Exodus 31
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The calling of these two craftsmen for the work of the sanctuary, and the statement concerning Bezaleel that Jehovah had "filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship" (ver. 3), suggest various important lessons. On the distinction of the terms - "wisdom," "understanding," "knowledge," see the exposition, and consult the valuable notes on Ephesians 1:8, Colossians 1:9, in the Bishop of Durham's Commentaries. The general moral is, that when God has any important work to be done, whether in Church or State, he will not fail to raise up, and in due time to "call by name," the individuals needed for the doing of it. The preparatory training school or' these individuals may be far removed from the scene of their future labours. Bezaleel and Aholiab were trained in Egypt. Of what is said in "From Log Cabin to White House" of Presidents Lincoln and Garfield, of the United States - "Both of these statesmen were born in log-cabins, built by their fathers, in the wilderness, for family homes. Both were poor as mortals can well be. Both were born with talents of the highest order; but neither enjoyed early advantages of schools and teachers... Both worked on a farm, chopped wood, and did whatever else was needful for a livelihood, when eight years of age," etc. Thus God gifts, trains, prepares men, without a hint of the use to Which he means afterwards to put them. Till the event discloses it, the honour in reserve for them is kept a secret, even from themselves. The Genesis is polished in obscurity by the master's hand. Ultimately it is brought to light, and astonishes the beholders by the rare finish of its beauty. The tabernacle was built with the spoils of the Egyptians in more senses than one. More special lessons are the following -

I. ALL GIFTS ARE FROM GOD. Not simply gifts of intellect, of oratory, of holiness, of spiritual understanding, but gifts of every kind, from the highest to the lowest. Grace, in the case of Bezaleel, Aholiab, and their fellow-craftsmen, proceeded on a basis of natural endowment. Cf. ver. 6 - "into the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom." Skill in handicraft is a species of mental excellence, and deserves the name "wisdom." It, also, is from God. So with all natural talents; with, e.g., the pectic gift; gifts of music, painting, sculpture, architecture; business faculty; the gift of statesmanship; the power to "think out inventions"; the skill of the artificer. This truth lies at the basis of the demand for a religious use of gifts.

II. NATURAL GIFTS ADMIT OF INDEFINITE EXPANSION AND ENLARGEMENT UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF GOD'S SPIRIT. The workers in the tabernacle were supernaturally assisted in their work. Nothing less than this is implied in the words - "And I have filled him with the spirit of God" (ver. 3); "into the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom" (ver. 6). Grace aids nature. Regeneration is often accompanied by a mysterious and almost miraculous improvement in the powers of knowledge, so much so that, from a state of stolid imbecility, a person may be seen rising up and standing forth an acute argumentative pleader for the truth. (Cf. Dr. Wm. Anderson on "Regeneration," p. 37.) What holds good of the general invigoration of the powers, may be expected to apply in the particular. Dedication of self carries with it dedication of gifts. And if an individual dedicates to God any special gift which he possesses, seeking, whether in the Church or in pursuit of an ordinary calling, to use the same for God's glory, it will be his privilege to have it aided, strengthened, purified, and largely enhanced in its operations by the influences of Divine grace. The commonest work will thus be better done, if done in the spirit of prayer. And so with the noblest. Milton speaks of his great epic as a work "not to be raised from the heat of youth, or the vapours of wine, like that which flows at waste from the pea of some vulgar amourist or the trencher-fury of a rhyming parasite - nor to be obtained by invocation of Dame Memory and her siren daughter, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."

III. RELIGION SANCTIFIES LABOUR. The Bible is a text-book of instruction on the dignity of labour. It has no sympathy with the contemptible foppishness which looks on labour as degrading. It includes labour in religion. It sees in the occupation of the humblest handicraftsman the exercise of a Divine gift. The good man who, whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does, does all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) does not demean himself by an honest calling, but transfigures his calling into part of his service to his Maker. In his case, laborare est orate. The shewbread on the table in the sanctuary was a recognition of the sacredness of labour. It had as one of its meanings the dedication to God of the exercise of the calling by which Israel won its daily bread. So manual labour was sanctified to God in the making of the tabernacle. But it was reserved for Christianity to give the crowning proof of the dignity of labour by showing it ennobled and glorified in the person of its Founder. The fathers of the Christian Church, in contrast with the Greeks and Romans, who looked on artisans and barbarians with contemptuous disgust, preached in their noblest tones the duty and dignity of honourable toil. "The proudest bishops were not ashamed to dig; a Benedict worked six hours a day with hoe and spade; a Becket helped regularly to reap the fields. The monks at once practised labour, and ennobled and protected it. The towns and the middle classes grew up under their shelter. Laborare est orate became the motto of Christian life" (Farrar; cf. Lecky, "History of Rationalism," vol. 2. p. 261).

IV. THE HIGHEST USE OF GIFTS IS TO DEDICATE THEM TO THE SERVICE OF GOD IN THE WORK OF HIS CHURCH. Transformed by grace, and employed in the service of religion, gifts become graces - "Charismata." All labour, all gifts, admit of being thus devoted. The handicrafts can still bring their tribute to God, if in no higher way, in the erection of places for his worship. Art can labour in the adornment of the sanctuary (cf. Psalm 60:13). The service of praise affords scope for the utilisation of gifts of music, vocal and instrumental. There is need for care lest art, ministering to the worship of God, should overpower devotion; but, considered in itself, there need be no jealousy of the introduction of the tasteful and beautiful into God's service. It is meet that the Giver of gifts should be served with the best our gifts can yield. Earthly callings may minister to God's kingdom in another way, by bringing of their lawful gains and laying them at Christ's feet. There is, besides, the private consecration of gifts to God, as in the case of Dorcas, making coats and garments for the poor (Acts 9:39), or as in the case of a Miss Havergal, or an Ira D. Sankey, consecrating to God a gift of song. Minor lessons taught are -

(1) Gifts are not all alike, yet God can use all.

(2) Some are made to lead, others to serve and follow, in the work of God's kingdom. We glorify God most when unambitiously content to fill our own place; when not envious of the greater gifts of others. The humblest is needed. Bezaleel could ill have dispensed with the artificers; Aholiab, with the needle-workers. They in turn needed the master minds to direct them. There should be no jealousy among those engaged in the same work (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.).

(3) Diversity of gifts gives rise to division of labour.

(4) Bezaleel and Aholiab, though of different tribes (Judah and Dan), wrought together as friends, were not opposed as rivals. What kept out the spirit of rivalry was the consciousness that both were working in a sacred cause, and for God's glory, not their own. The feeling that we are working for Christ should keep down dissensions among Christians. - J.O.

If this prohibition to work upon the Sabbath is introduced, as probably it is, lest the people, in their zeal for the service of the sanctuary, should be tempted to infringe upon the holy day, it has certain obvious sides of instruction turned towards ourselves. We cannot but see in it the high honour which God puts upon his Sabbath.

1. It is the one command of the Decalogue to which reference is made in the conclusion of this series of instructions. This implies its great importance. It shows that, in God's esteem, the observance of the Sabbath was intimately bound up with the best interests of Israel.

2. The Sabbath is declared to be a sign between God and the Israelites. It was to be a memorial to future generations that Jehovah had made a covenant with the nation, and had sanctified them to himself. But its very selection for this purpose was a tribute to its importance. The reason of the selection could only be that the Sabbath was in itself a boon of the highest kind to Israel, and had important bearings on the state of morals and religion. A well- or ill-spent Sabbath, as all history shows, has much to do with the character both of the individual and of the community. The Sabbath, further, is a "sign" in this respect, that it is at once a means for the promotion of true religion, and a test or indication of its presence. A disregard of Divine authority shows itself in nothing more readily than in a disposition to break in upon the day of rest - to take from it its sacred character.

3. The Sabbath is not to be infringed upon, even for the work of the tabernacle. There was no such excessive haste, no such imperative call, for the sanctuary being finished, that the Sabbath needed to be broken by the plying of handicrafts, in order to get it done. We are taught that even our zeal for God's work is not to be allowed to betray us into unnecessary infractions of the day of rest. . This is not, of course, to be applied to spiritual work, to afford an opportunity for which is one end of the giving of the Sabbath.

4. The breaker of the Sabbath was to be put to death. This was not too severe a punishment for the deliberate breaking of a law so repeatedly enforced, and the observance of which had been made by Jehovah a "sign" of the covenant between himself and Israel. Slight as the act seems, it was, in this case, a crime of a very flagrant order. It was punished as an act of treason. At the conclusion of these commands, God gave to Moses the two tables of testimony, "tables of stone, written with the finger of God." A symbol

(1) of the perpetuity of the law,

(2) of its want of power to regenerate (2 Corinthians 3:7). - J.O.

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