Exodus 35-39 Building Fun plus The Tale of the Mirrors

Questions: What does it take to build an institution? When is giving fun? What is the most important thing to remember? Can things still go wrong, even when doing God’s work? What is the most precious offering we can give? When have we given enough? “Read More” to pursue answers.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Exodus 35:1-39:30

And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These [are] the words which the LORD hath commanded, that [ye] should do them.

These chapters are mostly the implementation of the construction plans God commanded to Moses on the mountain. Since I’ve already talked about those, I plan to mostly zip through them here. However, there’s a few highlights I did want to call out.

First of all, Moses starts his construction schedule by reminding them when NOT to work:

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth
work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.

It seems paradoxical to start work by issuing such dire warnings against overwork. Then again, maybe that is the only way to sustain work over the long haul: by knowing when not to work. And — especially when working for the Lord — it is essential that we remember to ‘rest to the LORD’ rather than trying to do everything ourselves.

And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This [is] the thing which the LORD commanded, saying,

There’s that word ‘commanded’ (tsavah) again — it turns up a lot during this section. Clearly, an authoritative vision is essential for any large-scale effort. Yet — again paradoxically — the command is not so much a demand as an invitation:

Take ye from among you an offering[08641] unto the LORD: whosoever [is] of a willing[05081] heart, let him bring it, an offering of the LORD

There’s a certain yin-yang thing going on here, where God’s command is matched to willing hearts. In fact, there’s another such pairing, of skilled workers:

And every wise[02450] hearted among you shall come, and make all that the LORD hath commanded;

with available resources:

And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, [and] brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered [offered] an offering of gold unto the LORD. And every man, with whom was found blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ [hair], and red skins of rams, and badgers’ skins, brought [them].Every one that did offer an offering of silver and brass brought the LORD’S offering: and every man, with whom was found shittim wood for any work of the service, brought [it].

Fascinating — especially since I’m taking on several new projects at work this month! These pairings:

* commands/willingness
* skill/resources
are arguably what I need in order to accomplish transformational change at work — though first I need to submit myself to God through non-work. Hmm.

Two more things that struck me from this passage — one about skill, the other about resources.

And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship

Yeah, Bezaleel is a studly engineer, but that’s not the coolest thing about him. This is:

And he hath put in his heart that he may teach[03384], [both] he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

For a project this size, you don’t just need a skilled craftsman in charge — you need a Master craftsman, one who can teach and direct as well as build. And I suspect even a Master needs a sidekick like Aholiab, so he has someone to bounce ideas off of and share accountability with.

Apparently it all worked, because the people responded eagerly — perhaps overly so!

And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make.

This passage gives every pastor goosebumps, especially during funding drives. They all dream of being able to say:

Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient[01767] for all the work to make it, and too much.

Though, I suspect many pastors would simply assume that their vision was too small, since the resources were more than sufficient!

Yet, in the light of that — in the midst of all the fine work being done as God commands — the following verse (two chapters down) comes as quite a shocker:

And he made the laver [of] brass, and the foot of it [of] brass, of the lookingglasses[04759] of [the women] assembling, which assembled[06633] [at] the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

What’s going on here? In case you didn’t know, ancient mirrors were typically made of brass or bronze. I’m sure women back then valued mirrors as highly as women do today. To give up one’s only mirror — it seems unlikely they’d each have more than one — is a dramatic gesture. Why would they do that? Surely if the voluntary offering was so over-sufficient, such sacrifice would be unnecessary, right?

Here’s my favorite hypothetical scenario.

The Tale of the Mirrors

The “assembling” presumably refers to a “ministry team” of women who have volunteered to serve at the door of the tabernacle — “greeters,” if you will. They’ve recently come together, and are getting a tour of the tabernacle construction site. Along the way, they see the foreman of the laver project receive some bad news: he starts yelling at the messenger, and can barely restrain himself from cursing (hey, foreman are foreman, even in God’s house, right?). The elder woman in charge, rather than rebuking him for his impiety, goes to inquire as to the source of his frustration.

It comes out that due to a logistical mixup (hey, nobody said the project managers were divinely inspired) his project’s allotment of brass won’t come for another month. He has the space, he has the workers, but he doesn’t have the raw materials. If they miss this window, not only will his workers sit idle, but it’ll throw off the entire tabernacle’s completion date. And he certainly doesn’t want to be the one to tell that to Chief Bezaleel, much less be there when Moses is told.

The woman discreetly inquires how much brass the man would need to complete his work. The foreman mumbles a number then wanders off to rant some more. She returns to her team and explains the situation. They are all appropriately distressed at the man’s situation, so naturally they all stop to pray.

Except for one: the youngest woman, whose husband is a metalworker so she understand something of quantities and measures. While pretending to pray, she tries to visualize how much brass would be enough — to better pray, she rationalizes to herself. The largest piece of brass she owns is her mirror, so she uses that as her ‘measuring stick’. She figures out how much brass that contains, and compares that to the amount the foreman requested. It comes out to about 40 times her mirror. Pleased with her math, she (somewhat guiltily) returns to praying, fortified with her new knowledge.

Until, with a shock, she realizes that there are forty women praying. Women with mirrors as large as hers, if not larger… The other women stop praying at her gasp. The silence is deafening, but commanding, so finally she confesses her train of thought. The elder woman refuses to make a decision on the spot, but commands the women to go home and fast and pray about this, and return the next day with their decision. Meanwhile, she goes to confer with the foreman…

The next day, all the women return — each bearing their mirror! The foreman is stunned; he falls to his knees and repents of his unbelief. The women cry — partly for the loss of their mirrors, but more for the joy at knowing their sacrifice will be part of the house of God. Not even realizing that their tale would enshrined in holy scripture — forever!


Father God, I long to see your dwelling place established among men. I desire to submit to your commands, and to the authority of those you have charged with building your house. I pray that you would raise up skilled men, who are filled with wise hearts and the ability to teach, and that the full measure (and beyond) of resources would be released.

For myself, though, I pray that you would help me to give up my mirror. Not just the costly offerings of gold and jewels, but the cheap vanities of brass, that allow me to look upon myself — and look to myself. Help me to die to myself, and look only to you. May my sacrifice be melted, refined, and remade, that it may be a vessel for your blood to wash away the sins of many — and fit me for serving as a gatekeeper in the house of my god. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a play on the words “Building Fund”, which anyone who’s been part of a church for more than seven years must surely be intimately familiar with.