21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22 Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; 23 and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.
24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent a base. 28 And of the 1,775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. 29 The bronze that was offered was seventy talents and 2,400 shekels; 30 with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31 the bases around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court. – Exodus 38:21-31 ESV
The Tabernacle was the work of Bezalel and his team of skilled artisans and craftsmen, but the material used to construct this one-of-a-kind structure had been donated by the Israelites. In other words, it was a community-wide effort, and it had all been under the direction of Yahweh. This entire project had been His idea and its completion had been made possible because He had deemed it so. God had been the one to order the collection of all the building materials so that His house could become a reality, and the willing participation of the people would play a vital role in bringing His sanctuary to completion.
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:1-9 ESV
The inventory Moses provides helps to give a sense of scale to this massive project. In a rather matter-of-fact way, Moses records the staggering amount of gold, silver, and bronze required to complete God’s house. And it would seem that the people of Israel supplied every single ounce that God had called for in His design. More than a ton of gold was donated by the Israelites. Their bracelets, amulets, rings, and necklaces were melted down so that Bezalel and his associates could adorn the Tabernacle and its furniture just as God had commanded. According to Moses’ inventory, the Israelites contributed an additional 3.75 tons of silver and nearly 3 tons of bronze for use in the construction of the Tabernacle.
For a nation of former slave laborers and sheepherders, this represents an amazing amount of wealth. But they had neither earned nor worked for it. According to the early chapters of Exodus, God had preordained a massive wealth exchange between the Egyptians and the Israelites. In His original call to Moses, God had revealed His plan to provide the Israelites with the resources they would later need to fulfill His request for donations to build His Tabernacle.
“So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:20-22 ESV
And God had delivered on this promise. When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt, they followed God’s instructions and asked their Egyptian neighbors for a parting gift.
The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV
After watching the Egyptians suffer under the ten plagues brought upon them by God, the Israelites must have felt a bit strange asking these devastated people to hand over their gold, silver, and bronze. After all, every household in Egypt had just suffered the loss of their firstborn. For the tenth and final plague, God sent His death angel throughout the land of Egypt, so “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” ( Exodus 12:30 ESV). The staggering loss of life associated with this last plague left the Egyptians stunned and eager to see the Israelites leave their land.
The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” – Exodus 12:33 ESV
So, when the Israelites made their rather bold request for parting gifts, the Egyptians eagerly complied. No doubt, the Egyptians viewed their gifts as offerings to the God of the Israelites. By this time, they feared and were eager to appease the wrath of this powerful and death-delivering deity. So, they willingly turned over their valuables to the parting Israelites. And it is likely that many of these pieces of jewelry bore the images of their false gods. Egyptian amulets, rings, and pendants were often adorned with depictions of their diverse assortment of deities and it seems likely that these trinkets made their way into the plunder that the Israelites took with them from Egypt.
Little did the Israelites know that their sudden windfall would later be used to prepare a dwelling place for Yahweh. And when they departed Egypt, they led their extensive herds and flocks. During their 400-year stay in Egypt, they had served as shepherds and herdsmen for Pharaoh, and over time, they had seen their own livestock increase greatly in number. So that by the time they left, they did so “with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 ESV). And, once again, they had no way of knowing that these animals had been providentially provided by God so that they might have ample sources of animals once His sacrificial system was instituted. God had provided all that they would need to build the Tabernacle and fulfill His command for blood sacrifices.
Amazingly, during the fifth plague, God had brought death to all the livestock of the Egyptians, but had spared the flocks and herds of the Israelites.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’” And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. – Exodus 9:1-6 ESV
God had protected the assets of His people, and when it come time for them to leave the land, God had provided them with gold, silver, and bronze – in abundance. The Almighty had providentially planned ahead for the future. Every animal they would eventually sacrifice in the wilderness had been provided by God. Every ounce of gold, silver, and bronze they would need to construct the Tabernacle had been provided for in advance and at the expense of the Egyptians. In a sense, the Egyptians bankrolled the construction of a house for Israel’s God. Their gold adorned the Mercy Seat upon which Yahweh would sit in the Holy of Holies. Their bronze necklaces would be melted down and hammered into sheets that would be affixed to the Bronze Altar. And on that altar, the Israelites would offer the livestock that God had spared in the land of Goshen. The Egyptian gold, silver, and bronze would be used to build a sanctuary to the God of the Israelites. The jewelry that had once adorned the bodies of pagan Egyptians would be used to glorify Yahweh, the all-powerful and unparalleled God of Israel.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.