Bible Commentary: Exodus 31

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Exodus 31

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Tabernacle Artisans, the Sabbath and the Tablets of the Testimony

Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and Aholiab of the tribe of Dan were chosen to build the items for the tabernacle. Though naturally born with these talents—and, as a result, skilled in working with gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood, as well as in carving and embroidered work—the most important thing to notice is that, just as He did with the garment makers, God also filled them with wisdom by His Spirit to enable them to accomplish this most important responsibility.

Also in this chapter, God stresses that it is important to keep His Sabbaths (weekly and annual), as they are a sign between God and His people. It serves as a visible badge and witness to others manifesting those who serve the true God. Furthermore, verse 12 says, “It is a sign…that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” Thus, it is a sign that regularly points us to the true God. Indeed, the weekly Sabbath memorializes creation, as stated in this passage—and creation points to the Creator, the true God. The Sabbath is a reminder that we do not worship “gods” of rocks and trees, sun moon or sky, or figments of human imagination, but the very Creator who made all these things—including the human mind. And all of God’s Sabbaths reveal His plan for the salvation of all mankind. Notice that the Sabbath is given as a special covenant—a perpetual covenant—distinct from the Sinai covenant (verse 16).

Indeed, God’s Sabbaths are important for us even today, as He said they would be “a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (verse 17). Notice: “…for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…” (same verse). Why would this only be for the Jews alone? That wouldn’t make any sense. Rather, it is clear that, as Christ said, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27-28 Mark 2:27-28 [27] And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: [28] Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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)—that is, for all mankind. What ties it all together is that all people must become part of spiritual Israel (compare Romans 11:17 Romans 11:17And if some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
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, 24; Galatians 3:28-29 Galatians 3:28-29 [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
; Genesis 6:16 Genesis 6:16A window shall you make to the ark, and in a cubit shall you finish it above; and the door of the ark shall you set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shall you make it.
American King James Version×
)—and that is defined as those who obey God’s law (Romans 2:25-29 Romans 2:25-29 [25] For circumcision truly profits, if you keep the law: but if you be a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision. [26] Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? [27] And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by the letter and circumcision do transgress the law? [28] For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: [29] But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
American King James Version×
), which includes His Sabbath.

After God finished talking with Moses, He gave him the two stone tablets of His Ten Commandments, which He had already written (Exodus 24:12 Exodus 24:12And the LORD said to Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give you tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that you may teach them.
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) with His very finger (Exodus 31:18 Exodus 31:18And he gave to Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him on mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
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). Though we often think of each of these tablets as containing separate sections of the Ten Commandments, it is possible that “all ten commandments appeared on each tablet. Middle Eastern treaties were typically written in duplicate” (Nelson Study Bible, note on 24:12). As these were “tablets of testimony,” it would seem that this would provide the testimony of “two witnesses,” a requirement of God’s law for judgment to be carried out (Numbers 35:30 Numbers 35:30Whoever kills any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.
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; Deuteronomy 17:6 Deuteronomy 17:6At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
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; Deuteronomy 19:15 Deuteronomy 19:15One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
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). Perhaps that is even one reason the Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Bible (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Still, as the front and back of the tablets were written on (Exodus 32:15 Exodus 32:15And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
American King James Version×
), it is possible that the first four commandments, concerning duty to God, were inscribed on one side, while the last six commandments, concerning duty to man, were engraved on the other side. In that case, putting the two tablets together, with one turned over, would still yield the traditional picture.

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