Exodus 31
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verses 1-11. - THE CALL OF BEZALEEL AND AHOLIAB. The directions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furniture being now complete, and the composition of the holy oil and the holy incense having been laid down minutely, it only remained to designate the persons to whom the oversight of the work was to be especially entrusted. These were to be two - Bezaleel, of the tribe of Judah, as head and chief; Aholiab, of the tribe of Dan, as his assistant. There can be no doubt that they were selected, primarily, as already possessing superior artistic powers and acquirements; but in appointing them God promised an infusion of special wisdom and knowledge, so that they were at once naturally and supernaturally fitted for their task. It is important to note that artistic ability is thus distinctly recognised as being quite as much a gift of God as any other, and indeed as coming to man through the Spirit of God (ver. 3). Artistic excellence is not a thing to be despised. It is very capable of abuse; but in itself it is a high gift, bestowed by God on a few only, with the special intent that it should be used to his honour and glory - not indeed in his direct service only - but always so as to improve, elevate, refine mankind, and thus help towards the advancement of God's kingdom
See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
Verse 2. - I have called by name. God "calls by name" only those whom he appoints to some high office, as Moses (Exodus 3:4; Exodus 33:12), Cyrus (Isaiah 45:3, 4), and here Bezaleel and Aholiab. He honours us highly in even condescending to "know us by name," still more in "calling" us. Bezaleel is traced to Judah in Chronicles through five ancestors - Uri, Hur, Caleb, Hezron, and Pharez, Judah's son by Tamar. The genealogy, though less contracted than most of those in Exodus, probably contains two or three omissions. The son of Hur. Hur, the grandfather of Bezaleel, is thought to be the person mentioned in Exodus 17:10, and Exodus 24:14.
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
Verse 3. - The Spirit of God. There is no article in the Hebrew, any more than in Genesis 1:1; and some would therefore translate "a Divine Spirit"; but no change is needed. Ruakh elohim contains in itself the idea of singularity, since God has but one Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the medium of communication whereby God the Father bestows all gifts upon us. In wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge. By the first of these terms is meant the power to invent and originate; by the second ability to receive and appreciate directions and suggestions; by the third, such information as is acquired by experience and acquaintance with facts. Bezaleel was to have all these, and, in addition, was to be wise in all manner of workmanship; i.e. - to possess manual dexterity, the power of artistic execution.
To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
Verses 4, 5. - The result of these gifts would be to enable him - 1. To devise cunning works - i.e., to design everything excellently; and 2. To work in all manner of workmanship - i.e., to carry out his designs with success. It has been said that "as everything that had to be done was prescribed in strict and precise detail, there was to be no exercise of original powers of invention nor of taste" (Cook); but this was scarcely so. The forms of the cherubim, the patterns to be woven into the stuffs, or embroidered on them, the shapes of the vessels, of the capitals of the pillars, and of the laver were not prescribed in the directions. Bezaleel and Aholiab would have had to design them after such a description as Moses could give of the "pattern" which he had seen in the mount. In doing this, there would be much room for the exercise of inventive power and taste.
And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
Verse 5. - In cutting of stones - i.e., "in Genesis-curling." The fabric of the tabernacle was entirely of metal, cloth, and wood. In carving of timber. Rather "cutting." The word is the same as that used of the stones. And no ornamental "carving" of the woodwork was prescribed.
And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;
Verse 6. - Aholiab appears to have had the entire charge of the textile fabrics, both woven and embroidered (Exodus 38:23). Of the tribe of Ban. It is remarkable that Hiram, the chief artist employed by Solomon for the ornamental work of the temple, was also a descendant of Dan (2 Chronicles 2:14). Yet the Danites were in general rather warlike and rude than artistic (Genesis 49:17; Deuteronomy 33:22; Judges 13:2; Judges 18:11, 27). In the hearts of all that are wise hearted have I put wisdom. "Unto him that hath shall be given. Those who were already "wise hearted - possessed, that is, of artistic power - were selected by God to receive extraordinary gifts of the same kind.
The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,
Verse 7-11 contain an enumeration of the various works already commanded to be made The same order is observed, except that here the tabernacle itself is placed first, and the altar of incense takes its natural position next to the candlestick.
And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense,
And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,
And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest's office,
Verse 10. The cloths of service. Rather "the vestments of office' - i.e., the distinguishing vestments of the High Priest, which he alone was allowed to wear. These were the blue robe, the ephod, the girdle of the ephod, and the breast-plate (Exodus 28:6-35). The holy garments. The rest of the High Priest's dress - i.e., the linen drawers, the diapered tunic, the inner girdle and the mitre (ib, 39, 43; Leviticus 16:4), which constituted his whole apparel on the great day of atonement. The garments of his sons - i.e, the linen drawers, tunics, girdles, and caps, mentioned in Exodus 28:40, 42.

CHAPTER 31:12-17
And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verses 12-17. - THE PENALTY FOR NOT OBSERVING THE SABBATH. Various reasons have been given for this recurrence to the sanctity of the sabbath. Kurtz connects it with the giving of the two tables, in which "the law of the sabbath held a particularly prominent place." Kalisch and others view it rather as the sequel to the directions concerning the tabernacle, and as designed to teach "that the holy service in the tabernacle could not supersede the observance of the sabbath, but derived front that observance its true value." A third set of critics regard the recurrence to the subject as purely practical - being intended to meet an immediate danger - that of the people, in their zeal to erect the tabernacle, setting sabbath observance at nought. (So Jarchi, Aben-Ezra, Clark, Rosenmuller, Canon Cook, and others.) It is to be observed, however, that the present passage is not a mere repetition. It adds to former notices (Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 23:12) two new points: -

1. That the sabbath was to be a sign between God and Israel, a "distinguishing badge," a "sacramental bond" (Cook); and

2. That its desecration was to be punished with death (ver. 15). These were supplementary points of so much importance as to furnish ample reason against their announcement being delayed.
Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.
Verse 13. - Verily. Rosenmuller suggests, "Nevertheless." But there is no need for any change. It is a sign. Hitherto circumcision had been the only visible "sign" that the Israelites were under a special covenant with God - his people, bound to him by special ties (Genesis 17:9-14; Acts 7:8). The adoption of circumcision by the Egyptians and other nations (Herod. 2:104) had produced the effect that this "sign" was no longer distinguishing. It might be still" a sign of profession "; but it had ceased to be "a mark of difference "; and some other mark was therefore needed. Such the observance of the sabbath by entire abstinence from servile work became. No other nation adopted it. It continued to Roman times the mark and badge of a Jew.(Juv. Sat. 6:159; 14:96). That ye may know, etc. By keeping the sabbath day as a day of holy rest the Israelites would know - i.e., would realise severally in their own per sons, that God was their sanctifier. Sanctification would be the fruit of their obedience.
Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Verse 14. - Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death. To defile the sabbath was to do any unnecessary servile work upon it. Works of mercy, works of necessity, and works connected with religious observance were not prohibited. (See Matthew 12:1-7; Matthew 10-12.) The penalty of death for breaking the sabbath seems to moderns over-severe; but the erection of sabbath-observance into the special sacramental sign that Israel was in covenant with God made non-observance an offence of the gravest character. The man who broke the sabbath destroyed, so far as in him lay, the entire covenant between God and his people - not only broke it, but annulled it, and threw Israel out of covenant. Hence, when the sin was committed, no hesitation was felt in carrying out the law. (See Numbers 15:32-36.)
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
Verse 15. - The sabbath of rest. Rather, "a sabbath." There were other sabbaths besides that of the seventh day (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:2-12; etc.). By the expression, "a sabbath of rest" - literally, "a rest of resting" - the idea of completeness is given. Perhaps the best translation would be - "in the seventh is complete rest."
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
Verse 16. - For a perpetual covenant. The sabbath is itself a covenant - i.e., a part of the covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 24:4) - and it is, also, a sign of covenant - i.e., a perceptible indication that the nation has entered into a special agreement with God, and undertaken the observance of special laws.
It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Verse 17. - It is a sign. See above, ver. 13. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth. See the comment on Exodus 20:11. And was refreshed. Literally," and took breath." The metaphor is a bold one, but not bolder than others which occur in holy scripture (Psalm 44:23; Psalm 78:65). It does but carry out a little further the idea implied in God's "resting." We cannot speak of any of God's acts or attributes without anthropomorphisms.

And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
Verse 18. - THE TABLES OF TESTIMONY. It had been assumed, in the directions given for the construction of the ark, that God would give, in some material form, a document to be called "the testimony," which was to be laid up inside it (Exodus 25:16). It is not too much to say that the tabernacle, with its various appurtenances, was constructed for this purpose; the rest of the tabernacle was designed with a view to the holy of holies the holy of holies was designed as a receptacle for the ark - and the ark was designed as a receptacle for the tables of testimony. This section could, therefore, scarcely be concluded without some definite account of the document which was to give the ark and the tabernacle itself, its main significance. Verse 18. - When he had made an end of communing. Literally, "when he had finished speaking." Two tables. Rather, "the two tables" - i.e., the tables promised when he went up into the mount (Exodus 24:12). Of stone. Stone was the ordinary material on which Egyptian documents were engraved, both at the time of the Exodus, and before and after. They were, however, for the most part, either inscribed upon the natural rock, or engraved on the walls of temples or tombs. Inscriptions upon slabs of stone are rare, more especially in the early times, and would scarcely have occurred to Moses himself. Written with the finger of God - i.e., "inscribed supernaturally" - not cut by any human hand. Compare Exodus 32:16. It is idle to speculate on the exact mode of the Divine operation.

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