If you have read the book of Exodus, you know that it goes on in detail about the design and construction of the tabernacle, the pieces of furniture and utensils used in worship, and the garments of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. These passages are certainly practical, giving guidance, for example, to those who would build the first and second temples. They also surely have spiritual, symbolic applications. But besides all this, they show how detail-oriented God is, and how much he cares about artistic craftsmanship and creativity.
In chapter 31 of Exodus, The LORD tells Moses that he has called Bezalel, the chief craftsman of the tabernacle, by name. He says that he has “filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work every craft.” My favorite part of this list is “to devise artistic designs,” because it shows that Bezalel was not only a highly skilled technician implementing plans given to him: he was an artist. The clearest description of Oholiab, whom God named as Bezalel’s assistant, is found in Exodus 38:23, where he is described as “an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.” Again, the word “designer” raises Oholiab above the level of even an expert tailor, embroiderer or engraver. One of the things Bezalel and Oholiab designed, the breastpiece, in Exodus 39:8, is said to be “in the style of the ephod.” It was important to God that these items be made by artistic designers who understood how to develop a style and implement it across a whole range of objects and articles of clothing. Each piece would not only have been beautiful and striking on its own, but would have complemented the rest of the collection.
Like I said before, I recognize that all of these things have great spiritual and symbolic significance, but my point here is that the view some of us hold of God as stoic and down-to-business and not concerned with design and style and creativity is flat wrong. Bezalel is the first person recorded in the Bible as having been “filled with the Spirit of God,” and it was not to be a priest or a prophet or to write psalms or even to be a musician. It was to be an artist, a designer and a craftsman.
I have recently been reading Darren Wilson’s second book, Finding God in the Bible. He points out that the first revealed act of God is an act of creativity: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Saying it this way it seems obvious, but I don’t know how many times I read or heard that sentence and thought of it as an act of technical sovereign necessity; even perhaps as a cold and distant act. It was of course none of this. In the book of Job, chapter 38, the LORD describes the creation of the world to Job. He asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” He goes on to describe his creation of the oceans and the clouds, light and darkness, the snow and the rain, and constellations of stars. In chapter 39 the LORD describes details about mountain goats, wild donkeys and oxen, ostriches, warhorses and hawks. It is clear that he delights in his creation—in every part of it. As the last verse of Genesis 1 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Darren Wilson, in his book, also mentions how the LORD brought all the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them.” As Wilson explains, this first task Adam is given is not simply administrative, it is creative. Naming involves assigning destiny, and God entrusted this responsibility to Adam. This shows that he entrusts us with the creative cultivation of this world. Wilson talks about how you can almost see God “leaning forward, interest piqued, a smile spreading across his face as Adam takes a deep breath and dives in.” Wilson’s next point is even more profound:
God is showing here that He is interested in what Adam is about to do. Which means that He derives pleasure from Adam’s creative act. Which means that He derives pleasure from our creative acts. Which makes our creative acts…worship.
Of course, Bezalel and Oholiab were not the only ones involved in building the tabernacle and the objects used in worship. Exodus 36:2 says that along with them Moses called “every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work.” In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, speaking of slaves (or employees), he says, “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.” (Eph 6:8) Whether you are working in a job that requires creativity, or you are inspired to create on your own, if you will invent and design for him, he will receive it as worship, and you will be rewarded! Here is a call to all of you artists and writers and cooks and crafters; you builders and graphic and interior and fashion designers; you photographers and filmmakers and everyone who creates: let your creations be done for the Lord. His first revealed act was creative. The first assignment he gave to Adam was creative. The first person known to be filled with the Spirit was an artistic designer and a skilled craftsman. All of the objects used to worship God in Moses’ tabernacle were works of art. It is not just musicians who can worship; not just preachers who can honor him. Honor him with your creative gifts, and know that he loves to see what you come up with!
All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible
Darren Wilson’s book, Finding God in the Bible: What crazy prophets, fickle followers and dangerous outlaws reveal about friendship with God, was published by Chosen Books in 2013. The referenced parts are from chapter 2: Creation and Kisses, pages 26-27 and 32-34.
note: LORD in all caps is used in the Hebrew scriptures in place of the proper name for God, YHVH, which is related to God’s revealed name to Moses: “I am that I am.” Lord in the New Covenant scriptures specifically refers to Jesus, who is the LORD come in the flesh.