Missio on The Tabernacle: Every Craftsmen

the-builders-1548399Everybody knows a Bezalel. And most folks want to be a Bezalel. Even if you don’t know what that means, it’s still a fact. Most of us thrive on recognition and affirmation. Or, we at least think we would if we ever got any. To be the best, the resident expert, the cream of the crop. That is our dream! Sometimes we view our lives like Frank Sinatra viewed New York: “I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps, and find I’m A-number-one, top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-one!” Whether it’s in the workplace or at home, we want to be valued and appreciated. It’s human nature.

In Exodus 35, the people of Israel are called to begin construction of the tabernacle, the place where they will bring offerings and worship to the God who delivered them from slavery. A noble venture, no doubt. Everyone wants to be involved in this endeavor. And everyone can be involved, but not without proper oversight.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.”

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more. (Exodus 35:30 – 36:7)

What stands out pretty clearly at the beginning is that, out of the whole of Israel, Bezalel gets a namedrop. He is pinpointed as the greatest artisan in all of Israel! He’s got skill and knowledge and the ability to teach (Go ahead and admit it, you want to be Bezalel). And, to a lesser extent, Oholiab is also given special recognition. Oholiab is Bezalel’s number two, his right-hand man. They are both called by God, filled with the Spirit, and celebrated by the people.

Now, it’s certainly easy to come to the conclusion that what this passage is saying is that we each need to find ways to be Bezalel and Oholiab. We each need to find our niche. Discern our calling. Carve out our own unique way to bring God glory in our life and livelihood. And while that’s not a bad reading, it’s certainly not the only one.

Something else is going on here that we need to consider. Besides Bezalel and Oholiab, there are innumerable, unnamed others: “every craftsmen.” Despite their skill and their knowledge, Bezalel and Oholiab were not capable of doing everything that needed to be done. They needed help! They needed the Greek Chorus of “every craftsmen” to see this divine assignment to fruition. Without these unsung heroes, little, if anything, would have gotten done. And, though they don’t get eternally named in scripture, these “every craftsmen” are also said to have been the beneficiaries of God-given skill. Even though forever unnamed, God used them, in their anonymity and obscurity, to bring about his purposes.

Now, let’s consider the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Jesus’ pedigree is undeniable. He is a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, who were descendants of Noah, and all the way back to Adam. But, after a Who’s Who of Biblical All-Stars (both good and bad), we hit what is likely a dry spell of interest for most folks. Abiud and Eliud. Matthan, Matthat, Mattatha and two guys named Mattathias. Elmadam and Naggai. And someone named Yoda! It’s passages like these that make most folks’ eyes glaze over.

But, what is most remarkable about the thoroughness of these genealogies is that we get to see some of the obscure folks who led mundane lives whom God used to bring his Son into the world. According to God’s grand narrative, Elmadam and Eliud and some guy named Yoda were necessary parts of Jesus’ genealogy. According to God’s grand narrative, Bezalel and Oholiab and a slew of unnamed artisans were necessary parts of building God’s tabernacle.

Everyone wants to be Bezalel. Maybe you are Bezalel. But even if you aren’t (especially if you aren’t), remember that God can do some pretty amazing things with nameless, faceless, and uncelebrated “every craftsmen.”

P. Alan Major earned the Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary.  He currently studies in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America.

image: freeimages/darwin guevarra

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