Parsha: Ki Tissa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35)
Doing Things God’s Way
Ki Tissa (“When You Take up/Carry Out”) Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Ki Tissa, meaning “When you take up” (or carry out, in this case, a census), and covers Exodus chapters 30-34.
Chapter 30 is largely taken up with the consecration of Aaron and his descendants, the priests. They are to first bathe and be anointed with special oils before serving before Adonai. We Evangelicals may not be very big on formality, emphasizing instead the need for a personal relationship with God, but this passage speaks clearly to the issue of God’s holiness. We should not presume to come into His presence with a cavalier attitude. Though you may not need to anoint yourself with myrrh, cinnamon, can and cassia, and though you may not need to bathe in a specially-prepared gold basin, it seems to me that we ought to see our morning preparations on Shabbat as an important part of getting ready to have an audience with the King of the Universe. Think about what you will wear, both outwardly and inwardly. How is your heart ‘clothed’?
Chapter 31 raises an interesting issue: What should our attitude be toward the arts? What, if any place, do the arts have in the sacred assembly? Can watercolor or oil painting or sculpture be considered to have as much a place in God’s Covenant Community as, say, music? And what of dance, or poetry? I ask these questions because in chapter 31 we are introduced to some very creative people – Bezalel and Oloiav and an “artisan guild” as it were – a group of people who were uniquely gifted by God to manufacture all the ornate furnishings for the Tent of Meeting. A few principles we can take from the passage include:
1. Your art should glorify God
2. Your abilities are a gift from Him – there is no room for egotism
3. When He gives you instructions and specifications, follow them!
These artisans were specially enabled by God to produce wood carvings, to cut stone and to do all sorts of metal-smithing. Do you have artistic or musical skills? If you do, it is because you were given them by God. You should not neglect those gifts. Do not bury them, like that lazy and wicked servant who was rebuked by his master. At the same time, you need to be careful to give the praise to God and not seek accolades for yourself when you do exercise those artistic gifts.
Also in chapter 31 Adonai reminds Moses of the seriousness of the Sabbath, declaring that it was to be a sign between the Lord and the people of Israel throughout our generations. In fact, in verse 17 God says, “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever…” Rather than seeing Shabbat as a burdensome commandment, think about it this way: we were not given these commandments until after we had been set free from slavery! It was to a rescued and now free people that God ordained the Sabbath. If setting aside a day to honor Him seems unreasonable, consider the alternative: languishing under Egyptian slave-drivers. After this, we read that God gave Moses the tablets which He Himself had inscribed.
But while all this is going on atop Mt. Sinai, trouble is brewing back in the camp. When Moses seemed to have been gone a long time, our people panicked and urged Aaron to construct an idol to which they could then point and say, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” They demanded it, despite the fact that just six weeks earlier God had descended on Sinai and told Israel in no uncertain terms not to make gods (idols). Aaron acceded to their wishes, instructing the people to bring him their fine jewelry and he took their golden earrings and manufactured a golden abomination – the infamous golden calf. Our people offered sacrifices to the idol and sat down to eat; and then – the Scriptures employ a euphemism – “rose up to play” a figure of speech still employed in some places to refer to illicit sexual activity.
God tells Moses to go down quickly, saying, “Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves…” Moses pleads on their behalf, but says to the Lord that they are,“Your people, whom You brought out from the land of Egypt…” Moses entreats God to be merciful for the sake of the Patriarchs and reminds Him of His covenant promises to Israel. On account of Moses’ plea, God relents and Israel is spared, but that did not mean there would be no consequences. In fact, Moses, after throwing down the tablets containing the 10 Commandments, drew the proverbial line in the sand and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” Out of the entire nation, all twelve tribes, only the tribe of Levi willingly stood up for what was right. 3,000 of the leaders of that rebellion were put to death that day. It is a tragic chapter in our history, and its central placement in this part of the Torah (it actually interrupts the description of the constructing of the Tabernacle) is quite intentional. Adonai declared our people to be stubborn and obstinate. Israel went into mourning, and for the duration of the wilderness wandering no longer wore jewelry or any ornamentation.
Now it was time to move on. God instructed Moses to cut two stone tablets like the first ones, and to climb Mt. Sinai again, and God would inscribe the second set. Moses ventured to ask an audacious thing – he asked God to show him His glory. God allowed Moses to see His receding glory, but no mortal may see the face of God and live. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like for infinite holiness to break into this earthly dimension, but when Moses returned from the mountain, his face shone from having been in God’s presence.
The balance of chapter 34 contains reminders that we were not to make any treaties with the inhabitants of Canaan, nor to intermarry with them, which would lead inevitably to idolatry. We were also commanded to celebrate Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the three annual pilgrimage festivals, and charged with honoring the Sabbath.
I think it is crucial to note that the prohibition against intermarriage had nothing to do with ethnicity, but rather with the threat of idolatry. There is no room in God’s Kingdom for bigotry. Moses himself later married an Ethiopian woman. When Aaron and Miriam grumbled about it, God rebuked the two of them! Intermarriage, biblically-defined, is not between two people of different ethnicities, but when a believer marries an unbeliever. – rg
Three thoughts with which to conclude Ki Tissa:
1. Of the 12 tribes of Israel, only one willingly stood up for Adonai that day. What does that tell us? It tells us that truth isn’t determined by majority vote. We are without excuse when we mindlessly go along with the crowd and do what is wrong or fail to do what is right. We need to be willing to stand apart from the majority when truth is at stake.
2. This parasha reveals the folly of the claim that Jewish people do not need a middleman, but can go directly to God. If Moses hadn’t placed himself squarely between the wrath of God and our rebellious people, the entire nation would have been obliterated, and justly so. Neither would this be the last time that Moses had to serve as an intermediary between God and Israel. If, as it is often claimed, Jewish people don’t need a middleman, then how do you explain God instituting an entire corp of middlemen called Kohaneem (Priests) to stand and serve between Himself and the nation? In fact, a correct understanding of the Levitical system makes obvious why Messiah Yeshua had to offer His life in place of ours; the innocent for the guilty; the just standing in for the unjust. As the prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) declared, “… by His wounds we are healed!”
3. A veneer of religious activity will never transform what is evil into what is good. Aaron attempted to ‘sanitize’ the making of an idol by saying, “Tomorrow will be a feast to Adonai”. We must not confuse ‘spirituality’ with theological reality. God exists, and is to be reverenced; and we had better not callously ignore or cavalierly re-interpret His instructions. Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). We will never attain to perfection in this lifetime, but does anyone really suppose that in the New Covenant the standard has been lowered? If anything, we ought to be doing it better, because we have the full revelation of God. May He give us the grace and the empowering by His Ruach Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to do His will.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Ki Tissa. Other transliterations: Ki Tisa, Ki Thissa, or Ki Sisa