For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked. Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath. However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens. Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient. In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words. Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).
It is striking to see how this people has changed. Which makes me ask: How? How did they become obedient? And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?
Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.
The Power of the Spirit
One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle. Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work. Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.
This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40. In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit. We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.
Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.
Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men. They needed God’s help. Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit. I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit. Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say? Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.
So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit. Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit. God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation. In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.
To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle. Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended. In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.
So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience? My answer is that it was the Spirit. Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word. But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.” That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.
Traversing the Covenantal Divide
So how might Christians apply this reality today?
Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively. As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples. He is no longer restricted to Israel. Rather, He is given to everyone for whom Christ died. Likewise, his work is more interior. He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells. He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.
In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today. For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief. Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally. While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.
With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work. Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.
Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss