For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
Romans 12:3-6 (NIV)
I’ve been thinking of Bezalel and Oholiab this week. I’m sure you have too.
Oh, excuse me? What? Am I to understand that you not only have not been thinking this week of Bezalel and Oholiab, but that you have never in any given week of your life ever given Bezalel and Oholiab a single thought?
OK, I suppose Bezalel and Oholiab are not right up there with Abraham and Moses and Samson as the best-known Sunday School characters of all time. Still, I’ve been thinking about them all week because without them, one of the best-known events in the Bible would never have happened. No, they didn’t find Moses’ staff so that he could part the Red Sea. No, they aren’t two of the Wise Men who came to honor the baby Jesus. Daniel had three friends who were willing to go to the furnace rather than bow down to a false god, not two. And no, they weren’t two of those other apostles whose names you can never remember. They didn’t write books of the Bible, nor are any named after them. To be honest, when I first thought of them this week I actually thought of “those two guys who….”. I didn’t remember their names either, until I tracked them down. All the same, they were important. And it’s their importance, and the reason for it, that has me thinking of them this week.
You can read about Bezalel and Oholiab, if you’re so inclined, in Exodus 35-39. As far as I can tell, they were just regular guys who happened to be good with their hands. They knew their way around a tool box; they were the kind of guys who would have disappeared for days in a Home Depot. The Bible says that God had filled them with his Spirit and “with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” (Exodus 35:31) So they were “spiritual” guys – but not occupants of ivory towers. Their spirituality had little to do with pondering deep mysteries or developing complex theologies. But if you had a door that wouldn’t close right, or needed your back porch rebuilt – well, they were the guys to call. To watch them use their God-given skill was, well, almost a religious experience.
So God chooses Bezalel and Oholiab, naturally enough, for an important job. God wanted to have a physical place among his people, a place to which they could look and have a visual reminder that he was with them. But his people were wandering, living in tents and breaking camp every few days or weeks or months. So this physical place had to be portable. God needed a tent, a tabernacle. And Bezalel and Oholiab were the guys to build it.
Everything had to be made from scratch, of course. And this tent needed to be elaborate – not for God, but for the people who worshipped him. It needed to be a royal tent, like a king would live in on a battlefield. It needed to be extravagant and complex enough that there would have to be some thought put into creating it, putting it up, and taking it down and moving it. So God called Bezalel and Oholiab, and they got together all the other “skilled people to whom the LORD had given ability and who [were] willing to come and do the work,” and they wove the fabric and worked the stone and metal and did the carpentry for the tabernacle, all its furnishings, and the clothing for the priests. In the end, Moses inspected all their work, saw it was just as God wanted, and blessed them.
Isn’t it interesting? You never think Bezalel and Oholiab when you think of the tabernacle. But it was the skill and craftsmanship God gave them that got the work done.
I’m thinking of them because this past week I’ve watched someone create beautiful woodwork in our church’s worship area. I’ve watched others unload and organize a truck full of food that will go to hungry people this weekend. I’ve been in contact with someone who’s using his musical ability to arrange a song for worship on Sunday. I’ve been in touch with someone else who’s organizing those who’ll lead us in worship this month, and someone else who’s organizing meals for a college Spring Break group that will be with us in a couple of weeks.
No doubt a lot of the people at our church wouldn’t give much of that a second thought. They’ll show up, worship God, and go home energized and encouraged. Or they’ll receive food in our pantry, or enjoy a meal in the middle of a busy week. They’ll go to the tabernacle, so to speak, and meet with God. And that’s as it should be. No tabernacle should draw attention to itself.
But as much as anyone who leads a song or preaches, those folks have gifts from God. They are filled with the Spirit, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills. And when we notice the work people like that do, we should pause long enough to bless them.
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The church is God’s newest version of his people, wandering in the desert. We have a tabernacle to raise, a reminder of his presence among us and of our responsibility to keep him at the center of our lives. But it’s only as we use the gifts he gives us that the tabernacle gets built.
How are you doing? What’s your part, what can you contribute to the tabernacle your church is raising in your town? He has given you skill and ability, of one kind or another. The only question is whether or not you’re “willing to come and do the work.” Are you doing your part, conscious that what God has given you isn’t just for your own benefit and amusement? Your gifts, your knowledge, your wisdom, your skill, can help create a place where others can come into the presence of God. He will approve, and you will be blessed.
Even if people don’t think to notice.