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Exodus Chapter Thirty-one


Exodus 31

Chapter Contents

Bezaleel and Aholiab are appointed and qualified for the work of the tabernacle. (1-11) The observance of the sabbath. (12-17) Moses receives the tables of the law. (18)

Commentary on Exodus 31:1-11

(Read Exodus 31:1-11)

The Israelites, who had been masons and bricklayers in Egypt, were not qualified for curious workmanship; but the Spirit who gave the apostles utterance in divers tongues, miraculously gave Bezaleel and Aholiab the skill that was wanting. The honour which comes from God, is always attended with a work to be done; to be employed for God is high honour. Those whom God calls to any service, he will find or make fit for it. The Lord gives different gifts to different persons; let each mind his proper work, diligently remembering that whatever wisdom any one possesses, the Lord put it in the heart, to do his commandments.

Commentary on Exodus 31:12-17

(Read Exodus 31:12-17)

Orders were now given that a tabernacle should be set up for the service of God. But they must not think that the nature of the work, and the haste that was required, would justify them in working at it on sabbath days. The Hebrew word /shabath/ signifies rest, or ceasing from labour. The thing signified by the sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the people of God; therefore the moral obligation of the sabbath must continue, till time is swallowed up in eternity.

Commentary on Exodus 31:18

(Read Exodus 31:18)

The law was written in tables of stone, to show how lasting it is: to denote likewise the hardness of our hearts; one might more easily write on stone, than write any thing good on our corrupt natural hearts. It was written with the finger of God; by his will and power. God only can write his law in the heart: he gives a heart of flesh; then, by his Spirit, which is the finger of God, writes his will in the heart, 2 Corinthians 3:3.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Exodus


Exodus 31

Verse 2

[2] See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:

See I have called Bezaleel|, the grandson of Hur, probably that Hur who had helped to hold up Moses's hand, Exodus 17:10-12, and was at this time in commission with Aaron for the government of the people in the absence of Moses. Aholiab of the tribe of Dan is appointed next to Bezaleel, and partner with him. Hiram, who was the head-workman in the building of Solomon's temple, was also of the tribe of Dan, 2 Chronicles 2:14.

Verse 3

[3] And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

And I have filled him with the spirit of God; and Exodus 31:6. In the hearts of all that are wise-hearted I have put wisdom. Skill in common employments is the gift of God; It is he that puts even this wisdom into the inward parts, Job 38:36. He teacheth the husbandman discretion, Isaiah 28:26, and the tradesman too, and he must have the praise of it.

Verse 13

[13] Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.

It is a sign between me and you — The institution of the sabbath was a great instance of God's favour, and a sign that he had distinguished them from all other people: and their religious observance of it, was a great instance of their duty to him. God, by sanctifying this day among them, let them know that he sanctified them, and set them apart for his service, otherwise he would not have revealed to them his holy sabbaths to be the support of religion among them. The Jews by observing one day in seven, after six days labour, testified that they worshipped the God that made the world in six days, and rested the seventh; and so distinguished themselves from other nations, who having first lost the sabbath, the memorial of the creation, by degrees lost the knowledge of the creator, and gave the creature the honour due to him alone.

Verse 14

[14] Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

It is holy unto you — That is, it is designed for your benefit as well as for God's honour; it shall be accounted holy by you.

Verse 15

[15] Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

It is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord - It is separated from common use, for the service of God; and by the observance of it we are taught to rest from worldly pursuits, and devote ourselves, and all we are, have, and can do, to God's glory.

Verse 16

[16] Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.

It was to be observed throughout their generations, in every age, for a perpetual covenant - This was to be one of the most lasting tokens of the covenant between God and Israel.

Verse 17

[17] It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.

On the seventh day he rested — And as the work of creation is worthy to be thus commemorated, so the great Creator is worthy to be thus imitated, by a holy rest the seventh day.

Verse 18

[18] And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

These tables of stone, were not prepared by Moses, but probably by the ministry of angels. They were written with the finger of God - That is, by his will and power immediately, without the use of any instrument. They were written in two tables, being designed to direct us in our duty, towards God, and towards man. And they were called tables of testimony, because this written law testified the will of God concerning them, and would be a testimony against them if they were disobedient.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Exodus



31 Chapter 31


Verse 6

Exodus 31:6

In the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom.

The danger of accomplishments

There are persons who doubt whether what are called “accomplishments,” whether in literature or in the fine arts, can be consistent with deep and practical seriousness of mind. I am not speaking of human learning; this also many men think inconsistent with simple uncorrupted faith. They suppose that learning must make a man proud. This is of course a great mistake; but of it I am not speaking, but of an over-jealousy of accomplishments, the elegant arts and studies, such as poetry, literary composition, painting, music, and the like; which are considered, not indeed to make a man proud, but to make him trifling. Of this opinion, how far it is true and how far not true, I am going to speak. Now, that the accomplishments I speak of have a tendency to make us trifling and unmanly, and therefore are to be viewed by each of us with suspicion as far as regards himself, I am ready to admit, and shall presently make clear. I allow that in matter of fact, refinement and luxury, elegance and effeminacy, go together. Antioch, the most polished, was the most voluptuous city of Asia. But the abuse of good things is no argument against the things themselves; mental cultivation may be a Divine gift, though it is abused. An acquaintance with the elegant arts may he a gift and a good, and intended to be an instrument of God’s glory, though numbers who have it are rendered thereby indolent, luxurious, and feeble-minded. But the account of the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, from which the text is taken, is decisive on this point. How, then, is it that what in itself is of so excellent, and, I may say, Divine a nature, is yet so commonly perverted? Now the danger of an elegant and polite education is that it separates feeling and acting; it teaches us to think, speak, and be affected aright, without forcing us to practise what is right. I will take an illustration of this from the effect produced upon the mind by reading what is commonly called a romance or novel. Such works contain many good sentiments (I am taking the better sort of them); characters, too, are introduced, virtuous, noble, patient under suffering, and triumphing at length over misfortune. But it is all fiction; it does not exist out of a book which contains the beginning and end of it. We have nothing to do; we read, are affected, softened, or roused, and that is all; we cool again--nothing comes of it. Now observe the effect of this. God has made us feel in order that we may go on to act in consequence of feeling; if, then, we allow our feelings to be excited without acting upon them, we do mischief to the moral system within us, just as we might spoil a watch, or other piece of mechanism, by playing with the wheels of it. We weaken its springs, and they cease to act truly. For instance, we will say we have read again and again of the heroism of facing danger, and we have glowed with the thought of its nobleness. Now, suppose at length we actually come into trial, and, let us say, our feelings become roused, as often before, at the thought of boldly resisting temptations to cowardice, shall we therefore do our duty, quitting ourselves like men? rather, we are likely to talk loudly, and then run from the danger. And what is here instanced of fortitude is true in all cases of duty. The refinement which literature gives is that of thinking, feeling, knowing and speaking right, not of acting right; and thus, while it makes the manners amiable, and the conversation decorous and agreeable, it has no tendency to make the conduct, the practice of the man virtuous. The case is the same with the arts last alluded to--poetry and music. These are especially likely to make us unmanly, if we are not on our guard, as exciting emotions without insuring correspondent practice, and so destroying the connection between feeling and acting; for I here mean by unmanliness the inability to do with ourselves what we wish--the saying fine things and yet lying slothfully on our couch, as if we could not get up, though we ever so much wished it. And here I must notice something besides in elegant accomplishments, which goes to make us over-refined and fastidious, and falsely delicate. In books everything is made beautiful in its way. Pictures are drawn of complete virtue; little is said about failures, and little or nothing of the drudgery of ordinary, every-day obedience, which is neither poetical nor interesting. True faith teaches us to do numberless disagreeable things for Christ’s sake, to bear petty annoyances, which we find written down in no book. And further still, it must be observed, that the art of composing, which is a chief accomplishment, has in itself a tendency to make us artificial and insincere. For to be ever attending to the fitness and propriety of our words, is (or at least there is the risk of its being) a kind of acting; and knowing what can be said on both sides of a subject is a main step towards thinking the one side as good as the other. With these thoughts before us, it is necessary to look back to the Scripture instances which I began by adducing, to avoid the conclusion that accomplishments are positively dangerous and unworthy a Christian. But St. Luke and St. Paul show us that we may be sturdy workers in the Lord’s service, and bear our cross manfully, though we be adorned with all the learning of the Egyptians; or, rather, that the resources of literature and the graces of a cultivated mind may be made both a lawful source of enjoyment to the possessor, and a means of introducing and recommending the truth to others; while the history of the Tabernacle shows that all the cunning arts and precious possessions of this world may be consecrated to a religious service, and be made to speak of the world to come. I conclude, then, with the following cautions, to which the foregoing remarks lead. First, we must avoid giving too much time to lighter occupations; and next, we must never allow ourselves to read works of fiction or poetry, or to interest ourselves in the fine arts for the mere sake of the things themselves; but keep in mind all along that we are Christians and accountable beings, who have fixed principles of right and wrong, by which all things must be tried, and have religious habits to be matured within them, towards which all things are to be made subservient. If we are in earnest we shall let nothing lightly pass by which may do us good, nor shall we dare to trifle with such sacred subjects as morality and religious duty. We shall apply all we read to ourselves; and this almost without intending to do so, from the mere sincerity and honesty of our desire to please God. We shall be suspicious of all such good thoughts and wishes, and we shall shrink from all such exhibitions of our principles as fall short of action. Of all such as abuse the decencies and elegancies of moral truth into a means of luxurious enjoyment, what would a prophet of God say? (Ezekiel 33:30-32; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 1 Corinthians 16:13). (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

The wise hearted ones

Who are the wise hearted ones?

1. They are those who prove themselves as having ability to do useful work. Work done, and well done, though it be in itself of trifling value, is the determination of wisdom.

2. The wise hearted are they who reach beyond present ability to perform. No true workman is satisfied to simply repeat his last job.

3. The wise hearted are they who, at Christ’s call, enter His kingdom, there to labour under the influence of the purest, strongest motives. (C. R. Seymour.)

Grace and genius

I. Natural gifts are often discovered by grace.

II. Natural gifts are directed by grace.

III. Natural gifts are heightened by grace.

IV. Natural gifts are sanctified by grace. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The method of Providence

God would have everything built beautifully. What an image of beauty have we seen this Tabernacle to be through and through, flushed with colours we have never seen, and bright with lights that could not show themselves fully in the murkiness of this air! He would make us more beautiful than our dwelling-place. He would not have the house more valuable than the tenant. He did not mean the worshipper to be less than the Tabernacle which He set up for worship. Are we living the beautiful life--the life solemn with sweet harmonies, broad in its generous purpose, noble in the sublimity of its prayer, like God in the perpetual sacrifice of its life? Not only will God build everything beautifully; His purpose is to have everything built for religious uses. His meaning is that the form shall help the thought, that images appealing to the eye shall also touch the imagination and graciously affect the whole spirit, and subdue into tender obedience and worship the soul and heart of man. What is the Tabernacle for? For worship. What is the meaning of it? It is a gate opening upon heaven. Why was it set up? To lift us nearer God. If we fail to seize these purposes, if we fail of magnifying and glorifying them so as to ennoble our own life in the process, we have never seen the Tabernacle. Herein is it for ever true that we may have a Bible but no revelation; a sermon but no Gospel; we may be in the church, yet not in the sanctuary; we may admire beauty, and yet live the life of the drunkard and the debauchee. In all His building--and God is always building--He qualifies every man for a particular work in connection with the edifice. The one man wants the other man. The work stands still till that other man comes in. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Various kinds of inspiration

Who can read these words as they ought to be read? How it makes ministers of God by the thousand! We have thought that Aaron was a religious man because of his clothing and because of many peculiarities which separated him from other men; but the Lord distinctly claims the artificer as another kind of Aaron. Who divides life into sacred and profane? Who introduces the element of meanness into human occupation and service? God claims all things for Himself. Who will say that the preacher is a religious man, but the artificer is a secular worker? But let us claim all true workers as inspired men. We know that there is an inspired art. The world knows it; instinctively, unconsciously, the world uncovers before it. There is an inspired poetry, make it of what measure you will. The great common heart knows it, says, “That is the true verse; how it rises, falls, plashes like a fountain, flows like a stream, breathes like a summer wind, speaks the thoughts we have long understood, but could never articulate!“ The great human heart says, “That is the voice Divine; that is the appeal of heaven.” Why should we say that inspiration is not given to all true workers, whether in gold or in thought, whether in song or in prayer, whether in the type or in the magic eloquence of the burning tongue? Let us enlarge life, and enlarge Providence, rather than contract it, and not, whilst praying to a God in the heavens, have no God in the heart. You would work better if you realized that God is the Teacher of the fingers, and the Guide of the hand. Labour is churched and glorified. Art turns its chiselled and flushed features towards its native heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Gifts from God as well as graces

God gave the plan clearly, graphically, distinctly, to Moses; but it needed men raised up specially by the Spirit of God to execute the plan, and to give it practical development. And we learn from this fact that a gifted intellect is as much the creation of the Spirit of God as a regenerate heart. Gifts are from God as truly as graces; it needs the guidance of God’s good Spirit to enable a man “to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them; and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship“; just as it does to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. We thus see that God gives light to the intellect as well as grace to the heart; and we may, perhaps, from this learn a very humbling, but a very blessed truth--that the man with a gifted intellect is as much summoned to bow the knee, and to thank the Fountain and the Author of it, as the man that has a sanctified heart feels it his privilege to bow his knee, and to bless the Holy Spirit that gave it, for this his distinguishing grace and mercy. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Spiritual gifts

1. Prize them inestimably.

2. Covet them earnestly.

3. Seek for them diligently.

4. Ponder them frequently.

5. Wait for them patiently.

6. Expect them hopefully.

7. Receive them joyfully.

8. Enjoy them thankfully.

9. Improve them carefully.

10. Retain them watchfully.

11. Plead for them manfully.

12. Hold them dependently.

13. Grasp them eternally. (Biblical Museum.)

Genius and industry

A friend of Charles Dickens, a man who had given promise of a noble career as an author, but who, through indolence, had failed in doing any permanent work, called upon him one morning, and, after bewailing his ill-success, ended by sighing, “Ah, if I only were gifted with your genius!” Dickens, who had listened patiently to the complaint, exclaimed at once in answer, “Genius, sir! I do not know what you mean. I had no genius save the genius for hard work!” However his enthusiastic admirers may dispute this, certain it is that Dickens trusted to no such uncertain light as the fire of genius. Day in and day out, by hard work, he elaborated the plot, characters, and dialogue of his imperishable stories. Whole days he would spend to discover suitable localities, and then be able to give vividness to his description of them, while, sentence by sentence, his work, after apparent completion, was retouched and revised. The great law of labour makes no exception of the gifted or ignorant. Whatever the work may be, there can be no success in it without diligent, unceasing, persevering labour.

Verse 18

Exodus 31:18

Written with the finger of God.

God’s writing

It is said of these tables that they “were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.” Some infidels have carped at this; and I must say it does seem to me as if it were not human finger, or human stylus, or pen, but God Himself that engraved it; but why should it be thought impossible for God to engrave upon stone? Have we not discovered that the lightning can carry our messages--that the lightning let go at London can print at Dover, as has been more recently shown--is it not found that the very rays of light themselves can engrave the most exquisite and intricate imagery; and should it be thought strange, then, that God should Himself engrave upon stone the Ten Commandments? The fact is, the higher we rise in scientific knowledge, the more we see how true this Book is, how worthy of God to write it, how dutiful in man to believe, and bless Him and rejoice in Him. (J. Cumming, D.D.)

──The Biblical Illustrator