Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Exodus 38

Verses 1-31

Old Things Turned to New Uses

Exodus 38:8

The mirrors of the period were made of burnished brass. Women having such looking-glasses at the door of the Tent of Meeting refers to an idolatrous custom. In many ancient religions women took a leading part in some of the ceremonies. This was so in Egypt. The Israelites had no doubt observed the custom and imitated it in some degree, or part of the "mixed multitude" that went up with Israel out of Egypt may have continued the idolatrous practice. Each woman had a looking-glass made of polished brass, and that mirror was used in some way in connection with idolatrous practices. When the tabernacle was being built the women gave up their mirrors and so contributed to the formation of the laver, which was made of brass, and the foot of it of brass. Thus we have old things turned to new uses, and it is for us to say whether we shall regard this incident as a piece of ancient history, or whether we shall enter into the spirit of it and realise the action in our own day and on a broader scale. We can modernise the incident; we need not allow the centuries to gather between us and the instance of consecration. We need not smile at the ancient story; we had better seize its spiritual intent and realise its purpose in our own daily behaviour.

How came the women to give up their looking-glasses to assist in constructing the laver? Because a superior spirit had taken possession of them. That is the philosophy and that the explanation of the case. That must be the philosophy and the explanation of corresponding service upon our part. This kind of action, if it is to be of the true quality and to have real virtue and merit in the sight of Heaven, cannot be done as a trick, or as an act of mechanism, or for the satisfaction of personal vanity, or for the purpose of being like other people; it must express the fact that into our souls there has come a new principle of living, a new purpose, a nobler spirit than we have yet entertained, and the action must show that we are ruled by considerations which deprive all temporal things of the slightest permanent value. We are too prone to make ancient history; it is a fault of ours. We might be younger if we determined not to be so old. We might see the old poetry written over again with a young hand. We might revivify all the sacred past and be rich in memory and inspiration. Is it not so that when a greater spirit takes possession of the man he is willing to attest the reality of the new occupancy by giving up that which aforetime he valued? Great enthusiasms dispossess the soul of mean idolatries. Christ in you the hope of glory alters every standard of valuation and every test of accuracy. When a preacher has set upon his platform a little black slave-child and looking a great congregation in the face has said—Her price is so much: shall we subscribe the amount and invest the child with freedom? what has been the reply? Men have taken off their watches and chains and cast them into the treasury; women have stripped their fingers of jewellery and said, "Take the baubles and buy the child"s liberty with them." That is the philosophy, and until we get some such spirit as that we shall be niggards and mean men, content with little things, careful that the temperature does not rise too high; we shall be the victims of prudence, we shall not know the sovereignty and Divinity of purest passion.

This is not to be accomplished by mere argument in words. The soul must see its own Divine sights and hear the call addressed specially to itself; it must feel the glow of a new love, the appeal of a grand challenge; it must answer in its own way without heeding the judgment or fearing the contempt of others. We cannot do the greatest actions in life as mere duties. Duty is a measurable term: it begins and ends; it has appointed days, stipulations, covenants; it goes by weights, scales, and measures. A great life can never be founded upon the mere discharge of mechanical duty. There is a conception of duty which takes up all the elements that are necessary to constitute and preserve a Divine enthusiasm; but I am dealing now with the every-day conception—quid pro quo, the so much for so much, and that is the spirit of the hireling, and it never can end in enthusiasm, consecration, Calvary. What then is the spirit that is to enter into us? None other than the spirit of Christ. We might use many words in describing the spirit, but all the words would focalise themselves at last in this sublime expression—"For Christ"s sake." When Christ enters into a man and takes full possession of him, the world is not worth fighting for; time is so small as to be unmeasurable, and all the prizes of life are leaves that wither in the plucking. Argument can never do this; creed and dogma and written form of faith can never do it. Men cannot be followers of mere isms, and impersonalities, and abstract propositions. There are those who seek to quench the spirit of individuality. They do not want mere personal following to be the rule of religious life; they would have men live for an ism, an abstract statement. This can never be done. We are so constituted that personality rules our thinking, stirs our enthusiasm, brings to consecration our hesitating, inquiring, and reluctant will. The highest personality is Christ. We follow him, and in proportion as we follow him all things we possess are his. We feel heaven enough in the realisation of the fact that he is willing to accept and use them.

There is room in the sanctuary for everything. This is the point we have so often missed in our Christian teaching. No punishment is burning enough for the men who would belittle God"s house. They are the plague of every ministry, they are the obstruction of every kingdom that is righteous and pure, are those who would limit the Holy One of Israel. What have you? You have nothing that cannot be used in the building of God"s house and kingdom. Have you nothing but the little looking-glass? It can be used. Is yours, on the other hand, but one small flower which a child could pluck? It was God"s flower before it was yours, and he will never consent to lose a flower; it cost him thought and care and love; he dressed the flower as Solomon never could dress himself. Are yours very great faculties? They will be small enough in relation to the kingdom which is Christ"s and the house which is God"s. Many a great man feels himself much contracted when he comes into the infinite kingdom of Christ. The faculties which dazzled the senate are hardly seen in the Church—always provided that the term Church is defined in the largest and truest way. This will be seen some time. Meanwhile, the standard of valuation is different, and men "dressed in a little brief authority," rebuke wandering people who stop public religious services. When the men who so act—as George Fox acted—begin to explain themselves, the illustrious quacks call the speech nonsense. Are you a statesman? What a field there is in the Church for you! Here is your opportunity—a world to liberate, a world to illuminate, a world to bless;—a world? one world?—ten thousand worlds, when measured by the generations which rapidly and passionately succeed one another in the passage to eternity! How is your statesmanship being employed? In building paper walls? In outwitting rivals and competitors—struggling for a prize that will perish before it is reached? A vain and mean life! Let the Church (truly defined) never be ashamed to claim for herself the grandest function which human genius and human strength can exercise. Have you music—some gift of touch, some gift of voice,—the faculty of rendering thought into the eloquence of music? What a field there is in the Church for you!—for the pure man to pronounce pure words, for the soul to sing as well as the throat and the lips—to sing the world up to heaven"s gate—the weary, sighing, brokenhearted world. Who will exclude the musician from the Church? He must be brought inside, though the elder brother be offended much by the music and dancing. Better the elder brother be offended than that the passion of love and gratitude be extinguished in the soul. The elder brother must not rule us.

The time has come when men must settle this question. What spirit is to rule the Church?—the spirit of ice—if ice can be said to have a spirit—or the spirit of fire? The man of ice must be put out: he must be excommunicated as worse than a heretic and a most mischievous form of hypocrite. What is your talent? Is it a faculty of amusing men? We want you. This poor human life needs occasional recreation and gentle withdrawment from studies that would afflict it by the very profoundness of their solemnity. The child wants you—the little child all dimples, the little life all dream and laughter; that little creature does not want the theologian, the philosopher, the dogmatist. There is every kind of life upon the face of the earth and within the compass of the government of God, and each must be attended to according to its degree and quality and compass. The Church must consecrate its laughter; it must turn its very amusement into an instrument of religious use and blessedness. Nothing is to be turned away from the Church, except that which is impure, untrue, vicious, mean, and debasing.

Bright will be the day when all faculties which are now employed in mischief are employed in doing good. There are clever men on the bad side—men who could triumph over some of us in many departments of human skill—who are giving all their time and attention to the service of the Evil One. We want all their faculties; we must make room for their exercise. If the men say, We cannot exercise our faculties within the lines of the Church, then somebody has taken away from the amplitude of the Church, and room must be found for every man who is willing to consecrate his faculties to the true enlightenment, advancement, comfort, civilisation, and progress of mankind.

There are others to whom an appeal may be fittingly addressed—namely, those who are using great powers for little purposes or unworthy ends. Is it worth your while to carve heads upon cherry-stones? Taking all things into account, is it worthy of your power and dignity to be found running errands that are without a purpose, casting vessels into empty wells and drawing nothing up? Is there nothing better for you to do than to be throwing water into a sieve all day long and finding it empty at eventide? There may be no absolute mischief in what you are doing, but the faculties could be turned to positive beneficence—real, sound, healthy, good-doing, and when so turned the day is without a cloud, the time of cessation comes too soon, and as for he wages, they are paid in every stroke of the work.

Many entertain the hope that a day will come when all things will be turned to the building and consolidation of God"s kingdom. Prophecy encourages us to take that view. As for Christ—

Blessed will be the day when the breweries of the country are turned into mechanics" institutes, great sanitary establishments for the washing and cleansing of the people. Blessed will be the day when the rich man"s saloons shall be thrown open to the poorest neighbours he has who will come to look at his articles of vertu,—who will turn over his curiosities and examine them with honest fingers, and so admire them as to be touched into desire for broader life. Blessed—bright will be the day when in that sense we shall have all things common; when the strong man"s strength shall be the weak man"s refuge; when the homeless shall have a large home in the charity and love of his richer brother; when the one object of every heart will be to extend the happiness of mankind,—the one question in the morning being, What good can be done to-day? and the one question at eventide, What good has been accomplished? My persuasion is that if ever that time is to be brought about, it can only be by the extension of the spirit of Jesus Christ. He turned every man"s faculties to use; he found a place for every man in his clientèle he turned none away, saying—"In the formation of my kingdom I never anticipated peculiarities and gifts like yours." I know of no teacher with so keen a vision, so large a heart, so tender a sympathy, so noble a priestliness. This I say of him as a mere character in history without approaching him along any theological lines; but meeting him on the open highway of civilisation and listening to him, I say, "My Lord and my God, no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him." If I withheld that tribute from his gentle majesty, it would be because I had suppressed the purest passion that ever inflamed and ennobled my heart.

Taking the Christian view, all becomes larger still and brighter, and the hope is given that one day everybody will be in the kingdom, and every Prayer of Manasseh, woman, and child will be doing their very best to make that kingdom what God means it to be. The great men, by heroic strength, by dauntless valour, will carry on their sublime occupation; the patient women—gentle souls, having the genius of sympathy and the faculty of interpreting by suffering—will contribute their important, their ineffably valuable share; and little children will make up the sum total of the consecration. They can say nothing, but they can laugh us out of despair; they cannot preach, but they can hug the Cross with a trust that ought to be full of significance to us. All people serving the Saviour, all houses consecrated to the Son of God, and the whole earth, casting out the devil and his hell, shall have no room in all its radiant hue but for the Christ of God. "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Note

The Hebrew women on coming out of Egypt probably brought with them mirrors like those which were used by the Egyptians, and were made of a mixed metal, chiefly copper, wrought with such admirable skill, says Sir G. Wilkinson, that they were "susceptible of a lustre, which has even been partially revived at the present day, in some of those discovered at Thebes, though buried in the earth for many centuries. The mirror itself was nearly round, inserted into a handle of wood, stone, or metal, whose form varied according to the taste of the owner. Some presented the figure of a female, a flower, a column, or a rod ornamented with the head of Athor, a bird, or a fancy device; and sometimes the face of a Typhonian monster was introduced to support the mirror, serving as a contrast to the features whose beauty was displayed within it." With regard to the metal of which the ancient mirrors were composed there is not much difference of opinion. Pliny mentions that anciently the best were made at Brundusium, of a mixture of copper and tin or of tin alone. Praxiteles, in the time of Pompey the Great, is said to have been the first who made them of silver, though these were afterwards so common, as, in the time of Pliny, to be used by the ladies"-maids. They are mentioned by Chrysostom among the extravagances of fashion, for which he rebuked the ladies of his time, and Seneca long before was loud in his denunciation of similar follies. Mirrors were used by the Roman women in the worship of Juno. In the Egyptian temples, says Cyril of Alexandria, it was the custom for the women to worship in linen garments, holding a mirror in their left hands and a sistrum in their right, and the Israelites, having fallen into the idolatries of the country, had brought with them the mirrors which they used in their worship.—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.

"The Bible is the flaming book which men fear will be destroyed; but sooner will you pluck the stars out of heaven, than one star out of this divine book.... All theories respecting the history and structure of the Bible may be mooted and disputed; but there it Isaiah, a book whose fruits rise higher, smell sweeter, taste more flavoursome, inspire more health, than any or all others that have been produced upon the plane of human life."

—Henry Ward Beecher

Verse 23

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"And with him was —."Exodus 38:23.

Sometimes an age is gathered up into some one great representative name.—We do not always see the under-workers; we speak of the great man and forget the small one. The Bible is always just in this particular. It does not so raise up any one man as to deny to assistants and colleagues their mete of recognition and praise. God knows every worker, however obscure. He knows who put every knob and loop into the tabernacle which he is daily building.—It is enough for the obscure man that he should work with the leader"s comrade. He feels pride in his association with his great leader.—They could not exchange places.—There is a fitness of things in the allotment of service to different men, and of different men to different positions.—There should be no rivalry, envy, or bitterness: it is one tabernacle that is being built for the glory of one God, and therefore to have anything whatsoever to do with it, however humble, is honour enough for the greatest of men.—The greater the man the more ready will he be to recognise the assistance of others.—Inspiration is not to consummate in the direction of self-worship, or even in the direction of splendid service; it takes in the cooperation, sympathy and assistance of others, and makes the most of them.—The life-tabernacle is a wondrous building; there is room for workers of all kinds in the uprearing of its mysterious and glorious walls. If we cannot do the greatest work, we may do the least: our heaven will come out of the realisation of the fact that it was God"s tabernacle we were building, and under God"s blessing that we were working.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 38". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/exodus-38.html. 1885-95.