The Mirrors of the Ministering Women
This is one of those tiny verses that has slipped past my attention on every previous reading of the (somewhat tedious) detailing of the construction of the tabernacle, but which rewarded a little thought.
The first thing I noticed was that, apparently, there were ‘ministering women who ministered’ at the entrance of the tent of meeting. As I’m sure you’ll remember, the Tent of Meeting was where Moses used to sit (with Joshua) and meet with God (Ex 33:7-11), while all those who sought God waited outside. Everyone else, who wasn’t interested in being close to God that day, stood at the doors of their tents until Moses was safely inside. But only this verse tells us of the ‘ministering women who ministered’. What did they do, I wonder, at the entrance to the tent of meeting? Were they ministering to people’s physical needs, supplying them with food and water throughout the day? Or was it more the spiritual needs they took care of, moving among the crowds, praying for people, perhaps giving a prophetic word here and there? My guess is it was a bit of both.
But the amazing, wonderful, glorious thing is that they were there. God didn’t have to appoint them or call them or compel someone to rouse them. They went, as have women down the ages since, because they wanted to be near the presence of God, ministering however they were able. Think of Anna in the temple when Jesus was born. Think of the Marys and others supporting Jesus financially and rising as soon as it was light on the day after the Sabbath to go and tend to his body in the tomb. Jesus had to tell Peter, Andrew and Matthew to follow him, the women just quietly got on and did it.
Secondly, these women had mirrors. I had no idea mirrors existed in those times. Clearly they were just made of very shiny bronze, not glass, but still, that’s quite some sophisticated metalwork to create something you could usefully use as a mirror. I imagine they were reasonably valuable. And they gave them up for the tabernacle.
God just said he wanted bronze for the wash basin, but these women decided to give their finely crafted, burnished bronze mirrors for the job. All the gifts given for the building of the tabernacle were costly – this was sacrificial giving, so we shouldn’t be surprised. But think of what it meant - these women would no longer be able to make sure they looked good in the morning. They would no longer be able to check if they measured up to ‘er next door, or make sure they’d concealed that ugly blemish properly. Tim Keller’s little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness points towards what is going on here. Once we are caught up in love for and worship of God, those things that once seemed so important – like making sure we look good – fade away. Seeing ourselves matters less than seeing God and pouring ourselves out for him. These women gave up something of their very identity in worship.
Thirdly, they gave up that which was precious to them in order that someone else - Aaron and his sons - would be able to be cleansed in order to offer sacrifices and enter into the presence of God. That is true sacrificial giving. The women had been faithfully ministering at the tent entrance for goodness knows how long. The rest of the Israelites showed up if they needed something, or otherwise went about their daily lives, while these women ministered to others and to God day after day. They could never enter directly into his presence, but gladly gave even more of themselves to enable others to worship.
These women could have felt resentful about being excluded from the holy place, about not being invited into the sanctuary. But through their selfless generosity they made it possible for Aaron and the priests to offer sacrifices, which atoned for their sins and the sins of Israel. So they did ultimately benefit, and more importantly, they made it possible for the whole nation to benefit! They gave up something that had enhanced their outward beauty and cleanliness, and in doing so revealed their inner beauty, and were able to be inwardly cleansed.