Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Generosity in the Desert

Leslie Basham: When you’ve been the recipient of God’s amazing kindness, it’s natural to want to express your gratitude. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Listen, people who have been redeemed do not find it a burden to give back to the Lord.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for September 27, 2018.

If I asked you to choose a verse from the Bible on reflecting the beauty of Christ, you probably wouldn’t turn to the book of Exodus. But that’s exactly where Nancy is taking us today. She’s going to unpack an obscure verse from Exodus 38 that does, in fact, point us to Jesus. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Some time ago I was reading in the book of Exodus, starting another journey through the Old Testament, and for chapter after chapter there were a whole bunch of details about the construction of the tabernacle—one of the key features in the book of Exodus. It just went on and on and on in these details that at times, honestly, felt tedious and repetitive. And then I came to a verse right in the middle of one of these chapters that jumped out at me. It caught my attention.

I’m going to read you the verse, and then we’re going to unpack it over the next couple of days. This is Exodus chapter 38, verse 8. So turn to the book of Exodus, if you would, because we’re going to do some traveling through Exodus today. Beginning with this one verse in Exodus 38, verse 8.

It says: “He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”

Now, as I came to that verse, my mind just started going. (This is how I read Scripture.) I’m always asking questions. “What does this mean? What is this talking about?” So I came to this verse, and I’m wondering:

  • Who in the world were these ministering women?
  • What in the world are these mirrors?
  • Why are they mentioned in this passage?”

Well, over the last few months since I read that passage, I’ve spent some time meditating on this admittedly obscure verse. And you’re probably wondering how we’re going to get two days of programs out of that verse.

I texted a friend last night, and I said, “I’m going to be teaching on Exodus 38:8 tomorrow.” And she looked it up, and she came back and said, “Exodus 38:8?” Like, “What are you going to get out of that?” (laughter)

Well, I found in this verse some rich insight and some sweet personal application that I want to share with you over this short series.

Now, first we need some background and some context. This was an important and exciting time in Israel’s history. They had just recently been delivered out of Egypt where they had been slaves for 400 years. They had crossed Red Sea. They had seen God’s majesty and His power and His sovereign deliverance.

They had seen God provide for them in the wilderness. When they had no water, God brought water. When they had no food, God brought food. And we’re talking about 2 or 3 million Jews out in the desert with no fast-food restaurants, no restaurants of any kind except God’s heavenly supply.

And then in chapter 19 of the book of Exodus, you remember how they came to Mt. Sinai, where in chapter 20 the law was given, the Ten Commandments. God was telling His people, “This is how My covenant community is supposed to function.”

And then you come to chapter 25. And I’m going to ask you to just flip back a few pages to chapter 25 of the book of Exodus. (This is all setup for this verse in Exodus 38.) But here we are in Exodus 25, beginning at verse 1:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. [Take an offering.] From every man whose heart moves him [now I want you to notice that phrase because this is going to be really important—“from every man whose heart moves him”] you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breast piece” (vv. 1–7).

And what’s all this about? Verse 8:

Let them make me a sanctuary, [a holy place] that I may dwell in their midst.

What’s this offering for? It’s to build something really special, a holy place, a sanctuary, that I, the Lord God Jehovah, may dwell, may live in their midst.

“Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”

So we see here in Exodus 25 the purpose for this tabernacle was to provide a place for God to live among His people—a home for God.

God, who inhabits heaven and earth and can’t be confined to any physical, geographical place on earth, but God said, “I’m going to put My glory, My presence in a home here on earth so I can meet with you, so I can live with you, so you can be with Me, so we can commune with each other.” That was the purpose.

And what was the provision for this tabernacle? Well, the people were to contribute out of their supply, out of their goods, out of their wealth the materials and the labor for this holy place.

So God wasn’t just going to plunk this tabernacle down in the middle of a desert. He could have done that miraculously, but He said, “No. I want you involved. We’re going to build this together for Me.”

And then there was this explicit pattern that was given by God for the people to follow.

So chapters 25 through 30 of Exodus are these detailed instructions about how to make this tabernacle, each aspect of it very detailed. And then each piece of furniture, where it was to go, how it was to be constructed, what it was to be made of, that’s chapters 25 through 30.

And then, beginning in Exodus 35—turn there if you would. Let’s move to Exodus 35, and the following chapters, really, through to the end of the book of Exodus, chapter 40, we have the construction of the tabernacle.

So five chapters, or six, of instructions. And now there’s five or six chapters of actually following those instructions. Those two sections sound a lot alike because it’s saying, “As God told them to do this, so they did this.” It’s just very repetitive. But He wants us to see the obedience of God’s people to follow His explicit directions as they carry them out for the tabernacle and its furnishings.

The entire community is involved. They bring offerings and contributions as God had commanded. But you’ll see that they don’t do this out of any sense of obligation. Rather, there’s an outpouring of glad-hearted generosity because they had been redeemed, and they’re eager to give everything they have to build this tabernacle.

So, beginning in verse 21 of Exodus 35, notice the emphasis on the hearts of the people as they gave. Verse 21, Exodus 35:

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord (vv. 21–22).

Skip ahead to verse 25, “And every skillful woman spun with her hands, (So they weren’t just giving their stuff. They were involved in helping to make all this. The women spun with their hands.)

And they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats' hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord (vv. 25–29).

Now, as I read these instructions and then the follow through and all the things the people brought, one obvious question in my mind is, “Where in the world did the people get all this stuff?” Remember, they were in the middle of the desert. And, “How did they carry all this? How did they move all this stuff?”

People laugh at me sometimes when go on a trip because I don’t pack light. (laughter) I actually went on a trip last week for five days and packed in a carry-on, but that carry-on was stuffed! It was heavy. I’ve never done that before—I’ll probably never do it again. (laughter) Because, usually, I don’t travel light. I mean, I’m thinking of everything I might possibly need.

But I don’t carry silver or gold and linens and all these objects. How did these people carry all this stuff? What were they doing with it all? And then remember, they had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, treated harshly, cruelly. Certainly, they didn’t have all this stuff. They weren’t wealthy in Egypt. They were poverty stricken. Where did they get all this stuff?

Well—don’t turn back there—but if you’re taking notes, just note that in chapter 12 of Exodus you’ll find what may be an answer. As they were leaving Egypt—remember after all the plagues that God brought on the land of Egypt, the people of Egypt said, “Get out of here!” And chapter 12 says in verse 35:

The people of Israel had . . . done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians (vv. 35–36).

I think this was most, if not all, Egyptian loot. The Egyptians said, “Get out of here and take whatever you want.”

Now, the people, when they left, didn’t know what they were going to use all this for. They didn’t know this would end up being a tabernacle for the Lord, but they took it with them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness.

And then when it was time to build the tabernacle for the presence of God, they gave their offerings. And these were voluntary, free-will offerings, given from willing hearts. This was not a coerced offering. This was not a manipulated offering. This was a glad offering.

It’s a principle that you see reiterated when you come to the New Testament. For example, in 2 Corinthians chapter 9, verse 7, where the apostle Paul says, “Each one must give”—for the work of the Lord—”each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” A happy giver. An eager giver. A willing giver.

Listen, people who have been redeemed do not find it a burden to give back to the Lord. Their hearts are stirred, as Exodus told us. Their hearts are moved. Their hearts are willing. They’re eager to be generous.

And how I’ve seen this in the ministry of Revive Our Hearts so clearly over the years.

A little bit ago you met some of our staff who serve here, many of them raising their own financial support to work as missionaries in this ministry And these people have come from all over—not out of coercion, but willing, to volunteer because their hearts have been stirred. Their lives have been changed by Christ and by this message. As they’ve experienced freedom and fullness and fruitfulness in Christ, they’ve lifted their hands, and they’ve said, “I want to be a part of what God is doing here.”

Many of you in this room are Ministry Partners. You support this ministry. You didn’t do it because you had to. You didn’t do it because there wasn’t anything else you could do with those funds. But you’ve done it out of a glad heart because you love Christ, and you love what He is doing in the world, and you love being a part of that.

That’s the heart we see in these Israelites as they brought the materials and supplies for the construction of the tabernacle.

And finally, in chapter 38—I told you we’d get to this obscure verse in chapter 38—the construction of the tabernacle begins. The offerings have been brought. The supplies have been brought. It’s all there. People have spun the linen and the fabrics. It’s all there. And now we have this description, in great detail—following the instructions God has given—about the actual construction of the tabernacle.

And then we come to verse 8, Exodus 38, verse 8—the verse that so caught my attention those months ago: “He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered [or some of your translations may say “the ministering women who served”] in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”

Now, just some questions about this verse.

What do some of these words mean? “He made the basin?” Who was the “he”?

Well, you might think it was Moses, but you would not be right. Moses had given the instructions. To find out who “he” is, you have to go all the way back to the first verse of chapter 37. You see, “He did this, he did this, he did this.” Who was the “he”?

It was the first verse in chapter 37. His name is Bezalel.

You say, “Who in the world is Bezalel?”

Well, to find out who Bezalel is, you have to go all the way back—I won’t have you track back there—to chapter 31, in verse 1 and following where it says that God said to Moses, “I have appointed two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, who have been given wisdom and skills from My Spirit to oversee the process of building the tabernacle” (paraphrased).

So they were men that God had gifted to be wise builders and artisans and to bring all this together. They were the general contractors, if you will.

So here’s Bezalel—even though he’s not named in verse 38—making this basin of bronze. Some of your translations will say he made a laver—l-a-v-e-r. What is this bronze basin?

Well, it’s a wash basin. It’s a large bowl that’s going to be filled with water. It’s in the outer court of the tabernacle, between the altar of sacrifice and the door of the Holy Place.

Now that sequence, that positioning is really important because the priests would wash their hands and their feet in this wash basin, this laver, this bronze basin, before entering the Holy Place to carry out their priestly duties.

So first there was the altar of sacrifice where sacrifices would be made for the forgiveness of sins. Then there’s this wash basin. The priests would wash their hands and their feet. And then they would go in the Holy Place to do their work there.

Now this basin, this bronze basin, is a symbol, it’s a picture, it’s a foreshadowing of the gospel. The altar pictures how our sins are atoned for at the cross, where Christ sacrificed His life. He gave up His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. But then the laver, this wash basin, signifies that we, as believers in Christ, having had our sins forgiven, are washed daily by the water of His Word so that we can have pure hands and feet to serve a holy God.

That’s why we don’t just need God’s Word one time when we get saved. We need God’s Word every day to be washing us, to be cleansing us. I need God’s Word this morning as I serve Him. You need God’s Word every day to wash you as you serve Him.

So there’s this bronze basin. That’s one of the really important pieces of furniture in the tabernacle.

And these women who ministered there came to the entrance of the tent of meeting.

Now, probably, if you put this whole thing together, this is not actually the tabernacle because the tabernacle is just in the process of being set up. So this is probably the tent that preceded the tabernacle.

Do you remember in Exodus 33 that there was a tent sent up outside the camp where Moses would go to meet with God? The people would come and stand and watch as he worshiped. And then, when he came out, his face was glowing from the presence of God. The tabernacle wasn’t yet finished, so probably they were still using this tent of meeting.

And there were these ministering women who ministered or served in the entrance of that tent of meeting. Now, we don’t know a lot about this because we only have this one verse to go on—a couple others that maybe help us out—but here’s what we do know: We know that these women had a heart for the Lord. They had a desire to be near Him, to be in His presence. And they had a heart to serve.

Now, we don’t know specifically what they did, but somehow they helped the priests, they helped the work of the tabernacle. One commentator suggests that perhaps these women kept watch during the night. We don’t know. It could be. But they were distinguished by their devotion to the Lord and to His service.

Now, it talks about these ministering women who ministered or who served. That’s an unusual word. In fact, an alternate translation, depending on which translation you’re using, may read this way: “the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” The New King James puts it that way. They ministered, or they assembled. It could be translated either way.

That word “assembled” literally means they “came by troops.” It’s interesting. It’s a battle word. It signifies an assembling in troops like an army. Says one Bible dictionary, “to serve in a host, to war or to fight.” One commentator says it may mean “they carried out their duties in organized bands, like soldiers in an army.” But there’s some organization here. There’s some assembling. There’s a host of them, suggested by this. They assembled to serve together. So apparently, these women came regularly together to serve the Lord.

(Now just one parenthesis here, a little bunny trail—I didn’t notice this until yesterday.) But this same word is used in 1 Samuel chapter 2, verse 22. It’s a little bit later in Israel’s history, but it says that these women who assembled, who served, at the entrance of the tabernacle ultimately became involved in horrible religious prostitution with the priests. I saw that yesterday. It’s the same phrase. The women who assembled to serve at the entrance of the tent of the Lord.)

Now, I haven’t unpacked all that, but I’ll tell you one thing that really stands out to me, and that’s serving the Lord does not exempt us from temptation and from sin, even grievous sin, as we serve the Lord. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. That’s why we need this laver, to wash us, to cleanse us. That’s why we need the Word of God, to wash our hearts, to show us who we are and what needs to be confessed.

So there’s just a caution there as we think about these women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.

Now we come to the mirrors. I’m going to spend just a few moments on this today, and we’ll pick up on this concept of mirrors in tomorrow’s session.

These were reflectors. When you see this word “mirrors,” don’t picture our modern-day glass mirrors. Rather, think of polished, bronze plates that would reflect, that you could see your reflection in.

These were probably, I think, part of the plunder that the Egyptians had given the Israelites when they left in haste. One historian tells us that when the Egyptians went to their temples, they always took their mirrors with them. I’m not sure why, but this was part of the Egyptian worship. So these mirrors were potentially something that the Egyptians had given to the Israelites when they left Egypt, and now here are these women giving their mirrors to the tabernacle, to the work of the Lord.

These mirrors represented something of beauty, something of value, something that was a practical instrument, after all, what in the world were you going to do in the wilderness without a mirror? I mean, how could you live forty years without your mirror? (laughter) How can some of us live forty minutes without our mirrors? (laughter)

These mirrors were, if they had come from the Egyptians, they were newly acquired. They may have been prized possessions. Perhaps they were status symbols if somebody had an especially large or beautiful or ornate mirror.

So this was a sacrifice for these women, but it’s one that they were willing to make. They were more than willing to make it. In giving their mirrors for the building of this bronze basin, they gave up their ability to look at and enjoy their own physical appearance in order to make this basin for the priests to use for cleansing and for service.

Here are women who were interested in looking at someone more beautiful than themselves—the glory of God. They were living for a cause that was greater than themselves.

You see, the people of God had been called to build a place where the glory of God could be showcased, where He could be known, and where He could meet with His people. A host of these ministering women assembled together became aware of a need, and they brought their bronze mirrors to the entrance of the tent of meeting. “Here, this isn’t for me. This is for God.”

They piled them together, and out of all these mirrors, this bronze basin was made—a place of cleansing, a place where the priests could experience God’s mercy and grace before they ministered to the people.

It reminds us of what we’re privileged to do—to take things we own—of beauty, of worth, and importance—things that God has entrusted to us. It may be spiritual gifts, our reputation, our position, our ministry, our opportunities, our blessings—to assemble and come as a host of God’s people, bring those things with us, and lay it all at the feet of Christ, and say, “It’s all Yours. It’s all for Your glory.

We don’t need to keep looking at ourselves in these mirrors. We want our lives and everything we have to be used to reflect You, Your beauty, Your glory, to be used for Your service.”

So I take from this passage a call to give up our mirrors, our looking glasses, to give them to Jesus and let them become something of eternal value, tools that will help people become clean and experience His mercy, His grace, and worship Him.

You see, ministry, ultimately—however you serve the Lord, wherever you serve the Lord, whatever your calling may be—it’s not about looking at ourselves. It’s about doing whatever we can to encourage people to look to Jesus.

My husband often prays as we go together into a ministry opportunity or an event, “May Your name be lifted up.” He prays John 3:30, “May we decrease and may You increase.”

That’s the heart of these ministering women who assembled to give their mirrors to the Lord.

Well, tomorrow we’ll take another look at the mirrors in our lives and see what the Lord has to say further to us.

Thank You, Lord, for Your Word and for a little verse like Exodus 38:8 that can speak to our hearts today, thousands of years later, about how we can become reflectors of Your glory. May it be so, I pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth challenging us to live in a way that reflects the beauty of Christ.

Isn’t it encouraging to receive practical application points from God’s Word? This weekend you have the opportunity to hear a variety of Bible teachers speak truth into your life, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

You can experience this special tenth anniversary True Woman conference, “The Truth That Sets Us Free,” through an enhanced online streaming experience hosted live from Indianapolis. The conference begins tonight.

Some of the speakers joining Nancy include Jackie Hill Perry, Mary Kassian, and Dannah Gresh. You’ll be able to see exclusive backstage interaction with our speakers and guests.

You won’t want to miss a single minute, plus it’s free. Curl up in your favorite chair, invite over your girlfriends, and experience together “The Truth That Sets Us Free.”

For more information on how to join the livestream, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Nancy explores how this fairy tale sheds some light into the condition of your heart. Learn what mirrors you may have in your life and what the Lord has to say about them. That’s tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to reflect the beauty of Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.