(Republished from Exodus [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004], 457-461)
1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2. See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
3. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
4. To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
5. And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
6. And I, behold I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;
7. The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle.
8. And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense.
9. And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,
10. And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office,
11. And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.
Let us begin by glancing at some of the incidental facts of this text. The name Bezaleel means “in the shadow of God,” meaning under God’s protection. He was apparently a young man, and a great-grandson of Caleb (1 Chron. 2:18–20). He was a descendant of Judah. Aholiab was a name meaning “the father is my tent”; he was a Danite. His name implies clearly that God the Father is his protection and covering.
H. L. Ellison said of verse 2, “’I have called by name’ is reminiscent of 33:12 and Isa. 45:4, which shows that the term virtually implies predestination.”1 This is a fact which cannot be over-stressed. The enemies of Christianity have too often determined the agenda for discussion, and the subject of predestination has been restricted to election to salvation or reprobation, and to free will versus predestination. We are here told that predestination also has to do with our abilities, here, very specifically, skills in the arts. They are God-ordained and an aspect of our calling, so that God is more involved in our skills than we are. To restrict the doctrine of calling to an ecclesiastical vocation is thus clearly not Biblical.
According to verse 6, a number of artisans were called, although only two are named. Bezaleel is chosen to be in charge of all the work, and Aholiab is the foreman under him. According to Exodus 35:10, 25–26, a large number of men and women were called to do the work. It is of particular interest that their skills are called “wisdom.” According to Scripture, God is the source and author of all wisdom. In Proverbs, the references to wisdom identify it with the Spirit of God (cf. Prov. 8). All skills represent a form of wisdom, and all skills come into their own in the service of God.
Joseph Parker called attention to some important implications of this text. “God builds everything built beautifully.” Furthermore, “Not only will God build everything beautifully; his purpose is to have everything built for religious uses,” which is not the same thing as ecclesiastical use. Also, and very important,
God will not have the building put up as an expression of mere sentiment; otherwise, he would be assisting the cause of idolatry.2
Finally, this text tells us that “Labour is churched and glorified.”3
In verses 7–11, we have a summary of the things committed to these men for construction. Each of these items is very specifically described previously. Thus, the conception was from God, and the execution was by men. In modern doctrines of art, conception is exclusively seen as the artist’s prerogative, as well as the execution thereof. According to John Larner,
Until the later medieval period virtually all work produced by painters, stonemasons, goldsmiths, and woodworkers was undertaken under contract, in response to the specific demand of a patron. Whether as an individual, a cathedral chapter, or a commune, the patron generally stipulated in detail the character of the work required from the artist. Paintings and sculpture were not made by men hoping, at some future time, to find a purchaser for their wares but were created for one particular occasion and place.4
There was thus far more than the individual will of the artist involved. There was the faith of the community, the wisdom of skill of the artisans, and the purposes of those who commissioned the work. In the modern perspective, the will of the individual artist is sometimes all that matters. Not surprisingly, precisely as the artist in the modern era began to see himself as the priest and prophet of a new age, he also began to lose relevance to the world around him. Those who are still governed by the greatest determinant, Christian faith, are still the most relevant artists. There is a difference between entering a medieval church, for example, and a Frank Lloyd Wright building; the church has a universal meaning, a Wright structure a personal, limited, and sometimes quirky significance.
One of our problems with this text is that the Spirit of God is here plainly associated with the artistic skills which are called wisdom. The common belief associates the Holy Spirit with ecstatic utterances; this is not the common aspect of the Spirit’s work through men. Oehler’s comments on the Holy Spirit are thus especially important:
God reveals Himself in the heart of man by His Spirit, which, as the Spirit of revelation, corresponds to the cosmical, in the same way as the word of revelation corresponds to the word of creation. As the principle of cosmical life, as the mighty divine force of all things, the Spirit is the principle of the life of man’s soul, and every natural intellectual gift in man is traced back to it: Joseph’s wisdom, Gen. xli.38; Bezaleel’s skill in art, Ex. xxxi.3, xxxv.31 … In the Old Testament, the Spirit’s work in the divine kingdom is rather that of endowing the organs of the theocracy with the gifts required for their calling, and those gifts of office in the Old Testament are similar to the gifts of grace in the New Testament, 1 Cor. xii.ff. In the Pentateuch its working appears exclusively in this connection. The Spirit bestows on Moses and the seventy elders skill to guide the people (Num. xi.17ff.), also to Joshua (Num. xxvii.18; Deut. xxxiv.9), and works at a later period in the judges, arousing and strengthening them (Judg. vi.34, xi.29, xiii.25), and comes on the kings, who were called of God, at their anointing (I Sam. x.6, xvi.13). As the Spirit of revelation, He produces in particular the gift of prophesy, Num. xi.25ff.; and even … imparts the ability to prophesy to the heathen revealing God against his will (xxii.38). On the contrary, the Spirit does not appear in the Pentateuch as the principle of sanctification in the pious, this is first spoken of in the Psalms, Ps. li.13, comp. vers. 12 and 14, cxliii.10.5
The Holy Spirit thus has a more general as well as a more specific place in our lives and world than is generally recognized. The doctrine of vocation or calling must be seen as essentially related to the Holy Spirit. We are therefore not alone; whatever our gifts or vocation, however, great or small, we are the instruments of the Holy Spirit. To limit the Spirit’s manifestations in our lives to dramatic or ecstatic experiences is to limit severely our relationship to Him. He is very much present in all our daily tasks, and we have the duty to recognize His presence and power.
Just as the modern artist works out of himself, in a totally personal frame of reference, so too the modern Christian too often works in a radically subjective context and tries to limit the Spirit’s operation to that subjective sphere. Thomas Scott’s comment on this text reads in part thus:
The Lord confers his unmerited favors on whom he pleases: but the honor, which cometh from him, is always attended with a work to be done: and to be employed by him is indeed the highest honor, and the noblest privilege.6
“A work to be done,” this tells us the purpose of the Spirit’s gifts. The gifts of the Spirit can also be called an “empowerment.” In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul warns the churchmen of Corinth against “being puffed up for one another.” Then, in the next verse, 1 Corinthians 4:7, we have Paul’s comment, a devastating one, which both the Authorized Version and James Moffatt’s help us to understand:
For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (AV)
Who singles you out, my brother? What do you possess that has not been given you? And if it was given you, why do you boast as if it had been gained, not given? (Moffatt)
In the modern view, each man is a little god and creator, whereas our text tells us that the Holy Spirit is the source of our gifts, and neither we nor our gifts are an end in themselves. We are God’s creation, for His Kingdom purposes, and there is “a work to be done.”
His gifts include a variety of skills, from sculpture to making incense or perfume. All His gifts are in terms of His Kingdom, and “for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2, etc.).
Albert Camus wrote, “Since God claims all that is good in man, it is necessary to deride what is good and choose what is evil.”7 As a concomitant to this, the modern artist has led the way in despising the beautiful and exalting the ugly. Having denied the Lord of Glory, his choice is a logical one. Restoration in the arts requires a return to a truly Biblical Christian faith.
At the beginning of the modern era, there was a gradual separation under way of the arts and artists from Christianity. Then “The Romantic movement began that severance of the innovative artist from the masses which has gone on ever since.”8 But this is not all. “Like society as a whole, artists have indulged in an orgy of destruction.”9 God’s world must be denied together with God, and a new world created. Picasso very clearly expressed his mindset when he wrote on a printing, yo el rey, I am the King.10 Such a philosophy of art is in savage revolt against God’s order, and the artwork it produces reflects this temper. One aspect of this revolt is a militant hostility to all that Scripture declares and requires.
1. H. L. Ellison, Exodus (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), 166.
2. Joseph Parker, The People’s Bible, Vol. 2, Exodus (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, n.d.), 252–253.
3. Ibid., 257.
4. John Larner, “Art, Commercial Trade Of,” in Joseph R. Strayer, editor-in-chief, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Vol. 1 (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982), 561.
5. Gustave F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, reprint. n.d.), 141.
6. Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible, with Explanatory Notes, etc., Vol. 1 (Boston, MA: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1830 printing), 306.
7. Albert Camus, The Rebel (New York, NY: Vintage Books, n.d.), 47.
8. Michael Gil, Image of the Body (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989), 325.
9. Ibid., 327.
10. Ibid., 337.