Where do you store important documents? We all have certain documents that must be protected. Birth certificates, important financial documents, family records, wills, and other important papers are usually kept in secure places in our homes or in a safe deposit box at a bank. These days, some important records are kept electronically through a variety of means.
In ancient Israel, important documents were also kept in secure locations. Israel’s most important document, The Ten Commandments (or Ten Words), was kept in a special “safe deposit box” called the Ark of the Covenant. The two tablets gave Israel their way of life and their covenant responsibilities. In our Torah portion, the tablets were called the “Testimony” and the Tabernacle is actually called the “Tabernacle of the Testimony” (Exo 38:21). The Hebrew word for “testimony” is “edut.” It can have a variety of meanings including witness or covenant. It is almost synonymous with “brit” (covenant). The two tablets served as a visual reminder or “testimony” of Israel’s responsibility to the covenant relationship. By using the term “Tabernacle of the Testimony,” the text is demonstrating how precious and essential the Word of God was to the purpose of the Tabernacle.
The physical structure of the Tabernacle itself was no guarantee of intimacy with God. Walking in the way of the Lord (“the Testimony”) provided Israel with assurance of the presence of God. At the end of the portion, the glory of the Lord fills the Tabernacle (Exo 40:34). In both the “Testimony” and the “glory” we see the covenant of God. The responsibility of the people was to obey the Testimony, and the responsibility of God in the covenant was his presence.
Later in history when Solomon built the Temple, we read the prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8. Much of the prayer is a request that God would forgive the sins of the people and that his presence would remain. However, at the end of the prayer he prays over the people: “Let your heart therefore be wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day” (I Kings 8:61).
In Jewish life, there are many symbols and reminders of our covenant responsibility. For example, the Torah Scroll, the mezuzah, the fringes on the tallit, the tefillin (phylacteries), the structure of the weekly service, and the Bible we read all remind us of our responsibility to be a “testimony” of the presence of God. With so much anxiety and concern in the world right now, we are thankful that with the coming of the Messiah we live in the Tabernacle of God. Thus, we have the Testimony and glory in our heart as we travel through the wilderness of this life. The day will come when the entire world will be the Tabernacle!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among humanity, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away”. (Revelation 21:3–4)