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Jun 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 24, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 31

Oh Yes You Can!

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!
“And I have personally appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.” Exodus 31:1-6

Intro: This chapter concludes a section of Exodus that began in chapter 24, verse 12

Moses had climbed Mount Sinai and disappeared into a cloud on the summit
– God invited Moses into his presence to assign Israel a task
• he gave Moses instructions for constructing a sacred tent
• God’s intention was to live among his people
– the last two concerns addressed here are:

  1. Assigning a work crew for this extensive project
  2. Another reminder regarding the Sabbath

• reading Exodus, we keep bumping into the Sabbath
◦ the formal command appears in the Ten Commandments
◦ but already they kept a Sabbath in Egypt, at the beginning of journey, and received a reminder in 23:12

The sacred tent defined holy space – the Sabbath defined holy time
– God structured space and time to provide opportunities for encounter
• these occurred as day passed into night and night to day
◦ as one week ended and another began — the same with months and years
• each season had its unique celebration that brought Israel back into God’s presence
– it could be beneficial for us to meditate on the way God has structured space and time for us
• and use these moments as reminders to reconnect with God

1-5 The general contractor supervising the project

“Look” – this word usually has a specific purpose in biblical stories
– it indicates a shift in our point of view
• we are no longer looking through the eyes of the storyteller
◦ but we see what one of the characters inside the story sees
◦ this brings us into the story — in this case, as if we’re looking through Moses’ eyes
specifically chosen – translates a Hebrew term that is literally called by name
• I do not want to give up this literal translation
◦ it is not merely a summons, it is a personal summons (as with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, etc.)
◦ because of the personal nature of names and the role they play in relationships, God revealed his name

The LORD replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name” “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh (33:17, 19)

• God knew the name of every Israelite following Moses
◦ he knew their individual situations, their strengths and weaknesses, and their skills
◦ God knew what each person was capable of doing

I have filled him with the Spirit of God
This is the only place in the Old Testament that we find this phrase
– it refers to a unique experience given to few people
• these few were supernaturally empowered to perform a task or fill an office
◦ included: Moses, the elders, various judges, the first two kings of Israel, and the prophets
◦ filled with God’s divine energy, they worked miracles and led Israel
• the first time I realized what happens in this passage I was shocked
◦ this man was not a warrior like Samson, a leader like David, or a prophet like Isaiah
◦ he was an artisan and artist
master craftsman is also an interpretation and not a literal translation
• the Hebrew text continues to list Bezalel’s inspired skills;
• namely, the ability to think, or imagine, or plot a course of action

When Paul lists the gifted people God has given to his church,
– every service they perform is specifically religious
(and typically exercised in a church meeting)
• apostles, prophets, and teachers top his list in 1 Corinthians (12:28)
• there is no mention of song writers, musicians, or artists
◦ Paul encouraged people to sing,
◦ but “song leader” did not make his list
– of the three primary branches of Christianity–
• Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant–
◦ Protestants have shown weakest interest in sacred art forms
• I think this diminishes the influence of worship has on our souls
◦ it also devalues the material world, as if it has no spiritual value
◦ and this, in spite the fact that God created the world and seeks to meet with us by entering it

6-11 A project manager and work crew

The appointment of an assistant and team is of equal importance to the general contractor
– assistants and protégés are a trademark of biblical stories (e.g., Joshua, Elisha, Timothy)
• their skills were developed in the service they performed for their mentors
– God says, I have given special skills to all the gifted craftsmen

A footnote to express a concern of my own: I prefer using the word artisans over craftsmen. I don’t know if craftsmen sounds exclusive to most people, but it may be misleading. The construction of God’s tent did not rest entirely on the shoulders of the skilled men of Israel. For example:
All the women who were skilled in sewing and spinning prepared blue, purple, and scarlet thread . . . . All the women who were willing used their skills to spin the goat hair into yarn (35:25-27)

• everyone who worked on the sacred tent received their skillfulness from God
• my own view is that all (good) art is inspired, regardless of the artist’s beliefs or intentions
◦ what a person does with his or her inspired talent it determines whether or not their glorifies God
◦ an inner city wall painting can speak of God, unless the artist intended it to do otherwise

Verses 7-11 is a list of everything we have gone over in the previous chapters
• it is not detailed, but simply outlines all the things they would have to make

12-17 God gives Moses more Sabbath instructions

Each time the Sabbath is mentioned in Exodus, it is given a slightly different meaning or nuance
– either the context is changed or something is added
• in chapter 20, the Sabbath is linked to God’s rest on the seventh day
◦ and the fact that he made it holy
• here, however, it is observed as a “sign” of God’s covenant with Israel
◦ previous covenant signs included the rainbow (given to Noah) and circumcision (given to Abraham)
– if these verses sound redundant, it’s because they were meant to sound that way
• it has to do with a favorite Old Testament literary device, known as “chiasm”
(Mary Douglas referred to it as Thinking In Rings in her book of that title)
• both the structure of these verses and the severe of violating the Sabbath,
◦ intensify the importance of obeying this command

Why would God insert Sabbath instructions at this point?
– first of all, work on the sacred tent would have to stop on the Sabbath
• v. 3 the “crafts” uses a Hebrew word that is translated “work” in v. 14
• as holy as the sacred tent was, work on it had to cease
◦ the Sabbath was that important
– another reason for this reminder is that creativity is a very active physiological and mental state
• and creativity is frequently enhanced by taking breaks to rest

It is likely that you’ve heard the ancient story of the most renown Greek mathematician, Archimedes. King Hiero was suspicious that a crown given to him may not have been solid gold, so he enlisted Archimedes to determine if silver was also used in making it. If Archimedes melted the gold, he would have destroyed the crown, so he needed to figure out another way to solve the problem. After several frustrating hours of failing to find an experiment to solve the problem, he decided to relax his nerves in a warm bath. Stepping into the tub, he noticed how the water was displaced by his body, and suddenly the answer came to him. Eager to test his theory, he jumped out of the bath and ran through the streets crying “Eureka!” (“I found it!”)

Friday morning my scripture reading brought me to Psalm 91:

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1)

– having lived in the desert, I can tell you that shade is the only place where rest is possible
• an interesting coincidence:
• Bezalel’s name means “in the shadow of God”
– isn’t unusual for Christians to hit seasons in which we cannot find rest anywhere
• our normal avenues of reassurance, comfort and security dry up
◦ this was true even for the Apostle Paul:

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit . . . (2 Cor. 2:12-13)

• but God provides for us a Sabbath rest in himself
• in contemplative prayer we place ourselves under God’s shadow

18 Moses’ stint on mountain comes to an end

Before leaving, God handed him something to share with Israel
– the covenant document, engraved in stone
• stone was the most secure way to preserve anything in writing
written by the finger of God – the same expression we read in Exodus 8:19
• it refers to God’s direct involvement in the world of human experience

Conclusion: In one of my commentaries, the author says:

“. . . the ‘inspired’ work to which these master craftsmen and other artisans are called is not what we often call ‘creative.’ They are not given free reign to their own original concepts and visions. Instead, they are called to obedient execution of God’s designs communicated to Moses . . .”

– this remark reflects a typical misunderstanding regarding creativity
• not all creative work is “original”
◦ some instances of creativity are adaptive, others are innovative
◦creativity can be involved in changing one’s perspective or solving a problem
(only God is capable of creatio ex nihilo, creating out of nothing. When we invent something, we are merely manipulating what’s already there)
• in this case, the skilled laborers were given the what
◦ they had to figure out the how
– we read that the priest’s “ephod” was to be embroidered with gold… blue, purple and scarlet thread
• when was last time you bought gold thread?
◦ I would be tempted to ask, “Where am I supposed to get that?”
◦ later we’ll read how these skilled artisans fabricated gold thread
• what about the cherubim? Had they seen a cherub?
◦ artistic ability to sculpt, carve, paint, or weave a tapestry seems almost magical
◦ how is it that artists can create images that look like their real life models?

Here is what I want to tell you: You’re more creative than you know!
– if someone tells me she is not creative, I begin asking her about her home, her work, her relationships
• soon I am pointing out how her creativity is obviously expressed in the way
◦ she has decorated her living space or tended her garden
◦ resolves problems at work
◦ comforts her friend or child
◦ or any number of other ways that she handles her circumstances
• this is what it means, at least in part, to be made in the image of our Creator
– creativity is the promise of a better life, a more beautiful life
• when we doubt our creativity, we willingly fall into routines
• we accept gloomy or unpleasant conditions that we could otherwise change

Discouraging illegal immigration by means that separate children from their parents is not creative
– using brute force to impose my will on someone else is a way of avoiding creativity
• on the other hand, cooperation with others has often resulted in brilliant solutions
◦ when both sides are pleased with the outcome, we have succeeded in collaborative creativity

Arthur Vogel wrote, “Every project we undertake, when we analyze its basic ingredients, is a way of organizing space and time.”

– as we’ve seen, that is what God does in this chapter
• the people of Israel were his project
◦ that is why he wanted to live among him
◦ we are also his project–his new creation–and he invites us to work on it with him

Again, Arthur Vogel, “The human body is redefined in Christ as the means of love–and nothing less than the Father’s creative love at that.” And, “Christians are meant to be effective words–the expression–of God’s creative in the world.”
In the previous century, Emily Herman wrote an insightful and inspiring book entitled Creative Prayer

• other books could be written on creative faith, creative Bible study, creative worship, creative evangelism, creative communities . . .
◦ there is really no end to creativity

So let’s exercise our creative imaginations
and while doing so remember to take breaks for peace-filled Sabbath rest

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you.
Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear,
and the burden I give you is light”

(Mt. 11:28-29)

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