April 17, 2012

Step Up: Bezalel Working in the Shadow of God

What do you think of when I use words like creativity and artist?

Do you think of a carpenter? A farmer? A Computer Tech? Maybe an entrepreneur? No, most of us think of someone with a paintbrush. Someone who makes beautiful pieces of music, or who does something more “creative” you could ever do.

We are very good at separating jobs into “creative” jobs and “non-creatives” jobs, and deciding whether this person or that person is an “artist”. So we have musicians, writers, actors, and painters in one category...and we put Contractors, Farmers CPA’s, and Scientists in another.

Sometimes, something special happens and the lines get obscured.

Microsoft and Apple are a good way to look at this. They represent two very different approaches to software and computers. Both want high quality, useable computer experiences that help the user get stuff done. But each takes a different approach. Microsoft is very practical and focuses on functionality and software. They let other people design the equipment. Apple does everything. They make the software, but they also make the equipment, and everything has this aesthetic beauty to it all.

I found this video rather funny...it compares the marketing concepts of Microsoft and Apple...

There really is an Apple aesthetic...a look...a beauty about a macbook or ipad that other pieces of computer equipment just don’t have. They are not always the most usable piece of equipment or even the most reasonably priced, but there is a beauty to them...a sleekness.

A journalist for the Guardian UK writes, “The sharp, bright screen of the iPad..may be seductive, but few would argue that typing on its virtual screen is the most practical way to produce work. Yet I have been writing articles with it for months now. Why? I could give all kinds of practical reasons, but they would be lies. The truth is that I am captivated by the beauty of this piece of technology...I have never felt this way about a piece of machinery before. "Machinery"? That seems inappropriate, like calling Michelangelo's David a hunk of stone...it is the aesthetic originality of Apple that has reshaped the way we live in the modern world.”

When Steve Jobs created the first motherboard for the Apple computers he labored for hours to make sure it looked as good as it functioned. He spent countless hours making something look good that most of its users would never see. Some would see this as a complete waste of time. Who cares what it looks like, no one is going to see that. It is good enough as long as it works.

When asked about it, Steve Jobs used an anecdote given to him by his father, "When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood in the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."

Whether we like Apple computers or not is really not the point of all this...We could probably start a war with feelings that run somewhere akin to the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s if we were to ask which one you prefer...but we won’t do that.

Steve Jobs shows that things work best when the line between creativity and non-creativity is removed, and that beauty and aesthetics are important...and it is all worth working for.

I have never viewed myself as all that creative or artistic. I don’t paint. I don’t create music. I don’t draw. I write, but not creative fiction. What I found in preparing this message is that today’s passage challenged the view I had of myself. It challenges the division between creative and non-creative...and reminds us that creativity and beauty can and should be brought into any field because they are important to God...whether we are mechanics, carpenters, CPA’s, secretaries, school bus drivers...whatever we do...God has called us to do it with creativity and beauty.

Infusing our work with creativity is the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and one from Tank’s on Wayne Ave. or Thurman’s in the German Village of Columbus. It is the difference between a short order cook and Michelin rated Chef. It is the difference between our carpentry work and that of Bob Villa. While I may not be able to build something as beautiful as Bob Villa...I have a calling...you have a calling to make something beautiful where you are...in a way that only you can do it.

We are starting a new message series today called Step Up, and we are looking at some unknown people or people who are often overlooked because they are not a main player. Bezalel son of Uri and Oholiab son of Ahisamak are two people that are often overlooked...but without them the Tabernacle might have had the aesthetic quality of a PC instead of a Mac.

I’m kidding...mostly.

The book of Exodus is the story of God leading his people, through Moses, out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and making them His people. He leads them to Mount Sinai where Moses meets God and receives the 10 Commandments. In chapters 24-25, God tells Moses to take up a collection from the people to build a Tabernacle...a large tent that will serve as God’s house among His people...a physical representation that God is with them. Over the next few chapters, God gives Moses the instructions for what the Tabernacle should look like, what articles of furniture need to be built, and how things should work.

At the end of all the instructions about the Tabernacle, God gives Moses one more piece of instruction...that is where we pick up for today’s message

Exodus 31:1-11
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 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: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

As God hands out the assignments for his new home, He doesn’t allow just anyone to do it. God chooses the craftsman Bezalel. 1-2 “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah...’” They are commissioned or called.

This idea is behind our being called. There are many who look back at the beginning of their careers and say, “I just felt called to do it.” Or, I knew I wanted to do this from a very young age. But here this is much deeper than just a sense of purpose or a feeling. God commissions these men to a specific task.

Not only are they chosen, but God has, “...filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills...” Bezalel is the the first person in Bible to be “filled with the Spirit of God.”

Bezalel and Oholiab were no doubt good at what they did. They had honed their skills in Egypt. And whether this was a natural ability or a skill learned over time doesn’t matter. It was given to them by God.

God chose Bezalel, and God filled Him with His Spirit to do the work that lay ahead. The work doesn’t seem to be all that difficult for a craftsman. He no doubt had an understanding of how to work with wood, stone, fabrics, and precious stone. These are skills a good tradesman should have if they are going to be in business for long.

But by stating it this way, God says there is a spiritual component to every task we undertake. Everytime we use skill, and wisdom, and understanding in our work...there is a spiritual component. This isn’t just any tent Bezalel is making. These aren’t just any pieces of furniture. These will be used in the house of God.

When we look at this, and see how God deals with these men, it gives us insight into how he deals with us. We, too, are chosen by God, and skilled by Him to do the work.

Some of us are privileged to work in a field or job that fits us. WE enjoy what we do, we are good at it. Others of us work in jobs that don’t. We work the job in order to do what we really enjoy doing. But our skills, the things we are good at, the areas where we really excel...are areas where God chooses us and gifts us to do spiritual work.

God is in the business of choosing and gifting people.

The Apostle Paul draws attention to this in two passages...

Romans 12:6-8
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Then again in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 he says, “
“7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
God chooses us to be part of His Kingdom, and then gifts us for a special role in bringing that about. Not every gift is listed in these two passages. There are so many gifts and skills and talents and abilities...but if we recognize that God has chosen us...He gives us ways to use those skills and talents to expand His influence in the world around us.

Some of you have musical gifts and skills...you are needed.
Some of you have organizational skills...some have computer skills...some have carpentry...some have mechanical...some have teaching...some have one of the spiritual gifts listed. Each gifting and skill is given by God because it is needed where He has put you...or will put you.

But, We are not meant to do it alone.
Verse 6 says, “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...”

There are so many times when we have the skill, the ability, the talent to do something and we charge ahead all by ourselves.

I’m like that. Rather than ask for help, I will just do something. Rather than allow someone else to fumble along...I will just do it myself because it is quicker.

God knew Bezalel couldn’t manage all the work that needed to be done. He knew that friendship was necessary, and Bezalel needed someone else to help with the load of the work.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
9 Two are better than one,
   because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
   one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
   and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
   But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
   two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
We need people. Each one of us has been given a skill, but we are not meant to do it on our own. We need others to helps us accomplish the task God has commissioned us to do. And we need others because God desires that we invest in other people.

One of the often overlooked things is the need to replace yourself...to pass on our skills and wisdom to others. One day, we will be gone. And unless we have transferred our skills and our knowledge, our failures and our success on to the next generation...we leave them stranded. We bring others along because we need people to learn what we have to teach.

This entire thing...this Kingdom thing we are doing is a relational activity from beginning to end.

And it is all for the purpose of bringing glory to God.
verse 11 says, “They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

The ultimate purpose of all that Bezalel and Oholiab did was to bring glory to God. They were building the earthly dwelling shelter for God. Their skill and craftsmanship was to be worthy of God. And their work reflected the one who had called them.

And our work must be worthy of God.

As followers of Jesus Christ, people take their clue about what God is like by the way we live our lives, and one of the major aspects of our lives is how we work.

Steve Jobs was not a Christian as far as we know...he espoused Buddhism, but his commitment to quality work is certainly an aspect of the Image of God that was stamped on his life. The desire to get the details right even when no one would ever see them.

For us this carries over into our work. Do we work just to receive a paycheck? Do we really work for the boss or the company? Who ultimately is our employer and provider? It is God. Paul writes to his young protege Timothy and says, “Study to show yourself a workman approved by God.” The quality and the spirit we bring to our work reflects on the God we serve...because He has made us to take part in the creative process of building and doing stuff...of working and being productive.

When a pastor or someone in the church speaks of gifting and talents, we often wrap the entire conversation around how we use these gifts to benefit the Church. God certainly wants us to serve the Kingdom by serving at the church...and I believe we are called to serve God with our gifts and abilities to benefit the gathering of his people.

We need people with musical gifts to lead us in worship...have you ever had to listen to someone who isn’t gifted musically sing in church? It may be a joyful noise, but it isn’t fun to listen to. But if you have someone who is gifted musically and is seeking to glorify God with their skill...it is like you are listen to something straight out of heaven.

The Church needs people who are great preachers and teachers, people who are great with children, and people who are compassionate care-givers, and those who have knowledge of accounting and business knowledge...people who have God-give skill, wisdom, and understanding...and when people use their God-given talents and skills and bring their best work to the church...God is glorified. People’s lives are changed.

But God’s vision is far bigger than the local church. God’s call for us to use our gifts, talents, and abilities extends well beyond the gathering we call church...and stretches into our day-to-day world.

C.S. Lewis put it this way,
“I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more good by that than by any directly [Christian] work. … What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects.” (Lewis; God in the Dock, ‘Christian Apologetics’)
We could extend this to every possible field. We need good music in all genres written by Christians who are seeking to glorify God. We need more great accounting and banking from Christians using their skills to glorify God. We need business owners and entrepreneurs in all areas with skilled followers of Jesus who are seeking to bring glory to God through their work. Put any form of employment in there...and God needs people doing those things for His glory with skill and wisdom and understanding.

Creativity is not just reserved for the arts. Every time we use skill in our jobs, every time we find a solution to a problem...every time we alter the direction of something...we are being creative.

One of the things I found interesting is that the name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” And I usually try not to read too much into these sorts of things, but when we work, but I had what I feel was a profound insight as I was reflecting on this passage during the week. When we use our wisdom and skill and understanding and work in our field to bring glory to God...we walk in the shadow of God.

We are taking part in something that belongs to God. Creativity originated with God...and He invites us into that. We are made in His image, and an important part of that is being creative.

So if you work with computers...bring glory to God with your skill.
If you are a tradesman...bring glory to God with your creativity.
If you are mechanic...bring glory to God.
Are you a business owner...a military professional...a stay-at-home mom...whatever you consider your work and gifting...do it with skill and wisdom and understanding in order to bring glory to God.

This week I want to issue a challenge...I want you spend a couple minutes each day and pray this simple prayer...God, show me your plan for the area and show me what I can do to accomplish it.


  1. Excellent! For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph 2:10

  2. I can't even begin to imagine a Tabernacle patterned in Microsoft's image! Praise God for Apple! :)