Sunday, May 18
Exodus 21: The material in these next three chapters is often called "the book of the covenant," a term suggested by Exodus 24:7. In substance this code is largely identical with the core section of the Book of Deuteronomy (and hence the name of the latter, which means "second law").
Whereas Chapter 20 enunciates universal legal principles, Chapter 21 commences a series of specific "judgments" (mishpotim Ń verse 1), or "case laws." The latter are particular applications of the earlier legal principles. Thus, the judgments in this chapter are concrete applications of the established principle "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). The accumulation of such case laws serves to indicate certain directions in which future ethical cases, not specifically covered by these laws, might be appropriately judged, by rational recourse to comparison and analogy. The study of such case laws is also intended to give a proper contour to our moral sentiment, a certain "feeling" about moral situations that may arise. By the sustained examination of GodŐs judgments (mishpotim ) in the various hypothetical situations described in these passages, the moral imagination is given a godly shape in order to make proper moral decisions in the future.
In verses 22-36 we have what is perhaps the BibleŐs clearest enunciation of the legal principle of equity, quid pro quo. Thus, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," etc. All such laws are founded on the perception of proportions. Justice, that is to say, has something to do with the principles of mathematics (symbolized in the scales that often appear in artistic representations of justice), a proper conformity to correct measure. Moral truth, that is to say, is perceived like mathematics or any other truth, by the correct application of the properly reasoning mind.
Monday, May 19
Exodus 22: Whereas Chapter 21 presumed situations in which the harm inflicted was unintentional, and thus involved only commensurate restitution, the present chapter envisages situations in which the harm inflicted is deliberate and intentional. In this chapter, then, we are dealing, not only with laws of compensation, but also with punitive laws. The penalties in these latter, one will notice, are quite a bit harsher. They are obviously designed to discourage certain sorts of behavior!
Tuesday, May 20
Exodus 23: Verse20 is one of our earliest texts to speak of that spiritual presence that an ancient Christian litany calls "an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies." Indeed, among the many blessings given men by God to guide their sojourn in the world, the Liturgy of St. Basil lists the ministry of the guardian angels, a traditional doctrine supported by such texts as Matthew 18:10; Acts 12:15; several passages in Daniel and the entire Book of Tobit. Early Christian liturgical texts identify IsraelŐs guardian angel during the Exodus as St. Michael.
Wednesday, May 21
Exodus 24: An early Christian reflection on verses 3-8 is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews 9:16-23, in a context emphasizing that the deep significance of the sacrificial blood in the Old Testament is its prophetic reference to the redeeming blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for the salvation of mankind. The blood of Jesus is called "blood of the covenant" also in Hebrews 10:29; Mark 14:24. Indeed, even in quoting Exodus 24:8, the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:20) slightly, but very significantly, alters the wording of it. Whereas Exodus reads "Behold (idou) the blood of the covenant," the author of Hebrews wrote: "This (touto) is the blood of the covenant." There is no doubt that his wording reflects the traditional words of Jesus with respect to the cup of his blood at the Last Supper (cf. Matthew 26:28).
Moses ascends the mountain with three men (verses 9-18), two of whom were brothers, and there was a six-day delay. Compare the remarkable parallel to both points in Mark 9:2. In the scene of the LordŐs Transfiguration, He is joined by the two figures most clearly associated with revelations given on Mount Sinai/Horeb, Moses and Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:8-18).
Thursday, May 22
Exodus 25: Here begins a lengthy and detailed instruction about the construction of the tabernacle, the instruments of worship, the ordination and vestments of the priests, and so forth (chapters 25-31). Meanwhile, as all of this important instruction is taking place, Aaron and the Israelites will do a bit of liturgical experimentation on their own (chapters 32-34)! The juxtaposition of these two scenes will constitute one of the great examples of narrative irony in the Bible. After the story of the golden calf, the narrative of Exodus will continue in chapters 35-40 with the enactment of the earlier prescriptions.
Moses is given a vision of the archetypal tabernacle (verse 9), that tabernacle not made with hands, the everlasting holy place into which, in due course, the eternal high priest and one mediator between God and men will enter, having obtained eternal redemption for us (cf. Hebrews 8:1-5).
The arkŐs dimensions (verses 10-15) are about 45 inches long, and 27 inches in height and depth. The permanently poles indicate that it must always be ready to travel, and it did move around quite a bit even after the Israelites settled in the promised land. Eventually it came to rest in Jerusalem, where Solomon pretty much built his temple around it. The ark was lost when the temple was destroyed. Originally it contained the tables of the Decalogue, bit it seems to have been the receptacle of other sacred objects at certain periods; cf. Hebrews 9:2-4.
The hylasterion (translated variously as "propitiatory" or "mercy seat") in verses 16-17 will be the place where the high priest sprinkled the expiatory blood on Yom Kippur, thus symbolizing the reconciliation between God and man. As the meeting place of God and humanity, it is an symbol of the Incarnation, where God and humanity are bound together forever. Jesus Himself is called the hylasterion (cf. Romans 3:25). Israel came to think of this hylasterion, overshadowed by the cherubic wings (verses 18-20), as GodŐs throne in this world (cf. Psalm 79.1; Hebrews 9:5). One is also reminded of the two angelic figures on the empty tomb of the risen Lord, suggesting that the empty tomb is the great symbol of the reconciliation of God and man (cf. John 20:12).
Friday, May 23
Exodus 26: The various divisions within the tabernacle were later to be duplicated and further developed within the Jerusalem temple. Indeed, the sense of separated space is intrinsic to the very notion of a "temple," a word derived from the Greek temno, meaning "to divide." A shrine of any kind is already a section of space devoted to the things of God, and divisions within a shrine are related to the ordered structure of the community that worships there. The building reflects the congregationŐs conception of itself. In the case of Israel and the Christian Church, the ordered structure of the worshipping community is "hierarchical ," meaning that its organizational structure is holy and reflects a divinely appointed order. This hierarchical aspect of biblical worship, that is to say, is enacted even in architecture. (Indeed, if one looks closely, both "hierarchy" and "architecture" are formed of a common root, a Greek word meaning, roughly, "a principle that gives structure and explanation to reality.)
Saturday, May 24
Exodus 27: The idea behind a "perpetual flame" is very old and has symbolic value immediately understood by almost all men. As a symbol of the human spirit standing in vigilance over the forces of darkness, it is found in world literature from Homer to the novels of William Golding. As a religious symbol of manŐs standing in prayer before God, it is nearly universal. A sustained flame has burned near the altar in Christian churches virtually from the first day they were built.