Gateway to the Classics: Moses and the Exodus by Rev. J. Paterson Smyth
Moses and the Exodus by  Rev. J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson XV

How They Built the Tabernacle

Read Exodus XXXV. 4 to XXXVI. 7.
See, too, Exodus XXV. 1-8.

§ 1. "God with Us"

W E saw in the last chapter how after Moses' great act of self-sacrifice he seemed to be lifted nearer to God. He enjoyed more of the sense of God's presence. He lived in closer communion with Him. The light of God's glory shone on his face. But this sense of God's presence with them must come to all the people in proportion as each should receive it. So their next "object-lesson" was to be taught. You remember the great object-lesson in Egypt—God's POWER, God's LOVE—and then the great object-lessons of Sinai. What? God's HOLINESS. And now they are to receive their next lesson. What? (See Exodus xxv. 8.) THAT GOD WOULD DWELL AMONG THEM.

If you were Moses and had to teach this to a stupid, unspiritual set of people, how do you think you would begin? A great image of God? No! you must not do that. That would be degrading to God. They had had enough of that experiment at Sinai. You must keep up the idea of God as a spirit—of God's holiness and God's majesty—and yet teach them that this great unseen Spirit, holy and majestic, was dwelling in their midst. Do you think Moses' plan of teaching it was a good one? What was it? That God should have His tent like their own. That it should stand in the midst of the encampment, that it should be taken up and set down in the journeyings just like any other—that they could come there to God and commune with Him and consult Him. And yet that though God was thus, as it were, almost as a comrade, sharing their fortunes, yet His tent must be approached only with solemnity and awe and washing and cleansing. And when one looked in there was no image nor likeness, but just a beautiful Divine supernatural light resting on the mercy seat between the wings of the cherubim. Do you think you could have discovered any better than Moses' way of teaching to stupid, ignorant slaves that the great All-holy Almighty God was dwelling in their midst? Who taught Moses this plan? God. When the world grew more fit for higher knowledge, God had another way of teaching this same lesson. How? See John i. 14, R.V., "The Word was made flesh, and TABERNACLED amongst us." That is the correct reading. God came into the midst of us as one of ourselves to be our Friend and Comrade and the sharer in our troubles.

So the Israelites were told to build a beautiful Tabernacle with a plain tent covering it just like their own.

I wonder what they had before this. In Exodus xxxiii. 7, etc., Moses was using some sort of tent for the purpose. Perhaps some rough temporary substitute—perhaps his own tent (so the Septuagint translators put it). But, at any rate, they were now to have a brand-new Tabernacle, as beautiful and stately and dignified as it was possible for a movable tent to be. And, according to the directions they got, they must have expended a great deal of wealth on it.

§ 2. The Tabernacle

A few weeks ago I saw a very interesting effort going on in a large city parish. They were about to build a handsome new church, and the parishioners were asked to bring their offerings of money, each as he could afford, to help to build the new House of God.

Soon there was a long list of names of men and women, and a big list of children who were working for the church. One crowded infant class in the Sunday-school had resolved by their own efforts and collections to provide the new baptismal font, and all were full of interest and excitement about the undertaking before them. In a year or two I hope this new church will be completed and the people will crowd joyfully in to the dedication service to offer their gift to God.

I thought of them as I read over this chapter of Exodus. It is so like Moses wanted the Israelites, or rather God wanted them, to build their new church. Was it exactly a church for the congregation to worship in? No. We saw in the last chapter (Note  1) that the name "Tabernacle of the Congregation" is a mistake. It should be what? "Tent of Meeting," i.e. of meeting with God; where God's presence should be especially manifested, and where Moses could come for the people to worship and hold communion with God and receive intimations of the Divine will.

So Moses called the whole congregation together, just as the rector did in the parish I spoke of. What did he ask for? (xxxv. 5). An offering to the Lord. From whom? Every one of a willing heart.  By whose directions did he ask it? God's. Don't you think that is exactly what should happen whenever a new church is wanted?

Of course he did not ask for money out there in the wilderness. He asked for two things. What? (1) Materials (vv.  5-9), (2) workmen (v.  10). Who were the two chief workmen who offered their skill? (v.  30). Tell me exactly the materials asked for in vv.  5, 6, 7. For this will help you to understand what they were going to make. (Teacher should, if possible, show a picture of the Tabernacle such as shown in some of the special Teachers' Bibles.)

There were three parts: (1) The TABERNACLE; (2) the large goats'-hair TENT to cover and contain it; (3) the COVERING of skins to protect the tent in severe weather.

(1) The TABERNACLE was, of course, the central, the important part. It was to contain the "Ark of the Covenant" with its two tables of stone, and was to be the place of the manifestation of the Divine Presence. It was for this Moses wanted the gold and silver and brass and onyx stones and all the beautiful cloth of blue and purple and scarlet and fine linen. Everything was to be as beautiful and dignified as could be in a movable tent.

(2) This, of course, must not stand exposed to the weather, so it was to have its TENT, large and plain and serviceable, over it. For this Moses wanted the goats'-hair cloth.

(3) Over the tent was its COVERING, the sealskin and the ramskins dyed red, laid along the roof for protection and doubtless for beauty.

For our present purpose it is not necessary to go further into detail.

§ 3. How the People Offered Willingly

What pleasant weeks passed as the people worked for their church and came out from the tents in the evening to admire each other's work and to see how much each had done, and what a pleasant sight it was that day when the people came back to Moses with their gifts!

With what interest and excitement the children would watch that crowd. The women with rolls of coloured stuffs, blue and scarlet and purple, and the shepherds with their pile of ramskins dyed red. Then the bundles of short planks of Shittim wood, and the vessels of gold and silver to be melted down. And the girls coming in with their earrings and anklets and bracelets—much better than making them into a golden calf as they did last time. And the children, I wonder what they brought—their toys and gold beads and ornaments, I suppose. All these were the people "of willing heart" in the encampment. I think they were very pleased and happy that day. Why? It always makes one happy to be giving generously to any one. It must have made those "of willing heart" especially happy to be giving to God, Who had done so much for them, and Whom their nation had been treating so badly before. And I think it must have been one of the few very happy days that they gave to Moses. One wishes that the camp of Israel was always as happily employed. Soon afterwards, alas! there was a very different story to tell.

Were they content with what they brought the first day? No. Day after day the materials came in. It seemed as if they would never stop. The enthusiasm for their Tabernacle was so eager; the pleasure of giving to God was so great. At last, one day, Bezaleel and Aholiab came to Moses to tell him. What? xxxvi. 5, "The people bring more than enough, restrain them." Was it not pleasant that they had to be stopped? Do you think God was pleased? Why? Did God need their gifts? No. They were all His own that He had given them. Could God have made 1000 tabernacles with a word, without anybody helping? But He gets so little love or gratitude from human beings, that He is greatly pleased when He does get it. I heard once of a little girl who on her father's birthday got up very early to surprise him with the first pansies out of her little garden. It was pleasant to look at that father's face, he was so pleased and touched at her doing it. Yet the whole garden was his, and all that was in it had been paid for by him, even in his little girl's corner. But all the same he was so glad and pleased that she had thought of it.

I think it is like that with God, when we do anything and give anything for His service. Like those children bringing their offerings for the church that I told you of, or those who give their money to missions, or put it by for a present to brother or sister, or still better for some poor child who cannot get one otherwise, and who can make them no return. Where does our Lord say that such things are reckoned by Him as done to Himself? Matthew xxv. 40, "Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, ye did it unto Me." When it is so easy to give pleasure to God, what a pity we do not all try oftener to do it! Many hundreds of years later St. Paul tells us the sort of people who do this? 2 Corinthians viii. 5: "First they gave their own selves to God." Ah! if you children would all do that. "My son, give Me thine heart." (Proverbs xxiii. 26). Teach here the duty of giving for Church support and for Missions.

§ 4. God's Inspiration

What did Moses say he wanted besides materials? Yes, workmen. And of those who offered themselves two stood forth more important than all the rest. Who? Bezaleel and Aholiab. I daresay they were both famous artificers, each in his own line, and I daresay Moses was very glad that such splendid workers should offer themselves.

So he put them one at the head of the metal workers and engravers, the other at the head of the embroiderers and weavers. So I think of them in these days after the offerings came in, Bezaleel with his dark, swarthy workmen at the benches and the forge; Aholiab with his pale, sedentary weavers in their tents weaving at the handloom, and working on the linen their beautiful designs, and as I think of them I cannot get away from the words that God said about them. It seems to me such a lifting up and ennobling of all good work of any kind. What words? (vv.  31-35). Just think of it. God says, I have inspired men, filled them with My Spirit that they may be—What? Good preachers, or good authors of Scripture, or good workers of miracles? No. Good goldsmiths and clever brass workers and engravers, and cunning of hand to make beautiful embroideries, and to teach others to do it. Oh, I like that! that the Spirit of God and the interest of God is in ordinary artisans' work; that it is by His Spirit they succeed. So many people seem to think God's inspiration only belongs to the authors of Scripture, or perhaps in some minor degree to preachers of great sermons. In fact that God is not much interested in the great excellence of what is called "secular work." I read somewhere of an artist devoted to his art who turned away from religion because he was taught that, no matter how exquisitely he worked, it was not of interest to God, it was only "secular work." Is that true? Was it true of Bezaleel and Aholiab? Do you think God cared only because it was for His Tabernacle? Surely not. I think these men when they heard these words would love God so much more and rejoice in their beautiful work, and thank God for their exquisite skill, and with glad heart dedicate it all to Him in the future.

Will you try to think of it? When a fine poem or a beautiful picture moves you, or a story of adventure delights you and makes you long to be brave and faithful, that this is all through God's Spirit given to the authors of these. When you see beautiful carving or metal work or embroidery say, "It is God's gift." When you go to your own work in life by-and-by to trade or profession or business life, say, "There is nothing secular in God's sight. All true, faithful work is religious. All cleverness and deftness of hand comes from His Spirit given to me. Therefore I will think of my work as God's work. Therefore it is not merely at my prayers or my Bible-reading, or in church, but also at my ordinary work that I shall be at Divine Service."

Questions for Lesson XV

Show if possible a picture of the tabernacle.

What did they build the tabernacle for?

How would it keep God in their thoughts?

Tell of their eagerness in bringing materials. Show that they even brought too much.

What lesson is here for us?

Does God's Holy Spirit teach anything except religious truth?

Show here that He helps even artisans at their work.

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