The repetition in Exodus 35-40 functions to demonstrate the exact obedience of the Israelites in fulfilling God’s commands to build the Tabernacle according to the heavenly specifications. The sermon highlighted one occasion where this literary phenomena appears in another Ancient Near Eastern text. There are many examples of meticulous repetition in the Bible itself. Genesis alone exhibits a great deal of this literary feature (for example, compare Gen 12:10-20 // 20:1-18 // 26:6-16. Also notice this feature especially evident in Gen 24. One might also compare Gen 19 with Jdgs 19).
Critical scholars believe this type of characteristic comes from many different authors or pieces of composition that were pieced together by the editors of the book. In other words, Gen 12 and 20 and 26 are three different versions of the same event, woven into the narrative of Genesis rather sloppily.
But many conservative scholars have since discredited this haphazard view of the literature and instead noted that meticulous repetition has a distinct purpose in the original context of the narrative. It is purposeful and meaningful.
The purposeful repetition in Exodus 35-40 highlights the meticulous obedience of the Israelites. In 1 Kings, Solomon builds a more permanent structure for the Ark and the presence of God, called the temple. We don’t see this kind of repetition there since God did not give David or Solomon a vision of a heavenly version of the building in order to copy it. There is quite a bit of detail in the text, some of it paralleling the Exodus account. So it seems that Solomon modeled his temple after the Tabernacle design, upgrading it in nearly every way.
When we fast-forward to Ezekiel, though, we do indeed see a great deal of both detail and repetition in the future temple account (Ezk 40-48). The book of Ezekiel habitually makes use of the literary phenomenon of repetition (for example, compare Ezk 33:7-20 with 3:17-19, 18:23, 31, 24, 21-22, 25-30). The temple account shows repetition in the way it describes the building (for example, compare 40:28-31 // 32-34 // 35-37).
In my view, this degree of detail demonstrates that God did indeed intend to have this temple built one day. Many commentators and scholars tend to spiritualize the details or pass them by rather quickly in an effort to argue that the believers of today are Ezekiel’s “temple.” But just like with Exodus 25-31, the detail in Ezekiel 40-48 pushes readers towards a literal interpretation.
These final chapters of Ezekiel were written after Solomon’s temple had fallen to the Babylonians in 586 BC (Ezk 40:1). God gives him a vision of a future temple that will be built in the land upon the return.
When the people are finally brought back into the land (Ezra 1:1-3), one might expect that they immediately begin to get to work to build this future temple. However, while the people of Zerubbabel’s day did indeed rebuild the temple, it is nowhere near as magnificent as what Ezekiel envisioned, nor does it even compare with the previous temple (Ezra 3:12-13). What is conspicuously absent is the level of meticulous repetition in detail that we have seen in Exodus 35-40. The text narrates comparatively quickly through the temple rebuilding process, absent any reports on dimensions or details. This is unlike both Moses’s Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple.
To put it another way, if we are to understand Zerubabbel’s temple (the “second temple”) as Ezekiel’s temple, we might expect at least some detailed comparison to Ezekiel 40-48 or perhaps some repetition of that previous report. But we find none. Also absent are reports of the descending glory of God, as we have in the Exodus and Kings accounts. The second temple report is both qualitatively and quantitatively different in the way it describes the building and the process involved. Readers are not meant to understand that this temple is a permanent answer to the exilic crises, or a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophetic visions.
This means that believers have the privilege of still looking forward to yet another literal temple, one which will be filled with the presence of God. Because of the meticulous detail in Ezekiel 40-48, we can expect meticulous fulfillment in the future.