The Subtle Beauty of Work

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The Israelites hadn't been long removed from bondage in Egypt when God laid down the law at Sinai. Having just seen him accomplish amazing feats on their behalf, they were at least somewhat receptive to his newly spoken rules. But he didn't mean to oversee his people from some high and lofty perch above the desert. He meant to come close, and to dwell nearby. He told their leader, Moses:

Speak to the people of Israel, that they may 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. (Exod. 25:2–7, ESV)

It must have seemed, at first blush, a rather odd shopping list. The Israelites were, after all, a people on the move. They'd left Egypt in an awful hurry—but not before they had plundered the Egyptians of their gold, silver, and other riches. Now they could see why this extra cargo was given: God meant to make good use of it. And what, exactly, did the Almighty have in mind? ". . . Let them make me a sanctuary," he said, "that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8, ESV). As Eugene Peterson so delightfully phrases it in The Message, God "moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14). And not only did he have a particular neighborhood in mind—he had house plans drawn, and was ready to build: "Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it" (Exod. 25:9, ESV).

I have architect and designer friends who claim the worst possible client is one who has no idea what he or she wants. Let the record show that God would have made an excellent client. He knew exactly what sort of temporary home he was after and left virtually nothing to guesswork when he shared the design with Moses. He described the tabernacle or tent itself with its eleven goat-hair curtains and fifty bronze clasps and upright frames of acacia wood. He specified its furniture, from the ark of the testimony and its mercy seat to the table and lampstand on down to its tableware—every single item specified.

How much detail did God give? He described just the lampstand like this:

The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. (Exod. 25: 31-35, ESV)

And that was just the lampstand itself—not its base or its lampshades! All for the purpose that God himself might draw near and dwell among his people.

For those tending to the tabernacle—Moses' brother Aaron as the high priest and his sons as priests—there were specific instructions for the very garments they would wear. From head to toe their dress was ordered, down to the smallest, most elegant detail. A turban, a breastplate, shoulder pieces, a tunic, a sash, and a robe were described, down to the very hem of that robe. There, where the feet of the priests would stir up dust, and where, no doubt, the robe would trail in the blood of many sacrifices, a beautiful border was to be crafted.

And an odd one, at that.

Near the hem of the priests' robes, a row of richly embroidered fruits—pomegranates—were interspersed with tiny, golden bells, so that every movement of the priests' service would result in a brief flash of color and the faint, tinkling sound of music. It was dirty work, theirs. But their service was a living, tangible show-and-tell of distinct (if subtle) beauty.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • We often take note of God's handiwork on the grand scale of the night sky or a gorgeous sunrise, but what is your favorite smaller-than-a-breadbox sign of his careful attention to detail?
  • What token might remind you of God's presence in his created world? A postcard from the Grand Canyon? An aspen leaf? A ticket stub from an aquarium or planetarium? Something else?
  • How is your work a living, tangible show-and-tell for God? Describe the subtle beauty of your work.

Editor's Note: This article and the first two discussion questions are excerpted from Leigh McLeroy's recent book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps. In Treasured, Leigh McLeroy focuses on 12 small "treasures" from God's story, unpacking their meaning and considering what each one might reveal about his character. For example, there is a fig leaf from Eden, a fresh olive sprig brought back by a dove to Noah on the ark, and a bit of scarlet thread from Rahab's house in Jericho. There's also a bell from the hem of the high priest's robe and a string from a shepherd's harp. In each case, these treasures have a meaning of their own that not only fits into God's great redemptive storybut helps us understand our own journeys, as well. Leigh will be speaking at the Laity Lodge winter Women's Retreat, January 28-31, 2010, and may be reached at

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