In this passage (Exodus 25:1-9), God calls on Moses to receive an offering from the people for the purpose of building and furnishing the tabernacle. He emphasizes that the offering is to be strictly voluntary — “from everyone whose heart stirs him to give.” (v. 2; HCSB)
What follows then is a list of the types of things sought in the offering, and those materials are quite rich (and heavy–more on that in a moment): gold, silver, bronze, gemstones, fine linen and wool yarn, fine and rare skins, lumber. These are not the materials that a down-trodden group of escaped laborers would ordinarily be expected to have lying about their persons, especially when they are traveling through a desert wilderness. And when we see the extent of the plans laid out in the following chapters, it becomes quite plain that the quantities of them that God envisions receiving are quite considerable.
One obvious question is: how did the Israelites come to have such an enormous treasure trove of precious and bulky materials? The
obvious answer is that they acquired them in the “plundering of Egypt” which we read about in Exodus 11:2 and 12:35 & 36. There we see that God orchestrated a sort of voluntary self-plundering by the Egyptians to the enrichment of the Israelites. So, though they could complain mightily to Moses about not having enough to eat or drink, the Israelites continued to lug all this plunder through the desert of the Sinai. Fifteen foot by two and a quarter foot acacia planks aren’t exactly something that you stick in your personal duffel bag. The fleeing Israelites were traveling with a more than a hundred of them.
Here in Exodus 25 we see the aim of that plundering of Egypt. But what makes this process so remarkable to me is the emphasis on the voluntary nature of the Exodus 25 offering. God arranged the plunder of Egypt in such a way that the Israelites themselves became the owners of the wealth that they received from the Egyptians. God could have instructed the people to ask for departure gifts from the Egyptians (the plunder) but at the same time telling them, “Don’t get the idea this stuff is yours. It’s not yours. It’s mine. I just want you to carry it for me until I need it later.” But that isn’t what God did. He didn’t consider this plunder to be his. He considered it to be the possession of the people.
That is made plain by the voluntary nature of the offering. In Exodus 25, God doesn’t simply demand that the people give him back the stuff they’ve been carrying for him. No, instead, he insists that only those who really want to give their Egyptian riches to this project are asked to make an offering. The Egyptian plunder really is the property of the people. They are free to participate in the building of the tabernacle or not as they choose — as “their hearts stir them.” In this way, the tabernacle is built not by the raw, naked power of God. It is not even build on a mandatory obedience forced out of the Israelites. It is built by the free, voluntary, and generous partnership of the people. Here again, God goes out of his way to invite the willing cooperation of his people in the accomplishing of his purposes in the world.
©2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
- Bible Note #11 – Exodus 3: The Call of Moses (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)