Bezalel and Oholiab were craftsmen working on the tabernacle. God filled them with his Spirit, equipped them for their work and inspired them to be creative. God calls all manner of people to perform crucial tasks in his service.
A fascinating snapshot of ordinary people working as God intended them to is found in Exodus 35:30-36:1. Bezalel and Oholiab are two of the unsung heroes of the Bible. Nobody teaches about them in Sunday School, yet the practical contribution they made to the life of the pilgrim people of God was immense. Bezalel was a skilled carpenter, metalsmith and engraver. He led the work on the tabernacle and its precious cargo, the ark of the covenant. Oholiab was his assistant, specialising in design, weaving and embroidery.
Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, or the tribe of Judah; he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, sliver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahiusmach, of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver – by any sort of artisan or skilled designer. Bezalel and Oholiab and everyone skilful to whom the Lord has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the lord has commanded. (Exodus 35:30-36:1, NRSV)
From this passage we can see that:
- God is described as having both called Bezalel by name and filled him with his Spirit. The latter phrase is used sparingly in the Old Testament. Usually it is reserved for individuals in the roles of prophet, priest or king, but here we find it used about the skills of the craftsman. God’s Spirit encompasses the fashioning of material things. That Spirit is potentially available to anyone ‘to whom the Lord has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work…’ (Exodus 36:1).
- God equipped Bezalel and Oholiab for their work. The qualities mentioned include ability, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, skills in specific materials, and – not least – inspiration to teach (35:34). Whether it is done on a none-to-one basis, the apprentice learning by observation of the master craftsman at work, or whether it happens in a more didactic way, the expert imparting knowledge to pupils in a group, the gift of teaching is one of priceless value.
- The emphasis on artistic design (35:32, 35) appears to put a strong premium on creativity. These men did not work to stereotyped formulae. The Spirit of God released their imaginations to create something striking in its originality. They used a great variety of colours, materials and forms in the making of the tabernacle and all it contained.
Several years ago we carried out a radical refurbishment of our chapel at Ridley Hall. New seating, lighting and furnishings were installed. We held a service to mark the reopening of the chapel, and invited all the people who had worked on the building -carpenters, electricians, embroiderers – to attend. I preached on this passage, partly because I wanted to affirm these people in the work they had done for the college. They were very appreciative; some said it helped them to see their work in a whole new perspective.
Called by Name
Isaiah 45:1-7 is another remarkable passage. Here the object of God’s calling is Cyrus, the Persian king whose defeat of Babylon led to the end of the Jewish exile. The God of Israel says to Cyrus ‘I call you by your name’. When this phrase is used in the Old Testament it means more than simply giving a name: it means charging with meaning and purpose. Cyrus had a purpose in the designs of God. Even though he was not himself a believer, he warrants the title ‘anointed’, or ‘chosen one’ (Isaiah 45:1).
For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me… (Isaiah 45:4-5)
God used King Cyrus in the ebb and flow of world history, to restore his people just as he had used King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to judge them.
Let us not stray into thinking that ‘calling’ is a notion restricted to occupations like vicar, nun and missionary, or even teacher, doctor and social worker. God calls all manner of people to perform crucial functions in his service.
Excerpt from Questions of Business Life, pp.301-303