We need a Mishkan that functions, or it is a fantasy. So, there had to be tents adjoining the Mishkan at the four corners for cooking, for eating, to store fire wood and to have cooking fires and a place for the priests to dress. But there are other reasons.
In a Siddur (prayer book), we have what is called the “Shacharit” or morning prayers. It will take us through the Temple. In the Artscroll Siddur, the Shacharit service, p. 31, it says, “Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Make a laver (kior) of copper, and its base of copper, for washing; and place it between the Tent of Appointment and the Altar and put water there. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet from it. When they arrive at the tent of appointment they are to wash with water so they not die, or when they approach the altar to serve, to burn a fire-offering to Hashem. They are to wash their hands and feet so they not die; and this shall be an eternal decree for them-for him and for his offspring-throughout their generations.”
It is the first thing you read about in the section on the korbanot. Now, look at the usual configuration of the Mishkan. The Kior (laver) is between the Mishkan and the altar. At first reading, that is the way it appears. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and their feet. When they arrive at the Mishkan they are to wash with water so that they do not die. Also, they were to do this when they approach the altar to serve or to burn an offering. They were to wash so that they would not die. This was an eternal decree.
The penalty was death if they went in there without washing their hands and feet. The guards would make sure they did. So, look at the picture of the Mishkan. We learned from Kelim 1.6-9 that there were ten levels of kedusha. This is what is being taught in the Mishkan and the Temple. These levels are derived from the Torah. In Kelim 1.9 it says, “Between the Porch and the Altar is still more holy for none that has a blemish or whose hair is loosed may enter there. The Sanctuary is still more holy, for none may enter therein with hands and feet unwashed. The Holy of Holies is still more holy, for none may enter therein save only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement at the time of the Temple service. R. Jose said: In five things is the space between the Porch and the Altar equal to the Sanctuary: for they may not enter there that have a blemish, or that have drunk wine, or that have hands and feet unwashed, and men must keep far from between the Porch and the Altar at the time of burning the incense.”
The area between the Porch and the Altar goes from the east side of the altar to the west side of the Porch. You cannot enter that area until you have washed your hands and your feet. So, how can the Kior (laver) be where most illustrations put it? In Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 6.2, it talks about the door on the east side, but it also talks about “gates” (plural). Every picture we see of the Mishkan has only one gate, but it cannot function with only one gate. There had to be gates opening up to the inner court on the four corners in order to have the Kior and place for the priests to dress, a tent for the wood, a tent for cooking and eating of the kodshai kodashim, possibly a tent with a second fire in case the altar fire went out, and other things that could not be done outside the Mishkan. These tents would have a gate leading in and out into the courtyard. These were not used by non-priests. They entered at the east gate. The Temple had the four buildings to accomplish the very same things.
Now we are going to go to Exo 32 which contains one of the most famous incidents in the Scriptures, the incident of the Golden Calf. It is one of the most significant days in history and it was a turning point for Israel. In Exo 25 and going to Exo 40, we have the building of the Mishkan. It is set up in a chiastic structure. The Golden Calf is the center point of this structure.
Exo 32.1-2 tells us that Moses has been on the mountain for forty days and nights. He hasn’t been gone long. Joshua has been waiting on the mountain while Moses went into the cloud. They know he is coming back. They have heard the audible voice of God several days before. They have seen dramatic miracles, the Red Sea was crossed, the Egyptian army destroyed, the water, the military victories. The whole concept that they didn’t know what happened to Moses and the people felt a need to have “gods” is unwarranted.
The word that is used here is “Elohim” and it is used or God, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be referring to him. It can be used for a man, it can be used for an angel. In the case of men or angels it has to be plural. In the case of pagan gods it has to be plural, in the case of Yehovah it has to be plural. It is understood they meant God based on what is coming, not a pagan god. They wanted a visible representation of Yehovah (v 1).
Exo 32.4 says, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” In Exo 32.5 Aaron saw this calf and he built an altar for it. Then he mad a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yehovah.” They are saying that this calf is a visible Yehovah! So, they were breaking the first audible commandments they heard from the Lord about forty days prior.
They haven’t heard what Moses has been told on the mountain. Before he is even off the mountain, and he is on the way down, they are worshiping this, and they did not make this in one day. While he is still on the mountain they began preparing a visible representation of God, violating the commandments. Deut 4.15-18 says that this was not to be done. They did not see a form on Mount Sinai and they were not to make a graven image in the form of any figure to represent God. They were not to make any female figure, any animal or winged bird, or any likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish.
In Exo 25.13 Moses has not gone up into the mountain yet, God tells Moses to tell the people to raise a contribution of gold, silver, etc, for the Mishkan. Now, Aaron has told them to bring that gold to make this calf. It was to be used for the Mishkan, not an image of Yehovah. They have really made a big mistake here. Aaron is going to be the leader in all this and a key to this chapter. They mixed paganism into it. It will happen again in 1 Kings 12.25-33 with Jereboam and 1 Kings 18.21 where they “hesitated” in their opinion about Baal and the Lord during the time of Elijah. They were worshiping Baal and Asherah and calling it the worship of God.
In Exo 32.6 they had korbanot of burnt and peace offerings, and sat down to eat and drink in a meal consecrated to God. It also says they “rose up to play” meaning to “revel” (Hebrew “L’tzakek”). To “revel” means to enjoy oneself in a lively and noisy way, especially with drinking and dancing. The word L’tzakek is similar to the word “Yitzak” (Isaac) which means “laughter.” It’s bad that they were making a graven image, but its worse that they called it Yehovah. It’s bad that they were having a pagan festival, but it was worse that they called it a “feast to Yehovah” (v 4-5). This is exactly what is done today.
In Part 57 we will pick up here and develop this chapter out even more, and begin with why this chapter is the key to the whole sequence of chapters from Exo 25 to Exo 40.