August 17, 2014

Bezalel and Oholiab I: Profoundly Ordinary

If I say the names Bezalel and Oholiab, do they have any significance to you? Who comes to mind when I say them? If you are like a lot of Christians these two obscure names will mean absolutely nothing to you. It will only solicit mental question marks. Unless you are an Old Testament scholar or participated in a high school or college Bible challenge your puzzlement will remain.

So who are they?

From the image at the top of this post you will probably inductively reason that they have something to do with the Tabernacle and you would be correct. They are the names of the two men that God specially and specifically pick out of all of humanity past and future to build the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was is a chest described in the Book of Exodus that contained the Ten Commandments. The Ark also contained Aaron's rod, a jar of manna, and the first Torah scroll as written by Moses. The first of the Books of Kings says that at the time of King Solomon, the Ark contained only the two Tablets of the Law.

According to the Bible the Ark was built at the explicit commands of God, in accordance with the precise instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai Exodus 25:10-22 and Exodus 37:1-9. The explicit design for the tabernacle and its other furnishings were also given at the same time. Moses passed on the instructions to Bezalel and Oholiab for the furnishings. The construction required skilled craftsmen that, according to Scripture, were hand selected by God Himself. Furthermore, after it was made the Ark itself would then be carried in a specific manner based on is specific construction by people also specifically hand selected by God.

The Ark was a box with the dimensions of two-and-a-half cubits in length, by one-and-a-half cubits in heights, by one-and-a-half cubits in width (a cubit is about 18 inches). It was constructed of acacia wood, and was plated with pure gold, inside and out. On the bottom of the box, four gold rings were attached, through which two poles, also made of acacia and coated in gold, were put. The family of Kehath, of the tribe of Levi, would carry the ark on their shoulders using these poles.

In these people and associated objects we see and ever tightening bond or knot of human responsibility and obedience to divine plans. All needed to believe in the God of the Bible. All needed to obey this God in accordance with the Law and Scripture. All of these things were to show the work necessary to overcome sin. It is here at this junction point that we see the stringent requirements of God. We begin to see how man falls woefully short of God in their attempts to fulfill the demands of obedience and of the Law.

We see the need for something more than humanity can offer. We see the need for God. Here the junction point comes into clear contrast. The Ark of the Covenant's real importance is that it’s lid was the "Atonement Cover" or  "Mercy Seat." The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was at the Ark that the high priest once a year entered the Holy of Holies and atoned for the sins of the people. This was the only place that this could happen. In accordance with a specific plan laid out in Leviticus 16

Leviticus 16:29-34 “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.” And just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so he did.

The author of Hebrews specifically states the following concerning the Tabernacles and its furnishings including the Ark of the Covenant.

Hebrews 9:1-5 ~ Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lamp stand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

What is really interesting is the word in verse 5 used for Mercy Seat. It is ἱλαστήριον/ hilasterion in Greek and literally means propitiation place. The writer of Hebrews is of course speaking of Jesus Christ in Chapter 9. What does it say in verse 11 and 12 which is immediately following the mention of the Mercy Seat in verse 5?

Hebrews 9:11-12 ~ “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 

So Bezalel and Oholiab’s essential claim to fame attaches them to the construction of the Ark. They are pivotal to the most important aspect of the Israelites lives as a people. The Tabernacle (and later the temple) and its furnishings. The tabernacle, the intersection between a holy God and man. What they create/construct changes the course of a kingdom, changes history…and lays the ground work to map the path to eternity. They were craftsman building symbols that will all point to Christ.

The Ark and the Mercy Seat on the Ark was a shadow of the sacrifice for all sin that Christ would come to fulfill. Jesus’ blood would be shed on the Cross.

Romans 3:24-25 ~ “...being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

We are atoned for by a gift or mercy and grace. There was only one place for atonement in history and only One who could fulfill it. Just as there was only one planned place of the annual Day of Atonement sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat. A seat built into the lid of the Ark that was specifically designated by God and was built by specifically designated men at a specifically designated time in accordance to a specific set of rules. All of which are outlined in a specific book that was specifically given to a specific people (Jews) and later given to another group of people (Gentiles) to tell us about a specific man (Jesus)  that would fulfill the Law that called for the atonement of sin. A Law that showed us our sin. A law that showed how great a distance there is between God and us. It showed us how great our need for a person like Jesus…the very one specifically designated to give His life so that we could return to God. So that we could return to Him and not need the Ark nor any more blood sacrifices because it was decided in eternity past that Jesus’ shed blood would be the once and for all sacrifice for our sins.

So what does Bezalel and Oholiab's narrative tell us? Their story tells us something profound about the ordinary...or should I say that it tells us something about the profoundly ordinary. 

[Completed in Part II]

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