Celebrating 60 Years!

Exodus 38-39 – Urim & Thummim, Gold Leaf and a Look Ahead

With 74 verses to preach, there was plenty to pack in to the sermon on Sunday (especially on a communion Sunday, where I try to be a little less wordy than normal!). Because of this, and due to my attempt to keep the theme closely centered on obedience, a few details found their way here instead of in the sermon.

 

Urim & Thummim

Ironically, one thing for this Cutting Room Floor was also in Moses’s cutting room floor! When we compare the text of Exodus 35-40 with the previous instructions in Exodus 25-31, what we find is that there are a few things missing in the construction. One of those things is the Urim and Thummim.

Exodus 39 matches up closely with Exodus 28. But during the description of the priestly garments in Exodus 28, God told Moses to put the “Urim and Thummim” in the breastpiece of judgment upon Aaron’s chest (28:30). Scholars are still not sure exactly what these items looked like, with many guessing they were a black and white rock, or two rocks both with a black and white side. What we are sure about is their purpose: they were used to discern God’s specific will in certain situations. Most likely, the rocks were drawn or perhaps “rolled” and depending on the result, God would communicate to the Israelites a “yes” or “no” answer to their inquiry.

Though the Urim and Thummim are found in the instruction section in Exodus 28, they are missing in Exodus 39. There are a couple of good reasons why these items were omitted from the description of the construction of the priestly clothing.

First, we must emphasize that just because they were omitted from Exodus 39 does not mean they were never used or that they Israelites weren’t obedient to God’s commands in making them. We actually see in Leviticus 8:8, when Aaron puts the breastpiece on for the first time, he places the Urim and Thummim in it at that point.

This may lend a clue to why the items were not mentioned here in Exodus. Some have guessed that these stones may have been natural objects and not manufactured; therefore, they don’t really have a place in this “construction” section of Exodus (Cole, Exodus, 237). Another guess is more likely. We have already seen that the narrative omits some of the smaller details concerning purpose or placement of various objects within the Tabernacle (i.e. Ex 25:15-16 – the poles remaining in the rings of the ark and the 10 Commandments being placed within the ark). In keeping with this pattern, it is not surprising that the Urim and Thummim are not mentioned here (see Durham, Exodus, 494; Stuart, Exodus, 778). We are dealing with construction, not purpose or placement, and the emphasis in Exodus 28:30 was mainly on where they go and why they are used. Plus, with Leviticus 8:8 in perspective, we do have the fulfillment of their usage, but it is held off until the priesthood is officially consecrated and the vestments are in use.

 

Gold Leaf

Exodus 39:3 reads: “And they hammered out gold leaf, and he cut it into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet yarns, and into the fine twined linen, in skilled design” (ESV). This is the exact opposite of our last example. The Urim and Thummim were mentioned earlier in Exodus, but not in chapter 39. The gold leaf, on the other hand, was not mentioned earlier, but does appear here. This is an addition.

Gold was used all over the Tabernacle and its furniture and utensils, sometimes to overlay the item (i.e. the Lampstand) and sometimes woven into the items (i.e. the priestly breastpiece). In Exodus 39:3, we have a description of how the gold was worked out for these various usages.

First, it was hammered out. Gold is an extremely pliable metal. A single ounce of it can be hammered into nearly 100 square feet of material (Stuart, 588)! So the first thing for the Israelites to do would be to hammer it out into “gold leaf,” or gold that has been beaten into a thin and pliable sheet. Then, in a process common to Egypt at the time (Durham 494), they would cut the gold sheet into extremely thin threads, usually in a spiral shape (Sarna, Exodus, 232), that would then be used to weave into the blue and purple and scarlet yarn and fine twined linen. This would obviously require a great deal of skill and careful craftsmanship. It provides us a picture of not only the care that went into the project, but the great value and beauty of the Tabernacle itself.

 

A Sneak Peek

One of the hardest things to cut from this sermon was a few creational elements in Exodus 39:32, 43-44. I plan on opening next week’s sermon with some of it, but for loyal readers of the blog, I figured I’d give you a sneak peek into some of the material.

There are a number of elements in chapter 39 (as well as chapter 40) that remind careful readers of the Creation story. In one of the clearest examples, after the items for the Tabernacle are constructed, they are brought before Moses for him to inspect. The text reads, “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them” (Ex 39:43). The verse seems to deliberately echo the account of Creation: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31a). Then later, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen 2:3).

In both instances, the subject “sees” a completed work, the text reads “behold,” then the work is “blessed.” It is hard to escape the deliberate recall to this Genesis text. The Israelites are like a new creation, or perhaps the Tabernacle is. But either way, God is going to dwell among His people, just as He did after the first Creation.

There may also be an attempt to deliberately model Moses after Noah in this text. Compare Exodus 39:43 with Genesis 6:22:

 

And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them. (Ex 39:43)

 

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Gen 6:22)

 

The connection is a bit easier to see in Hebrew, but the language parallels exactly at many points. The phrase “so had they done it” is the same as “Noah did this,” just with a change in the person. Also, the phrases, “as the LORD had commanded” and “he did all that God commanded him” have many similarities in the language.

If this is indeed a deliberate connection by the narrator, then the perfect obedience in Noah building his God-ordained structure (the ark) compares to the perfect obedience of Moses in overseeing the building of his God-ordained structure (the Tabernacle).

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