Exodus 31:4
To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
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(4-5) Cunning works . . . in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones

. . .—It is a characteristic of early art that it eschews specialism, and it is as nearly universal as possible. Theodore of Samos (ab. B.C. 600-560) was an architect, a worker in bronze, and an engraver of hard stones. Michael Angelo was an architect, painter, and sculptor. Giotto was the same, and also a worker in mosaic. It is some time before, in each particular people or country, the imitative arts become separated, and each artist aspires to eminence in one branch only. (Comp. the multiform artistic powers ascribed to Hiram of Tyre in chap. 214.)

In cutting of stones, to set themi.e., in gem-engraving. This branch of art was needed for engraving the names of the tribes upon the two onyxes of the ephod (Exodus 28:9), and upon the twelve precious stones of the breastplate (Exodus 28:17-18). It was an art very early practised both in Chaldæa and in Egypt. (See Note 2 on Exodus 28:8.)

In carving of timber.—Rather, cutting of timber. The woodwork of the sanctuary was not “carved,” but plain.

31:1-11 The Israelites, who had been masons and bricklayers in Egypt, were not qualified for curious workmanship; but the Spirit who gave the apostles utterance in divers tongues, miraculously gave Bezaleel and Aholiab the skill that was wanting. The honour which comes from God, is always attended with a work to be done; to be employed for God is high honour. Those whom God calls to any service, he will find or make fit for it. The Lord gives different gifts to different persons; let each mind his proper work, diligently remembering that whatever wisdom any one possesses, the Lord put it in the heart, to do his commandments.To devise cunning works - Rather, to devise works of skill. The Hebrew phrase is not the same as that rendered "cunning work" in respect to textile fabrics in Exodus 26:1.3-5. I have filled him with the spirit of God—It is probable that he was naturally endowed with a mechanical genius, and had acquired in Egypt great knowledge and skill in the useful, as well as liberal, arts so as to be a first-class artisan, competent to take charge of both the plain and ornamental work, which the building of the sacred edifice required. When God has any special work to be accomplished, He always raises up instruments capable of doing it; and it is likely that He had given to the son of Uri that strong natural aptitude and those opportunities of gaining mechanical skill, with an ultimate view to this responsible office. Notwithstanding that his grand duty was to conform with scrupulous fidelity to the pattern furnished, there was still plenty of room for inventive talent and tasteful exactness in the execution; and his natural and acquired gifts were enlarged and invigorated for the important work. No text from Poole on this verse. To devise cunning works,.... To invent, contrive, and draw patterns, for the weavers particularly, for the making of the curtains of the tabernacle, the vail of the most holy place, the ephod, and the curious girdle of it, which were made of cunning work, curiously wrought by the weaver; and so Jarchi interprets this of the weaving of the work of Chosheb, or cunning work, of the devising of cunning works, or of the knowledge of witty inventions, by Wisdom or the Messiah, see Proverbs 8:12.

to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass; for it is not to be supposed there were either goldsmiths or brasiers among the Israelites; only masons and bricklayers, and brickmakers, and such sort of manufacturers; so that Bezaleel had need of immediate wisdom from the Spirit of God, not only to devise curious works in these several things as in others, but to teach men how to work in them, what tools to work with, and how to use them, how to melt these several metals, and into what forms and shapes to put them, and then to polish them; as there were some things in the temple to be made of gold, as the candlestick, others of silver, as the sockets of the tabernacle, and others of brass, as the altar of burnt offering, and its vessels, with other things.

To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
4. devise cunning works] devise works of skill (Speaker’s Comm.); so Exodus 35:32; Exodus 35:35. Lit. devise (or design, Exodus 26:1) devices (Jeremiah 18:18); here of skill in contriving and executing works of art, as in 2 Chronicles 26:15 mechanical contrivances (Heb. devices [EVV. engines, i.e. ingenia, inventions], the device of the deviser).

4, 5. in gold, and in silver, and in bronze, &c.] such as would be needed for carrying out the preceding body of directions (Exodus 25:10 ff.; Exodus 26:15 ff.; Exodus 28:9-11; Exodus 28:21, &c.).Verses 4, 5. - The result of these gifts would be to enable him - 1. To devise cunning works - i.e., to design everything excellently; and 2. To work in all manner of workmanship - i.e., to carry out his designs with success. It has been said that "as everything that had to be done was prescribed in strict and precise detail, there was to be no exercise of original powers of invention nor of taste" (Cook); but this was scarcely so. The forms of the cherubim, the patterns to be woven into the stuffs, or embroidered on them, the shapes of the vessels, of the capitals of the pillars, and of the laver were not prescribed in the directions. Bezaleel and Aholiab would have had to design them after such a description as Moses could give of the "pattern" which he had seen in the mount. In doing this, there would be much room for the exercise of inventive power and taste. Of this incense (a portion) was to be placed "before the testimony in the tabernacle," i.e., not in the most holy place, but where the altar of incense stood (cf. Exodus 30:6 and Leviticus 16:12). The remainder was of course to be kept elsewhere.
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