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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Exodus 31





Bezaleel and Aholiab are called for the work of the tabernacle: God again enjoins the observation of the sabbath: Moses receives the two tables of stones.

Before Christ 1491.

Verses 2-6

Exodus 31:2-6. See, I have called by name Bezaleel, &c.— Bezaleel and Aholiab, Exodus 31:5 are particularly chosen (which is the meaning of the phrase calling by name, Isaiah 45:3.) as the principal artists, the chief directors and overseers of the work and the workmen who were under them. For an explanation of the phrase, I have filled him with the Spirit of God, &c. Exodus 31:3 see note on ch. Exodus 28:3. It is not to be questioned, that the arts were carried to a great height at this time in Egypt; in which, no doubt, many of the Israelites were proficients, as having so long continued there: engraving on stones, in particular, being one of the inventions of luxury, abundantly proves the antiquity of the polite arts in Egypt. However, there can be no doubt, from the words of Scripture, that these artificers were peculiarly instructed and assisted by God himself; that God, whose spirit giveth wisdom of every kind unto man. In carving of timber, Exodus 31:5 would be rendered more properly in cutting of timber, or in fabricating of timber (Lignisque fabre-factis, as Houbigant has it); for we read of no carved work in the tabernacle. An able writer observes, "That God would have something so appropriated to himself, especially in the more peculiar place of his worship, as that it was not lawful for any man to imitate the like for any other service or convenience,—appears by many instances; particularly the perfume of the incense, (a confection after the art of the apothecary,) some whereof was beaten very small, and put before the testimony in the tabernacle. The perfume was always smelt before the congregation; yet ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people. And, it is very probable, that, as God did inspire men who were before unskilful to be able to perform all those curious workmanships which he had prescribed to Moses, for his tabernacle, altars, &c. which had never been known before, (I have called Bezaleel, &c.) so he did extinguish all those sciences as soon as the work was finished for which he had designed them; for, after that was done, we find little of those curiosities in practice among that people, nor in any nations where we have many records of magnificent structures, until the building of the temple of Solomon; when they seem to have been recovered, probably by the same means."

Verse 8

Exodus 31:8. The pure candlestick According to Le Clerc and Houbigant, this should be the bright candlestick, or the candlestick of light.

Verse 10

Exodus 31:10. And the clothes of service From Numbers 4:6 it appears, that by the clothes of service are meant the covering of blue for the ark, &c. when the camp removed. Houbigant thinks, that hereby are meant all the curtains and coverings of the tabernacle, of whatever sort.

REFLECTIONS.—The work was described in the former chapters: the workmen now are also divinely appointed; and God, who appoints the persons, qualifies them for the work. Learn, 1. When God has work to do, he will find instruments, and fit them for their employment. 2. All skill and excellence in every business is me gift of God, and should be acknowledged to his glory. 3. When we admire the instruments God makes use of, we must beware of ascribing too much to the man, and too little to his Master. 4. They who are employed in the service of the tabernacle or church of God, under a Divine call, may with comfort and confidence enter upon it. He who calls them to the work will support and own them in it.

Verse 13

Exodus 31:13. Verily, my sabbaths ye shall keep As the precept of observing the sabbath has been so strongly enjoined before, it seems reasonable to conclude, that the repetition in this place has reference only to the workmen, and the work of the tabernacle; which, the Lord here informs them, is not to break in upon their observation of that great and important duty: and, accordingly, he adds, Exodus 31:14 whosoever doth any work therein, (even of this sacred sort, for the furnishing of the tabernacle,) that soul shall be cut off from among his people. See also Exodus 31:15. Understanding the precept in this view, their version seems to be just, who would read, nevertheless my sabbaths ye shall keep, to make it known, that I, Jehovah, have sanctified you: i.e. "separated you from all the world to be my peculiar people."

For it is a sign between me and you In Exodus 31:17 it is said, It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever, for in six days, &c. "The meaning of which," says Hallet, "seems plainly to be this: that, as the sabbath was appointed in memory of God's having finished the work of creation in six days, and of his having rested on the seventh; so the Jews, by observing this sabbath, did testify their belief in the Creator of heaven and earth; and profess themselves to be the servants and worshippers of the true God, in opposition to the idols who made not the heaven and earth: at the same time the idolatrous nation of Egypt, from which the Israelites were delivered, and the other idolatrous nations which lived around them, had renounced the worship of the true God, and so would not observe his sabbath. The observation of the sabbath, therefore, was a sign that men were not idolaters, but worshippers of the true God. As it was appointed at the beginning of the world, it was appointed for all mankind. And it would equally serve for a sign between God and any other nation, as between God and the Hebrews; provided any other nation had kept the sabbath, that other nation would hereby have been as much proved by this sign to be worshippers of the true God, and as much distinguished from their idolatrous neighbours, as the Hebrews hereby were. But the truth is, all other nations had forsaken the worship of God, and apostatized to idolatry; and only the Jewish nation adhered to him. To be a standing evidence that they did adhere to him, God ordered them to continue to observe the sabbath; from the observation whereof other nations were gone astray: the solemn worship of God on which day would more strongly be a sign that they were not idolaters, than their mere resting from their labours could be." See more in Hallet, vol. 3: p. 115. Poole observes, that "the sabbath was a five-fold sign: first, Commemorative, of God's creation of and dominion over the Israelites, and all other things; to whom they do hereby profess their subjection. 2nd, Indicative, shewing, that they were made to be holy; and that their sanctification can be had from none but God, as it here follows, and from the observation of his days and appointments. 3rdly, Distinctive, whereby they owned themselves to be the Lord's peculiar people, by a religious keeping of those sabbaths which the rest of the world grossly neglected and profanely scoffed at. 4thly, Prefigurative, of that rest which Christ should purchase for them; to wit, a rest from the burden of the ceremonial, and from the curses and rigours of the moral law; as also from sin, and the wrath of God for ever. See Hebrews 4:4-5." "And 5thly, Confirmative, both assuring them of God's good will towards them; and that, as he blessed the sabbath, so he would bless them in the holy use of it, with temporal, spiritual, and everlasting blessings, as he declares in many places of Scripture: and assuring God of their standing to that covenant made between God and them; so that this was a mutual stipulation or ratification of the covenant of grace on both sides."

Verse 17

Exodus 31:17. And was refreshed The original word signifies, primarily, to respire, take breath, and so to be refreshed; and can only be applied to, or understood of God, more humano (after the manner of men), just as resting is applied to him: see the note on Genesis 2:2 and it perhaps would be better rendered, and ceased from his work. Accordingly the LXX have it επαυσατο, and Houbigant requievit.

REFLECTIONS.—Next to the repeated warnings against idolatry, we find no injunctions so frequent as those which regard the sabbath. These indeed have the most immediate connexion with each other, nothing being so effectual to turn them from false gods as the strict and religious observance of that day which was devoted to the worship of the true God. And as it was the means of sanctifying them, it has still the same gracious tendency to us; nor does any thing conduce more to the sanctification of our hearts and lives, than the careful observance of this holy day: whilst, on the contrary, the neglect of it is the most evident proof of a mind estranged from God, and an inlet to every abomination which naturally flows from forgetfulness of him. The breach of the sabbath was, among the Jews, punished with death: our laws too make it penal; and many who have been brought to an ignominious death have confessed this to be the beginning of their ruin. But though men elude human penalties, and with impunity continue in pleasure, business, idleness, gaming, the service of their lusts, and indulgence of their appetites, to profane these sacred hours: the time approaches when a judge shall sit upon the throne, with whom there is no respect of persons; when every sabbath-breaker will find, to his unutterable sorrow, that the wages of his sin is everlasting death.

Verse 18

Exodus 31:18. Two tables of testimony So named for the reason given, ch. Exodus 25:21. These tables were of stone; and it was usual, in the most ancient times, to engrave laws on tables of marble, wood, brass, &c. The ten commandments upon these tables are said to have been written with the finger of God: so the heavens are said to be the work of God's fingers, Psalms 8:3 while in the parallel place, Psalms 33:6 it is said, that the heavens were made by the word of the Lord; by which one would conceive, that the immediate agency of God was implied without any subordinate ministration. See ch. Exodus 32:16. Others, however, conceive, that the ministration of angels was used; but there are matters of too abstruse a nature for us to understand perfectly at present. Bishop Patrick very judiciously observes, that "many Pagan nations boasted of deriving their laws immediately from God. Thus the Brachmans report in their histories, that the book of their law (which they call Caster) was delivered by God to Bremavius upon a mount in a cloud; and that God gave also another book of laws to Brammon in the first age of the world. The Persians say the same of those of Zoroaster; and the Getes of Xamolxis. Nay, the Brachmans have a Decalogue like this of Moses, and accurate interpretations of it, in which, they say, there is this prophecy, that one day there shall be one law alone throughout the world. This evidently shews how well the world was anciently acquainted with these books of Moses, and what a high esteem they had for them."

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is now dismissed, and the tables of the covenant given him to lay up in the ark for a perpetual remembrance. The stones on which the commandments were written, fitly represent the hardness of men's hearts; and the finger of God, that Almighty Grace which can, even on such hearts as ours, inscribe his holy law.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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