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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 36

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-38


Exodus 36:1. According to all that the Lord had commanded]. “Bezaleel and Aholiab and every wise-hearted man” (Exodus 36:2) were not permitted to indulge in using their artistic skill in working things of an arbitrary kind, but were restricted to work only such things as they were commanded. The nature of these instructions which restricted the sphere in which they might employ their skill, but yet within an assigned sphere, allowed them the amplest scope for the exercise of their skill, served both æsthetical and moral ends. Probably the severe lesson which the Israelites learned in consequence of the making of the golden calf fitted them for the right appreciation of the restrictive commandment in regard to the works of the tabernacle, as may be seen from the entire absence of any spirit of self-assertion; they brought their gifts cheerfully and liberally, and ceased to do so as they were commanded. Showing how thoroughly cured they were, for a long time at any rate, of ritualistic fancies and innovations.


I. The skill of the workmen. “Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab and every wise-hearted man.” It is obvious that though Bezaleel was, as has been said, the master of the works, and Aholiab his principal assistant, there was associated with them, but acting under them, a large company of skilled workmen, master craftsmen, as they might be called, who directed the labours of other artizans beneath them. The expression “every wise-hearted man” applies, in all probability, to all but the last. Notice—

(1.) How far their skill extended. They know, it is stated, “how to work all manner of work;” by which it is not necessary to understand that every one of them was a sort of “Jack-of-all-trades,” but only that among them were individuals qualified to perform every variety of work that was needed for the Tabernacle—spinners, weavers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, workers in wood and brass, &c., &c. And so within the Church of God to-day is every kind of talent that is needful for the erection of the better Tabernacle of which that simple structure was but a type—persons qualified to do the noblest services, as well as persons exactly fitted for the meanest, skilled expounders of the Word, and gifted champions of the faith, as well as humble preachers of the Gospel, and earnest teachers of the young. Yet it would seem as if Bezaleel and Aholiab were specially endowed. Aholiab, we learn, was “an engraver and a cunning workman, and an embroiderer,” and Bezaleel was qualified “to think out inventions;” while it would seem as if they both possessed such a knowledge of all the different arts as to enable them to teach the artizans in any department whatsoever. And so in the Church, while the rule is to find the gifts distributed among many,—the Holy Ghost dividing to every man severally as he will,—occasionally there are discovered those who possess a whole cornucopia of endowments, a sort of spiritual Admirable Crichtons.

(2.) Whence their skill proceeded. Distinctly stated in the narrative to have been supernatural in its origin: “Every wise-hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding.” In a sense this is true of all men, whatsoever be the amount of wisdom and understanding they possess. The mind with all its faculties is God’s gift; and the best talents are dependent on the divine blessing for success in acquiring knowledge (cf. Psalms 127:0). But obviously the historian refers to a communication of wisdom which was special and extraordinary. Yet not of such a character as to preclude, but rather to presuppose, the possession of superior natural endowments, and diligent application of the same. As already hinted, the All-Wise Artificer works no superfluous miracles, and certainly never dispenses with His ordinary rules in conducting men to wisdom, unless in cases where these customary methods are altogether inapplicable, as, e.g., in revealing His will to prophets. “Poeta nascitur, non fit,” is a maxim which holds true in large measure of all gifted men. Bezaleel, Aholiab, and their co-workers, were doubtless naturally gifted men. But in this case their abilities were supernaturally assisted by divine influence. Hence God spoke of them as gifts which He had given for the work of the Tabernacle. It should teach us to recognise not only that all our mental endowments are the gift of God, but that special proficiency in any particular profession, trade, art, is equally due to Him, while it also reminds us that whatever talent we may possess, as Christians for helping on His Church, has been originally bestowed by Him, and by Him has been rendered successful, and that if at any time God is pleased to raise up within the Church any eminent sons of wisdom,—men who know what Israel ought to do, and competent to direct their fellows,—we should cheerfully recognise such as His gift.

(3.) To what their skill was directed: “The service of the sanctuary.” The great talents of these artificers were not applied to any selfish purposes. As if vividly recognising whence their “gifts” had proceeded, they joyfully returned them in willing consecration to their Heavenly Donor—in this supplying a lesson for us all, both as men and as Christians. Nothing more lamentable can be witnessed than the consecration of great powers of mind or body to the ignoble object of self-aggrandisement, the making of money, the acquiring of fame, the sipping of pleasure. Even in the commonest of callings a loftier purpose is attainable. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do,” whether ye sweep a crossing or cobble a boot, or build a ship, or command an army, or rule a senate, “do all to the glory of God.” It is beautiful to see life pervaded by this sublime idea. More especially is it beautiful to see Christians upon whom God has conferred special qualifications for the service of the sanctuary, whether of mind or of body, devoting them to His service. Besides being beautiful it is right. He surely has the first claim upon those talents which He Himself has bestowed.

II. The liberality of the people.

1. The liberality of the people was for a sacred object: “for the work of the service of the sanctuary;” i.e., for the erection of the Tabernacle, or the building of the Church. In other words, it was designed for the maintenance of religious ordinances in their midst. With this they were charged by Divine commandment (Exodus 35:4). So have Christians been charged with the duty of maintaining and extending the New Testament Church by means of their liberality (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:7,&c). Hence, whatever be the opinions of God’s people about the legality or expediency of State endowments, this much is clear, that they are not exempted from the obligation of contributing as God hath prospered them for the support and diffusion of the Gospel. This commandment, which was given to the people through Moses, was not that Israel as a State should endow the Church, but that Israel as a Church should support herself.

2. The liberality of the people was voluntary in its character: the “offerings” were “free.” Though by a Divine commandment they were charged with the duty of building the Tabernacle, the people were not compelled to give for that object by means of pains and penalties. “Whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring an offering unto the Lord” (Exodus 35:5). Cf. Exodus 36:21-22. “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom His Spirit made willing.” Nothing can more clearly indicate that this was not a State-tax, or a compulsory Church-rate, but a veritable free-will offering, a voluntary contribution. Of this character were all the offerings of the Hebrew Church: not only those which were free-will in the sense of being prompted by the offerer, but those which were prescribed by divine statute. See Leviticus 1:3; Leviticus 19:5; Leviticus 22:19-29. The sword of the magistrate was not employed to enforce payment of any offerings in the Hebrew Church. By divine appointment the Hebrew Church was a voluntary Church; and so is the Church of the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8:12; 2 Corinthians 9:7). This being the case, are not State endowments both unnecessary and wrong?

3. The liberality of the people was abundant in its measure. One of the chief objections urged against Voluntaryism is its insufficiency. Were the Church to be left solely to the free-will offerings of God’s people, the Gospel ministry would starve, and Church Extension would be at an end. It was not so with the Hebrew Church. “The people” brought “much more than enough for the service of the work,” and required to be restrained. And if, in the New Testament Church, the same superabundant liberality has not been manifested, it is not because it has not been required—Matthew 28:19-20, will consume all the free-will offerings that Christ’s people can bring; nor because it has not been commanded (2 Corinthians 9:6). May it not be because the New Testament Church has too often sought to lean on State support? All experience proves that State support and voluntary offerings are antagonistic, and tend to mutually destroy one another. State support represses Christian liberality. Christian liberality, when allowed free scope, will not long be satisfied to lean upon the crutch of State support.

4. The liberality of the people was widely diffused in its extent. Possibly it was universal, although that is not exactly affirmed. The probability is, there were those who offered nothing, whose hearts did not make them willing. At the same time, the impression is that the people generally contributed. So in the Christian Church liberality should be generally diffused, should in fact be universal. Were it always of the character of that displayed by these Hebrews, as general, as liberal, as cheerful, it would never be objected to as insufficient.

III. The disinterested conduct of Moses.

The workmen having reported that the people had brought more than enough for the service of the work, Moses caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp that no more offerings were to be received. So the people were restrained from bringing, Exodus 36:6. Had Moses or the workmen ever been inclined to enrich themselves, they had ample opportunity. “But they were men of integrity, that scorned to do so mean a thing as to sponge upon the people, and enrich themselves with what was offered unto the Lord. Those are the greatest cheats that cheat the public. If to murder many is worse than to murder one, by the same rule to defraud communities, and to rob the Church or State, is a much greater crime than to pick the pocket of a single person. But these workmen were not only ready to account for all they received, but were not willing to receive more than they had occasion for, lest they should come either into the temptation or under the suspicion of taking it to themselves. These were men that knew when they had enough.”—Henry. “Had Moses been intent upon gain, and had he not been perfectly disinterested, he would have encouraged them to continue their contributions, as thereby he might have multiplied unto himself gold, silver, and precious stones. But he was doing the Lord’s work, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, and therefore he sought no secular gain.”—A. Clarke. In this Moses served as a pattern to all public men, to ministers of State, to magistrates and rulers, but especially to Christian ministers, not to use their offices for self-enrichment. The minister who can say like Paul, “I seek not yours, but you,” wields a mighty power for good over the members of his flock in comparison with him who seeks into the priest’s office, like Micah’s Levite, for a piece of bread, and preaches the Gospel “for filthy lucre’s sake.”


“And every wise-hearted man among them that wrought the work of the Tabernacle made ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue and purple and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work made he them,” &c., Exodus 36:8-38.

“The dwelling (המּשׁכָּן) was an oblong of thirty yards in length, and ten yards in breadth and height, built on the southern, northern, and western sides of upright planks of acacia-wood, overlaid with gold. Over the whole, there were placed four coverings. The inner one, consisting of costly woven materials (byssus woven in different colours, with figures of cherubim upon it), was so arranged as to form the drapery of the interior of the dwelling, whilst the other three were placed outside. In front of the building, towards the east, there were five gilded pillars of acacia-wood; and on these a curtain was suspended, which closed the entrance to the dwelling, and bore the name of מָסָךְ.” “The interior of the dwelling was divided into two parts by a second curtain, sustained by four pillars, and made of the same costly fabric and texture as the innermost covering. Of these two parts, the further (or westerly) was called the Most Holy קֹדֶשׁ קָֹֽדשׁים, and was a perfect cube of ten cubits in length and breadth and height; so that the other part, or the Holy, הַקּדֶשׁ, was of the same height and breadth, but twice as long. This inner curtain was called Parocheth פּלכֶת.” Kurtz—“Sacrificial Worship.”

In the present section these various parts are again described:—A. The coverings:

(1.) The inner covering, consisting of ten curtains, of blue and purple and scarlet, ornamented with cherubim, and joined together, curtain to curtain, by means of fifty loops and fifty golden taches, Exodus 36:8-13.

(2.) The second covering, of eleven curtains of goats’ hair, “for the tent over the Tabernacle, Exodus 36:14-18.

(3.) The third covering, of rams’ skins dyed red, Exodus 36:19.

(4.) The fourth covering, of badgers’ skins, Exodus 36:19. B. The framework, Exodus 36:20-34. C. The veils:

(1.) The inner vail, Exodus 36:35-36.

(2.) The outer vail, Exodus 36:37-38. See Exodus 26:1, In which all these articles are described.

That the Tabernacle was symbolic of the better things of the Christian dispensation, as well as of the spiritual condition of the covenanted nation, we have the authority of the writer of the Hebrews for asserting. For the explanation of its symbolic import, see Exodus 40:17-33. To suppose that every pin, and bolt, and pillar, and curtain, had a special spiritual significance, is only the imbecility of exegesis. “The Irvingites, e.g., believe that their ecclesiastical council “was shown at the time of its formation, by the word of prophecy, to have been shadowed in the construction of the Mosaic Tabernacle. The forty-eight boards of that structure, it was said, typified the six elders from each of the seven churches in London, together with six of the apostles; the five bars, which upheld all the boards, represented a ministry committed to other five of the apostles, whose duty it is to instruct the council in the principles upon which counsel is to be given: the two tenons, with their sockets of silver for each board, had reference to the deaconal ministry, through which the eldership is rooted in the love of the people. Two elders, appointed to act as scribes of the council, have their shadow in the two corner boards of the Tabernacle. The heads of the fourfold ministry—apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor—correspond to the four pillars between the Most Holy and the Holy Place: five evangelists to the five pillars at the entrance: the seven angels of the Churches to the lights of the candlestick; and sixty evangelists are the antitypes of the sixty pillars of the court, four of whom form the outer door of entrance. This council is declared to be the model according to which God’s purpose is to be effected in every land.”—Eadie’s “Ecclesiastical Cyclopædia,” art. “Irvingites.”

Scarcely less fanciful is the explanation which Josephus, following Philo, gives: “When Moses distinguished the Tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. And when he ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts, he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number. The vails, too, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements; for the fine linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that colour is dyed by the blood of a sea shell-fish; the blue is fit to signify the air, and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire. Now, the vestment of the high priest, being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder.” For continuation, see “Josephus,” Ant Exodus 3:7; Exodus 3:9.

Though not symbolic in the senses described, the structure of the Tabernacle may be suggestive of true and profitable thoughts; as, e.g.—I The character and condition of the Church of God on earth:

1. Its mean and insignificant appearance, like a tent.

2. The excellence and variety of its materials, “gold and silver and precious stones, &c. (1 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:4).

3. The unity and compactness of its parts, suggested by the joined curtains and fastened framework, “in whom all the building fitly framed together,” &c. (Ephesians 2:21).

4. The protection and security of the whole, pictured in the threefold covering (Isaiah 32:2; Zechariah 12:8), &c.

II. The fidelity and diligence of Christian Ministers, who, like Bezaleel and his fellow-craftsman, should be—

(1.) Obedient to the Divine orders, “the wise-hearted men,” who wrought the raw material, were honoured to be fellow-workers with God, but not fellow-designers. They were not invited to plan the Tabernacle either in whole or in part, but only to construct what God had previously designed and commanded: which is precisely what the Christian minister, as a wise master builder, has to do, not originate a church according to his own conceptions, but fashion all things, the doctrines and ordinances of the Church, according to the pattern supplied to him by Christ.

(2.) Diligent and minute in their execution, doing everything with good will as to the Lord and not to men, counting no trouble too great if so be they can fulfil their ministry in connection with Christ’s temple, and being equally solicitous about all their duties to have them well done, not bestowing more care upon the larger offices and less upon the smaller, but transacting everything with due attention to the approbation of the Master.



Symbolism! Exodus 36:1-38. Atwater notices that symbolic language was in common use at the time of Moses. True, the art of alphabetic writing was used to some extent at this period; but it is equally certain that symbolic writing must have been more common. May it not, therefore, have been the more effective medium of communication of moral and religious truth! Egypt furnishes an emphatic affirmative. Much use was made by them, not only of symbolic writing, but of what may properly be styled symbolic institutions. The construction of their temples—the rites performed in them—the garments worn by the priests, were all designed to represent, in a visible form, the doctrines of their religion. It is, consequently, a natural supposition that Israel would require a form of language by which they might be most readily and effectively taught the Divine mysteries. Possibly they understood symbolic language quite as well as the Greek understood writing, &c.

“The ancient Hebrew clad with mysteries;
The learned Greek rich in fit epithets,
Blessed in the lovely marriage of pure words.”


Human Help! Exodus 36:1, &c.

(1.) Human agency! As God sent down the manna from heaven, so could He have planted the tabernacle upon the sands of the desert in all its unique completeness of design and ornament. But He wisely employed human agency in its design and construction. The glorious temple of His Church could be executed and established by Himself without any of the instrumentality of man. Yet God wisely enlists human agency.

(2.) Human activity! As God brought forth water from the flinty rock; so could He have furnished Moses with the materials for the construction of the tabernacle. But He graciously counselled the offering of the necessary articles by man. He called forth the activity of the human hand and heart. The wonderful structure that attracts angelic observation, as it rises daily more complete, is associated with human activity. The gifts and graces of the human mind and heart are employed by God to achieve its adornment.

(3.) Human adoration! As God was alone adored when the structure was perfect, so to Him alone will adoration be ascribed through the eternal ages. We are told that the topstone shall be brought forth with shouts of “Grace, grace unto it.” No man could claim praise for the tabernacle glories, still less can he do so in connection with the “beauties of the Church-Temple.” “Not unto us, Lord, not unto us; but unto Thy name be the praise.”

“Thy works all praise Thee; all Thy angels praise;
Thy saints adore, and on Thy altars burn
The fragrant incense of perpetual love.”


Genius-Inspiration! Exodus 36:2. It is recorded of Smith, the great Assyrian explorer, that he felt endowed with a certain natural predestination to be an Orientalist, especially in the connection of Oriental discovery with the Bible. In what various ways does that wonderful old book stimulate the human mind! Thus, inspired from childhood, Smith was always directing his attention towards it. As he grew up, this interest increased in intensity and attraction. He made a series of discoveries in deciphering the tablets deposited in the British Museum. In 1872, he accomplished his most brilliant feat—the finding and translating the tablets containing the Assyrian account of the deluge. His labours and researches, thus directed from childhood, have resulted in our being able to corroborate from profane memorials and ruins the early statements of Genesis and Exodus. He has not merely achieved the resurrection of primitive history, but out of those resurrected materials he has constructed a tabernacle of testimony to the verity of the Christian Faith. For the Christian Faith,

“Unlike the timorous creeds of Pagan priest,
Is frank, stands forth to view, inviting all
To prove, examine, search, investigate.”

Fame-Immortality! Exodus 36:2, &c. In his recent explorations near Troy, the great German explorer has found many curiously wrought, richly enchased jewels of gold and silver, &c. In the temple ruins of Pompeii, as well as of Corinth and Antioch, beautiful specimens of architecture, sculpture, and art decoration have been discovered. But nothing is known of the makers. Their works remain, more or less tarnished or disfigured, but their names are a blank. Magnificent temple ruins, surrounded by most exquisitely carved and sculptured elephant statues, may be seen by the traveller in Cinghalese woods and wilds; but who worshipped within those idol-fanes, or who exerted art and genius in their design and erection? Echo answers, “Who?” Humble as was the “tent-house” of God, its designers and builders are known to fame. The names of Bezaleel and Aholiab are phonoscopes—telling the sons of men down the ages that it is service for God which immortalises; that the fame of loving, holy service for Jehovah is handed down in the imperishable amber of the Divine purpose, and that as the drops of Juno’s milk abide in the Milky Way above, so throughout eternity they who serve God shall shine as the stars of heaven.

“Oh, who shall lightly say that fame
Is nothing but an empty name!
When memory of the mighty dead
To earthworm Christian’s wistful eye
The brightest rays of cheering shed,
That point to IMMORTALITY.”


Tabernacle-Costs, &c.! Exodus 36:5-6. Its cost was defrayed chiefly by the voluntary contributions of the people, and probably amounted to £250,000. This was, says Kitto, from a poor people, and yet the liberality of the people was such that their gifts were more than sufficient for the purpose. The value of the precious metals alone, which were used in the construction, must have been immense. Dilworth, in his description of the tabernacle, notes that the worth was upwards of £200,000 of our money. Cobbin says we may hope that the time is coming when there shall be more than enough for the evangelisation of the world unto Christ. At present, Home and Foreign Missionary Societies in England and America are continually crying. “Give more, give more, or we must give up various mission stations and missionaries.” At home and abroad, churches stand unfinished, their spireless forms a loud-voiced reproach to Christendom, that with all her light and liberty, with all her blessings and benedictions, she comes very far short of realising the Mosaic record, “The people were restrained from bringing.” For men still

“Lavish their wealth on bloodshed, but begrudge
A tithe for Gospel progress, and the means
Of Christian industry, and the behoof
Of fellow creature’s growth in grace.”

Nature-Teachings! Exodus 36:8-13.

(1.) Nature, that great missionary of the Most High, preaches to us for ever in all tones of love, and writes truth in all colours, on manuscripts illuminated with stars and flowers. And yet the nineteenth century, with all its excessive nature-worship, fails to hear those tones, or learn those truths. Landscapes form favourite subjects in our galleries of art; yet how few of the artists, or their admirers, have listened to their preaching. The pages of our poets radiate with exuberant imagery from nature, like the rainbow hues that flicker on the neck of a dove; yet neither the poets, nor their students, read the lessons.

(2.) The Tabernacle, as richly and beautifully adorned,—and after nature’s model,—has also its tones and truths. Yet how few hear, or hearing understand. What an elegant writer has put into nature’s lips may well be conceived to come from the tabernacle and its surroundings, “Oh, it is the saddest of all things that even one human soul should dimly perceive the beauty that is ever around us, a perpetual benediction.” It is the beauty of “Christ and Christianity vailed.”

“Mysterious these—because too large for eye
Of man, too long for human arm to mete.”

Beautiful and Good! Exodus 36:14-38.

(1.) When God made a house for man to dwell in, He blended the beautiful and good, illuminating it with the lamps of heaven, threading it with silver streams, embroidering it with rainbow tinted flowers, perfuming it with incense from ten thousand painted chalices, and appointing a band of feathered choristers in every grove.

(2.) When God gave man commission to build a house for Him to dwell in, He modelled the plan upon His own principle of combining the beautiful and good. True, it was but of limited extent, but it had the concentration of loveliness and excellence. The choicest productions, as well as the loveliest hues and most graceful forms in nature, were enlisted to achieve the construction of God’s beautiful house.

(3.) When God makes a building of God—a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens—for Himself and redeemed humanity to dwell in, it will likewise combine the beautiful and good. It, too, will have its everlasting light, its ever-living stream, its never-fading flowers, its ever-fragrant incense, and its ever-abiding priesthood. Hence it is called the heavenly sanctuary, to point it out as a place of holy worship (Revelation 7:15-17).

“His people were a royalty of priests,
And offered in His temple ceaseless prayer,
And incense of uninterrupted praise.”

Method-Order! Exodus 36:16-18, &c.

(1.) Gray remarks, that by the distribution of gold, silver, brass, &c., and by the clearly defined numberings and loopings, we are reminded of the fitness of things and the Divine order—right things in right places. We see this Divine method and order in nature, acknowledged and admired by the most bigoted of materialistic thinkers. Linnæus said that the more he explored the tabernacle of nature, and the deeper he penetrated behind its vail, the more he saw of order—the more, 100, he admired the wisdom of the Creator.
(2.) The same method and order apparent and appointed in nature and the tabernacle are expected by God in the Christian Church, and in the tabernacle of a Christian’s life-purpose. There are individual communities of Christians, and there are individual Christians, who place gold and silver and brass, taches and curtains and skins, numberings and looping in discreditable confusion. They talk of the “Divine Profusion” as though it was “Divine Confusion.” God would have method-order in grace, as in nature—under the Gospel, as under the law. For

“Order is Heaven’s first law—a glorious law,
Seen in those pure and beauteous isles of light;

Nor less on earth discerned,

’Mid rocks snow-clad, or wastes of herbless sand
Throughout all climes, beneath all varying skies,
Fixing in place the smallest flower that blooms.”


Badgers! Exodus 36:19. Kirby says, that Ruppel, an African traveller, held that the animal here was in reality the dugong. These now nearly extinct dugongs of the Indian Seas form the connecting link between the real whale and the walrus. When they raise themselves with the front part of their body out of the water, a lively fancy might easily be led to imagine that a human shape was surging from the deep. Hence they have been named sea-sirens and mermaids, and have given rise to many extravagant fictions. Like the whale; the dugong has no hind feet, but a powerful horizontal tail. The anterior extremities are, however, less finlike and more flexibly jointed, so that they can lean on them while cropping the seaweeds on the shallow shores. It is the only animal yet known that grazes at the bottom of the sea, usually in shallow inlets. It feeds upon the seaweeds much in the same manner as a cow does upon the herbage.

“Part single or with mate

Graze the seaweed their pasture, and through groves
Of coral stray, or sporting with quick glance,
Then to the sun their wav’d coats dropt with gold.”

Labour-Benefits! Exodus 36:20.

(1.) Carlyle says that work is of a religious nature—work is of a brave nature, which it is the aim of all religion to be. All work of man is as the swimmer’s. A waste ocean threatens to devour him; if he front it not bravely, it will keep its word. By incessant wise defiance of it, lusty rebuke and buffet of it, behold how it legally supports him—bears him as its conqueror along. Goethe says that it is so with all things man undertakes in this world. And it is so with labour.
(2.) When Satan came to Adam and Eve in Paradise, it was to contradict this—to lure them into the belief that labour dishonoured and debased; and that true honour and happiness consisted in reclining at ease amid the bowers of Eden, and enjoying all things by a mere wish. They gave up dressing and tending the garden, only to learn that Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do—only to learn, too late, that work in itself is the essential condition of man’s growth and happiness.
(3.) God might have given Israel the boards all ready sawn and planed and carved; but He did not. Why? for He never acts without a purpose—without a design worthy of Himself. When resting under Sinai, Israel fell into golden-calf revelry; therefore, they are now kept busily occupied. As has been fitly said, labour-toil is meant to be for a being who cannot stand alone in his helplessness, the trellis along which he is to be trained and disciplined to bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness.

“Labour is rest—from the sorrows that greet us;
Rest from all petty vexations that meet us;
Rest from sin promptings that ever entreat us;
Rest from world-sirens that lure us to ill.”


Work-Design! Exodus 36:23.

(1.) It was an act of policy with some of the Roman consuls to keep the people constantly at war, that they might be diverted from hatching mischief and seditions at home. The dangerous humours in the body politic were supposed to find their outlets in the strife with foreign nations in which the people were engaged. Whatever the wisdom of this form of doing evil to others that good may continue with one’s self, it shows that even the heathen mind understands that idleness and mischief are closely related.
(2.) Conscious of this disposedness to evil on the part of man after his fall, God enjoined upon His progeny the pre-occupation of labour. So Israel were kept employed in the wilderness. Daily work, then, is not an aimless and capricious thing. It has a wise plan—a noble purpose; if only to deter us from the commission of crime. That is labour in its “toil-aspect.” But labour or work in itself is no “deliverance from sin and strife,” for work existed before the fall. There was work in Eden, and there shall be work in heaven; for the paradise of saints,

“Like Eden with its toiless husbandry,
Has many plants to tend, and flowers to twine,
And fruit-trees in the garden of the soul,
That ask the culture of celestial skill.”


Mutual Usefulness! Exodus 36:25-30.

(1.) The carpenter and goldsmith are not ordinarily ranked as of the same standing and position; yet is not the carpenter as necessary as the goldsmith, if not more so? Were all carpenters goldsmiths, where would be our houses, our stately bridges, our exquisite art carvings? Both have their place in the economy of the tabernacle-structure. Both are mutually useful, the one giving prominence to the useful, the other giving prominence to the beautiful. The carpenter prepared the pillars, but he required the co-operation of the silversmith, so that sockets might be made for his pillars. On the other hand, the goldsmith might beat out his gold, burnish and cunningly enchase it, but he could not say to the carpenter, “I have no need of thee.”
(2.) In the New Testament St. Paul illustrates this “mutual usefulness ideal” in the Christian Church, by the analogy of the members of the human body. And so the curtains cannot say to the bars, nor the pillars to the sockets, nor the carpenters to the goldsmiths, “We have no need of you.” Vessels of wood and brass, and silver and gold, are alike essential and useful in the Christian Church. The efforts of none, however humble, should be despised. Common material, if honouring God, should be as much thought of and esteemed as rare gems and precious metals; they are so by God, who is no respecter of persons. Then let us act

“For each new dawn, like a prolific tree,
Blossoms with blessings and with duties, which
So interwoven grow, that he who shirks
The latter, fails the first to win.”

Union-Strength! Exodus 36:31-34.

(1.) The coupling bars, says Gray, by which the boards of the tabernacle were held together, may well’ remind us of some of the advantages of union. By it, weak things become strong, plain things beautiful, useless things of the highest service, and detached things a compact whole. As De Sénancœur says, union does everything when it is perfect. It satisfies desires, simplifies needs, foresees the wishes of the imagination. It is an aisle always open, and becomes a constant fortune.

(2.) Union among the barons of England established the Magna Charta liberties. Union amongst the tribes and nations of England and Scotland made them a compact nationality, and mistress of the world’s many seas. Union amongst the Vaudois of the valleys, secured them strength to resist the utmost satanic combinations of Rome. Union amongst the Canadians is enabling them to build up the mightiest kingdom of the future.
(3.) When has the Church achieved her greatest triumphs over ancient and modern idolatry, except when she was united? Why is Christendom so far behind in the missionary conquest of the world? Because the churches are not united. Because bars and boards, loops and links, pillars and sockets, curtains and taches, are not bound together in the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace. When the different portions and branches of the Church of Christ are thus united in the latter days, then the universe will read in the result, “Union is Strength.”

“The Christ again has preached through thee
The Gospel of humanity!
Then lift once more thy towers on high,
And fret with spires the western sky,
To tell that God is still with us,
And Love is still miraculous.”


Mosaic-Mystery! Exodus 36:35-38.

(1.) There is a celebrated picture of Raphael, in which the Virgin and her child are represented as surrounded by a halo, which appears at a distance to be nothing else than vapour. This, when seen near at hand, is found to be made up, of innumerable cherub faces—borne close to the tabernacle vail, and what at the distance appears to be vapour, resolves itself into cherubic forms, behind which is the Omnipresent. So with the doctrines of the New Testament.

(2.) The beast of the field sees the sunset, but he does not understand it. He gazes upon its glory and beauty, but finds that sunset a sealed book. The brute mind gazes upon the setting sun of Mosaism, but discovers nothing that can be understood. But let the brute mind become a new creature in Christ Jesus, and things are different. Mosaism has then its beauty, its sublimity, its moral law. The spiritually enlightened man reads truth in its sunset.

(3.) The poet has branded the atheist as an owl coming forth to the sunlight, shutting its eyes, and hooting, “I see it not.” Our shutting our eyes does not extinguish the Shekinah behind the cherubic vail. The Omnipresent is there, for all our blinking and blinding. In that innermost Holiest Christianity finds a personal Omnipresence, lifting up the light of His countenance upon His devout and devoted worshippers.

“No more the rising sun shall gild the morn,
Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
But lost, dissolved in His superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze,
The Light Himself shall shine
Revealed, and God’s eternal smile be thine,”


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 36". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-36.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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