We are creative beings. It makes sense that we should be! We have been created in the image of God and since He is The Ultimate Creator, it makes sense that we should reflect His creativity.
The world is full of the evidence of the creativity God has put in people. I am sure that you will have had your attention caught at some point by an artistic creation. It might have been a painting that you couldn’t tear your eyes away from. Or a sculpture that somehow perfectly captured in stone, metal or wood a living object so that it appeared to almost be alive. Or a piece of music that as you listened seemed so rich in tone and melody that you thought you could almost feel it. Or an incredibly architectured building that stopped you in your tracks on the street. Or an item of clothing that was so intricately designed and exquisitely made that it drew your eye. Or a film that was so engrossing that you didn’t realise the amount of time that had passed by while you watched. These creative talents are on display all around us. People harness their skills to produce works of art that communicate beauty and provoke us to consider things beyond ourselves.
There was a point in Israel’s history where God’s people needed to use their creativity in order to produce a suitable dwelling place for God. They had been rescued by God out of Egypt and were now travelling around in the desert. God told His people that He wanted to dwell amongst them (see Exodus 25:8) and in order to do that He needed a sanctuary in which His presence could rest. This would also provide a way of enabling the (unholy) people to be in contact with their Holy God. He therefore gave detailed instructions for a portable Tabernacle that would form the focal point for where the people could encounter God.
Since this sanctuary was to be suitable for God to dwell in, the work that needed to be done required exceptionally high levels of skilful craftsmanship. It required the ability to work creatively with all sorts of different materials – stone, fabrics, perfumes, metals, precious stones, wood to name but a few. It required work of outstanding quality in order that God would be glorified and the perfection that He required was mirrored in everything that was related to the Tabernacle.
Gifted by the Spirit
God appointed a man called Bezalel for the task (v2). We are given some details about him. He is firstly described as being ‘filled with the Spirit of God’ (v3). He is talented and creative, of that there can be no doubt. But it is the Spirit of God that fills him ‘in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work all kinds of craftsmanship’ (vv3-4). It would seem that his natural abilities, God-given as they are, are supernaturally enhanced in order for him to complete the task with which he is entrusted.
This is the same with any gift that God gives to any person. We may be exceptionally talented in some particular area but when God gets hold of that person and fills them with the Holy Spirit the gifting is somehow elevated to another level. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Paul describes some of the various gifts that God gives to the church by His Spirit. We read, ‘To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (v7 emphasis mine). A gift given by the Holy Spirit will result in benefit to others when used in His service. I believe that we see here in Exodus a similar pattern of God giving gifts by His Spirit for the blessing of the whole community.
Introducing the team
God knew that for such a big and important task Bezalel would need help. This was not to be a ‘one-man-show’. In fact, God often gathers people together in order to accomplish things for Him – think of Moses and Aaron, or Jesus and His disciples, or Paul and his companions on their missionary journeys, or husbands and wives in marriage, to name but a few. God therefore appointed Oholiab alongside Bezalel to head up the work on this great task. In Exodus 38:23 Oholiab is described as being ‘an engraver and a skilful workman and a weaver in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and fine linen’. When compared to the skills that Bezalel has – working with metals, wood, stones and artistic design (see 31:4) – there is an amazing breadth of gifting between the two of them that enables them to lead each aspect of craftsmanship required to create the Tabernacle.
However, there was no way that just two people could complete such a large scale task on their own. Instead, God in His infinite wisdom ‘put in his [Bezalel’s] heart to teach, both he and Oholiab’ (35:34). Then God stirred the hearts of ‘skilful men in whom the Lord had put skill…to come to the work to perform it’ (36:1,2). So what this meant was that God had gathered a team of people led by anointed and skilled leaders who were able to teach skilful people how to complete the tasks.
Bezalel, Oholiab and their team then embarked on this great task. Much of the rest of the book of Exodus details the construction of the Tabernacle, the items that would be so central to the worship of the community such as the altar, and the garments for the priests in order for them to perform the required sacrifices. In the final chapter of the book we read that the Tabernacle was set up and then ‘the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle’ (40:34).
I love that! God sealed their workmanship with a sign of approval as His presence came and filled the Tabernacle.
God appointed two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, for a significant task. They are not mentioned before this point and, following these events, they are barely mentioned again and yet their legacy lasted for centuries. Their creative handiwork reflected something of the perfection and beauty of God and the articles they made provided a means for God to dwell with His people and for His people to meet with their God.
They surely teach us that we must never underestimate the impact that creative gifts anointed by the Holy Spirit can have on the way the church can encounter God.