Beauty

Exodus 31 2-8 Bezalel and Oholiab making the Ark of the Covenant, from the ‘Nuremberg Bible (Biblia Sacra Germanaica)’

Who is the first person in the Bible said to be filled with the Spirit? One of the patriarchs, David the king, a prophet? No, it is a little remembered artist whose name, Bezalel, appears in Exodus 31 and again in Exodus 35-36. Along with Oholiab, who may be his assistant, Bezalel is the craftsman charged with carrying out the design of the Tabernacle given to Moses. In Exodus 35:30 we read that “The Lord has called by name Bezalel… he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge of in every kind of craft.” The full text for the sermon Sunday will be Exodus 35:30 – 36:7.

This week our congregation is reading together the second half of Exodus. While that section includes the dramatic incident of the golden calf, most of it is a rather monotonous and repetitive account of the giving of the design for the Tabernacle and then the actual implementation of that design. There are lists of materials and of various parts to be constructed as well as a long account of the construction in simple terms. For example, Exodus 36:31-33: “He made bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the tabernacle at the rear westward. He made the middle bar to pass through from end to end halfway up the frames.” One’s eyes glaze over reading much of such prose.

However, verse 34 goes on from the above, “And he overlaid the frames with gold, and made rings of gold for them to hold the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold.” Throughout the tedious description of the parts of the structure, we find the ornamentation also described, blue, crimson and purple needlework decorating the curtains, gold overlaying wood, golden cherubim and gold ornaments shaped like almond blossoms. The priests’ garments are decorated with precious stones and with golden bells and pomegranates fashioned from the same blue, crimson and purple yarns that decorate the curtains. This structure is designed, by God, to be beautiful to the eye.

So as dull as it might be, this is good reading for 21st century Protestant Christians who have been misled since the Reformation and especially in the last fifty to sixty years to imagine that it’s O.K. for our worship spaces to be bare, plain and even ugly, to offer nothing to the eye except, perhaps, some images on a screen.

Some commentators have seen a message in the Tabernacle’s wood and gold, golden almond blossoms and pomegranates, lamps giving light and basin filled with water. It’s a miniature of creation in which God’s presence comes to dwell, showing us that is what God means to do, to fill and dwell within the actual creation itself, to fill and live in our world, in us. Which of course is what He did in fact come to do in Jesus Christ and through the gift of the Holy Spirit who filled that ancient artist Bezalel.

So let’s not have our senses dulled to what we are reading. Let us see it with our hearts and minds and have our imaginations kindled toward making our own worship, the space, the music, the banners, the candles, all of it a bit of beautiful creation by which we remember that God wants to live here with us and among us and in us. Our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is beauty Himself. Let us celebrate His beauty in beautiful ways.

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