A groundbreaking ceremony for a new building project is often attended by the leaders of the organization and local community or government officials. Selected dignitaries use special shovels to dig out a piece of ground to mark the formal beginning of the project. And then when a building is finished, the leaders and officials gather again for the ribbon cutting. Large decorative scissors replace the shovels at the ceremony to mark the opening of a new place.
Our reading today describes the dedication of the tabernacle. Chronologically, this event took place one month before those of chapters 1 through 6, but it is placed here in Numbers to make its significance clear.
The dedication of the tabernacle was a milestone in multiple ways. It was a national milestone, marking the end of a transition from slavery to nationhood. It was a religious milestone, ushering in a new era in which worship and daily life were governed by the Law God had given at Sinai. It was an identity milestone, as the Lord once again stamped His name on His people (6:27). And it was a faithfulness milestone—mainly of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises, but also of Israel’s obedience in getting this far and obeying God’s specific instructions for building the tabernacle.
The dedication festival was huge and lasted twelve days! The leaders of each tribe presented elaborate and expensive gifts, marking the importance of the event (vv. 84–88). Each tribe gave the same, no matter their size or status, indicating their equal standing before the Lord. The repetitive structure of the chapter reflects the serious, formal, ceremonial nature of the occasion. As in Exodus 40, the climax was the descent of the cloud—the visible manifestation of the Lord’s presence and glory—and God speaking directly to Moses.