The Role of the Artist and the Arts in Life and Ministry

In Exodus 35 we see one of the most helpful summary passages in Scripture that reveals a description and role of the artistic specialist in the life of the believing community. This Old Testament passage highlights the role of the artistic expression specialist in the generally and worship-life of the believing community. It also provides critical instructional details that are specifically applied to specialized servants of God that were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and given “the ability to teach others”.

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has 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 artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers. So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.”

The Artist Defined

From the Bible’s perspective? The best biblical TERM for what we label today as an “ARTIST” is…CRAFTSMAN

Actually, in the Old Testament alone there are at least nineteen (19) artistic CRAFTS mentioned, four (4) words (really word-areas) that label Specialist creative types—those we today label as artists, two (2) words (verbs) that describe specialized artistic activity, and four (4) words (adjectives) that describe creative types as specialized.

To the Hebrew-speaking mindset in 1500 BC, all of these terms seem to hold the basic idea that the people we these days call ‘artists’ are people endowed by God to be unusually wise and able in creative, imaginative human expression.

Four words (plus two more related specifically to music) that label specialist creative-types—those we today label as “artists”—three of which hold the root word of ‘wisdom’:

  1. machashabah (makh-ash-aw-baw’) 4284; or machashebeth (makh-ash-eh’-beth); master craftsman. From Ex. 35:35.

  2. chashab (khaw-shab’) 2803; craftsman e.g. Ex 35:32 – here rendered to devise cunningly, to think up, to imagine. . . the root word of “Master Craftsman” – machashabah of Ex. 35:35.

  3. chakam (khaw-kawm’) 2450; skilled person . . . From Ex. 36:2.

  4. mela’kah (mel-aw-kaw’)] 4399; to do workmanship of artistic design [NIV]). From Ex. 35:31.

And for the musicians in the crowd note these two specialized word-groups – and be encouraged:

  1. shiyr (sheer) 7891; or (the original form) shuwr (1 Sam. 18:6) (shoor); singer, musician a primitive root [identical with 7788—the idea of strolling minstrels]; to sing: sing (-er, -ing man, -ing woman). From e.g. 1 Chr. 6:33 or Ps. 27:6.

  2. zamiyr (zaw-meer’) 2158; or zamir (zaw-meer’); and (feminine) zemirah (zem-ee-raw’); from zamar (zaw-mar’) 2167; to celebrate in song and music: KJV– give praise, sing forth praises, psalms; -psalm (-ist), singing, song; a primitive root [perhaps identical. with 2168 through the idea of striking with the fingers]; properly, to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice.

Five modifying biblical words related to Artistic Expression and Artistic Specialists are:

  1. Skill

  2. Knowledge

  3. Wisdom

  4. Ability

  5. Understanding

Five adjectives that describe creative types as specialized:

  1. yatab (yaw-tab’) Skillful from Ps. 33:3.

  2. da`ath (dah’-ath) Knowledge from Ex. 35:31.

  3. tabuwnah (taw-boon’) and (feminine) tebuwnah (teb-oo-naw’); or towbunah (to-boo-naw’); Understanding from Ex. 35:31

  4. chokmah (khok-maw’) Wisdom from Ex. 35:31.

  5. melakah (mel-aw-kaw’) Ability, Workmanship, Artistic Ability from Ex. 35:1 & 3.

Now note three particulars here related to why we’re using the term “specialists”:

  1. First, artistic specialists are ‘specialized’ in that they have God-given capacities related to imaginative expression that are clearly larger and greater than those the “normal” person possesses. 

  2. Second, so-called “artists” are not essentially more valuable or better people in God’s economy, than people gifted by God in other ways. This distinction is sometimes overlooked, but very important.

  3. Many often automatically embrace the popular but incorrect (and unbiblical, and more modern) notion that ‘artists’ are the creative elites, and everyone else is NOT creative at all. No. Nothing could be further from reality—which leads us to a third consideration.

  4. Third, though artistic specialists are unusually creative in one way or another, ALL people are creative (every person has the capacity to imagine—they are imaginative) by virtue of being made in God’s image. The capacity to imagine is central to being human, and a wonder-filled reality of God’s design OF human nature.

Animals do not possess the capacity to imagine. Rather, animals have instinct—which is wonderful, beautiful, and amazing. But still instinct is a lower and far more limited ‘capacity’ than the capacity humans possess of imagination.

By nature, each person exercises great creativity all throughout every day! This fact must always be underscored. Everyone, by our very God-designed human nature, all throughout every day, exercises imaginative, creative thinking and acting.

So, therefore, it should be clearly noted that “artists”—those people possessing “unusual wisdom and ability in some area of imaginative design and expression”—certainly are “specialized,” they do possess extra-ordinary capacities and abilities of certain kinds of creative expression; but they are NOT essentially more “special” than any other ‘kind’ of human God has created and capacities in other ways.

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