Monday, May 22, 2017

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Tapestry of Ministry

The Tabernacle and Priesthood described in the Tanakh (i.e., the Old Testament) serves as reminder of the ministry of Yeshua and His followers – for today. There are types and shadows and concepts here, so please note I am not suggesting that we construct a temple and start wearing vestments. Rather, I believe that the Lord revealed the Tabernacle data to us for a reason. That reason did not expire when we were placed under the New Covenant, mind you. We look to God’s written revelation in the Tanakh as we do in the B’rit Chadashah (i.e., the New Testament). Thus, just because we don’t “do it” doesn’t mean we cannot learn from it and grow from it.

In the recent parsha for this week, there is a continued description about the Tabernacle – the place where G-d chose to dwell with Israel. Specifically, the garments of the high priest are described in some detail here. Much is provided, but not everything is revealed; for example, there are explicit directions on the types of materials used for the linen ephod, but the length of the ephod is not explicitly laid out.

What is an ephod you ask? The ephod was to be worn by the high priest (Exodus 28:6) in combination with some other significant adornments such as the breastpiece (Exodus 28:15), the robe (Exodus 28:31) and the turban (Exodus 28:36). Ephods and similar garments were used throughout ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia by pagan priests and royal officials well before Exodus was written. But out of this common cultural context, God chose to do something a little different.

The curious thing to me about the ephod was that it was not just a plain white garment. We might expect that the ephod worn by the high priest was to be pure white – but it wasn’t. Rather, it was linen woven with an array of colors, namely gold, blue, purple, and scarlet (Exodus 28:6). The exact pattern of the color pattern is lost to us, as far as I know. Why would God want a colorful weave, a tapestry as it were, to be worn by the high priest? Why be polychromatic?

Two things this struck me in regard to how the ephod was to be made: the function and the appearance of the ephod.

As for function, the high priest was to wear the ephod in the Tabernacle as part of his ministry. But the funny thing is that the ephod was made from materials strikingly similar to those of the Tabernacle itself. I find this curious – after all, if the Tabernacle is the sanctuary of God, wouldn’t He want to separate man from God as it were by making man wear something different? Why cover the high priest with the same material as the Tabernacle? True, man is not (and can never be) God. But this pattern left me thinking that it is a beautiful reminder of the indwelling presence of God within us. We are to be a temple of the Ruach HaKodesh (1 Corinthians 6:19). It could also be a reminder that the one who now functions as the high priest – Messiah Yeshua (Hebrews 4:14) – consists of the same “stuff” as the Tabernacle. In other words, it might be a reminder of the divinity of the Messiah.

But it gets better – I am also reminded that we as a congregation are to take the Tabernacle with us wherever we go. You see, the Kingdom of God is not a locale per se. It is, among other things, an extension of the authority of God in our lives: His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). And we are to clothe ourselves in it. We can’t just “live in the kingdom” on Shabbat. We are to be the kingdom 24/7. We make it visible and on our person. The fact that the high priest clothed himself in the same stuff of the Tabernacle reminds me that we are to constantly be mindful of the Kingdom of God – wherever we go and in whatever we are doing.

As for appearance, a second curious thing lies in the description of the woven ephod: it was pretty (Exodus 28:2). I’ve seen all sorts of analysis on the “reason” for the blue and purple colors … but in the end the rationale was that it was pretty. Why does God care?

I think that God sees beauty in his congregation, a woven tapestry of colors. The many beautiful colors represent all of us in His service: different talents, backgrounds, politics, races, occupations and so on. We may be varied and different, but in the hands of the Almighty we are woven into a beautiful tapestry – an ephod – a vessel of honor – fit for service. Paul reminds us that we are a many-membered body (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We all come together with different gifts and offerings, but in the end we come together to form a beautiful “ephod” used in service to the King of Kings.

Hopefully you will see the Tabernacle and the vestments in a whole new light - God's light for us as examples of how we as followers of Yeshua can do ministry today.

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