Israel’s Wise Women
April 12, 2021

Moses informs the congregation of Israel about what’s needed for the tabernacle (Exodus 35:4-19), and the congregation goes off to finds things to contribute (Exodus 35:20). Yahweh speaks to Moses, and Moses acts, bringing the word of Yahweh to fulfillment. Now Moses speaks the word of Yahweh to the people, and they share in the achievement of Yahweh’s word.

As I have noted before, these contributions come from the heart (leb, used 7x in  Exodus 35-36; (Exodus 35:5, 21, 22, 26, 29, 34; 36:2). Their spirits become willing (35:21), moved, doubtless by the same Spirit of wisdom that came on the chief workmen (Exodus 31:3; 35:31). 

Exodus 35:21 divides the contributions into three categories: Those for the work of the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments of the priests. The first category refers to the tent fabrics and structures, the second to the furnishings and vessels of worship, and the last to the garments of glory and beauty. The description of the procession of gifts, however, is arranged differently and more complexly. On the one hand, the sex of the contributors is specified:

A. Men and women, 35:22

B. Men (‘ish), 35:23-24

C. Women (ishshah), 35:25-26

B’. Princes (nasi’), 35:27-28

A’. Men and women, 35:29

On the other hand, the contributions are arranged according to the material substance, in something like a chiastic order:

A. Gold

B. Fabric, goats’ hair, skins

C. Silver and bronze and wood

B’. Spun fabric

A’. Onyx and gemstones, spice 

Hovering behind this arrangement is a movement through the tabernacle: From the gold of the most holy place, to the fabrics of the tent, to the silver at the bases of the tabernacle frame and the bronze of the court, to the garments of the priest and the stuff of their ministry in the Holy Place. Overall, the tour moves from the inner sanctuary out to the court and ends in the outer sanctuary.

Each section lists the sources of the tabernacle materials. Gold comes from brooches, earrings, rings, bracelets, and “all articles” (5 items). The people who once devoted gold to a calf now devote gold to the house of Yahweh. Seven types of fabric are listed (35:23): blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, goats’ hair, rams’ sin, porpoise skin. 35:24 doesn’t list the sources, but only three kinds of material: silver, bronze, and wood. Women bring five kinds of spun fabric: blue, purple, scarlet, fine linen, and goats’ hair (35:25-26). The list of the rulers’ contribution includes both items they bring and the uses to which they are put: onyx stones and gemstones for the priestly ephod and breast piece; spice and oil for light, anointing oil, and incense. Four items (2 stones, spice, oil) put to five uses (ephod and breastpiece; light, oil, incense).

These contributions come from Israel, but they originate from Egypt. On the night of Passover, the departing Israelites went door-to-door asking Egyptians for “articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing” (Exodus 12:35). Because their hearts are moved by Yahweh’s Spirit, they didn’t hoard those goods of Egypt, but devoted them freely to the house of Yahweh. The treasures of the wicked are stores up for the righteous. As is often the case, the people of God plunder Egyptian gold to adorn the city of God. 

The most remarkable thing about this section of Exodus is the emphasis on women. Women are mentioned four times in the paragraph (35:22, 25, 26, 29). Men and women both have their hearts moved to contribute goods to the tabernacle (35:22, 29), as they will later contribute their bronze mirrors for the altar of ascension (38:8). Women work raw material into fabric for the tabernacle curtains, glorifying natural products to become worthy of Yahweh’s house. Like Bezalel and Oholiab, these women possess the royal quality of being “wise of heart” (chakmat-leb, 35:25). They are the queens of Israel, as the wise men are kings. The tabernacle becomes what it is only when both share in its construction, as the church is what it ought to be only when men and women share the work of edification. 

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