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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 31

 

 

Introduction

Moses in Mount Sinai Receives God’s Revelation.

Moses In The Mountain With Yahweh For Forty Days and Nights (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:18).

After receiving the covenant and putting it into writing Moses was called by Yahweh to go up to Him into the Mountain. The Great Overlord wished to establish the necessary protocol for His people’s approach to Him. There through revelation Moses was to be given instructions concerning the provision of a Dwellingplace for Yahweh, with all its furniture, so that they could know that He ‘dwelt among them’. This was in order to confirm to Israel His gracious intentions towards them (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and which will enable them to reveal their continued loyalty and concern for His holiness (Exodus 30-31).

Regulations Concerning Things Not Directly Concerned with the Godward Aspect of The Overlordship And Atonement But With The Expression of Responsive Concern For Yahweh and His Holiness (Exodus 30:1 to Exodus 31:18).

Up to this point all the emphasis has been on God’s provision for His people as Overlord and Atoner. And this has concluded with the teaching about the continuing daily sacrifices of Exodus 29:38-42, followed by a summary that makes Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46 a clear unit. God has been revealing His sovereign power and His provision for atonement and finishes with the promise of His future dwelling with His people.

But there are certain things that He has not dealt with which we might have expected. There has been no mention of the altar of incense or the laver. There is, however, good reason for this, for neither expressed what He was then trying to get over to His people, Yahweh’s reaching out to them. They spoke rather of the response of His people in dedication, loyalty and respect. So these are now dealt with along with other examples of the same. The people’s response of dedication, worship and loyalty will now be expanded on.

The regulations in this chapter are about man’s response and are connected with the ideas of loyalty, and with responsibility towards and true respect for their Divine Overlord. They cover certain covenant responsibilities:

a Their responsibility to offer worship and loyalty as signified by the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-10).

b Their responsibility as servants of Yahweh to recognise that they are His and accordingly pay their dues (Exodus 30:11-16).

c The necessity for their representatives to make themselves free from earthiness when entering His presence (Exodus 30:17-21).

d The making of the anointing oil that sets the priests aside in loyal service (Exodus 30:22-33).

c The making of the incense by which they express the people’s love and loyalty to Yahweh (Exodus 30:34-38).

b The appointment of men set aside to loyally produce the Dwelling place and all its furniture (Exodus 31:1-11).

a The need to keep the Sabbath continually which is the sign of their loyalty and devotion (Exodus 31:12-17).

It will be seen that there is a pattern in this. The first and the last (a) refer to continual acts which reveal their loyalty and dedication, the first by the priests, the last by the people, so expressing their continual loyalty to the covenant and to Yahweh. The second and the sixth (b) are connected with service to the Dwellingplace, in the first case as a service from which they are ransomed, in the second case as something that they freely offer when called on. The third and the fifth (c) refer to the use of differing God-provided avenues by which priests are able to approach God, on behalf of the people, although not connected with atonement, and the central one centres on the setting apart to God of the priests on behalf of the ransomed people. They head up the dedication and worship of Israel

The Appointment of the Men for The Task Of Producing All That Has Been Described (Exodus 31:1-11).

The list of what demonstrates men’s responsive loyalty and concern is now added to in terms of those who are chosen for the supremely important work of producing the Tent of Meeting and the sacred furniture.

The Appointment of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-5).

• Yahweh has called Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, and has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, and knowledge and all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:1-4).

• To devise cunning works, to work in gold and silver and brazen copper, and in cutting stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:5).

Notice how the two statements are balanced by ‘in all manner of workmanship’.


Verses 1-5

The Appointment of the Men for The Task Of Producing All That Has Been Described (Exodus 31:1-11).

The list of what demonstrates men’s responsive loyalty and concern is now added to in terms of those who are chosen for the supremely important work of producing the Tent of Meeting and the sacred furniture.

The Appointment of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-5).

• Yahweh has called Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, and has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, and knowledge and all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:1-4).

• To devise cunning works, to work in gold and silver and brazen copper, and in cutting stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:5).

Notice how the two statements are balanced by ‘in all manner of workmanship’.

Exodus 31:1-5

‘And Yahweh spoke to 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 intricate (cunning) workmanship, to work in gold, and in silver and in bronze, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in cutting of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship.”

It is easy to misrepresent what is said here. This does not say that all artistic gifts are the result of the work of the Spirit in men, for they patently are not. What it does say is that God can take those with artistic gifts and by His Spirit enable them to produce even greater works for His name.

Bezalel (meaning ‘in the shadow of God’) was to be put in charge of the construction of the Dwellingplace and its furniture. He was from the tribe of Judah and his ancestor Hur may well have been the one who was a prime assistant of Moses (Exodus 17:10; Exodus 17:12; Exodus 24:14). Only his father and his prominent ancestors are mentioned. He was a man whose artistic ability was well known.

But Yahweh has ‘called him by name’. This is said of few (e.g. Moses (3:4; 33:12, 17); Cyrus (Isaiah 45:3-4); the Servant (Isaiah 49:1)) He is personally called to a vital ministry. And he has been carefully prepared for this special task and has now been endued by God’s Spirit in order to carry it through. Just as God created the world through His Spirit (Genesis 1:2), so He establishes His Dwellingplace by His Spirit.

In wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge.” He has been given all the attributes of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. We may see this as signifying, by wisdom the power to invent and originate and work wisely, by understanding the ability to receive and take in all guidance from God and all His directions, and by knowledge the expertise necessary for the task. This is then expanded to include all manner of workmanship, including intricate work, metal work, jewellery work, and woodwork. As usual when the need arises God has His man especially prepared.


Verses 6-11

The Appointment of Bezalel’s Assistants (Exodus 31:6-11).

a Yahweh has appointed with Bezalel, Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, and has put wisdom within the hearts in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted so that they might make all that Yahweh has commanded (Exodus 31:6).

b Namely, the Tent of Meeting and the Ark of the Testimony, and the Mercy-seat which is on it, and all the furniture of the tent, and the Table and its vessels, and the pure lampstand with all its vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of whole burnt offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its accompaniment (Exodus 31:7-9)

b And the finely wrought garments, and the holy garments for Aaron the Priest, and the garments of his sons to minister in the priests’ office, and the anointing oil and the incense of sweet spices for the Holy Place (Exodus 31:10-11 a).

a They must do according to all that Yahweh has commanded them (Exodus 31:11 b).

Exodus 31:6 a

“And I, behold I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.”

Chief assistant to Bezalel was to be Oholiab, a Danite. See Exodus 38:23. He was a skilled engraver and embroiderer. His name is foreign and probably means ‘a father is my tent’. It probably signifies a ruler whose tent is a father to his clan. It was a very apt name in view of the task that lay ahead. But note that he is not strictly ‘called by name’. He is appointed.

Exodus 31:6-11 (6b-11)

“And in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you, the Tent of Meeting, and the Ark of the Testimony, and the Mercy-seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the Tent, and the table and its vessels, and the pure lampstand with all its vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of whole burnt offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its base, and the finely wrought garments, and the holy 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. They shall do in accordance with all that I have commanded you.”

Under Bezalel and Oholiab are a body of skilled and highly trained men. It should be noted that had these men not done their apprenticeships and qualified in their particular careers they would not have been chosen for this sacred task. They are ‘wise-hearted’, that is, skilled and trained. It behoves all God’s people to seek to fit themselves for His service by proper training, and become wise hearted. But in this time of special need Yahweh will give them more wisdom, enablement for the supreme task that they have been given.

These chosen men will therefore produce all that has been described from 25:1 onwards. Note that the altar of incense and the laver are included in the list. Their placing as described earlier (coming later than the other furniture in the Dwellingplace) was to distinguish the furniture which indicated God’s activity towards His people from that which indicated the response of the people towards God, but they are of ‘equal’ importance in overall worship, and are here given their functional place. The order given here is in general followed in Exodus 36:1 to Exodus 38:23.


Verses 12-17

The Sign of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17).

The final response and mark of loyalty and worship is found in the newly established Sabbath (Exodus 16:23; Exodus 16:25-26; Exodus 16:29; Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 23:10-13). This divided time up for Israel into periods of seven days, something unique in the ancient world. Time was usually measured in terms of the moon (moon periods of 28/29 days long) or the sun (in term of keeping the seasons in line). This measurement of time directly connected them with Yahweh and His activity. They were uniquely Yahweh’s people. Time would also later be divided up into seven year periods, the seventh year of such being a kind of Sabbath (Leviticus 25:1-7), and into ‘seven times seven’ periods which ended in the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8 ff). The ‘fiftieth year’ was not, however, the year that followed the forty-ninth year, for it commenced on the seventh month. It thus presumably covered the last half of the forty-ninth year and the first half of the following first year. It did not therefore break the sequence of sevens.

a Moses is to speak to the children of Israel saying that they must keep His Sabbaths

b For this is a sign between Him and Israel throughout their generations, that they may know that He is Yahweh Who sanctifies them

c They shall keep the Sabbath for it is holy to them. Whoever does any work in it will be cut off from among his people

d Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh is a day of solemn rest

d It is holy to Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day will surely be put to death

c For this reason the children of Israel will keep the Sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant

b It is a sign between Him and the children of Israel for ever

a For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased work and was refreshed.

Note that in ‘a’ the children of Israel are to keep Yahweh’s Sabbaths, and in the parallel it is because in six days He made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed. In ‘b’ it is a sign between Him and the children of Israel throughout their generations, while in the parallel it is a sign between them for ever. In ‘c’ they are to keep the Sabbath because it is holy to them, and in the parallel they are to keep it throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant. In ‘d’ the stress is on ceasing work on the seventh day, while in the parallel it is holy so that whoever works on it will be put to death.

Exodus 31:12-13

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly you shall keep my sabbaths. For it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies you.”

The offering of incense on the incense altar was evidence of the people’s loyalty and devotion, the payment of the ransom on the numbering of Israel was a further mark of loyalty and we now come to the third mark of loyalty, the Sabbath. This has been recently established to act as a sign whereby all men may know that Israel are His people and loyally serve Him, and as a sign whereby they may themselves recognise that they are His and come to know Him more fully. Every time the Sabbath came round they would recognise that they had been set apart by God as His people and would by God’s grace come to know it fully in their hearts. And like the offering of the incense this was to be so through many generations.

The mention of the Sabbath here was especially apposite as the temptation might have been for the work to continue on the Sabbath because it was ‘God’s work’. But the warning is clear. Nothing justifies the ignoring of the Sabbath because of its deep significance.

Exodus 31:14-15

“You shall therefore keep the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it will surely be put to death. For whoever does any work in it, that person 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 Yahweh. Whoever does any work on the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.”

The importance and solemnity of the sabbath is stressed. No work at all must be done on it (other than the minimum necessary to ensure the wellbeing of their flocks and herds). It is a holy day, and to work on it would profane it. For it is a reminder of God’s rest in creation (Exodus 31:17). Thus it applied to all who lived among His people. The complete ban was a boon for all hired workers and bondmen. Even they could not work on the sabbath, and no ingenuity of man could get around it. It was a total ban. And it was a sign that Israel were Yahweh’s people. It was a sign of the covenant, of which it was a part, and of their observance of it. And all who were within that covenant were promised that they would find rest.

A sabbath of solemn rest.” It was a reminder of the rest He was going to give them in Canaan (Deuteronomy 12:9-10; Deuteronomy 25:19), and of the eternal rest that He will give to His own (Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:3; Hebrews 4:9-10).

The warning of death for breaching the Sabbath was an indication that it was a new ordinance, which was why it had to be so solemnly enforced (compare Genesis 17:14). And the reason for the severe penalty was that a deliberate breaching of the Sabbath would be a deliberate rejection of the covenant, and thus if Israel did not act to punish it they would be seen as participating in the rejection of the covenant.

Exodus 31:16-17

“For this reason 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 for ever. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and took breath.”

So this was the reason why His people should keep the Sabbath into the distant future. Because it was the sign of God’s perpetual covenant with them as declared at Sinai. As the rainbow was a reminder of God’s covenant with the world through Noah (Genesis 9:12-17), and as circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his wider family (Genesis 17:11), so the Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant recently made with Israel. And by observing the Sabbath they were giving the continual sign that they had accepted that covenant and were maintaining their special relationship with God for ever. And it was a mutual sign, for as they were to rest on the Sabbath day, so He also had rested on the Sabbath day. Thus their resting on it demonstrated their new special relationship with their Creator. They were following in His footsteps.

For in six yom Yahweh made heaven and earth.” The revealed pattern of creation (Genesis 1) has been over six God-periods, followed by rest. This was to be the pattern of Israel’s way of living, continual periods of divine fulfilment.

He rested and took breath.” This anthropomorphism is rather expressing what benefit they will receive from the Sabbath day. All knew that when someone ceased work and rested, they were refreshed (compare Exodus 23:12). They were able to take breath on the Sabbath, just as Yahweh had done after creation.

This idiom has passed over into English. If we want to stop someone from some hectic activity we ask, ‘when are you going to take a breather?’ What we simply mean is ‘when are you going to stop?’.


Verse 18

The Final Act On The Mount; The Giving of the Covenant Written by God (Exodus 31:18).

Exodus 31:18

‘And he gave to Moses, when he had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone written with the finger of God.’

God’s period of fellowship and discussion with Moses (begun in Exodus 25:1) was now over and He gave to Moses two tablets which were the confirmation of the covenant and contained the covenant of the ten words which had been written by His finger, His personal written covenant with His people (see Exodus 32:15-16). These were the sign that the interview was over, and that matters were finalised.

The ten words would be in groups of five, so that there would be five on each, the covenant number twice repeated in witness. That is why they were called the Testimony. ‘The finger of God’ need not be taken literally. God used His own method of inscribing the tablets. The point was that it was not Moses who had engraved the words on the tablets, but God. ‘The finger of God’ was a favourite way in Egypt of speaking of any wonder that was truly of God (Exodus 8:19). (Some see two duplicate tablets with ten on each, providing copies for both parties in the covenant).

Notes to Christians.

In this chapter it is made clear that in the service of God we must receive our Spirit and wisdom from Him. Without that it will not be satisfactory (compare 1 Corinthians 2:11-16). And we learn that where God has a work that He wants done He appoints the men to do it. They are individually chosen, but along with them work a whole team of skilful craftsmen, anonymous to us but known to Him, without whom, humanly speaking, the work of God in completing the living, believing church, His temple, will not be completed.

And it is made clear that we must set apart a time for God which is wholly for Him, a time when nothing intrudes to prevent our whole attention being on Him. (And we must not only do so for ourselves, we must ensure that it is possible for others). Some may select one particular day, others may select every day, but we must be satisfied in our own minds about what we do (Romans 14:4-6), and that we do it honestly as those who must give account (Romans 14:10-12). And the keeping of such a time to God is to be a sign to Him and to the world that we belong to Him.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-31.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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