Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sinai as a Temple: The Tripartite Description of the Mountain

Scholars generally recognize that Israel's tabernacle was meant to in some way extend the Sinai experience. Along these lines it is interesting to note that the graded holiness of the tabernacle reflects the Sinai experience. At Sinai most of the Israelites remained at the foot of the mountain (Exod 19:12, 23), while the leaders were permitted to ascend upwards (Exod 19:22) and Moses alone allowed access into the cloud at the top (Exod 24:2).

Mary Douglas, (Leviticus as Literature, 59–64) made this observation long ago:
“Both Sinai and the Tabernacle evidence a tripartite division. The summit corresponds to the inner sanctum, or Holy of Holies. The second zone, partway up the mountain, is the equivalent of the Tabernacle’s outer sanctum, or Holy Place. The third zone, at the foot of the mountain, is analogous to the outer court. As with the Tabernacle, the three distinct zones of Sinai feature three gradations of holiness in descending order. Just as Moses alone may ascend to the peak of the mountain, so all but one are barred from the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle” (59).
Likewise, Larsson writes,
“Just as here at Sinai, there came to be an area to which all of Israel had access, another reserved for the priests, and finally an inner ‘holy of holies’ into which only the high priest could enter. . . The model for this division is found already here, and the tabernacle becomes an important way of carrying the Sinai experience forward during the subsequent wanderings. . .” (Bound for Freedom, 134).

1 comment:

Victor said...

Great post!

This tripartite division is reflected elsewhere in Scripture. For example, in the Creation event as narrated in Genesis 2, there was the Garden of Eden, the surrounding Land and the outside World. God walked in the Garden, Adam and Eve were expelled to the Land and Cain went out as a wanderer in the World.

Scripture often connects the concept of Holiness to the symbol of the Number 3. The HOLY Spirit is the THIRD Person of the Blessed Trinity. Book 3 is Leviticus, the Book of Holiness. And what about the Trisagion ("Holy, holy, holy")? The Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple was a perfect Cube, and cubes are naturally associated with "threeness" (e.g., "cubing" a number is raising it to the third power).

Mountains are high places, and thus apt symbols of "temples" to draw near to the God of Heaven. Sinai was the great temple where God indewelled.

The vision of Daniel 2 runs parallel with Exodus. There is a "great mountain" just like Sinai. A stone is cut "without hand" from the mountain. Similarly, the altar of the Tabernacle should be made from stone that was not to be hewn. (Exo 20:24,25)

The Tabernacle was a portable "Sinai" that took the Israelites to the Promised Land and smashed the Canaanites. Once they reached the land, the Tabernacle settled down there, outgrowing into a Temple when Israel became a Kingdom.

Similarly, the litte stone of the vision would travel all the way to the statue that represented the human kingdoms and smash it. The stone then would grow and fill the whole earth. It is the Kingdom of God.

The Exodus story is thus a type of the history of the early Church, that left Judaism behind, "smashed" Rome without sword and filled the whole earth.