Parsha: Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10)

by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970

Tetzaveh תְּצַוֶּה‬ (“Give the command) Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Our parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Tetzaveh, meaning “give the command” and covers Exodus 27:20 through 30:10. This passage gives us the details of the bronze altar and its tools, the golden altar of incense and the garments and accessories for Aaron and his sons, the priests. At the end of chapter 27 the sons of Israel are commanded to bring clear, pressed olive oil for the lamp of the sanctuary to be kept burning perpetually  – it was to be a lasting ordinance in Israel. It reminds me of the opening verses of the Gospel of John “In Him (Messiah) was life, and the life was the light of men”. Without the light of Messiah Yeshua we would have remained in spiritual darkness.

Just like the Ark of the Covenant, the bronze altar was not to be handled, but instead to be carried by poles through rings. We’re told in chapter 28 that the Tabernacle was to have a courtyard 150′ x 75′ and that to enter the courtyard, you would pass through a curtain woven from blue, purple and scarlet fabric. Almost everything used in the courtyard was to be constructed of bronze with silver bands and hooks. The outer courtyard items would be made of beautiful but more common metals than those things in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, which were overlaid with pure gold. The principle is that the nearer we draw to God, the more pure and precious we see that He is.

In chapter 28 Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar & Ithamar received their smicha, ordained to the priesthood. They were to be clothed with unique and beautiful garments (sacred robes, tunics, turbans, sashes). Aaron, the High Priest, would also wear an ephod with stones with the names of the tribes inscribed on them sewn into the shoulder area. He would also wear a very unique breastplate, having 12 precious and semi-precious stones fastened to it, representing the tribes of Israel; in Hebrew, Choshen HaMishpat – the breast piece of judgment; so-named because it would also house the Urim and Thummim the stones by which God would make known His decisions. It is worth noting that the list of stones is nearly identical to the list of stones in Revelation 21, which adorn the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem.

Do the clothes really make the man? Why did Aaron and his sons have to put on special clothes for their service? After all, doesn’t God care about the condition of our heart more than about our outer appearance? Perhaps, but I think it is a mistake to insist on a dichotomy. It isn’t one or the other. Your interior should be clean, dedicated and holy, and so should your exterior when you come to appear before the Lord God of Israel. Do you believe we are a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”?

This, by the way, is the first mention of Urim and Thummim in the Bible. Traditionally it has been translated “lights and perfections” but more recent scholarship suggests that Urim is not from Or (light) but from Arar (curse), and that it may actually mean “cursed or faultless” since the two stones were used to establish guilt or innocence. From the same principle of the Urim and Thummim we get statements such as “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).

In chapter 29 Aaron and his sons are consecrated to the priesthood, with anointing of oil and with the blood of a bull and two rams. The blood of those animals sanctified the altar and the men serving at it. In what must have been a curios ritual, the blood was to be put on the right ear lobes, right thumbs and right big toes of Aaron and his sons. It was a sin offering (29:14). The blood on the right ear lobe, right thumb and right big toe speak of the need for holiness among those who draw near to serve God. Their ears must not be given to gossip, idle talk or coarse jesting. Their hands must not touch forbidden things, and their feet must not turn aside to wickedness, but walk the straight path of holiness.

Attached to the High Priest’s turban was a gold plate, inscribed with the words Kadosh L’Adonai “Holy to the Lord”. The High Priest was exactly that: a man set apart to stand in the gap between God and the people of Israel. Those who suggest that we Jews don’t need a middleman obviously are unfamiliar with the many priestly functions described in the Torah. But the fact is that according to the New Covenant every follower of Messiah Yeshua is holy to the Lord. According to the prophet Zechariah, during the Millennial reign of Messiah, even the pots and pans of Jerusalem will be holy to the Lord; which is another way of saying the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the seas. Think of your life now as a rehearsal for that day; a day when:

… the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way …only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zionwith singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 35:5-10).

As I reflected on how ornate and beautiful were the Tabernacle and its vessels and the fine linen garments of the priests and especially the High Priest, my mind was repeatedly drawn to Revelation, where God’s people are similarly clothed and the gates of the New Jerusalem are adorned with those precious stones. Most especially, it speaks of a better covenant, where we have better access to God. In ancient Israel the High Priest was the only man on earth who was authorized to enter the Most Holy Place. You and I, through Yeshua, have entrance into the immediate presence of God, there to dwell forever.

Do you long for that day? If your answer is yes, then are you living your life in a manner consistent with that hope? If you desire to live in the Holy City, then even now practice being a holy (set apart) person – holy in thought, word and deed.

Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Tetzaveh תְּצַוֶּה‬ . Other transliterations: Tetsaveh, T’tzaveh, or T’tzavveh