The book of Exodus is an amazing story of two things. The first half describes God’s deliverance of the Israelites. The second half describes His dwelling place among His people, we call it the sanctuary. It’s fairly common knowledge that the appeal for building materials met with unprecedented generosity. The people gave so much that they had to be refrained from giving. But tucked away in this narrative of beneficence is a story that doesn’t make as many headlines. It’s the story of the most beautiful women in the world.
Fresh from slavery the ladies of Israel had acquired from the Egyptians ornaments and jewelry that in their previous estate they could only dream of. Combs of sandalwood, hair pins, and ear rings were now a part of their wardrobe. Imagine the luxury of perfume and new clothes, it must have been wonderful! But what good would all of these things be to a woman if she couldn’t see the final product of her primping? Yes, we take our mirrors for granted. If one breaks it’s not bad luck, just a simple inconvenience. We move to another mirror in different room and keep on going. But what if you were limited to one mirror for your entire life? And what if that one mirror was given you in the second half of your life. This was the case for a select group of women who ministered in the developing temple precincts.
Their wages for years of unrequited labor in Egypt was a beautiful piece of polished bronze. So finely flattened and buffed that they could see themselves. Holding the ornate handles sculpted by Egypt’s best they were privileged to see what others saw – their own face. No more peering into the well. No more questioning, “How do I look?” The story is told in one verse. (Gen. 38:8) Who suggested the idea, or why, isn’t revealed. Perhaps they didn’t like what they saw when they peered past the bronze and looked deep into their own souls – lurking pride, subtle superficiality?
Moved by the Spirit, they decided as a group to offer their mirrors to Bezalel the lead tradesman of the sanctuary project. He took their collective offerings and melted them down to create a illustrative masterpiece in the story of salvation. Their mirrors became the laver from which the priests would draw water to wash their hands and feet, a pre-figuring of New Testament baptism. And for centuries to follow holy men serving in the temple precincts could see in the “looking glass” of the laver their souls need of Christ for cleansing.
These ladies were the vanguard of the new testament women who “adorned themselves in good works” (1 Tim. 2:11). Whether they or Bezalel captured the functional symbolism of their gift we will have to wait to know. But we can be certain they were beautiful women. For they understood a timeless truth: sacrifice and service for God’s glory have always been the most attractive adornment.