Exodus 40 Command Performance

Questions: Who really does the work? When must leaders do the work themselves? How does our work relate to what God does? Can our work really contain God? Click “Read More” to pursue answers.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Exodus 39:42-40:38

According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them.

This phrase — “as the Lord commanded Moses” — recurs throughout the preceding chapters. Interestingly, chapter 40 shifts from God (through Moses) telling the people what to do, to God telling Moses what he himself should do.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation.

Which, in fact, he does:

Thus did Moses: according to all that the LORD commanded him, so did he.

In particular, the text implies that Moses actually did the work this time, rather than merely looking at it:

* And Moses reared up the tabernacle…

* And he took and put the testimony into the ark…

* And he brought the ark into the tabernacle… as the LORD commanded Moses

* And he set the bread in order upon it… as the LORD had commanded Moses

* And he put the candlestick in the tent

* And he lighted the lamps… as the LORD commanded Moses.

* And he put the golden altar in the tent…

* And he burnt sweet incense… as the LORD commanded Moses.

* And he set up the hanging…

* And he put the altar of burnt offering… as the LORD commanded Moses.

* And he set the laver…

Now, it is possible he had some helpers, rather than physically having to carry everything himself. And, pronouns are always hard to map into Hebrew, so I’m leery of reading in too much. Still, there is a strong sense that Moses is personally responsible for what happens here — in contrast to “the children of Israel” in the earlier chapter:

And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the hanging of the court gate. So Moses finished the work

There’s an interesting commentary on leadership in here (somewhere). For example, for the individual components it is apparently up to the various craftsman and laborers to build them appropriately. However, Moses not only has to review their work, he personally has to put the finished pieces in place. The buck stops there.

What is even more fascinating, though, is what happens next:

Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

I’ve often felt the same way: we can plan and build all we want, but it is just a hollow museum unless/until the Lord Himself shows up. And, lest Moses think his power was responsible for making this happen:

And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

I reminds me of my earlier meditations on power and powerlessness. Perhaps that is the truest test of leadership — and servanthood: when we create a vessel for something bigger than what we ourselves can control.


God, I thank you that you’ve given us (and me) a vision for the kingdom you’d like to build on this earth. I am both humbled and exalted by the fact that you’ve chosen to use human being — including me — to do that work. Yet, I still wrestle with what it means to lead men according to the vision you’ve given me: I fear both my lack of power, as well as presuming too much. Grant me the discernment to know which vision is truly yours, and the courage to place myself on the line to finish the work. Most of all, may everything I build be designed as a vessel for your glory to manifest in ways beyond my imagining (or managing). In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title, referring to Moses’ performance of God’s commands, derives from the idea of a special production requested by royalty, though it was mostly inspired by the 80’s jingle for the salon Command Performance.