The First Artist of Faith

There are lots of Bible stories. Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, Noah’s ark. There is Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Joseph and his coat of many colors, the brothers Cain and Abel, David and Goliath. But they never seem to tell the story of one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament: Bezalel

Bezalel, whose name means, “standing in the shadow of God,” was an artist. But not just an artist—he was an extraordinary artist, the first true artist on record in the Bible. (Bezelel is also a fun name to say out loud, by the way.)  Craftsman, sculptor, metalsmith, architect, even fashion designer, Bezalel was chosen by God to build the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the construction of the tabernacle, and everything that went in it.

In the book of Exodus, God forsees Bezalel, as He ordains him before His servant leader, Moses:

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship” [Exodus 31:1-5 NIV].

In chapters 36 through 39, Exodus carefully describes all the inner workings of the tabernacle: The tapestries, the framing, the Ark, the table, the lamp stand, the altars, the washbasin, the courtyard, the vestments, and on and on. Under Bezalel’s creative leadership, all the work was done exactly as God had commanded.  It was beautiful, ornate, breathtaking, complete. And the book of Exodus ends, with the Cloud of God inhabiting His sacred place. 

There are three aspects of Bezalel that bear consideration. The first is that he was indwelt with the Spirit of God. In fact, he is the first person mentioned in the Bible to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit. This unique distinction does not fall on a leader or a prophet or a king, but upon an artist. So God was alive in Him, and He was alive to the presence of God. And the Spirit gave him the passion to bring him to complete the task.

Second, God specifically endowed Bezalel with his talents and his intelligence. He was given wisdom and understanding, so that he would know the heart of God. He was given knowledge in several different artistic skill sets, “in all manner of workmanship,” in order to know how to implement God’s desires. And he was given the skill and talents to be able to design and fabricate the beauty that would please God. To “stand in the shadow of God” implies that He was given a divine awareness into God’s plan and aesthetic. He knew how to please God with his art and had the ability to do so.

Third, Bezalel was chosen by God. This is an ongoing motif in the book of Exodus, that God used a people of His choosing to carry out His plans for humanity. In Bezalel’s case, He is called “by name,” for God knew him intimately, knew who he was and who he would become. He was called to a task which is important to God, so important that God involved Himself in the minute details of the Tabernacle along with Bezalel. So he needed a very special person to carry out this task. Amongst all of God’s chosen, Bezalel of Judah is called to build the Ark of the Covenant, that which held God’s glory [Exodus 37:1]. 

What is not mentioned in this passage is the context of his situation, the story that lives between the lines. Bezalel is given this incredible, unprecedented gift of talent and skill and artistry.  But he had free will. And he didn’t have to give it back to God. He could have personally profited from this gift, created a successful business from his remarkable skills, charged for his time, given the glory and monetary gain to himself. And truly, this is what most artists and artisans do.  For artists can be prideful and self-centered people. But he does not. Bezalel understands where his remarkable gifts come from and he stewards them wisely. He is not selfish in his giftedness, neither to God nor to his people. And he is true to his calling, performing his task to the delight of the Lord. 

Think about that. He is the coolest, most happening artist in the history of the people of Israel.  He has the status, the gifts, the venue, the prestige. And he gives it all back to God. He keeps his covenant, as God keeps His. Interestingly, after one final mention in Chapter 35, we never hear from Bezalel again. Instead, the focus is back upon God, upon His presence with His people. Bezalel quietly serves God with both skill and humility.

Bezalel is a model for the millennial artist who follows Christ. For in our own ways, we are each called “by name” to enter into the privilege of art. And in that calling, we have an obligation to steward the gifts that God gives us—honing them, sharing them, delighting God with them. For we all “stand in the shadow” of the Almighty, all are given a divine awareness into God’s plan and aesthetic. To greater and lesser degrees, we all bear the potential of Bezalel.

[This is an excerpt from my book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist. I’ve been thinking a lot about the virtue of wisdom lately, especially as we live in an increasingly contentious and divided world. Beyond “facts” or “knowledge,” wisdom is to know and apply God’s heart. Not surprisingly, this is the first attribute God endowed to Bezelel. If you want to read more, please grab it on Amazon, your favorite bookstore, or contact me directly.]

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