Exodus 31:1-11

Exodus 31

1 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

Christianity Today once published an anonymous poem that I thought made a pretty witty point about service.

There’s a clever young fellow named Somebody Else –

There’s nothing this fellow can’t do.

He’s busy from morning ’til late at night

Just substituting for you.

When asked to do this or asked to do that

So often you’re set to reply:

“Get Somebody Else, Mr. Chairman –

He’ll do it much better than I.”

There’s so much to do in our church;

So much, and the workers are few.

And Somebody Else gets weary and worn

Just substituting for you.

So next time you’re asked to do something worthwhile

Come up with this honest reply:

If Somebody Else can give time and support,

It’s obviously true, so can I.[1]

Whoever wrote this is correct: that “Somebody Else” is a popular fellow indeed! We all know him and we have all, if we are honest, appealed to him to do something that we do not really want to do. But in the Kingdom of God we cannot cross our fingers and hope that “Somebody Else” will somehow magically take care of what needs to be done. The people of God—all of us—are to be a servant and serving people.

Why, then, do many of us not serve? Perhaps sometimes it is for ignoble reasons: laziness, disinterestedness, etc. But I rather think that many times folks do not serve because they do not think they have anything to offer. But on this point we can simply cry, “False!” For the God who calls us to serve not only calls us to do so, He equips us to do so! More than that, he does not call only those who are viewed by people as exceptionally gifted. He calls us all, the extraordinary and the “ordinary.” But here we must recognize a very important truth: in the Kingdom of God, there is no ordinary! The ordinary is extraordinary in the hands of a great God!

Exodus 31 begins with an example of just this point.

True service for God is Spirit-empowered service.

We have been considering, for lack of a better term, the “furniture” of tabernacle worship, the externals of worship. Exodus 31 discusses the artisans of these externals.

1 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you

At first glance we might see this as a fairly mundane text, a description of men who do not do, being called to do things that seem odd and very far away from our day to day existence. However, it is God who calls them so there is nothing mundane about this. In fact, God says that He (1) called Bezalel and (2) “filled him with the Spirit of God.” As for Oholiab, God “appointed” him and gave him, and all the other workers, “ability.”

True service for God is Spirit-empowered service. What we do know about these men is that they did not operate in their own strength and power. The Spirit of God came upon them and equipped them to do the works they were called to do!

But it is not even just that that is happening in this text. Victor Hamilton points out something fascinating about this reference to God’s Spirit:

This is the third time the phrase rûʾaḥ ʾĕlōhîm (“ the Spirit of God”) occurs in the Bible (v. 3a). The previous two are Gen. 1: 2b, “And the rûʾaḥ ʾĕlōhîm was hovering over the waters,” and Gen. 41: 38, Pharaoh’s words to his servants about Joseph, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the rûʾaḥ ʾĕlōhîm?” (Not wanting to make Pharaoh sound like a trinitarian monotheist, I believe we could render his words as “in whom is a divine spirit?”) What makes the use of this phrase stand out in v. 3 is that the Lord says he has “filled” (waʾămallēʾ) Bezalel with the Spirit of God. That means that the first “Spirit-filled” individual in the Bible is not some godly prediluvian or patriarch, or even the saintly Moses, but Bezalel, a layperson, a construction foreman. Such a calling is no less sacred and is no less in need of divine enablement than that of Moses the liberator and Aaron the supreme priest. His vestments may be overalls, a hard-hat, and steel-toe boots, but his vocation is from God, and his work is to honor God through the employment of his God-given skills.[2]

That is so powerfully and wonderfully said! The first Spirit-filled people were not “great” or “famous” as the world counts such things. They were, in the world’s eyes, “ordinary.” But the point is that with the Spirit of God they were anything but ordinary! They were equipped and empowered to do great things!

When we serve God and the people of God we never do so in vain so long as we do so by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has been given to us so that we might give to others. He is always wanting to overflow out of our lives into the lives of others! This is why efforts on our own apart from or contrary to God’s will always fail. But when God calls you to serve, whatever it is, it is always in His name and by His power! In that way, “success” is guaranteed even if the world sees the effort as insignificant or doomed to fail.

Tony Merida has pointed to an interesting example of what happens when we try to serve outside of the Spirit’s empowerment.

When I was in Ukraine recently, I had an interesting discussion with a missionary friend about the Holy Spirit. Apparently, around 1960 the Pentecostal Church did not want to register with the government, so they merged with the Baptist Union. Then, to avoid controversy, an administrative policy was put in place. The policy stated that no one could teach, preach, or discuss the Holy Spirit. This lasted until about 1990 (though not every leader followed the policy!). My friend told me that this created sort of a deistic, rationalistic religion. People talked about God and His power in general, but few ever talked about the personal influence of the Holy Spirit or about gifts. They were attempting to “do church” apart from the Spirit! Never stop thanking God for the Spirit’s work.

Never stop relying on the Spirit’s work. Do not become a “mechanical Christian,” that is, just going through the motions, serving in the energy of the flesh. We need the Spirit of God to do the work of God.[3]

I am always intrigued to speak to people who visit our church from other denominations. Sometimes their perceptions of what Baptists believe are correct and sometimes they are not. But it is interesting and sad to recognize how many people who come to our church from non-Baptist traditions believe that we have a deficient pneumatology, a deficient understanding of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps it is fair. You will have to answer that for yourself.

Is the Holy Spirit a vital reality in your life? Do you belief that by grace through faith in Jesus you are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God? Do you believe that He is God? Can you say that you are serving in the power of the Spirit? Are you depending on Him? Or are you serving out of your own strength?

Os Guinness has offered a humorous but telling example of how foolish our refusal or failure to depend on the Spirit sounds and is.

President Lyndon Johnson used to tell a story of a preacher who prepared a stirring but rather complicated sermon that required notes. Unfortunately on his way to church he dropped the notes, and they were eaten by a dog. Unabashed he climbed into the pulpit and said, “Brothers and sisters, I’m afraid a dog ate my sermon notes on the way to church. I’m just going to have to rely on what the Holy Spirit tells me, but I promise I’ll do better next week.”[4]

The mind boggles! A person who truly understands who the Spirit of the living God is would never say such a thing. True service for God is Spirit-empowered service.

Spirit-empowered service is never insignificant service.

It is liberating and emboldening to realize that when we serve the Lord we do so in the power of the Spirit of God! We do not serve alone! But this also means that if we serve in the name and power of God the service to which He has called us can never be called insignificant. Spirit-empowered service is never insignificant service. Consider, for instance, how Bezalel and Oholiab were called to large and small tasks.

1 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

Look at what these men are called to do:

  • devise artistic designs
  • work in gold, silver, and bronze
  • cut stones for setting
  • carve wood
  • make in every craft
  • make the tent of meeting
  • make the ark of the testimony
  • make the mercy seat
  • make the furnishings of the tent
  • make the table and its utensils
  • make the pure lampstand and its utensils
  • make the basin and the stand
  • make the finely worked garments
  • make the priests garments
  • create the oil and incense

This is service, big and small, and all of it matters!

It is almost certainly a result of our living in the dynamic of modern American Christianity with its emphasis on size and growth that we are tempted to devalue the smaller tasks. But this is foolish! In the Kingdom of God there are no small tasks! Paul made precisely this point concerning the church in 1 Corinthians 12.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

All.

Acts.

Of.

Service.

Are.

Important!

What a beautiful way of putting it: “on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body…”

All acts of service are important and all members of the body of Christ matter!

This should also keep us from being haughty about genuine acts of service that we may not have a taste for or understand. I was friends with the late Calvin Miller. Dr. Miller was best known for being an accomplished writer but he was also a painter of some skill. He once gave me one of his paintings and I value it immensely.

Dr. Miller wrote once of painting a painting and sending it to a friend. His friend responded with a note that said, “Just think how many people died and went to hell in the time it took you to paint that.” Now, I am not saying that it is not possible to waste time even with things that have relative value, but I am saying that we should be very careful about judging acts of service just because we do not understand them or just because we do not see it as helpful work in the vineyard of God. Dr. Miller went on to write that he never sent the man another painting.

How often have we squelched the genuine giftedness of others by judging it because we did not understand its value? How often have we made selfless followers of Christ feel ashamed because their act of service did not look the way we thought it should? If it is not injurious to the cause of Christ and if it does not violate scripture or gospel truth, could we not show a little humility when judging the gifts and service of others?

Serve in the Spirit and your service will be honored by the Spirit. It is interesting to note that the name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.”[5] Can you say that your efforts and your service are offered “in the shadow of God?” Perhaps the giftings of another is likewise done in the shadow of God but you do not understand it. Be careful of dismissing it!

Let us serve our King in whatever way that He has called us to do it! Let us bring to Him our offerings of service and of praise! Philip Ryken has written:

            In his wonderful little book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer describes a mural in the art museum at Neuchatel, painted by the Swiss artist Paul Robert. Schaeffer writes:

In the background of this mural he pictured Neuchatel, the lake on which it is situated and even the art museum which contains the mural. In the foreground near the bottom is a great dragon wounded to the death. Underneath the dragon is the vile and the ugly—the pornographic and the rebellious. Near the top Jesus is seen coming in the sky with his endless hosts. On the left side is a beautiful stairway, and on the stairway are young and beautiful men and women carrying the symbols of the various forms of art—architecture, music and so forth. And as they are carrying them up and away from the dragon to present them to Christ, Christ is coming down to accept them.

            What Robert’s mural represents is the triumph of beauty and the redemption of the arts. Schaeffer comments that this future reality should shape the present, for “if these things are to be carried up to the praise of God and the Lordship of Christ at the Second Coming, then we should be offering them to God now.” Indeed we should.[6]

What a beautiful and profoundly biblical concept! We are no longer serving the wounded and dying dragon. We are now serving the King of Kings! We serve Him with all that is beautiful, in ways big and small. For when we serve King Jesus, it is beautiful!

Beautiful acts of service, wrought in the shadow of God.

Go and do likewise!

 

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/questions/theology/spiritualgifts.html

[2] Hamilton, Victor P. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Kindle Locations 16220-16232). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Merida, Tony. Exalting Jesus in Exodus (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 188). Kindle Edition.

[4] Os Guinness. The Devil’s Gauntlet. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), p.24.

[5] Roy L. Honeycutt, Jr. “Exodus.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol.1, Revised (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.433.

[6] Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), p.955-956.

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