These chapters portray Israel at her best, foreshadowing Solomon’s dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8-10; 2 Chronicles 6-7). Israel’s glory at the conclusion of Exodus is linked with the faithful contribution of both treasures and talents for the completion of the tabernacle.
The freewill offerings described in Exodus 35 must be understood against the backdrop of the broader category of offerings in the Old Testament. In Exod 35:4-5, God commanded Moses to take up an offering, but there were no specifics given as to who was required to give, or how much. Thus, the freewill clause had a two-fold implication. Everyone had a free will in deciding if they would give, and those who freely choose to give were also free to choose the amount they would contribute. This contrasts with some other offerings prescribed in the Old Testament, where the Lord commanded the people to give and how much they should give (see the restitution offering in Leviticus 5 and the support for the priests in Numbers 18).
Exodus 35:29 records that when the offering was taken, “The Israelites brought a freewill offering to the LORD, all the men and women whose hearts prompted them to bring something for all the work that the LORD, through Moses, had commanded to be done.” The Israelites contributed so much that the craftsmen individually approached Moses with the message, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the construction of the work the LORD commanded to be done” (Exod 36:5).
While the tabernacle community displayed broad financial generosity, a few individuals were noted for their gifted spiritual service. In Exodus 35-39, Bezalel and Oholiab served along with the Levites to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings according to the plan God had shown Moses (Exod 35:30-35; 38:21-23). The prominent role of these men in the construction of the tabernacle can be documented quantitatively. The word “he,” referring to Bezalel or Oholiab, occurs more than 150 times in Exod 35:30-39:31. While Moses is not in the foreground of the text until the last scene of the book, from Exod 39:32-40:38 he is mentioned eighteen times. When the gifted servants and artisans completed their work, they brought the tabernacle to Moses for inspection and he approvingly assembled the pieces according to the plan given him on Mount Sinai (Exod 25:40).
While Exodus 40 details Moses’ approval of the tabernacle, it concludes with the Lord’s approval. A cloud covered the tabernacle and the Lord’s glory filled it, preventing Moses or priests from entering it (Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-11; 2 Chron 5:13-14). God’s presence in the tabernacle established a frame that John saw fulfilled in his vision of the heavenly tabernacle in Rev 15:8. John saw the Lord’s glory filling the heavenly tabernacle, recalling Exod 40:34-35. When John saw the angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath exit the heavenly tabernacle to pour their bowls upon the earth, the tabernacle was filled with smoke. John wrote that the power of the Lord’s glory filled the tabernacle, and no one was able to enter until the seven plagues of the seven bowls were completed.