The sixth of seven speeches about the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11) is about a new Adam, Bezalel, and his helper, Oholiab. Bezalel, son of “My Light” (Uri) of the royal tribe of Judah, is the first man in Scripture to be filled with the Spirit (Exodus 31:3; cf. Genesis 41:38; Exodus 28:3). In the Old Testament, most of those filled or clothed with the Spirit are warriors or kings (cf. Deuteronomy 34:9); the Spirit comes on some as the Spirit of destruction. The Spirit comes on Bezalel and his assistants as a Spirit of creative design and construction.
Like most new Adams, Bezalel is better than Adam. Adam was never filled with the Spirit and never constructed a house for Yahweh. Already in the old covenant, the Creator was moving humanity along from glory to glory.
The Spirit of Bezalel is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and craftsmanship (Exodus 31:3), a fourfold Spirit who equips men to make models of the four-cornered world. The artistic/craft work of the Spirit is more prominent in Scripture than we might think. The Spirit that overshadows the Servant is also the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge (Isaiah 11:2), because the Servant is a creator called to make a new world. As the Servant, Jesus receives the Spirit for the same purpose, and Paul’s ministry in the church is a Bezalel-ministry; he lays a foundation as a “wise master builder,” a tentmaker turned temple-builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
Bezalel works in metals, stones, and wood (Exodus 31:4-5). The text lists five forms of design and labor, each marked by an infinitive verb with l- or a participle with b-:
1. To design designs.
2. To make with gold, silver, and bronze.
3. In cutting stones for settings.
4. In cutting wood.
5. To make with all craftsmanship.
With Bezalel, Yahweh gives Oholiab (“Father’s Tent”) of the tribe of Dan, along with others to whose hearts Yahweh has given wisdom (Exodus 31:6). With these it becomes clear that proper making is obedient making. Skillful though they may be, the craftsmen are to make only “all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:6, 11). This is the difference between making and mis-making: Is the thing made according to the pattern of the Word?
While Bezalel’s work is described in terms of raw materials, Oholiab and the others are said to produce specific items for the tabernacle. The list uses the particle ‘et 18 times, making a list of twelve items:
1. Tent of meeting.
2. Ark of the testimony.
4. Utensils of the tent.
5. Table and utensils.
6. Lampstand and utensils.
7. Altar of incense.
8. Altar of ascensions and utensils.
9. Laver and stand.
10. Garments of Aaron and sons.
11. Oil of anointing.
12. Sweet incense.
The list moves from the Most Holy Place (ark and its cover) through the Holy Place (table, lamp stand, altar) to the courtyard (altar and laver) where the priests minister (Exodus 31:7-10). In its general outlines, the list follows the order of the speeches; both the list and the speeches end with instructions about the anointing oil and the incense (Exodus 30:22-38; 31:11).
Exodus 31 is about the tabernacle, but it’s also about creation, creativity, and art. The Spirit of Bezalel, whose name means “In the Shadow of El,” is the same Spirit who overshadowed the dark and deep to form the cosmos (Genesis 1:2). Instead of forming Bezalel, the Spirit turns Bezalel into one-who-formed; the Creator Spirit fills Bezalel to become a creator. And the Spirit hasn’t stopped distributing Himself and His gifts. To this day, the Creator Spirit isn’t stingy, but freely shares His creative skill with creatures.
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