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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Exodus 31

 

 

Verses 1-11

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exo

GRACE AND GENIUS

After having given directions for the construction of the sanctuary, and all things required for the worship, Jehovah pointed out the builders whom He had called to carry out the work, and had filled with His Spirit for that purpose. This paragraph is instructive as to the connection between gifts of nature and the influences of grace, between the natural and the supernatural in man's intellectual life. Observe—

I. Natural gifts are often discovered by grace. Bezaleel and Aholiab were naturally gifted men—men of artistic faculty. Their natural ability is pre-supposed. Thus Exo , "Thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom." But it is very improbable that these men had as yet revealed anything like great artistic taste or power. Egypt did not know their talent; very probably they did not suspect it themselves. As Trapp well observes: "Moses might well doubt where he should find fit workmen among those brickmakers from Egypt." And yet in these brickmakers were artists, architects, painters, embroiderers, and musicians. The grace of God evoked the latent power. It often does so still. Many a man having got a new heart seems also to have got a new head, and reveals mental power and superior aptitudes which had not been suspected before.

II. National gifts are directed by grace. "See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri." We speak of men being "called" to the ministry; are they not "called" to all spheres? Nature qualifies men for certain spheres, for certain mental or manual work which they will best accomplish. But is it not true that many miss their calling? Let all men seek the grace of God, and none shall miss their providential way. "I have called by name." God knows each of us; He knows the kind of our talent and the measure of it; and if we are obedient to God, He who puts everything in its place in nature will find the "right groove" for every man in society.

III. Natural gifts are heightened by grace. Bezaleel "was filled with the Spirit of God," and thus all his natural gifts were supernaturally exalted. Grace acts on the lines of nature. The king in the parable divided to each of his servants his goods "according to their several ability." But the influence of God's Spirit gives to our natural powers a glow and ripeness and force which they could not otherwise have. Did not Milton attain a sublimed strain through living in the presence of Heaven? Did not Angelico find that devotion gave magic to his pencil? Have not holy men in all spheres realised a perfection and power of genius, which they never could have reached had it not been for the inspirations of religion? Let all seek for the Spirit of God to purify and hallow their heart, and they shall find that their intellect has new force, their eye new light, their hand new cunning.

IV. Natural gifts are sanctified by grace. The genius of Bezaleel was directed to a sacred and worthy end. How often have we seen genius directed to paltry ends of mere luxury and amusement, or to immoral ends! God's grace sanctifies talent to noble uses and ends.

All the work of the world is for God, and every workman needs to be filled with God's Spirit, so that all may be well and wisely done.

ILLUSTRATIONS

BY

REV. WM. ADAMSON

Mosaic-Mines! Exo .

(1.) The face of Nature, says Macmillan, is everywhere written over with Divine characters, which he who runs may read. But beside the more obvious lessons which lie, as it were, in the surface of the earth, and which suggest themselves to us often when least disposed for inquiry or reflection, there are more recondite lessons which she teaches to those who make her structure arrangements their special study, and who penetrate to her secret arcana. And those, who read her great volume, passing on leaf after leaf, to the quiet and sober chapters of the interior, will find in these internal details revelations of the deepest interest.

(2.) It is even so with the Bible. In the New Testament, we have a rich robe of vegetation adorning the surface, the beauties of tree and flower, forest, hill and river, and the ever-changing splendours of the sky. In the psalms and prophets we walk amid the beauty of gardens and ornamented parterres, where every-thing thrills with their beauty and fragrance. But in the pentateuch, we descend, as it were, into the crust of the earth. We lose sight of all these upper-air glories; but we find new objects to compensate us—truths written with the finger of God—lessons on the deep things of God—diamonds which sparkle when brought up within the sphere of the Sun of Righteousness, who has risen with healing in His wings.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear."

Gray.

Bezaleel and Aholiab! Exo to Exo 11:1. We have here

(1.) Nomination by God of the architects and artisans;

(2.) Inspiration by the Holy Spirit of their genius;

(3.) Consecration of their artistic gifts to the service of God; and

(4.) Construction of the tabernacle with a view to Sabbath-worship.

2. In these several points we have prefigurations of the Lord Jesus Christ—the true Builder and Maker of that spiritual edifice, which is to be the object of enduring and adoring observation on the part of angels and archangels—He, too, was called of God, and was filled with the spirit of wisdom and knowledge. He, too, devoted His gifts to the worship of Jehovah, and upreared a super-structure for Sabbath adoration.

3. When Christ, says Matthew Henry, sent His ambassadors to uprear the Gospel tabernacle, He poured out His Spirit upon them. He enabled them to speak with tongues the wonderful works of God. He qualified them not to work upon metal, but upon men; so much more excellent were the gifts, as the tabernacle to be pitched was a greater and more perfect tabernacle (Heb ).

"And if to partake of such honour,

A bruised reed dareth to trust,

O Comforter! raise, in Thy goodness,

Thy servant who speaks from the dust."

Art-Inspiration! Exo .

(1.) Jacox relates of Fra Giovanni de Fiecoli that he never commenced any work—whether an elaborate fresco, or an illumination for a book—without praying. He always carried out the first impression, believing it to be an inspiration. He never retouched or altered anything left as finished.

(2.) Ruskin, in his "Modern Painters," writes of Turner as "inspired." He apologises for the use of the word as irreverent possibly; but there is no such irreverence, if the word is used by him in the sense and within the scope of Exodus 31. There is such a thing as Art-Inspiration.

(3.) South says, that the greatest poets and thinkers will confess that their highest and most admired conceptions and disclosures were such as darted into their minds like sudden flashes of lightning, they knew not how or when. This is prominent in the case of Watt and his steam-engine; as in the case of those two astronomers at Berlin and London, who at the same moment, independent of and unknown to each other, suggested one of the most remarkable of astronomical phenomena. Thus

"Step by step, and throne by throne, we rise

Continually towards the Infinite;

And ever nearer—never near to God.

Bailey.

Inspiration-Impetus! Exo . The same Spirit, who inspired the eloquence of Isaiah, and the melodies of the chief musician Asaph, also imparted to Samson that wonderful bodily strength which he displayed in Herculean feats against the Philistines: and to Bezaleel and Aholiab the fine æsthetic taste and mechanical skill, by which they were enabled to construct the tabernacle after the pattern shown on the mount. As Macmillan says, Gideon and Jephthah carried on their military campaigns—Elijah and Elisha wrought their singular miracles—Hiram of Tyre forged and engraved the precious metals employed in the service of Solomon's temple, under the influence of the Holy Spirit;—in short, it would appear from Scripture that the influence of the Spirit is co-extensive with the sphere of human affairs; and that nothing with which man has to do is outside of and beyond the proper field of his operations. Yet

"The Lamp of Genius, though by His grace lit,

If not protected, trimm'd, and fed with care,

Soon dies, or runs to waste with fitful glare."

Wilcox.

Sanctified Genius! Exo . One of the most remarkable examples in modern times of natural gifts lying long dormant is that of Joseph Cook. The world dreamt not that within her circle lived a giant thinker, whose thoughts would prove Whitworth hammers to break the huge brazen idol-gates of Dagon-Atheism. Possessed of this gift, for long years, he devoted himself to the study of all the rationalistic theories and arguments, as well as to the arts of rhetoric and science of language. When the time came, like Bezaleel and Aholiab—under the inspirations of the Spirit—he appeared before the towering strongholds of Infidelity. His lectures are not only specimens of magnificent critical power; but they are marked by such cultured eloquence that men listen entranced. His natural genius, under the sanctifying cultivation of Divine grace, is furnishing the Church with vessels of gold and tapestries of purple and fine twined linen of rare workmanship and surprising execution.

"Thus beams forth his soul—grace-illumined,

As shineth at morning anew

The pastures in gold and in jewels

When wet with the heavenly dew."

School of Art! Exo . Some of the materials of which the tabernacle was formed were very costly, and not easily procured by Israel during their wilderness wanderings. These were brought with them out of Egypt. The time of their residence in Goshen and employment in Egyptian works, was amply sufficient to render them thoroughly acquainted with all the methods of Egyptian art and manufacture. The precious stones, which were set in the gold of the ephod and breastplate, were engraved by means of the skill acquired by them in Egypt. Bezaleel, to whom God had given ability in the preparation of stones for setting, &c., may have perfected his talent by observation and practice in Egyptian manufactories. Many ornaments of purest gold yet remain, which demonstrate the skill of the Egyptians in the working of that metal.

"All thoughts that mould the age begin

Deep down within the primitive soul,

And from the many slowly upward win

To one who grasps the whole."

Lowell.

Genius-Grace! Exo . All human skill, all artistic talent, all mechanical invention, are from God.

(1.) How sadly are these inspirations prevented! A Byron destroys that heavenly genius by libidmous poetry. A Shelley perverts that unearthly grace by atheistic poems. A painter perverts that God-given skill by voluptuous pictures. A mechanician perverts that more than human science by missiles of destruction.

(2.) How sorely are these inspirations distorted! One of the most eloquent of scientists is Tyndall; yet he writes to blot out the Christian Heaven in the "infinite azure of the past." One of the most talented of Nature's students is Darwin; yet he disowns any God beyond the tiny film vapour of evolution. One of the most renowned of naturalists is Wallace; yet he disputes the God of the Christian Revelation. What blessings these Divine Inspirations would have proved to mankind and the men themselves, were they but employed—as God conferred them—to HIS GLORY!

"Behold, they're God's! Say not ‘'Tis zephyr mild

Which rustles the dead leaf;'

They are thy Saviour's, yea, thy God's, my child,

Let not thine ear be deaf;

If I come now in breezes soft and warm,

I may return again upon the storm;

‘'Tis no light fancy—firm be thy belief

They are thy God's!'"

Work-Design! Exo . The people of Southern Italy convert the soft plastic lava that has devastated their homes and fields into beautiful ornaments worn on the bosom. So should the farmer, who makes grass to grow upon the mountains, and converts the waste places of the earth into fertile meadows and smiling cornfields, endeavour to make the earth a tabernacle for God's glory and for man's worship and welfare. So should the labourer, who drains and trenches the soil; the engineer, who constructs bridges and roads; the architect, who builds dwellings and temples; the artisan, who changes the metallic ore and the timber of the earth into useful and ornamental articles; the manufacturer, who adapts to human uses the raw materials which the earth furnishes; the artist, who idealises the scenes and objects of nature and human life; and the poet, who moulds the sins and sufferings of the race into forms of beauty in his melodious verse. Then, indeed, will come the "Golden Age," when the wide world shall be one tabernacle.

"The rest foreshadowed for the Church of God,

The golden eve of Everlasting Day."

Bickersteth.

Egyptian Fabrics! Exo .

(1.) Leather! Of the preparation of leather by the Egyptians here can be no loss. The representations on the monuments, and the few actual specimens which remain, enable us to understand it. Some of the specimens consist of straps across the bodies of mummies, and are beautifully embossed. Leather was employed for sandals, shoes, seats of chairs, sofas, and chariot ornaments. In the Louvre at Paris was an Egyptian harp, the wood of which was covered with a kind of green morocco, cut in the form of a blossom of the lotus.

(2.) Leather Manufacture.—On the monuments may be seen a man dipping the skins to soak in water before removing the hair. In other pictures Egyptian curriers are engaged in cutting leather with a knife, in shape resembling the semi-circular blade in use among modern curriers. In tanning, the Egyptians used the pods of the Acacia Nilotica, the juice of the unripe fruit of which is still imported from Egypt to Europe for medicinal purposes.

"Kindred objects, kindred thoughts inspire,

As summer clouds flash forth electric fire."

Rogers.


Verses 12-18

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Exo . Ye shall keep the Sabbath = Ushemartem eth hashahabbath]. The verb shamar = to keep, implies the idea of guarding, watching over with tenderness and fidelity. (Comp. Psa 21:4-5, "He that keepeth Israel"—and, "The LORD is thy keeper"). Thus Israel, by keeping the Sabbath aright, was intended to cultivate those ennobling qualities of the human heart and mind which should distinguish them as a people in covenant with God, both their keeper and liberator, to bless them with rest from the works of their bondage, and with peace on account of His jealous love and care.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exo

THE SABBATH AND THE SANCTUARY

The command to keep the Sabbath was included already in the decalogue, and there is therefore some special meaning in the repetition of the command in this place. Coming as it does at the conclusion of the instructions respecting the Tabernacle, it is evident that the intention was to teach the connection which existed between these great institutions. We observe—

I. Both exist to the same divine end. What is the end of the sanctuary? That man may come near to God—that he may worship God. All understand this. The sanctuary does not exist to any merely intellectual or physical end, but it is the place where our spiritual nature is to be instructed and purified and blessed by communion with the Holy Spirit (Psa ). What is the end of the Sabbath? Precisely that of the sanctuary. Many entertain the idea that the grand end of the Sabbath is physical rest—that this is one of its purposes is quite true, but it by no means exhausts the meaning of the day; neither is the grand end of it intellectual—visiting picture galleries and science lectures, &c; its grand object is spiritual. The Sabbath is primarily intended to free man from bodily toil and secular care, that he may give his earnest attention to his spiritual nature. The sanctuary and the Sabbath have one purpose, and that is religious and holy.

II. Both are alike essential for the accomplishment of that end. They cannot be divorced.

1. If the public worship of God is neglected the Sabbath will soon be secularised. The Sabbath has a divine basis, and when God ceases to be recognised and worshipped, this day will no longer retain its spell.

2. If the Sabbath is secularised, religious worship will soon cease. If we spend some hours of the sacred day frivolously, how seriously it impairs our worship in the temple! When society give up the Sabbath to physical and intellectual pleasures, it will give up its God and His worship soon after. Some who are fully persuaded of the importance of the sanctuary and its services, have very loose views on the keeping of the Sabbath. It is greatly to be deplored. The Sabbath is the main pillar in the temple of God, and if it comes down the whole fabric of divinity comes down with it.

III. Both are alike of absolute and perpetual obligation. We know that the worship of God is of strict and perpetual obligation, and thus is the Sabbath. Read the text. And Christ did not revoke or modify the obligation of keeping this day to high and holy ends.

Lessons:—

1. We see the wickedness of those who would secularise the Sabbath. It would shock us if some profane man made a stable of a church; it ought not to shock us less to see God's holy day profaned to worldly ends. Anti-Sabbatarianism is essentially atheistic.

2. We see the mistake of those who seem to think that having worshipped they may spend the remainder of the Sabbath in worldliness and pleasure.

3. We see the error of those who think that doing religious work justifies certain forms of Sabbath desecration. The Israelites had a great work to do in building the Tabernacle, but they were not to build it on the Sabbath; and we must all take care that the work of the Sabbath which we call unavoidable is really so.

4. We see the error of those who think they have kept the Sabbath when they rest from their work, but who absent themselves from the house of God.

ILLUSTRATIONS

BY

REV. WM. ADAMSON

Mosaic-Mines! Exo .

(1.) The face of Nature, says Macmillan, is everywhere written over with Divine characters, which he who runs may read. But beside the more obvious lessons which lie, as it were, in the surface of the earth, and which suggest themselves to us often when least disposed for inquiry or reflection, there are more recondite lessons which she teaches to those who make her structure arrangements their special study, and who penetrate to her secret arcana. And those, who read her great volume, passing on leaf after leaf, to the quiet and sober chapters of the interior, will find in these internal details revelations of the deepest interest.

(2.) It is even so with the Bible. In the New Testament, we have a rich robe of vegetation adorning the surface, the beauties of tree and flower, forest, hill and river, and the ever-changing splendours of the sky. In the psalms and prophets we walk amid the beauty of gardens and ornamented parterres, where every-thing thrills with their beauty and fragrance. But in the pentateuch, we descend, as it were, into the crust of the earth. We lose sight of all these upper-air glories; but we find new objects to compensate us—truths written with the finger of God—lessons on the deep things of God—diamonds which sparkle when brought up within the sphere of the Sun of Righteousness, who has risen with healing in His wings.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear."

Gray.

Sabbath-Storm! Exo . Owing to the length of the winter and the shortness of the summer on the Swiss mountains of Jura, it is of great importance for the peasantry to preserve their hay; otherwise the cattle would starve. One Lord's Day, when the hay was just in the finest condition for taking up, the sons of an old man who feared God and honoured His Sabbaths, proposed to go and cut it. He admonished them for the wickedness of such desecration; but they persisted and went. Just as they had cut it down, a sudden and terrible storm broke over their heads, the rain poured down from the thunderclouds in torrents, and the hay was soon completely destroyed. Returning home drenched and dispirited, the sainted patriarch replied: "My sons, learn from this to respect the commandments of God."

"I do regret God's day among the hills,

Spent in wild wand'rings in His world so fair;

Warmed by the sunshine which His mercy fills,

Swept by His mighty wings when storms were there;

When I passed by the church's sacred door,

And left His people all within once more."

Sabbath-Significance! Exo . In addition to other important ends, the Sabbath was intended to be an ever-recurring symbol of heaven, and a prophecy of the rest that remaineth for the people of God. It is thus explained at large by inspired writers, and by those who accept the Bible as from God this statement will not be questioned. It is not essential to our purpose to determine whether or not this institution be still binding upon the Christian Church. But it is clear as a sunbeam that, as positive institution, prophetic type, or soothing symbol, the Sabbath has graven its name on the very heart of Christianity. Its sweet voice is heard in her hymus and psalms of praise. To unnumbered millions of her children it is the only practical foretaste of that blessed rest which it foreshadows, and which the servants of God anticipate with longing hearts.

"Day of all the week the best,

Emblem of eternal rest."

Testimony-Tables! Exo . The learned author of "Earth's Lessons" says, it was on tables of stone that God's finger traced the unerring and unchanging moral law. The same handwriting may be recognised in the masses of rock from which these very tables were constructed. We can trace the universality of Divine law throughout all the successive creations of the earth—throughout all the time worlds, as throughout all the space worlds, in geology as in astronomy. That divinely universal law is unity of force amidst diversity of phenomena—unity of plan amidst diversity of expression. And thus, amid all the varying operations of His hands and dispensations of His Providence, we find Him to be without variableness or shadow of turning.

"Oh! Thou Almighty, throned above the stars,

In light eternal, which no darkness mars,

From where Thy bright pavilion is unfurled

Thou lookest on the sorrows of the world;

Thine is the kingdom, Thine is power and might,

Directing day, and ruling in the night."

Divine Finger! Exo .

(1.) Before Moses first went up to the Mount it was the voice of God which he heard repeating the decalogue; now he sees the finger of God writing the same. By finger some understand the "power" of God, as in Exo ; others conceive the "Spirit" of God, as in Luk 11:29. No doubt both are right; and the Holy Spirit by the power of God wrote the tablets.

(2.) Both as spoken by God's own voice, and as written on the rock by God's own finger, these commandments stand forth alone. Their supreme importance is sufficiently betokened by their prominence in the forefront of all the Mosaic ordinances and Levitical ceremonies, and by their promulgation so directly and entirely Divine. God's finger gave to man those ten jewels of purity—

"As an eagle from the waters

Rising plumes his feathers bright,

Shaking diamonds as he soareth

Upwards in the sunny light."

Decalogue-Restoration! Exo .

(1.) This magnificent memorial was designed by God to stand up amid the ages in full clear outline, like the Egyptian pyramids, free from external growth of any kind. But during the subsequent centuries the grand pillars disappeared. True, it stood, but a jungle of weeds and creepers had sprung up around it. Instead of insisting on the simplicity of the decalogue, the Pharisees and Syrian scholiasts planted creepers round it, so that these growing up soon hid the Memorial-Thoughts of God amongst scarves and hems, washing of pots, and tithes of mint and cummin.

(2.) It was reserved for the Lord Jesus to destroy this desolating overgrowth. With the Sword of the Spirit in His Sermon on the Mount He cleared away this noisome tangle, until the Memorial-Truths of God again flashed forth to view, and beholders were astonished at their majesty. Nay, He did more. As the restoration of ancient fabrics brings out again the old lines of carving and sculpture; so did the Restorer of the decalogue fill out the law, and bring its sayings into stronger relief: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

"When Moses stood upon the hill,

The land with storms was trembling still;

As Jesus speaks from the hillside,

All is with sunshine glorified:

The Saviour preaches on the Mount."

Gerok.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/exodus-31.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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