New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Exo 31:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
Moses may well at this point have been wondering however he as an individual was going to achieve all this work. And his unspoken fear and question, as ours, was now addressed and answered.

Exo 31:2 Behold, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah-
To be called by name meant that this man had a special purpose intended for him ahead of time; "name" in Hebrew suggests a personality and character. But we too are called by name as Jeremiah was. There were good works intended for us to do, designed before the world was. But like Bezalel, we must accept the gift of God's Spirit in order to fulfil those intentions and potentials (Acts 15:18; Eph. 2:10).

Bezaleel means shelter of / for God, appropriate for a man who built His tent / tabernacle. This reinforces the idea that God prefers to dwell in a tent, and not in a physical brick building. David and Solomon willfully ignored this in their obsession with building a temple. It's possible (although see my commentary on 1 Chron. 2:18) that Bezaleel was little more than a child. For 1 Chron. 2:19,20 says that Caleb was the father of Hur. Caleb was only 40 when he first spied out the land (Josh. 14:7). "The son of..." is not a precise term in Hebrew and can simply mean a relative, but there is still the idea of a relative in a younger generation than the 'father'. Bezaleel was a generation or two older than Bezaleel; and when Caleb was 40, Bezaleel made the tabernacle that same year. This would be typical of how God works through the weak and those considered inappropriate by men. He gave His Spirit to the young Bezaleel, who may have been only 12 years old, and through him built His dwelling place. We can be sure there would have been many older and experienced builders, who had worked for the Egyptian building projects, who would have been far more qualified in secular terms.

Exo 31:3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship-
As in Ex. 28:3, the wise were given wisdom, in keeping with God’s principle of confirming people in the way in which they themselves choose to go. This is how God's Spirit also works today on human hearts. "That they may make..." (Ex. 28:3 AV) hints at the way in which God's Spirit is given, but people must still respond to it. Thus the Corinthians were given the Spirit (1 Cor. 1), but didn't use it; and so Paul couldn't speak to them as spiritual people (1 Cor. 3:1).

Wisdom and knowledge were what God created the world with (Prov. 3:19,20), so the idea may be that this tabernacle was a new creation. 

Exo 31:4 to devise skilful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass-

The Divine commands about the tabernacle likewise allude to the ideas of the surrounding nations, and yet bring out significant differences. In the same way as the Babylonians believed that the temple of Marduk in Babylon was a reflection of the Heavenly temple, so the tabernacle was also a reflection of the pattern of Yahweh's Heavenly temple. The Canaanites spoke of their god El as living in a tent- just as Yahweh dwelt in a tent. The Ugaritic epic of King Keret speaks of how "The gods proceed to their tents, the family of El to their tabernacles" (Tablet 2 D, 5, 31-33). El's tabernacle was thought to be constructed of boards- just as Yahweh's tabernacle was. Both had a veil, just as the Moslem shrine in Mecca has one. But there were significant differences. The Canaanite legends speak of the gods building their temples themselves; Cassuto points out that the very terms used about Bezaleel's skill and talent in building the tabernacle are used in Canaanite legends about the skill and talent of the gods in supposedly building their own temples. Perhaps the Exodus record so labours the point that Moses and the Israelites built Yahweh's tabernacle is in order to highlight the difference between the one true God and the pagan gods, who had to build their own tabernacles.

Exo 31:5 and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all kinds of workmanship-
The stones in the breastplate and shoulder pieces would have had to be of the same size, and yet the jewels given to Israel on leaving Egypt would have been of different sizes. They would have had to be cut, and also cut in order to reflect the light in an optimal way.  

Exo 31:6 I, behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the heart of all who are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you-
What God did at creation, He can do at any time. When Moses “finished the work” of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:33), there is clear allusion to God ‘finishing the work’ of creation (Gen. 2:2). The whole phrase “Behold I have given you…” (Gen. 1:28) occurs later when the Priests are told what God has given them (Ex. 31:6; Lev. 6:10; Num. 18:8,21; Dt. 11:14).

The wise were made more wise- an idea we often encounter in the opening chapters of Proverbs. God confirms men and women in the way they wish to go, through the work of His Spirit; if they wish to do His work and build up His dwelling place, He will confirm them in their natural talents and give them new ones.

Exo 31:7 the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the testimony, the mercy seat that is on it, all the furniture of the Tent-
We are given the distinct impression again that the "mercy seat" was a separate, detachable part distinct from the ark. "Tent of meeting" is LXX "tabernacle of witness", and the NT seems to prefer this reading (Acts 7:44). God met with man in that He spoke His word of witness, as a King coming out of His throne room in the most holy place, to meet with and speak to His people. Our hearing of God's word is to this day a meeting with God.

Exo 31:8 the table and its vessels, the pure lampstand with all its vessels, the altar of incense-
GNB reads in the possible ellipsis: "the lampstand of pure gold". 

Exo 31:9 the altar of burnt offering with all its vessels, the basin and its base-
"Base" is literally "foot", again presenting the inanimate features of the tabernacle in human language; because all of them looked ahead to the Lord Jesus.

Exo 31:10 the finely worked garments-
These appear different to the priestly garments which are described afterwards, so they may refer to coverings for the tabernacle furniture whilst it was on the move in the wilderness.

The holy garments for Aaron the priest--the garments of his sons to minister in the priest’s office-
We note that these garments were specifically "for Aaron" when we might have expected a more generic statement about clothing for the High Priest. We have the sense that so many of these commandments were specifically for that time, and were not specific about how things were to be once the people were in the land. The law of Moses was not therefore intended as a rigid system for all time; because God is open and flexible, and always has possible new directions in view for His people. I discussed elsewhere (Ex. 30:31) the possibility that the set of clothes made for Aaron were intended to be miraculously preserved for later generations.

Exo 31:11 the anointing oil, and the incense of sweet spices for the holy place, according to all that I have commanded you they shall do-
Literally, 'the oil of Messiah'. There is the constant hint that these things were all pointing forward to Messiah.

Exo 31:12 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The following command about the Sabbath was perhaps inserted at this point to remind Israel that they were not to get so caught up in the work of making all these things that they thought they could skip Sabbath observance. We too are not to become so obsessed with working to obey Divine commandments that we fail to remember that we must "rest" in order to show our faith in grace rather than works. This ceasing from trust in their own works was because they were to reflect upon how it was God's grace and not their works which sanctified them (:13). 

Exo 31:13 Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Most certainly you shall keep my Sabbaths: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies you-
The Sabbath was between God and Israel- not the Gentile world. It is therefore not required to be kept now that the body of God's people had been redefined under the new covenant.

Israel stood at Sinai and were told that if they were obedient, then they would be God's people. But then they were told that actually, God accepted them anyway as His people. And only then was the Law given to Moses- with the message that it was to be kept out of gratitude for what God had already done by grace in saving them just "simply so", because He loved them and had chosen their ancestors by grace (Dt. 4:34-40). Likewise it was because God sanctified Israel that they were to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 31:13,14; Dt. 5:15). It wasn't that any human obedience made them holy- the laws were simply an opportunity to respond to the grace shown them. For God's salvation of them from Egypt, like ours from this world, was nothing but grace.  

Exo 31:14 You shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people-
Being "cut off from Israel" may not mean that the person must be slain. For then the phrase "cut off from the earth" would have been used (as in Prov. 2:22 and often). The idea is that the person who ate leaven (Ex. 12:15) or was not circumcised (Gen. 17:14) was excluded from the community of God's people because they had broken or despised the covenant which made them His people. But there is no record of Israel keeping a list of 'cut off from Israel' Israelites and excluding them from keeping the feasts. So we conclude this means that God would consider such persons as cut off from His people. He would do the cutting off, and not men. In His book, they were "cut off". But there was no legal nor practical mechanism provided to Israel to manage the 'cutting off from Israel' of those who despised the covenant. The cutting off was done in God's eyes, in Heaven's record, and the Israelites were intended to continue to fellowship with such persons at the feasts. This is a strong argument for an open table, and for not seeking to make church excommunication the equivalent of this cutting off of the disobedient from the people of Israel. This explains why being "cut off from Israel" is the punishment stated for doing things which man could not see and judge- secretly breaking the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14), eating peace offerings whilst being unclean (Lev. 7:20- for how were others to know whether someone had touched the unclean, or was experiencing an unclean bodily emission), eating meat with blood still in it (Lev. 17:10,14), not adequately humbling the soul (Lev. 23:29), not keeping Passover (Num. 9:13), being presumptuous (Num. 15:30,31- only God can judge that), not washing after touching a dead body (Num. 19:13,20). This is why Lev. 20:6 makes it explicit that "I [Yahweh personally] will set My face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people". It is Yahweh who does the cutting off and not men (also 1 Sam. 2:33).

Exo 31:15 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death-
This is not necessarily parallel to being cut off from the people; see on :14. In addition to that, Israel were to put to death those who were so addicted to works that they refused to keep the Sabbath. This was how earnestly God wished to impress upon them the need for salvation by grace rather than works. It was because God's people had been sanctified or made holy (:13) that they were to sanctify or set apart / make holy the seventh day for God's service. We are to respond to God's setting of us apart- by setting apart what we have for Him. That is the essential take away from this, even though we are no longer required to keep the Sabbath.

Exo 31:16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant-
The Sabbath is described as a perpetual, eternal ordinance between God and His people (Ex. 31:16). Yet in the New Testament we read that the Old Covenant has been done away; and the Old Covenant clearly included the ten commandments (Dt. 4:13), one of which was concerning the Sabbath. For this reason the New Testament is at pains to explain that Sabbath keeping is not now required of God’s people (Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 14:1-3). Indeed, the whole Law of Moses is described as an everlasting covenant (Is. 24:5; Dt. 29:29), but it has now been done away (Heb. 8:13). The feasts of Passover and Atonement were to be “an everlasting statute unto you” (Lev. 16:34; Ex. 12:14); but now the Mosaic feasts have been done away in Christ (Col. 2:14-17; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Levitical priesthood was “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Ex. 40:15; Num. 25:13), but “the priesthood being changed (by Christ’s work), there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). There was an “everlasting covenant” between God and Israel to display the shewbread in the Holy Place (Lev. 24:8). This “everlasting covenant” evidently ended when the Mosaic Law was dismantled. But the same phrase “everlasting covenant” is used in 2 Samuel 23:5 concerning how Christ will reign on David’s throne for literal eternity in the Kingdom. In what sense, then, is God using the word olahm, which is translated “eternal”, “perpetual”, “everlasting” in the Old Testament? James Strong defines olahm as literally meaning “the finishing point, time out of mind, i.e. practically eternity”. It was God’s purpose that the Law of Moses and the associated Sabbath law were to continue for many centuries. To the early Israelite, this meant a finishing point so far ahead that he couldn’t grapple with it; therefore he was told that the Law would last for ever in the sense of “practically eternity”. For all of us, the spectre of ultimate infinity is impossible to intellectually grapple with. We may glibly talk about God’s eternity and timelessness, about the wonder of eternal life. But when we pause to really come to terms with these things, we lack the intellectual tools and linguistic paradigms to cope with it. Therefore there is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible text to speak of absolute infinity. We know that death has been conquered for those in Christ, therefore we have the hope of immortal life in his Kingdom. But God speaks about eternity very much from a human viewpoint.

Exo 31:17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed’-
How are we to understand the 'language of limitation' which Scripture abounds with- e.g. Gen. 2:2; Ex. 31:17; Dt. 32:20,27? God is almighty and doesn’t need refreshment. One explanation is that such language refers to God’s manifestation through His Angels, who aren’t almighty although they are sinless (Mt. 24:36). Another take on this is that as God worked creatively for six days and then 'breathed in' on the seventh, the Hebrew naphash being a form of nephesh, to breathe / receive spirit / breath- so God's people were to see their workaday lives as actually creative. The curse of working in the sweat of their faces was thus partly ameliorated by the thought that their labour was in fact creative. And on the seventh day, they were to breathe in the things of the Spirit, in anticipation of the Kingdom which the day of rest symbolized, the end result of all truly creative labour (Heb. 4:9).

Exo 31:18 When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave to Moses the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger-
The commands to build the tabernacle are repeated in Exodus, and there is the record of Israel's golden calf apostasy set in the middle of them. Ex. 25:1-31:18 give the tabernacle building commands, then there's the golden calf incident, and then the commands are repeated in Ex. 35-40. Surely this was edited in this manner to give encouragement to the exiles- the commands to rebuild the temple had been given in detail in Ez. 40-48, but the exiles failed- and yet, the implication runs, God was still willing to work again with His people in the building of His sanctuary despite their failure. There is good internal reason to think that the Pentateuch likewise was re-written in places to bring out the relevance of Israel's past to those in captivity.

The tables themselves were made by God, and were written on both sides (Ex. 32:15,16). As they were small enough to be carried, we assume they contained the ten commandments and not the rest of the laws given to Moses. They were the tables of the covenant, and so the letter of the law which was to give way to the spirit of the new covenant therefore includes the command about the Sabbath. For that was one of the ten commandments.