Grasping God’s Purpose: “Divine Order” – Exodus 31

We all know that order takes work. Ask any mom how hard it is to keep an orderly household. Ask any shop owner how tough it is to keep worker’s tools put in the right bins. Order is not the natural state of the fallen world. In fact, left to themselves, things fall apart and become disorderly. Some people have a knack for disorder. A comedian told this story: A doctor, an architect, and a politician were arguing over who had the oldest profession. The doctor said, “Well the first operation was performed on Adam, so the medical profession is the oldest.” “No,” said the architect, “Architectural planning and design was needed to create the earth and the universe out of chaos, so I represent the oldest profession.” The politician politely stopped both of them and asked: “There you have it, we were first. After all, where do you think the chaos came from?”

Design begets order. Design is important, and follow through on that engineering design is essential: One author wrote: Henry Ford was an automotive genius. He came up with great ideas and handed them to researchers for development. One of his ideas was the concept of an engine in which the pistons were set at an angle to each other rather than in a straight line. He sketched out his idea for the V-8 motor and took it to his engineers. After he left they looked it over and shook their heads for the boss’ ignorance of basic engineering. Somebody volunteered to tell that his idea was impossible. Ford said, “Do it anyway and stay at it until you succeed.” It took over one year and many designs but eventually Ford’s researchers came up with the design of the most powerful automobile engine known to us today. His refusal to acknowledge the impossible laid the foundation for turning an idea into a working design. – Think and Grow Rich, 1960

What do you suppose would have happened if Ford’s engineers had come to him and said “We have done it!” and showed Ford an engine that looked nothing like what Ford asked them to build? I suspect that the boss would have fired some people. Design specs aren’t random. Blueprints and engineering designs must be followed, or disaster can ensue. What does that have to do with our lesson today? It is simple. Exodus 25 to 31 has been a building story of God’s design of a worship structure and the people operating it. Yet, we have seen it is much more. It is God’s instruction on how He designed worship and its setting. Since God designed all of it, instructions on the original design have been important to follow. What is true in the automobile is true in ministry and worship – the designer knew exactly what He wanted – and we need to follow the blue print – or disaster can ensue.

Disaster is when the people of God cannot decide what God truly wants as a part of our lives. Disaster is when worship becomes Madison Avenue gimmickry led by world stage hands. Disaster is when we gauge success by men’s pleasure and not God’s acceptance. Disaster is when people are moved by the music about God, but never actually meet Him in praise and worship. It is when they have been satisfied with entertainment, but know little of God’s character and kindness.

Key Principle: Every aspect of the design of worship and ministry has been designed and revealed by God. Failure to follow the blueprint will lead to disaster – but care to each detail will lead to a perfect representation of His blueprint.

The Lord sets the pattern of ministry (31:1).

We have been saying it in one way or another for weeks – God had a specific pattern in mind for worship. We are not speaking here of the order of a service, but rather the components that MUST be included.

Exodus 31:1 “Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…”

The opening of the text is “Now”: Only after God made clear to Moses the pattern of worship is the furniture, fabric, fragrances, fashion and foremen of the Tabernacle – did He instruct Moses on getting the work underway. What did we learn as we studied these? It would take us much time to review, but let’s take a very quick synopsis of the previous lessons to get right to our point about design:

  • Worship has a beginning point: The center of worship was, is, and always should be the Word of God. The ark was the first item described by God, because it held His Holy Word, and the testimony of what He had done in their past to bring them to Him – the story of their redemption.
  • Worship celebrates, but takes work: There was always to be a portable table stocked with bread made from God’s supply – first of manna and later of barley or wheat from Israel’s fields. They were to work to put it there and guard it on the table with an edge crown, to keep it from falling off. God’s provision was to be celebrated, and that would take effort and work on their part to do so.
  • Worship is about truth: I was created by God, and I was created FOR God. Worship is the act of standing under the light of His lampstand and getting it straight – I am not my own. The world screams I am – but worship is where TRUTH is discerned.
  • Worship includes accessing God through prayer: The small incense altar was technically in the most holy place, though outside the curtain that hid the ark behind. Prayer is not an add-on to the worship experience. Nothing can replace your direct conversation with God as you seek Him. No counseling can benefit what sincere prayer can accomplish.
  • Worship is accessed because of a sacrifice: For the Tabernacle, the coverings reminded of the goats of sacrifice, and the ram’s skin dyed red reminded of the death that covered sins to abate God’s wrath. In our worship, the Cross and the blood of Jesus, sacrificed at Calvary must always cover the worship. We have access because He made it possible by paying for our entry.
  • Worship has a distinct fragrance: Both the implements and people were permeated with the odor of the ointments and the incense commanded by God. There was to be a distinctive aroma of the followers of the Living God. Paul argued that aroma exists in believers in the church. To those who do not want Jesus – it is the aroma of death, and it repulses them. Yet, to those who hear and accept the Savior– it is the aroma of a fresh, new life.
  • Worship has chosen workers suited to lead: The men that were called to lead the flock in worship were men uniformed for the purpose. They were recognizable in appearance, and their uniform was a constant constriction and reminder of the specifics of the call. That call of God included intercession, discernment and practical service of God and His people.

All this was disclosed before God added this last component to the ministry – the actual TEAM He chose for the building of the work…

The Lord spoke to Moses: Ministry has never been about what we want or what men devise – it has been initiated by God and revealed by His Word. The priorities of God’s people must be those revealed by His Word. When we frame ministry, it is not necessary to invent the framework, but rather to know the Word well enough to be able to build to the design.

The Lord calls the people for ministry (31:2-11)

Assets make things possible, but people make them happen. Ministry isn’t about a large bank account, it is about properly trained and disciple people building what is necessary to grow both the physical and spiritual needs of the flock. Some of it will be the “nuts and bolts” of physical structure. Some will be the stitches carefully sewn of a delicate cloth. Some will be the training of sons and daughters to maintain and care for what the older ones leave behind… there are many aspects of the people work.

Exodus 31:2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

When it came to the people in the work – It was God’s job to CALL, it was Moses’ job to RECOGNIZE the called.

In Preaching Today, Leith Anderson wrote: “My family and I have lived in the same house for seventeen years. We’ve lived there more than twice as long as I have lived at any other address in my entire life. I’ll sometimes refer to it as ‘our house,’ but more often I refer to it as ‘home.’ What makes it our home isn’t the address or the lot or the garage or the architecture. What makes it home is the people.”

The same is true of ministry. What makes the work exciting is not the structure, but the people God calls to work together. What should draw us to them is not the beauty of the environment – it may or may not be the kind of landscape we like – it should be the people. God calls a group together –our skills are not at the core of how we got them. God has a purpose for calling the one that He calls. If you know God, and you are called by God to serve, He has placed you where you are – but you must look and recognize the value of the people He has given you.

From time to time I sit with men in Pastoral ministry that are struggling. I noticed years ago a trend in their speaking. They often referred to outreach as their only hope – because they were desperate to get different people to whom they could minister. They didn’t want the people they had – they wanted better ones. They would say things like: “If we can just reach some people with more talents”, etc. Here is the point: Moses Got the people God supplied with which to build. He didn’t CHOOSE them, he looked out for the ones that God chose to work side by side.

Exodus 31:3 “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.

When it came to the other chosen leaders of the work – It was God’s job to ENABLE, it was Moses’ job to SUPERVISE THEM. God told Moses, because God wanted Moses to be involved. At the same time, God didn’t want Moses to storm over the other gifted men He placed around Moses. Look at the description of God’s enabling of Bezalel ben Hur.

God “filled with wisdom” this man. What does that mean? “Chokmah” is the word translated “wisdom”, but it normally refers to a practical skill – an ability to perform a practical function, as opposed to simple theoretical knowledge. God filled up Bezalel with the practical skills to complete the tasks He outlined. God’s filling was especially in three areas:

  • Understanding: “tawboon” is from the root word “bin” – a term for perception and cleverness. God gave him particular cleverness in dealing with a variety of mediums – metals, precious stones and wood.
  • Knowledge: “da-ath” is the word from “yada” (to know) that means to recognize and utilize the content of a body of learning. God planted within him a concept of how each of the parts were to be constructed and fit together.
  • Craftsmanship: “melakaw” is from the term malak (angel or messenger) and was a term translated as “business” or “work” of someone. God energized Bezalel to confidently seize the work as his own, and do it well.

Moses was not called to KNOW everything Bezalel knew. He was not called to second guess everything Bezalel created. At the same time, God told Moses because he was the leader, and he needed to have some way to make Bezalel accountable. In the end – It was God’s job to ENABLE, it was Moses’ job to SUPERVISE WORKERS. Both had a task, and both were to fulfill it faithfully.

Exodus 31:6 “And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan…”

Not only did God choose the head worker, but God raised up the necessary team mate to make the work go well. Note that God APPOINTED Oholiab. The word “natati” is from the Hebrew word for giving a gift, the word we get the name “Nathan” from. The current Prime Minister of Israel gets his family name from this word: Netanyahu is “gift from Yahweh”. The term can be translated best “entrusted” – and it bears reminding…God’s enabling of us is a TRUST He has placed in us to use our gifts and talents to His glory.

Before we run too quickly by this man and his gifts, let me ask you some penetrating questions: Have you identified the gifts and enabling of God that He has given you? Are you, right now, able to identify HOW you are using these for the glory of God? Are you using them to their fullest? Is there something the Spirit has been nudging you to do that you have resisted in using of your gifts?

Just remember, it was God’s job to PAIR THE TEAM, it was Moses’ job to ENCOURAGE IT. That is what a spiritual leader is supposed to do. He or she isn’t to be the DOER or all ministry, but the encourager and equipper. My work in your life is simple: “Equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.” (Eph. 4:13). In the world, I am instructed to “Do the work of an evangelist”, but in the body I am supposed to equip and encourage. The work is not to make you faithful in attendance, nor to recruit new people – God has people in the body that have been apportioned these tasks – and I am to reach out to encourage you to do those needed works.

Exodus 31:6b “…and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, 8 the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”

God again helped define responsibilities in these verses. Note that it was God’s job to EMPOWER PEOPLE, it was Moses’ job to EMPLOY THEM.

Do you see the words of verse 6? God planted skilled people with specific enabling in the work. Moses didn’t take anyone who wanted to help, but limited the functions of ministry among those to whom God’s enabling was made evident. People had to be more than faithful, they had to be enabled to do the work by God. Teachers in our body must be gifted to teach, or the crowd will quickly dwindle. It doesn’t mean it won’t take commitment and faithfulness – it simply means that it will also take something else – the gift invested by God. All of us have gifts from God, and they determine our primary function in the body.

Now notice the final word of verse 6. To whom did the Lord give the direction of the body? He gave it to the leader. The leader was to know what God said in His Word. He couldn’t simply make the excuse I heard a nationally televised preacher make when asked a difficult question on a cable news interview, “Well, gee Wolf, I am not much of a Bible scholar!” What an admission. You are the leader and you don’t make it your business to work HARD to grasp God’s Word on the tough issues of our time? I suspect you just said a lot about whether you should be in the position. Leadership in ministry isn’t about the political ability to keep the elderly happy and kiss the babies. It is primarily about grasping God’s Word and translating that into the lives of called and skilled people who WANT and HUNGER to be used by God.

Let me be clear: the role of the leader is not to exalt himself, or desire to be the center of the room. The role of the godly leader is to desire God to be at the center of every room of ministry – and the vehicle that allows him to make that happen is the WORD OF GOD. Knowing God’s Word precedes obeying God’s Word.

As the twenty first century moves swiftly toward moral abstraction, believers are not at a time when we can afford to be ambiguous about the absolute truth that is the source of our hope! In a culture that sees such truth as an evaporating concept of ignorant medieval men, we must reassert the truth that there IS a Creator, and that He HAS spoken. We must reclaim the steeples of our cathedrals and loudly proclaim the clarion call of truth. God has spoken, and His Word is true. We can trust it, and we must believe it. There is no second road. Jesus is still what He claimed: “THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE LIFE”. He still stubbornly insists “NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER BUT BY HIM” (John 14:6).

The Lord places the parameters of ministry (31:12-17)

Exodus 31:12 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 13 “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying…”

The people will need more than the Word to build the work, they will need the verbal encouragement to keep it – so God provided a leader. People only do the wrong thing for two reasons: they CAN’T do the right thing, or they WON’T do the right thing. In the case of CAN’T – they need education. In the case of WON’T- they need discipline. God charged the leader with verbal communication of His Word and His standard so that BOTH could be addressed.

13b “…‘You shall surely observe My Sabbaths…

Look at the word SURELY. We need to hear God’s perspective on His commands and our obedience. God has a Divine expectation of diligent personal obedience. He isn’t simply interested in empty theological treatises that claim belief – He requires surrendered lives. He invites relationship, but expects respect.  His grace offers us a door, and He has given us the feet to walk through it – but the walk is our responsibility. We are not victims, forced to disobey endlessly and cry out for His mercy. We are able to choose to follow, and we are expected to do so. We will falter, and He will lift us in that hour. But we must never use that as an excuse to passively slide through life without resisting the downward pull. We can never earn the right to be a son – we are sons by surrender to His Word and work on our behalf. Yet, it takes effort to walk as sons. We have no right to ask to be a part of a family if we will make no effort to honor our Father. Christian disobedience is supreme disrespect and disregard for both the price of our salvation and the honor of our Savior. It is the contemptuous offense of one who abuses the beautiful wife of their youth.

God is under no obligation to explain WHY we are to follow His commands. At the same time, we are not little children, and sometimes He graciously opens up His reasoning behind a command. To Israel, they were clearly called to keep the Sabbath. Here, God tipped His hand to some of the reasons:

  • First, He wanted a PERSONAL LINK between them: Exodus 31:13b “…for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. The link was to remind them that God separated them from the peoples of the earth as a special relationship. It was, in effect, the WEDDING RING of the Father. He wanted the world to know that He and Israel were joined by His choice.
  • Second, He wanted a PERFORMANCE MEASURE of surrender and obedience: Exodus 31:14 ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. Surrender and commitment can be measured by obedience. Not only is He the very God who reminded Saul: “To obey is better than sacrifice”, but He is also the God who asked: “Why do you call Me Lord and not do the things that I say!” We are committed to Him only as much as we OBEY Him. That was the point of marking the Sabbath and making it a clear measure.
  • Third, it was to become a PUBLIC MARKER between Israel and the world around her. Exodus 31:16 ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ 17 “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” This marked Israel, before God, as acknowledging God as both Creator and boundary setter (Lord). Someone has said: “More than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Israel.” Throughout the generations of loss of land and leaders, the Sabbath marked the people as distinct from their neighbors.

The Lord gives the proclamation of the ministry (31:18)

Exodus 31:18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

What a privilege! Moses was handed the very words written by God’s finger. He was to proclaim, not words contrived by wise men and scholars – but words inscribed in stone by the Creator of matter itself! We must never become casual with the power of God’s Word, nor the blessing that God manifest His Person and His expectations to us.

Imagine a world where we could not know how we got here. In that world we would have no idea if there was intent behind our very existence, or whether we simply came into being without reason. We would have no insight as to our destiny. We would be without beginning or end, and without purpose between. Educated men of our modern world propose such a world – a world where God is gone and uncertainty is the only absolute. In such a world morality vanishes and brutality emerges. It is a world of natural struggle, where the strong routinely take from the weak – and no judgment occurs in the end to make it right. Welcome to the twenty-first century as outlined by the best curricula in American universities. Now stand back, brace yourself and watch as the generations that are taught such things begin to act them out.

Don’t be deceived – God IS, and God HAS spoken. It is not a reason to shrink back in fear, but a reason to REJOICE. Our Creator WANTS US to know Him! Can we not break forth in praise at such a prospect! He has spoken about how to KNOW HIM and how to WORSHIP HIM. Every aspect of the design of worship and ministry has been designed and revealed by God.