When you’ve got enough, STOP! Exodus 36
Continuing through the whole Bible, albeit slowly through the whole Bible, we come to Exodus 36 (link). This chapter begins the actual process of building and furnishing the Tabernacle. Prior to this point, we’ve just had instructions given by God and received by Moses. The idea was shared in Exodus 35 and the people began to give freely to fund and furnish, and here at the beginning of Exodus 36 the instructions are given to Bezalel and Oholiab.
The chapter concludes with a recounting of how the craftsmen, both named and unnamed, are following the directions God had given for the Tabernacle. Before we get there we see something else. We see in Exodus 36:5-7 that the people have brought, even before the start, more than enough material to complete the whole project. There was enough provision for the project, with some excess, and the people had to be restrained, held back, from giving any more.
Now, I could latch on to this, wrench it from its context, and point out how it would be much better if we would give so much that our churches, missions, missionaries, and other projects had to say “We have more than we’ll ever use! Stop giving.” That would be great, truly, although if we have more money than the missionaries we have can use to spread the Gospel, then we need more missionaries. In an ideal world, of course, that would be the state of giving by God’s people to handle the earthly needs of God’s people. Yet to get there from here requires a bigger leap than I will make. I think we could find much of that in Scripture as a whole, that the body ought to meet the needs of its members, but that’s in Acts, not Exodus. We’re not Old Testament Israel in the church today.
Instead, let us take a good look into the principle of what happens here and see just what we might do with it. This requires a little bit of zooming out and taking in more than just this chapter.
First, recall that for the past several chapters God has been giving Moses the exact designs of the Tabernacle. Not rough estimates, not a few good ideas, but precision. Down to the cubit precision, and I don’t doubt that God pointed out what type of cubit He had in mind as well. This is important for at least these two reasons: 1) This establishes that the Tabernacle is not made by human imagination; 2) There is no further parallel in modern times. Seriously. Without attempting to make a complete cessationist case, I do not think God inspires building plans today as He directly inspired the Tabernacle plans then.
Second, consider how the Israelites have acquired their wealth. They were in Egypt dealing with oppression. More than just slight oppression, rather an oppression that saw them powerless to resist Pharaoh’s efforts at an early genocide. When they left, though, God made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward them (Exodus 11:2-3) and the Egpytians not only threw the people of Israel out, they essentially bribed them to go! This is where the gold and other fineries have come from. Also, there have been a few battles which Israel has fought and won, and there is some spoil here. Yet this is not inherited wealth. It’s the wealth newly acquired by newly freed people.
Third, think about what the people had seen in Egypt. To this day, we are able to look back at some of the temples and worship centers of the Egyptians and see the wealth that was lavished on these structures. We see these edifices after an additional 3500 years of wear and tear, while the Israelites had seen them much closer to new. Although, admittedly, the Pyramids were done when Joseph came to town. They had seen the manner in which the Pharaohs and the priests of Egypt had worshipped their gods, and how every offering given was used in some manner—no one was stopped from giving. If more came, more was used.
Bearing these three considerations in mind, we see a few items worth applying in our time:
1) When God has spoken, He is not to be left short in what He has commanded. Most of us are very much ok with that statement. Additionally, though, is this: If God has commanded, then do not exceed His command either. Even if it looks easy. Bezalel and Oholiab could have decided to tack on a little something extra to the Tabernacle. That was not acceptable: God had commanded what He desired.
With this in mind: what God has commanded is enough. If He has commanded that we make disciples, then that is His command. Not that we make disciples that are just like us or that follow our politics, but that we make disciples of Him.
2) All of us are born with an inheritance from Adam and Eve. That inheritance is more than a simple inclination that can be resisted, it is a dead spiritual nature that cannot respond to God without God’s grace. Yet those who call themselves Christian Believers have received a newfound wealth that is greater than gold. It is life. We ought to be rapidly generous to give back from that life to honor the God who gave it. The Israelites knew God had brought them the wealth, for what they had inherited was oppression and now they had wealth and freedom. So do we.
With this in mind: what God has given you is not just for you. It is for using to point people to Him, to draw people before the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Your freedom, your life in Christ, is there to live and bring the spiritually dead before the One who raises the dead.
3) Excess and waste does not equal worship. I can imagine a Baptist preacher leading a building project that hits 200% funded. He’ll start looking for ways to spend that money, to pour it out on this pet project or that one. Even if there is no valid reason for it, we’ll spend the money just so that we spend it. While we are not Old Testament Israel, I think there is a valid principle here: do not exceed just for the sake of excess. That’s what the Egyptians did.
With this in mind: what God provides should be enough, but it is not provided so that we can compare His followers with the world’s followers, His stuff with the world’s stuff. The deepest basic truth of our faith is that the years we have here and the things we see here are not all there is. The riches of God are His grace and mercy, not the stuff that decays.
Today’s Nerd Note:
Wow, that post went long and you still want some nerd stuff? I’ll give you something brief to chew on.
Something that I find interesting and nerd-related is this: we have, in the Old Testament, very precise directions for the construction of the Tabernacle. In truth, you could go with the average standard cubit, pick up some porpoise skins at the Hobby Lobby, and build your own Tabernacle. You do not need a drawing, the word-picture plans are enough.
Yet we find nowhere in history, or at least I find nowhere, that anyone built another Tabernacle. Even among the oral histories of some of the people that are distantly related to Israel, that have possible ancestries in the Assyrian Deportation or the Babylonian Exile, they did not build Tabernacles. The Jews in Egypt built a Temple, the Lemba (possibly related to escaped/fleeing Priests and Levites) built stone structures. No one copies and builds a Tabernacle. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t find it.
I think it comes from a couple of sources. The first is that man likes to build worship centers that are comforting, and tents are not comforting. No man who lives in a house would choose to permanently worship in a tent. He would either feel it insulting to the one he worships or insulting to himself.
The second is that we like the idea of buildings that will contain our gods. We’re not real fond of the idea that God might go somewhere and we would have to adjust to follow. So we build no new tents for worship.
And if you want to get real nerdy: why are there no drawings for these instructions? For a people that were supposedly primarily oral and not written, would not a drawing and some labels be better than a detailed word-picture? We might need to acknowledge the Israelites were more advanced than we tend to think they were.