Sunday 10 May 2015

To all artists: You are called

Exodus 31 (NASB)The Skilled Craftsmen
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship (workmanship), 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, 5 and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful (wise of heart) I have put skill (wisdom), that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, 8 the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”*
I love the fact that NASB puts it as "I have called by name" and "I Myself have appointed" as compared to the very vanilla "I have chosen" and "I have appointed" in the NIV. Does it make a difference? Probably not. (Mr. Exact Translations would probably disagree. Bwahahaha)

But the fact remains that in the narratives of our lives, the knowledge that God has chosen you - not just simply any "you", but called you by name and appointed you personally - is incredibly important. It's the difference between receiving, say, a generic employment letter, and being personally called by the CEO of a large multinational to be told, "hey, [your name], you're hired!" And then he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say "I've also given you everything you need to make sure you do the job well." 
(Maybe not a very exact analogy.)

The most beautiful part of this passage (for me) is that these two guys, Bezalel and Oholiab, as well as "all who are skillful" aren't being called into some holy-type job, such as the priesthood - though there's another whole passage about those who are - but they're called into doing craftsmanship. 

It's a clear difference to the normal narrative of today, where you're usually "called" into missions or "called" into ministry. Here, they're called into being artisans... or artists. We don't really work in gold, silver and bronze anymore. Jewellery making and wood carving are also not that common. But if you really want to translate what they do into modern terms, what they did was build the tabernacle, and all the beautiful things in it: 
- The tabernacle needed these curtains of so-and-so sizes and such-and-such design? Sure, we know how to make that. 
- You need a gold design on that there sacred item? Yeah, that's the kind of thing I know how to do.  
It's kind of like saying, you're called to be an interior designer so that the church can look beautiful. You're called to do flower arrangements so people can enjoy the flowers we put up every week. You're called to graphic design and web design because that's what the church needs at this point of time. It's the everyday, mundane stuff, which doesn't seem so very important in the grand scheme of things.  

I'm finding it difficult to say what I have in mind because in someways it seems just so trivial. But the thing is that the physical beauty of the tabernacle, the temple, and the churches of old was very important because that was the outward, physical representation of God to the world. And buildings was their primary way of representation because it's there - it's big, it's large, it looms in your sight and it was a place that people gathered.

In our very tech-driven, digital world, it isn't the physical beauty that is paramount. It's the way God is represented in our online world. Why? Because where buildings was where one generation used to live and gather and build community, a large bulk of that has moved over into the digital world. And though buildings and physical things cannot be eliminated, I would dare to say that our digital, online presence is our primary way of representation because it's there - it's big, it's large, it looms in your sight and it is a place that people gather. 

So we don't do "artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood" anymore, but we do "artistic designs for work in websites, forums, and blogs, and in the making of videos and in graphic design." Or something like that. And the Spirit of God is equally in you, as it is in the pastor of your church.

As this commentator says:
It is definitely notable that a very obscure craftsman like Bezalel is just as filled with the spirit as the much better known Joseph son of Jacob, who is responsible for saving his entire family from the famine.  Just as Moses is told all of the divine plans for the construction of these various articles, it means nothing to have a divine plan without having a divinely skilled craftsman to carry them out, and that is what we find here.

* Emphasis mine. 

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