Parasha: Ki Tisa
כי תשא (Exod 30:11–34:35)
Our parasha this week is called Ki Tisa (כִּי תִשָּׂא) from Exod 30–34, meaning “When you take,” and here God gives Moses the final instructions on how to build the Tabernacle.
Now, as you are reading through Exodus, this should be a time of rejoicing, since God will now dwell in their midst (Exod 25:8); but instead, we witness in this parasha the exact opposite: This turns into a time of judgment. You see, instead of Israel waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai with God’s revelation about the tabernacle, they took matters into their own hands. Because of their impatience, they instead built a golden calf, which they thought represented God’s presence in their midst. They had the right idea and the right intentions, but they had the wrong method.
And there lies the age-old problem with people: that instead of understanding God through His revelation, we already have an idea of what God should be like (maybe from teachers, our own views, movies, culture), and then we worship this god, which was essentially made in our own image. This is the very nature of idolatry. And so Parasha Ki Tisa really paints the danger of this approach, and we are left with the question: Whose Revelation will you follow?
The parasha begins in Exodus 30 as God tells Moses the final details regarding the tabernacle: where priests should wash their hands (Exod 30:17–21), details about the anointing oil (Exod 30:22-33) as well as the altar that was in the holy place. And you could imagine that, at this point, Moses may have felt overwhelmed with all of these instructions. You know, during the first week of classes at university, we often speak of “Syllabus Shock.” This is because students have received their syllabus from each class that outlines all their reading, projects, assignments, and they think: how am I going to do this? In the same way, Moses may have looked at these instructions and thought: How are we going to do this? And I love this parasha because we learn that whatever God calls you to (ministry, work, discipling somebody; confronting somebody), He will supply you with the skills and ability to complete it.
We see how, immediately after God finishes his instructions, it says that He empowered one Bezalel — “[God] filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom…in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs” (Exod 31:2-3). Similarly, God said that he appointed “Oholiab…and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exod 31:6). God empowered the people. And so, we can take comfort in knowing that if God gives you a passion or a burden, he will equip you to fulfill your calling. So do not ignore it, or say “I cant,” or even “I’ll do it later.” Because like James, the brother of Yeshua, wrote “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). So we can trust in God’s empowerment.
So, after the instructions are given, we are expecting the construction of the Tabernacle. However, this is not what happened. When you take a step back and look at this last part of the book of Exodus (Exodus 25–40), we see (a) the instructions for building the tabernacle (b) the actual building of the tabernacle, but (c) right in the middle, you have the worship of the golden calf. You may wonder: Why is it told in this way? I believe that this serves as a warning for all of us about the need to worship God based on his revelation. He revealed his way, but they tried to do it in the way they thought best, and it didn’t work.
What is scary is that, for Israel, they thought they were doing the right thing! As Moses was up on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, the people went to Aaron and said: “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses…we do not know what has become of him” (Exod 32:1). They still wanted to worship the God of Israel, just not in the way God set up. Instead of using God’s mediator (Moses), they wanted another mediator which they could see and know.
In other words, they wanted to worship a god according to their own understanding. And we still see this today. I remember when Oprah came out and said “I could not believe in a God who is Jealous.” That’s fine, but just know that, at this point, you have created a god based on your desires rather than on God’s revelation.
So, How do we avoid that? Parasha Ki Tisa sets up two paths for us: We could be like the community at the bottom of the mountain who became impatient, and did not want to wait for God’s revelation. For us today, this may mean that we don’t spend time learning about God, we see things on social media, or memes, and that is where we get our theology. Or we could take the more difficult path of being with Moses on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, where the journey took longer and required discipline. For us today, this would mean waking up earlier than usual, taking the time to study Scripture, and be open to changing our views of God. As a community, we have acknowledged the God of Israel, but now we must learn about the God of Israel.
So, towards the end of the parasha, God brought a judgment over Israel. God told Moses “let me alone, that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exod 32:10). If you’re Moses — this sounds like a great deal! All throughout the wilderness journey, Israel has been complaining and grumbling against Moses. Finally, Moses’s could say “Ah! I was right! These people can’t be led.” But that is not what Moses says. Instead, Moses displays the greatest model of love, which is a picture of the Messiah. Despite being rejected and ridiculed, he interceded for the nation, and even laid his life down on the life. Moses said to God: “if You will, forgive their sin — and if not, please blot me out from our book which you have written” (Exod 32:32). In other words, “If they go, let me go as well.” You see his deep love for Israel, even at their lowest.
What we witness from Scripture is that those who walk closely do not make a God into their own image, but rather, they are conformed into the image of God’s Son: This is seen in the fruits of the spirit, such as unconditional love for others.
Therefore, as a community, let’s remember these two paths of parasha Ki Tisa, and encourage one another to engage in the discipline to better understand the revelation of God, and grow in conformity to his image.