Exodus 35: Gathering resources

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We had a brief respite of interesting chapters, but now we’re back – neck deep – in the priestly tradition. Yaaarrgh.

We start off with yet another reminder to keep the Sabbath and a warning that anyone who fails to do so “shall be put to death” (Exod. 35:2).

Freewill Offering for the Tabernacle Exodus 35:22-29Let’s reflect for a moment on the Walton family, John Schnatter, and other explicitly Christian business owners who have been in the news recently for complaining that the U.S. government isn’t respecting their piousness, and let’s thank them for taking their faith so profoundly to heart that they are willing to reduce their market competitiveness by making sure that all their employees have the Sabbath off from work.

With the warning about honouring the Sabbath over with, we jump right into a really long-winded way of saying that the Hebrews are following the instructions from Exodus 25-31. Buckle up, ’cause it’s gonna be a wild ride!

The Tabernacle

As we covered in our reading about the design for the tabernacle, this thing would be terribly impractical for a nomadic/travelling group of people. So while Collins points out that tent-shrines for deities were A Thing in the Semitic world, this one is just way too big and elaborate and “may reflect a later, settled shrine, possibly at Shiloh, where the tabernacle is set up in Josh 18:1 […] Alternatively, it may be an ideal construction, imagined by later Priestly writers. It does not correspond to what we know of the Jerusalem temple, although it incorporates some of its features, notably the statues of winged cherubim guarding the mercy seat (Exod. 25:21)” (p.75).

Exodus 31: God gives ability to all able men

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So we have all the instructions for God’s little building project, now we need contractors to do the work. God tells Moses that he heard of this one guy who did an amazing job on his friend’s rec room, so they should hire him. Enter Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

Exodus 31 2-8 Bezalel and Oholiab making the Ark of the CovenantBut since one guy can’t do all that work alone, God decides that they have enough shekels in the budget to bring in an assistant. So they also hire Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

Of course, these are just going to be leading the construction project. God wants this to be a group effort, a real bonding experience for the Hebrews. So he gets together all the able men and gives them all ability (Exod. 31:6), which seems rather unimpressive.

There seem to be two ways we can read this:

  1. God collects all the able-bodied men and gives them the artistic ability necessary to pull off the job, or
  2. God collects all the men who already have artistic ability and reminds them that they only have it thanks to him.

Either way, it’s a fairly unimpressive feat. This is God’s own book, a book where he feels comfortable being described as personally bringing down plagues and slaughtering innocent children and parting a sea, yet even here he can’t bring himself to heal amputees.

You need a day off

But with all that work ahead of them, Good Guy God takes the time to remind everyone not to work too hard and to take the Sabbath off. Of course, a good boss would probably realize that his contractors will be happy with a day off and just leave it at that, but God just don’t play that way.

No, God needs to threaten to punish anyone who tries to work overtime.

So what’s the punishment for overtime? Well, it’s either being “put to death” or being “cut off from among his people” (Exod. 31:14). This is made even more confusing because the two punishments are listed together in the very same verse.