IF YOU HAVE been around church for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with that big drawing of a thermometer in the entrance somewhere. Its red mercury level indicates how well the building fund program is coming along—and the temperature of the people.
You have also likely participated in your share of bake sales, fish frys, silent auctions, and jumble sales. Some churches are a bit more direct, with an appeal from the pulpit.
And then there’s pastors who try to get creative, like the one who camped out on top of his church and said he wouldn’t come down until a certain sum had been raised. (I can think of some churches where people would love their pastor to try the same thing…)
Now, imagine that when you get to church next week that the minister makes this announcement: “Please don’t give us any money, because we have got more than we need.” You’re probably thinking something about snowballs someplace, right?
Yet, that’s just what Moses has to tell the people of Israel when he oversees the building of the tabernacle. In Exodus 35, we read how, having given detailed instructions about the place His people should prepare for Him to visit them, God then instructs Moses to invite all who are of “a generous heart” (verse 5) to make a contribution to the project.
The response is pretty remarkable. The people end up giving around eight tons of gold, silver, and bronze for the tabernacle. In today’s money, that would be about $13 million. They also hand over a lot of fine linens that are hard to value.
But they don’t stop there. Exodus 36:3-7 tells us:
They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.”
So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.
Can you imagine a church where people have to be restrained from giving? Nor me. So what’s going on here?
The Israelites’ abundant offering is in part response to their having been liberated from captivity in Egypt. There’s the promise of a new start. But I suspect that it may also have something to do with being given a second chance.
Pause to remember where all this gold and silver came from. It wasn’t the Israelites’ inheritance; they’d been slaves for 400 years. They’d got it when, as they left Egypt, they asked for donations from their slave-masters (Exodus 12:35).
But then, soon after passing through the Red Sea, the Israelites forget where their good fortune came from. With Moses stuck up the mountain doing they know not what, they use some of that gold to fashion a calf to worship. What God has intended as a blessing they have turned into an idol. (Not that we’d ever do anything like that, of course.)
Perhaps that is why, given another chance to use what they have been given—this time for the worship of the one true God—they are so eager. Maybe there’s a lesson there for some of us.