The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: C

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Carpenter and tentmaker

So many of God's faithful servants have been shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David, to name but a few. In NT times, the vocation of fisherman was prominent among the Lord's followers. Both these secular occupations well fitted such men for the spiritual work they would do -- as "shepherds" of the flock of God, and "fishers of men". The connections in Scripture between the literal and the typical in these cases are plentiful indeed, and rich in spiritual instruction.

Taking our lead from such obvious patterns, what then should we make of the livelihoods of God's two most prominent servants: Jesus the carpenter (Mat 13:55; Mar 6:3) and Paul the tentmaker (Act 18:3)?

The thread starts in Exodus, where the LORD God commanded Moses to build Him a tabernacle, "according to the pattern showed you in the mount" (Exo 25:40; Heb 8:5). For this work, the LORD called and inspired Bezaleel (Exo 31:2) and his assistant Aholiab to be "cunning" workmen in metal and timber and fabric.

"Bezaleel" signifies "in the shadow (under the protection) of El". He was of the tribe of Judah; the sun of Uri ("light"; the plural is "Urim"); the grandson of Hur ("whiteness", "splendor"). He was definitely the "artisan-in-charge": Aholiab was "given with him" (Exo 31:6; cp Ezo 38:23), "to help him" (NIV).

Apparently Bezaleel was especially skilled in metal and stone and wood, whereas his assistant Aholiab (the name itself signifies "the tent of his father") was more adept in the working of fabrics and skins. The distinction is borne out by a careful reading of Exo 35:30-35; 38:23. Together, they carried forward the word of building the tabernacle.

A bit more about Bezaleel: Clearly, he stands in the narrative as a type of Christ:


The Mosaic tabernacle, with all that pertained to it, was a "figure" (Greek "parable") of the "greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands" (Heb 9:9,11). This spiritual "tabernacle", or temple, is of course the ecclesia, built upon Jesus Christ the "foundation" (Eph 2:20-22; 1Co 3:16; 1Pe 2:5-7) and chief corner-stone (Psa 118:22,23). As Bezaleel labored to build the literal tabernacle, so Jesus labored to build the spiritual. As Aholiab assisted the "master builder", so Paul assisted Christ (cp 1Co 3:9-15; 2Co 6:1).

The secular occupations of Jesus and Paul beautifully fill out this picture: Jesus, like Bezaleel, the "artisan" in wood and stone and metal, built the framework and foundation of the spiritual tabernacle -- the "center pole" of his work being the cross of wood erected at Golgotha. He also "worked" in metal -- the spikes with which he was nailed to the cross.

Afterward, Paul -- the New Testament "Aholiab" -- was chiefly responsible for the "stitching together" of the skins and fabrics (the individual ecclesias?) into whole coverings, to overlay the wooden framework. Building up and binding together individuals into ecclesias, and ecclesias into the One Body of Christ.

The "carpenter" and the "tentmaker" working together, according to the pattern of the more perfect tabernacle!

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