2.Speak unto the children of Israel. If any caviller should raise a question as to the time in which I have thought fit to introduce this history, (114) although I would not pertinaciously contend with him, still I have not only a probable, but a sure reason for my opinion. For it appears to me that I clearly gather from Exodus 33:0, that the tabernacle was already built before Moses brought down the first tables from the Mount; for it is there said, that in token of their divorce, in order that the people might know that they were repudiated by God, Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it separately for himself without the camp; not for his own peculiar use, because it is expressly said that he did not dwell there, but that he went out of the camp as often as he desired to consult God; whilst Joshua was its keeper and guardian, (aedituus.) But there is no doubt but that this took place previous to his second ascent to bring down new tables from the Lord; it is, therefore, clear that the tabernacle was already erected. If any object that it was not set up till the end of the second year, the reply is easy, that it was placed anew in its proper position, so that being everywhere surrounded by the children of Israel, it might have all its guards, according to the twelve tribes encamped in their due order; and again, that the tables were then actually deposited in the Ark of the Covenant, and by them God represented Himself, so that without them the tabernacle was in a manner empty; finally, that the solemn dedication is there treated of, for which the due season had not arrived, until in testimony of God’s presence the covenant was deposited in the Ark, by way of pledge. In order the better to remove all ambiguity, we must briefly calculate the time. In the third month from their exodus the people reached Mount Sinai. On what day the Law was given is nowhere stated, unless we may probably conjecture that it was promulgated about the end of that month. Thus there will be eight months to be computed until the day on which the tabernacle was dedicated, and the tables deposited in the Ark of the Covenant, as Moses expressly says in the last chapter of Exodus; but, in the Book of Numbers, he relates that in the second month of that year the people removed the camp from that place, and departed to Kibroth-Hattaavah. (115) Now, since between the dedication of the tabernacle and their departure only one month intervened, we must admit that the two ascents into the mountain had preceded in order of time.
Now, the question is, whether he was called to receive the first tables in the beginning of the fourth month? If this be allowed, he could scarcely have prescribed the building of the sanctuary before the end of the eighth month; for it would have been absurd to give (116) the tables of God’s paternal favor between the two ascents, while the separation of the tabernacle was testifying of their divorce from Him. Thus, then, I establish the fact, that four whole months were employed in this long and difficult work. And surely it was wonderful that so short a time should suffice; had not incredible activity surpassed all men’s expectation, whilst they all emulously devoted themselves with unwearied labor to hasten the work. And it is probable, that after God had established His covenant, He immediately delivered the ordinances respecting the tabernacle and its adjuncts; lest the people should be without the external exercises of religion, which we have seen to be so very necessary. But after the completion of the work, Moses was again commanded to come nigh to God with Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders; and after the offering of sacrifices, he was taken up into the cloud to hold familiar communion with God, where he passed about a month and a half. Having returned, and being made aware of the rebellion of the people, the slaughter of the three thousand took place, and he commanded the people to mourn. How long he remained we know not, but it is probable that at least a month passed before he was recalled We have now more than nine months; and if we add the month and a half during which he was kept in the mount, we shall not be far from the end of the year. God then reconciled Himself to the people, and thus the legitimate dedication of the tabernacle soon followed, which took place in the second year at the beginning of the first month. The Passover having been celebrated, the sign of removal was given in the second month.
If any disagree with me, I would now have them answer me, how it is consistent that Moses, having detected the people’s transgression, should then have begun to exhort them to the building of the sanctuary, whereas in his whole address there is no mention made of idolatry? Surely, all things well considered, we must be ready to confess that the people were still loyal when they so heartily consecrated their property to God. But the whole question is sufficiently settled by what I have alleged on the testimony of Moses, viz., that before he came down with the first tables the tabernacle was already in being, unless, perhaps, it be objected that it was another tabernacle, and different from that which was afterwards set up by God’s command. But this is a very foolish cavil, for Moses had no authority to make an earthly dwelling-place for God, and to impose on it the sacred name whereby the sanctuary is always honored; and he expressly relates that God’s glory appeared in it, in order that the people might more surely know that they were separated from God for their uncleanness, of which matter we shall again speak in its proper place. Again, the word לקח , lakach, (117) implies that Moses took the tabernacle out of the camp, to transfer it to another place. If any one should now object that the tabernacle was arranged according to the pattern which Moses saw in the mount, the reply is easy, that Moses was not then first in the mountain instructed in the true worship of God and heavenly mysteries, when he was kept there forty days, but already before the promulgation of the Law; nor is there any doubt but that the same things were then shewn to him which he had learned before, in order that the people might be more disposed to diligent meditation on the Law. For, from the length of time, they might acknowledge that nothing was omitted which it would be useful for them to know; since, although God might have so instructed His servant in a moment that nothing should have been wanting, still He chose gradually, and as if at His ease, to form for Himself a perfect teacher; and this concession was made to the infirmity of the people. For thus we read in Exodus 19:9 ,
"Behold I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever."
And again, Exodus 20:21,
"And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness, where God was."
From whence it is plain that there is no absurdity in saying that he had already seen the pattern of the tabernacle wherein God would be worshipped.
But lest any should object that I rest upon conjectures only, Moses himself plainly shews that, before he received the tables, God gave him instructions respecting the making of the tabernacle; for twice in chapter 25 it is said, “Thou shalt put in the Ark the testimony which I shall give thee,” verses 16 and 21; from whence it is clear that the tables were not yet given, when from God’s command he described the whole structure; and thence we again infer that, when the tabernacle was set up, he went up into the mount to bring down the tables which were to be placed in the Ark. But, before he begins to treat of the construction of the tabernacle, he imposes a tribute upon the people, that each, according to his means, should contribute materials both for the tabernacle itself and for all its furniture. The heaving, or, תרומה, therumah, (118) is here put simply for an offering; and is not, as in other passages, distinguished from another kind of sacrifice, which is called תנופה, thenuphah. But the Israelites are simply commanded to bestow from their abundance what may suffice for the worship of God. It is indeed certain that all we have is God’s, and that all He bountifully gives us is polluted unless we devote it to His glory. Still in His indulgence He permits us the free use of all, if only we testify that it remains under His power, and are ready to expend it as He shall command. Thus we duly offer alms, as sacrifices of, sweet-smelling savor; although the rich may not exhaust himself to poverty, but, whilst he relieves the poor, enjoys the goods which he possesses. In sum, whatever we offer to God is like the first-fruits, whereby we testify that all we have is consecrated to His glory. Now, although He required no assistance from the people for the building and adorning of His tabernacle, since it was He who, for the maintenance of them all, daily rained down manna from heaven; yet he would have every one, from the very least to the greatest, bring together, in testimony of their piety, whatever was necessary for the sacred work. But what He then would have spent on the visible sanctuary, He now requires for the building of His spiritual temple. Properly speaking, it is He alone that builds His Church; yet He uses the work of men, and will have many builders associated with Him, that the edifice of His Church may arise in some measure by the labor of men; as also He ascribes the praise of its prosperity and success to them. Meanwhile we offer nothing which He Himself has not bestowed; just as the Israelites gave nothing but what had been derived from his bounty alone. Therefore, He distributes the gifts of His Spirit in certain measures, (1 Corinthians 12:7;) that, as each has received more or less, he may employ it on the building of the Church. But this should be the best incentive to activity, that none is so poor or humble but that his offering is acceptable and pleasing, however small it may be, and almost worthless in the eyes of men. Moreover, it must be observed, that the tribute is not demanded authoritatively, but it is declared that each should freely offer what he pleased; for, from the beginning, Paul’s word was true, that “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 4:7;) and all Scripture teaches us that no obedience is pleasing to God except what is voluntary; for, although the word ידבנו , yidbenu, (119) is variously rendered by the translators, the sum comes to this, that the gift of each would be pleasing to God according to the cheerful alacrity of his mind. The old interpreter (i.e., the Vulgate) has it “qui offert ultroneus, ” (he who offers voluntarily;) but this is rather paraphrastic than literal. (120) Others differ from each other: some understand the relative as referring to the offering, and translate it, “whose heart shall have voluntarily given it;” others, “He who shall have shewn his heart liberal, or willing.” The second rendering is the right one.
"Answer. — l. The people had already received correction for their fault; and Moses, in sign of God’s indignation against them, had removed his tent from among them, 33-7; therefore it cannot be said that no mention is made of their falling away. 2. The people, such especially as were touched with remorse for their sin, did so much the more shew themselves cheerful in God’s service, as a sign of true repentance. 3. And Moses having entreated the Lord for His people, would not be still harping upon the same string, in upbraiding them with their fault, lest he might altogether have discouraged them.
"Wherefore, it is very clear that the tabernacle was not erected and set up before the receiving of the tables, but after; for these reasons: — 1. Because Moses is here bidden to make the tabernacle according to all which the Lord should show him in the Mount; but the form thereof was first showed him in the Mount, when he continued there forty days and nights, in the end whereof he received the tables, Deuteronomy 9:10; therefore the tabernacle could not be made before the fashion thereof was shewed to Moses. Calvine here answereth that divers times before this Moses was in the Mount with God, when the fashion of the tabernacle might be shewed him. But it is evident, 24:18, that this was done in the forty days and nights, when Moses was entered into the cloud, and there so long continued. 2. It is expressly said that the tabernacle was reared up in the second year, and the first month, the first day, xl. 17. It was not then dedicated and set in order only, as Calvine answereth, but then first set up. And in the second year, in the second month, upon the twentieth day, they removed from Sinai, which was about a month and a half after; but if the tabernacle were built before Moses received the tables, he after the finishing thereof was twice with the Lord, each time forty days; which could not be, seeing about forty or fifty days after the tabernacle was erected, the whole camp removed, as is said. 3. Besides, by this means a great part of Exodus shall be transposed; all that followeth from chap. 35. to the end, concerning the making and setting up of the tabernacle, should be in order placed before the 32, 33, and 34, chapters; this being admitted, that the tabernacle was first erected, before Moses had the tables delivered to him. Therefore, rather the order of the story is this: first, there is the description of the tabernacle to chap. 30; then followeth the let and impediment to the building of it, the people’s trans- gression, chap. 32-33; thirdly, the execution of God’s commandment, and framing of the tabernacle, chap. 35:40; fourthly, the erection and setting of it up, chap. xl Lyranus.” — Willet’s Hexapla, in loco.