Imagination Study – Bezalel, Art, and Idolatry

In Exodus 20, God delivers the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 20:4 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Before Moses came down from the mountain with the initial tablets of stone, the people, who had been without Moses for 40 days, gathered around Aaron and asked for a visual, tangible representation of God that they could worship (not unlike what they had in Egypt). Aaron appeases the people and asked that they gather their jewelry to create an idol. In Exodus 25, God had asked Moses for a similar offering of the people, for a different purpose. God, the craftsman, then gave a very detailed description of the architecture and art of the tabernacle.

God spoke to Moses of two topics before giving Moses the two tablets. One was the Sabbath. The other is as follows:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts–to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you: the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent–the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand–and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place.”
–Exodus 31:1-11

So, while the people are idolizing and worshipping art, God is officially commissioning an artist and other craftsmen to help him build the tabernacle. He is said to be ‘filled with the Spirit of God.’ And so, we have an artist as the first person who is said to be filled with the Spirit of God, with artistic gifts given by God. The tabernacle designed by God sounds like quite a masterpiece, with both representational and abstract art, with art that is useful, and art that serves no purpose other than being beautiful. In God’s Kingdom, there is a place for artists…