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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 30

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.

Thou shalt make an altar ... Its material was to be like that of the ark of the testimony, but its dimensions very small.

Verse 2

A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.

Foursquare - the meaning of which is, not that it was to be entirely of a cubical form, but that upon its upper and under surface it showed four equal sides. It was twice as high as it was broad, being 21 inches broad and 3 feet 6 inches high. It had "horns;" its top, or flat surface, was surmounted by an ornamental edge or rim, called a crown; and it was furnished at the sides with rings for carnage. Its only accompanying piece of furniture was a golden censer or pan, in which the incense was set fire to upon the altar. Hence, it was called the altar of incense, or the "golden altar," from the profuse degree in which it was gilded or overlaid with the precious metal. This splendour was adapted to the early age of the Church; but in later times, when the worship was to be more spiritual, the altar of incense is prophetically described as not of gold, but of wood, and double the size of that in the tabernacle, because the Church should be vastly extended (Malachi 1:11).

Verses 3-5

And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.

Thou shalt put it before the veil - which separated the holy from the most holy place. The tabernacle was in the middle, between the table of showbread and the candlestick next the holy of holies, at equal distances from the north and south walls; in other words, it occupied a spot on the outside of the great partition veil, but directly in front of the mercyseat, which was within that sacred enclosure-so that, although the priest who ministered at this altar could not behold the mercyseat, he was to look toward it, and present his incense in that direction. This was a special arrangement, and it was designed to teach the important lesson-that though we cannot with the eye of sense see the throne of grace, we must 'direct our prayer to it and look up' (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14; Revelation 4:1; Hebrews 10:20).

Verse 7

And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.

Sweet incense - literally, incense of spices. Strong aromatic substances were burnt upon this altar, to counteract by their odoriferous fragrance the offensive fumes of the sacrifices; or the incense was employed in an offering of tributary homage, which the Orientals used to make as a mark of honour to kings; and as God was Theocratic Ruler of Israel, His palace was not to be wanting in a usage of such significancy. Both these ends were served by this altar; that of fumigating the apartments of the sacred edifice, while the pure lambent flame, according to Oriental notions, was an honorary tribute to the majesty of Israel's King. But there was a far higher meaning in it still: for as the tabernacle was not only a palace for Israel's King, but a place of worship for Israel's God, this altar was immediately connected with a religious purpose. In the style of the sacred writers, incense was a symbol or emblem of prayer (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3). From the uniform combination of the two services, it is evident that the incense was an emblem of the prayers of sincere worshippers ascending to heaven in the cloud of perfume; and accordingly the priest who officiated at this altar typified the intercessory office of Christ (Luke 1:10; Hebrews 7:25).

Verse 8

And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.

Aaron ... shall burn incense - seemingly limiting the privilege of officiating at the altar of incense to the high priest alone; and there is no doubt that he and his successors exclusively attended this altar on the great religious festivals. But "Aaron" is frequently used for the whole priestly order; and in later times any of the priests might have officiated at this altar in rotation (Luke 1:9).

Every morning ... at even - in every period of the national history this daily worship was scrupulously observed.

Verse 9

Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.

Ye shall offer no strange incense - i:e., of a different composition from that of which the ingredients are described so minutely. The perpetual incense which the priests were to offer was a condiment of which pure frankincense was a necessary ingredient. It has been ascertained by the researches of modern botanists that the frankincense tree, Boswellia serrata, in Sanskrit, Kunduru, was a native of India, whence it is now generally believed that the frankincense burnt in the Jewish tabernacle was obtained (Dr. Kay). But there was a thuriferous district, Oman, in Arabia, under the mountains of the Asabi, near the Cattabani (Ptolemy, 'Geography,' p. 154). (See a description of this district, and of the frankincense tree of Arabia, in No. 11 of the 'Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society,' by Dr. H.J. Carter, Bombay Establishment.)

Verse 10

And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 11-16

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

When thou takest ... Moses did so twice, and doubtless observed the law here prescribed. The tax was not levied from women, minors, old men (Numbers 1:42; Numbers 1:45), and the Levites (Numbers 1:47), they being not numbered. It is evident that this taxing implies the taking of a census, for otherwise the impost could not have been collected (cf. Exodus 38:25-26). Since the people were divided into a distinct classification by tribes and families, the means of procuring a muster-roll were at hand; and from Moses' familiar acquaintance with the Egyptian practice of keeping an exact register of the population, there is the strongest probability that the taking of the census preceded the levying of the poll-tax, although it is not related until a subsequent chapter.

Verse 13. Half a shekel - [Septuagint, To heemisu tou didrachmou]. In relating the incident of the exaction of this from our Lord (Matthew 17:24-27), the evangelist represents the collectors as speaking of [the didrachma (G1323)] the whole didrachm. This apparent discrepancy is removed by supposing that they had in view, as they naturally would have, the Alexandrian drachm, which was twice the value of the Attic. Half a shekel was the amount of the impost; and in early times the shekel was estimated by a certain weight of silver. But after the return from the Babylonian captivity the Jews were allowed to have coined money ( 1Ma 15:6 ).

'The shekels, half shekels, and quarter shekels now found in the cabinets of collectors are to be referred to this period. These growing scarce, and not being coined anymore, it became the custom to estimate the sacred tax as two drachms [the didrachmon exacted of Jesus], a sum actually somewhat larger than the half shekel, as those that have compared together the weights of the existing specimens of each have found' (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 8:, sec. 2; Trench, from Winer, 'Realworterbuch,' sec. 5:, 'Sekel').

After the shekel of the sanctuary, [ sheqel (H8255) haqodesh (H6944)] - the shekel of holiness, or sacred shekel (cf. 1 Chronicles 26:20; 1 Chronicles 26:26; 1 Chronicles 28:12). Colenso found an objection to the historical character of this history on the use of this phrase, which is represented as having been employed previous to the existence of the tabernacle, But the objection is quite futile; for not only does the original term properly mean 'holiness,' but the phraseology, as used in our translation, occurs in the course of the numerous directions which the Lord gave to Moses respecting the erection and service of the contemplated tabernacle, among which the very term "sanctuary" had actually, been used (Exodus 25:8).

(A shekel is twenty gerahs.) is a brief parenthetical sentence which shows still more the groundlessness of the objection. What was the design of inserting this additional clause, except to explain what the amount of the tax was to be?-evidently implying, that though the shekel in common use was well known, the sanctuary shekel, which was new, would be somewhat different in value, which therefore was exactly stated. Since this statement refers solely to the institution and fixing the amount of the tax, there is no inconsistency in the mention of the sanctuary, though not yet in existence.

Dr. Benisch ('Colenso's Objections Examined,' p. 105) suggests another explanation: 'As we are not to assume that the Israelites in the desert coined money of their own, or had a monetary standard of their own, we must presume that the money they used was Egyptian, and the computations in their trading transactions based upon the Egyptian standard. Being not informed as to that standard, we are left to conjectures, and one of these, fully agreeing with what we see to this day among many nations, is, that there were two currencies-a depreciated one, probably consisting of worn-out coins, or containing more alloy than was legal, and used among the people in their everyday transactions; and the standard money, containing the full weight of the precious metal, as prescribed by law, in which the dues to temples, and perhaps the taxes, had to be paid. This undepreciated currency was, in contradistinction to the other, called 'the holy shekel;' and it was in this undepreciated coin that the people were commanded to pay their dues for the service of the tabernacle, then about to be erected.'

In all subsequent times this impost was paid by the Jewish people, and sent by them from all countries of their dispersion to the temple at Jerusalem (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 18:, ch. 9:, sec. 1; Philo., vol. 2:, p. 578; Cicero, 'Pro. L. Flacco,' 100:28). Nay, it was continued even after the destruction of Jerusalem; for all Jews were commanded, by an imperial edict of Vespasian, to send the didrachm to the capital (Josephus, 'Jewish War,' b. 7:, ch. 6:, sec. 6).

Verse 15. To make an atonement for your souls - to propitiate for their lives; to free from guilt.

Verse 16. Atonement money, [ kecep (H3701) hakipuriym (H3722)] - price of redemption (cf. Exodus 30:12, "every man a ransom for his soul" - i:e., life). Assuming the shekel of the sanctuary to be about half-an-ounce troy, though nothing certain is known about it, the sum payable by each individual was two shillings and fourpence. This was not a voluntary contribution, but a ransom for the soul, or lives of the people. It was required from all classes alike; and a refusal to pay implied a wilful exclusion from the privileges of the sanctuary, as well as exposure to divine judgments. It was probably the same impost that was exacted from our Lord (Matthew 17:24-27); and it was usually devoted to repairs and other purposes connected with the services of the sanctuary.

Verse 17

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 18

Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.

Thou shalt also make a laver of brass. Though not actually forming a component part of the furniture of the tabernacle, this vase was closely connected with it; and though, from standing at the entrance, it would be a familiar object, it possessed great interest and importance from the baptismal purposes to which it was applied. No data are given by which its form and size can be ascertained; but it was probably a miniature pattern of Solomon's-a circular basin.

His foot - supposed not to be the pedestal on which it rested, but a trough or shallow receptacle below, into which the water, let out from a cock or spout, flowed; for the way in which all eastern people wash their hands or feet is by pouring upon them the water which falls into a bason. This laver was provided for the priests alone. But in the Christian dispensation all believers are priests; and hence, the apostle exhorts them how to draw near to God (Hebrews 10:22; John 13:10).

Verses 19-21

For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 22-23

Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Take thou also ... Oil is frequently mentioned in Scripture as an emblem of sanctification (cf. Zechariah 4:1-14), and anointing with it a symbolical means of designating objects as well as persons to the service of God. The anointing of the tabernacle therefore was an outward and visible representation of the impartation of the Spirit of God to the Church. Here it is prescribed by divine authority, and the various ingredients in their several proportions described which were to compose the oil used in consecrating the furniture of the tabernacle.

Myrrh - a fragrant and medicinal gum from a little-known tree in Arabia.

Sweet cinnamon - produced from a species of laurel or sweet bay, found chiefly in Ceylon, growing to a height of 20 feet. This spice is extracted from the inner bark; but it is not certain whether that mentioned by Moses is the same as that with which we are familiar. [ Qinmaan (H7076); Septuagint, kinnamon, is derived from the Cingalese kakyn nama, sweet wood.]

Sweet calamus - or sweet cane, a product of Arabia and India, of a tawny colour. In appearance it is like the common cane, and strongly odoriferous cassia-from the same species of tree as the cinnamon: some think the outer bark of that tree. All these together would amount to 120 lbs. troy weight; and as they are not native products of Egypt, but most of them grow in Arabia, while the cinnamon was imported from India, it is evident that the Israelites must have trafficked with the trading caravans which brought spicery from these remote regions.

Hin - a word of Egyptian origin, equal to ten pints. According to Leeman, quoted by Hengstenberg ('Egypt and Books of Moses'), it was originally the general name for a vessel, which was then transferred by the Hebrews and Egyptians to a certain measure of variable compass. Being mixed with the olive oil-no doubt of the purest kind-this composition probably remained always in a liquid state; and in order to separate what was sacred from common application either for food or luxury, the strictest prohibition issued against using it for any other purpose than anointing the tabernacle and its furniture. There is no record of the temple being anointed as the tabernacle was. According to Jewish tradition, there was no holy oil in the second temple; and the formal ceremony of anointing was probably omitted at the dedication of the first (or Solomon's) temple in consequence of the removal from the tabernacle to that permanent building, of the sacred vessels which had been previously anointed.

Verses 24-28

And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 29

And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.

Whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy. This sanctification or external holiness, which was communicated to all who merely touched these tabernacle vessels which had been anointed with the holy oil, was typical of the inward purity of those who through faith in Christ receive the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:12-14; 1 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 61:1; Mark 6:13; Acts 4:27; 2 Corinthians 1:21; James 5:14; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:29).

Verses 30-32

And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 33

Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.

Whosoever compoundeth, [ 'iysh (H376) 'ªsher (H834)], the man who compoundeth [Septuagint, hos han poieesee hoosautoos].

Shall even be cut off from his people. It must be remembered that the Israelites were placed under a special dispensation of Providence, in which a vigilant superintendence was exercised over them, and not only temporal sanctions were held out, but temporal penalties denounced against individuals for offences which were of such a nature that, in ordinary circumstances, detection would have been difficult or impossible. Here the punishment of temporal death was threatened to the man who should compound an oil similar to that which was appropriated to the sacred uses of the tabernacle (see Warburton's 'Div. Leg.,' B. 6:, sec. 3).

Verses 34-38

And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:

Take unto thee sweet spices. These were stacte, the finest myrrh; onycha, supposed to be an odoriferous shell; galbanum, a gum-resin from an umbelliferous plant.

Frankincense - a dry resinous aromatic gum of a yellow colour, which comes from a tree in Arabia, and is obtained by incision of the bark. This incense was placed within the sanctuary, to be at hand when the priest required to burn on the altar.

The art of compounding unguents and perfumes was well-known in Egypt, where sweet scented spices were extensively used, not only in common life, but in the ritual of the temples. Most of the ingredients here mentioned have been found on minute examination of mummies and other Egyptian relics; and the Israelites, therefore, would have the best opportunities of acquiring in that country the skill in pounding and mixing them which they were called to exercise in the service of the tabernacle.

But the recipe for the incense, as well as for the oil in the tabernacle, though it receives illustration from the customs of Egypt, was special, and being prescribed by divine authority, was to be applied to no common or inferior purpose. The symbolical import of this composition was twofold. The first was, by the pleasantness of the smell, to draw the favour of God-as it were, to make Him cheerful and more willing to hear the petitions which, at the time of its being offered by fire, were made to Him, as, indeed, everything that was burnt in the service of the tabernacle was for that intent. If it was accepted, it was called a sweet savour; if the contrary, it was called 'a stink in the nostrils,' or 'a stinking savour' (cf. Leviticus 3:1-17; Leviticus 4:1-35; Leviticus 5:1-16; Leviticus 26:31; Ecclesiastes 10:1; Joel 2:10; Ephesians 5:2). The other symbolical use was, by the dense cloud of smoke, to make a kind of covering to take away the sins of the people from the sight of God, and thereby to favour the expiation; for to expiate and to cover are synonymous expressions in the Hebrew language (Leviticus 16:13).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 30". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-30.html. 1871-8.
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