I have been giving considerable thought to the bird’s-eye-view of the series of events we are reading about in Exodus right now. I had some new observations I thought worth sharing with you. If you recall, the last few chapters have had a varied array of behavior by our friends (so like us) – the Children of Israel. The narrative jumps back and forth between two levels of description. The descriptions of actual events that occurred on fateful days in their lives are interspersed with the detailed descriptions of God’s commands for how to construct and operate their new system of worship on a national level. It is unlike the way human authors typically write a narrative. That’s clearly because it is not a human Author.
What I have been considering, then, is the juxtaposition of Israel’s horrible sin in demanding a “golden god” to worship (Ex. 32–34), coming right before these amazing chapters 35–37 of; contribution, cooperation and construction. Perhaps you noticed it too. It is a quiet commentary that speaks loudly if we but pause and notice the bigger picture as we read. What I glean is that the judgment and punishment meted out by God for their sin (Ex. 32:25-35), brought about a unique time of repentance on the national and the individual level.
Consistent with His character, God’s chastening was “for their good always”. (Deut. 6:24) It was to turn their “obstinate” hearts back to Him, and toward the appropriate worship of His Awesome Holiness. (Ex. 33:5) Chapter 33 enumerates their repentance, doesn’t it? It is a sobering picture of them “stripping themselves of their ornaments” and silently “arising and standing at the entrance of their tents”. They stand there watching Moses as he enters the tent of meeting each morning to go in to the presence of God – made visible to them in the pillar of cloud. (Ex. 33:6-11) The description sounds almost like a naughty child watching their parent after they have been punished for wrongdoing – fully knowing they deserve the punishment that was given.
But God, being the Good Parent He is, does not leave it there. He gives them profitable work to put their hands, minds, and hearts to. He shepherds their waywardness into better channels which offer them fulfillment and peace. These new ways confirm for them His reality and forgiveness – if they are willing to accept it. And like the Perfect Parent that He is, they are voluntary channels – not forced obedience.
So the good news in the story is that they did repent (at least for a time). And this ugly chapter in their history is followed close-on-its-heels with the wonderful outpouring of the people in voluntary contributions for the new tabernacle. They gave so much they had to be stopped! (Ex. 36:5-7) They worked – many people (“skillful” men and women) – in the solitude of their own homes or workshops. They wove gorgeous fabric, they melted gold and other metals, they cut and polished beautiful wood. They carried out the many tasks that were necessary to prepare the variety of lovely materials that Bezalel and Oholiab would craft into the magnificent tabernacle. This tabernacle was dedicated to the worship of the Master of the Universe – the God who delivered them from Slavery – the only True Deity who would faithfully lead them through the wilderness of their lives. They worked together, as a community to construct a place for Him to dwell. They cooperated to make beautiful things out of God-created natural materials. Man’s finishing and obedient touches to His creations- ones that were solely designed to glorify Him.
I guess it just struck me as poignant. I usually think of Israel in its wayward, rebellious light – and not so often in a repentant, obedient one. They repented nationally and individually, which is a rare occurrence in both the Bible, and in history. They then, as a unified community, worked together to obey God and create something beautiful by participating in the construction of His Tabernacle – a whole system of worship and community that was to focus on Him at their center. He desired them to give from their substance as well as their willing service – from their hearts. He desired them to enjoy, and to work with their hands in the donation and creation of the beautiful items He specified – a small reflection of His own character as Creator. They were to be active participants – not passive in their religious life. He desired them to learn to worship Him in “spirit and in truth” within this specially designed system. (John 4:23)
The wonder of the whole story strikes me as something rare and precious in any society of people. It shows a benevolent hierarchy of leaders overseeing a willing community of people who are gifted in creative skills and generous hearts. And they all participated – from Moses (the chosen savior), to the specially gifted leaders (Bezalel and Oholiab), to the also gifted newlywed wife, or the ancient grandfather & grandmother weavers. They all knew their jobs and did it “heartily as unto the Lord and not men.” (Colossians 3:23) I picture the little Hebrew children watching their parents and grandparents at these tasks, and being impressed by their dedication to the God that they, too, would grow up to worship – in the Promised Land.
I’m sure you can draw the parallels that should be reflected in our own lives and community of believers. While, at best, we’re totally imperfect at this (so like them), it’s an inspiring tiny cameo of the Kingdom Age. And I find it positive, hopeful, motivating, and encouraging.
He sent a Savior to us too! God through Moses himself prophesied of this greater savior:
I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.
The Lord Jesus – the greatest leader ever – sent to show us the way, the truth, and the life! (John 14:6) God also sent (and still sends) shepherd-leaders like the disciples, and faithful men since then, to proclaim the Gospel and guide the flock of God. He makes beautiful things out of dust – you and I. Things that are designed to glorify Him by also making beautiful things – like obedient and faithful lives that shine Light into a dark world. Lives that know and worship Him in the ways He commands. Lives that that strive to work in harmonious communities of praise. Thank You, Father – help us to that end!
I think you’ll see the obvious connections in the below song if you listen for its sentiment. I think this is a powerful and unique reminder and helps to emphasize today’s message.