While studying even a grocery list alongside Kass would most likely be edifying, Exodus is an especially arresting alternative. The Tabernacle is frequently ignored because the storyline seems to melt in details of architectural style, building, furnishings, and priestly vestments. Kass frees the Tabernacle into its crucial place not only in the Exodus narrative, but because of distinctively consequential turning point in the general arc of their Scriptures.
Kass invites the unbeliever because he recalls Exodus”philosophically.” He means that he is based on”unaided human reason” to understand the publication’s inherent wisdom. Beyond being a historically significant book for the Christian and Jewish faiths, Exodus additionally provided a common corpus of events and experiences which, historically, Western philosophers, political theorists, constitutionalists, and layfolk drawn upon to their respective talks, even when they depended on the meaning and implications of the shared story.
However in studying the text philosophically, Kass necessarily reads the text . And here even believers–particularly believers–could gain from Kass’s methodology. The seeming over-familiarity with Exodus due to its popular glosses entices believers to think they know its material when they do not. Kass invites the believer to contemplate unknown consequences of familiar texts, and to wrestle with all the publication’s sanity, yet largely ignored, passages.
Kass divides Exodus into three textual”columns”
In the first column, Kass believes the narrative’s talk of this enslavement and liberation of all Israel. He takes the opportunity to draw wider insights in the creation of Israel as a state of formerly enslaved men and women, in addition to the growth of Moses as a pioneer.
Noteworthy in this segment are lessons Kass brings from Israel’s nationhood, classes that relate to the broad Biblical narrative but also to today’s wide-ranging disagreement over nationalism. Kass underscores the remarkable openness of membership in Israel. With few exceptions, membership has been a open classification: it was a matter of covenant, not to mention wolf.
The party of the Passover Feast has been confined to Hebrew households. Nevertheless with circumcision, a”stranger” can behave as a”native of this property” and engage (Exodus 12.48). The legislation abiding”one law” applied to the”native and into the stranger” This construction of Israel’s nationhood contrasts sharply with that of different countries in Scripture’s narrative. Recall that Abraham’s calling follows instantly on the branch of the states in Genesis 10 and 11 (in response to this Tower of Babel). There, states were split and identified”in accordance with their families, based on their languages, with their own lands, by their nations” (Genesis 10.20, etc.). Blood, vocabulary, and soil.
Kass takes pains to present the Ten Commandments in connection with Israel’s special vocation–especially from the call for Israel to be”a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”YHWH calls Abraham (then Abram) promptly following this branch, and informs him that, through him and his children, YHWH would emphasise that the very nations he’d simply judged (Genesis 12.3). To do so, Abraham’s family, and with it the state of Israel, would have to be unlike the just-divided states. Israel could be generated and characterized by covenant instead of by blood. Nevertheless a man who had not descended biologically from Abraham could be counted as a”native of this property” if necessary.
Israel’s cosmopolitanism did not end with appropriate membership in the nation. This should not be a surprise. After all, Genesis accounts that Egyptian laypeople were enslaved prior to the Israelites’ very own enslavement (Genesis 47.19). And Israel’s stunning cosmopolitanism proceeds in frequently unfamiliar ways in later texts: the sojourning”mysterious” was contained in some of the national covenants YHWH made with Israel (e.g., Deuteronomy 29.10-14), Gentiles may offer sacrifices to YHWH (Numbers 15.14, Leviticus 17.8), and Gentiles were invited to pray toward the temple, along together with all the confidence that YHWH would hear (1 Kings 8.41-42).
Unlike Yoram Hazony’s nationalistic studying of the Hebrew Scriptures, Kass sees Israel known as a worldwide vocation for all the countries in Exodus:”What’s striking is the way open to accepting strangers the Children of Israel are encouraged to be and just how generous would be the criteria for allowing outsiders to unite their ranks.”
Covenant and Law
While treating the”fair content” of the commandments in detail, Kass takes pains to present the Ten Commandments in connection with Israel’s special vocation–especially from the call for Israel to be”a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” at Exodus 19. Kass then provides extended consideration into a often-slighted part of Exodus, the”Law of the Covenant” (Exodus 21-23), the set of laws that follows immediately on the demonstration of the Ten Commandments. These laws provide a distinctive civic code, poignantly beginning with the limitation of Hebrew slavery in Israel into a six-year period. Exotic slaves could go free from the sabbath year. The laws and discussion are fascinating.
Though the Ten Commandments are often taken to educate a universal morality, Kass refreshingly underscores that the text doesn’t invite consideration of the Commandments as an abstract ethical system. Instead, the text presents the Commandments as a distinguishing revelation of the personal character of YHWH himself. That is perhaps most obvious at the Sabbath command where Israel re-enacts YHWH’s rest on the seventh day of production:
It’s ontologically rooted in cosmic time and in the universal human ability to celebrate the created order and its Creator, and in our special place as that sequence’s God-like, God-imitating, along with God-praising creatures.
The Ten Commandments aren’t the revived bondage of Israel into a different King. Instead, the Ten Commandments reveal the personality of Israel’s Father so form the character of Israel as YHWH’s”first born son” (Exodus 4.22). Within the narrative, the Ten Commandments educate an individual character liberated to reflect the divine image in which it was originally made; the Commandments form a people who have their humankind completely restored.
The Tabernacle: Paradise Restored
That brings us Kass’s last pillar, and to the neglected part of Exodus. That it’s unsuccessful is ironic, as, as Kass notes, the narrative expressly says that the aim of the Exodus is the construction of the Tabernacle and also what it implies for Israel and for humankind. YHWH describes in the text that he delivered Israel out of Egypt”so that he might forever after live among them” (Exodus 29.46). The ultimate purpose of the Exodus is the Tabernacle.
Starting in Exodus 40, YHWH moves from”out there”–in the mountain which could not be touched, then from your tent pitched a”great space in your camp”–into the midst of the people of Israel, literally dwelling at the center of the Israelite community.This is a momentous twist not only in the book of Exodus, but at the general narrative of this Scripture. Kass points out that what occurs with the building of the Tabernacle is not merely”national liberation, political founding, and adequate social morality.” The purpose of the Exodus, Kass writes, is nothing less than the yield of YHWH’s”Presence” into Israel and to humankind. The Tabernacle represents the restoration of what humankind lost with the Fall; it’s Paradise restored.
In the sweep of the last half of Exodus, we see the impressive movement of God’s Presence from distant and remote to close and accessible. The motion starts in Exodus 19. This YHWH descends onto the mountain “meet the people.” But at this first meeting, no doubt but Moses and Aaron can”go up on the mountain or touch the border of it” Darkness, dread, and space characterized this first assembly (Exodus 19.16-24).
Israel is drawn nearer to YHWH’s Presence in Exodus 24. Following a covenantal blood rite, seventy of Israel’s elders are allowed onto the mountain, an activity banned only five chapters before (prior to the blood rite). Prefiguring the Tabernacle’s layout, YHWH here licks on the firmament that divides earth and heaven (Genesis 1.6-8) to fulfill the priests and display them hospitality as they”eat and drink” in His Presence. (The bluish coloration within the Tabernacle and of the priest’s garments arouses the sapphire firmament under YHWH’s ft in Exodus 24. [Watch the walls of at Tabernacle in Exodus 26.1, the display splitting the holiest of holies in the holy place in 26.31, and the high priest’s ephod at 28.31] Heaven and earth meet collectively in the Tabernacle since they did around the mountain)
Drawing nearer however, YHWH’s Presence following leaves the mountain and descends to the same degree as the people. Moses assembles a temporary prototabernacle to get God’s Presence (Exodus 33.7). Consequently, though nearer to the people, this tent for YHWH’s Presence nevertheless had to be put”a fantastic distance in the camp” (Ex 33.7).
The final move is the most striking of all. Starting in Exodus 40, YHWH moves from”out there”–in the mountain which could not be touched, then from your tent pitched a”great space in your camp”–into the midst of the people of Israel, literally dwelling at the center of the Israelite community.
Moses for the first time puts up the now-completed Tabernacle. In reaction, the Glory-Cloud takes up residence in it with a Presence so intense that even Moses can’t input (Exodus 40.35).
But this is just the start. The remarkable results of this Tabernacle requires we follow the narrative via Leviticus and Numbers to its conclusion about a month later. Each the detailed directions in Leviticus and Numbers–sacrifices and offerings, priests, and cleanliness laws, etc.–are all given to construct a social environment where the existence of YHWH can dwell in the midst of the population without killing them (e.g., Leviticus 15.31, 16.16, cf., Exodus 33.5, Numbers 5.3.)
These instructions enable the closing dramatic movement. In the camp, the Levites dwell in a circle round the Tabernacle (Numbers 1.53), with the rest of the tribes subsequently arranged around the Tabernacle and the Levites (Numbers 2.2). The remarkable upshot is that: In the motion from Exodus 19 through the design and building of the Tabernacle, to directions for the work in and about the Tabernacle in Leviticus and Numbers, God’s existence has moved out of the distant top of this mountain–a mountain which could not even be touched–into the heart of the Israelite community. God once more walks one of humankind; Eden has been restored (Genesis 3.8, Leviticus 26.12).
The book of Exodus is a pivotal book, both because of its place in the general arc of the Biblical narrative, but also because of the role that storyline has played in forming conceptions of nationhood and liberty. Leon Kass’s notable comment provides insights on each page, where to learn and which to wrestle.