Called and gifted for glory: An unlikely lesson from Exodus?
When we read Scripture repeatedly, we almost always find something spiritually significant that we had not noticed before. The Holy Spirit enlightens us in different ways at different times. Over the past few days I’ve had this experience with the Book of Exodus.
The first thing I noticed corresponds almost too neatly with something I very seriously hate. I am referring to the way popular opinion swings this way and that according to the moral whims of cultural elites. How many gross injustices are perpetrated around the world at any given moment because it is fashionable to accept some evil as good or to denounce some good as evil? On a very simple level, this is a typical theme of old-style Westerns (you know, cowboy movies). Almost inevitably there is some innocent person in jail, and some wealthy citizen stirs up a mob for a lynching, because getting rid of the innocent serves his own ends.
In the Westerns, of course, a lonely sheriff or a tough friend stops this from happening, and the truth comes out. But what about in real life? Our experience is that the “crowd” prevails all too often.
That’s one reason Exodus 23:2 is so striking. This is part of the LORD’s long discourse with Moses on the mountain, in which the essential code of conduct of the Jewish people is formed, beginning with the Ten Commandments. God specifies rules regarding slavery, restitution, justice, the sabbatical year, and the celebration of feasts. The beginning of chapter 23 deals with general principles of justice:
You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit. [23:1-3]
Lest you wonder at the last clause, a few verses later, God says: “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked” (6-17). The point is that no special interest of any kind is an excuse for calling good evil or evil good. In the ebb and flow of modern culture, consider the importance of the instruction in verse 2: “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice.” Exactly this hideous distortion of justice plays out before our eyes on a daily basis, as lost souls vie with each other to be the loudest in support of the lies of a decadent culture which hates the light.
The purpose of our gifts
If we move ahead a few chapters, we come to the LORD’s instructions for the construction of the altar and the sanctuary. God has begun to establish the rituals and celebrations which the Jews must substitute, in effect, for following a multitude to do evil, for turning aside with the crowd to pervert justice. They are instead to become what they have been chosen by God to be, a holy people, a people set apart. In specifying the sacred things that are to be made and used for worship, the LORD says to Moses:
See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you…. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do. [Ex 31:1-11]
I have always swept over this passage in my hurry to get somewhere else. Very probably where I was headed was a good place, too. But if I thought about Bezalel and Oholiab at all, besides smiling over the singular fact of salvation history that Moses got stuck with two dweebs named Bezalel and Oholiab—if I thought about them at all, that thought must have been something like this: “God raised up two master craftsman to play a special role in His plan. OK, moving on….”
But not so last night. Last night I was struck by the sheer universalism implicit in this account. God has not called only Bezalel the son of Hur and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach. He has called each one of us into existence by name and has filled each of us with His Spirit, gifting us with our own special characteristics and abilities to use for His glory. We must include in this even those who appear to others to be deficient in some way. For Our Lord’s disciples asked about this: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’” (Jn 9:2-3)
Then, quick as lightning, I remembered St. Paul’s warning: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7) Or, even if we do not boast, why do we lament the gifts we have been given, wishing we had received other gifts? Is not every gift, that is, each and every one of our personal characteristics, bestowed on us so that we might use it not as an occasion for either complaints or boasts, and certainly not to lead others away from the Giver, but rather to glorify Him?
Moses and Christ
Moses himself was called and chosen in his own right, and that call is the central feature of Exodus. But the Father’s Providence is so vast that He can use one part of history to teach us about another. Thus we know that Moses is a type of Christ. The Exodus from Egypt is a foreshadowing of our Redemption from sin.
So what must God have meant when He concluded his comments on sacred craftsmanship with this: “According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.” Is the LORD speaking of Bezalel and Oholiab and all those who were to be involved in fashioning the places and artifacts of worship under the direction of Moses? Or is He speaking of you and me, under the direction of Christ? Moses was faithful, but it was Christ who affirmed: “What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me” (Jn 12:50).
I find it both disturbing and refreshing that I had never grasped this lesson from Bezalel and Oholiab, so close to the beginning of Divine Revelation, way back in the Book of Exodus: Each one of us is called by name and gifted for a purpose—not to follow after a multitude in sin, but to participate uniquely in the glory of God.
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