Exodus 31

Exodus 31:2-4 Bezaleel… I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship

Whether Mozart’s music, the sculptures of Michelangelo, or the works of Da Vinci and Rembrandt, one of the great questions is, “how they could become so great at their craft?” Born as mere mortals, their works seem to transcend what is humanly possible.  As children or teenagers, they show mind-blowing ability.  Historians discuss their talent and prodigy, without discussing the source of either.  One observer of Michelangelo got it right with the following observation:

“Vasari [attributed] Michelangelo’s artistic genius to the direct intervention of Almighty God who as ‘the benign ruler of heaven’ had decided to send into the world (and specifically Tuscany) an artist in true moral philosophy and poetic expression who would ‘be skilled in each and every craft, whose work alone would teach us how to attain perfection in design.’” (https://www.catholicireland.net/michelangelos-spirituality/)

Perhaps nowhere else in scripture is this subject better addressed than here in Exodus 31.  The works of the Masters seem infused with divinity because their ability came from divinity.  “I have filled him with the spirit of God,” says Jehovah.  The Master is the master craftsman, artist, and artisan, filling man with wisdom, understanding, knowledge in all things. The Prophet Joseph remarked, “If there was anything great or good in the world, it came from God… The art of working in brass, silver, gold, and precious stones, was taught by revelation, in the wilderness.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 251)

Walter P. Monson

Such was the qualification of this man Bezaleel, upon whom rested the responsibility of building the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle of our Lord. I wonder if, in our everyday labors, we think of this great manifestation of God's goodness and kindness to this man, and if we, as members of modern Israel, when we are employed in cutting or setting of stones, or working in brass or in iron or in gold or silver, whether at the jeweler's table or the blacksmith's forge, or at the lumber camp, if we feel the necessity of the Spirit of God to guide us. (Conference Report, October 1916, Third Day—Morning Session 77)

Harold B. Lee

Someone asked a great surgeon, "How does it feel to have the power of life and death in your hands as you operate?" The surgeon answered, "I never feel that way. When I was a young, cocksure surgeon, I was proud of my ability and my record. Then one day I had to make a split-second decision. I wasn't correct. For some time, I wouldn't operate. As I sat depressed, thinking of my failure, it suddenly came to me, in all humility, that God had given me these hands, had given me these brains, not to be wasted. I prayed to Him then to let me have another chance. I still do. I pray each time I take a scalpel in hand, 'Guide my hands, O Lord, and give me of thy knowledge.' You see, He is the famous surgeon. I am only His servant."

He is also the famous architect. He is also the greatest of all teachers. Did you ever think that scientists have discovered anything that God didn't already know? Think of it. He has given you and me hands. He has given you and me brains, and He hasn't given them to us to waste. He expects us to lean on Him and exercise to the best of our ability in order to use them righteously in righteous purposes. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 77)

Exodus 31:6 I have given with him Aholiab… and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom

“Under such willing hands, the whole work was completed within an almost incredibly short period. On comparing Exodus 19:1, which fixes the arrival of Israel at Mount Sinai as in the third month (of the first year), with Exodus 40:2, which informs us that the Tabernacle was ready for setting up "on the first day of the first month" (of the second year), we find that an interval of nine months had elapsed. From this, however, must be deducted twice forty days, during which Moses was on the mount, as well as the days when Israel prepared for the covenant, and those when it was ratified and the law given, and also the interval between Moses' first and second stay on the mountain. Thus the whole of the elaborate work connected with the Tabernacle and its services must have been done within six months.” (Edersheim, Alfred, Old Testament Bible History, chap. 13)

Exodus 31:13 Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you

Russell M. Nelson

When I was a youth, I wondered just what activities were appropriate for the Sabbath. I read lists of dos and don'ts, all prepared by others. But now I have a much better understanding. I gained precious insight from two Old Testament scriptures. The first is from Exodus: "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, . . . My sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you." (Exodus 31:12-13.) The other scripture is from Ezekiel: "I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. . . . I am the Lord your God; . . . hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God." (Ezek. 20:12, 19-20.)

Now I understand that my behavior on the Sabbath is my sign to the Lord of my regard for him and for the covenant under which I was born. If, on the one hand, my interests on the Sabbath were turned to pro football games or worldly movies, the sign from me to him would clearly be that my devotion would not favor the Lord. If, on the other hand, my Sabbath interests were focused on the Lord and his teachings, my family, or the sick, or the poor, and the needy, that sign would likewise be visible to God. Our activities on the Sabbath will be appropriate as we consider them to be our personal sign to him of our commitment to the Lord. (The Power within Us [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988], 127)

Spencer W. Kimball

The Sabbath day is given throughout the generations of man for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between the Lord and his children forever. It is a day in which to worship and to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Lord. It is a day on which to surrender every worldly interest and to praise the Lord humbly, for humility is the beginning of exaltation. It is a day not for affliction and burden but for rest and righteous enjoyment. It is a day not for lavish banqueting, but a day of simple meals and spiritual feasting; not a day of abstinence from food, except fast day, but a day when maid and mistress might be relieved from the preparation. It is a day graciously given us by our Heavenly Father. It is a day when animals may be turned out to graze and rest; when the plow may be stored in the barn and other machinery cooled down; a day when employer and employee, master and servant may be free from plowing, digging, toiling. It is a day when the office may be locked and business postponed, and troubles forgotten; a day when man may be temporarily released from that first injunction, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." (Genesis 3:19.) It is a day when bodies may rest, minds relax, and spirits grow. It is a day when songs may be sung, prayers offered, sermons preached, and testimonies borne, and when man may climb high, almost annihilating time, space, and distance between himself and his Creator. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 215)

Exodus 31:14-15 every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death

Latter-day Saints have a hard time with the harshness of certain Old Testament passages.  This is a good example, “breaking the Sabbath is a capital offense?”  How is that right?  Were Sabbath breakers really put to death?  If so, why?

   And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.

   And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.

   And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.

   And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

   And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses. (Num. 15:32-36)

The wages of is death (Rom. 6:23).  When we commit sin, we have violated the laws of God and deserve to be punished.  Justice demands it.  If there were no punishment for sin, God would not be a just God.  While it is true that Jehovah and Moses are making an example of this man, while the episode is an example of tough love for a hard-hearted people, underlying the incident are the exacting demands of justice. 

In our day, in our teachings, in our church, we are so used to the mercy of Jesus, that we can’t comprehend the justice of Jehovah.  They are the same person!  Rather than discount what happened in the Old Testament, perhaps we should contemplate the seriousness of sin.  Perhaps we should realize that God created us so he has every right to take away the life he has given us.  Like the intimidating mother who threatens, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!”  With God, that is very literally a true statement.

God has a pay now/pay later policy for sin.  In the Old Testament, the policy was pay now.  In our day, the policy is pay later.  But we should not get complacent because we are always being shown mercy.  There is a price to be paid—one way or the other (D&C 19:16-19).  When we read about Jesus, how he “ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice,” (Mosiah 15:9) perhaps we should understand with more gratitude that we have been saved from something terrible—the demands of justice.

   And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice. (Mosiah 15:16)

John Taylor

What have we come here for? To worship God and to keep his commandments. And how is it with many of us? We forget, in many instances, our high calling’s glorious hope, and we give way to follies, foibles, weakness, and iniquity, and we are governed more or less by covetousness, drunkenness, Sabbath breaking, and evils of various kinds. I sometimes see Elders of Israel bringing in loads of wood and loads of hay on the Sabbath day. Why, it is a burning shame in the eyes of God, holy angels, and all other intelligent beings. If such men had lived under the law of ancient Israel, they would have been put to death. (Ex. 31:14-15 Ex. 35:2) Do you know that? Go and read it in your Bibles. (Journal of Discourses, 18:141-142)