The Lord spoke to Moses: See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit,with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy-seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing-oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you. – Exodus 31:1-11
I’ll take obscure biblical passages for 500, Alex.
When we think about the book of Exodus, we tend to think that it ends after chapter 20 when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. Oh no, Friends. There are twenty whole chapters of Exodus after Moses descends the mountain.
And what, pray tell, is in those twenty chapters?
Minutiae. So much minutiae!
There’s a bunch of more laws given, so of them just filling in detail for the Big 10. Then there are all of these instructions about vestments and incense and alters and what not.
It’s a lot.
And it should be! This is God giving instructions for a new cult worship. The Israelites are building a new society, based around God’s law and the worship of Yahweh. Building a new society takes a whole lot of work.
Okay, so why highlight this obscure passage lodged in the midst of minutiae?
There aren’t very many mentions of artists in the Bible. Of course, there are writers/poets and a few musicians, but not very many visual artists. I like this story because Bezalel and Oholiab are singled out as being particular importance in the establishment of this new order.
They are craftspeople, interior designers, welders, sculptors, woodworkers… they are artists. This new faith will have a tabernacle, an altar, ornate vestments, and an ark to carry the important artifacts, all of which should radiate the beauty of the God for whom they are being made. Other than Moses, very few individuals are singled out in this second half of Exodus.
Good art inspires. It brings us to a place of awe and wonder. It connects us to larger realities and expands our imaginations. Good art is transcendent.
I feel like whatever we are building should have good art at the center. In fact, good art should be one of the primary things that we are creating. If we want a new world to exist then we have to create a vision of what that world will look like. And while we are creating it, we need images that inspire us to be our best selves.
The new world is not just a change in politics, it is a change in aesthetics. Our world needs to feel different, more free, more open, more inclusive. more expressive. We need the creators and dreamers of all types to free us from the cookie cutters in which we often find ourselves trapped. May we be those who create new and bold representations of the world as it should be.