SDMB Weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 50 Exodus 31

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Exodus 31, which contains our introduction to the Sabbath. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:
[li]These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What we hope to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, their context, and possibly their cultural relevance. [/li][li]While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates. [/li][li]The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).[/li][li]Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page. (The SDMB Staff Reports on “Who Wrote the Bible” are also a good overview). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including–and even more helpfully–the original language.[/li][li]Hopefully, we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. As a gentle reminder, if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.[/li][/ol]

Links to previous threads:
[li]Genesis Threads[/ul][/li]
[li]Exodus 1[/li][li]Exodus 2[/li][li]Exodus 3[/li][li]Exodus 4[/li][li]Exodus 5-6[/li][li]Exodus 7-10[/li][li]Exodus 11-12[/li][li]Exodus 13[/li][li]Exodus 14-15[/li][li]Exodus 16-18[/li][li]Exodus 19-20[/li][li]Exodus 21-23[/li][li]Exodus 24[/li][li]Exodus 25-27[/li][li]Exodus 28-30[/li][/ul]

[Exodus 31]( 31&version=NIV) – New International Version (NIV)

Bezalel and Oholiab

31 Then the LORD said to Moses, [sup]2 [/sup]“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, [sup]3 [/sup]and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills — [sup]4 [/sup]to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, [sup]5 [/sup]to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. [sup]6 [/sup]Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: [sup]7 [/sup]the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— [sup]8 [/sup]the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, [sup]9 [/sup]the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— [sup]10 [/sup]and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, [sup]11 [/sup]and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

The Sabbath

[sup]12 [/sup]Then the LORD said to Moses, [sup]13 [/sup]"Say to the Israelites,'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

[sup]14 [/sup]"‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. [sup]15 [/sup]For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. [sup]16 [/sup]The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. [sup]17 [/sup]It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’"

[sup]18 [/sup]When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
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I find this passage astonishing. Like Neo in the matrix “Whoa, I know Kung Fu Arts and Crafts.” Back when they left Egypt, we read that somehow they convinced the Egyptians to let them leave with precious materials. This solves the remaining logistics problems with building all the items that they are commanded to build.

Is there any concept in current Orthodox Judaism that some people are inheritors of Bezalel and Oholiab and best serve God by being artisans?

I also liked that image about knowing about their trade! Are there any other passages like this where someone gets a skill?

I am curious about things with regards to the Sabbath. Back then, did that include foreigners? Or would that even be an issue, foreigners living among them, at this time? Actually, could someone explain what that meant, as I don’t know. No work? No being paid for work?



Well, Dex is our resident Jewish Bible expert (though I’m not sure he’d claim the title), so I’ve PM’d him. All I can do is regurgitate other sources.

Some propose that this is a special deal, specifically because the Israelites would not have the necessary craftsman skills to something so exacting as craft the Tabernacle to God’s fairly exacting specifications. Holy things require a lot of extra care.

It’s also thought that this reiteration of the Sabbath was specifically done to remind the Israelites that, even when working on God’s holy dwelling place amongst his people, they should not think they can break the Sabbath. The Sabbath law was given before any moral laws, and is the foundation upon which the other laws sit.

As for foreigners, we have what was already written in Exodus 20:10 (NIV): “But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”

As for what work is, that’s something so complicated that I will wait on Dex. Heck, if he doesn’t get here by the end of the week, I’ll probably put the next week on hold, as the next chapter(s) is pretty special: the Golden Calf.

Okay on the foreigners. Very interesting, especially as a contrast to Rome, for example, that didn’t care as long as duties were met.

I can also see that being a one time thing to give them the skills they need now that they are out of slavery. I wonder if any would have preferred kung fu? :slight_smile:



This seems a little odd - the way the second sentence was put, I was interpreting that someone merely working on the Sabbath would be banished or shunned, while someone actually “desecrating” it (though I’m not sure what that would involve) gets put to death. But then later on working on the Sabbath alone is enough for death. Does “cut off from their people” in this context just mean “killed”?

I’ve been confused on that, too. I’ve heard that banishment and death were seen as one and the same, but in the opposite direction you are indicating. You were banished, and thus you were as good as dead.

But I also know that a lot of what I’ve heard growing up is later Christian revisionism.

Okay, so I’m not going to do a new thread this time. Like I said, the thread is incomplete without Dex’s contributions. He’s not going to be around, at least for a while, but, fortunately, he did give me his notes to the end of Exodus.

Quoth Dex:

CH 31
This chapter has two main topics: verse 1 – 11 are about the architects who are to build the Tabernacle; verses 12 – 17 are about the sabbath.

I got little to say about the artists who create the Tabernacle. As an artist myself, I feel for them: on the one hand, they have very explicit instructions from their patron; on the other hand, they are true artists who want to express themselves. Tough situation. Anyhow, Bezalel is a grandson of Hur – possibly the man who (back in Exodus 17:10) helped Aaron hold up Moses’ hands during the battle with the Amalekites, but there are several different Hurs mentioned in the bible, so it’s unclear.

The terms “with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge” are three very precise Hebrew words for mental attributes. Basically, they are the knowledge of data, the understanding of data, and the use of patterns to apply/extrapolate to other situations.

All this finishes up the instructions on the building of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, to be a dwelling place for God among the Israelites.

Then we get to a seemingly strange interjection, of the rules of Sabbath. (Hebrew: Shabbat) The opening to this section is basically, “Even though you are commanded to build the Tabernacle, nevertheless you must keep my Sabbath.” The NIV translation leaves out the word “nevertheless” which is clear and important in the Hebrew text. That word links to the prior section (building of the Tabernacle) and makes it clear that construction must halt for Sabbath.

Also interesting is the use of the word “my,” implying the Sabbath is part of the cosmic order.

So, why is this inserted here, seemingly unrelated to Tabernacle construction?

[ul][li]A philosophical answer: this is a statement about values. The Tabernacle implies holy space, the Sabbath implies holy time. I’ve mentioned before, the Hebrew word we translate as “holy” really means “separate” – holy time is time separated from normal life, holy space is separated from normal space. Holy times are more important than holy space, so the work of building the Tabernacle must stop for Sabbath rest. The great 20th Century Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel wrote brilliantly about the holiness of time. [/li][li]A legalistic answer: This is a way of answering the question, what is the “work” that’s prohibited on Sabbath? It clearly doesn’t just mean “doing a paid job.” Writing for me is fun, but for a professional author, it’s work. Exercising at the gym? Cooking? What means this, “work”? Since the prior material was all law code, the rabbinic interpretation was that the Sabbath rules are also tied into the law code, therefore “work” means any of the activities connected with building the Tabernacle. There are five categories of prohibitions: food preparation, making clothing, writing, building shelter, and carving space out of the wilderness. (I find it interesting that “writing” is not allowed.) There are 39 specific prohibited acts, which I won’t bother to list here, but they include erasing, tearing, making or extinguishing fire, baking, tying knots, carrying items from a private space to a public space and vice versa, farming, making clothes, etc. etc. These prohibitions still govern Orthodox Jews and most Conservative Jews who are Sabbath-observant. That’s why our Orthodox posters don’t post on the Jewish Sabbath – Friday night just before sunset to Saturday night after sunset. [If you want more details on this, see if cmkeller will respond, he’s far more learned than I since he is Sabbath-observant in the Orthodox/traditional sense.][/ul][/li]Verse 17 is the first interpretation in the bible of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant, rather than merely a memorial of creation. Keeping the Sabbath is a sign, an act of affirmation.

And, of course, Sabbath rules will be paralleled after the Golden Calf episode, I’ve remarked before on the symmetrical organization of these chapters.

Verse 18 happens after 40 days and 40 nights of Moses up on the mountain speaking with God, it’s the continuation of the story from 24:12 - 18. The stone tablets were promised in 24:12, and we’ve had lots of laws in between, including all the Tabernacle construction. The story now leaves the laws and goes back to what’s happening with Moses, leading to the critical Golden Calf incident.

Note that this verse does not say exactly WHAT was inscribed on the tablets, the common assumption is always just the Ten Commandments from Ch 20, but there have been ten chapters or so of laws. We’ll later see (32:15) that the tablets are inscribed on both sides, so that’s four large pages – presumably more than just the Decalog.

The anthropomorphic term “the finger of God” occurs only at one other point in the Hebrew text, Exodus 8:15, when the Egyptian magicians say to Pharaoh “This is the finger of God!” So presumably it implies some human understanding or revelation.

BTW, feel free to ask questions, BTW. Between all of us, I think we can get some answers.

I’m just reveling in the information that people have! Having been raised Christian, I’m surprised at how much of these chapters I have never read! It’s very interesting to me from that standpoint.



I just realized. I forgot to mention something. According to Dex, he’s always been told that the craftsman thing is not nearly so interesting. They were just skilled craftsman–and, of course, those skills are ultimately from God.

I’m curious what cmkeller says, though, since he’s Traditional rather than Reform.

That’s interesting - I know Christians often attribute things to God, but skills honed through personal practice and graft seem like a weird thing to me to attribute so closely to God to.

I have heard more than one sermon preached on the parable of the talents that Jesus taught, based on the pun of “talent” as money and “talent” as something one is good at. The idea is usually that we are to develop our special skills in and for the service of the Lord. So the notion of skills honed thru practice is familiar to me.

More of it comes from the idea that God would empower whoever He picked with what skills they needed - as He did when He picked Moses, and Moses complained about having speech difficulties. But God made Moses capable of scaring Pharoah.

Being born with a knack for something is one thing. Developing that knack with work and practice is praiseworthy, but still a gift from God.


I’ve been PMed that this thread series had re-started and in this one particularly an area where I can be of assistance has popped up. It’s good to be back on the subject.

Sir Prize:

Not that I’m aware of. Also, in upcoming chapters, you can take note that many of the Israelites (both men and women) participated in the actual construction. Bezalel and Oholiab, though they did get their hands dirty, were singled out as being given the technical skills to knowledgeably supervise the overall project, in addition to doing some of the work.


No work on a Jew’s behalf. Probably during the sojourn in the desert itself it was a moot point, but the commandments were given with the future in mind as well.

Revenant Threshold:

If the violator is fore-warned and witnessed, he is sentenced to death by the court. If he is not witnessed, G-d will “cut him off” which could mean dying young (under 60, IIRC), or could mean spiritually cut off in the next world - opinions differ as to the actual meaning, but “cut off” is a punishment from G-d, not one administered by humans.


Well, Dex outlined it pretty well, I’m not exactly sure what more you want to know. I will mention that a number of years ago, I wrote (at Dex’s request, actually) a mailbag article about Sabbath observance for this site. It somehow got lost from proper when the web site was moved following the takeover of the Chicago Reader, but here’s a link to it from the Internet Archive:

If you have any specific questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Just whether you agree that Bezalel and the others were already skilled craftsmen, or whether God gave them supernatural ability. I assumed a Reformed Jew would be less miraculously inclined than an Orthodox Jew, so you might believe God gave them something special in order to make his temple perfect.

I don’t think it needs to be thought of as supernatural/miraculous, we believe that all skill and talent (the potential for it, at least) is G-d given (note Jeremiah 9:23). In that day and age, they were the right men for the task at hand. In later eras, others worked on the Holy Temple and its furnishings, and I’m sure it was no less skillfully made.

Thanks to all for their contributions.


I’ve got one, cmk. (If you don’t have time to answer it in the ~2 hours before sundown, I’ll completely understand. :))

In your Mailbag article, you discuss the difference betweeh ‘avodah’ (labor in the usual meaning of the term) and ‘melakha’ (the word used in Genesis for God’s work of creating all things in six days), noting that the word used in the Sabbath commandment is the latter, not the former.

How about ‘rest’ which appears to be the complement of ‘melakha’ in the Sabbath commandment here and in Exodus 20 - what’s its meaning? Also this passage says God “rested and was refreshed” on the Sabbath, so the same question goes for ‘refreshed.’

As you may remember from earlier threads on this subject, I’m kinda bothered by the tension between the way these two different words are used, in that it seems to be perfectly okay to do pretty extensive non-melakha avodah on the Sabbath. And this passage highlights that concern: how is that going to leave you refreshed? It would seem to me that if God wants us to be refreshed by the Sabbath, which seems to be the implication here, how is this consistent with doing serious avodah?

(The example that keeps going through my head is from a profile of Joe Lieberman just after Al Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate: Lieberman’s driving somewhere late Friday afternoon, and as sundown approaches, he finds a place to park the car, and hikes the last six or seven miles on foot, because things like electricity and internal combustion are melakha, while walking is merely avodah. We all get refreshed in different ways, I suppose.)

New thread for Exodus 32 (the Golden Calf).