As would be expected, constructing a beautiful structure like the tabernacle out of the finest materials (Ex. 26) could not be done for free. God had to provide the gold, costly threads, silver, brass, animal hides, and so on either through direct intervention or indirectly through moving His people to give what they had for the important work of building His tent. We see in Exodus 35:4–29 that the Lord worked not apart from Israel but through Israel to gather the necessary materials.
Moses made known the need for Israel to donate time, talent, and funds to the work of God, perhaps through telling the elders of the people and then having them share the news with the nation (vv. 4–19). In any case, Moses’ action demonstrates that it is appropriate for the leaders of God’s people to let those under their care know what is needed to support the work of ministry, whether it is funds for buildings and salaries, time surrendered to teach or to care for church grounds, special donations to expand the outreach of parachurch ministries and seminaries, and any of the other countless, godly endeavors that help in small ways to advance the kingdom.
Israel responded with lavish generosity, choosing to live on less in order to fund the worship ministry. Note that the people gave what they “could” (vv. 23–24) and were not encouraged to give anything they did not have. This is an important principle in a day when televangelists encourage people to contribute “in faith,” which often means giving more than is prudent or worse, taking out loans that cannot be repaid because of the false promise of a hundredfold return.
Giving what they could included both fine metals and the work of spinning goats hair into yarn (vv. 22–28), revealing how the Lord wants our time as much as our money. We are to give what we are able, a teaching that applies as well to our talents and gifts as it does to our pocketbooks. As we give, God will meet our needs, as believers like Hudson Taylor, the great nineteenth-century missionary to China, have experienced. He observed, “Let us give up our work, our thoughts, our plans, ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, our influence, our all, right into His hand, and then, when we have given all over to Him, there will be nothing left for us to be troubled about or to make trouble about.”