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Lectio divina on the book of Exodus

by Fr Piergiorgio M. Di Domenico OSM

Lectio 6 – 2016/17
Ex 28-31

To the Lord belongs the earth
and all it contains,
the world and all who live there

(Ps 24:1)


The priestly vestments

1‘From among the Israelites, summon your brother Aaron and his sons to be priests in my service: Aaron and Aaron’s sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2 For your brother Aaron you will make sacred vestments to give dignity and magnificence. 3 You will instruct all the skilled men, whom I have endowed with skill, to make Aaron’s vestments for his consecration to my priesthood. 4 These are the vestments which they must make: a pectoral, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered tunic, a turban and a belt. They must make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for them to be priests in my service. 5 They will use gold and violet material, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen.

It is very difficult to have a clear picture of the priestly vestments and ornaments. However, it is not important. What we are interested in is the religious idea behind them. The vestments – “to give dignity and magnificence” (28:2) – separate what is holy from what is profane; they are the sign of consecration and of priestly service. They are made by the most “skilled men”, endowed with a spirit of wisdom (28:3). Some of them have a specific function: for instance, breeches, used to cover nudity (cf 28:42-43); or the bells (cf 28:34-35), which signal the presence of the Lord, and which, perhaps, may also have an apotropaic function, that is, to keep evil spirits away. The stones and the gold headband that Aaron must wear on his forehead are, on the contrary, very precious.

The ephod

6 They will make the ephod of finely woven linen embroidered with gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson. 7 It will have two shoulder-straps joined to it; it will be joined to them by its two edges. 8 The waistband on the ephod to hold it in position must be of the same workmanship and be of a piece with it: of gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson materials and finely woven linen. 9 You will then take two cornelians and engrave them with the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on one stone, the remaining six names on the other, in the order of their birth. 11 By the stone-carver’s art – seal engraving – you will engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You will have them mounted in gold settings 12 and will put the two stones on the shoulder-straps of the ephod, to commemorate the sons of Israel. In this way Aaron will bear their names on his two shoulders, before the Lord, as a reminder. 13 You will also make golden rosettes, 14 and two chains of pure gold twisted like cord, and will attach the cord-like chains to the rosettes.

Two cornelians should be worn on top of the ephod, which was the priestly vestment, made up of three parts: the ‘ephod’ itself; the waistband; and the shoulder straps. The ephod was made of finely woven linen, in four colours: hyacinth, purple, scarlet and very white linen; and embroidered with gold. It was made up of two parts, one for the breast and the other for the back. The waistband, made of the same cloth and “of a piece with it”, was used to fix the ephod around the waist, in a way similar to a scarf’s (cf 28:8, 27, 28). Each shoulder strap had a cornelian mounted in gold setting, “to commemorate the sons of Israel”: “In this way Aaron will bear their names on his two shoulders, before the Lord, as a reminder” (28:12).

The breastplate of judgement

15 ‘You will make the breastplate of judgement of the same embroidered work as the ephod; you will make it of gold, violet-purple, red-purple and crimson materials and finely woven linen. 16 It must be square and doubled over, a span in length and a span in width. 17 In it you will set four rows of stones; a sard, topaz and emerald for the first row; 18 for the second row, a garnet, sapphire and diamond; 19 for the third row, a hyacinth, a ruby and an amethyst; 20 and for the fourth row, a beryl, a cornelian and a jasper. These must be mounted in gold settings. 21 The stones will correspond to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve like their names, engraved like seals, each with the name of one of the twelve tribes. 22 For the breastplate you will make chains of pure gold twisted like cords, 23 and on the breastplate you will make two gold rings, putting the two rings on the two outside edges of the breastplate 24 and fastening the two gold cords to the two rings on the outside edges of the breastplate. 25 The other two ends of the cords you will fasten to the two rosettes, putting these on the shoulder-straps of the ephod, on the front. 26 You will also make two gold rings and put them on the two edges of the breastplate, on the inner side, against the ephod; 27 and you will make two gold rings and put them low down on the front of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, close to the join, above the waistband of the ephod. 28 The breastplate will be secured by a violet-purple cord passed through its rings and those of the ephod, so that the breastplate will sit above the waistband and not come apart from the ephod. 29 Thus Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgement, on his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, as a reminder, before the Lord, always. 30 To the breastplate of judgement you will add the urim and thummin, and these will be on Aaron’s heart when he goes into the Lord’s presence, and Aaron will bear the Israelites’ judgement on his heart, in the Lord’s presence, always.

To crown the ephod, there was the breastplate of judgement, on the breast, fixed to the shoulder straps by gold cords and rings. It was doubled over, thus similar to a bag, and it contained the urim and thummin, which were the means of judging the twelve tribes and the people as a whole by prophecy, learning about the Lord’s will: “Thus Aaron will bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgement, on his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, as a reminder, before the Lord, always” (28:29). The stones on the breastplate were all different one from the other and set in four rows of three stones each: they represented the twelve tribes, different one from the other but joined in fraternity.

The two stones on the shoulder straps as well as the breastplate were “a reminder before the Lord” (28:12, 29): this phrase occurs many times in the Scriptures. For instance, in Chapter 30, when dealing with the poll tax, it is said that all the money would be applied to the service of the Tent of the Meeting, “for it to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord, as the ransom for your lives” (Ex 30:16). In Nb 10:10: “At your festivals, solemnities and new-moon feasts, you will sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and communion sacrifices, so that they recall you to the remembrance of your God.” Nb 31:54: “But Moses and the priest Eleazar, having accepted the gold from the commanders of the hundreds, brought it into the Tent of Meeting, to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord.” In the solemn liturgies of Simon the High Priest, trumpets were blown and their mighty sound rang out “as a reminder before the Most High” (Si 50:16).

We must make memory of the Lord; but we must also remind the Lord of us. The memorial must be addressed both to the Lord and to ourselves, so that the two parties (God and we) may be at the same time subject and object. Is 62:6-7 provides a perfect example of that: “No peace for you, as you keep the Lord’s attention! And give Him no peace either, until He restores Jerusalem and makes her the pride of the world!” We must not fail in this commitment to be the Lord’s secretaries, reminding Him of His commitment of faithful love towards us. As children of His, we beg Him not to forget to give us our daily bread, all the bread we need. Of course, we shall have the right to remind the Lord only if we faithfully guard His word in our hearts. Only then we may ask: “Remember, Lord, to fulfil the word we trust in, as soon as You can”.

The robe

31 ‘You will make the robe of the ephod entirely of violet-purple. 32 In the centre it will have an opening for the head, the opening to have round it a border woven like the neck of a coat of mail, so that it will not get torn. 33 On its lower hem, you will make pomegranates of violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen all round the hem, with golden bells between them all round: 34 a golden bell and then a pomegranate, alternately, all round the lower hem of the robe. 35 Aaron must wear it when he officiates, and the tinkling will be heard when he goes into the sanctuary into the Lord’s presence, or leaves it, and so he will not incur death.

Ben Sira, a lover of liturgical ceremonies and vestments, enthusiastically describes Aaron’s robe: “To surround the robe He gave him pomegranates, and many gold bells all round, to chime at every step, for their sound to be heard in the Temple as a reminder to the children of His people” (Si 45:9).

The pomegranates in Nb 13:23 are the sign of the abundance of fruits in the Vale of Eschol. In Dt 8:8 we find the list of all the Promised Land’s produce: “a land of wheat and barley, of vines, of figs, of pomegranates, a land of olives, of oil, of honey”. In the desert, the Israelites complained that the place had no figs, no vines, no pomegranates (cf Nb 20:5). Cf also 1 S 14:2: “Saul was on the outskirts of Gheba, sitting under the pomegranate tree that stands near the threshing-floor”.

The pomegranates sown on the hem of the High Priest’s mantle represented therefore God’s blessing over His people. The fact that the land was deprived of its more beautiful fruits meant that God’s blessing had deserted them, as they had abandoned Him (cf Jl 1:12 and Hg 2:19).

The peculiar symbolism of pomegranates occurs also in the decoration of the Temple. On the capitals of the two bronze pillars standing at the entrance of the Temple there were pomegranate-garlands. To build his Temple, Salomon sent for Hiram of Tyre, who was “a high intelligent craftsman, skilled in all types of bronzework” (1 K 7:14), who “made pomegranates: two rows of them round each filigree… applied on the raised moulding behind the filigree; there were two hundred pomegranates round one capital and the same round the other capital… Hiram finished all the work that he did for King Solomon on the Temple of the Lord: two pillars; the two mouldings of the capitals surrounding the pillars… the four hundred pomegranates for the two sets of filigree – two rows of pomegranates for each set of filigree.” (1 K 7:18-20, 40-42; cf also 2 Ch 3:16; 4:13). The pillars with the pomegranates were destroyed – and the Temple too – when Jerusalem was conquered in 587 b.C., as 2 K 25:17 reminds us, full of sadness. Their memory is to be found in the last chapter of the Book of Jeremiah: this is an addition, aimed at demonstrating that the prophet’s words were fulfilled. The two pillars are described in details: “the height of one pillar was eighteen cubits [7 metres], its circumference was twelve cubits [5 metres], it was four fingers thick and hollow inside; on it stood a capital of bronze, the height of the capital being five cubits; round the capital were filigree and pomegranates, all in bronze. There were ninety-six pomegranates round the sides, making a hundred pomegranates round the filigree in all.” (Jr 52:21-23)

According to the Book of Tobit, pomegranates were given as tithes to the priests: “To the Levites ministering at Jerusalem I would give my tithe of wine and corn, olives, pomegranates and other fruits” (Tb 1:7).

Finally we must recall to mind that in the Song of Songs pomegranates are symbols of love (cf 4:3, 13; 6:7, 11; 7:13; 8:2). A very interesting research could be conducted on the symbolic meaning of this fruit, as represented in the ‘Madonna della Melagrana’ (‘Our Lady with a pomegranate’) by Leonardo, Botticelli, Jacopo della Quercia, Pinturicchio and others.

The symbol of consecration

36 ‘You will make a flower of pure gold and on it, as you would engrave a seal, you will engrave, “Consecrated to the Lord”. 37 You will put it on a violet-purple cord; it will go on the turban; the front of the turban is the place where it must go. 38 This will go on Aaron’s brow, and Aaron will thus take on himself the short-comings in the holy things consecrated by the Israelites, in all their holy offerings. It will be on his brow permanently, to make them acceptable to the Lord. 39 The tunic you will weave of fine linen, and make a turban of fine linen, and an embroidered waistband.

The vestments of the priests

40 ‘For the sons of Aaron you will make tunics and waistbands. You will also make them head-dresses to give dignity and magnificence. 41 You will dress your brother Aaron and his sons in these; you will then anoint them, invest them and consecrate them to serve me in the priesthood. 42 You will also make them linen breeches reaching from waist to thigh, to cover their bare flesh. 43 Aaron and his sons will wear these when they go into the Tent of the Meeting and when they approach the altar to serve in the sanctuary, as a precaution against incurring mortal guilt. This is a perpetual decree for Aaron and for his descendants after him.’

The flower Aaron bears on the turban is a sign of his consecration and, at the same time, a means of reconciliation for the shortcomings and sins of the people: “Aaron will thus take on himself the shortcomings in the holy things consecrated by the Israelites, in all their holy offerings” (28:38). Aaron had to take on himself the guilt of the people but his responsibility did not involve suffering personally on behalf of others, as the Servant of the Lord would do (cf Is 53:10-12). However, we must bear in mind that consecration is never just a personal (private) event, but that necessarily involves a change in the relationships with others.


This chapter describes Aaron’s rite of consecration (cf Lv 8). First he is dressed in the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod, the breastplate; and the turban with the diadem is placed on his head. Then he is anointed with the oil. Aaron’s sons are consecrated too. The priesthood will belong to Aaron and his sons “by perpetual decree” (Ex 29:9): it is a hereditary priesthood. Then a bull is slaughtered (29:10-14), but not all of it is burnt on the altar. “The young bull’s flesh, its skin and its offal, you will burn outside the camp, for this is a sin offering.” (29:14) Next a first ram is slaughtered (29:15-18). Then a second one is slaughtered too. Some of this ram’s blood – the “ram of the investiture” – is “put on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the lobes of his sons’ right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and the big toes of their right feet” (29:20). The rest of the blood is to be poured against the altar, all round, and to be sprinkled on Aaron and his sons, “so that he and his vestments will be consecrated and his sons too, and his sons’ vestments” (29:21). Aaron’s sacred vestments will pass to his sons after him, “and they will wear them for their anointing and investiture” (29:29).

The investiture of the priests

22 ‘You will then take the fatty parts of the ram: the tail, the fat covering the entrails, the fatty mass over the liver, the two kidneys with their covering fat and also the right thigh – for this is a ram of investiture – 23 and a loaf of bread, a cake of bread made with oil, and a wafer, from the basket of unleavened bread before the Lord, 24 and put it all on the palms of Aaron and his sons, and make the gesture of offering before the Lord. 25 Then you will take them back and burn them on the altar, on top of the burnt offering, as a smell pleasing before the Lord, a food offering burnt for the Lord.

26 ‘You will then take the forequarters of the ram of Aaron’s investiture and with it make the gesture of offering before the Lord; this will be you portion. 27 You will consecrate the forequarters that have been thus offered, as also the thigh that is set aside – what has been offered and what has been set aside from the ram of investiture of Aaron and his sons. 28 This, by perpetual decree, will be the portion that Aaron and his sons will receive from the Israelites, since it is the portion set aside, the portion set aside for the Lord by the Israelites from their communion sacrifices: a portion set aside for the Lord.

The sacred meal

31 ‘You will take the ram of investiture and cook its meat in a holy place. 32 Aaron and his sons will eat the meat of the ram and the bread which is in the basket, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. 33 They will eat what was used in making expiation for them at their investiture and consecration. No unauthorised person may eat these; they are holy things. 34 If any of the meat from the investiture sacrifice, or the bread, should be left till morning, you will burn what is left. It may not be eaten; it is a holy thing.

For the sacrifice of communion, cf Lv 3.

The rite of investiture will be repeated for seven consecutive days, by offering a young bull “as a sacrifice for sin, in expiation” (29:36), making expiation for the altar and consecrating it; “it will then be especially holy, and whatever touches the altar will become holy” (29:37).

This is what is offered on the altar: “two yearling male lambs each day in perpetuity. The first lamb you will offer at dawn, and the second at twilight, and with the first lamb, one-tenth of a measure of fine flour mixed with one-quarter of a hin of pounded olive oil and, for a libation, one-quarter of a hin of wine. The second lamb you will offer at twilight, and do it with a similar cereal offering and libation as at dawn, as a pleasing smell, as an offering burnt for the Lord…” (29:38-41) This is the daily holocaust (‘tamid’) of the morning and evening (cf also Nb 28:3-8 and Ezk 46:13-15), afterwards replaced by Jesus, the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

… 42 a perpetual burnt-offering for all your generations to come, at the entrance of the Tent of the Meeting before the Lord, where I shall meet you and speak to you.

43 ‘There I shall meet the Israelites in the place consecrated by my glory. 44 I shall consecrate the Tent of the Meeting and the altar; I shall also consecrate Aaron and his sons, to be priests in my service. 45 And I shall live with the Israelites and be their God, 46 and they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt to live among them: I, the Lord their God.’

Here we find two different ideas: the Tent of Meeting, the sanctuary of the perpetual dwelling. As far as we are concerned, we can translate them thus: the experience of our faith, rooted in God but always journeying, on a quest.


The altar of incense

1 ‘You will make an altar on which to burn incense; you will make it of acacia wood, 2 one cubit long, and one cubit wide – it must be square – and two cubits high; its horns must be of a piece with it. 3 You will overlay its top, its sides all round and its horns with pure gold and make a gold moulding to go all round. 4 You will make two gold rings for it below the moulding on its two opposite sides, to take the shafts used for carrying it. 5 You will make the shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.

6 ‘You will put it in front of the curtain by the Ark of the Testimony, in front of the mercy seat which is on the Testimony, where I shall meet you. 7 On it Aaron will burn fragrant incense each morning; when he trims the lamps, he will burn incense on it; 8 and when Aaron puts back the lamps at twilight, he will burn incense on it, incense perpetually before the Lord for all your generations to come. 9 You will not offer unauthorised incense, or burnt offering, or cereal offering on it, and you will not pour any libation over it. 10 Once a year, Aaron will perform the rite of expiation on the horns of the altar; once a year, on the Day of Expiation, with the blood of the sacrifice for sin, he will make expiation for himself, for all your generations to come. It is especially holy for the Lord.’

This is a kind of consecration of the whole earth. The animal kingdom offers the victims for the sacrifice. The vegetal kingdom offers construction materials, perfumes and incense. The mineral kingdom offers the precious gold. Together with this offerings on the earth’s part, we offer ourselves to God and we acknowledge that we are His servants. This is the reason why at this point the Book of Exodus deals with the poll.

The poll tax

11 The Lord then spoke to Moses and said, 12 ‘When you count the Israelites by census, each one of them must pay the Lord a ransom for his life, to avoid any incidence of plague among them while you are holding the census. 13 Everyone subject to the census will pay half a shekel, reckoning by the sanctuary shekel: twenty gerah to the shekel. This half-shekel will be set aside for the Lord. 14 Everyone subject to the census, that is to say of twenty years and over, will pay the sum set aside for the Lord. 15 The rich man must not give more, nor the poor man less, than half a shekel when he pays the sum set aside for the Lord in ransom for your lives. 16 You will take the ransom money of the Israelites and apply it to the service of the Tent of Meeting, for it to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord, as the ransom for your lives.’

We belong to the Lord, together with the whole world. Counting may be risky (cf 2 S 24:1-10), because it is like withdrawing from the Lord, who is and must be our one and only Lord. In spite of our own littleness and poverty, we trust in the Lord. By paying a symbolic ransom, the people acknowledged that they belonged to the Lord. The money would be applied to the service of the Tent of Meeting. By worshipping, we reaffirm our own will to put our lives into God’s hands.

The bronze basin

17 The Lord then spoke to Moses and said, 18 ‘You will also make a bronze basin on its bronze stand, for washing. You will put it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar and put water in it, 19 in which Aaron and his sons will wash their hands and feet. 20 Whenever they are to enter the Tent of the Meeting, they will wash, to avoid incurring death; and whenever they approach the altar for their service, to burn an offering for the Lord, 21 they will wash their hands and feet, to avoid incurring death. This is a perpetual decree from him and his descendants for all their generations to come.’

In order to be allowed to approach the Lord, one must be pure. Cf the so-called ‘entrance psalms’ (Psalms 15, 24, 26, 50, 95, 134), which present the necessary conditions to gain access to the holy place. “Lord, who can find a home in Your tent? / … / Whoever lives blamelessly, / who acts uprightly, / who speaks the truth from the heart…” (Ps 15:1-2) “Who shall go up to the mountain of the Lord? / Who shall take a stand in His holy place? / The clean of hands and pure of heart, / whose heart is not set on vanities, / who does not swear an oath in order to deceive.” (Ps 24:3-4) “honour to me is a sacrifice of thanksgiving; / to the upright I will show God’s salvation.” (Ps 50:23)

It is faith that makes us pure in the Lord’s eyes: faith rooted in life, in our own social relations but, at the same time, genuinely contemplative, that is, bathed in God.

The anointing oil

22 The Lord spoke further to Moses and said, 23 ‘Take the finest spices: five hundred shekels of fresh myrrh, half as much (two hundred and fifty shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, two hundred and fifty shekels of scented reed, 24 five hundred shekels (reckoning by the sanctuary shekel) of cassia, and one hin of olive oil. 25 You will make this into a holy anointing oil, such a blend as perfumer might make; this will be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you will anoint the Tent of Meeting and the Ark of the Testimony, 27 the table and all its accessories, the lamp-stand and its accessories, the altar of incense, 28 the altar of burnt offerings and all its accessories, and the basin with its stand, 29 consecrating them, so that they will be especially holy and whatever touches them will become holy. 30 You will also anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them to be priests in my service. 31 You will then speak to the Israelites and say, “This anointing oil will be holy for you for all your generations to come. 32 It must not be used for anointing the human body, nor may you make any of the same mixture. It is a holy thing; you will regard it as holy. 33 Anyone who makes up the same oil or uses it on an unauthorised person will be outlawed from his people.”’

The perfumed anointing oil is the symbol of consecration. It makes things and people holy, as they become – through anointing – God’s property, they share God’s power and holiness. Oil is also a symbol of hearty hospitality. Cf Psalm 23:5: “You prepare a table for me… You anoint my head with oil”. A symbol of fraternity: “How good, how delightful it is / to live as brothers all together! / It is like a fine oil on the head, / running down the beard, / running down Aaron’s beard, / onto the collar of his robes.” (Ps 133:1-2) Fraternity is like the perfumed anointing oil: it is a “holy thing”, to be respected and loved while humbly being aware of our own littleness.

The symbol of perfume is also used in the New Testament. The house of Bethany is filled with the perfume of the very precious ointment of pure nard, poured on Jesus’ feet by Mary. This act shows her love for Him who – out of love – became poor for ourselves, giving us His very life as a gift (cf Jn 12:1-8). The stronger the perfume is, the more penetrating it is. We should be so imbued with Christ’s perfume to spread it “everywhere” (2 Co 2:14-15).

The incense

34 The Lord then said to Moses, ‘Take sweet spices: storax, onycha, galbanum, sweet spices and pure frankincense in equal parts, 35 and compound an incense, such a blend as the perfumer might make, salted, pure and holy. 38 You will grind some of this up very fine and put it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I shall meet you. You will regard is as especially holy. 37 You may not make any incense of similar composition for your own use. You will regard it as holy , reserved for the Lord. Anyone who makes the same thing to use as perfume will be outlawed from his people.’

The perfume to be burnt in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting is a blend of various spices: storax, onycha, galbanum, sweet spices and frankincense. These are some of the spices Wisdom identifies herself with: “Like cynnamon and acanthus I have yielded a perfume, like choice myrrhm have breathed out a scent, like galbanum, onycha, labdanum, like the smoke of incense in the tent.” (Si 24:15) Here there is a clear reference to Exodus. We can then say that the earth – remembered for the variety of its plants (cf Si 24:13-14, 16-17) – is the true sanctuary of God; the priest serving at it is Wisdom, offering to God the Father the balsam of the Word and the incense of prayer (cf Ps 141:2).


The craftsmen for the sanctuary

1 The Lord then spoke to Moses and said, 2 ‘Look, I have singled out Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and have filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft: 4 in designing and carrying out work in gold and silver and bronze, 5 in cutting stones to be set, in wood carving and in executing every kind of work. 6 And to help him I have given him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, and have endowed the hearts of all the skilled men with the skill to make everything I have ordered you: 7 the Tent of Meeting; the Ark of the Testimony; the mercy-seat above it; and all the furniture of the tent; 8 the table and all its accessories; the pure lamp-stand and all its equipment; the altar of incense; 9 the altar of burnt offerings and all its accessories; the basin and its stand; 10 the liturgical vestments, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, and the vestments for his sons, for their priestly functions; 11 the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the sanctuary. They will do everything as I have ordered you.’

The Sabbath rest

12 The Lord then said to Moses, 13 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say, “You will keep my Sabbaths properly, for this is a sign between myself and you for all your generations to come, so that you will know that it is I, the Lord, who sanctify you. 14 You will keep the Sabbath, then; you will regard it as holy. Anyone who profanes it will be put to death; anyone who does any work on that day will be outlawed from his people. 15 Work must be done for six days, but the seventh day will be a day of complete rest, consecrated to the Lord. Anyone who does work on the Sabbath day will be put to death. 16 The Israelites will keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath for all their generations to come: this is an eternal covenant. 17 Between myself and the Israelites, this is a sign for ever, for in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He rested and drew breath.”’

18 When He had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stones inscribed by the finger of God.

In the previous unit we have already dealt with Bezalel, the wise artist, as well as with the importance of art in our quest of God. Now we deal with the prescriptions regarding the Sabbath rest. This is a very important passage, as it closes the instructions on worship. The Sabbath is in fact a “sign” between God and the Israelites, “for in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He rested and drew breath” (Ex 31:17). We should get some advice from it, I mean, from God drawing breath. It is as if God heaved a sigh of relief after creating all that is necessary for us: He blew into the world all His love; He gave man His whole Self, and this wholeness is divine. If God gave everything to man, now it is our own turn to give, by being at the service of creation, by loving it, by respecting it, by sharing its goods. It is our own turn to create places of fraternity and liberty, where each and every man may be able to breathe freely, according to the rhythm of his own breath. The sabbath must be a sign of this: it is the day when both men and cattle can breathe freely, as we have already seen in Ex 23:12: “For six days you will do your work, and on the seventh you will rest, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the child of your slave-girl have a breathing space, and the alien too.”

By this liberating breath the detailed list of all the norms for worship comes to an end. They are not meant to oppress us; on the contrary, through the observance of both the more and the less important ones, they are meant to give us an opportunity of a more and more thorough donation of ourselves to the Lord. We must obey not as slaves under the Law, but as freemen under grace. This is the most beautiful fruit deriving from obedience to the Word of God: to be free from our very selves, so that our lives may become a gift to everybody, exactly like Jesus’ life was.