Moses said to all the congregation of the people
of Israel, "This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take
from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous
heart, let him bring the LORD'S contribution: gold, silver, and
bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen;
goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for
the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense,
and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the
breastpiece." (Shemot / Exodus 35:4-9; ESV)
The people of Israel's forty-year journey through the wilderness
prior to their conquest of the Promised Land was quite the time. So
much happened, both good and bad. We are privileged to learn from them
and their experiences through the Scriptures. No nation has ever
encountered God as they had: his power, his protection, his guidance,
his ways. When we think of the people themselves, we may tend to do so
only in negative terms. Even though God had made himself so
dramatically real to them, they often complained and rebelled against
him. But that's not the whole story. There were actually many things
they did right as we see here in God's call for contributions for the
Mishkan (English: Tabernacle).
This is a case where God's directive to the people was not
obligatory, but voluntary. It's not often that God speaks in anything
but commands as he does here. Through Moses, God invited the people to
give of their possessions items that would be used for the various
parts of the Mishkan. As it turned out, not only did the people
adequately respond, they gave so much that they were eventually told
to stop (see Shemot / Exodus 36:6).
When the request for contributions was made it was directed to
those, according to the translation I am using, who were of a generous
heart. The Hebrew phrase translated as "generous heart," is
"nadiv livo," which is often translated as "willing
heart." It could be that this has an implied meaning of
"generous heart," since that is what is normally understood
when we speak of willingness when it comes to the giving of things.
But there is something more than generosity going on here. Also
implied, possibly in the expression itself, but certainly in the
context, is the ability to give. God wasn't asking for general
contributions of an unspecified nature. He lists exactly what was
required and for what purpose. There were likely a great many people
who were not in possession of these items. It didn't matter if they
were generous or not. God was looking for people who were both willing
and able to give these items.
This reminds us that we can only give of what we have. An obvious
statement, perhaps? Maybe, but we don't always treat it as such. It's
so easy to compare what we give or don't give, do or don't do, with
the contributions of others. God is not looking for us to give what we
don't have. We wouldn't have what we have unless God didn't first
provide it. He is in no way impressed with our striving to be what we
are not by giving what he has not given us.
Elsewhere in the Torah, we are told to "love the LORD your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
might" (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:5; ESV). This great commandment
directs me to love God with my heart, my soul, and my might, not
someone else's. I can't give to God what I don't have, nor does he
expect me to.
But I can give what I do have, whatever that might be. But I won't
know what that is as long as I am focused on the contributions of
others. It's your heart and your soul that God is calling for you to
give with all your might, willingly.
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