Why His way is not our way
There are three themes that link together in this portion: The commandments about Shabbat, the freewill offerings given by the people and the building of the Mishkan.
Why start this set of three with Shabbat? Interestingly Adam and Chava’s life after they were created began with Shabbat. Man’s thinking would be to start with the first working day of the week, but no, it began with Shabbat. This shows that they couldn’t ‘do’ anything for G-d, make anything, it was all done for them. They inherited it all by sheer dint of the fact that G-d had created them and given them life. They began with rest before they had begun to work! The world can’t understand this, surely you rest after you’ve worked. Not so, in G-d’s way you rest before you are able to work for Him.
Thus the building of the Mishkan could only begin once the Shabbat keeping had been established and was secure. We can’t actually work for Him until we enter His rest. First we have to make sacred time, a chronological space, and then we can put something in it. Once we’ve entered that place of rest we realise that everything has been done by G-d already, we just need to walk into our inheritance as He guides us. That is how we walk and work with G-d.
And neither was this command to build and have Shabbat given to an individual. We have got so used to thinking individualistically that we forget that these were given to the whole community. In Shemot (Exodus) 35:1 we read that Moses assembled the whole congregation of Israel together to be involved with the construction. Why the focus on the community? The answer lies in the building and the giving.
A team of builders will accomplish so much more than a solitary builder. We are now so used to doing our own thing that this concept seems vaguely cultic today, yet it is the bedrock of building G-d’s Mishkan and His work. Likewise a solitary donator achieves little with the finances given to him/her. But a community giving can achieve much for G-d. This ‘body ministry’ is the foundation also in the Messianic Writings, the body of believers who together carry out G-d’s work. If you work in a team you are not able to vault your own work above that of others, you readily recognise that each person has what you lack and vice versa, so you esteem others higher than yourself, in fact you need them!
G-d’s community intention is for our growth, and that is directly linked to how you are connected relationally. Relational growth is biblical, Torah growth.
As a body we are called to build not demolish. We are to confront error, convict of sin and bring correction, and it is the Spirit of G-d that achieves these things. But we can become so negative that our initial reaction to anything is ‘it won’t work’, or we habitually criticise any work of G-d or the people leading it. That’s demolishing. Our active response to G-d is of building, working for Him as slaves to righteousness. We are called to use the tools He has given us, even if we don’t like them! G-d isn’t concerned whether you like the person you’re sitting next to, the Leadership or anything else; you are called to work with what G-d has provided. Equally what we build may not meet your idea of beauty or conform to your own standards of acceptability or design. This building is G-d’s not yours. It has a purpose higher than yours, and will be built in the way He chooses.
So the key to building what G-d wants is to first enter His rest of Shabbat in the fullness of what Shabbat signifies and means. Then He expects us to build and work together for His glory, both in giving as well as in relationships.