"Behold, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge in every craft,"
The Number of Creation
One of the most intriguing areas of study in the Master of Sacred Arts program offered by Pontifex University is the exploration of the order around which all of creation is built.
The world was created by God through order and number, harmony and proportion. There is an ancient tradition that the Hebrew alphabet was created two thousand years before the world, but hidden by God. When it came time to create the heavens and the earth, God did so through the letters of the alphabet.
But the letters of the Hebrew alphabet also have numeric value and so we can say that God created the world "by the numbers."
Order and harmony underlie all of creation. It is the framework on which God created all that is. For example, the number "seven" is not sacred because God created the world in seven days, rather, God created the world in seven days because "seven" is a sacred number.
The number "three" represents the Holy Trinity, one God composed of three persons. By extension, "three" can be thought of as signifying the heavenly realm, the immaterial order or the invisible world.
The number "four" represents the earth and the material order.
The number "seven," then, is the sum of "three" and "four," and so "seven" represents covenant, the coming together of heaven and earth. All of the covenants mentioned in the Bible are God's efforts to create a place where Heaven and Earth can come together so that He may once again walk among His people. When God created the world He did so in six days and rested on the seventh. The seventh day is the day of God's oath of covenant to His people. "Seven" is a number of totality and completeness.
To thetzaddik, or the righteous, God has given the gift of seeing this underlying order in creation. The person who acts in the right way, who lives as God has intended for us to live, sees the hand of God in every aspect of the created world.
When it came time for Moses to construct the desert tabernacle, he needed craftsmen who could complete the plans given to Him by God. Moses needed "makers" who knew how to combine the numbers and letters through which the worlds were created and work in harmony with the order of creation.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
“Behold, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge in every craft, in order to design whatever must be fabricated from gold, and silver, and brass, from marble, and precious stones, and various woods. And I have given to him, as his associate, Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, from the tribe of Dan. And I have placed wisdom in the heart of every artisan, so that they may make everything as I have instructed you:"
Bezalel, whose name means "in the shadow of, or the protection of, God," Oholiab, and their team of craftsmen, were given special wisdom and understanding by God in order to build the tabernacle. They were in effect given the gift of artistic ability. Bezalel was able to understand intuitively the instructions of God. The story of the creation of the first menorah illustrates this.
The menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum, is most often associated with the festival of Hannukah, but its origins go back to the desert tabernacle. God instructed Moses to construct a very specific candelabrum for the tabernacle. Moses asked how it should be made and God replied that it should be hammered out of a solid block. By the time Moses had descended from Mount Sinai, he had forgotten God's instructions. So went back up the mountain and asked again. God repeated the instructions, "it should be hammered from a single block," and Moses descended to the people. But again Moses forgot the details of God's instructions and had to return up the mountain. God repeated his instructions but Moses still could not quite grasp what it was God was asking him to make. God then took a menorah of fire, told Moses to "watch and do the same," and then proceeded to show Moses exactly had the candelabrum was to be made and how it should look. But still, Moses could not understand. Finally God instructed Moses to go to Bezalel, Bezalel would make it.
Moses descended the mountain and went to Bezalel. He described the candelabrum as best he could understand it and Bezalel immediately grasped God's intent and made the Golden Menorah. Moses was astonished. "God showed it to me three times and yet I could not understand it. But you, who never saw it, have made it perfectly. Truly you must have stood in the shadow of God while He instructed me in how to make the menorah."
The Responsibility of the Artist
It is noteworthy that God gave the gift of artistic ability to the craftsmen for a specific purpose, to build His house that would be carried with the people as they journeyed through the desert. The Spirit of God still gives us gifts to build up His Kingdom.
God gives many gifts, and none of them are small or insignificant. But the gift of artistic ability holds a special place in the way it can move hearts and minds to contemplate heavenly things. It can equally be misused to draw people away from God. Artists of all types have the ability to lead people to righteousness or wickedness. It is an awesome responsibility and one that every artist, craftsman, or "maker of things" should always hold in their hearts.
To learn more about the inherent order and harmony of creation, consider the Master of Sacred Arts program offered by www.pontifex.university.
this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org