What a rollercoaster of a reading. We begin with the first six chapters in this reading of a detailed accounting not only of the tabernacle and how it ought to be adorned, but also of the priests who are serving the people and how they ought to be adorned. Keep in mind that the Israelites are still a nomadic people at this time, they have not arrived and settled in the promised land, so all that is described has to be picked up and carried from place to place. All that they have to make in order to have a proper worship has to be carried from one location to the other.
Notice also how the priests are set apart. This is part of the reason why currently at the traditional service I wear a robe. There is certainly precedent! I decided to skip the ephod and the breastpiece, a bit too cumbersome. But there is certainly a sense that the Aaronic priests were set apart for their work with the Lord and the sacrifices that were demanded in order to set them apart are somewhat involved.
The irony of this reading is that after six chapters of describing the detail that has to go into the structure where they are going to worship and the preparation of the people who are leading into worship, we find ourselves in chapter 32 with a very clear indication that the people are woefully inadequate to carry out the commandments that God gives to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The making of the golden calf by Aaron for the people of Israel is a classic Bible story which comes about because the people become inordinately bored with their time while Moses is away. Moses descends from the mountain not only with the commandments in his hands, but also with his head filled with details on what they have to do next to make the tabernacle, the place of worship, and to prepare the people to worship God in a correct way. The creation and then the subsequent worship of a calf is not the first step in this process. In fact, it almost completely derails the project all together.
Notice how Moses pleads for the people on their behalf that God would not destroy them, and then when he gets into the camp and sees how bad things are, that the people have run wild, he gathers up an army and does what God had planned to do in the first place, clean house. He asks God to take his own life as a penance for the sin of the people, but God says no worries, carry on, I’ll find a time to punish them for their sin.