(Adapted from Exodus 31-40)
“I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts.”Exodus 31:3
My name is Bezalel. My friends call me Bez. I am a Hebrew of the tribe of Judah, but I grew up in Egypt. I’ve never been to the promised land of my ancestors to the north, but they tell me it’s nice there. As I write this, my people and I are moving slowly in that direction, but since there is a vast and barren desert between us, it may take a while.
Back in Egypt I became a highly skilled craftsman. You name it, I could make it. From a young age I was trained to work with my hands. I became an expert with all kinds of materials including fine fabrics, every gemstone imaginable, and precious metals like gold, silver, and bronze. I’m not bragging but when people see my work they usually stop and stare for a while.
Unbeknownst to me, somebody told the pharaoh about my artistry one day and when he saw some of my work, he summoned me into his inner circle of artisans. These are the people who work at the royal palace, exclusively for the king. We were responsible for dressing him, accessorizing him, and decorating his surroundings. In Egypt, this is every artist’s dream.
I admit, being at the palace was an intimidating experience at first. They told us that we had to be very careful around the king so we would not offend him. Things had to be exactly right, all the time. But beyond that, I loved it because we had unlimited resources to use in our work. I mean, we had more gold and gemstones than we could ever possibly use. Our budget was insane.
It seemed like our busiest times were when a pharaoh died. This was because the tombs would be filled with all kinds of elaborate and ornate artwork. You would not believe all the riches stashed in a single tomb! It was unbelievable. If somebody ever happens upon one of those tombs, they will be in for a pleasant surprise.
Anyway, when Moses showed up, I knew life was going to be different. He created quite a stir with his displays of power. Sure enough, one day I was working on some jewelry pieces for the pharaoh when they told us to pack up, that we were leaving in a hurry. It didn’t seem possible, but they said were no longer slaves and that we were going home. We had been emancipated. They told me to take as much material as I could carry and to get out. So, I loaded up with palace fabrics, threads, and a trove of gold, silver, and bronze and got out of there before they could change their mind.
Once we were on our way north and after the dust had settled a bit, I had some time to think about what had just happened. It occurred to me that since we were leaving Egypt there would probably be no more use for my artistic knowledge and skill. I mean, other than Joseph’s coat of many colors, we Hebrews didn’t have much history with the arts. Would I have to find a different occupation then? What else could I do with my hands? Maybe I could just become a wagon repairman. I knew how to fix wheels and such. Repairing isn’t nearly as meaningful to me as creating, but I could do it if necessary. It would pay the bills.
After all, I doubt Moses will be asking for anything made of gold anytime soon.
Well, I was offering someone a hand with a broken chariot one day when I got a message that changed my life. Moses wanted to see me. He had some work he wanted me to do. The message just vaguely mentioned that they were going to be fabricating a portable Tabernacle for the worship of Yahweh on the trip home. The project required certain materials and specifications and they needed me to lead it.
When the day came for Moses to give me my commission, I was pretty nervous. Being in front of Moses was intense (I had heard about his temper). But actually, the more he talked to me the more excited I became. As he described the details of the job, I kept stopping him to make sure I was hearing it right: Wait, did you say that we would place twelve gemstones in the high priest’s breastplate? Seriously? And for Aaron’s robe I can actually use the old technique that I perfected for making gold thread? Really, you need custom sewing of special fabrics for the Tabernacle, too? And we’ll use linen and fine threads? Are you kidding, I’m a tailor! This is what I’ve been doing all my life. And wait, did I hear this right, that the Ark of the Covenant will be made of gold and will involve intricate design work? I’m the best there is in the business! Moses just shook his head positively and smiled.
I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I wasn’t an “ex-artist” after all. Just when I had thought the last thirty years of my life were wasted on something that I would never use again, I realized that God had a plan. All those years in a foreign environment, learning and honing a craft and pouring myself into becoming excellent at it, would still be useful after all. God Himself was calling me to do the project of my life.
Even though the occupation of artist was forced upon me, I had grown to love it. God had given me a gift and I was thrilled at the idea of using it for Him. What I thought was useless, He was making useful. He was going to take all those experiences from my old life and see to it that the entire portfolio had value and meaning. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about redemption. I never understood that concept until today.
Over the top with excitement, I went to work. With the help of my assistant, Oholiab, I got busy putting our fabricating teams together. We broke the projects down into manageable segments so as to make sure everything was done to exact specifications. We used only the purest of gold and the highest quality of gems, fabrics, and threads. We were dialed in with focus for hours at a time, yet we never got tired.
God was with us.
And then the day finally came. After all the projects were finished – the garments, the Tabernacle and its furnishings – it was time to see them put to good use. I tell you, tears rolled down my cheek as a I watched Aaron, on behalf of all of us, make the very first sacrifices. He was dressed in the sacred garments I had personally tailored for him. And when I saw him slip out of sight behind the curtain of the Tabernacle, I wept. I thought of how in that very moment God was meeting Aaron at the Mercy Seat, a piece that I had fashioned out of gold with my very own hands.
I was overcome in that moment by the wonder of God’s mercy and love. Not only had He saved us; He had redeemed our lives. He took our broken past and made it meaningful. I had heard the elders say that God causes all things to work together for good, but in my wildest dreams I could never imagine how God could salvage something good from our days in Egypt.
But He did. It’s a crazy idea, but it is as if it was his plan all along to give me the best training in the world down in Egypt so that I would be ready and able to fabricate the Tabernacle when the time came. Just like he used the bad experiences of my revered ancestor, Joseph, for a greater good, so he was using all of our hard experiences in Egypt for a greater good as well. It is amazing how He does that.
I am humbled that I get to use my passion for art to help people worship God. In Egypt, my art was for the glory of Pharaoh. Now, it’s for the glory of God and that makes it more beautiful than ever.
My name is Bezalel and this is my redemption story.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.