Shavuot is a holiday that reflects God’s generosity. Shavuot is the time of Israel’s wheat harvest. Historically, it was the time of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit after Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension. All these are gifts from a lavishly gracious God and Father.
Most conversations about the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” center around issues like speaking in tongues, or whether prophecy is or isn’t still in operation today. Of course, there are far more gifts than just the two, and the actual list is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. In that same chapter Rabbi Paul admonishes us not to dismiss as less important those whose gifts differ from our own, or look down on those who don’t exhibit the more outwardly demonstrative gifts. Sincere believers in Yeshua can have differing opinions on secondary things, yet still maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
What we can all agree on is that the empowering of the Spirit of God is what transformed that group of frightened men who had been hiding from the authorities into a group of extraordinary evangelists, boldly and publicly preaching the Good News. And today it is the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit that makes fruitful ministry possible, whereas relying solely on our own abilities usually leads to frustration and failure.
What is less often talked about, however, is the way in which the Holy Spirit has gifted people with artistic ability.
In Exodus 31 we read about the Spirit of God being given in a special way to two men named Betzalel and Oholiav, for the express purpose of skillfully crafting the articles for the Tabernacle. “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you; the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent.”
And in the description of the Tabernacle itself, Adonai directed Moses to employ blue, purple and scarlet colored fabrics, and considerable amounts of gold, silver and copper. Not only that, but images of pomegranates, palm trees and flowers were woven into the curtains and carved into the walls. And images of cherubim – angelic creatures – were also woven into the curtains, and the Ark of the Covenant itself had a covering with two golden cherubim facing one another. What this tells us is that God appreciates beauty and artistry.
Let me add that this in no way constitutes a Divine contradiction. The prohibition in the Ten Commandments against making images of things was specific to the context of maintaining the purity of worship of Adonai alone – there were to be no idols, and no worship of anyone or anything but Him.
Did you know that even in the early chapters of B’resheet (Genesis) musical instruments are mentioned? Musical expression is obviously very much a part of our gifting from Adonai. Genesis chapter four says that Juval… was the father of all those who play the harp and flute.
Many Christians are unaware, or else have forgotten, that the Psalms were songs, and represent Israel’s national hymnal. Music was an integral part of worship. Psalm 150 culminates the book this way: Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
As you make your way through the Psalms, you find that each one has an ascription of some kind at the beginning. Here’s a small sampling, and these illustrate the prominent place of music in Israel’s worship of God.
For the choir director; on stringed instruments…
For the choir director; for flute accompaniment…
For the choir director; with stringed instruments, upon an eight-string lyre…
Artistry takes many forms, and when properly employed, gives glory to God. Did you know that one of the earliest forms of theatre arts was the Passion Play? While Greek dramas and tragedies date back to about the 5th century BC, it was the re-enactment of the trial, the sufferings, the death and the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua that launched dramatic arts to new levels of popularity.
To this day the Passion Play is performed to much acclaim in the Bavarian city Oberammergau. People travel there from all over the world to see the Passion Play performed!
When an artist sketches or paints a landscape, they are glorifying the Artist who created that stunning landscape. Even a still life brings honor to God, who gave human beings the capacity to analyze and then capture shade and light and reflection and curvature and texture. When we do these things, we are imitating the Greatest Artist of All, and as it is said, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”.
Later this morning you will have an opportunity to go upstairs and see some of the creativity of our Shema family. You will see paintings – oil, watercolor and acrylic. You will see works in collage, sketching, mosaic and sculpture. I think you will be blessed to see how God through the Holy Spirit has gifted our people, both young and old. And after that you will be invited to come back down here and listen to a few selections of music, pieces old and new, and again appreciate the God who generously gifts His people.
There are other art forms that reflect the generosity of God to mankind, and they bear mentioning here. Good literature (especially fiction) is equally a high form of art. A good writer can capture your imagination and transport you to other places and introduce you to well-developed characters. Dance is an art form. God created the human body with the capacity for graceful movement, and it is stunning to watch a ballet performance, especially when you know how much physical effort it takes, and how many years and even decades it takes to perfect the art.
You might not think of it as art, but humor really is a gift from God, and along with music, has the potential to be medicinal, bringing healing to a weary soul. A cheerful heart is good medicine.
Needless to say, when artistic gifts are employed for riches or reputation or self-acclaim rather than to bring glory to God, it constitutes an abuse of those gifts. And there is a lot of artistic abuse in the world today, to be sure.
But equally egregious is when we neglect to cultivate those gifts, and bury our talent in the ground, as it were. Some people have great natural talent and enormous potential, but never live to see it realized, because they were so afraid of failure that they never took a chance on exploring the gifts God gave them. How sad is that?
Let me close with this thought, since we’re talking about art as a gift from God. If you’ll allow me to extend the motif a little further, your life is the equivalent of a blank canvas. What will that canvas look like when your life is over? Are you in the process of fulfilling His purposes for you, or have you put your life on the equivalent of cruise control, and are just going through life biding time?
It is one thing to become a believer. It is quite another thing to become a disciple. The life of a disciple is an adventure. Sometimes it isn’t safe. But it is never boring, and in the skillful hands of the Living and Eternal God, a life that was once a blank canvas is gradually transformed into a masterpiece.
I suppose I’m just encouraging you to do what Paul urged his protégé Timothy to do; kindle afresh (i.e., fan into a flame) the gift of God which is in you. If you know how God has gifted you, then get busy. Cultivate that gift. Refine it. Hone that edge. Put the gifts God has given you into practice again and again until you see them bear fruit, and then keep practicing. And if you don’t yet know how God has gifted you, then seek Him and ask Him to make it apparent.
When Messiah ascended on high,
He took many captives
and gave gifts to His people.