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Sin, Grace, and Obedience in Exodus 35-39

September 4, 2018

 

As Exodus begins to draw to a close, one finds the book repeating itself somewhat. Commands already issue become reiterated only a few chapters later. Much of Exodus 35–39 contains restatement. What serves as the point of content such as this? Why do it? I often remind my teenagers of the importance of the words of the text themselves (otherwise they’re likely to run me out of class with pitchforks when we read the whole text out loud). 

 

I will address a few places which differ from the above, but first, I think it wise to offer two observations on the repeated portions.

 

First, the long sections repeating the decrees of God over the construction of the tabernacle reveal the comprehensive obedience to the commands by the people. I think we get a glimmer of the grace of God in the Holy Spirit (via Moses’s pen) noting with great detail the obedience of the people in these chapters when he did not exhaustively explain every bit of the sin committed in worship to the golden calf. When we address our children (or others under our authority), do we provide the same grace? I most certainly do not. We more likely list all the failures of our children and students with exhaustive detail than we do their successes. The idolatry before their non-god likely included much of the sort of thing one expects from Mardi Gras, but the text does not explain such things in detail.[1] However, when the children of Israel obey, great detail gains explicit mention. The obedience rather than the sin receives highlight.

 

Second, the Holy Spirit enables the obedience of the people. The skilled workmen, Bezalel and Oholiab both receive guidance from God himself in the accomplishment of their tasks. We obey in no different way today, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). The feat God set for them to accomplish had a tremendous and meticulous scope, but omnipotent God, in the third person of the Trinity, made them able to praise and worship him according to his standard. 

 

Of the places which differ from a simpler repetition of what God said in previous chapters, Exodus 35 finds itself bookended by a repetition of the Sabbath and later the call for the people to cease their giving. 

 

The Sabbath text in Exodus 35:1–2 certainly serves as a repetition, but a unique one. It reiterates the Fourth Commandment to the people, but it does so just as they commence a massive undertaking of labor. The work of the people needs to happen for them to worship God rightly, however, their godly work does not subvert the prior decree of God. The command with primacy between “build the tabernacle” and “rest” is the latter. God produced the Sabbath for man—he desired they rest even while producing the tabernacle for their worship. Most of us could stand to strengthen our work ethic in some places, but we dare not repent from idolizing a physical object only to then idolize an abstract concept like work. God did not need the tabernacle any more than he needs any of us to do anything. God placing a stewardship upon a man or woman does not equate to his need of their performance of an action or duty. The people needed to obey God through rest, thus he reminded them of the Sabbath.

 Somewhat similarly, God did not drain the people of their material possessions down to the dregs. When the workmen accounted for the adequate amount, they issued (rightly, for the text contains no condemnation) the decree for the people to cease their giving. God did not need their materials any more than he needed their labor. He had the aim to point them to himself through their worship at the tabernacle, not to impoverish them or exhaust all they had. 

 

As Exodus presses toward its own ending, we see not only the official, calculated idolatry condemned, but we see God dissuade his people from thinking their own works proved necessary for him to have something he lacked. They continued to need to trust in his provision of rest, and they needed to understand his satisfaction when they gave what he required. He never says, “X would be enough, but my true disciples will give more than enough.” Furthermore, he highlights their obedience in detail rather than their rebellion. 

 

Is God not great and gracious? Is he not wonderful to his people?

 

 

[1]Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, eds. E. Ray Clendenen, et. al. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 20060, 675.

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