CDPCKL · Building a House For God: Craftsmen and Project Schedule (Exodus 31:1-18)

Building a House For God: Craftsmen and Project Schedule (Exodus 31:1-18)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

In other words: in the beginning God created all the raw materials he would need for the construction project he had in mind. And then he took a breath, we could say: he hovered over the disorganised raw materials of the universe, he hovered over the spot where he had chosen to build. 

Then, over the next six days, God built a house with a floor and a roof, he filled that house with life and order, and at the end of the sixth day God created mankind in his own image to live in his house with him and help care for it. 

And that is a summary of the first chapter of our bible, where God is introduced as the All-Powerful Creator of all things. 

But God is not simply introduced as the All-Powerful Creator, he is introduced as a particular kind of creator: he is a personal builder. And we see this in the fact that he took six days to complete the heavens and the earth. God had the power to just make it all appear in a single moment, but he chose not to. 

Why not? 

Well, for one thing, when we read that account of creation over the course of six days, we are left with a powerful sense of God’s orderliness and the joy that he takes in the process. God is not a manufacturing tycoon who only cares about producing a product as fast as possible so he can meet his quarterly goals. He is a craftsman who delights in the process of dreaming up a project and then giving it shape. 

For another thing, it is only by reading through that six-day account of creation that we learn what exactly God was building: a sacred house for himself. If God had just made the earth appear all at once, fully functional and running as if it had always existed, this would have taught us nothing except that God is really powerful and the earth is his creation. But by letting us watch while the earth is assembled piece by piece, we are able to discover what God is building and how it is all meant to work, what it is really for: a temple where God can live and enjoy creation with his human children. 

For a third thing, if God had just created the heavens and the earth in a single moment, we — as God’s children — would have no example to follow. We would have no idea how we are supposed to fit into this creation, what we are supposed to be doing here. But because God took his time to build the earth into his sacred temple, we know how we are supposed to structure our lives: around the building of sacred space. 

And this calling to build God’s house has been made especially clear to us over the last several chapters of Exodus, ever since Moses was called to the top of Mount Sinai. 

If you remember that moment, way back in Chapter 24, the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” 

But then, when Moses arrived, God did not give him any tablets of stone. Instead, God launched into instructions for a house, a tent, a tabernacle that is meant to be a miniature model of the original creation. 

And so, over the last few chapters we have been learning that God’s people are supposed to copy their Heavenly Father in creating a temple, a sacred space where God will live with his people as they travel across the wilderness to their ancestral home. And last week God finished his instructions with an outline of the tabernacle’s ultimate purpose: to draw all God’s people back into God’s presence at the center of all things. 

So it makes sense, now, as we return to our reading in Exodus, for God to assign different jobs to different people in this tabernacle construction project. 

First we find that there is a project manager: the Lord says to Moses, [2] “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, [3] and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” 

We also find that there is an assistant to the project manager, because the Lord goes on to say, [6] “Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him.” 

Now, it is clear that these men are gifted craftsmen in their own right, they could do most of the job themselves if they had enough time. But I have been calling them project managers because of what God’s says next: 

Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law and all the other furnishings of the tent.” 

In other words, this is a large project, with a lot of moving parts, and requires all kinds of different people with different gifts to complete the task. And later on in Exodus we find that men did the woodwork and metalwork, while women participated especially in the clothwork, the weaving. 

But overall, no matter who does what, God has this one strict requirement: 

They are to make all these items just as I commanded you.” 

In other words: in this construction project, there is no room for creativity as we have come to define it in our modern world. 

There is this idea that began in the west, and has spread to all of us through the internet, that a truly “creative” and authentic work must be completely new, completely fresh, completely innovative. 

But this way of defining creativity is really unbiblical. Because God is actually the only one who can create something out of nothing according to his own design. Everything we do as human beings is meant to build upon the original reality that God put in place. 

But since the Enlightenment period in the west, a deliberate rebellion has been developing that says we human beings are really gods who have the power to completely remake our reality. As a result, “great” art today must be competely innovative, completely new, and — if at all possible — completely meaningless. Like a banana duct-taped to a wall, for instance, that sold for 120,000 USD. 

By contrast, the pinnacle of biblically defined creativity is found right here: to re-create God’s creation after him, exactly according to the pattern shown on the mountain. 

And since we have paused here to talk about the biblical definition of creativity, we are also going to go back for a moment and notice the true source of this creativity: the Spirit of God. “See, God says, “I have chosen Bezalel and I have filled him with the Spirit of God.” 

And this is yet another element that connects the building of the tabernacle back to the original creation: just as the Spirit of God once hovered over the unformed earth and then filled it with the light of God’s spoken Word, so now also the Spirit of God is hovering over these craftsmen, filling them with the light of God’s spoken Word, so that they can give God’s Word physical form in the tabernacle. 

[12] Then the Lord said to Moses, [13] “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” 

And he goes on to repeat what he has said about the Sabbath before: that it is one day of rest after six days of work, and that breaking it means the death penalty. Which seems a bit harsh, until the Lord goes on to say that [16] “the Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.” 

So, apparently, breaking the Sabbath equals breaking the marriage covenant between God and his people. Breaking the Sabbath equals adultery. Which helps us understand why the death penalty is involved here. 

But then the Lord goes on to repeat a concept he introduced just a moment ago: [17] It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 

Okay. It makes sense that God would finish his tabernacle work of creation with this echo of his original work of creation. In the original creation, God worked for six days, and then on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Here God is making it clear that he wants his children to imitate him in this: working for six days, and resting every seventh so they can be refreshed. 

In other words, God’s people are supposed to structure their lives around the building of sacred space…according to the rhythm of sacred time. 

But now: what is this extra talk about the Sabbath being the sign of a lasting covenant, what does that mean? 

To understand this we have to go back to previous covenants: 

For instance, when God entered into a covenant with Noah after the flood, he commissioned a sign. That sign was the rainbow, which is a reminder to God of his promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood. So: 

From Noah’s covenant we learn that a covenant sign can be a reminder pointing to a covenantal relationship. 

Then, when God entered into a covenant with Abraham, he commissioned another sign. That sign was circumcision, which was a reminder of God’s promise to make Abraham a father of many nations. 

But in that case, the sign was not just a sign, it was also the covenant itself. And because of this, anyone who refused to accept the sign of circumcision was also refusing to join God’s covenant with Abraham. And, of course, if they refused to join Abraham’s covenant, they were choosing to be cut off from Abraham’s people. So: 

From Abraham’s covenant we learn that a covenant sign can be more than just a reminder pointing to a covenantal relationship, it can also be the sign of joining in that covenantal relationship. 

So the rainbow is the sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, and Abraham’s joining in that covenant. And now in this passage we find that keeping the Sabbath is the sign of God’s covenant with Israel, and Israel’s joining in that covenant. 

And God confirms this concept very clearly here by saying it is only by keeping the Sabbath that his people will actually have a real relationship with him. It is right here in verse 13: “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” Keeping the Sabbath is the key to knowing who God is, and what he is doing in his children’s lives. 

So those who keep the Sabbath every week are saying, through their actions, “I want to be creative like my Heavenly Father was creative, so I can learn who he is, so I can grow up to be like him.” 

But those who do not keep the Sabbath are saying, “I want to live my life according to my own creative impulses. I do not care to get to know God, because I do not want to be like God.” 

And God is saying, “You have the freedom to live your life apart from the structure I have provided. But listen: I am the source of all creative structure. So if you leave me, you are actually choosing a formless, uncreative, meaningless life. And a formless, uncreative, meaningless life is actually…death.” 

After all, in the beginning the earth was formless and empty. But the Spirit of God gave it form and filled it with life, and then rested. Anyone who rejects the Spirit’s rest is also rejecting the Spirit’s form…and the Spirit’s life. 

Then, [18] when the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God, just as he promised he would when he first called Moses up to meet with him. 


And this brings us to the end of God’s instructions for the tabernacle. Which also brings us to the question we like to ask, in one form or another, every week: what do these ancient instructions have to do with us? Are our lives supposed to be changed in some way by this ancient word from God to an ancient nation that lived in a situation very different from ours? 

And the answer is yes. Our lives are supposed to be changed by this word from the Lord. The bible makes it clear that we are the builders of God’s house in this age; we are the descendants of Bezalel and Oholiab and all the men and women who once participated in the shaping of the tabernacle. 

How does the bible make this connection clear? 

Well, this passage here is the first time in the bible that God ever talks about filling people with the Spirit of God. And in the New Testament Book of Acts, Chapter 2, we are told that Jesus filled all of his disciples with the Spirit of God, transforming them into the Church — the gathered people of God — and commissioning them as builders to keep building the Church. 

That is the biblical connection between these ancient craftsmen and us: we have both been filled with the same Spirit of God. We are engaged in the same building project. 

But what does being filled with the Spirit mean for us? What are the results supposed to look like in our lives? 

Well…isn’t it obvious? 

No. Not any more. Unfortunately — as some of you may have noticed — this concept of being “filled with the Spirit” has become…a confusing and divisive issue in this latter age of Jesus’ Church. 

Some Christians seem to believe that being Spirit-filled should result in some kind of profound emotional experience. Some teach that a Spirit-filled Christian must speak in tongues or exhibit some kind of miraculous powers. And based on the apostle Paul’s words, “Do not get drunk on wine, instead, be filled with the Spirit,” some Christians seem to think this means that being Spirit-filled is supposed to look like being drunk, out of control. 

So in light of all the confusion on this topic, perhaps we had better go back and take a closer look at what being Spirit-filled means here, in this passage where the concept is first mentioned. That should lay a pretty good foundation for us. 

Then, in order to build properly on that foundation, perhaps we had better page forward through the Old Testament to see how the concept develops. 

That way, by the time we get to the New Testament and to our own time, we should have a pretty good biblical understanding of what being Spirit-filled means for us. So: 

What does being Spirit-filled mean in this passage? 

We have already noticed the creation connection: just as the Holy Spirit — through God’s Word — brought order to the raw materials of the original creation, so also the Holy Spirit — through God’s people — brought order to the raw materials of the tabernacle. 

So it seems pretty clear that Bezalel and Oholiab did not receive an emotional experience, they received the ability to shape creation into a form that proclaimed God’s presence among his people. They did not receive a gift of tongues that could not be understood, they actually received the gift of interpreting God’s Word accurately so they could teach his instructions clearly to all the other craftspeople serving under them. And nowhere in Exodus is it suggested that they looked drunk or out of control — how would that benefit them in working with sharp tools and molten metal? Really, they must have been quite sober and organized men; after all, who is going to trust a project manager who can’t even control his own body and mind? 

This passage is teaching that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Creation. He is the Spirit who brings order out of raw materials, who takes the elements of creation and shapes them into a physical sermon that preaches the redeeming presence of God. Which means he is also the Spirit of Prophecy: he is the one who takes God’s Word and shapes it, interprets it, applies it appropriately to a situation. Which, in this passage, is the situation of building a physical tabernacle, a physical sermon designed to preach the redeeming presence of God in the midst of Israel. 

So this is what being Spirit-filled means here, in this foundational passage: it means being equipped to build God’s house through the faithful interpretation of God’s Word. Bezalal and Oholiab were prophets who preached through their hands and their ability to manage others into obedience to God’s will. 

Now, in order to confirm what we think we have just learned, we need to take a look at how the concept develops throughout the rest of the Old Testament. 

And after a brief survey, it is encouraging to discover that whenever God fills someone with his Spirit in the Old Testament, it is always for one of two reasons: for preaching, so that God’s people might be built up through the application of God’s Word; or for protection, so that God’s people might not be torn down by false preaching, false religion. 

So the whole Old Testament takes the same view as what was revealed in today’s passage: being Spirit-filled means being filled with the ability to either speak the Word of God accurately, or do the Word of God accurately — and all for the building up or the protection of God’s house, God’s nation, God’s people. 

But now we must make one last step to really confirm: is this what being Spirit-filled means in the New Testament also? 

Well, let’s take a look…and: yep, whenever God fills someone with his Spirit in the New Testament, they immediately become a very clear preacher of God’s Word, or a very clear doer of God’s Word. 

And of course the premiere example is the filling of all Jesus’ disciples on the Day of Pentecost, in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2. That is the passage that links us with the Old Testament builders, as I mentioned before. And what did the disciples do right after they were filled with the Spirit? They began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. But the miracle is not that they spoke in tongues that no one could understand; the miracle is that they spoke in tongues that everyone could understand. In other words: the Spirit filled them with the ability to preach the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the ability to speak the Word of God clearly and accurately. And what was the result? About three thousand new disciples were added to their number: they began building God’s house, Jesus’ Church. 

All the way through the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is associated with speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is even confirmed at that point where Paul famously writes “Do not get drunk on wine, instead, be filled with the Spirit,” because he immediately finishes his thought with these instructions: “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” 

And, by the way, when Paul says “songs from the Spirit” there, he does not mean songs that are spontaneous, unplanned, he does not mean so-called “free worship”, as some modern Christians have come to believe. That idea does not come from the bible. It comes from a mixture of two unbiblical concepts: the ancient pagan idea about how the spirit world is supposed to work, and the modern pagan idea about how creativity is supposed to work. 

But that is not what Paul means. Paul understood that true Holy Spirit inspired creativity is not defined by how spontaneous or non-spontaneous it is, but by how well it applies the universal truths of God’s Word to a local situation, so that Jesus’ people can be built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. So: 

Being Spirit-filled does not look like drunkenness, it looks like the opposite of drunkenness: it looks like clear speech, clear communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From the very first words of scripture until the very end, the Holy Spirit is associated with the creation of order and clear communication leading to obedience. 

So what does being filled with the Spirit mean for us New Testament Christians? It means being filled with the desire and the ability to bring order and the clear communcation of God’s Word into the physical world. 

And what are the results supposed to look like for us New Testament Christians? The results are always the practical building up of Jesus’ Church as a physical, visible, living sermon pointing to the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. 

Okay. Now that we have sorted out that confusion, how does this fresh clarity help direct our creative efforts as the Spirit-filled builders of our Father’s house in this age? 

Well, as I just mentioned, the very first thing the Holy Spirit does is create a desire for obedience in his people. Then, as we respond to that desire with the question, “What are we supposed to do?” the Holy Spirit always directs his people back to God’s clearly spoken Word — just as he did at the end of this passage today, when God finally gave Moses the twin tablets of the covenant law. Merely building the tabernacle is not enough; the tabernacle must also have at its very center the Word of God; otherwise it is not really the true house of God.

Now, there are ten clearly spoken commandments, as I think we are all aware. And those Ten Commandments are actually meant to be a really practical, helpful guide and comfort to us in our lives. 

So look: if you ever have a moment of doubt and disorientation — as I often do — where you pause and look around at your life and think, “Wait a minute, am I actually doing what God wants me to do? Am I really helping to build up God’s house with this career, this family, this house, this car?”…when that happens, this is what we should do: allow the Spirit to lead us back to the tablets of the covenant law. Reflect upon the commandments, one by one. And as the Spirit encourages us in our obedience to those commandments, let us be encouraged by this truth: through our obedience to those commandments in our everyday lives, we are building up God’s house. Through our humble obedience to God’s law, our life, our family, our church is becoming a physical, visible, living sermon pointing to the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. 

But even as the Holy Spirit leads us back to reflect on all ten commandments, in this passage today he led us back to reflect on the fourth commandment in particular: the command to rest and be refreshed from our work every seventh day. And since the Spirit has directed us back to that commandment in particular, as Spirit-filled children of God we are going to follow him. 

So, here are some questions we could ask: does the Sabbath Day commandment still apply to us today? Is it still the sign of the lasting covenant between God and us, his people? Is keeping the Sabbath still the way that we come to know God? Does keeping the Sabbath still make us holy? Is there still a death penalty attached to breaking the Sabbath? 

The answer to those questions is yes. But…no. But: yes. 

The core of the Sabbath Day software remains the same. But there has been a significant update between Moses’ day and ours. 

See, the Sabbath was the sign of Moses’ covenant, a sign pointing backward to the foundational rhythm of the original creation. As God’s people practiced God’s foundational pattern of work and rest, they would experience what God experienced and so they would come to know God and be holy like him. 

But the Sabbath was also a sign pointing forward to a new covenant, during which God’s Messiah would come and lead his people into a new kind of rest in a new kind of creation. Under that new covenant, as God’s people followed God’s Messiah into his eternal rest, they would experience what the Messiah experienced and so they would come to know God in ways that could only be hinted at before the Messiah came. 

Well…it happened! God’s Messiah came to earth in the person of a man named Jesus. That man did his Heavenly Father’s work for ”six days”: preaching and protecting; building up God’s people and defending them. Then he was betrayed and executed, on the eve before the seventh day — only to be raised back up to life on the morning of the first day of a whole new creation cycle. 

When Jesus was resurrected into a new kind of human body — one that can no longer die — he became the firstfruit of a new creation. More than this, he became the architect of the new creation, the builder of the true and final house of God. And as the New Testament goes on to say: we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. 

In short, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he became our Sabbath, and we became God’s family, God’s house. Jesus became the living sign of the new covenant between God and his people. Today, as God’s people follow Jesus into his death and resurrection, we experience what our Messiah experienced, and so we come to know God in ways that could only be hinted at before Jesus came. 

This Sabbath software update is really important, so let me try to say it again in another way: the Old Testament Sabbath was a signpost pointing forward to the reality of eternal rest in Jesus’ covenant. Since we are now living in the reality of eternal rest in Jesus’ covenant, we do not need the Old Testament sign-post anymore! The Old Testament Sabbath sign was the GPS directing God’s people to their destination in Jesus Christ. Now that we have arrived at our destination, we turn off the GPS. 

But now a question is going to occur to some of us: “If everything has been completed in this way, why do we still keep the Sabbath?” 

And the answer to that is: we don’t. Not really. The Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday, which is the seventh day of the week. The reason for that is because God began his creation on the very first Sunday ever, the first day of the first week; he finished his creation and rested on the very first Saturday ever, the seventh day of the first week — and this is why the Jews rest on the seventh day. We do not. Therefore, we we do not keep the Jewish Sabbath. 

“Well, okay, sure,” you’re going to say. “But why do we still rest and worship one day out of every seven, and why do we do that on a Sunday now, instead of Saturday?” 

This is why: if you recall, the Old Testament Sabbath pointed backward to the original creation, but it pointed forward to Christ and a new kind of creation. We have arrived at the first destination, Jesus Christ; we have received the firstfruits of that new creation. But we have not yet arrived at our final destination: the new creation. We are still living in the original creation. 

So it makes sense for us, as long as we live in this original creation, to continue to live according to the pattern of work and rest that God instituted in his original creation. However, since we are no longer looking forward to the death of Christ on the evening of the sixth day, it would make no sense for us to continue to follow that Old Testament Sabbath. Instead, we are looking forward to the life of Christ at dawn on the first day of the new creation. 

Now, since God began his original creation on the first day of the week, it would make sense for him to also begin his new creation on the first day of the week. And he did! As we have already noticed, Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week: the firstfruit of the new creation. This is why the Christian Sabbath is on Sunday now instead of Saturday: our Sabbath points backward to the resurrection of Jesus, and points forward to the resurrection of all things. 

So, in light of this huge software update, does the death penalty still apply to those who refuse to keep the New Testament Sabbath? Oh yes. Even more so, actually. In the Old Testament, breaking the Sabbath meant refusing to rest from physical labour, refusing to trust God to provide physical life. Now, in the New Testament, breaking the Sabbath means refusing to rest from religious labor, refusing to trust Jesus to provide eternal life. In our age, the way people break the Sabbath is by refusing to believe in Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus are going to live forever; those who reject Jesus are going to die forever. 

This is why, on the Day of Judgement, many very religious people who are very, very careful to rest and worship properly every seventh day in this life will find themselves condemned because they actually trusted in their own works for salvation, instead of resting in Jesus’ work; while, on the other hand, many people who are forced to work as slaves seven days a week in this life will find themselves rewarded for how well they built God’s house, because they were actually resting in Jesus Christ the whole time. 

So if you are a slave who is forced to work seven days a week, then be the best Christian slave you can be, and rest in Christ even while you serve your earthly master. But if you can gain your freedom, do so; and if you already have some measure of freedom over your schedule now, then please make sure to rest and worship with us every Sunday. 

This is important for two reasons. First, because a life of real, physical Sabbath-keeping really does make us know Jesus as our Lord, who makes us holy. 

Second, because real, physical Sabbath-keeping also reveals the true character of God to the people around us who do not yet know him. 

Many of us here have friends and family that we long to see united with Christ so that they too can find rest for their souls. But listen: if you work seven days a week and you do not have slavery as an excuse, then your friends and family are more likely to look at your life and say, “Wow, you work just as hard as I do. Your God must be no different from mine. Why should I switch?” And even if you do rest from work every seventh day, but then do not join in worship, then your friends and family are more likely to say, “Wow, your God must not be very great, since you can’t even be bothered to worship him regularly. Why should I switch?” 

So, if you are looking for a way to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to your friends and family, start by keeping the Sabbath. 

In closing here, brothers and sisters: we are not all called to be preachers or teachers or evangelists, and that is okay. This passage makes it clear that many different kinds of gifts are needed for the building up of God’s house. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 

We are not all called to be public speakers of God’s Word, but we are all called to be public doers of God’s Word. And God’s Word also makes it clear that by doing we are actually speaking. The Book of Exodus has not preserved any words that were spoken by Bezalel or Oholiab or any of the men and women who built the tabernacle…and yet together they produced a physical sermon that preached Jesus Christ for 1500 years — a sermon that is, really, still preaching Jesus Christ to us now. 

Well, guess what: the house we are building together here in KL, every week and every day of the week, is greater than the tabernacle, because — by God’s grace — we are producing a sermon that is going to preach Jesus Christ forever and ever. Even after we have entered our eternal rest in the new creation, this sermon that is Jesus’ Church will continue to preach, continue to teach, continue to bring life and order into the world, continuing the work the Holy Spirit started in the beginning. 

So let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.

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