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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Exodus 31

Verses 12-18

C. Directions regarding God’s dwelling among His people 24:12-31:18

Having given directions clarifying Israel’s obedience in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33), God now summoned Moses up into the mountain again to receive His directions regarding Israel’s worship. The Book of the Covenant specified how the Israelites were to live with one another, but the tabernacle showed them how God wanted them to worship Him. [Note: Cf. Davis, p. 192.]

"The establishment of a covenant relationship necessitated a means whereby the vassal party could regularly appear before the Great King to render his accountability. In normal historical relationships of this kind between mere men, some sort of intercession was frequently mandatory and, in any case, a strict protocol had to be adhered to. [Note: For Hittite practice, see O. R. Gurney, The Hittites, pp. 74-75.] How much more must this be required in the case of a sinful people such as Israel, who must, notwithstanding, communicate with and give account to an infinitely transcendent and holy God." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp. 48-49.]

Why did Moses record God’s instructions for the tabernacle before the people sinned by making the golden calf? It was, after all, the golden calf incident that led to the giving of the priestly laws.

". . . according to the logic of the narrative, it was Israel’s fear that had created the need for a safe approach to God, that is, one in which the people as such were kept at a distance and a mediator was allowed to represent them. It was precisely for this reason that the tabernacle was given to Israel." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 58.]

Verses 1-11

9. The builders of the tabernacle 31:1-11

Chapter 31 summarizes what God required for His people to approach Him. God appointed the men who would be responsible for interpreting Moses’ instructions about the tabernacle and constructing it. He filled them with His Spirit so they would make choices consistent with His will (Exodus 31:3).

Bezalel ("In the shadow of God") was evidently Miriam’s grandson. [Note: Josephus, 3:6:1.] Oholiab ("The Father is my tent") was his assistant. God endowed both men with natural ability as well as with the Holy Spirit to do the work He had appointed for them (cf. Acts 6:3).

"Though they were skilled, the narrative emphasizes clearly that they were to do the work of building the tabernacle by means of the skills that the Spirit of God would give them. There is an important parallel here with God’s work of Creation in Genesis 1. Just as God did his work of Creation by means of his Spirit (Genesis 1:2 to Genesis 2:3), so also Israel was to do their work of building the tabernacle by God’s Spirit.

"The parallels between God’s work in Creation and Israel’s work on the tabernacle are part of the Pentateuch’s larger emphasis on the importance of the work of God’s Spirit among his people. . . . It is of interest here to note that the two key characters in the Pentateuch who provide a clear picture of genuine obedience to God’s will, Joseph and Joshua, are specifically portrayed in the narrative as those who are filled with the Spirit of God (Genesis 41:38; Deuteronomy 34:9)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 309.]

Verses 12-18

10. The sign of the Sabbath 31:12-18

"As a sign of the Noahic covenant is the rainbow (Genesis 9:13), and as the sign of the Abrahamic covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:11), the sign of the Mosaic covenant is the observance and celebration of the Sabbath day (Exodus 31:13; Exodus 31:17)." [Note: Youngblood, pp. 112-13. The sign of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).]

God intended this sign to teach Israel and the other nations that as redeemed people the Israelites had already entered into a measure of rest. They were partakers of God’s rest.

Observance of the Sabbath was unique to Israel. It distinguished Israel from all other nations. So important was its observance that the Israelite who failed to observe it died (Exodus 31:15). This sign was to continue throughout all succeeding generations (Exodus 31:13) as long as God continued to work through Israel as His primary instrument (cf. Romans 10:4; Hebrews 9:10).

"The analogy between God’s work of Creation and Israel’s construction of the tabernacle is made explicit by the reference to the Sabbath at the close of the narrative." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 309.]

Whereas God did not command Christians to observe the Sabbath, the Scriptures do teach the importance of periodic physical rest regardless of the dispensation in which we may live (cf. Mark 6:31; Mark 14:41; Revelation 6:11).

"We don’t have to be servants twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." [Note: John F. Alexander, "Sabbath Rest," The Other Side 146 (November 1983):8. See Jeffrey Siker-Gieseler, "The Theology of the Sabbath in the Old Testament: A Canonical Approach," Studia Biblica et Theologica 11:1 (April 1981):5-20, in which the author brought together and interpreted the references to the Sabbath in the Old Testament.]

This section concludes the record of what Moses received from God during the 40 days and nights he was in the mountain that began in Exodus 25:1.

Moses wrote the instructions concerning the tabernacle so they parallel what he wrote about the Creation. Note some of the similarities in the narratives. [Note: Adapted from Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp. 289-90, 306, 309.]

Creation (Genesis 1-2)Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31)
The subject of the narrative is the establishment of God’s good creation.The subject of the narrative is the re-establishment of God’s good creation.
The heavens and earth are the arena for the creation of divine-human fellowship.The tabernacle is the arena for the restoration of divine-human fellowship.
God’s Spirit was the enabling power in creation (Genesis 1:2 to Genesis 2:3).God’s Spirit was the enabling power in the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:3; Exodus 31:6).
Structurally the creation account consists of seven acts each marked by divine speech ("And God said," Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:6; Genesis 1:9; Genesis 1:14; Genesis 1:20; Genesis 1:24; Genesis 1:26).Structurally the tabernacle account consists of seven acts each introduced by divine speech ("And the LORD said," Exodus 25:1; Exodus 30:11; Exodus 30:17; Exodus 30:22; Exodus 30:34; Exodus 31:1; Exodus 31:12).
God made Adam and Eve according to a specific pattern: the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).Moses made the tabernacle according to a specific pattern: a heavenly reality (Exodus 25:9).
The Garden of Eden contained gold and jewels, and cherubim guarded it (Genesis 2:12-12 b; Genesis 3:24).The tabernacle contained gold and jewels, and cherubim guarded it (Exodus 25:3; Exodus 25:7; Exodus 25:18).
When creation was complete, God inspected and evaluated all that He had done (Genesis 1:31) and uttered a blessing (Genesis 1:28).When the tabernacle was complete, Moses inspected and evaluated all that was done (Exodus 39:43 a) and uttered a blessing (Exodus 39:43 b).
God rested on the seventh day at the end of the creation narrative (Genesis 2:1-3).God told the Israelites to rest on the seventh day at the end of the tabernacle narrative (Exodus 31:12-18).
A fall followed the creation narrative (Genesis 3).A fall followed the tabernacle narrative (Exodus 32).
This fall resulted in the breaking of the Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19).This fall resulted in the breaking of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 33:1-5).
God covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21).God ordered the covering of the priests’ nakedness (Exodus 28:42).
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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 31". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-31.html. 2012.