The Priesthood of Artists

Part 17 in the Series:

The Bezalel Blueprint

By Don Enevoldsen

Defining biblical terms is often challenging. They frequently have nuances that don’t translate well into English. In addition, the biblical meaning is often clouded or obscured by the definitions of the English words.

I ran into this problem in the study of Bezalel several times. Perhaps the most intriguing is the word “teach.” One of the characteristics of a Bezalel artist concerns teaching.

And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. (Exodus 35:34)

The word here translated “teach” is yarah. The root meaning is “to flow,” as water. Usually yarah is translated as “lay” or “throw” or “shoot.” In a figurative sense, it denotes pointing something out, as in Genesis 46:28:

“Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen.”

In this verse, “get directions” is the translation of yarah. The NASB version translates it as “point out the way.” Hence the translation “teach.” You teach by pointing out what the listener or reader needs to know. This definition certainly fits well with art. Artists are essentially charged with the task of pointing out things others don’t see or understand.

As I pondered this characteristic, it occurred to me that this was not much different from the task of another functionary of church life—the prophet. In secular Greek writing, a prophet was one who interpreted oracles or other hidden things. In Christian circles, a prophet was one moved by the Spirit to speak instruction, comfort, encouragement, and rebuke. A prophet reveals divine will and purpose. He points out hidden things.

I am far from the first to make a connection between prophets and artists. In the ancient world, poets were often viewed as prophetic because it was believed they sang under divine inspiration. Of more interest to this study, the ministry of prophecy was often associated with music. Samuel told Saul that he would cross the path of “a procession of prophets” with “lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.” (1 Samuel 10:5) The ministry of prophecy was linked to music in the priesthood:

“David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.” (1 Chronicles 25:1)

Since artists do essentially the same thing as prophets, I don’t believe we are stretching things by saying that artists are prophets, fulfilling the ministry of prophesying.

The role of prophecy in the ministry of the Temple adds another thought. Should artists also be considered priests? If a role of the artist is teaching, then perhaps they are. Priests were also responsible for teaching.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.” (Malachi 2:7)

In Hebrew, a priest is a kohen, literally, one who stands in the place of another and pleads his case. A priest represents the people to God, but he also is responsible for keeping knowledge of God alive in the people.

In this sense, Bezalel certainly acted as a teacher. The designs of the Tabernacle were a living, visible illustration of God’s plan for judgment and redemption. The original command demonstrated God’s desire:

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)

Other translations say “in the midst of” or “in their midst.” The Hebrew word is tavek, and is usually translated this way because the Tabernacle ended up in the middle of the camp of Israel, with the twelve tribes arranged around it. The word could just as easily be translated, however, “within” or “in.” This is the sense, for example, in Zechariah 2:4-5, where the tavek occurs twice:

“ ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in (tavek) it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within (tavek).’” (Zechariah 2:4-5)

With our understanding of New Testament redemption, we know that God’s purpose all along was to live inside his people. (1 Corinthians 3:16) The Tabernacle illustrated how that could happen. Bezalel’s creation was a work of instructive art as much as it was beautiful.

That’s a lot of Hebrew words to throw together, but the point is this. A godly artist is given the ability to teach, to point out things that others don’t see or understand and make it possible for them to grasp those things. In this sense, an artist is a teacher and a prophet and a priest, all at the same time. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Next, Part 18: Willing to Work

Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint:  Part 1, The Artist Bezalel

Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

The Priesthood of Artists
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