After God had called his people out from the bondage of Egypt and formed them at Sinai into a nation, one of the great tasks to which he called them was to build the tabernacle and all the related decorations and equipment to be used for sacrifice and worship. Having spoiled the Egyptians of jewels, precious metals, wood, and material, the people willingly gave of these materials for use in the building. The task was to fit it all together according to the design laid out by God into a beautiful and serviceable whole. Not only did this structure bring God’s people to express covenant fellowship with God, it would serve as a picture of the whole church as a living body, the bride of Christ, each member “as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
The raw materials for this tabernacle did not come like pieces of a kit that needed to be fit together. Each piece required work to shape and prepare it for its particular place. As lively stones, we each experience in our lives a vigorous and often difficult and painful process of being prepared for our place. For this work of shaping and crafting the raw materials of the tabernacle, God prepared especially two men: Bezaleel and Aholiab. We read of their calling in Exodus 35:30-35:
And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.
These men had help, but God had given them the gifts necessary to oversee the whole project and direct just how each of the pieces needed to be worked on so that it would fit and serve the whole.
The process of taking a precious metal and forming it into the desired shape was an especially long, extreme, and complicated process. The process of forming a mold out of a mixture of clay and sand, melting and preparing the metal to be poured into the mold, and finally polishing the part for its final fit requires a great deal of planning, preparation, and skill. The technique of melting and casting metal is very old, but sand molds are still used today to make many metal parts, including the engine block of your car.
Part of the process of casting metal involves purifying the metal being used to remove gasses and other impurities that would weaken the final product, leaving it less than pure and perfect. In various passages throughout the Bible, God applies this process to his own word and also our spiritual lives, a few of which are the following: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psa. 12:6). “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zec. 13:9). “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
A closer look at the art of using a foundry and molding sand to create a finished metal product reveals further application to our life as Christians. First a model (pattern) with the exact dimensions of the product must be made from some softer material like wood, wax, clay, etc. Next the molding sand is prepared using a special mixture of sand, clay, and oil. The pattern is placed upon a table and a molding box (only sides, no top or bottom) is placed over the pattern. The sand mixture is poured over the pattern and rammed hard around the pattern until the box is full and leveled off. When this box is turned over, the pattern is on top, embedded in the sand. To this, a layer of fine powder is applied as a separating agent. A second box is fitted on top of the first, and more of the sand mixture is used to pack it full. At this point, a hollow pipe is used to cut holes into the packed sand. Molten metal will flow down one, and hot gas will escape from the other to make room for the molten metal. After these holes, this box is lifted from the first box, and the pattern is carefully removed from the packed sand leaving a perfect imprint. Channels are cut from the pattern to the holes through which the molten metal is poured. When ready, the top half of the mold box is placed again on top of the bottom half.
The whole process is a lot of work, and seems like a huge excess of material all for one little part. The original pattern makes me think of God’s eternal plan for who we must be, and the whole process of making the mold is like all the material things, relationships, and skills for earthly life that we accumulate over the course of our life. These things are necessary and important, but in the end it is all destroyed for the sake of removing the final metal product.
The metal scraps must now be thrown into a crucible and subjected to the blazing heat of a furnace. Bezaleel and Aholiab would need to construct some type of enclosure to contain the heat and use charcoal and some type of blower to generate the heat necessary to melt the gold, silver, or brass. Today we can use the same materials, as well as oil, propane, or electric to generate the refiner’s fire. The crucible eventually glows with a brilliant light and the solid metal gradually crumbles and melts into a shiny pool of liquid. A flux powder must be added to bring out the gasses and dross which is skimmed from the surface of the pool of shiny liquid. Nothing in the world compares to a glowing molten pool of brass, and God uses this to describe the feet of our exalted Lord upon the throne in Revelation 1:15, “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace;” At last it is ready to be poured into the mold. The glowing crucible is lifted, and a silvery stream of liquid flows into the sand mold with a hiss and smoky steam.
At this point, I see a believer near the end of life having lived and experienced all that God would have him experience. Who he really is lies buried deep within the smoking and bulky mold. Some may see only the great bulk of the mold and praise the accomplishment of accumulating all that he has—his wealth, talents, relationships, gifts, etc. It is the stuff of the eulogy, but eulogies miss the whole point. It is not until the blows of a heavy hammer shatter the mold, and the sand breaks away and dissolves again into sand and dust, that we find buried within that beautifully shaped metal formed in perfect accordance to the original pattern. This is what we should strive to see in our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is something we only see dimly on this earth, but will see clearly in heaven.
At last the piece is finished. Bezaleel and Aholiab would smile to see a perfectly formed brass ring to receive the poles for the ark of the covenant. Again and again, the patterns and molds were made, and parts were fashioned until all the parts fitting perfectly together brought the whole plan of God together into a complete whole. The process can be long, and the trials like that of a refiner’s fire, but it suits us perfectly for the place God has prepared for us. Only then can we fully experience the covenant fellowship with our God. Let us also keep in mind the new man in Christ, and not give so much attention and importance to all the things that only constitute the mold. The things of this life, our relationships, and even our bodies dissolve to reveal what God has created us to be.