By William Jackson
Interestingly, when God wanted His Tabernacle built, He demanded certain things (Exodus 27:20, 30:14-15) while asking for others (Exodus 25:1-2, 35:5). Some might say that God had to demand certain things or the Tabernacle would not have been built. On the surface, that might appear to be plausible, but it couldn’t be true. You see, later God asks for people to give with a “generous heart”, and as a result He received so much He had to tell the Israelites to stop (Exodus 36:5-7). Another point to ponder is that we have a God who “laid the earth’s foundation” and who “brings forth the constellations in their seasons” (Job 38). God certainly could have come up with the materials to cover the building of this Tabernacle. So what is the answer – why did God need our help and why did He demand certain things while requesting others?
Reading Exodus 35:5, it tells us “’Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person…” This was a voluntary request for precious materials. This was different than the time when God ordered the people of Israel to provide olive oil, probably for His menorah (Exodus 27:20), or the half shekel, which was also for the Tabernacle, Exodus 30:12. Yes, sometimes God demands certain things of us. As with children, a parent needs to create a sense of responsibility by assigning tasks. Hopefully when that child matures he or she will freely do the right thing or be righteous. Affirmation of this is Proverbs 21:26 where it says “…the righteous man gives and does not spare.” As we are God’s offspring, He want us to become like this – righteous.
In building the Tabernacle, the situation was no different than that of raising children. God could have made the money and materials appear if He had chosen it. Yet, He chose to fund His work through the willing gifts of His people. This allows the Israelites and us to contribute and experience a relationship with God. But why demand certain things and ask for the Israelites to give other things only if they felt inclined? To answer this question, we need to remember that all people are God’s (Numbers 27:16, Ezekiel 18:4, Zechariah 12:1). This would imply that since we are all at different levels in our maturity, God approaches us at these different levels.
Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg
We can validate this through the work of Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg, a renowned professor who discovered the adult stages of moral development1 that have become a cornerstone in our psychological community. This theory holds that moral reasoning can be broken down into three basic stages. Since all people fall into any of these three stages, God approaches us on these different levels when He develops a relationship in all of us.
Stage 1 (Pre-Conventional), the Lowest
“How can I avoid punishment?” This individual focuses on themselves with regards to the direct consequences of their actions. This is why God, in some cases, makes demands followed by a punishment, i.e. “thou will (or shalt not) …” and then a consequence follows.
An example of this would be Exodus 20:12 where God says, “Honor your father and mother (demand), so that you may live long in the land which Adonai your God is giving you (consequence).”
This is often marks the early stages of one’s faith walk when we are battling or reasoning with God’s word. Hopefully a person at this level, after getting in the habit of being compliant, will eventually move to the next level. At the very least, if they do not move up, they will have a relationship of obedience.
This is why God might have made demands with regards to providing for the Tabernacle (oil and silver). These demands were made regardless of that person’s social standing. At the least, this method gets everyone in the habit of giving and interacting with God’s plan.
To this person, authority might be their strongest influence.
Stage 2 (Conventional), Middle – average
“The good boy/girl attitude.” Basically, this person is motivated by public opinion, even if it is just within their own group. This is that person who is vocal about their charitable work, status and maybe the kind of person who likes to bring negative attention to those who are not at their supposed level. This person’s motive is to heighten their status in the public eye.
When we see people openly battling religion, one or both of these parties often fall into this category. These people use arguments, especially if they are public, to validate their superiority.
In the Tabernacle scenario, these would have been the ones who volunteered their gifts because they were motivated by peer pressure or appreciation.
Note: Many of us might feel that it is wrong to be motivated to give only for the purpose of receiving God’s blessings. Nonetheless, God does confirm we will receive blessings for giving: Deuteronomy 15:10, Malachi 3:10, Proverbs 19:17, 22:9.
To this person, their fellow man is their strongest influencer.
Stage 3 (Post-Conventional), the Highest
This individual acts properly because it is right thing to do. They are not trying to avoid punishment or seek public approval.
Many people who gave with a “generous heart” (Exodus 35:5) at the Tabernacle without peer pressure would be considered to be at this stage.
This final stage is that “righteous” stage2 everyone should be striving to attain. If we examine the writings, it appears that this stage is a plateau we should all either be working towards or maintaining.
Psalm 37:21 …. the righteous is generous and gives.
Psalm 112:9 He distributes freely; he gives to the poor; his righteousness stands forever…
Proverbs 21:26 … the righteous gives and does not hold back.
To this person, their relationship with God is their strongest influencer.
Think about it – God could have provided for the Tabernacle alone, but He wanted us to be a part of it. Just as God could eliminate poverty, He instead tells us to provide for the underprivileged (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:18, 24:17,Isaiah 1:17, Zechariah 7:10). These actions allow us to stop focusing only on ourselves and care about humanity3. God engages all of us who want to listen regardless of where we are. Some battle with what they should have to give, while others don’t think twice and just contribute without question. Then there are those in between who are motivated by the public in what they do. The important thing to heed is that we should not ostracize anyone who may not be at our level. The ones we should be concerned for are those whose hearts are not troubled, who have no desire for a relationship with the Creator, for they are the truly lost.
- Kohlberg, Lawrence (1973). “The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment”. Journal of Philosophy (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 70, No. 18) 70 (18): 630–646.
- William J Jackson, Righteousness – Straight from Tanakh, Center for Tanakh Based Study, January 26, 2016