Liturgy and Life: The Worship of God and Christian Ethics


‘Liturgy and Life: The Worship of God and Christian Ethics’

International Summer School: New Brunswick Theological Seminary / IRTI / VU / PThU

Tuesday, July 8, 9.00 h

Prof. Dr. Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer (Miskotte/Breukelman Chair; Biblical Hermeneutics)

From Slave’s Work to Service in Freedom: the Unity of the Book of Exodus

Methodical approach: there may be sources as JEDP, but the starting-point of our exegesis has to be the Jetzgestalt or Letztgestalt (Von Rad), or: R. not as Redaktor but as Rabbenu, ‘our teacher’ (Rosenzweig).

– Martin Kessler, Voices from Amsterdam, Atlanta: Scholars Press, Society of Biblical Literature 1994, e.g. xviii, 40.

In the Sinai-traditions of the Book of Exodus the Wellhausen-school distinguishes Ex 19-24 and 32-34 as jehovistic, Ex 25-31 and Ex 35 – Nu 10:16 as part of the Priestly Codex (Von Rad 1957, 202). We will follow Cassuto (Jerusalem 1976), who ignores that alleged division.

1. The main theme and the structure of Exodus

In Ex 3:1 Moses ‘led the flock [of Jethro] behind the desert, and he came to the mountain of God, the Horeb’. There he sees the senèh, the bush that is burning, but that was not consumed. The name senèh may be seen as proleptic for the Sinai and the fire in the bush as proleptic for the fire in which YHWH would descend upon Mount Sinai in Ex 19:18. In the same way the commission of Moses is proleptic for the commission Moses himself later has to pass on to the people: ‘put off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ (Ex 3:5; cf. 19:10ff.). ‘And this shall be the sign for you that I have sent you: [I appraise you now that] when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain’ (Ex 3:12).

The first aim of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt – ‘Go down, Moses, / Way down in Egypt’s land, / Tell old Pharaoh, / Let my people go’! – is ‘to bring them up’ (leha’alotoh, Ex 3:8) to the holy mountain for the service of the God, who announces himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, remembering his covenant with them (Ex 2:24). This God is descending to his poor people to exalt them through his servant (Joshua 1:1) Moses.

Therefore, the three main parts of the Book of Exodus may be organized the way Cassuto indicates:

  1. The Bondage and Liberation (1-17)
  2. The Torah and its Precepts (18-24)
  3. The Tabernacle and its Service (25-40)

The liberation is the presupposition of the gift of the Torah to a free people, and the service in the tabernacle will be the free answer of the free people of the covenant (Ex. 19:5) to the gift of the Torah.

The only problem I have with the division of Cassuto is the incision he makes between the Chapters 17 and 18. My objections rest on liturgical grounds. The biblical Book of Exodus itself points out that there is a connection between the tenth plague (or stroke) against Pharaoh and the feast of Passover. The act of liberation provides at the same time the foundation of its remembrance (Ch. 12). As we know, there is the command of the ‘counting of the days of the Omer’ between Passover and the Feast of (the seventh) Weeks (as described in the Torah in Leviticus 23:15-21): from the first-fruits to the fullness of the harvest at the fiftieth day of Pentecost.  In the later synagogue, this feast is connected to the remembrance of the gift of the Torah at Sinai. The first written evidence for this tradition can be found in the Second Century CE, but perhaps already in Acts 2. However, one can suggests that there are already some signs of this tradition in the closing redaction of the Torah itself. Although the Book of Exodus does not know the counting of the days of Omer, it narrates in Ex 19:13: ‘Only when the ram’s horn (jobēl) sounds a long blast, they (the people) shall come up into the mountain’. Now, this jobēl does not actually sounds and the people shall not come up – only Moses is allowed to do that. So, what is the function of this gloss? Karel Deurloo suggests: this horn has the function to announce the fiftieth year, as the Year of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25), and in a similar way it functions here [[(and perhaps also in the story of Jericho in Joshua 6 – where the people actually will ‘come up’!! –, after the first Passover feast in the land of Canaan in Joshua 5,]] to announce the fiftieth day, as the day of the fulfilling of the promises of the liberation. On these (liturgical) grounds I would plead not to break the unity of the chapters that tell about the way from Passover until Pentecost in the Book of Exodus.

  • Karel Deurloo, Van Pasen naar Pinksteren. Liturgische patronen in Exodus en Jozua. In: Voor de achtste dag. Het oude testament in de eredienst, Kampen: Kok 1990, 35-44.

2. The structure of the third part of Exodus

The narrative of going out of the ‘house of bondage’ (Ex 13:3 etc), out of the land of slavery and death, to the Holy Mountain (Part I) shows the God of Israel as the God who wants to make and to maintain a covenant with his people in time. YHWH reveals himself in his living and promising presence. In this covenant He binds himself with this people that escaped slavery and He offers his Torah (Buber: ‘Weisung’, ‘Direction’) to them. Therefore, the central part of the book (Part II) ends with the making of the covenant, the writing by Moses of the words of this covenant, and the approval by the people of this covenant (‘all the words which the Lord has spoken we will do’, Ex 24:3). Then it will be possible, that the covenant receives its shaping in space.

The motive word (Buber: ‘Stichwort’ or ‘Leitwort’) here is the Hebrew stem sh-k-n, to dwell (Cassuto, p. 316). ‘They went up [after he had given instructions to the elders] into the mountain, and the cloud [the hidden presence of YHWH] covered the mountain. And the glory of the Lord dwelt upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it. And Moses entered the cloud and went up into the mountain; there Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights’ (Ex. 24:15-16.18). Therewith, the question is: will YHWH, who ‘dwells’ on this Mountain, also ‘dwell’ with his people that lives below at the foot of the mountain? In the answer to this question, and as a sign for its positive realisation, there will be an important function for the mishkān, the ‘Tabernacle’ [thus St Jerome in the Vulgata] or better: ‘The dwelling-place of God’ – as you may know, a mēm always indicates the result of an action that the verb describes. In this way, the purpose of the whole of the Exodus will be realised:

            ‘And they shall know’ [through seeing the mishkān that symbolizes My presence],

            [as I declared at the beginning of the Decalogue, which I proclaimed on Mt Sinai:]

            ‘I am the Lord their God,

who brought them forth out of the Land of Egypt,

            [with the object] ‘that I might dwell among them’ (Ex 29:46).

The third and last part of the Book of Exodus presents the making of this dwelling-place in many details. The word sounds around 38 times from Chapter 25 onwards. At the same time, this mishkān,  dwelling place, appears in the shaping of an ohēl, a ‘tent’ (26:7). The tent was intended to be moved from place to place, in order to accompany the children of Israel on their wanderings. In particular the ark, this footstool of the God of Israel, as a representation of his empty throne on earth, and actually the place where the documents of the covenant are conserved, should be provided with rings, with the purpose of inserting in them ling poles, to be placed on the shoulders of those who would carry the ark. In this way, the words of God should always be wandering at the front of the children of Israel (25:10-22; Joshua 3).

Besides, the tent is called a ‘tent of meeting’ (27:21), because of the statement that ‘the Lord met there with Moses and Israel’ (25:22; 39:42-43). Here the Word of the Lord and the answer of the people, the questions of the people and the answers of the Lord will be heard, fully in conformity with the dialogical character of the covenant.

The third part of the Book of Exodus deals with the making of this dwelling-place. It could have contained two sections, but actually it contains three. Using a division and terminology of Cassuto again:

Section One: Directions for the construction of the Tabernacle (25-31)

            Section Two: The making of the calf (32-34)

            Section Three: The execution of the work of the Tabernacle and its erection (35-40)

Cf. Buber:       Das Zelt der Begegnung: das Urbild (25-31)

                        Sünde und Bedeckung (32-34)

                        Das Zelt der Begegnung: der Bau (35-40)

There is a very simple connection between sections One and Three: A. the instruction for the making of the mishkan that Moses received from the seventh day of his staying on the highest of the Mountain onwards, i.e. the Word from heaven (25-31), B. the execution of the making of the mishkan below at the foot of the mountain, that is the answer to the divine Word of the people on earth (35-40).

The commission is heard as follows:

            ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary’

[Not ‘a dwelling place’ – we may discuss the reasons for that]

‘That I may dwell in their midst’

[In the same way as they have already seen My glory dwell on Mount Sinai].

‘According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle,

and of all its furniture,

            and [or: even] so you shall make it’ (Ex 25:8.9)

The word ‘pattern’, ‘design’ (cf. also the allusions in 25:40, 26:30, 27:8, Num 8:4) shows YHWH as a heavily architect, who searches for his followers on earth. It suggests that Moses saw (‘in a prophetic vision’, Cassuto) the Divine dwelling-place in heaven (cf. the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament!), and it was incumbent upon him to erect in the midst of the camp of Israel a dwelling designed like the one that he saw in his vision, an earthly sanctuary corresponding to the heavenly one.

In my perception, this reveals a quasi-platonic conception. When I may allow myself a remark in the sphere of the historical-critical quest for the dating of texts like these, I would suggest that it presupposes the knowledge of ‘Greek’ figures, that means: it may be, that this part of the Torah is not written earlier than the era of the post-Alexander Hellenistic influence in Jerusalem and its environment. But that is a matter of secondary importance. Theologically, this ‘platonic’ figure of thought apparently made it possible to think of the covenant in terms of Word and answer as in terms of a divine ‘pattern’ ( or Idea) and a human ‘imitation’.

But now between the commission and the execution, between A. and B., there happens an incident, or rather an accident: the unhappy story of the making of the calf. This is not a necessary happening in the schedule of the Book of Exodus. It could have been missed. It disturbs the order.

Here you can discover the critical tendency in the way the platonic figure of thought is taken over here: there should be a correspondence between the divine dwelling place in heaven and His dwelling place on earth, but the unwillingness and the impatience of his people has prevented that the will of God would be done ‘on earth as in heaven’. In terms of the old Reformed Federal Theology: in the experience of the people of Israel, man appears not only to be the man that is called to live in the covenant that God has made with him, but he appears also to be a breaker of the covenant! Therefore, in this story the progress of the covenant is in great danger, the covenant has to be restored – ‘perhaps I can make atonement [Buber: ‘Bedeckung’] for your sin’, as Moses announces his intersession to the people (Ex 32:30) – and the documents of the covenant have to be newly written. Exactly the shine on the skin of Moses when he again descends from the mountain (Ex 34:29ff.) underlines the great extent of the distance between the instructions of the Lord and the actual behaviour of the people, but at the same time it reveals the divine willing for atonement.

According to my intuition, the reason for St Stephan to quote the figure of the heavenly ‘pattern’ of the tent in Acts 7:44, is exactly the prophetic-critical function of this figure that I stressed already. Stephen has been accused to have said ‘things against the holy place and against the law’ (Acts 6:13). Actually, he is critical on the power of the existing temple in Jerusalem with an appeal to the heavenly sanctuary of the prophetic vision of Moses, reckoning with the possibility that man in his covenant breaking behaviour will destroy the potential analogy of the heavenly pattern. In this sense, his witness is not ‘against’ the place, but against the darkening of the things that could have become visible at the place.

3. From bondage to free service

We have seen: for the children of Israel, it was impossible to dwell in the ‘house of bondage’. But they received the promise that the Lord should dwell in the midst of them.

Nevertheless, the word that binds the first and the third part of the Book of Exodus, is not the stem sh-k-n, to dwell, but ‘-b-d, to serve.

To be able to distinguish this constellation, however, one is only helped by a translation that renders the stem ‘concordantly’ with the same word. Already the Septuagint was failing here. It uses for the same noun abodah in Hebrew alternately Greek terms as douleia, slavery, katergon, work, paraskeuè, preparation, latreia, ministry and leitourgeia, worship. (In Dutch translations I found e.g. slavernij, werk, taak, dienst; ‘toewijding’ (devotion) would also be a possible variant). But in this way, it can not easily become clear, that the main tendency in the Book of Exodus is to sketch the way from service as a work of slavery to service as service to the God who liberates.

‘No one can serve two masters’ (Matthew 6:24). One serves Pharaoh – ‘when Israel was in Egypt’s land: Let my people go, / Oppress’d so hard they could not stand, / Let my People go’ –, or one serves the God of the Covenant with Israel in his tent (e.g. Ex. 30:16, 35:21.24; 36:1, 38:12) or with respect to the building of his tent (39:42).

Service is a relational category. One always serves someone. It cannot be indifferent, whom one is serving. The Hebrew language is able to use the hif’il-conjugation of the verb abad to express that one part of humanity is compelling other people to serve them: in that situation, one makes another man to a slave, to an èbèd in the beth-abodim, in the house of abodah as bondage. The figure of the èbèd-YHWH, the servant of the Lord, who liberates his slaves from their bondage, is a counterpart or contrast of this hifíl-conjugation (YHWH is only very exceptionally linked to the usage of hif’il in Hebrew). But there is also the variant, where the stem is used in the qal- conjugation. In that case, there is no element of coercion in serving. The locus classicus here is Genesis 2:15: ‘The Lord God took the man / and put him in the garden of Eden / to serve (‘-b-d) and to keep (sh-m-r). Man, ha-adam, is not a totally free subject, for he lives in the interaction with the adamah (ground). But he is serving his environment, only on behalf of the ground and of the other creatures and of himself, freely giving his capabilities for the benefits of all his co-creatures. This theological anthropology is foundational for understanding the message of the whole of the Torah, for in my opinion it has to do with the aim of the movement of liberation that characterizes the Book of Exodus: it provides a basic for denying the necessity of the world of bondage. But the paradise is lost, cherubim are guarding and keeping the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24), and we do not have an immediate admission to such a free availability of the serving man.

Nevertheless, the Book of Exodus saves the memory of such a free labour, but it does so in another way. Therefore, I propose to look again to the service in the mishkān and the service in building the mishkān from without this point of view. My main thesis sounds:

In the Book of Exodus the abodah of bondage is transformed into the abodah as a service of God (‘Gottesdienst’, worship), as a prolepsis of an existence in a fully free service by the whole creature in favour of the whole creature.

I presume the connection with the subject of this Summer school is clear. It makes no sense, to assign the theme of slavery to the field of political ethics or of the ethics of labour on the one hand, and the theme of worship to the field of practical theology or church ministry on the other. Then one separates, what R (our redactor or our rabbi) has joined together in the second Book of the Torah.

4. The work on the dwelling-place

In the last part of Exodus we hear nothing on exploitation, but we get sufficiently information on service and on labour. The whole productive work of (semi-)nomadic people is circumstantially sketched.

To begin with, Moses shall ask the children of Israel ‘that they take for Me a contribution’, that they set aside a portion of their possession. This precept shall not be an obligatory, but a voluntary act, according to each man’s or woman’s liberality: ‘from every man whose heart makes him willing’ (25:2). When the free God is giving himself, also the answer of man should be a free act. Otherwise, it would not have been a covenant, but a new absolutistic domination. And, as we hear at the beginning of the section on the execution of the work, they came, they were of a willing heart, and they brought of all sorts of objects (for example: of gold) for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be made (Ex 35:21-29).

Further, all those words are used that have their connection with the productive process: ‘asah, to make (105 times in Ex 25-31, 69 times in Ex 35-40), ma’asèh, work (24x), melakhah, labour (23x). There are artisans, there are materials for producing, and there is a plan how to proceed:


I have called by name Bezalel (“the shadow of God’), the son or Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

And I have filled him with the spirit of God [not: of YHWH],

With wisdom [expert knowledge of the techniques of workmanship]

And with understanding [able to solve any problem that may arise]

And with knowledge [on the basic of practical experience]

And in all craftsmanship

To think thoughts [= to devise plans],

To make in gold, and in silver and in bronze,

And in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood,

To work in every craft’ (Ex 31:2-5)

In the modern thinking on labour, Karl Marx made the distinction between work that is done under the dependency of a given societal form, and work as it can be seen on an anthropological level, as independent from any given structure of exploitation. In that anthropological essence, it has to be seen as a realisation of man in his interaction with nature, as real freedom in actu. Really free labour, e.g. composing music, remains hard and intensive work, ‘verdammtester Ernst, intensivste Anstrengung’, but it is willingly done and not in realising abstract purposes of powers that are not under control. It might be, that Exodus gives us a glimpse of such a free labour.

  • Marx, Capital, Ch 7, section 1, The labour-process etc

and Ökonomische Manuskripte 1857/58 (‘Grundrisse’), MEW 42, 512

You can ask, why the Torah concentrates here ‘only’ on the work of building the mishkān and on the service on the inside of the mishkān. Is there not a need for a much more comprehensive vision of the ‘service of God’, in all fields of societal involvement? As an answer, I would suggest that exactly this concentration is meant here. Real ‘free labour’ is an exception, a rare phenomenon. It exists, it is an element on the basic of being creature, but it is in all times heavily threatened. Particularly, this was the experience of the people of Israel, that already with its institution of the Sabbath, was a social exception in its antique environment (and therefore would encounter the rage of a man like Seneca). But in the heart of the Torah, it kept the remembrance of the possibility of such a perspective, and told about it from generation to generation.

It seems to be, that one nowadays is technically not able to really build a tent in accordance with the commands of these chapters of the Torah. The measures, as mentioned by the Scripture, are apparently not adequate. This stresses that the content of chapters like these are not meant to be imitated, but to hear, i.e. to receive new perspectives and to be filled with hope for a world where the Pharaohs are gone and where willingly service by a free man to a free God will be realized. This perspective is given for all creatures, but in a proleptic way it is hidden in a tent of at the utmost 75 square meters. My teachers Miskotte and Breukelman would say: the perspective is meant here in a pars pro toto figure.

5. The finishing of God’s work of Creation and the finishing of the work on His dwelling-place

The two sections ‘direction’ (25-31) and ‘execution’ (35-40) are structured in a certain analogical, but not in a fully parallel way. One of the differences exists in the mentioning of the Sabbath day, as a repetition of one of the Ten Words. In the first section of the third part, it sounds at the end, as the last recommendation:

‘Six days shall labour (malakhah) be made,

but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of entire rest,

holy to the Lord.’ (Ex 31:15)

Nearly the same verse we meet in the third section, but then – in a chiasm – not at the end, but at the beginning, immediately after the receiving by Moses of the new two tables (Ex 35:2). In this way, the Sabbath has to be considered as the presupposition of all the work that has to be done in the execution of the directions to build the mishkān, and therewith also strongly stressing the relativity of labour.

At the end of the third section we will not find a repetition of the commandment of the Sabbath. However, a more implicit memory of it can hardly be overseen. For as Franz Rosenzweig already showed, and as Umberto Cassuto has repeated, a clear allusion is found here of the finishing lines of the great hymn of the seven days at the beginning of the Book of Genesis.

Let us compare the following verses from the Book of Genesis:

(a)        ‘And God saw everything that He had made,

            and behold, it was very good’ (…)                                        Gen 1:31

(b)       ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished,

            and all the host of them’                                                        Gen 2:1

(c)        ‘And since God was finished on the seventh day

            with His work which He had made,

            (He abstained on the seventh day from all His labour

            which he had made)’                                                             Gen 2:2

(d)       ‘So God blessed the seventh day…’                                     Gen 2:3a

with some verses out of the conclusion of the Book of Exodus:

            (‘According to all that the Lord commanded Moses,

            so the children of Israel had made all the service, abodah)’       Ex 39:42                                              

(a)        ‘And Moses saw all the labour:

            and behold they had made it

as the Lord had commanded 

so they had made it’                                                              Ex 39:43

(b)       ‘Thus all the service (abodah)

of the dwelling-place (mishkān), of the tent of meeting

was finished’                                                                          Ex 39:32

(c)        ‘So Moses finished the labour (mal’akhah)’                         Ex 40:33

(d)       ‘And Moses blessed them’                                                    Ex 39:43

In this way, there exists conformity of the work of God, the Creation with its finishing on the seventh day, and the work of man, the working on the building of the dwelling-place of God on earth. This conformity is fourfold: a. seeing, b. finishing (the service), c. finishing (of God / of his servant Moses), d. blessing (by God / by Moses).

Certainly there exists a qualitative difference between the work of God and the work of his people. But at the same time there exists a strong analogy between both: there is a shaping of human labour that, although it is not the repetition or lengthening of the divine work of Creation, nevertheless shows a likeness of that. Franz Rosenzweig criticized translators who neglect the concordant use of the words that should be so evident here, and he concludes: ‘In the way that the six days and the seventh day are returning here, and the word of finishing, and the affirming ‘yes’, and the concluding blessing, in this way also (does) the most simple and at the same time most including [das umfassendste], divine doing with human doing, and human doing with divine doing comparing word for Creation itself: ‘to make’.

  • Franz Rosenzweig, ‘Die Schrift und Luther’ (1926), in: M. Buber und F. Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und ihre Verdeutschung, Berlin: Schocken 1936, (88-129) 116f.

We may conclude that in the service on the building of the dwelling-place on earth, as well as in the service in the midst of the tent of the meeting, the goal and the mystery of the whole of creation are hidden. And also, that exactly this service (abodah) should contain a promise for the whole of creation. But are we, as hearers of the words of Moses, really conscious of that intimate connection?

6. The distinction between the presence of the Lord and the service in his dwelling-place on earth

The last verses of the Book of Exodus sound:

‘Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting,

and the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling-place (mishkān).

And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting,

Because the cloud abode upon it,

And the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling-place.

And when the cloud lifted from the tabernacle,

The children of Israel would set out throughout their journeys;

But if the cloud did not lift,

They would not set out till the day that it did lift.

The cloud of the Lord was upon the dwelling-place by day,

And there was fire in it by night,

In the sight of the house of Israel,

Throughout all their journeys.’ Ex 40:34-38

At last, we will discuss the importance of the distinction between the human service in and for the building of the dwelling-place of the Lord, and the presence of the Lord (in His glory, His Shekinah, His cloud) Himself.

About the author

R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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