Chapter 31

YHWH revealed to Moses that Bezalel (son of Uri and the grandson of Hur) of the tribe of Judah was to be the chief artisan for constructing the tabernacle and its furnishings, and his assistant was to be Oholiab (son of Ahisamach) of the tribe of Dan. Apparently Bezalel possessed the ability to perform the essential tasks, but this ability must have been enhanced through the operation of God’s spirit upon him. YHWH is quoted as telling Moses, “I have filled him with the spirit of God, with ability and with understanding and with knowledge and with all craft.” Accordingly, Bezalel was equipped to perform everything that was needed for working with gold, silver, copper or bronze, for cutting gem stones, for making settings for precious and semi-precious stones, and for carving wood. Bezalel and Oholiab, however, were not the only artisans. Other skilled workers were also to be involved in constructing everything regarding which YHWH had instructed Moses. “In the heart” of these persons (literally, “all wise ones of heart”), YHWH had placed the ability, suggesting that their exceptional skills for the work had been divinely granted to them. As the chief artisan, Bezalel appears to have been entrusted with the primary responsibility to direct the work that had to be done. (31:1-6)

The “tent of meeting” or tabernacle and all its furnishings needed to be constructed. Other major projects were the making of the ark of the testimony, the table for the showbread, the lampstand and all of its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering, and the basin and its base. Skills in weaving, embroidering, and sewing were required to produce the garments for Aaron and his sons. Two substances needing to be produced were the anointing oil and the incense. (31:7-11; see the Note section regarding the “testimony.”)

YHWH’s final instructions to Moses before his descent from Mount Sinai focused on the importance of observing the sabbaths for generations to come. The Sabbath itself was a sign between YHWH and the people of Israel, indicating that he had santified or set them apart as his own people. It was a “holy day,” specifically designated as a day of rest and refreshment for everyone, including domestic animals. For anyone to violate the Sabbath, refusing to observe it, would have constituted rebellion against YHWH, for he had instituted it for his people. Such rebellion was a capital offense, punishable by “cutting off” (being destroyed [LXX]) or having the death penalty inflicted. No work was to be done on that day, for that would have desecrated it as a day of rest and refreshment. Through Sabbath observance, the people would have been imitating YHWH, for he completed the creation of heaven (the celestial dome), earth (or land), and sea and everything “in them” (or all creation relating to the sphere in which humans live) in six days and rested on the seventh day, looking upon the completed creative work as “good” and finding joy in what he had brought into existence during six creative days. YHWH blessed the seventh day when pronouncing what had been accomplished as good and sanctifying it or setting it apart as a sacred day of rest. (31:11-17)

After he had received all the instructions, Moses was given the two tablets of stone on which the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” were written. The writing is attributed to the finger of God, revealing that the written text had God as its source and came to be in recorded form through the operation of his power. (31:18)


The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” could be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands.