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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 38

Verse 1

1.And he made the altar of burnt-offering. The purport of this chapter is the same as that of the last, except that the order of some parts of it is transposed, though not a word is changed. He begins with the altar of burnt-offering, which he states to have been made of the materials and the form prescribed by God, in order that the people might there offer with surer confidence their sacrifices for the expiation of sin, and for thanksgiving. One thing which had not been mentioned before, is here added respecting the laver of brass, or cauldron ( concha,) from whence they took the water of sprinkling for expiation, viz., that this laver was ornamented with the mirrors of the women. Some explain this, (298) that the vessel was so bright that it might be easily discovered on every side whether there was any scandalous, or wanton, or indelicate act committed; for we know that impure and ungodly men sometimes conceal their iniquities under the cover of religion, even as it; is written that the women who frequented the tabernacle for religious exercises were defiled by the sons of Eli, the priests. ( 1 Samuel 2:22.) But there is another conjecture equally probable, that these mirrors were dedicated by holy women for the ornament of the Temple, and for sacred purposes; for, whereas women are only too much given to outward adornment and finery, they have been always very fond of mirrors, both for the purpose of painting their cheeks and arranging their hair, so that not a single hair should be out of place. Isaiah, therefore, ( Isaiah 3:23,) enumerates mirrors amongst the luxuries (299) of the female world. Some, then, think that women, being devoted to God’s service, laid aside this vanity, and consecrated their mirrors in testimony of their repentance. It might, however, have been that, amongst the other gifts before spoken of, they offered mirrors also, which were mounted as embossments in this brasen laver. Others suppose that they were carvings, by which the portraits of females were depicted, as if seen in mirrors. The simple notion is most approved by me, that they were votive offerings, wherewith pious women had desired to decorate the sanctuary, and that they had been applied to this use by the advice of the artificers; for he does not speak generally of all the women, but of those who warred or assembled by troops at the door of the tabernacle; for translators (300) variously explain this word צבא, tzaba, both in this passage and that from Samuel which I have just quoted. It is also applied to the Levites, who are said (301) “to war the warfare” of the sanctuary, whilst performing their appointed work. ( Numbers 4:3.) Indeed this metaphor is by no means unsuitable to watchings and long-continued prayers. The sum is, that the laver was cast of their materials, or, as I rather suppose, embossed with these mirrors, in order that it might be more splendid.

(298) All the difficulties connected with this matter are set at rest by our increased acquaintance with Egyptian Antiquities. C. , and almost all the earlier commentators, were evidently possessed with the idea that the mirrors of the women were literally looking-glasses; and hence arose the various solutions which are here given, and others which might be added. Sir G. Wilkinson, in his “Popular Account of the Ancient Egyptians,” tells us; — “One of the principal objects of the toilet was the mirror. It was of mixed metal, chiefly copper, most carefully wrought and highly polished; and so admirably did the Egyptians succeed in the composition of metals, that this substitute for our modern looking-glass was susceptible of a lustre which has even been partially revived at the present day, in some of those discovered at Thebes, though buried in the earth for many centuries. The same kind of metal-mirror was used by the Israelites, who doubtless brought them from Egypt.” — Vol. 2, p. 346.

(299) “Entre les bagages superflus des femmes.” — Fr.

(300) C. here affords the reader a curious proof that he composed this note with S M. under his eye, by employing Munster’s word labrum for the Hebrew כיור, which he had previously rendered concha in his own text. But whilst S M had translated צבאת אשר צבאו, ( mulierum) militantium, quae militabant, C. had the sagacity to drop the metaphor, and render the words convenientium, quae conveniebant צבא, says Professor Robertson, to assemble for worship, or for war. Clav Pentat in loco. — W

(301) Numbers 4:3, “All that enter into the host.” — A. V. Numbers 8:24, “They shall go in to wait upon the service,” margin, “Heb., to war the warfare of the tabernacle.” — A. V.

Verse 21

21.This is the sum of the tabernacle (302) As much as to say that this was the computation, or these the numbers; for he gives us to understand that not only was the tabernacle thus at once completed, but that its several parts were numerically distinguished, and consigned as it were to registers, (303) so as to be given in charge to the Levites, lest any part of it should be lost. For the reference here is not so much to the fabric, or the architecture of the tabernacle, as to its perpetual conservation, viz., that Ithamar the priest deposited its several parts with the Levites, and this in accordance with the command of Moses.

(302) “These are the counted- things.” — Lat. So also Ainsworth.

(303) “Afin que les Levites sceussent ce qu’ils devoyent avoir en garde;” in order that the Levites might know what they ought to have in charge. — Fr.

Verse 22

22.And Bezaleel, the son of Uri. He again impresses upon us that the whole work was divine, both because Moses faithfully delivered the commands of God, and the artificers followed them with precise accuracy. At the same time, he counts up the whole sum of gold and silver, and shews us on what it was consumed. Hence we gather that every one honestly discharged his duty, and that no one was corrupted or drawn aside by covetousness so as to fall from his integrity. We are also informed from whence the amount of silver was obtained, viz., from the census of the people; for a tax of a common shekel, which was half a shekel of the sanctuary, was imposed on every head, as we (304) have already seen. Moses now shews that this entire sum was collected and paid without fraud, and so applied as that none should be lost.

(304) See on Exodus 30:12, vol. 1, p. 482.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 38". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.