Final Instructions

By Exodus 31, God has been giving instructions to Moses for the last ten chapters – instructions for social laws, ceremonial feast days, the construction of the tabernacle, the garments of the priests, and nearly everything in between. Finally, God wraps up the conversation by telling Moses who has been chosen to build the holy tabernacle:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you…” (Exodus 31:1-6, NKJV)

I find these words to be of special importance. We so often think of God pouring out His anointing Spirit on pastors, ministers, evangelists, and missionaries. We think of the work of the LORD as encompassing preaching, teaching, and witnessing – but not much else. Yet here we have a beautiful illustration of God’s Spirit being poured out on an ordinary workman. “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri,” the text reads. “That’s my guy!” God says. “This is the one I have specifically called and chosen to build My holy tabernacle.” What an overwhelming privilege! I would think that this passage offers encouragement and affirmation to those of us who may not have been called to a specific vocation of church ministry. We may not be pastors or foreign missionaries, but, guess what, we’ve still been chosen and anointed to do a very special work of the LORD. You have received a unique calling that only you can fulfill! When you look at it that way, you realize that every single activity of your daily labor—no matter how menial it might seem—can be turned into an act of worship! The New Testament admonishes us to live out this “true worship” which comes by surrendering every facet of lives—whether at work or home or church—to God’s will. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1, NIV; see also 1 Corinthians 10:31.) It is both an encouraging realization as well as a sobering mandate of responsibility.

The final set of directions that God gives Moses is in relation to the Sabbath day: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:12-13, NKJV). At first I found this repetition of the Sabbath commandment a little strange. Hasn’t God already given clear directions for the Sabbath in Exodus 20? Why the need to repeat? It then occurred to me, however, that the placement of the Sabbath reminder here is indeed very significant. God and Moses have just been talking about all the things that the people will need to do to prepare a dwelling place for the LORD: they will need to build the tabernacle, they will need to craft the sacred furnishings, they will need to prepare the priest’s garments, they will need to perform the dedication ceremony – and the list goes on… Perhaps God wanted to use this last repetition of the Sabbath promise as a way to remind the people that it is not their works, but God’s work, that will make them holy. God wanted His children to take a break every single week on the Sabbath day, to stop and remember – “that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (verse 13).

It’s almost as if God has intentionally book-ended this entire mountain-top discourse with the Sabbath. We first read about it in Exodus 20, at the heart of God’s proclamation of the Ten Commandments (the “Ten Promises”). And here we are reading about the beautiful Sabbath promise once again at the end of Exodus 31. I think God wants us to learn something today as well. As we discussed in our previous lesson “The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath,” Sabbath is so much, much more than a mere day of the week. It’s an attitude. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day we observe every week, where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His self-sacrificing and eternally-lasting love for us.

And with that last reminder, God delivers to Moses His holy law and covenant – the transcript of His very own character of love:

“When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, NLT).

Written with God’s very own finger! The question we are now left with is, “What will Moses and Israel do with this overwhelmingly-beautiful token of God’s covenant relationship?” We wait until the next chapter to find out.

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The Birthright Blessing

Jacob, Esau, and the blessing… Most of us are familiar with the account of the two brothers and the saga of the elusive birthright blessing. Now, the birthright in the early Middle-Eastern culture was a very interesting thing. You see, the blessing of the birthright involved much more than simply extra land and possessions. The birthright also meant that you inherited the responsibilities of spiritual leadership for the family. It meant you were to become the priest of the family. That’s why Esau “despised” his birthright. He probably didn’t mind the idea of extra land and possessions, but he wanted nothing to do with the spiritual responsibilities for the family clan. Of course, we all remember how things went down in Genesis 25. Esau agreed to sell his birthright to Jacob for a mere bowl of lentils!

The mother Rebekah, of course, remembered this whole time how God had told her in Genesis 25:23 that Jacob, the younger son, was to receive the birthright blessing instead of Esau. She, Jacob, and, apparently, God were all on the same page. There was just one problem: Isaac wasn’t quite on board with the plan. Isaac still intended to give the birthright blessing to Esau, who had apparently forgotten about his arrangement with Jacob. And so, just like Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Jacob had a choice to make: let God work things out or try to make things work themselves. Sadly, she and Jacob chose to use bribery and deception to “make God’s plan happen.” Genesis 28 chronicles the elaborate birthright heist and Jacob’s subsequent flight for his life! Their plan did not work out quite as expected.

But even in the midst of this sad account of lies and deceit in Genesis 28, I think there is some fascinating spiritual symbolism at work here. Just think for a moment on this story’s spiritual implications for us today: Jacob receives the blessing of the father because he puts on the clothing and assumes the nature of his elder brother. You see, like Jacob, we don’t deserve our Father’s blessing either. But when we allow ourselves to be clothed with the garments of righteousness of our “Elder Brother” – when we allow ourselves to be covered by His forgiveness, when we allow ourselves to be filled with His Being – then, we find ourselves fully accepted into heaven’s family!

Of course, in Jacob’s case, his father was blind. Isaac unknowingly bestowed the blessing on the undeserving heir. But, in our case, our Heavenly Father absolutely knows everything we are and everything we have done! God is not fooled. He can look at us and see every ounce of filth in our lives and every taint of impurity in our hearts. But God doesn’t look at us that way. He, instead, simply chooses to look on us and see the goodness of His beloved Son Jesus Christ! “He has not seen iniquity in Jacob. Neither has he seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21, WEB). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons [to receive the birthright blessing!] through Jesus Christ [through Jesus’ provision for us, because of His garments of righteousness over us], in accordance with his pleasure and will [because he wanted to and because it gave Him great pleasure to do so for us!]” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV).

Of Wells and Promises

As our journey with Abraham closes, we embark next on Genesis 26 with Isaac. Genesis 26 is a really interesting chapter that basically consists of Isaac retracing his father’s steps. There is again famine in the Promise Land. Isaac moves and settles in the land of the Philistines – just like Abraham. When the Philistines take notice of the beautiful Rebekah, Isaac resorts to deception to save his own skin – just like Abraham! (Parents, take note! Your children will follow the example that you set for them.)

But we also watch as Isaac follows in his father’s steps of faith. You may have noticed that Genesis 26 has a lot of wells in it. I find these wells particularly fascinating. Verse 18 reads, “Isaac reopened the wells his father had dug, which the Philistines had filled in after Abraham’s death. Isaac also restored the names Abraham had given them” (NLT). As I think about wells from a modern-day, life-application perspective, I think of digging down into the origins of our faith – of tapping into the legacy our early Christian parents and pioneers have left us. Wells also symbolize drilling down and setting our roots deep into our own personal relationship and communion with God. Of course, the enemy tries to stop up these wells, doesn’t he? But we are to keep building new wells and digging deeper and deeper until our soul’s thirst is at last satisfied by “living” water.

As we all know, Isaac made some mistakes in his life. I get annoyed, for instance, that this whole “lying that your wife is your sister” business keeps popping up – not just twice but three times in Genesis! What in the world is their problem? Why doesn’t God handle things a little more sternly? But I really like what Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh has to say when he points out that the deception is really just a “symptomatic sin and not the root sin” (Bible.org). Deception, in these cases, is merely a side-effect of a root problem of fear. “This fear was the product of an inadequate concept of God.” And that’s what I love so much about Genesis 26:24. After Isaac has finally returned to the heart of the Promise Land following a really, really long detour, God appears to Isaac that very same night and confirms a simple but amazing promise: “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you.” You see, God doesn’t punish and condemn Isaac for his mistake. Instead, He responds by re-introducing Himself to Isaac! God introduces Himself as a Protector and a Promise-Keeper who desires a personal relationship with Isaac.

“So Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well” (vs. 25). Isaac responds with worship, by calling on the name of the Lord. Up to this point, I think Isaac has known God as the God of his father Abraham, but now Jehovah is his God – the God of Isaac! And then, guess what. Isaac digs another well. This well will be named Beersheeba – that is, “Well of Oath” or “Well of Promise,” forever reminding Isaac and us of a God who is an eternal Covenant-Keeper.