I recently heard a sermon on Exodus 40 and it got me to thinking. There is so much that happens in this chapter: God speaks to Moses, giving final instructions for the tabernacle; the tabernacle is set up; each piece of liturgical furniture is given its place; the glory of the LORD fills the tabernacle; and God continues to lead Israel at each stage of their journey. Yet it was the ending that stuck with me:
Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey. – Exodus 40:36-38
After all that has happened, the Israelites are still journeying through the wilderness. They have yet to reach the promised land — their home. Exodus begins with God’s promise to bring His people Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery, “to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8) — to the land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. His promises continue:
I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. – Exodus 6:6-7
The rest of the book follows God’s action in freeing Israel from the Egyptians, delivering them from being slaves, redeeming them, and taking them as His people. All that’s left is to arrive at a place they call “home”. They don’t get there at the end of Exodus. God has brought them out, but He hasn’t brought them home. The ending seemed incomplete, unfinished, and – frankly – a little disappointing. What kind of ending is this? Wasn’t the point of bringing Israel out of Egypt to bring them to the promised land? Why then do they continue to wander in the desert without a glimpse of their new home? Why do they continue their search?
What does it mean to be ‘home’?
‘Home’ might be the place you live, the people you live with, or maybe even the place your ancestors came from. My home is in small-town, Iowa, but it is also with my husband and with my family. Home is also Canada and the Netherlands – the lands I came from. Maybe ‘home’ is bigger than a destination. When I looked back at Exodus 40 I began to read it in a whole new light. At the end of the book of Exodus, God has yet to bring His people to the promised land, but maybe he has already brought them home. What is it that Moses does? He builds a house — the tabernacle — a place for God to live. And then, God comes and dwells in the house. God dwells in a house built at the center of the Israelite camp. Could it be that God has indeed brought them home? Could it be, when we still find ourselves walking in the wilderness, that any place where God is at the center is a place that we can call home?