moment, the LORD our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage.  He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. 

“But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commandsNIV Ezra 9:5-15

Ezra’s prayer confessed the sins of his people. Although he had not sinned in the way his people had, he identified with their sins.  With weeping, he expressed shame for sin, fear of the consequences, and desire that the people would come to their senses and repent.  His prayer moved the people to tears (10:1).  Ezra demonstrated the need for a holy community around the rebuilt temple.  We need a holy community in our local churches too.  Even when we sin in the worst imaginable way, we can turn to God with prayers of repentance.

(After learning about the sins of the people, Ezra fell to his knees in prayer. His heartfelt prayer provides a good perspective on sin.  He recognised: (1) that sin is serious (9:6); (2) that no-one sins without affecting others (9:7); (3) that he was not sinless, although he didn’t have a pagan wife (9:10ff); (4) that God’s love and mercy had spared the nation when they did nothing to deserve it (9:8, 9, 15). It is easy to view sin lightly in a world that sees sin as inconsequential, but we should view sin as seriously as Ezra did.)

[They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” – Ezra 9:2*. Some Israelites had married pagan spouses and lost track of God’s purpose for them.  The New Testament says that believers should not “be yoked together with” unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Such marriages cannot have unity in the most important issue in life – commitment and obedience to God.  Because marriage involves two people becoming one, faith may become an issue, and one spouse may have to compromise beliefs for the sake of unity. Many people discount this problem only to regret it later.  Don’t allow emotion or passion to blind you to the ultimate importance of marrying someone with whom you can be united spiritually.]

[When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered round me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles.  And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.  Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayedEzra 9:3-5. Tearing one’s clothes or pulling hair from one’s head or beard were signs of self-abasement or humility.  They expressed sorrow for sin.]

[Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. – Ezra 9:9. Building a wall was not only a matter of civic pride or architectural beauty, it was essential for security and defence against robbers and marauders (see 9:7).  God in his kindness had given them new life and protection.]

©Dodgsons Kingsway, 1973.

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