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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Exodus 31

 

 

Introduction

The two things stressed in Exodus 31 are:

  1. God's appointment of the men who would have charge of the construction of the tabernacle and all of its furniture (Exodus 31:1-11); and

  2. a reiteration of the sabbath commandment, making it a "sign" of God's covenant with Israel, including also the assignment of the death penalty for violators (Exodus 31:12-17).

The final Exodus 31:18 announces the return from Mount Sinai of Moses with the tables of the Law.


Verses 1-5

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship."

Bezalel, it appears, was thus named as the general foreman of the entire construction project. The passage does not mean that Bezalel would actually do all of the work mentioned, by himself alone; nevertheless, he was inspired with God's Spirit with the perfect knowledge of how every portion of the whole was to be done, a knowledge which he would have been able to impart to helpers and assistants who might have been needed.

"I have called by name Bezalel ..." On occasion, when God especially needed a man for important assignments, he called him by name. Thus, on the Damascus road, he called, "Saul, Saul" (Acts 22:7). When Samuel was a child, God called "Samuel" three tinges (1 Samuel 3 and God even called "Cyrus," the ruler of Medo-Persia, generations before he was born (See Isaiah 45:1-7). God's thus calling certain persons "by name" seems to have been rare and reserved for those who gave extraordinary service in fulfilling the plans and purpose of Almighty God.

"The son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah ..." The reason for the ancestors being named seems to have been twofold. It stressed that Bezalel came of a faithful family, the Hur mentioned here having already been mentioned by Moses in Exodus 17:10, and in Exodus 24:20, occasions when Hur held up the hands of Moses and was left, along with Aaron, in charge of the people during Moses' absence. We find no agreement with scholars who reject the identification of this Hur in the ancestry of Bezalel with the man of the same name already mentioned twice by Moses in this same narrative. Dumaelow's claim that there is no evidence of this identity "beyond the similarity of names"[1] is incorrect, because when any historian mentions the same name three times in succession, it is mandatory to assume that the same person is meant each time. As Keil accurately discerned it:

"Bezalel was a grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, who is mentioned in Exodus 17:10; Exodus 24:14, and was called to be the master-builder, to superintend the whole of the building and carry out the artistic work; consequently, he is not only invariably mentioned first (Exodus 35:30; Exodus 36:1-2), but in the accounts of the execution of the separate portions, he is mentioned alone (Exodus 32:1; Exodus 38:22)."[2]

A second reason for this inclusion of Bezalel's ancestry is seen in the identification of him with the tribe of Judah, the tribe through whom came Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world. In these two particulars: that he came of the tribe of Judah, and that he built the tabernacle, Bezalel stands as a type of the Christ who also came of Judah, and built the Church of which that ancient tabernacle itself was a type. "The name Bezalel means in the shadow of God."[3]

One other word about the ancestry of Bezalel. He is traced all the way back to Judah's son Pharez (of Tamar) in 1 Chronicles 4:1-4. On the basis of other men named Hur in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 20:24; Nehemiah 3:9), Noth wrote, "This could suggest a post-exilic origin of the tradition."[4] There are no less than five Hur's in the Houston telephone directory now! And if Noth had known about that, he might have concluded that Exodus was written recently. One conclusion is just as reasonable as the other. Furthermore, we are not dealing in Exodus with "a tradition," but with divine history.

"I have filled him with the Spirit of God ..." This is exceedingly important in showing that human skills, dexterity, artistry, etc. are gifts of God, no less than that of prophecy. Also, Moses did not appoint this chief superintendent of the works of the tabernacle; God appointed him. It is evident also that Bezalel possessed personal abilities of great dimensions even before he received God's Spirit. This passage reminds us of Acts 6:3-6, where men full of wisdom and of the Holy Spirit were appointed to administer the charities of the Jerusalem church. Note again that God never appointed any man to a task without endowing him fully to enable the execution of it.


Verses 6-11

"And I, behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy-seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the Tent, and the table and its vessels, and the pure candlestick with all its vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its base, and the finely wrought garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest's office, and the anointing oil, and the incense of sweet spices for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do."

"Behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab ..." It is strange indeed that the man appointed by the Lord to make the curtains and have charge of all the fabric work for the Tent (Exodus 31:7) was himself the bearer of a name Oholiab, which means "Father's Tent."[5] It is mentioned that he was of the tribe of Dan; and although that tribe does not appear to have been famous for such men of artistic talent, it was likewise true that Hiram, the chief artist employed by Solomon for the ornamental work of the temple, was also a Danite (2 Chronicles 2:14). Despite such notable exceptions, "The Danites in general were more warlike and rude than artistic (Genesis 49:17; Deuteronomy 33:22; Judges 13:2; Judges 18:11,27)."[6]

"The finely wrought garments (Exodus 31:10) ..." These included three types of garments, enumerated by Cook, as follows:

The three types of dress were:

  1. the richly adorned state robes of the High Priest (Exodus 28:6-29:1ff);

  2. the holy garments of white linen worn by the High Priest on the day of Atonement;

  3. the garments of white linen worn by all the priests in their regular ministrations.[7]

Exodus 31:7-11 have an enumeration of all of the various works already commanded to be made; but the order has two significant changes. The tabernacle is named first, and the altar of incense falls into its more logical position next to the candlestick.


Verses 12-17

RESTATEMENT OF THE SABBATH COMMANDMENT

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily ye shall keep my sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am Jehovah who sanctifieth you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: everyone that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Jehovah; whosoever doeth any work on the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."

Scholars have several different opinions as to why this repetition of the sabbath law should have occurred just here. Some think that it arose from the practical necessity of restraining the people from working on the tabernacle even on the sabbaths, which they might, in their enthusiasm, have been prone to do. Others believe that it was designed to single out and emphasize what they regard as the "chief commandment" of the Decalogue, that of keeping the sabbath; and still others suppose that it was to preclude any idea that might have tended toward the replacement of the sabbath law by the holy services of the tabernacle.

However, this information regarding the sabbath is not a mere repetition. As is so frequently the case in the Word of God, a given subject is returned to again and again, with new and pertinent information being supplied in each new mention of it; and the same thing is true here. Two facts of the utmost importance are here revealed for the first time: (1) that the sabbath day was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel; and (2) that the profanation of it was a capital offense to be punished by the execution of all violators! This was exactly the proper place for Moses to have included this information, because the established worship of God in the services of the tabernacle was about to be inaugurated; and, as the sabbath was to be a prominent and vital part of that worship, this placement of the instructions stressed it as being also of equal importance with the tabernacle rituals.

"Shall be cut off from among his people ..." Dummelow, and others, are of the opinion that this does not necessarily mean to be be put to death.[8] Certainly in later times, "to be cut off from among his people" referred to one's being cast out of the synagogue (See John 9), and there could have been other occasions when the same meaning must be allowed; however, here, the expression is used as a parallel with "surely be put to death," and there can be little doubt that this rule was followed throughout the history of Israel. It will be remembered that Annas, some five or six of whose sons and sons-in-law exercised the office of the High Priest in the times of Christ, was deposed from his office by Tiberius Caesar in 14 A.D. for putting to death a young man for breaking the sabbath.[9] And, of course, there is the classical instance of it in Numbers 15:32. Fields stated that there is no difference in the meaning of the two expressions "cut off from his people" and "be put to death," as they are used here. "Nevertheless, it appears plain that very few people were ever executed for breaking the sabbath. Nehemiah declared that the Jews went into captivity for not keeping the sabbath."[10] Still this law remained, and the Jews even threatened Jesus Christ with death for "breaking the sabbath" (according to their silly rules which they had imposed upon God's Word). See John 5:16-18. There is no way to agree with Honeycutt's declaration that, "There are no records of death penalties having been administered for sabbath violation."[11]

"It is a sign between me and the children of Israel ..." Up until this time, circumcision had been "the sign" of the covenant with Abraham; but, as Rawlinson pointed out, "Other ancient peoples had also adopted circumcision, with the result that circumcision was no longer a sufficiently distinguishing mark; hence, the giving of the sabbath."[12] It should be noted that there is no hint whatever of sabbath keeping having ever been observed by anyone other than Israelites in all history.

It is a gross error to equate God's "resting on the seventh day" of creation with what was commanded for Israel. God's mention of his resting on the "seventh day" was indeed tied theologically to the Jewish sabbath, but the connection is not that God rested on Saturday, but it is seen in the fact that, "even God rested on the seventh day of creation." How much more appropriate therefore is it that men should have rested on the "seventh day of the week!"

For a more complete discussion of the Sabbath Day, see under Exodus 16:30 and Exodus 20:8.

Jews still observe the sabbath. One of their rabbis has written:

The Sabbath is the sign, the identifying mark, of the Jew. Just as the sign on the door of a home indicates who lives inside, so the Sabbath is the sign marking the place where a Jew dwells. Likewise, the shop that is closed on the Sabbath is marked as a Jewish enterprise. But if, heaven forbid, that shop should be open on the Sabbath, the mark indicates the reverse.[13]

"For a perpetual covenant ..." The actual meaning of this is not "through all time to eternity," but it rather should be understood in a dispensational sense, "until Christ should come."


Verse 18

"And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God."

It was for the purpose of receiving these tables that God had called Moses up into the mountain, as revealed in Exodus 24:12, and thus this is a fulfillment of the promise of God made to Moses at that time. The size of these tables concerns some scholars, but there is no way to determine exactly the size of them, other than by the necessary deductions from the fact of Moses' having been able to carry them in his hands, and from the further truth that they were designed to repose within the ark of the covenant, yet with enough room left for the pot of manna and the rod which budded. As for still another "problem," did God actually inscribe the tablets, or did Moses do so at God's direction? No matter how it was done, the eternal truth can be no better expressed than in the words here recorded: "TABLES OF STONE; WRITTEN WITH THE FINGER OF GOD!" We do not believe that any comment is needed.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/exodus-31.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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