Beauty as an Act of Worship – Exodus 37
A friend of mine has a gift for seeing beauty and then capturing it with the lens of her camera. She can catch a particular scene, in a certain light, with just the right color pattern, and she somehow manages to tell a whole story through the images. She can capture the joy of a couple on their wedding day, the pink-toed wonder of a newborn baby, the golden glow of a field of daffodils.
When she and I chatted the other day, she was reflecting on her career choice. “I feel passionate about what I do,” she said. “But sometimes I wonder if it really makes a difference. I mean, some people help the underprivileged or teach God’s Word or serve on the mission field. And here I’m just making things pretty.”
But as I read today’s passage from Exodus 37, I’m struck by God’s affirmation of beauty—and those who create it. Just a few chapters earlier, we read the description of the craftsman who was commissioned to create the items for the Tabernacle:
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have 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 in every craft.” (Exodus 31:1-5)
After the Lord gave his commandments to Moses and the people and sealed his covenant relationship with them, he knew they would need a place to worship, a place to remember their vows to him. So he gave them specific instructions to build the Tabernacle.
Since the Israelites were still en route to the Promised Land at the time, the Tabernacle would have to be relocated every time they moved camp. If you’ve ever been responsible for the setup and teardown on a camping trip, you couldn’t blame the Israelites if they’d wanted to streamline everything about the Tabernacle—if they’d made it practical, utilitarian, functional.
But God made it clear in his instructions that the Tabernacle and all the objects in it were meant not only to serve a purpose but also to be beautiful. The descriptions of the intricate designs are breathtaking, especially when you consider that everything would have been hand-carved—there were no power tools at the time, let alone Pottery Barn catalogs to order from.
Each of the pieces Bezalel was instructed to create filled a specific purpose to lead the people in worship. But in God’s estimation, it wasn’t enough for these objects to perform their function; he delighted in making sure they were beautiful as well.
First there was the ark, the chest that held the tablets with the Ten Commandments. It was adorned with two cherubim and served as the place where God spoke to the people through Moses.
Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood. . . . And he made two cherubim of gold. He made them of hammered work on the two ends of the mercy seat, one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. (Exodus 37:1, 7-8)
Then Bezalel made the table, which was to hold twelve loaves of bread, signifying the Lord’s Presence with each of the twelve tribes.
He also made the table of acacia wood. . . . And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding of gold around it. (Exodus 37:10-11)
Next he made the lampstand, which contained seven lamps, continually lit to show God as the Light of the world.
He also made the lampstand of pure gold. . . . Its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers were of one piece with it. (Exodus 37:17)
It strikes me as I read these descriptions that the ornate creations weren’t intended to draw attention to themselves. Rather, they were meant to point to God and reflect his beauty. After all, Scripture says it was God himself who gave Bezalel the ability and intelligence to create objects of beauty in the first place.
Like Bezalel, has God given you the gift of making things beautiful? Maybe you have the ability to decorate a cake or arrange a room or style someone’s hair or paint a picture or organize a closet or make music or design a website or write a poem. If so, don’t minimize your gift or regret that it seems less “spiritual” than other people’s. Embrace your ability as a gift from God, and use it to point back to him and his beauty.
And if you aren’t gifted at creating beauty, I encourage you to take a moment today to acknowledge and give thanks for the beauty around you—both the beauty God has made directly and the beauty captured by those he has uniquely gifted.
Our lives, our churches, our faith journeys are the richer for all you Bezalels out there, so thank you for being bearers and bringers of his beauty.
Image by permission – Kelli Campbell
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Her.meneutics, Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie’s blog, “Stubbing My Toe on Grace,” at StephanieRische.com.