Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bible Commentary - Exodus 31

In this chapter, the LORD lengthy discourse finally ends with the selection of craftsmen to build all these things and another affirmation of the Sabbath.

The first part of this chapter is the appointment of the skilled craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab.  Most of this is just a recap of the various articles that we saw before, and I don't feel any need to comment on it.  One thing I will note is verse 3, when it says that Bezalel is filled with the "Spirit of God" (Hebrew, "ruach Elohim").  This hearkens us back to Genesis 41, when in verse 38 Pharaoh says, "can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?"  The expression "divine spirit" is also "ruach Elohim", and the NASB translates it inconsistently from here ("divine spirit" vs. "Spirit of God", capitalization in original).  Probably the reason for the inconsistent translation is that the translators felt that Pharaoh could not possibly worship the LORD, and so they wanted to make his question seem more animistic, like he's trying to find someone who is possessed by a tribal spirit to come guide him.  Contrariwise, the LORD is 'obviously' talking about his own spirit in Ex 31.  The NIV takes a slightly different tack on Genesis 41, by quoting Pharaoh as saying "spirit of God", but with a footnote, "or, of the gods", trying to imply Pharaoh's polytheism.  It's a different approach to the same intent: implying to the reader that "Pharaoh is not talking about the real spirit of God".

Nevertheless, the two expressions are the exact same in the Hebrew, so in my opinion it would be proper to translate them both, "spirit of God", which the Message and the NIV both do (with the NIV's footnote not withstanding).  In this regard, I personally disagree with the NASB and agree with the Message and the NIV.

With this in mind, I've heard some commentators say that Bezalel is the first person filled with the spirit of God, and as I stated back in Genesis 41, I disagree.  Joseph appears to be the first person explicitly filled with the spirit of God, and then there are several earlier figures we could argue were implicitly filled with the spirit of God.  Even so, the purpose of such commentators is usually to emphasize the importance of the arts, and I think their point stands even after considering Gen 41.  It is definitely notable that a very obscure craftsman like Bezalel is just as filled with the spirit as the much better known Joseph son of Jacob, who is responsible for saving his entire family from the famine.  Just as Moses is told all of the divine plans for the construction of these various articles, it means nothing to have a divine plan without having a divinely skilled craftsman to carry them out, and that is what we find here.  With a skilled craftsman appointed, an offering taken, and all the construction plans set, we are now ready to build the tabernacle and all its instruments, that the LORD might dwell in his residence amongst the people.

The second part of this chapter is emphasizing the Sabbath once again, that whoever violates it shall (still) be punished by death.  It is called a "sign" here, but what is it a sign of?  It is a sign of the covenant, perhaps, but I think in a deeper sense it is a sign that the Israelites are supposed to emulate the LORD: the Israelites are required to rest on the seventh day, just as the LORD rested on the seventh day.  Man was created in the image of God, and now we can discern that man is supposed to act in a similar way to God as well.  This is an interesting extension of the earlier principle, which I will discuss in the future as we read more relevant passages.

And at last, the LORD is done speaking.  Moses is given the tablets, and we can return to the Hebrew camp to see what has been happening while Moses was gone for 40 days.

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