Romans 4: Faith Begets Righteousness

After having dispelled the constraints of the old law to a degree in the previous chapter, Paul now moves to explaining some of the context and consequences of the evolution of God’s plan for men in the form of some great patriarchs from the past: Abraham and David.

Righteousness does not come from the works of the law, it comes from having faith. Paul is saying this as a way to both encourage new Gentile believers and to decrease judgment from their Jewish counterparts. If the Gentiles feel, or are made to feel that they are inadequate because of their past as non-Jews, they need not worry or feel this way. Paul explains that righteousness comes from their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To support this point, Paul quotes from the book of Genesis: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” For us today, the meaning is the same. Under the new law and the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not our good deeds that save us. Rather, it is our faith in Him that saves us, as His sacrifice alone is what can atone for our sins in the sight of God’s wrath at our selfish choices. Our good deeds, our kind works, our efforts at doing god can neither produce righteousness nor can they save our eternal souls. It is our belief and confidence in Jesus Christ that saves us, a relationship that is established in the watery grave of baptism. We do not produce our own righteousness in this sense; rather, we take part in the righteousness of Jesus.

Perhaps to the surprise of these New Testament Christians, there is precedent in the Word of God for men to be justified by their faith apart from works. To amplify this concept, Paul again quotes from the Old Testament, this time quoting the much-revered King David from Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Paul’s mastery of language, relationships, and intellect is apparent as he calls on two “witnesses,” Abraham and David, to testify that justification is accomplished through faith. Many of the Jews in Rome would perhaps have been looking askance at the Gentiles, whom they could have perceived as “johnny-come-latelys” to the throne of God without having put in the work required by Old Testament law. Paul is working hard to explain to the Jews how all are justified under faith, using language and constructs that would have been familiar and convincing to them. As an aside, Paul’s clever use of Jewish law and customs to explain faith’s role in man’s relationship to God should not represent a direct credit to Paul, but rather a direct credit to God, who (as He often does) selected the best tool in the toolbox to accomplish His will on the earth.

Paul goes further to explain faith’s role in verses 9-12 with the relationship it has to circumcision. For many years, circumcision was the physical sign of a man of God. And while the Jewish people took this commandment of God very seriously (to their credit, for their staunch obedience to God is admirable), Paul explains that it is not the act of circumcision nor is it the state of being circumcised that increased their righteousness. Rather, it was their faith that brought righteousness. Abraham then, is not only the father of all of the Jewish people that were circumcised to obey God’s command, but he is also the father of all of those who are faithful but not uncircumcised. Faith is the most important part of the equation. Circumcision seems to have been a test of that faith, to prove to God that their faith was worthy His blessings. But under the new law of grace, righteousness is awarded through faith.

The final section of chapter 4 in verses 13-25 examines the superiority of faith over works, couched in the idea that all men have access to God. If not heirs of Abraham through works, then we are heirs of his through faith. And Abraham’s examples of faithfulness are many, Paul exemplifying the instance when Abraham believed that he and Sara could become parents at such advanced ages when they beget Isaac. Paul then neatly ties a bow on this discussion by bringing the focus back to the present: “Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

For us, this discussion means gratitude to God for Jesus, a confident understanding of faith’s place in our religion, and the knowledge that every man and woman is welcome to come to God. We are not the authors of our salvation, nor do we accomplish our salvation. Instead, we humbly submit and believe in Him. Through the actions of Jesus Christ, God greatly simplified the entire process for us, and that feat deserves no end to our gratitude and thanksgiving.

Romans 3: All Have Sinned

The discussion from the end of chapter 2 on circumcision continues as Paul elaborates on how to think about it under the new law. Where, under the old law, circumcision was a physical indicator of loyalty to God, now under the new law circumcision gives way to faith. The question is no longer “are you circumcised?”, but is rather, “Do you believe?” Faith, having rightly replaced circumcision in the new law, it is the path to God. For God alone is righteous in that He knows not sin.

In verses 1-20, Paul is contending with a frame of mind that would seem to think that man in some cases is justified to sin. Rather than being justified in sin, however, our sin in fact “demonstrates the righteousness of God” in that God punishes for sin. We do not have a “right” to sin. In fact, our rights as the created start and end in the arena of properly recognizing our God, heeding His statutes and commandments, and living for Him with grateful hearts. This theme establishes two incontrovertible facts about our Creator:

  • Based on His identity and nature, God is justified to judge and punish
  • Unbelief in God does not nullify His faithfulness to His people to both reward righteousness and punish sin

The passages that Paul quotes in verses 10-18 are taken from the books of Psalms and Ecclesiastes and are meant to underscore man’s tendency to sin and ignore the teachings of God. Under the law, man was forever corrupt and justification for sin was impossible.

But in verse 21, Paul turns a corner in addressing how the righteousness of God is made apparent apart from the law, namely through Jesus. Where there was no justification for sin in the old law, we have the forgiveness of our sins under the new. In fact, the passage elucidates how the sins under the old law were “passed over” so that the forgiveness in grace through Jesus Christ could be demonstrated with the new law. We are justified in our sins, those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ. This does not allow for the continuation of willing sin, but justifies us in our past sins, and the onus is on each of us to repent and live for righteousness’ sake in the eyes of our benevolent God.

It all boils down to the idea that “man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” This means that all of the works required by the old law (sacrifices and the like) did nothing to cleanse souls from the corruption of sin. Instead, it is the faith in God through Jesus Christ that absolves sin. And this is true for all men. In closing this chapter, Paul makes the point that the law is not forgotten or forsaken by virtue of the new law of faith in Jesus Christ; rather the law is established and made perfect under the new law.

Romans 2: What is Righteous Judgment?

As Paul continues his letter to the Christians in Rome, he delves into the themes of judgment, hypocrisy and circumcision. Since God’s wrath is turned on unrighteousness, His judgment is predicated on the presence of righteousness. Make no mistake, it is God’s responsibility and solely His responsibility to judge. We are without excuse if we choose to judge our fellow man. The reason is because we ourselves are guilty of the same sins, whether it is apparent to us, and whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.

God is better suited to judge because He judges according to truth. Our judgment can be very often tainted by self-seeking motives and an inadequate understanding of truth (only seeing things one way rather than in totality).

If we relent from judging others and instead meditate on how the grace of God can cover their sins, we are left with a healthier spiritual state than if we were to remain in judgment. Thinking on how “the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering” will help those whom we judge as well as ourselves leaves us thinking about God’s grace and leads us to humility. Compare that with the self-serving feeling of superiority we receive when standing in judgment of others. Which is better for your soul?

Much better not to dwell in judgment of others and instead to patiently do good and by so doing seek glory, honor and immortality. The text is unkind to selfish people that do not obey the truth: “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil.”

It follows logic and more importantly is aligned with God’s guidance to decide to restrain from judging others because God, who is truth and has full knowledge of truth, is best equipped to administer judgment. In fact, we do our souls and our eternal future a disservice when we judge others: “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” For more enlightening discourse on this type of judgment, see the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Paul goes on to describe how the law of God is written in the heart of man. Within verses 12-16 is a tangle of mystery addressing the conscience of man, the knowledge man has of the law of God without having read it, and how “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (“my gospel” meaning the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul was preaching)

We conclude this first section of chapter two by recognizing that judgment ought to be solely the domain of God. We are not properly suited for truly righteous judgment. Our perspective and ability to judge are corrupted by micro and macro prejudices, which opens us up to further judgment ourselves in the face of God’s commandment to not only love our neighbors but also our enemies. While we may not fully understand how God’s judgment is applied to those that have not heard or read His law, we believe Him when He says it is written in their hearts and we also trust in God, that He will exact righteous judgment upon each and every man and woman.

For the Jews in Rome, Paul has a special message in verses 17-24. In the context of judgment from the previous verses, Paul warns against hypocrisy. The Jews had the reputation of not practicing what they preached. Paul is exhorting them to be worthy of the knowledge of God that they had, because “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” This is a theme that Paul could expound readily, having been a high caste Jew himself, formerly persecuting and killing Christians. The warning is one that should not be lost on us today, for it is so terribly easy to judge and equally as easy to look the other way when we practice that which we judge.

The final section of this chapter discusses circumcision. The practice of circumcision was meant to identify God’s people as part of the old law, but Paul argues now that circumcision is useless if it is done in physical practice only. Under the new law and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the true test is what is in our heart. The outward sign has lost its meaning in the new law under Jesus Christ.

Romans 1: A Sermon in a Greeting

Introduction to Romans

Romans is a very important epistle in the New Testament. The word “epistle” means letter, and the apostle Paul’s letter to the group of Christians meeting in Rome contains many, many principles of the Christian faith that have persuaded men and women to become children of God since it was written.

At the time of Paul writing this letter, he had not yet been to Rome. It is estimated that the book was written in the autumn of 57 A.D. The guidance and theological content of the letter suggests that Roman Christians would benefit from both the general and the specific tenets of Christianity that Paul elaborates on in this letter. Chapters 14 and 15 suggest that the Romans also would benefit from lessons in living harmoniously with one another. As is the case today, the gospel of Jesus Christ brought many people of differing backgrounds and faiths together. The subjugation to one another in love that Paul compels will have helped these early Christians living in the huge city of Rome.

However great the impact was on the Christians in Rome that received this letter, the impact of the letter on the whole of the world since is much greater.

. . .

In a feat common for Paul that we will revisit as this book wears on, he compacts information into statements that would take some other men volumes to organize. In the first six verses, Paul orders a sequence that calls attention to his own apostleship, specifies the divinity of Jesus Christ, and explains in short order how God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus created an environment that provides grace for all of sinful man.

The saints in Rome most likely had returned there after the events of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Their faith was widely known throughout the world. Verses 8-15 show us how deeply Paul cares for the Christians in Rome. Although he has not yet visited them there, he intends to so that he can shore up their faith with preaching and instruction. Paul’s prayer for the Romans is that he can come to them, as he considers it his responsibility to educate them on the gospel of Jesus Christ. His commitment to the truth, and to having faithful believers properly understand the nature of God and Jesus Christ is apparent in his messaging throughout.

In fact, as much as Paul stands on and believes in the gospel, he confirms to them that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement suggests that some had reason to be ashamed of the gospel. Likely this was due to the political and cultural events surrounding the death of Jesus. Many Romans would have thought it too fantastical or ridiculous, many Jews thought it sacrilegious, and other pagan worshippers might have thought the “new” Christian ideology foolish. Despite this environment, Paul sets a stellar example for the Romans by speaking out strongly: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” The quote, “The just shall live by faith” is from Habakkuk 2:4, where it says in kind: “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” The contrast of pride and living by faith is an interesting choice for Paul to give to the Romans. The new Christians, with the very fresh knowledge of Jesus, needed guidance on how to think about and model their new faith. They were surely zealous and inspired by the knowledge of Jesus, but outside cultural pressure and judgment can bring a heavy load. Paul, by modeling a life lived by faith, instills confidence in their perspective on Christ while also bringing to light that the gospel is free for all people, Jew and Greek alike.

Although we are just getting started in Romans, verses 18-32 present a powerhouse of clarity on the gospel and how to live as a believer. He begins by dispelling the notion that knowledge of God’s presence and power are unknown to His creation. From verse 18-23, Paul explains how God’s existence is plain in His creation, “even His eternal power and Godhead.” He is explaining to the Roman Christians that even people that have not heard from others about God still have knowledge of God. The reason that people do not submit to God is due to their own foolish notions. They exchange obedience and their obligation to glorify God for their own faulty wisdom and for a belief in the corruptible creation of God. Paul’s primary point here is that it is obvious to discern that this world was created by an all-powerful creator, but people selfishly pursue their own desires instead of properly glorifying God. Also, in lieu of glorifying God, people glorify His fallible, temporary, and corruptible creation.

Because people have substituted God’s creation for God, God leaves the people to dwell in their sin, and in fact allows that sin to spiral into yet more deplorable conditions. The sin of homosexuality is called out in particular here. Make no mistake, this is not Paul’s opinion, nor is it presented as a viable alternative lifestyle. Homosexuality among men and women is not only a sin, but serves as a punishment for those that have dwelled long without honoring their Creator.

Barring this deplorable condition, Paul explains how God allows people to experience yet more depths of alienation. As long as people do not keep God in mind and at least honor Him properly, He will give them up to additional punishments, filling them with:

  • Unrighteousness
  • Sexual immorality
  • Wickedness
  • Covetousness
  • Maliciousness
  • Envy
  • Murder
  • Strife
  • Deceit
  • Evil-mindedness

None of these characteristics serve to fill the mind, heart, and soul with joy and happiness. God’s creation, which is meant to glorify Him in righteousness, instead is transformed through their arrogance and negligence into “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…”

The irony for man is that by leaving God and seeking himself, man thinks that He has obtained freedom, but in fact He has only created his own shackles. The newly Christian Romans, living in a debased and corrupt society, would have benefitted from these frank descriptions of how God punishes those that choose to ignore Him.

Sadly, these concepts are all too apparent in the society we live in today. Homosexuality, which was once publicly abhorrent is now spread far and wide as a virtuous right. The values of humility and honoring parents are difficult to find and people that invent evil things are treasured and lifted up.

The good news is that as Christians, these current cultural mores are neither our spiritual reality nor our spiritual legacy. We stand firm in the knowledge of Holy and Almighty God and we hold righteousness as our value, pursuing holy and pure minds and hearts as we do our best to live for eternity.  

Exodus 40: The Tabernacle Complete

Finally, at long last, the Tabernacle is fully complete and the people can assemble its various parts and pieces in working order. God speaks to Moses and commands that all of the pieces of the tabernacle be put together. Here are the steps that are taken to finally establish the tabernacle:

  • Put up the tent walls
  • Put in the ark of the covenant and partition it with the veil
  • Bring in and set up the table
  • Bring in the lamp and light it
  • Set up the altar for incense
  • Set up the altar for burnt offerings
  • Set up the laver and fill it with water
  • Set up the court and the court gate
  • Anoint the tabernacle and its utensils
  • Consecrate the altar and the laver
  • Anoint Aaron and his sons, as high priest and priests

Moses competed all of these activities and once He did, God made good on His promise to continue to guide the people and also showed His approval of the tabernacle as it says in verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

The cloud of the Lord covered the tabernacle by day and the fire of the Lord was over it by night. This was God’s message and assurance to the people that He would ever be with them. His protection was not just theoretical; it was real, practiced, and visible. While the cloud was over top of the tabernacle, Moses could not enter and the people would not travel. Such was the guidance from God.

In this closing chapter of Exodus, we have not an ending but a beginning. It is the beginning of God’s people’s journey to the promised land. They have failed Him already and their lack of faith will cause them to fail God many times over as they travel. But let this be a humble reminder to each of us. If we feel the desire to criticize them for their weaknesses and proclivity towards fickle faith, may we all be reminded of the times we turned our back on the Lord in favor for the hollow and worthless things of this world.

Exodus 39: Priestly Garments and Tabernacle Assembly

Here at the penultimate chapter of Exodus we have what is basically the completion of the construction of the tabernacle and its primary components, especially the priestly garments. Exodus 40 finishes up some details, but with this chapter, all of the heavy lifting is completed.

Themes that we can learn from this chapter do not differ greatly from themes of the previous chapters:

  • The dedication of God’s people to exactly follow His instructions
  • The temple represents God’s presence among the people in the Old Testament
  • Christ represents God’s presence among the people in the New Testament

The importance of the priestly garments is obvious in this chapter. The first thirty-one verses detail out the making of the ephod, the breastplate, and the other garments with all of their detail of colored threads, stones, and chains. There was so much woven work for Aaron and his sons, and the importance of the details of incorporating the tribes, sanctification, and representation each play their part to assemble the clothes of this high holy priest.

Putting together the tabernacle and assembling all of its various parts, each with their own element of meaning, must have been very rewarding for everyone involved. In previous chapters, we have discussed how the tabernacle can be interpreted for today in New Testament times to signify the modern church or Christ. In this chapter, though, as we witness the tabernacle being assembled with all its different parts and pieces, each playing a different role, it is hard not to be reminded of the modern church. The modern kingdom of God, the final dispensation here on earth is His church, the bride of Christ. As we endeavor to serve and worship God following New Testament examples and commandments, our assemblage is not unlike that of the temple. Indeed, God did purpose each one of us to have a job in the kingdom:

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:12-16

For Moses and the people, this was all about pleasing the Almighty God. God, who saved them from slavery and guided them to safety. God, who killed or blessed in the blink of an eye and did so with finality. The people of Israel still have a very long way to go towards knowing their God. They will cling to and deny Him over and over again as the years come.

But we are blessed in the full knowledge of God. We have the revelation of Jesus Christ and the blessing of the knowledge of salvation through Him. The children of Israel worshipped God, who seemed out of reach yet there were signs of Him all around. For us, we miss the visible signs of God, but we live blessed with the full knowledge of the plan of our God to save us.

Exodus 38: Tabernacle Almost Complete

The dedication of both the people and the artisans is expressed in this chapter as we read of the construction of the altar, the laver, and the court. Most impressive in this chapter is the description of the amounts of bronze and silver. The people had indeed given much; so much that their wealth was translated into the obedience as the tabernacle and its artifacts were constructed of large volumes of precious materials.

Bezalel and Aholiab continue to fashion the tabernacle and its materials exactly according to the specifications of God’s instruction.

The descriptions of the volume of silver and brass denote both the immense value of the tabernacle and the seriousness with which it was to be regarded. In concept, it is not unlike descriptions heaven from the book of Revelation where there are streets paved with gold and the foundations are adorned with precious jewels.

We will get further into Revelation 21 as a companion study to Exodus 39, but for now let us take a look at verses 3-8 of that chapter. In this passage, we have a simple and clear description of how there will no longer be the need for a tabernacle because God Himself will be among the people in the form of His Son Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, the adornment, beauty and majesty of the tabernacle described in Exodus are great, and the fact that God made arrangements to be in the presence of the people through the tabernacle is also wonderful, but this earthly construction does not compare with the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ, the final revelation of God’s plan to redeem the righteous:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.””

It would have been wonderful to be one of the Israelites, witnessing Moses come down from the mountain, the peoples’ repentance, and the construction of the tabernacle. But we have the greater blessing today as recipients of the full knowledge of God’s perfect plan to save us through the sacrifice of His Son. The sober warning of Hell compels us to act hastily in obedience to God, to pursue righteousness and purity of heart and thought, for we do not know what the future holds!

Exodus 37: Bezalel Fulfills the Word of God

In Exodus 36, we learned about the dedication of both the people and the artisans as they carried out the will of God in preparing the tabernacle. It is pleasing to witness their return to God in the wake of the incident with the golden calf.

Work to complete God’s instructions on the tabernacle continues in Exodus 37. In this chapter, we watch Bezalel as he does the work to complete some of the major pieces of the tabernacle. As the chief artisan of the tabernacle, Bezalel is personally crafting the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, the table for the showbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense in this chapter. These items were fashioned with the aid of gold rather than bronze because they were to be within the holy place of the tabernacle.

Verses 1-9: The Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat

The ark and the lid were both created as specified. The ark itself was made out of durable acacia wood, and was covered wholly inside and out with pure gold. The mercy seat, or ark lid was made out of pure gold. Being more than two cubits long and more than a cubit wide, it must have been very heavy. Bezalel took special care with the goldwork and it was surely very beautiful. This receptacle was meant to eventually carry those very special artifacts that carried much meaning for the Israelites’ relationship with Almighty God: the Ten Commandments, a golden bowl of manna which represented God’s care for their physical well-being, and Aarons’ rod.

Verses 10-16: The Table for the Showbread

The tale for showbread was also very ornate. It was made out of acacia wood and overlaid with gold too. The utensils that accompanied the table were made out of pure gold as well: dishes, cups, bowls, and pitchers. The table and the showbread were meant as a constant reminder of how God provides for His people.

Verses 17-24: The Lampstand

The lampstand was another wonder. Made entirely out of one piece of solid gold, the lampstand held seven lamps, with ornamental flowers and branches, and the bowls were shaped like almond blossoms. The seven lamps, the wick-trimmers, and trays were also made of solid gold. The lampstand, fashioned as a tree and giving off light, was representative of the life-giving power of God and the light that He brings to the world.

Verses 25-29: The Altar of Incense

The altar of incense was also made of acacia wood with gold overlay and its incense represented the prayers floating up from the people to God.

The lessons from chapter 36 can still be found in this chapter:

  • Honor God’s guidance to create something beautiful and honor Him
  • Follow God’s instructions exactly because “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much”

But particularly in these four items crafted by Bezalel, we can still find valuable lessons:

  • The ark of the covenant: Do we hold dear God’s covenant with us? The symbols of our covenant with God today are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When we observe the Lord’s Supper, do we hold these artifacts in vessels of gold as it were? Do we honor Christ with the same or better reverence as what is physically represented in the ark of the covenant?
  • The table for the showbread: Do we daily consider the ways that God provides for us? Do we count our blessings? If we started, we would not soon stop. God provides for us in so many ways, food being just a part of that. Do we express gratitude to God for health, families, comfort, His Word?
  • The lampstand: Even today, God’s Word is a light to our path through life. His commandments and wisdom give us the needed information to make the right choices in life to avoid foolish mistakes and to make sure we are on a path to spiritual success. Do we pay attention to the things that God’s Word sheds light on?
  • The altar of incense: Do we honor God each day when we rise and lay down with going to Him in prayer? Is our approach and attitude correct? Or do we get busy with ultimately less important pursuits? Going to God early and often in prayer is perhaps one of our most-overlooked advantages as His children.

Such is the absolute mastery of God’s living Word: even in an archaic-seeming chapter from the Old Testament, we find valuably practical lessons whose relevance to our daily lives is indisputable.

Exodus 36: Much More than Enough

In the first seven verses of this chapter, the pleasant scene of obedience and giving is extended over from the previous chapter. God’s people continue to give the materials needed for the construction of the tabernacle and its artifacts from their own possessions. Bezalel and Aholiab are the gifted artisans identified by name, and they as well as other artisans are called by Moses to do the work.

As they begin their work, an assessment is made that they have been given sufficient materials to complete the tabernacle and associated items. As it says in the latter part of verse six and verse seven, “And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done—indeed too much.”

In verses eight through thirty-eight, we have a detailed description of the work that is taking place. While reading through these verses, the details are familiar as these were things that God instructed Moses in previous chapters.

There are two valuable lessons in this chapter that are easy to miss. The first is the dedication of the artisans and the people to serve God with exactitude. If God is our supreme Creator (He is), and we recognize Him as such (we do), then ought not His Words be more important than any words we hear or read? How much more important then should His instruction to us be, that we make sure we follow His guidance and fulfill His commands? If God is our Master, it is our duty to be faithful and obedient and to do so with fullness of heart, just like the giving people and the hardworking artisans of this chapter. It follows also that obedience to God precedes but does not exclude obedience to our superiors. Our bosses, teachers, parents, anyone with a hierarchical command over us should be obeyed so that we can display a godly example of obedience.

“He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Proverbs 13:13

“Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:5-8

“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” I Peter 2:18-20

The second lesson is that the little things matter. Think of all of the little details of intricate gold and bronze work, colored thread, and carved wood that were necessary to complete the tabernacle. Moses and the artisans were committed to getting these details all exactly right. It makes one think of Jesus’ words from the book of Luke, and how if one is faithful in the very small things, it is a practice that is made consistent to the bigger things of life too. It is a simple concept that is easy to remember. So, let us pledge to be faithful and honorable and obedient in even the smallest matters, so that when we face trials of great magnitude, we will be prepared to make the tough decisions needed to stay on the right side of the Lord.

Luke 16:10: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”

Luke 19:17: “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’”

Exodus 35: Willing Spirits

In Exodus 34, Moses made new tablets and his shining face provided evidence to the Israelites that he was indeed speaking as an oracle of God. In chapter 35, Moses takes time to instruct the Israelites on the Sabbath and the materials needed to construct the Tabernacle.

Moses asked the people to bring what was needed from their own possessions: “Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the Lord: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.”

As we read from verses 5-9 above, it serves as a reminder of all of the description and instruction that God gave Moses on the mountain. Moses’ requests to the people continues on through verse 19 as he describes the different articles of the tabernacle to the artisans.

Moses’ instruction had an effect on the people “whose heart was stirred and everyone whose spirit was willing.” The effect was great and the people’s reaction was magnanimous and impressive. Both men and women came to give of their own possessions, of their time, and their individual talents.

Impressive still is the description of the artisans in verses 30-35. These men were filled with the spirit of God, the ability to teach, and to do all manner of skilled work. In this instance, there was a massive give-and-take between God and the people. God gave them instruction, they gave God the materials, then God gave them the talent to complete the work in an artistic fashion. Interwoven through stages of this process is the peoples’ stirred hearts and willing spirits. God provided for them in so many ways and any gap they had in understanding or satisfaction in the relationship was due to their own cold hearts and refusal to recognize God Almighty as the one true God. Over and over in the latter verses of this chapter, the phrasing suggests that all who had to give, gave, and that they gave very much.

In the dark shadow of the very recent worship of the golden calf, this peaceful and harmonious chapter is a comfort. In the center of the communication delivery is Moses. Without his righteous leadership, the people would have faltered even worse than they had previously. Moses recalled everything that God told him to relay and iterated and reiterated those pieces that the people and the artisans needed to hear to complete the work.