Exodus 31 is a really interesting chapter.
In the chapters leading up to it, God gives Moses directions for constructing the tabernacle, setting forth measurements, materials, and ornamentation according to God’s design. This would be the place of God’s presence with his people, the geographical location where the people could approach God. This was to be a holy place. In chapter 31, God highlights Bezalel, a skilled man whom God had filled with his Spirit in order to complete the work. God further points to Oholiab and others who would be equipped for the work ahead. Then, after promising strength and skill for the work, God says, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths” (Exodus 31:13). God follows his instructions to work with a word on the priority of a holy day of rest. And his reason for rest? “That you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13).
The principles here are simple yet profound. God gives the ability to accomplish the work he calls his people to do, and he works for our good even in our rest. In neither case are we the party ultimately effecting change. As we answer his call, whether we are active or passive in the process, the glory is his.
In a recent chapel service at NOBTS, Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway, spoke on the topic of calling. He commented that we often experience gaps in our lives between our abilities and God’s call, and he argued that God grows our faith in those gaps as he shows himself sufficient to do what only he can do. I see a similar principle at work here in Exodus 31. God set before Moses a detailed plan for the structure and design of the tabernacle and its instruments. I’m sure the work seemed daunting for the newly liberated people, in part because of the weight of holiness attached to the tabernacle and its work. Yet God promised to provide people with skill and ability who could accomplish the work. He promised to fill Bezalel with his Holy Spirit in order to fulfill the call of God. Though God calls people to do great things, he supplies them with what they need to do his will.
One wonders whether this might imply something more: perhaps if God hasn’t given us what we think we need, we don’t really need it. God knows our situations, our fears, and our abilities (and inabilities). When he calls, he knows what we will need to obey. Further, he knows what we don’t need. Sometimes, it’s in our seeming insufficiency that we find him sufficient, a point which sets up the second half of this chapter.
God calls his people to keep a weekly day of rest, a day holy to the LORD. The LORD isn’t against work, as evidenced by his instructions and provisions for work prior to this point. Rather, the LORD wants us to know who is actually doing the work. He is the true builder, and apart from him we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1-2). He too is the sanctifier of our souls. We don’t grow by our own effort alone. We don’t earn holiness. Rather, he grows us as we follow him in faith and love. The Sabbath reminds us of our true strength, focusing us on the true source of life as we cease our earthly work and rest in him.
God supplied Israel with the ability and skill required to accomplish the task he’d set before them. He also called the people to keep a Sabbath day each week so they would know that God was the one who sanctified them. In work and in rest, we rely on the LORD. In work and in rest, he is faithful to provide. So work hard in the strength he supplies, and rest well in the grace he gives.