Some people approach serving God as if they are negotiating a work agreement. God says, “Serve me!” The perspective servant replies, “Alright. I get two days off a week. I don’t do windows. Any work I do will need to be under the creative license clause I have submitted for your perusal. All praise and glory of work accomplished is mine by copyright law. If you agree to these terms, I will gladly be your servant.” And of course, this perspective servant fully expects God to comply; to be happy to submit to his conditions. After all, if God wants a good servant, he’ll meet us halfway won’t he?
Again, there is nothing new in Exodus 37:1-29. This is about the construction of the Ark (called simply the “box”), the Table, the Lampstand, and the Altar of Incense. The instructions concerning the Ark, the Table, and the Lampstand are found in Exodus 25. The instructions concerning the Altar of Incense are found in Exodus 30. As with the Tabernacle the construction section omits some of the information found in the instruction section (about 29 verses worth – 25:15, 16, 21, 22, 30, 37, 40; 30:6-10, 22-38). Most of these omissions deal with placement of items and do not affect the actual construction. So, the omissions are all understandable in our passage. But once again we have the dilemma of facing a long passage that holds nothing new. What to talk about?
We could present a hodgepodge of lessons taken from each item. I mean you have the atonement lid (often translated “mercy seat”). In the holiest space there is this reminder of covering of sins. Once a year the high priest would enter and make atonement for the nation in front of the covering. The Holy God allowing for the covering of sins within the Holiest Space (often called the Holy of Holies). Praise Yahweh for this reminder of mercy and forgiveness. You also have the Table on which the bread of the Face is placed. The face represents presence. This is a symbol both of God’s presence and his providence. You also have the light giving Lampstand; the Menorah. It is Yahweh who gives light. You also have the Altar of Incense; a twice a day reminder that their specific service to God was a sweet aroma. Or, you know, something like that. We could also point out that all of these items are overlaid with pure gold or made out of pure gold. What stands near the Presence will need to be pure. And these items, although constructed of pure gold, also had to be sprinkled or rubbed with atoning blood. And the question becomes, “Can only the pure approach God or does the Presence of God purify?” And the answer is “Yes!”
All of these reminders are good, but maybe there is also another lesson here. God gave the people, through Moses and also Bezalel, very specific instructions concerning the construction of these items. As we are told nothing new, we are told that those instructions were followed. These skilled workers did not take creative license. They didn’t demand to be paid. They did not stamp their feet and weep and wail about how unfair it all was that they had to follow instructions. After all couldn’t God just tell these highly skilled artisans, “Make holy items to be places within the Holy Space and the Holiest Space” and then just let their creative instincts create? Why does God have to be so demanding? Why does he have to be so limiting? Maybe we should wonder what the result would have been if God didn’t give specific instructions. Would there have been some fighting? Knowing us humans, that seems likely. We do enough fighting when there are specific instructions. Would it have ended up less than functional, much less lacking a certain holiness? Well, that also seems likely. Artistic expression is often not driven by function. Would someone have convinced them that they didn’t, after all, need to use all that gold? Let those women keep their earrings and bracelets. And would have some of the men decided that they didn’t need skilled women working on this project? That sounds like men doesn’t it?
Jesus came to this earth and said, “Follow me.” Just like the instructions for these symbols originated from God, the call originates from Jesus. We don’t invite ourselves to be disciples. He call us. And when we say, “Hey, I’ll follow you after I bury my dead,” or “Just let me say goodbye first,” Jesus says, “You cannot dictate the terms to me, even when it is about the law and relationships.” The call is to follow Jesus, to put him first above all things. And when you put Jesus first you do not enter into negotiations with him. You follow. Pure and simple. You follow his instructions and you construct like he constructed. You love like he loved. Grace and peace, Walter