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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 30

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Moses in Mount Sinai Receives God’s Revelation.

Moses In The Mountain With Yahweh For Forty Days and Nights (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:18 ).

After receiving the covenant and putting it into writing Moses was called by Yahweh to go up to Him into the Mountain. The Great Overlord wished to establish the necessary protocol for His people’s approach to Him. There through revelation Moses was to be given instructions concerning the provision of a Dwellingplace for Yahweh, with all its furniture, so that they could know that He ‘dwelt among them’. This was in order to confirm to Israel His gracious intentions towards them (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and which will enable them to reveal their continued loyalty and concern for His holiness (Exodus 30-31).

Regulations Concerning Things Not Directly Concerned with the Godward Aspect of The Overlordship And Atonement But With The Expression of Responsive Concern For Yahweh and His Holiness (Exodus 30:1 to Exodus 31:18 ).

Up to this point all the emphasis has been on God’s provision for His people as Overlord and Atoner. And this has concluded with the teaching about the continuing daily sacrifices of Exodus 29:38-42, followed by a summary that makes Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46 a clear unit. God has been revealing His sovereign power and His provision for atonement and finishes with the promise of His future dwelling with His people.

But there are certain things that He has not dealt with which we might have expected. There has been no mention of the altar of incense or the laver. There is, however, good reason for this, for neither expressed what He was then trying to get over to His people, Yahweh’s reaching out to them. They spoke rather of the response of His people in dedication, loyalty and respect. So these are now dealt with along with other examples of the same. The people’s response of dedication, worship and loyalty will now be expanded on.

The regulations in this chapter are about man’s response and are connected with the ideas of loyalty, and with responsibility towards and true respect for their Divine Overlord. They cover certain covenant responsibilities:

a Their responsibility to offer worship and loyalty as signified by the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-10).

b Their responsibility as servants of Yahweh to recognise that they are His and accordingly pay their dues (Exodus 30:11-16).

c The necessity for their representatives to make themselves free from earthiness when entering His presence (Exodus 30:17-21).

d The making of the anointing oil that sets the priests aside in loyal service (Exodus 30:22-33).

c The making of the incense by which they express the people’s love and loyalty to Yahweh (Exodus 30:34-38).

b The appointment of men set aside to loyally produce the Dwelling place and all its furniture (Exodus 31:1-11).

a The need to keep the Sabbath continually which is the sign of their loyalty and devotion (Exodus 31:12-17).

It will be seen that there is a pattern in this. The first and the last (a) refer to continual acts which reveal their loyalty and dedication, the first by the priests, the last by the people, so expressing their continual loyalty to the covenant and to Yahweh. The second and the sixth (b) are connected with service to the Dwellingplace, in the first case as a service from which they are ransomed, in the second case as something that they freely offer when called on. The third and the fifth (c) refer to the use of differing God-provided avenues by which priests are able to approach God, on behalf of the people, although not connected with atonement, and the central one centres on the setting apart to God of the priests on behalf of the ransomed people. They head up the dedication and worship of Israel

Verses 1-6

The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10 ).

The purpose of the earlier descriptions of all that was connected with the Dwellingplace had been to concentrate on those aspects of it which referred to God’s approach to His people as He came to dwell among them, and the way back to Him that He had provided for them. But now, having established His earthly palace, and His kingship over His people, and having covered the aspects of the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle - mishkan) that dealt with God’s approach to man and the way of reconciliation He provided, He moves on to how man should respond in the offering continually through the priests of his worship and praise to God, and thus in declaring his loyalty. That is why the altar of incense is mentioned here and not along with the pieces of Sanctuary furniture described in Exodus 25-27. There all the attention was on Yahweh and His gracious approach to His people. Here it is on man’s response to his Sovereign Lord. It is not to demean the altar of incense but to emphasise its purpose.

The altar of incense was such a regular part of the worship of surrounding religions that the Dwellingplace would not have been seen as complete without it. In Egypt frankincense was certainly used in the worship of the god Amun and Egyptian records tell how a Pharaoh sent a naval expedition to Arabia for the express purpose of bringing frankincense, and the trees that produced it, back to Egypt in connection with the feasts of Amun. A number of hewn limestone altars with four horns at the upper corners dating around 13th century BC were also found at Megiddo, which from their small size were probably incense altars. But the use of incense in worship goes well back into 3rd millennium BC, and in an area where spices were deeply appreciated it was inevitable that they would be introduced into worship.

The passage is divided into two. The first part deals with the making of it and how Moses will use it. The second part deals with Aaron’s ministry on it. Here we have a further indication that we are dealing directly with the words of Moses. No later writer would have seen any necessity to make the distinction.

Moses and the Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-6 ).

a An altar of incense to be made of acacia wood to burn incense on (Exodus 30:1).

b It was to be foursquare with upward projections at the corners and 2 x 1 x 1 cubits, and overlaid with gold all over and provided with a rim of gold (Exodus 30:2).

c Two golden rings were to be set under the rim on the ribs, for the purpose of taking the staves with which it will be borne (Exodus 30:3).

c The staves are to be made of acacia wood overlaid with gold (Exodus 30:4).

b It is to be put beside the veil by the Ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat which is before the Testimony (Exodus 30:5).

a There Yahweh will meet with Moses (Exodus 30:6).

Note the parallels. In ‘a’ the altar of incense was to be made for the offering of sweet incense while in the parallel Yahweh was to meet with Moses there. In ‘b’ the altar was to be foursquare (an indication of total rightness), with horns reaching up to Yahweh, and covered in gold, as perfect as man can get (but not a cube, that represented God alone in the Holy of Holies) while in the parallel it was to be put in the prime position, before the veil which is in front of the mercy seat. Through that altar above all the mercy seat was to be ‘approached’ by Moses. In ‘c’ the rings are made for the staves, and in the parallel the staves are to be made for the rings.

Exodus 30:1-3

“And you shall make an altar to burn incense on. You shall make it of acacia wood. Its length shall be a cubit, and its breadth a cubit. It shall be foursquare, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top (literally ‘roof’) and its sides (literally ‘walls’) round about, and its horns. And you shall make for it a crown of gold round about.”

This new altar was for burning incense on. Its covering with pure gold from top to bottom indicates its holiness and glory, and the holiness and glory of God. The acacia wood that it was made of came from God through His creation and indicated His strength and solidity. Its foursquareness would be seen as demonstrating its perfection. It was about half a metre (18 inches) across and a metre (3 foot) high, somewhat larger than the ones found at Megiddo, foursquare but not a perfect cube. Perfection was retained for the Holy of Holies. As with the brazen altar it had horns, which clearly demonstrates that they were seen as significant, probably as pointing up to the heavens. There were no animals to be tied on here. They were to be of one piece with the altar, and not attachments. This confirms the suggestion that they pointed the whole upwards towards heaven. Their description as ‘horns’ may also serve to indicate that they were symbols of Yahweh’s power. The whole was to be covered with gold, a sign of its great ‘value’.

The burning of incense played a part in much religious worship in other countries and is witnessed in many parts in many centuries including Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome, although not always necessarily with the same significance. The incense was noted for the sweet smell that it gave off while burning, and here would be burnt as an act of worship with the aim of pleasing God, and beautifying the air of the Sanctuary. It was a continual confirmation of the loyalty of His people. Certainly it is also later described as symbolising the prayers of God’s people (Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10).

And you shall make for it a crown of gold round about.” This was probably a ridge to prevent the incense falling off. The incense was holy to Yahweh and must not be allowed to fall on the ground, even holy ground.

Exodus 30:4-5

“And you shall make for it two golden rings under its crown. On its two ribs, on its two sides you shall make them. And they will be for places for staves, to bear it with them. And you shall make the staves of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.”

Provision is made for its carrying. No hands must touch it, it must be borne on staves. Only two rings are needed because they are placed near the top and the altar is small. And as always in the Sanctuary, that which came from God’s creation was overlaid with gold, setting it apart as glorious and as His.

The holiness of the altar by which the people’s expression of dedication, worship and prayer was brought before God is only exceeded by the holiness of the One through Whom we may come to offer our worship and prayers before God, through the body of our Lord Jesus Christ offered once for all.

Exodus 30:6

“And you shall put it before the veil that is in front of the Ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat which is above the Testimony, where I will meet with you.”

The altar is to be placed in front of the inner veil behind which is the throne of Yahweh and the place of propitiation, the mercy seat, which covers the Testimony of the covenant of the ten words. All offerings of incense are to be to Yahweh and Him alone. The staves of the Ark protruding through the curtain would be a constant reminder of the presence of the Ark (1 Kings 8:8), and the altar was probably placed between them, incorporating it into the Most Holy Place while still being available outside the veil to be used.

Thus the writer to the Hebrews speaks as though it were in the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9:4). This suggests that its placement was intended to be seen as connecting it with the Most Holy Place and not with the ministry in the Holy Place, and this comes out in the description above. The Most Holy Place could only be entered once a year, thus this ministry on the altar of incense (probably placed between the protruding staves of the Ark) was the closest approach to entering the Most Holy Place that was permitted at all other times. It was seen as a direct, though veiled, approach to the mercy seat, and was thus the closest that man’s representative could get to God’s throne and place of propitiation except on that one unique day, the Day of Atonement. It was most holy (Exodus 30:10).

Verses 7-10

Aaron and the Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:7-10 ).

a Aaron will burn the sweet incense of spices there every morning when he dresses the lamps (Exodus 30:7).

b And when he lights the lamps in the evening he will burn it a perpetual incense before Yahweh throughout their generations (Exodus 30:8).

c No strange incense, or whole burnt offering, or grain offering, or drink offering shall be offered on it (Exodus 30:9).

c Aaron will make atonement on its horns once a year (Exodus 30:10 a).

b With the blood of the purification for sin offering of atonement he will make atonement once a year throughout their generations (Exodus 30:10 b).

a It is most holy to Yahweh (Exodus 30:10 c).

In ‘a’ Aaron as the people’s representative is to burn sweet incense on it when he dresses the lamps which in symbol reveal the presence of Yahweh, and in the parallel it is most holy to Yahweh for it is before His throne. In ‘b’ he must burn incense perpetually throughout the generations, while in the parallel yearly atonement is to be made for it throughout the generations. In ‘c’ there are to be no offerings made on it apart for the holy incense while in the parallel its reaching up to God must be atoned for once a year. Here we have vividly portrayed the best that man can offer and yet in spite of that the continual need for atonement.

Exodus 30:7-8

“And Aaron shall burn on it incense of sweet spices. He shall burn it every morning when he dresses the lamps. And in the evening, when Aaron lights the lamps, he will burn it, a perpetual incense before Yahweh throughout your generations.”

As with the continual whole burnt offerings the incense must be offered twice a day. It would be a perpetual reminder of the worship and prayers of His people, and of their love for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5). It was the purest form of their worship. The lamps which were lit every evening, and dressed in the morning represented the life and light that came from God, the incense is the people’s response in holy gratitude and worship and commitment. This too would be continual through the generations. Thus the actions were two way, light and life from God, worship towards God.

Again, as with the daily offerings, this is a continual offering, of incense. Incense would also be offered by ‘the Priest’ in a censer within the Most Holy Place itself on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16:12-13). Its importance comes out in 1 Samuel 2:28 where one of the duties of ‘the Priest’ was seen as being to burn incense before Yahweh, along with the wearing of the ephod. That its use was carefully controlled comes out in that later Nadab and Abihu were slain for their casual use of it (Leviticus 10:1). As with all that took place in the Sanctuary God’s instructions had to be followed to the letter. There must be no hint of the degrading of worship, which might become like the extravagant behaviour of those who worshipped Baal, known by Israel from what they had witnessed in the Baal worship common in Egypt (there were close ties between Egypt and Canaan). It was possibly because that had been in the minds of the sons of Aaron that they were so severely treated, although in Scripture the first example of an offence against a holy ordinance is always severely treated.

It is probable that we are to see here the first introduction of incense into the regular worship of Israel, which would explain why its use has to be so carefully controlled. God’s punishments are always most severe at such crucial times.

There are no real grounds for denying the altar of incense to Tabernacle worship, although acute minds can always find anything. The fate of Nadab and Abihu was unlikely to be invented and the words in 1 Samuel 2:28 would not be likely from an inventor. Why put an emphasis on incense at that point if the reason was other than because all knew that it had a centrally important place in worship? Other ceremonial activity could equally well have been used. Nor would it have been introduced into the laws of purification for sin offerings in especially grave cases (Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 4:18). It is also listed in the final lists of what was in the Tent of Meeting (30:26-29; 31:7-9; 39:33-43). These mainly almost incidental references confirm its existence from the beginning. In 37:25-29 where the making of it is described, it is placed in what critics would see as the ‘correct’ place, along with the other furniture in the Holy Place. And Solomon’s Temple also contained an altar of incense.

It is not surprising that Ezekiel does not mention it. He was speaking of a heavenly Temple not made by man. To him man’s only access was through the altar built on earth, the only thing that man was told to construct of all that he saw. And to suggest that because the brazen altar is sometimes described as ‘the altar’ (Exodus 27-29; Leviticus 1-6) that signifies that there could be no other altar which was of an expressedly different kind and which specifically excludes the offering of sacrifices on it, would be going too far even if the article was so specific in Hebrew. But as it is not, it is even more farfetched. In Hebrew the article often simply signifies ‘the one I am speaking about’ and nothing more.

Exodus 30:9

“You shall offer no strange incense on it, nor whole burnt offering, nor meal offering. And you shall pour no drink offering on it.”

The altar of incense was not to be used except for the morning and evening offering of the official incense. It was mainly reserved for that. ‘Strange incense’ probably means incense of a different kind than that prescribed (Exodus 30:34-38), but it may also simply mean incense not offered at the right time. And the altar was specifically not to be seen as a sacrificial altar, or an altar for offerings. Its purpose was to be wholly different.

There is however one significant exception to this, and that is when ‘the Priest’ has sinned (this probably includes his deputies and may especially have in mind unwitting sin in respect of their service in the Dwellingplace) or when the whole people have unwittingly sinned. In these grave cases, which affect the whole people, and in these alone, the blood of the necessary sin offering must be applied to the horns of this altar (Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 4:18). This is probably because such sins are seen as having affected the worship and loyalty of the whole people, either in their representative or in themselves, and therefore as having defiled the altar and effectively cancelled their oath of loyalty. And the altar is therefore seen as in need of special atonement because of its defilement. It is a renewed oath of loyalty and expression of worship after the grave sin which affected their combined worship was now repented of and atoned for with a sin offering. It is, however, only for unwitting sin. There is no atonement for considered and deliberate sin. That would call for judgment.

Exodus 30:10

“And Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once in the year. He shall make atonement with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to Yahweh.”

Being in the Holy Place, and only approached by priests who have been cleansed, it would not come in direct contact with the profane, but in spite of its holiness it still needs to be atoned for yearly, for the incense represents man’s worship, and it is offered by fallible man. Nothing that involves man is seen as free from being tainted. All that is on earth outside the veil requires regular atonement. So even this holy altar does so, once a year. Yet it is so holy that common sacrifices are not holy enough for it. (The above exception in Leviticus 4:7; Leviticus 4:18 was probably to be seen as an emergency day of atonement for all the people). It is most holy. Only the once a year purification for sin offering on the Day of Atonement must be used to atone for it. It represents all the continual worship of the whole people as offered through their representative. And blood from the sin offering on the Day of Atonement must be applied to its horns, the horns which constitute its essence and its effectiveness. Some have suggested that it is not mentioned in the Day of Atonement regulations in Leviticus, and if so that is because it was to do with something other than the essential purpose of the Day of Atonement, but in our view ‘the altar before Yahweh’ mentioned there can only signify this altar (Leviticus 16:12; Leviticus 16:18 compare Exodus 4:18). It refers to the altar in the Holy Place.

Verses 11-16

Regulation In Respect of the Numbering of the Servants of Yahweh (Exodus 30:11-16 ).

That this regulation was placed between the consecration of the altar of incense and the bronze laver brings out that the mature males of the nation were seen to be Yahweh’s and thus their numbering directly affected Him. And this is confirmed by the fact that when they are numbered for some purpose (usually in preparation for war) they will need to be ransomed. Compensation must be paid to Yahweh for their being used by the nation, especially when it was in its own defence and they being put at risk of their lives. How serious such numbering was seen to be comes out in 2 Samuel 24:0 were David appears to have done it simply for self-aggrandisement.

It is probable from the inclusion of this regulation here as a general principle that we are to see the expectancy of a regular numbering being taken of the children of Israel, a numbering of the servants of Yahweh (i.e. of the mature males). Note the mention of numbering three times in Exodus 30:12. It was clearly seen as a serious business. The purpose of such ‘numbering’ at this stage would seem to be for the purpose of war (compare how in Numbers they were numbered in readiness for the march on Canaan and again when that march on Canaan was renewed).

Taking a ‘numbering’ was probably seen as drawing God’s attention to those involved. It was a counting of His servants with a view to their use by the nation, and as such, if no ransom was paid, it could result in Yahweh taking them to Himself by plague lest they be lost to Him without recompense. It was an indication that they were His. And when their silver half shekel went into the service of the Sanctuary it meant that they knew that they were represented before Yahweh, and that Yahweh would take account of them. By counting them they came to God’s attention as His servants.

Among other nations there were fears for a similar reason. In their case it was often that they were seen as servants of ‘the gods’, and a compensation for them was seen as necessary as a result of their being taken over from the gods by the king.

But here it was seen as numbering those who had become partakers in the covenant. Thus they were God’s servants in covenant with Him and it was necessary that a ransom be paid and an atonement made so that the numbering would have no evil consequences and so that they might be legitimately freed from the obligations of direct divine service in order to live mundane lives and in order to hazard their lives. But it went further than that, for the tribute was for use in the Sanctuary where each man was therefore represented before Yahweh even while he lived and fought.

The first counting seems to have been taken in order to obtain silver for the building of the dwellingplace (Exodus 38:25-26).

The time prior to moving on from Mount Sinai was seen as a suitable time for a further numbering, partly in order to enable Moses to plan the march, and partly as preparation and mustering for future warfare. There had not been time or opportunity to organise things since leaving Egypt as a fleeing host, but now they probably at last felt safe. The details are given in Numbers 1-2.

a When Israel are ‘numbered’ (being set apart for some task for Yahweh) each must give a ransom for himself so that there is no plague among them (Exodus 30:11-12).

b Each one as he passes over to be numbered will give half a shekel for an offering to Yahweh (Exodus 30:13).

c Every one who passes over who are those from twenty years old and upwards will give the offering to Yahweh (Exodus 30:14).

c Each will give the same, the rich not more and the poor not less, when they give the offering of Yahweh to make atonement for their persons (Exodus 30:15).

b The atonement money for the children of Israel will be appointed for the service of the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 30:16 a).

a It is to be a memorial for the children of Israel before Yahweh to make atonement for their persons (Exodus 30:16 b).

In ‘a’ when the male adults of Israel are numbered each is to give a ransom for himself, and in the parallel it is a memorial before Yahweh to make atonement for their persons. In ‘b’ each one gives his half shekel as he ‘passes over’ (possibly from one group to another) while in the parallel the money is appointed for the service of the Tent of Meeting. In ‘c’ everyone over twenty years old is to give the offering to Yahweh, while in the parallel they must all give the same as an offering of Yahweh to make atonement for their persons.

Exodus 30:11-12

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to those who are numbered of them, then shall they give every man a ransom for his person to Yahweh when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.” ’

So the census was to be a time when each member of the covenant paid his ransom so as to be relieved from the continual holy service of Yahweh (as with the firstborn in Exodus 13:13). It was necessary because they were all holy to Yahweh (Exodus 19:5-6). Later we learn that the Levites would not be numbered in the ordinary census because they were not to be relieved from such service (Numbers 1:47; Numbers 2:33). However, numbering them as the servants of Yahweh was clearly allowed (Numbers 3:15).

So had the ransom not been paid God would have claimed back His own through plague (compare 2 Samuel 24:0). It is a serious thing to be marked off as a servant of God. This brings out that all mature males were seen as direct servants of Yahweh. The firstborn had been redeemed because they belonged to Yahweh as the firstfruits (Exodus 13:2). These have to be redeemed because they are His by covenant.

Exodus 30:13-15

“This shall they give, every one who passes over to those who are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the Sanctuary. (The shekel is twenty gerahs). Half a shekel for an offering to Yahweh. Every one who passes over to those who are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering of Yahweh. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of Yahweh, to make atonement for their persons.”

The ransom to be paid was half a shekel. It was atonement money to cover the fact that they were relieved from Yahweh’s direct service. The Sanctuary received it instead of their service. It was a way by which the Sanctuary could be provided for. It appears that the census was taken by the people moving from one spot to another as they were numbered. Thus as they passed over they had to pay their ransom. All had to pay the same because the service of all was seen as of equal value. None was superior to anyone else in the eyes of God.

This need for a ransom brings out how much God saw His people as His own. It was precisely because He loved them that a ransom had to be paid for His foregoing having their personal service, and in order that He might have in His Sanctuary a reminder of them.

Payment was to be made for all males of twenty years old and upwards. At that age they became theoretically eligible for service in the Sanctuary (1 Chronicles 23:24; 1 Chronicles 23:27; 2 Chronicles 31:17: Ezra 3:8), and available for war service (2 Chronicles 25:5).

The ‘half shekel’ (about 5 grams or just under a quarter of an ounce) was not a piece of money (money was unknown) but a weight of silver. It was not a heavy price to pay. The shekel of the Sanctuary was a standard weight. Quite possibly an example was kept in the Sanctuary so that it could be used as a measure where necessary to ensure fair measurement. A gerah was a smaller weight, one tenth of half a shekel, put in, possibly later, to define which shekel is being used.

To make atonement for their persons.” That is to atone for their failure to provide service to Yahweh. Others see it as signifying their atoning for their unworthiness for the service of Yahweh. Possibly we may include both.

Exodus 30:16

“And you shall take the atonement money from the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the Tent of Meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before Yahweh, to make atonement for your persons.”

The atonement money would make up for their lack of service in the Sanctuary, and would provide for the Sanctuary. Yahweh would, as it were, see it and accept it in place of their service. Thus there would be no failure in the fulfilling of their service. It was fulfilled by substitute silver which would itself become part of the Sanctuary (Exodus 38:25-28).

This reminds us that we too are committed to total service to God, and when we give we are substituting our money for that direct service for God that we have been unable to perform while earning that money. We are debtors to God for all the time when we are not performing direct service. That was what this ransom and the tithe expressed. But as Christians we are to give even more. We are to give ‘hilariously’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Verses 17-21

The Bronze Laver (Exodus 30:17-21 ).

As with the golden Altar of Incense the bronze Laver had no place in God’s revelation of Himself to them or in the making of atonement. Rather it was a means for the priest to remove any earthiness when entering the Sanctuary. Thus it is mentioned here along with the golden altar and the census requirements.

a A laver and associated other receptacle were to be made of brazen copper. It was to be placed between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, with water put in it (Exodus 30:17-18).

b Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and feet in it (Exodus 30:19).

c They were to wash their hands and feet in it when they went into the Tent of Meeting so that they did not die (Exodus 30:20 a).

c Or when they came near to the brazen altar to burn an offering made by fire to Yahweh (Exodus 30:20 b).

b So were they to wash their hands and their feet that they die not (Exodus 30:21 a).

a It was to be a statute for ever to them, even to Aaron and his seed throughout their generations (Exodus 30:21 b)

In ‘a’ we have a description of the making of the laver which was to placed in the Sanctuary court, and in its parallel its permanence is established through all generations. In ‘b Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and feet in it, and in the parallel it was so that they might not die. In’ c’ it was to be done both when they went into the Holy Place and when they approached the brazen altar in order to offer an offering made by fire.

Exodus 30:17-21 a

And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also make a bronze laver, and its base (ken) of bronze, with which to wash, and you shall put it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it. And Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet at it. When they go into the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water that they die not. Or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to Yahweh. So shall they wash their hands and their feet that they die not.”’

Not only sin but earthiness had to be removed in approaching Yahweh. Man was not only sinful but creaturely and unworthy. The washing of water was a standard part of Israel’s religion, removing earthiness but not cleansing the soul. It was preparatory only. We should note that water, unless treated with the ashes of sacrifice, never ‘cleansed’. Note the constant refrain - ‘wash -- and shall be unclean until --’ in Leviticus 15:0). It was preparatory for whatever followed next which would result in the cleansing. Here it was required as priests moved from one holy thing to another. The contamination of earthiness had to be constantly removed. Thus the hands that touched holy things and the feet that touched holy ground had to be constantly washed prior to doing so lest they contaminate holy things with the taint of earth. Full bathing was only required at certain times (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 16:4). It also removed the blood that would get on their hands as they dealt with the sacrifices. To fail to wash was to incur the death penalty. It was to defile holy things and show contempt for Yahweh.

It is possible that Jesus had these regulations in mind when He said, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet’ (John 13:10). But if so He had extended its significance to include cleansing from sin.

A bronze laver.” Made of copper alloyed with tin it was a basin, or similar, set on a base. Such was their love for God at this time that it would be made from the mirrors of the serving women who served at the door of the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 38:8). The serving women gave their most prized possessions to God. No indication is given of size or shape but it must have been fair sized. It was to be kept constantly filled, presumably by those same women. The ‘base’ or ‘ken’ is regularly mentioned separately from the basin which may signify it was a separate item for removing the water from the laver for use. Compare Exodus 31:9; Exodus 35:16; Exodus 39:39; Exodus 40:11; Leviticus 8:11.

Exodus 30:21 b

“And it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.”

This confirms the importance of the requirement. It was a permanent one, a statute lasting for ever through generation after generation, for Aaron and his seed.

Verses 22-33

The Anointing Of All That Has Been Provided For The Dwellingplace (Exodus 30:22-33 ).

The furnishing of the Dwellingplace now being complete it is to be anointed so as to set it apart wholly to Yahweh. We note here that the golden altar and the laver are now included, in a different order from that shown previously, as the order is now from the Most Holy Place, through the Holy Place, to the court. Previously the order had been in order to take into account purpose and function.

a The ingredients of the holy anointing oil as described must be taken (Exodus 30:22-24).

b They were with them to make the holy anointing oil, a perfume compounded after the art of the perfumer (Exodus 30:25 a).

c It shall be a holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:25 b).

d They will anoint with it the Tent of Meeting, and the Ark of the Testimony, and the Table and all its vessels, and the Lampstand and its vessels, and the Altar of Incense, and the Altar of Whole Burnt Offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its companion vessel (Exodus 30:26-28).

e And they will sanctify them so that they be most holy (Exodus 30:29 a).

e Whatever touches them will be holy (Exodus 30:29 b).

d And they will anoint Aaron and his sons and sanctify them, so that they minister to Him in the priest’s office (Exodus 30:30).

c And he must speak to the children of Israel and say, ‘This shall be the holy anointing oil to me throughout your generations (Exodus 30:31).

b It must not be poured on any man, nor was any to be made like it in accordance with its special composition for it is holy and shall be holy to them (Exodus 30:32)

a Whoever compounds any like it, or puts any on a stranger (a non-priest) shall be cut off from his people.

Note the comparisons. In ‘a’ the ingredients of the holy anointing oil must be taken, and in the parallel they must not be compounded or put on any non-priest on pain of being cut off. In ‘b’ the holy anointing oil must be made, and in the parallel it must not be made unofficially, or poured on any man, because it was holy. In ‘c’ it was the holy anointing oil and in the parallel was declared to be the holy anointing oil. In ‘d’ they were to anoint the Tabernacle furniture and in the parallel the priests. In ‘e’ by this they would be set apart to Yahweh as most holy, and in the parallel whoever touched them will be holy (wholly set apart to Yahweh).

The Making of the Holy Anointing Oil (30:22-25).

Exodus 30:22-25

‘Moreover Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Take also to yourself the chief spices, of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half as much, even two hundred and fifty, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty, and of cassia five hundred after the shekel of the Sanctuary, and of oil a hin. And you shall make it an anointing oil, a perfume compounded with the skilful methods of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil.” ’

Moses was to take spices in the proportions declared by Yahweh and arrange for the oil to be made by experts. There were five ingredients, the number of covenant. The 500 also indicated the covenant number, five intensified. The further weight brought the total up to 3 times 500 shekels weight, signifying complete covenant response to the covenant. ‘Flowing’ myrrh was the myrrh that exuded naturally from the shrubby tree Commiphora myrrha, the best myrrh, not that obtained by cutting slits in the shrub. There may also be the aim of using myrrh extracted, as it were, by God and not by men. Myrrh was widely seen as desirable and came from Arabia and North Africa. It hardened to produce an oily, yellowy-brown resin. See also Psalms 45:8; Proverbs 7:17; Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 4:14; Song of Solomon 5:5; Song of Solomon 5:13; Esther 2:12. It was associated with Jesus in His birth and death (Matthew 2:11; John 19:39).

Sweet cinnamon.” The best of the cinnamon. Probably obtained from an as yet unidentified plant in the area. It was highly prized (see Proverbs 7:17; Song of Solomon 4:14; Revelation 18:13). Herodotus said that in his day Greeks obtained it from Arabia.

Calamus -- Cassia.” Calamus was an aromatic reed and, along with Cassia, probably of a local variety, the latter’s name later being applied to an improved variety which could be imported. All these would have been available in Egypt. The oil would enable all these varieties of spice to be mingled together. All this was to be blended together by the skilful art of the perfumer, with only the best being extracted, into a holy anointing oil which was only to be used for holy things. For Calamus see Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:17; Song of Solomon 4:14. The Dwellingplace and its contents, and Aaron and his sons, were to be anointed with refined beauty.

Exodus 30:26-29

“And you shall anoint with it the Tent of Meeting, and the Ark of the Testimony, and the table and all its vessels, and the lampstand and its vessels, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its vessels, and the laver and its base. And you shall sanctify them that they may be most holy. Whoever touches them shall be holy.”

The Tent of Meeting and all its furniture is to be anointed with the holy anointing oil. By it they will be separated by Yahweh to their holy purpose. They will be ‘most holy’. And anyone who touches them will become holy, that is totally separated to Yahweh (compare on Exodus 29:37). For the non-priest that would mean death in an extreme case, or ransom. It should be noted that anointing with oil in the Old Testament did not symbolise the Spirit, but dedication to Yahweh.

We note that the altar of incense and the laver are placed last in their particular grouping, not because they are inferior but because of their purpose. Their function is to enable man to honour God rather than representing God’s activity towards man. They represented response to God’s sovereign activity.

Exodus 30:30

“And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons and sanctify them , that they may minister to me in the priest’s office.”

Having anointed the holy things, those who minister in the holy things, Aaron and his sons, are anointed. Again the point is that they are set apart for God and for a holy purpose. While Aaron alone was sanctified as ‘the Priest’ in Exodus 29:7; he and his sons were all anointed in Exodus 29:21. The first anointing was as ‘The Priest’, the second as priests.

Exodus 30:31-33

“And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, “This shall be a holy anointing oil to me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on the flesh of man, neither shall you make any like it, in accordance with its composition. It is holy, it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on a stranger, he shall be cut off from his people.”

The holy anointing oil must be reserved only for its purpose, the anointing of that which is holy to Yahweh and set apart for a sacred purpose. Even the recipe is holy. To make it unlawfully, or to use it unlawfully will signify expulsion from the covenant, or even death (Exodus 31:14). Rather than being sanctified by it they will be cut off as a result of it. The ‘stranger’ in mind is anyone other than the priests for whom it was intended (compare on Exodus 29:33). The main thought behind this is the forbidding of any as priests except those whom God has appointed.

Verses 34-38

The Incense (Exodus 30:34-38 ).

a The constituents of the incense to be taken (Exodus 30:34).

b They are to be made into incense, a perfume after the art of the perfumer.

c Seasoned with salt, pure and holy (Exodus 30:35).

d It is to be beaten very small and put before the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 30:36 a).

d There Yahweh will meet with Moses (Exodus 30:36 b)

c It shall be to them most holy (Exodus 30:36 c).

b They shall not make the same composition of incense for themselves , it is to be holy to them from Yahweh (Exodus 30:37).

a Whoever makes its like in order to smell it will be cut off from his people (Exodus 30:38).

Note the parallels. In ‘a’ the constituents of the incense are described and in the parallel the warning not to make its like in order to smell it. In ‘b’ they are to make the incense through an expert, and in the parallel it is to be holy to them from Yahweh so that they must not make any for themselves of the same composition. In ‘c’ it is to be seasoned with salt, pure and holy, and in the parallel it is to be to them most holy. In ‘d’ it is to be put before the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, and in the parallel Yahweh will meet there with Moses.

Exodus 30:34

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Take to yourself sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense. There shall be a like weight of each (or ‘every part shall be for itself’).”

Stacte (‘dropping’) is a fragrant resin obtained from droppings of resin from a plant, either the ‘balm of Gilead’ (from southern Arabia) or storax from the Palestinian hills. Onycha may be from shellfish in the Red Sea or from the horny plate that covers a species of mussel now found in the lakes of India which, when burned, emits a musky odour. Galbanum is a pleasantly aromatic gum resin derived from certain umbelliferous plants. Frankincense, (named so from the Old French for 'pure incense'), as used by the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, was a gum resin now called olibanum which was derived from certain trees of the genus boswellia found growing on the limestone of South Arabia and Somaliland. Thus, three of the four ingredients in the incense burned on the golden altar were gum resins. Gum resins are mixtures of gum and resin obtained from plants or trees by incision. Resins burn readily because they contain volatile oils. If it means the ‘like weight of each’ it confirms its perfect balance. But it may mean that each was prepared separately before being combined. We note that, along with the salt which seasoned the mixture (Exodus 30:35), there were five ingredients, the number of covenant.

Exodus 30:35-36

“And you shall make incense of it, a perfume resulting from the skilful art of the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. And you shall beat some of it very small, and put it before the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.”

Once again the skilled work of the perfumer must be utilised to produce the very best refined incense. And all was to be seasoned with salt. When required the resultant incense was to be ground small and probably placed in a hollow on the altar of incense which was set before the veil behind which was the Testimony (the covenant of the ten words and other records) within the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh. There Yahweh would meet with him. Whether the ‘you’ (singular) is Moses or Aaron or the people as represented by Aaron we are not told. Probably all were included. The great holiness of the incense is then stressed.

Exodus 30:37-38

“And the incense which you shall make, you shall not make for yourselves of the same composition. It shall be holy for Yahweh to you. Whoever will make the same as that, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”

Like the anointing oil the incense is to be sacred to its purpose and used for no other. It was to be seen by the people as ‘holy for Yahweh’. Anyone seeking to reproduce it in order to smell it was to be ‘cut off from his people’. This may have meant permanent expulsion into the desert, or being put to death (Exodus 31:14). The significance of this is that the incense smell was reserved for Yahweh and was most holy, signifying the praise and worship and declaration of loyalty of His people and that alone.

Notes for Christians.

The incense altar represents Christ through Whom we must come if our worship is to be acceptable to God. Having been cleansed with blood at Christ the brazen altar we come through Christ the golden altar to offer up the incense of our worship, praise and prayers (Revelation 5:8). For it is only through Him that we can be acceptable at all. But through Him we are presented, now potentially and by imputation and one day fully, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1:22), as holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27), accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).

The summing of the people of God is a reminder that we are all individually known to Him as one of His whole complete people (Revelation 7:1-8), and that even the hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7 - something Moses was never told to attempt). And the payment of the ransom money an indication that our service for Him is never as full as it ought to be so that we must always admit that we have not totally done what it was our duty to do.

The laver reminds us that hourly and daily we must wash ourselves as we enter His presence because we are constantly tainted by contact with the world and with sin. We must walk in His light and let the blood of Christ continually cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7; compare John 13:10). We must allow Christ to wash us constantly through the water of His word (Ephesians 5:26). We must constantly wash ourselves and make ourselves clean by doing what is right and turning from all that is wrong (Isaiah 1:16-18).

The holy anointing oil is a reminder that we can only be His by the means that He has provided as revealed in His word. God’s way must alone be our way. There is no other name but one, given under heaven, by which we must be saved, and that the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). It is through the anointing that comes from Him that we can know God and be sure of His truth (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27), and it is made complete through our dedication to Him.

And the holy incense is a reminder that our untainted worship can only be offered through Him (Hebrews 13:15), for he alone can make us acceptable in His sight, but that when it is so offered through Him it is a sweet odour to God (Revelation 8:3-4; Psalms 141:2).

End of note.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 30". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/exodus-30.html. 2013.
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