Exodus 31: Lessons for Being a Co-Builder of God’s Church

Introduction. Exodus Chapter 31 is a short chapter that is often passed over when people search for the deeper meanings in God’s Tabernacle. Here, God identifies two of the primary builders of the Tabernacle, He repeats the materials needed for the Tabernacle and He reminds Moses not to violate the Sabbath while building it. Although these messages are simple and straightforward, there are also deeper hidden truths in this chapter about your role as a co-builder of God’s Church: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor. 6:1). Here, God reveals seven truths for serving as a co-builder of His Church.

First, through the examples of Bezalel and Oholiab, God has called you to use your God-given talents for Him. Second, also through the examples of Bezalel and Oholiab, He has called you by name for His good works. Third, again through the examples of Bezalel and Oholiab, He calls you to service no matter what your background may be. Neither person is mentioned previously in the Bible. While Bezalel came from a well-known family, Oholiab came from a tribe with a checkered background. Fourth, through the list of items required for the Tabernacle, God reveals that Christ provides everything needed to build the Church. He needs only your labor given with the right motivation. Fifth, God reminds you to be obedient as you serve Him. Christ warns that any plant that He did not plant will be uprooted. Sixth, through His repetition of the Sabbath laws, God reminds us that observing a Sabbath is an important part of serving God. Following Christ’ death the Sabbath became voluntary. Yet, a properly observed Sabbath that includes worship, prayer, reading the Word, and rest will allow God to build you up, restore you, and guide you as you serve Him. Finally, God wants His Law written on your heart as you serve Him. This will allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek to serve Him. The Spirit will also remind you of God’s Word and convict you of your sins when you stray from His path.

1. God has Called You to Use Your God-Given Talents for the Him. Ex. 31:1-6.

  • God’s selection of Bezalel and Oholiab. After giving the instructions for the Tabernacle, God selected two people to serve as the chief builders of the Tabernacle, Bezalel from tribe of Judah and Oholiab from the tribe of Dan: “1 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: ” (Ex. 31:1-6). The two men were given gifts of the Spirit to do God’s work. Although not stated in the Bible, Bezalel was, according to Jewish tradition, only thirteen years of age when he accomplished his great work of building the Tabernacle (Sanhedrin 69b). God has lessons for you from their example.

Bezalel and Oholiab: Image credit1

  • Use your gifts for God’s service. Like Bezalel and Oholiab, God has given you gifts for you to use as a co-builder of His Church: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Pet. 4:10). “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Ro. 12:6-8). “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Eph. 4:11-12). “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. . . . .4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:1-7). Every person’s gift is needed in the body of Christ because no one person has them all (1 Cor. 12:13-27). Moses could not have built the Tabernacle on his own. He needed the help of others. There is also no gift labeled “spectator” within the Church. “God’s empowering isn't to be used for our own selfish ends.” (David Guzik on Ex. 31). “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23). Being only 13, Bezalel might have felt too young to build the Tabernacle. He would have just completed his bar mitzvah. “Bar Mitzvah” literally means “son of the commandment.” Bezalel was a son of the commandment because he was obedient to God. Are you using your gifts for Christ?

2. God has Called You By Name For His Good Works. Ex. 31:2.

  • God created you for good works. God called Bezalel and Oholiab “by name” to do good works for Him (Ex. 31:2). He also called every believer by name before the foundation of the world to do good works for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). Are you volunteering your time, talent, or treasure to help God’s Church?

3. God Calls You to Serve No Matter What Your Background May Be. Ex. 31:2-6.

  • The obscurity of Bezalel and Oholiab in the Bible. With the exception of Bezalel’s mention in a genealogy list in the book of Chronicles, the names Bezalel and Oholiab appear nowhere else in the Bible (1 Chron. 2:18-20; 2 Chron. 1:5). Although Bezalel’s grandfather was famous (see below), we can assume that these two men were not men of great power or influence. Jesus also picked 12 disciples who were unknown and of no great influence. God frequently lifts up and gives esteem to the lowly: “But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,” (1 Cor. 12:24). You don’t need a seminary degree to share your faith or the Bible. You are never too young or too old to serve Him. All God needs is your desire to serve Him out of gratitude and love. Are you motivated out of love to make your life a “living sacrifice” for Him? (Ro. 12:1).

  • Bezalel’s obscurity with the tribe of Judah. Bezalel was from the tribe of Judah (Ex. 31:2). Although Judah received the blessing of the firstborn tribe after the three elder brothers lost their rights, Bezalel would have had no great reputation with the tribe because of his young age. The name “Bezalel” means “in the shadow [protection] of God.” The message is that God can use anyone to be a co-builder of His Church (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). It doesn’t matter what family (or in this case tribe) you come from. It also doesn’t matter if other people think that you are important or not. Are you letting the enemy fill you with excuses for why you are unqualified or unworthy of serving for His Church?

  • The reward of the righteousness of Hur. The introduction of Bezalel included both his father Uri and his grandfather Hur (Ex. 31:2). By contrast, the introduction of Oholiab only mentions his father Ahisamach and not his grandfather (Ex. 31:6). In the Bible, it is unusual to mention the names of both a father and grandfather together. There is meaning in every detail in the Bible. When the Jews fought against the Amalekites, it was Hur who helped to raise Moses’ weary arms to win the battle (Ex. 17:10-12). Moses later entrusted Hur along with Aaron to guide the people during his first trip to receive the Ten Commandments: “Moses told the elders, ‘Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.’” (Ex. 24:14). He was also the father of Caleb (1 Chr. 2:50 (KJV)). Caleb was one of the only two righteous men from the generation that wandered in the desert who was allowed to enter the Promised Land (Nu. 14:24, 30). According to Jewish tradition, Hur was also the husband of Miriam, Moses’ sister (Matthew Henry on Ex. 31). Also according to Jewish tradition, the people murdered Hur for opposing the making of the golden calf (Sanhedrin 7a; Targum Yonathan, Rashi, on Exodus 32:5). If we assume these texts to be true, God’s selection of Bezalel honored Hur’s faith and his righteousness. Just as a wicked father came to bring an intergenerational curse, a righteous one can bring an intergenerational blessing. Are you doing things for Christ’s glory that may bless your descendants?

  • Oholiab’s baggage from the tribe of Dan. Oholiab was from the tribe of Dan, which was not greatly esteemed (Ex. 31:6). Dan was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid (Gen. 30:6). He was also the fifth of Jacob’s sons. Yet, his tribe was later listed out of order in the census as the tenth out of twelve tribes (Nu. 26:42-43; 1:38-39). Like his brothers Gad and Asher, Dan was a child of the flesh. Because Rachel would not wait on the Lord, she asked Jacob to sleep with her maid Bilhah to give her an heir. When Rachel finally had two boys of her own, Dan and his other brothers (who would be considered illegitimate children today) felt jealous toward Joseph and Benjamin. Dan later wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. Instead, he and his other brothers sold him into slavery. Out of grace, Jacob later blessed Dan as a future tribe of mighty warriors who would judge the wicked amongst God’s people: “16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. 18 for your salvation I wait, O Lord.” (Gen. 49:16-17). Even though it had origins in the flesh, it used God’s grace to live righteously and grow in the wilderness. It grew from 62,700 to 64,000 fighting men (Nu. 1:39; 26:43). This was an increase of 1,700 or 2.71%. Like Jacob, Moses blessed Dan at the end of his life as a tribe of mighty soldiers in God’s army: “Of Dan he said, ‘Dan is a lion’s whelp, that leaps forth from Bashan.”’ (Dt. 33:22). Its territory was in the far southwestern part of the Promised Land adjacent to the Philistines. Yet, it failed to settle in its assigned place. Samson was also from the tribe of Dan. Yet, the tribe of Dan later squandered these blessings and returned to its origins in the flesh. The tribe of Dan was the first tribe to introduce idolatry into the nation of Israel on a regular official basis (Jdgs. 18:1-31). From within the tribe of Dan, the wicked King Jeroboam also led a rebellion that culminated in the divided kingdom. The tribe of Dan later set up one of his two golden calves as a counterfeit form of worship in the breakaway northern Israel (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). In Hebrew, the name Oholiab meant “God the Father is my tent.” The message is that any believer in Christ falls within His tent. He can use you no matter what your background. Through Christ, all prior sins are forgotten (Ro. 8:1). Is there any excuse you can think of that justifies doing nothing for Christ?

4. Christ Provides Everything Except Your Labor. Ex. 31:7-11.

  • The symbolism of Christ in the building materials. After identifying the two chief laborers for the Tabernacle, God reminded Moses of the things that would be needed: “7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, 8 the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place,” (Ex. 31:7-11(a)). These things all pointed to Christ.

  • Only God can provide the components of the Tabernacle. The 10 building materials that God called for represented the divine order that only Christ could provide. First, He was the tent of meeting (Ex. 31:7). He is only door and way to meeting God (Jo. 10:7, 9). Second, He was the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it (Ex. 31:7). His atoning death made it possible to have life and be in God’s presence (Ro. 3:25). Third, He was the table of presence and its utensils (Ex. 31:8). His death brings fellowship with God (1 Jo. 1:7; Phil. 3:10). Fourth, He was the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils (Ex. 31:8). He is the light of the world (Jo. 8:12). Fifth, He was the altar of incense (Ex. 31:8). His blood created a sweet aroma to God (Eph. 5:2). Sixth, He was the altar of burnt offering and our sacrifice (Ex. 31:9). His atoning sacrifice at the cross was a one-time offering that perfected the need for any future sacrifices (Heb. 10:12-14). Seventh, He was the laver and its stand (Ex. 31:9). He washes believers with His Word (Eph. 5:26). Eighth, He was the woven garments of the high priest (Ex. 31:10). He is the High Priest of every believer (Heb. 4:15). Ninth, His death made the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit possible (Ex. 31:11). With His death, He promised to send us the Holy Spirit (Jo. 14:16; 15:26). Tenth, He was the fragrant incense for the holy place (Ex. 31:11). He offers prayers for every believer from the throne room (1 Jo. 2:1). Christ wants every believer to count the cost before deciding to follow Him (Lk. 14:28). Does your worship include dwelling upon the cost that Jesus paid for your salvation?

  • Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of the Church. When the Jews began their journey after receiving the Ten Commandments, the tribe of Judah “set out first” with its 186,400 troops (Nu. 2:3-4, 9). The tribe of Dan guarded the northern flank with 62,700 troops (Nu. 2:25-26, 31). The tribes camped in a manner that would have formed a cross from the air. The tribes of Judah and Dan would have formed the foot and the head of the cross. Thus, Bezalel and Oholiab came from tribes that symbolized the beginning and the end of God’s line of protection. As symbols of the beginning and the end, they foreshadowed Jesus: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last,’” (Rev. 1:17). “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev. 22:13). “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.”’ (Is. 41:4). Are you seeking God’s protection at the beginning and end of every task for Him?

  • God will also supply all that you need as you labor for His Church. When you serve God, He will also provide for all that you need to serve Him: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;” (2 Cor. 9:8). “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19). “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps. 23:1). “O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.” (Ps. 34:9). If you are missing anything that you need, are you seeking to use your talents for yourself or for Him?

5. Be Obedient as You Serve Christ or Your Work Will be in Vain. Ex. 31:11(b).

  • God’s exhortation to be obedient as you labor for Him. After repeating the components of the Tabernacle, God warned His people to be obedient as they built it: “they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.” (Ex. 31:11(b)). “This reminds us that God wanted the tabernacle and its furnishings built according to a specific pattern. It was a deliberate model of a heavenly reality.” (David Guzik on Exodus 31).2 Obedience was a command that God gave frequently through Moses: “I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” (Dt. 1:18; 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3). Moses knew that the purpose behind a particular law might not always appear clear to a believer. They were required to be obedient even if they did not understand. God’s thoughts and His ways are greater than our own (Is. 55:8). Today, Christians are no longer “under the law” in the sense that they must comply with it to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). By “fulfilling” the Law, Christ freed us from the impossible task of trying to obtain salvation through the Law (Matt. 5:17). Yet, Jesus also says that, if we love Him, we will keep His commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His commandments. As bondservants or freed slaves, they were obedient out of love, not obligation. Whether you follow the Law out of love instead of obligation is also a test for whether you really know God: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). Obedience is a foundation upon which the covenant stands. If you will not commit to obeying it, you will eventually breach God’s covenant. You must further obey even when God’s reasoning is not clear. Will you obey and trust God when even His reasons are not clear or when it runs against public opinion?

  • Without obedience you may labor in vain for God. If you labor for your glory and not His, or in a disobedient way, your labor may be in vain: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2) “But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.’” (Matt. 15:12-13). Are you seeking the glory for your good works or for God?

6. Observing a Voluntary Sabbath is an Important Part of Serving God. Ex. 31:12-17.

  • The law of the Sabbath when doing God’s work. God warned Moses not to let their desire to serve God let them violate the Sabbath while building the Tabernacle: “12 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 13 ‘But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 14 Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. 16 So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ 17 It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:12-17). The Sabbath is the Fourth Commandment (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Dt. 5:12-16). This Commandment was so important to God that He had repeated it only nine chapters previously when He warned the Jews not to let their servants work on the Sabbath: “12 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves. 13 Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth.” (Ex. 23:12-13). God repeated the Commandment here to warn that the building of the Tabernacle was not an excuse to violate the Sabbath. Yet, the Jews later misinterpreted these verses. They prohibited all kinds of good works for God on the Sabbath. Jesus later rebuked this misinterpretation by healing on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:9-21; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1; Jo. 5:1-18).

God made the Sabbath for mankind to rest3

  • Seven reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. Part of a Covent relationship included observing a Sabbath. For the unsaved, the penalty for breaking this Commandment is death (Ex. 31:14; Nu. 15:33-36). Yet, Christ came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). Through Christ, your legal obligations were “nailed to the cross.” (Col. 2:14). Thus, “[l]et no man judge you . . . in respect [to] . . . the Sabbath days.” (Col. 2:16). These things are the “shadow” of Christ (Col. 2:17; Gal. 4:10-11). You also have the freedom to observe a day to honor God any day of the week (Ro. 14:5-6). Although not required, there are several reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. First, observing the Sabbath (along with the other Commandments) is a sign of your love for Christ. Jesus advised: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; Matt. 19:17; 1 Jo. 2:3; 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). He is the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14). The Jews further never casually mixed or confused the Ten Commandment with other statutes, ordinances, or saying. For example, God commended Abraham “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Gen. 26:5). Thus, Jesus was referring to the Ten Commandments, not His sayings or sermons, when He spoke of following His Commandments out of love. Second, keeping a “holy” Sabbath gives God the opportunity to refresh your body. We were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). On the Sabbath, God refreshed Himself: “[F]or in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:17). The Sabbath also allows God’s people to “refresh themselves.” (Ex. 23:12). Third, keeping a holy Sabbath allows time to worship and study God’s Word. Fourth, if your church is properly structured, keeping a holy Sabbath can bring fellowship and accountability (Heb. 10:24-25). Sixth, as stated above, Jesus healed others during the Sabbath (e.g., Matt. 12:9-21; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1; Jo. 5:1-18). His point was that a holy Sabbath should include volunteering and helping others. Jesus never meant to turn the day into a day for hedonism. Finally, keeping a holy Sabbath allows you to receive a blessing from God. For those who spend the Sabbath seeking after God, He promises great delight: “Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;” (Is. 58:13-14). He also promises to “bless” you : “How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil . . .” (Is. 56:2, 5-7). If you don’t take a Sabbath while serving God, you are likely to suffer spiritual burnout. Although you are under no legal obligation to observe a Sabbath, why turn down God’s offer to bless you?

7. Have God’s Word Hidden in Your Heat as You Serve Him. Ex. 31:18.

  • While God’s Word was once written in stone, it is now written on your heart. The Ten Commandments were unique because they were the only writings that God directly penned with His finger for His people: “18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” (Ex. 31:18; 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; Dt. 5:22). Jesus was the stone upon which the Law was written. He is your rock (1 Cor. 10:4). He is your stone (1 Pet. 2:8). He is the living stone (1 Pet. 2:4). He is also both your “cornerstone” and “foundation” (Is. 28:16; 1 Cor. 3:11). He was also the Word written in the stone who later became flesh (John 1:1, 14). Today, His Word is on your heart: ‘“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”’ (Jer. 31:33). “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Ps. 40:8). The Word is “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:3). God’s Word will protect you from sin as you seek to serve Him. Are you seeking God’s wisdom in all that you do? (Jam. 1:5).

God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets with His finger4

Jacques de Létin (1597 – 1661) “Moses at Mount Sinai” (painting 1655)5

  • God’s Word is a light unto your path. Just as it is important to recognize the power in God’s Word, it is also important to treat the Word as being alive. Through the Holy Spirit, it is a light to guide you in a dark world: “And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.” (Dt. 5:23). It can light your path in dark places where all hope seems lost: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). Through the Word, the Holy Spirit will then guide you in the different circumstances that you will face in life: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). Yet, in order for the Holy Spirit to bring you into “remembrance of all that [Christ] said to you” you need to know God’s Word. Have you given the Spirit a lot of verses to work with? Can He remind you of much with only a few memorized verses?