Aaron, Golden Calf, Mt. Sinai, Law of Moses, Sin Offering, ark of the covenant, arc of the covenant, census of Israel, Levitical Priesthood, linear logic, block logic, Hebrew quirks
Based on the order of appearance, Exodus 24-31 seems to place the plan for a Tabernacle and even the place of the Levitical priesthood immediately after the confirmation of the Sinai covenant and before the Golden Calf. However, there is no clear indication of the need for the Tabernacle in the Sinai covenant. If the Sinai covenant needed the tabernacle, it should have been up and functioning from the day the covenant was confirmed, otherwise Israel would have been breaking that covenant made at Sinai.
In contrast, the Levitical priesthood was prepared to function from the day the covenant of Deuteronomy was confirmed. Moses likely was removed from the chain of command on that day (Deu 32:48-50, 34:1-5). Everything necessary for that Moab covenant to function was in place as of that day. Everything necessary for the Sinai covenant needed to be in place as of its confirmation too. Neither the tabernacle nor the Levitical priesthood were a function of that covenant.
The firstborn were the priests as of the Sinai covenant. There is no indication in the Sinai covenant, recorded for us in Exodus 20-23, that would change. However, the firstborn were exchanged for the tribe of Levi (Ex 13:2, Num 3:12, 41, 45) about nine months later.
Num 3:45 "Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites shall be Mine: I am the LORD.”
Generally Numbers deals with events towards the beginning of the second year in the wilderness (Num 1:1). Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests the beginning of the second year, about nine months after the Sinai covenant was confirmed. This was about seven months after the episode of the golden calf. They were anointed when the Tabernacle was completed.
Ex 40:2 "On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting… 12 "Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of meeting and wash them with water.…15 "You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations." (see also Lev 1:1, 8:1-9:24)
Deuteronomy 10:5-8 indicates the Levites were chosen toward the end of Moses second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai. There is obviously an inset section in this text that talks of Israel's camps after they left the area of Sinai. Aaron and the rest of the Levites were anointed while they were still in Sinai (Lev 8-9, 1:1, Num 8, 1:1). The Levites carried the Ark and Tabernacle as they broke camp leaving Mt. Sinai (Num 10:11-22). They had obviously been chosen as the priestly tribe by that time.
Although some translations connect the choosing of Levi with the travels to the other camps, Levi was certainly chosen while still at Sinai. The reference to the other camps in verse 6 & 7 is the inset. Removing that inset directly connects verse 8 with verse 5, which connects the choosing of Levi with Moses second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai. Both verse 5 and 8 deal with the Ark of the Covenant, the responsibility for it and the replacement tablets. The flow of thought from verse 5 to 8 is perfectly logical and continues through verse 10.
This time of Levi’s choosing is supported in Exodus 32:26-29. The tribe of Levi was not drafted to clean house after the Golden calf, but volunteers were requested apparently from all Israel. Levi volunteered. “then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, "Whoever is on the LORD’S side--come to me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him." (Ex 32:26) If Moses understood the Levites were to be special representatives of the Creator it would be logical for him to press them directly into service rather than request volunteers. Once they were done, Moses expected they would receive a blessing for their efforts, but there is no indication he knew what that would be. “Then Moses said, "Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother”(Ex 32:29). Designation as priests, judges and teachers in Israel as a result of this action fits well with Deuteronomy 10:5, 8 and a later exchange with the firstborn (Num 3:41).
Consider as well that Numbers goes to the trouble of recording the names of Aaron’s sons as of Moses second 40 day stay ‘on Mt. Sinai’ (Num 3:1-2). It seems that must have been considered important information for the national archives. This fits with the tribe of Levi being chosen at that time.
So we have a quandary. There is no definitive indication in the Sinai covenant that there needed to be a tabernacle. There was also no indication that the tribe of Levi would be set up as the exclusive priests. Indeed the indication is that the whole nation would be priests (Ex 19:5-6). Also other accounts indicate Levi was not chosen to be priests to Israel until later after the episode of the golden calf. Yet we have plans for the tabernacle immediately after the Sinai covenant with the Levitical priesthood in charge of it.
Certainly someone was going to be needed to attend to certain duties of the tabernacle. Aaron as a firstborn, could have been designated as priest at the tabernacle before Levi was chosen. However, Exodus 28:1 clearly shows that all Aaron’s sons were to be included when Aaron was anointed, not just his firstborn son. So this is not talking of a priesthood of the firstborn, but of Levi. In fact, there is no connection at all between the tabernacle and the priesthood of the firstborn even though they were the official priests during and immediately after the Sinai covenant confirmation.
Actually, Jewish tradition recognizes a timing controversy regarding the instruction to build the Tabernacle. “Rashi (who follows the Midrash Tanchuma [an earlier Torah commentary]), notes the many Scriptural and Talmudic indications that the Sanctuary was in response to, and an atonement for, the sin of the Golden Calf. Accordingly, Rashi is of the opinion that the divine instructions contained in the sections of Terumah and Tetzaveh [Ex 25-30] were communicated to Moses … following Israel's repentance, … and Moses' receiving of the Second Tablets.” (http://www.chabad.org/global/popup/default_cdo/aid/1329/jewish/Sin-and-Sanctity.htm)
Rashi is not the sole proponent of this perspective: The commentary of Sforno (Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, Italy, 1470-1550) to Shemot 31:18 states: “...the original intention of God at the deliverance of the Torah was not fulfilled as he has said 'and you will be to me a nation of priests and a holy people' (19:6) and as he said: 'an altar of earth you shall make for me... anywhere I will come to you.' Now it is necessary to build a Mishkan (tabernacle) [and the Torah] is informing us that this is a direct cause of the erred choice of the Children of Israel, for although at the end of the first forty days He gave the Tablets in order to sanctify the entire nation as priests... now they have rebelled... and have fallen from their (spiritual) level, as the Torah testifies: and the Children of Israel lost the crowns which they had from the Mountain of Horeb (Sinai)." ( from: https://etzion.org.il/en/mishkan) ( Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno[Seforno] was an Italian rabbi, Biblical commentator, philosopher and physician. He was born at Cesena about 1475 and died at Bologna in 1550.)
Of course, this issue came about because we assume that the order of appearance in Scripture is the order of occurrence.
The Hebrew authors and ancient Hebrew speakers in general, are not concerned with chronological order or timing the way we are. Deuteronomy 1:6-19 indicates that Moses set up his captains of tens, fifties, hundreds etc. shortly before they left the area of Sinai. The setting of the tens, fifties, etc. is also what Jethro recommended and apparently was done in Exodus 18:17-24. It makes little sense that this was done before the Sinai covenant of Exodus 20 and then again less than a year later when Israel was leaving Sinai. It is the same event recorded for two slightly different purposes. Exodus 18 is just not overly concerned about informing us of the exact timing.
A similar quirk, shows up in the beginnings of the ark of the covenant. Different accounts appear to disagree about when the tablets were placed in it. Deuteronomy 10:5 indicates the tablets were put in the ark when Moses came down from Sinai after receiving them. Exodus 40:20 indicates the tablets/testimony were placed in the ark when Moses set up the tabernacle. The point is, the ancient Hebrews were not concerned about timing the way we are. The tablets were put into the ark. Exactly when that happened was not overly important, especially in Exodus 40. So we can be confused about timing if we assume our own fetish with timing or strict chronological order of everything in Exodus as well as other Hebrew writings.
The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy are the introduction to the covenant confirmed in that book. The purpose of a covenant introduction is to explain how they came to need and make the covenant. Being a reminder of recent history the account there is more concerned with timing than Moses’ other accounts of the same events. Even at that the intro in Deuteronomy is not in perfect time order either, but in relating Israel's adventures there is reason to pay more attention to details of timing. Deuteronomy seems to be more precise about those things.
We also need to consider that the designation of Aaron and sons as priests in the tabernacle account of Exodus 25-30 is appropriate. The tabernacle is exclusively a Levitical building. It is the entire tabernacle account that is out of place. If the instruction to build the tabernacle is in proper order it should have been connected to the firstborn rather than Aaron & sons. The firstborn were the priests during and immediately after the Sinai covenant was confirmed. There seems to be no connection between the firstborn and the tabernacle.
The Sinai covenant intended all Israel would represent the Creator (Ex 19:5-6). As such everyone was allowed to build their own altar (Ex 20:24-26). They could have been built virtually anywhere in the world. No particular place was designated. Neither is there any requirement to purify those altars for seven days the way the Tabernacle altar needed to be purified (Ex 29:37). When the Sinai covenant was confirmed just five or six days after Israel’s arrival at the mount, young bulls were being offered likely by some firstborn (Ex 19:1, 11, 24:4-5) on an altar that was apparently constructed that day. The altar of earth or uncut stones was inherently pure. Anyone was approved to offer sacrifice to the Creator on it.
The altar before the tabernacle is not inherently pure nor what the Sinai covenant expected. It needed a special seven day purging ceremony to make it acceptable. This seems a step down to a less desirable altar, not to mention alienation of the nation of priests Israel was to be. This is really contrary to the intention of the Sinai covenant supposedly just days after it was confirmed.
Sacrifices are not something the Creator greatly desires. If there were a need or desire to offer them, every family had someone who could do that according to the Sinai covenant (Ex 20:24-26). A single physical building/tabernacle/temple is not desirable when everyone is functioning as a priest. They perform that function no matter their geographical location. That was the intention of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:5-6, 20:24). Why would the Creator move to push aside His holy nation of priests just a few days after His covenant was confirmed with them? The failure of the firstborn to stop the construction of the golden calf would certainly be good reason. However, that would put the timing after Exodus 32.
Exodus 25:8 is the first place, according to the standard order, that mentions the Creator wanting to dwell with Israel. Moses pleads for something like this to happen in Exodus 34:9 as he goes up Mt. Sinai after the golden calf. If this is so important to Moses in Exodus 34 why isn't there a similar request before Exodus 20? Before that time Moses had many conversations with the Creator. There is no indication he had to go outside the camp or somewhere else to communicate with Him. Was the Creator not among Israel at that time? Certainly He was, but that changed after the Golden Calf. Moses had to move His tent far outside the camp to be able to talk to Him (Ex 33:7). The Golden calf drove the Creator out of the camp! He had been going among them in the camp until then, or at least Moses saw no reason to think He wasn't with them.
The Creator’s plan to dwell among Israel in the tabernacle (Ex 25:8) is more likely a response to Moses' plea of Exodus 34:9 and/or Exodus 33:15-17. Moses's sudden need to go far outside the camp to communicate with the Creator made it blatantly apparent His relationship with Israel and to a degree Moses had changed. Where before He was among them, now He had separated Himself.
Notice that when Moses went to meet the Eternal on Mt. Sinai at his second 40-day stay, he asked the Eternal to ‘go among us’.
Exodus 34:9 ‘Then he said, "If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance."’
He was asking the Eternal to move among Israel as had been the case before Moses had to provide a tent far outside the camp (Ex 33:7) in order to communicate with Him. Moses wanted the earlier relationship restored. However, that earlier condition was not restored. The Tabernacle would not enable the Creator to ‘go among’ Israel, but it would enable Him to ‘dwell among them’(Ex 25:8). He could dwell among them if the Levites were a buffer to keep the other tribes a comfortable distance away.
The Levites were placed around the tabernacle when it was completed. Moses then went to that place to get instruction. This did not restore the Creator’s communication with Moses to what it had been before the golden calf. He still went to the tabernacle of meeting to meet with his Maker.
So the Tabernacle didn't restore things to the conditions that existed as of the Sinai covenant, before the golden calf. It seemed to create a closer relationship, but it was closer only compared to Moses’ tent far outside the camp. It didn’t create a closer relationship compared to the time of the confirmation of the Sinai covenant and before, but a more distant one.
The existence of the tabernacle was a step down from the way things functioned before the golden calf, at least for Moses. If the tabernacle was in the works immediately after the Sinai covenant was confirmed, why? Why would the Creator move to step down His relationship with Moses and Israel at about the same time they were eating and drinking in celebration of their newly minted close covenant relationship?
The tabernacle was made so the Creator could come back among Israel again. However, He wouldn’t ‘go among them’ as before. The tabernacle would have a buffer of Levites to keep the rest of Israel at arm’s length. Moses could go there to communicate with his Maker.
Because the Hebrews do not share our sense of timing we can't impose our sense of timing on what they wrote. We must consider all the accounts of events in order to put things in chronological order. If we arrange the order based on all the other accounts, the evidence dictates that the plans for the Tabernacle were given about the same time or after the Levites were chosen during the second 40 day stay on the mountain. The tabernacle had no place in the Sinai covenant. It was designed as a compromise in response to Moses plea to spare Israel from destruction and his request of Exodus 34:9 that the Creator would again ‘go among them’.
Other timing indicators
Ex 29:36 "And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement. You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it.”
Based on the location of this instruction in Exodus it also seems to have come from Moses first trip up Mt. Sinai after the confirming of the Sinai covenant. It also appears to indicate that sin offerings were planned before the golden calf and before the explanation of sin offerings in Leviticus 4-7. The morning and evening sacrifices are also mentioned in verses 38-39. However, Leviticus 7:37-38 and Numbers 28:6 both connect the implementation of sin offerings and the daily offerings with the instruction Moses received “on/at Mt. Sinai”(בְּהַר סִינָי). This connects with Moses second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai and the “on Mt. Sinai” instruction Moses passed to the elders of Israel recorded in Exodus 34:32.
“Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai (בְּהַר סִינָי)” (Ex 34:32).
The Hebrew text designating Mt. Sinai is identical in all these cases. This describes events that happened as Moses was returning to the camp after his second 40-day stay on Mt. Sinai.
Jeremiah 7:22-24 makes clear that animal sacrifices were not commanded when Israel came out of Egypt. They were a reaction to Israel’s failures. The Creator’s relationship with Israel seems to be quite good as of Exodus 24. Moses and the Elders ate a meal with the Creator or His representative immediately after the covenant was confirmed (Ex 24:10-11). A meal between the parties of a covenant was a standard tradition. The superior party was welcoming the new vassals into His family to be under the protection of His roof. (see. Treaty and Covenant, by Dennis J. McCarthy Pg. 254, Biblical institute Press, Rome, 1978).
The sin offerings mentioned in Exodus 29 are to be offered in the process of consecrating Aaron and his sons. Considering that Levi, including Aaron the high priest, was chosen as of Moses second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai it is unlikely the plans for his anointing would have come very much before that time.
Exodus 29:38-39 talks of the morning and evening sacrifices required at the tabernacle. These are specifically mentioned in Numbers 28:6 as being commanded ‘on Mt. Sinai’. This is the occasion of Moses second 40-day stay on the mountain after the golden calf. As indicated by Jeremiah 7:22-24, there was no reason to implement these things with a properly functioning Sinai covenant. Jeremiah 7:22-24 is clear; the sacrifices were implemented because of Israel's failure. So again, other scriptures place the timing on Mt. Sinai after the golden calf, not before. The golden calf was the point of failure.
Consider that Numbers records a command to take a census of Israel minus the tribe of Levi. Much of the first few chapters of Numbers are related to that census. Numbers clearly states that happened the first day of the second month their second year in the wilderness (Num 1:1-2, 18). That was about 8 months after the golden calf.
Num 1:18 “and they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month; and they recited their ancestry by families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, each one individually.”
Num 1:49 "Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel”.
The count of the tribe of Levi was done separately (Num 3:15, 3:39). It seems apparent the reason this census was done was to document the trade of the non-firstborn Levites for the firstborn of the other tribes (Num 3:45-46). This same census is referred to in Exodus 38:26 where a half shekel tax is imposed on those included in the census. One could easily assume this census was taken before the tabernacle was erected since it appears before Exodus 40 where the tabernacle is erected. However, Numbers 1:18 is quite specific that this census was taken on the first day of the second month, which would have been a month after the tabernacle was erected. The census total is identical to that in Exodus 38:26 (Num 1:46, 2:32). Yet Exodus 38 appears to be of a time before the tabernacle was complete. Numbers 2 is certainly after the tabernacle was built.
As it turns out, this same tax is mentioned in Exodus 30:12-14 and this account anticipates a census will be done. The tax is so “that there may be no plague among them when you number them” (Ex 30:12d). That doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a Patron who is basking in the glow of a fresh new relationship of cooperation with His children. That sounds more like a Creator that is displeased with taking a census and is ready to toast anyone who steps out of line. It is called ‘atonement money’ (Ex 30:16). Did the Creator require them to take a census and then charge them for the sin of taking the census?
This strange approach on the part of the Creator is easily understood if one considers that He was opposed to any census, but required it because the firstborn failed in their responsibility. In that case this area of Exodus is not intended to be considered sequential in time. It is not in time order, but subject order. It is simply describing things related to the tabernacle. The mention of Aaron and his sons in chapter 27/28 and the sin offerings of chapter 29 cannot be taken as indications of timing relative to Exodus 32, and the golden calf. The timing of the Levites choosing (Deu 10:5, 8), the commanding of the required sacrifices (Lev 7:37-38, Num 28:6) and the timing of the census (Num 1:18, 2) are specified in other areas of Moses record. The timing always follows the episode of the golden calf. Like the tabernacle itself, these things were implemented in reaction to the golden calf and Moses plea to spare Israel.
Actually, Aaron came within a breath of being destroyed along with the rest of the troublemakers. "And the LORD was very angry with Aaron and would have destroyed him; so I prayed for Aaron also at the same time” (Deu 9:20). Did the Creator definitively choose Aaron as His high priest months before the tabernacle would be completed only to find that he was worthy of death days after being chosen? Aaron’s place in Exodus 27-29 is not as a firstborn priest, but as the high priest of the Levitical priesthood (Ex 28:1).
Moses' instruction to the people to give for the tabernacle was recorded after the second 40-day stay on Mt. Sinai (Ex 35:4-20). Yet the Creator’s instruction to Moses about this was in Exodus 25:2-8. We saw that Moses was anxious that the Creator would dwell among Israel, (Ex 34:9). Wouldn’t he then make construction of the tabernacle a high priority? If Moses wanted the Creator to be among Israel, wouldn’t we expect him to begin the construction of this house as soon as possible? If chapter 25 is in time sequence, Moses had the plans and he had the means to begin construction before his second 40-day stay on Mt. Sinai. It would seem that he would want to do that and give his Maker every reason possible to see a desire in Israel to do His will. Yet he apparently did nothing to start construction. However, if the tabernacle was first introduced on Moses second 40-day stay on Mt. Sinai, Moses is being diligent and responsive to the instruction of the Creator.
The Hebrew mind that compiled the record of Exodus 25-30 was bringing together items related to the tabernacle. It was not overly concerned with the timing of that instruction, but rather the relative significance. Like the confirmation of the Sinai covenant the tabernacle was a major part of society in Israel. The timing was documented elsewhere. Lack of concern for the sequential ordering of a matter is not unusual in Hebrew accounts.
Hebrews and Timing
The construction of the Ark of the Covenant is a fairly good example of exactly that lack of focus on timing. Exodus 35 relates how Moses directed the construction of the tabernacle, including the construction of the Ark (vs 12).
Sequentially, it would seem that this must have happened after chapter 34 which talks of Moses second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai that is also talked about in Deuteronomy 10:3-5. The actual construction of the Ark is not documented until Exodus 37:1-5, which we would assume to be at least weeks after the second 40 day stay on Mt. Sinai three chapters earlier. However, Deuteronomy 10:3-5 quotes Moses as building the Ark before he went up Mt. Sinai for his second 40 day stay. He put the tablets in the Ark once he came down. On the other hand Exodus 40:17-20 make it look like he didn’t put the tablets into the Ark until the tabernacle was set up.
If we are going to try to understand the timing of the construction of the Ark we must determine which if any account is concerned with timing. Exodus 35-38 is not specific at all with regards to time. Exodus 40 is concerned with the date the tabernacle is finished and ready for use, but not really anything else. As part of a covenant introduction Deuteronomy 10 is at least somewhat concerned about the order of events and timing. Throughout the first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy Moses is reminding the nation of events as they journeyed in the wilderness. Generally he is reviewing these events in time order. Certainly throughout chapters 9 & 10 this is so.
If we want to know the timing, then Deuteronomy10 is the most likely to be careful of those details.
We should also consider that the account in Deuteronomy indicates the ark was made out of wood (10:1). Moses was not told to make an ark like he was shown earlier. Certainly the ark that sat in the Holiest place was also made out of wood but it was covered with gold ( Ex 25:10-11). There is no mention of this in Deuteronomy. This could be an indication that the gold overlay was added later when the full plan for the tabernacle came into being.
The account of Exodus 40 is specific regarding when the tabernacle was ‘reared up’. Likely this is really focusing on when it was completed and ready to be consecrated. On this day Aaron and his sons were also going to begin an eight day consecration which included baths and animal sacrifices (Lev 8:33, 35, 9:1-4). Moses was instructed to ‘set up’ the tabernacle and offer animal sacrifices for Aaron. It seems apparent this was going to be a very busy day for Moses if he had to set up the tabernacle himself and officiate at the consecration of Aaron and his sons.
It also appears, according to Exodus 40, that as soon as it was set up that the presence of the Creator, what is called in Hebrew the Shekinah, occupied the tabernacle. However, if we examine the account of the anointing of Aaron and his sons it is clear the Shekinah occupied the tabernacle on the eighth day, once Aaron’s consecration was complete (Lev 9:1, 4, 23). Precise timing is not necessarily of major concern to Hebrew writers. So we can’t assume that Moses waited until this first day of the second year to put the tablets into the Ark based on the account in Exodus 40.
Time consciousness is a trait of linear logic, not block logic typical of the Hebrew mind. The account of Exodus 25-30 that really didn’t have existence until after Exodus 32 should not confuse us. Exodus 25-30 is focused on the tabernacle and its service. Based on its location relative to Exodus 24 and 31 it appears to belong to Moses first trip up Mt. Sinai, immediately after the Sinai Covenant. However, after considering the details of its contents it is apparent both the tabernacle and the Levitical priesthood came about because of the events of Exodus 32 and the golden calf.
It is well understood that ancient Hebrews did not have our perspective on timing. (see: The Hebrew Concept of Time, by Ronnie Littlejohn, pp. 53-56. Biblical Illustrator, Winter 1999-2000) The accounts are contradictory if we assume chronological order. If we don't assume the order of appearance in Exodus they fit together well. In any case, the bulk of evidence does not support Exodus 25-30 being integral to the Sinai covenant.
It follows that the Tabernacle plans came at about the same time as the Levites were chosen to service it. A single physical tabernacle/temple is not fitting when every head of house is functioning as a priest in their own geographical area. That was the intention of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:5-6). This is the case again now that the Levitical system has been dissolved (John 4:20-24, I Cor 3:16, I Pet 2:5, 9).
2Cor 5:16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." This verse seems to be a reference to Lev 26:11-12. It is interesting that ultimately our Creator wants to again ‘walk among’ us. Dwelling nearby with a Levitical buffer is not the relationship He wants. That was a compromise by the Creator in order to allow Israel to live and inherit the Promised Land. That was not His intention with the Sinai covenant either.