When God instructed Moses to take up a collection for the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25, God specified exactly what was needed.
“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. 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 oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.
But before Moses was able to take up this collection, the people of Israel took up a collection of their own and made an idol for themselves, a golden calf. As we know from scripture, this made God so angry that He was determined to destroy all the people, and would have had Moses not intervened on their behalf. Afterwards, Moses told the people what God had said to him on Mount Sinai regarding the collection for the tabernacle.
Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.
The people’s response is recorded for us later in the 35th chapter,
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. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her 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.
So here’s the question that came to mind during the sermon last Sunday: Where did the people get all the brooches and earrings and signet rings? Where did all the gold objects come from? Stop and think about this for a moment. The Israelites had just come out of Egypt, where they had been slaves. They were not employees of the Egyptians. They were slaves who had been whipped and beaten repeatedly, and subjected to hard labor. They were just barely able to survive in Egypt. They certainly weren’t accumulating any wealth.
So where did the gold come from? The Bible answers this question in the 12th chapter of Exodus. As the Israelite people were leaving Egypt, the scriptures says:
The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people (the Israelites) took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also 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.
That’s where all the gold and precious stones and other material came from! So in reality, it came from God because it was God who caused the Egyptians to give the Israelites everything they asked for as they left Egypt. All the gold and silver and other material that God asked for never belonged to the Israelites in the first place and in truth, it never really belonged to the Egyptians either. It was all God’s to begin with. Yet God didn’t ask for all of it back. All He asked in return was for enough to build a small tabernacle, along with whatever material was needed to make all the furnishings and garments for the priests. And even then, God did not demand a contribution from everyone. He only asked for contributions from those whose hearts moved them to give. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was thinking about this time in Israel’s history when he wrote these words recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Do you not think the Creator of the universe couldn’t have whipped up a small tabernacle? The One who created the heavens and earth out of nothing (and also created us) could have very easily made a few pieces of furniture and some utensils. God did not need gold and silver and brooches and earrings and signet rings to get the job done. What God really wanted was the people’s hearts! He wanted their devotion. He did not want them to give reluctantly or because they thought they had to give. He wanted them to give freely. He wanted them to give out of generosity!
God still wants this from us today. He does not need a single thing from us, but He does want our hearts! He wants our devotion. He wants us to be cheerful givers, whether we’re giving of our time, gifts, skills, or our money. Remember, it all came from Him, just as all the gold and silver and jewelry that the Israelites acquired on their way out of Egypt came from God. And He’s not so concerned about what we give or how much, as He is about what’s in our hearts. What prompts us to give? What is the attitude of our hearts? That’s what God sees. Our hearts need to be right with God.
Of the Macedonian churches who had taken up a collection for believers in Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul wrote, “their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Where does such overflowing joy come from? Again, the answer is in scripture: “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:5) The kind of overflowing joy that prompted the impoverished Macedonians to give beyond their means can only come from once source, from a heart that’s right with God through faith in Jesus Christ!