Fesko, J. V. Christ and the Desert Tabernacle. Darlington: EP Books, 2012. Paperback, 133 pps., $15.99.
First, I want to thank Cross Focused Reviews for the free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
J. V. Fesko is the Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, although in this book we see the pastoral side of Fesko instead of the academic. The goal of this book is to “show readers, young and old alike, that far from being boring or uninteresting, the Old Testament tabernacle, and later the temple in Solomon’s day, is a shadowy picture of Christ and the church” (12). He attempts to achieve this goal through detailing each step in the construction of the tabernacle in each successive chapter.
The first chapter, “Building Materials,” discusses exactly that: the materials used to construct the tabernacle in Exodus. Fesko carefully details the materials and the instructions for those materials before transitioning to Paul’s discussion of laying a foundation in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3. He closes this chapter with a discussion of giving freely to the church and of building the church with the Word, the sacraments, and with prayer. Chapter two, “The Ark of the Covenant,” opens up by detailing the Ark in Exodus, and then moves on to quoting verses in 1 John, Romans, and specifically the book of Revelation. “The Table and the Bread of Presence,” chapter three, discusses the Exodus material and then Fesko discusses each major New Testament story that involves bread in order to relate the Exodus account to the New Testament. He transitions into a discussion of the Eucharist and closes with a call to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ during the receiving of the Eucharist. Chapter four, “The Lampstand and the Oil,” again begins with a description of the Exodus description, and then transitions to the New Testament by way of a search for the word, “light.” A number of passages in the New Testament that use the word “light” are discussed, concluding with we should remember the Exodus passage in order that we “would unceasingly shine forth the light of the glory of Christ before the world” (46). “The Tabernacle,” chapter five, is related to the New Testament through the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost; ultimately the presence of God in the tabernacle is related to the indwelling of the Spirit in us as believers. Chapter six, “The Altar and Courtyard,” links the sacrifices on the altar to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Chapter seven, “The Priest’s Garments,” begins by describing the garments and then moving on to an understanding of Christ taking the place of the priest, and then, oddly enough, ends with a conclusion concerning the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. Chapter eight, “The Consecration of the Priests,” again relates the sacrifices performed by the priests to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. “The Altar of Incense,” chapter nine, immediately understands the incense to represent the prayers rising up to heaven. This is further explicated by discussing the New Testament intercessory prayers prayed by Christ himself concerning (according to the Fesko) the modern-day church. “The Census Tax,” chapter ten, discusses both the order to perform censuses and excise a tax when it is done, as well as a story about David performing a census and being punished for it. The end result of Fesko’s reasoning is that Christians should not be confident in their own numbers, but instead they should be confident in God’s strength. Chapter 11, “The Bronze Basin,” quickly moves from the Exodus description to a word search for “water” in the Bible. He discusses the “sea of glass” from the book of Revelation, the Flood account from Genesis and then moves on to baptism in the New Testament. Chapter 12 discusses “Oholiab and Bezalel,” who constructed the tabernacle. Fesko connects the idea that these men could only complete the tabernacle through divine inspiration to the New Testament idea of spiritual gifts, and does a full inventory of all three sets of spiritual gifts as discussed in the letters of Paul. The final chapter is “The Sabbath.” In this chapter, Fesko discusses the Sabbath of the Old Testament, the “Lord’s Day” of modern Christianity, and how to understand the two.
Fesko is ultimately successful in creating a book that might inspire those who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament to desire a further knowledge of it. It needs to be noted that this is not an academic book; there is not one single footnote or an appeal to any other authority other than Fesko’s own interpretation. Fesko does some things very well in this book; Fesko comes up short in other areas.
I agree wholeheartedly with each of Fesko’s conclusions. He makes a number of poignant statements that are not only valid but also necessary for the Church. I think that they are all biblically and theologically sound. I also think that Fesko does a great job of describing, in detail, the instructions to build the tabernacle in Exodus. My issue with this book is how Fesko gets from the tabernacle to his conclusions. They do not logically follow (and in some instances have nothing to do with each other), and he jumps through a number of hermeneutical hoops in order to show that the tabernacle account leads to these conclusions. I also have difficulty with the fact that Fesko completely ignores any and all critical scholarship that sheds some let on this passage. For example, he ignores issues of centralization of worship in Jerusalem during the divided monarchy. He also makes the comment that the Sabbath has already been discussed in the giving of the 10 Commandments, so why is it repeated in the instructions to build the tabernacle? Instead of using this opportunity to engage in a conversation with source critics, he simply says “that God reveals more information about the Sabbath” in this section of Exodus. I understand that his target audience is not academics, but to completely ignore the incredible amount of scholarship that has been done on this subject really does his audience a disservice.
Ultimately, I recommend this book for use within the Church. It would work well in small group study or Sunday school classes. It has potential to be a powerful resource for those unfamiliar with the Old Testament.