As I put it to my doctor at my free annual health check yesterday (God bless socialized medicine!), I just came off a bad week at the end of a bad month. It’s been very stressful for me lately, leaving me uncertain about my job and my future.
One of my bright spots every week is doing aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts that is entirely self-defense. Oh sure, judo and karate say they’re for self-defense, but you can still start a fight with them. Aikido is completely responsive, and emphasizes mastering form. You have to learn to take a lot of pain as much as give it out.
I mentioned briefly in another post that before and after every meet we have to bow to a wall-mounted altar and say thank you to the deity (nobody in the club knows what it is). I take the time to actually pray to my God, which I’m not very good at doing. And when I was praying this week, having just read about the construction of the ark, I was struck by the idea of God’s presence settling on the on the ark: “There I will meet you, and from above the mercy-seat” (25:22).
You see, in Shinto, the gods were never depicted in human form prior to the introduction of Buddhism, and still not frequently afterwards. Gods were disembodied, and their presence was called down to inhabit objects – rocks, mirrors, simple wooden staffs – temporarily so that they could be worshiped.
The ark seems to take that idea and push it one step further by having God’s presence inhabit the empty space between the cherubim. God’s presence inhabits empty space. He’s not confined to an object even temporarily.
This also seems to indicate that, while God has demonstrated near omnipotence and omniscience in the liberation from Egypt, he doesn’t seem to be omnipresent, at least not in a full sense. God has a presence that gathers at the mountain, meets people on the mercy-seat of the ark. Maybe he is arguably omnipresent, but there’s a locus, a center to God that’s capable of moving around.
Which is maybe why his temple is supposed to be a movable tent, which is what this chapter describes. I don’t have a lot to add. It’s mostly just an intense description of exactly how to sew the curtains.
It does introduce the idea of a holy-of-holies (v 31-35). The ark is placed in an inner chamber in the tabernacle, the most sacred part of a sacred place. The ark has to be taken out to be moved around, but presumably God’s presence only settles on it when it’s inside the “the most holy place” (v 34). Again you have Durkheim’s idea of the sacred being generated by its separateness – as well as the idea, perhaps, that just like at the mountain, God’s full presence is dangerous for those not prepared.
And as a Christian, it’s hard not to remember that this curtain, this barrier of the sacred and profane, is said to have ripped in half at Christ’s death. He was all about breaking down barriers, that Jesus.
The Japanese: ishouka “house design” (v 1), amaru “to be left over,” yobun “extra, excess,” tarasu “to drape” (v 12), daiza “pedestal” (v 19), taga “hoop” (v 24), kinpaku “gold leaf, gilt” (v 29), kagi “hook” (v 32), shiseijo “most holy place” (v 33; the character for “most” implies something like “pinnacle” or “highest reachable”).
Fortunately most of the words in this were repeats of the previous chapter. If you’re too lazy to plot it out yourself (like I was), Wikipedia has some diagrams of what the tabernacle would look like.