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.
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.