The final six chapters of the book of Exodus echo Exodus 25-31. In many places I will refer to the appropriate discussion from those chapters which lay out the plan of the tabernacle, the holy items that are within the tabernacle, the clothing for the priests as well as oil and incense used for the holy things. These chapters, like chapters 25-31, most Christians never read or when they do they scan through them but the reality that the book of Exodus dedicates more time to the design and construction of the tabernacle than anything else in the book should make us pause. Physically writing out these chapters, which is a part of my discipline, has made me realize the importance of these chapters as a part of the narrative of reconciliation between the LORD the God of Israel and the people of Israel. The people’s participation in this project is an essential part of moving back towards God.
Exodus 35: 1-3 Sabbath
Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do:
2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.
The practice of Sabbath is a critical part of the life that the people of God are to live. Sabbath is emphasized not only in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) but is also reemphasized in Exodus 23: 10-13, and in Exodus 34: 21-24 and once again here at the beginning of the construction of the tabernacle. Even in this work of creating the tabernacle, sabbath is still essential. Sabbath takes precedence even over doing holy work. As a pastor, I can appreciate the emphasis on Sabbath even as one undertakes God’s work. I also see the continual temptation in my people and even in my own life to allow work to consume this space of solemn rest.
Exodus 35: 4-29 The Offering for the Sanctuary
4 Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the LORD has commanded: 5 Take from among you an offering to the LORD; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the LORD’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze; 6 blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, 7 tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, 8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece.
10 All who are skillful among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded: the tabernacle, 11 its tent and its covering, its clasps and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the curtain for the screen; 13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance, the entrance of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin with its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 the finely worked vestments for ministering in the holy place, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron, and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests.
20 Then all the congregation of the Israelites withdrew from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the LORD’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments. 22 So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or fine leather, brought them. 24 Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s offering; and everyone who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it. 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; 26 all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 And the leaders brought onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece, 28 and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.
Years ago, when I was serving as an intern pastor in Wisconsin for a rural parish with several congregations over one hundred years old I got to see some of the records about the initial construction of the buildings. It was amazing to look back upon the way in which the entire community pulled together and with their hands, skills and resources they built a building to be a place where they could worship. I often forget how recent most of the technology I take for granted is. As the people bring their very best resources together for the construction of the tabernacle it is a voluntary offering. Unlike the golden calf where Aaron orders the people to remove their earrings and bring them to him, now those who are moved by generosity bring the materials needed for construction. Those who have specific gifts also use those gifts to be a part of this gift they are creating for their LORD.
Both men and women have access to these fine materials that will be used for the various projects and both have a hand in bringing this project to completion. There is plenty of work for both women and men contribute in the creation of these holy places and holy things. Women probably had a larger role in the creation of the curtains and hangings, while men probably had a greater involvement in the creation of the frames, metal work and stone work but both roles were essential in the creation of the holy things.
The offering fulfills the original plan for the offering in Exodus 25: 1-9. There are additional reflections on the offering at that point.
Exodus 35: 30-35 Setting Aside Bezalel and Oholiab
30 Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver — by any sort of artisan or skilled designer.
Two craftsmen are named and will have a crucial role in the completion of the tabernacle plans. Bezalel and Oholiab also have the Spirit of God come upon them for their work of construction and teaching. Their vocation as craftsmen will be a vital part of the project coming to completion. The setting aside of Bezalel and Oholiab completes their appointment by God on Mount Sinai, prior to the golden calf which Aaron crafted, in Exodus 31:1-11. There is additional discussion in my comments on Exodus 31 about Bezalel, Oholiab and the need for people skilled as artisans in addition to the roles of priest and prophet.
Exodus 36:1-7 The Completion of the Offering
Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.
2 Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.
The people are called together into this project and their hearts are moved to give generously. They are a part of something bigger than themselves. In one sense, the offerings and the work they do become a peace offering to God. They are a way to fulfill a part of God’s vision of a place where God can dwell in the center of the people. In another sense, it is a project that unites the people in a common goal as they come together to build the tabernacle. This common project for a time unites them as a people of Israel rather than the twelve tribes and countless families that are a part of the wilderness journey. There is more than enough for the project to be completed and the giving seems to be a joyful act. The abundance is so great that Moses must put an end to the offering because the workers are being overwhelmed by the abundance of materials being brought together. The impossible task now seems possible. The seemingly incredible amount of resources required to build the place of worship for a pilgrim people is quickly surpassed with the resources that people carried with them on their journey. God’s vision begins to take shape through the hands of the men and women gifted to be both givers and builders of this place where the LORD will dwell among the people.
Exodus 36: 8-38 The Construction of the Tabernacle
8 All those with skill among the workers made the tabernacle with ten curtains; they were made of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns, with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains were of the same size.
10 He joined five curtains to one another, and the other five curtains he joined to one another. 11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain of the first set; likewise he made them on the edge of the outermost curtain of the second set; 12 he made fifty loops on the one curtain, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite one another. 13 And he made fifty clasps of gold, and joined the curtains one to the other with clasps; so the tabernacle was one whole.
14 He also made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains were of the same size. 16 He joined five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves. 17 He made fifty loops on the edge of the outermost curtain of the one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the other connecting curtain. 18 He made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent together so that it might be one whole. 19 And he made for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and an outer covering of fine leather.
20 Then he made the upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. 21 Ten cubits was the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the width of each frame. 22 Each frame had two pegs for fitting together; he did this for all the frames of the tabernacle. 23 The frames for the tabernacle he made in this way: twenty frames for the south side; 24 and he made forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under the first frame for its two pegs, and two bases under the next frame for its two pegs. 25 For the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty frames 26 and their forty bases of silver, two bases under the first frame and two bases under the next frame. 27 For the rear of the tabernacle westward he made six frames. 28 He made two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear. 29 They were separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; he made two of them in this way, for the two corners. 30 There were eight frames with their bases of silver: sixteen bases, under every frame two bases.
31 He made bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 32 and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 33 He made the middle bar to pass through from end to end halfway up the frames. 34 And he overlaid the frames with gold, and made rings of gold for them to hold the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold.
35 He made the curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen, with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 36 For it he made four pillars of acacia, and overlaid them with gold; their hooks were of gold, and he cast for them four bases of silver. 37 He also made a screen for the entrance to the tent, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; 38 and its five pillars with their hooks. He overlaid their capitals and their bases with gold, but their five bases were of bronze.
The tabernacle, the place for the holy things and ultimately where God will meet with the high priest, becomes the first item listed as the construction begins. The construction description proceeds in a different order than the plans. Ultimately, they are carried out as laid out on Mount Sinai. The plans for the tabernacle are described in Exodus 26 and there are additional comments there about the tabernacle itself.