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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 30

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-10


THE ALTAR OF INCENSE. This chapter has the appearance of being one in which accidental omissions are supplied. The natural place for a description of the altar of incense—part of the furniture of the holy place (Exodus 30:6)—would seem to have been Exodus 25:10-40, where we have the descriptions of the ark, the mercy-seat, the table of shew-bread, and the candlestick; the natural place for "the ransom of souls," the earlier part of the same chapter (Exodus 25:3), where the silver is required which was to be collected in this way; the natural place for an account of the bronze laver, Exodus 27:1-21; where the bronze altar, near which it stood, is described; the natural place for the composition of the holy oil, Exodus 29:1-46; where its use is commanded (Exodus 29:7, Exodus 29:21); and the natural place for a description of the perfume the same as for the altar on which it was to be offered. Whether Moses made the omissions in writing his record, and afterwards supplied them in the present chapter, or whether Divine wisdom saw fit to give the directions in the order in which we now have them, cannot be determined. Hitherto certainly no sufficient reason has been shown for the existing order, which hence appears accidental. The altar of incense was to be in many respects similar to the altar of burnt-offering, but of smaller size and richer material. Both were to be "four-square," and both of shittim wood cased with metal; but the former was to be taller, the latter shorter, than it was broad; and while the latter was to be cased with bronze, the former was to have a covering of gold. The place for the altar of incense was the main chamber of the tabernacle, a little in front of the veil; and its purpose was, as the name implied, the offering of incense to almighty God. This was to be done by the officiating priest, twice a day, morning and evening, and in practice was performed before the morning, and after the evening sacrifice.

Exodus 30:1

An altar to burn incense upon. The offering of incense was an element in the religious worship of most ancient nations. In Egypt frankincense was especially used in the festivals of the god Ammon;. and on one occasion an Egyptian sovereign sent a naval expedition to Arabia for the express purpose of bringing frankincense and frankincense trees to Egypt, in connection with the Ammon feasts. The Babylonians burnt a thousand talents' weight of frankincense every year at the great festival of Bal (Herod. 1.183). The Greeks and Romans offered frankincense, as a rule, with every offering; and in the early ages of Christianity it was made the test of a Christian whether he would do this or no. What exactly the religious notion was which underlay these acts, or whether it was the same everywhere, may be questioned. In the Mosaic religion, however, there can be little doubt that, in the main, incense symbolised prayer. (See Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10.) Of shittim wood. Compare above, Exodus 27:1.

Exodus 30:2

Four square shall it be. Like the altar of burnt-offering. See the comment on Exodus 27:1. Two cubits shall be the height thereof. Altars of this small size are often represented on ancient vases and other remains. The horns thereof. It seems to be assumed that an altar must have horns. Those of the altar of incense were to have the blood of certain sin-offerings smeared upon them (Le Exodus 4:7, Exodus 4:18). Shall be of the samei.e. "shall be of one piece with the top of the table"—not projections added to it. Compare Exodus 27:2.

Exodus 30:3

Thou shalt make unto it a crown of goldi.e; a border, or moulding, all round the top, to prevent anything from falling off. Compare what is said of the table of shew-bread, Exodus 25:24.

Exodus 30:4

By the two corners. Rather, "on its two sides." The ensuing clause is redundant. All that is meant is, that the altar should have two rings only—not four—one at each side, directly below the moulding. As it was so small, two rings were enough. For the staves. Rather, "for staves."

Exodus 30:5

The staves were to be of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, like those used for carrying the ark (Exodus 25:13) and the table of shew-bread (Exodus 25:28).

Exodus 30:6

Thou shalt put it before the vail. It might have been doubtful from what is said here, which side of the veil the altar was to be placed. The doubt is precluded by the narrative of what Moses actually did in Exodus 40:21-29, which makes it clear that the altar was placed with the golden candlestick and the table of shew-bread, outside the veil, in the "holy place," and not within the "holy of holies." Where I will meet with thee. See above, Exodus 25:22.

Exodus 30:7

Sweet incense. Literally, "incense of perfumes." For the composition of the incense, see Exodus 30:34-38. When he dresseth the lamps. The lamps of the golden candlestick were to be trimmed and cleaned, their wicks looked to, and fresh oil added, if necessary, every morning, immediately after daybreak. See the comment on Exodus 27:21. The duty devolved on the priests.

Exodus 30:8

At even. Literally, "between the two evenings." (See the comment on Exodus 12:6.) The offering of incense by the high priest twice a day, at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice, indicated that prayer was needed as constantly as expiation, and that neither might for a single day be intermitted. A perpetual incense. "Perpetual," in the sense that it was to be burnt twice a day, as long as the religion lasted—not in the sense that it was to be kept burning constantly.

Exodus 30:9

By strange incense is meant any which was not prepared according to the directions given in Exodus 30:34-38. None such was ever to be offered. Nor was the altar to be used for burnt-offering, meat-offering, or drink-offering. For burnt-offering it was manifestly unfit; but the prohibition of the others seems to show a determination to keep its use markedly distinct from that of the brazen altar in the court, which was to receive all that was offered either for expiation, or for self-dedication, or in gratitude. On the sole exception made to this general law, see the comment on the next verse.

Exodus 30:10

Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in the year. Once in the year, on the great day of atonement—the tenth day of the seventh month—the high priest, after burning incense within the veil, and sprinkling the blood of a bullock and a ram towards the mercy seat, was to take of the blood, and put it on the horns of the altar of incense "to make an atonement for it—to cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel" (Le Exodus 16:18, Exodus 16:19). This was not making it an altar of expiation, but merely expiating it. There was, however, another use for the altar, where it seems to have served for an altar of expiation. When the high priest had sinned in his official character, and offered a sin-offering for his cleansing (Le Exodus 4:3-12), or when the whole congregation had committed an offence through inadvertence, and did the same (Le Exodus 4:13-21), the high priest was to put of the blood of the sacrifice on the horns of the altar of incense, "for the expiation of his own sin and the sin of the people" (Keil). In these two cases, the altar of incense served the purpose of the altar of burnt-offering, on which was put the blood of private sin-offerings (Le Exo 4:22 -35). It is most holy. There seems to be sufficient reason for considering the altar of incense as, next to the ark and mercy seat, the most sacred object in the furniture of the tabernacle. This precedence indicates the extreme value which God sets upon prayer.


Exodus 30:1-10

The symbolism of the Altar of Incense.

We have seen that the ascent of incense signifies the mounting up to heaven of the grateful odour of man's earnest and heart-felt prayers. The altar, therefore, symbolises the heart which offers such prayers,—

1. IN ITS MATERIALS. The altar is of acacia wood and gold—the one a symbol of soundness and strength, the other of purity. Prayer, to be acceptable, must proceed out of a true heart—a sound, honest, sincere, strong heart—not one that is weak and unstable, one thing to-day and another to-morrow; but one that is consistent, steady, firm, brave, resolute. And it must also proceed out of a pure heart. The gold of the altar was to be "pure gold," refined till every atom of the native dross was purged away. And the heart of the worshipper should be refined similarly. There is much native dross in the hearts of all men. The discipline of life, the furnace of affliction, under God's blessing, does much to purge the dross. But something of it always remains. One only was absolutely pure. We must approach God through the intercession of Christ, and then our incense will mount up from a golden altar heavenwards.

II. IN ITS SITUATION. The altar was "by the ark of the testimony"—directly in front of the mercy seat—very close to the Divine presence, therefore. Prayer brings us into the presence of God. The heart that is drawn upward, and fixed in worship and adoration in its Creator and Redeemer, feels itself near to him. Near, very near; yet still separated by a veil. The eyes of the body cannot pierce that impenetrable curtain, which shrouds the invisible world from our eager, curious gaze. The heart itself cannot so lift itself up as to rise out of the present conditions of its mortal, finite nature, and really enter the empyrean. There is still a veil between man and the spiritual world. Through death only can he pass beyond it.

III. IN ITS HORNS, WHICH WERE SYMBOLS OF POWER. Great is the might of prayer. By means of it the heart has power with God, can wrestle with him, as Jacob did; and as it were, force him to bless it (Genesis 32:26). The parable of the importunate widow illustrates this power. Let us follow her example; let us persist, let us besiege God with our prayers, for ourselves, for others, and we shall prevail with him; at length he will hear us. It has been questioned in these "last days" whether prayer is ever answered; and tests have been proposed, by which men have hoped to demonstrate its inefficiency. But God will not be tested. "Thou shelf not tempt" (i.e. "try" or "test") "the Lord thy God." He does not undertake to answer faithless, or even doubting, wavering prayers. The promise is—"Whoever shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith" (Mark 11:23).


Exodus 30:1-11

The Altar of Incense.

See below, Exodus 30:34-38.—J.O.

Verses 11-16


THE RANSOM OF SOULS. The various commands given with respect to the tabernacle and its furniture would necessarily involve a very considerable outlay; and it was important that Moses should receive directions as to the source, or sources, whence this expenditure was to come. In Exodus 25:2-7, one source had been indicated, viz; the voluntary contributions of the people. To this is now added a second source. On occasion of rite numbering of the people—an event which is spoken of as impending (Exodus 25:12)—Moses was told to exact from each of them, as atonement money, the sum of half a shekel of silver. The produce of this tax was to be applied to the work of the sanctuary (Exodus 25:16), and it is found to have formed an important clement in the provision for the cost, since the total amount was above a hundred talents, or, more exactly, 301,775 shekels (Exodus 38:25). The requirement of atonement money seems to have been based on the idea, that formal enrolment in the number of God's faithful people necessarily brought home to every man his unworthiness to belong to that holy company, and so made him feel the need of making atonement in some way or other. The payment of the half-shekel was appointed as the legal mode under those circumstances. It was an acknowledgment of sin, equally binding upon all, and so made equal for all; and it saved from God's vengeance those who, if they had boon too proud to make it, would have been punished by some "plague" or other (Exodus 25:12).

Exodus 30:12

When thou takest the sum. The sum had been taken roughly at the time of the exodus (Exodus 12:37). Moses was now, it would seem, about to take it again, more accurately. No command had ever been given that the people should riot be numbered; and the Egyptian habit of compiling exact statistics naturally clung to one who had had an Egyptian training. A ransom. Rather "an expiation," "an atonement"—(as in Exodus 29:33, Exodus 29:36)—something to show that he was conscious of sin, and of his not deserving to be numbered among God's people. That there was no plague. "That they be not punished for undue pride and presumption. There is no thought of such a plague as was provoked by David's numbering (2 Samuel 24:15).

Exodus 30:13

Half a shekel. The shekel of later times was a silver coin, about the size round of our shilling, but considerably thicker, and worth about one shilling and eightpence. But at the date of the exodus coins were unknown, and the "shekel" meant a certain weight. The burthen imposed by the tax was evidently a light one. The shekel of the sanctuary. A standard weight in the possession of the priests, equal probably to about 220 grains troy. Twenty gerahs. The word "gerah "means" a bean;" and the gerah must bare been a weight equal to about eleven grains troy, It remained in use to the time of the captivity (Ezekiel 45:12).

Exodus 30:14

From twenty years old and upward. Twenty was the age at which an Israelite was reckoned a man; at twenty he became liable to serve in the wars (2 Chronicles 25:5), and entered otherwise on the duties of citizenship. At twenty the Levites began their service in the temple (1 Chronicles 23:24, 1 Chronicles 23:27; 2 Chronicles 31:17; Ezra 3:8).

Exodus 30:15

The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less. This is very emphatic testimony to the equal value of souls in God's sight. The payment was "the ransom of a soul" (Exodus 30:12)—an acknowledgment of God's mercy in sparing those whose life was justly forfeit. As each soul that he has created is equally precious in his sight, and as he designs equally the salvation of all—it was fitting that the same exact sum should be paid in every case.

Exodus 30:16

The application of the "atonement money" is stated more distinctly in Exodus 38:27, Exodus 38:28. It was employed for the silver sockets that supported the boards of the tabernacle, and for the hooks, capitals, and connecting rods of the pillars which surrounded the court. Thus employed, it was a continual "memorial" in the eyes of the people, reminding each man of his privileges and duties


Exodus 30:12-16

The atonement money.

Remark three things:—

I. THE ATONEMENT MONEY WAS REQUIRED OF ALL. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). There was to be no exemption. Moses and Aaron were to bring their half-shekel no less than the others; the priests had to make the offering, just the same as the laity; the rulers, as much as the common people. The lesson taught was, that every soul was guilty before God—all unclean in his sight, who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity"—all in need of pardon and cleansing. So far there was certainly "no difference" (Romans 3:22). "Every mouth was stopped" (Romans 3:19). Boasting was excluded—the right attitude of the soul towards God shown to be one of humility, deprecation, penitence.

II. THE SAME ATONEMENT MONEY WAS REQUIRED OF EACH. It is true to say, that all men equally are guilty in God's sight; but it would not be true to say that all are equally guilty. Yet the same atonement was required of all. "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less." This marks that one and the same atonement is required, whatever be the degree of a man's guilt, whether he be (so far as is possible) "a just man needing no repentance," or "the chief of sinners." On the man's part is required in every case "repentance and faith;" these, however, cannot atone. The true "atonement money," the true "redemption," the real "ransom of souls," is the death of Christ—one and the same for all—necessary for all—not too much for the least, not too little for the most guilty; but "a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." it saves all that trust in it—saves them from wrath and death—saves them from sin—atones for them—puts them "at one" with the Father.

III. THE ATONEMENT WAS TO BE KEPT IN MEND, TO BE FOR A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL. There are those who are content to acknowledge that Christ has died for them, and has saved them, who yet object to giving the fact, what they call, undue prominency. They would acknowledge it once for all, and then have done with it. But this is not the general teaching of the Bible, nor is it that of the present passage. The "atonement money" was to be so employed as to be "a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord" perpetually. They were to have the shapes of silver, into which it had been cast, ever before their eyes. And assuredly there is nothing in the whole range of spiritual facts which deserves such continual remembrance, such constant dwelling upon in thought, as the atonement made for us by Christ. Herein alone have we hope, trust, confidence. Hereby alone are we saved. The cross of Christ should be ever before the Christian's eye, mind, heart. He should not for a moment forget it, much less be ashamed of it.


Exodus 30:11-16

The numbering of Israel and their ransom.

I. THE NUMBERING OF THE PEOPLE, AN EMBLEM OF THE JUDGMENT. God's claims were brought home to them; their unworthiness was contrasted with the place assigned to them as the people whom God had visited with his light and salvation. When we remember that we are the Lord's, and the light of that just claim is shed upon our life, it is to our shame and confusion. But life will be read at last in this very light!


1. It is a ransom for the life: "that there be no plague among them when thou numberest them." God's wrath will not smite if this be provided.

2. it must be given from one's own in that judgment day. Christ to avail us then must have been made ours by faith. It must be Christ in us.

3. It is required from all. None are guiltless.

4. The same is demanded from each. All alike are in themselves lost and under God's wrath.

5. The atonement is for the service of the tabernacle. The changed life of God's people through the indwelling of Christ is for God's service now, and the manifestation of his glory hereafter.—U.


Exodus 30:11-17

The atonement money.

It pertained to the full admission of Israel to theocratic privilege, that, the nation as a whole having been admitted into covenant, a formal registration should be made of at least the grown part of the community. Directions were accordingly issued for the taking of a census, which had also in view a more complete military organisation of the nation than as yet existed. The males of the tribes from twenty years old and upwards were to be made to pass before Jehovah, and were to be regularly counted and enrolled as members of the holy commonwealth. This act, however, which involved a near approach to Jehovah, and was on the part of the individual an entrance into the full rights of his citizenship, called for some new recognition of the principle of atonement on which the covenant was built. Hence the ordinance that each individual of those who were numbered should make an offering of half a shekel of silver, as a ransom or atonement for his soul (Exodus 30:15). The silver thus obtained was to go for the service of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:16). On which observe—

1. The money was money of atonement. It was paid in ransom for life. If we seek the principle on which the ransoming proceeds, we must view the half shekel in the light of the practice of commutation. In strictness, atonement could be made only by blood. Here, as in other cases, the animal sacrifice is commuted for money, and the money, in virtue of that for which it is commuted, is admitted as atonement. The purpose to which the silver was to be applied required that the ransom should take this form.

2. All were to be taxed alike. "The rich shall not give more, nor the poor less" (Exodus 30:15). This intimates that, as respects his need of atonement, no man has any advantage over his neighbours. "There is no difference" (Romans 3:22). It intimates, too, the essential equality of men in the eyes of God.

3. The money was to be applied to the work of the tabernacle. The greater part of it was used in making the silver sockets for the dwelling-place (Exodus 38:27). Thus

(1) the tabernacle—symbol of God's kingdom in Israel—was founded on the silver of atonement. This, surely, was a profound testimony to the fact that only on the basis of atonement can communion exist between heaven and earth.

(2) Each Israelite was individually represented in Jehovah's sanctuary. His tribute money formed part of it. He had a stake and interest in it. The honour was great: not less so the responsibility.—J.O.

Verses 17-21


THE BRAZEN LAVER. That the tabernacle was to have an ample supply of water had been implied in the directions given for the washing of Aaron and his sons at its outer door (Exodus 29:4). That it would contain some provision of the kind is further indicated by the command to "wash the inwards" of victims (Exodus 29:17). We have now, in this place, the special directions given to Moses on the subject. He was to provide a brazen, or rather a bronze laver, which was to stand on a separate "foot," or base, of bronze, in the court of the tabernacle, between the entrance to the tabernacle and the "brazen altar." This was to be kept constantly supplied with water, and was to furnish whatever might be needed for the various ceremonies. Among its other uses, it was to supply liquid for the constant ablution of the priests, who were to wash both their hands and their feet on every occasion of their entering the sacred tent, and even on every occasion of their ministering at the brazen altar (Exodus 30:20). This law was to be "a statute for ever" (Exodus 30:21), and its violation was to be punished by death.

Exodus 30:18

A laver. It is remarkable that nothing is said respecting either the shape or the size of the laver. In 1 Kings we have an elaborate description of the "molten sea," which replaced it in Solomon's temple, as well as an almost equally elaborate one of ten other layers made by Hiram, Solomon's artist, at the same time. We may perhaps assume from these examples that the brazen laver of the tabernacle was a large bronze vase or basin, standing upon a stem, which was fixed into a base. It was probably fitted up with an apparatus of taps and cocks. Between the tabernacle …. and the altar. The Rabbinical commentators say that it was not exactly in the middle, but a little towards the south side.

Exodus 30:19

Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. Ablution by clear fresh water is so plain and simple a type of purity as to have been used in almost all religions. The hands and the feet would designate symbolically all a man's active doings, and even his whole walk in life—his "goings out" and his "comings in," in the phraseology of the Hebrews. There would also be a special practical need for such ablutions in the case of persons who were employed about bloody sacrifices, who slew the victims, sprinkled, the blood, and even dashed it against the base of the altar. On some rare occasions the priests were required to bathe their whole persons, and not their hands and feet only (see above, Exodus 29:4; and below, Le Exodus 16:4).

Exodus 30:20

That they die not. Compare Exodus 28:35 and Exodus 28:43. Contempt of the simple and easy regulation to wash at the laver would imply contempt of purity itself; and so an entire hypocrisy of life and character, than which nothing could be a greater offence to God.

Exodus 30:21

It shall be a statute for ever. Compare Exodus 27:21; Exodus 28:43; Exodus 29:9 : etc. Even to himi.e; to Aaron.


Exodus 30:18-21

The Brazen Laver.

Primarily, the brazen altar has its antitype in THE CHRISTIAN FONT. "Baptism saves us," says St. Peter (1 Peter 3:21). "Arise and be baptised, and wash away thy sins," said Ananias (Acts 22:16). "There is one baptism for the remission of sins," said the Nicene Fathers. As the priests had to wash at the laver ere they might enter the sanctuary, so entrance into the Church, by the institution of Christ, is by baptism. To wash, of course, is by itself not enough—each of us must "lead the rest of his life according to this beginning." So the priests, besides washing, had to observe all God's other ordinances.

Ultimately, both the laver and the font, both the priestly ablutions and the Christian sacrament of baptism, are types of the true washing, which is WASHING IN THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. This washing is—

I. ABSOLUTELY, AND IN ALL CASES, NEEDFUL. Only "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). "If Christ wash us not, we have no part in him" (John 13:8). The saved in heaven are those who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14). Baptism is "generally necessary" since Christ came and instituted it; yet no one doubts that many unbaptized persons have entered heaven. But not one has entered, or will ever enter, whom the blood of Christ has not cleansed. "Wash me, Saviour, or I die," is the constantly repeated cry of every Christian heart.

II. A SOVEREIGN REMEDY THAT NEVER, FAILS TO SAVE. Thus "washed," we are at once both "justified and sanctified" (1 Corinthians 6:11); both pardoned and made pure. Thus washed, we have access to the Father; we are made fit to enter his courts; our robes are made white, and not only our robes, but our souls. God will never reject one who comes to him in the wedding garment of a robe that Christ has cleansed. Only we must be sure to keep our robes clean—we must not "defile our garments" (Revelation 3:4)—we must wash them again and again in the purifying blood; we must look nowhere else for salvation, but only to the Cross, and we must look to that perpetually.


Exodus 30:17-34

The laver and the anointing oil.

I. THE LAVER (Exodus 30:17-22). This was to be made of brass (bronze), and was to be placed near the door of the tabernacle between it and the altar. It was to be used by Aaron and his sons for purposes of ablution. A new symbol of the purity required in those who serve before Jehovah. The Christian contracts daily defilements in his walk, for which also daily cleansing is required (cf. John 13:10; 1 John 1:7).

II. THE ANOINTING OIL (Exodus 30:22-34). Precious, fragrant, holy. To be applied not only to Aaron and his sons, but to the tabernacle and all its vessels. See Homily on Consecration (Exodus 24:6, Exodus 24:7). The oil is the symbol of the Spirit. The holiness imparted to Aaron and his sons by this anointing, and by the rites of consecration generally, was indeed no more than a ceremonial or official holiness. It pertained to the office rather than to the man. Yet the holders of the office were, in virtue of their consecration, laid under obligations to personal holiness as well. The private character of the priest might not avail to nullify his official acts; but the absence in the public representative of the spiritual qualifications for his office would not be allowed to go unpunished. Iniquity in the priest would be visited both on priest and people.—J.O.

Verses 22-33


THE HOLY OIL. The composition of the oil required for anointing the priests (Exodus 29:7), the altar (ib, 36), the tabernacle itself (Exodus 30:26), and its furniture (Exodus 30:27, Exodus 30:28), was a necessary matter for Moses to know, and is now declared with much minuteness; the exact weight of each spice, and the exact quantity of the olive oil being given: and finally, a warning is given against its application to any persons except the priests, or its composition for any other purpose besides the use of the sanctuary (Exodus 30:31-33).

Exodus 30:23

Principal spices. The ancients recognised a vast variety of spices. Pliny notices an ointment which was composed of twenty-six ingredients, chiefly spices (H.N. 13.2, § 18). Herodotus mentions five "principal spices" as furnished by Arabia (3:107), of which four seem to be identical with those employed in the holy oil. Pure myrrh. Literally, "myrrh of freedom," or "freely flowing myrrh." The shrub which yields myrrh (Balsamodendron myrrha) produces two kinds—one, which exudes spontaneously, and is regarded as the best (Plin. II. Exo 4:12 :35; Theophrast. De Odoribus, § 29); and another, of inferior quality, which flows from incisions made in the bark. It is the former kind which is here intended. Myrrh was among the ancients in high request as a spice. It was used by the Egyptians for embalming (Herod 2.86), in Persia as an odour; by the Greeks for incense and in unguents; by the later Jews in funerals (John 19:39); and was largely exported from Arabia and Ethiopia into various parts of Asia and Europe. Sweet cinnamon. Cinnamon was a far rarer spice than myrrh. It is only mentioned three times in the Old Testament (cf. Proverbs 7:16; So Proverbs 4:14). I am not aware of any trace of it in Egypt; but Herodotus says that it was obtained by the Greeks from Arabia in his day (3.111). It is the inner bark or rind of a tree allied to the laurel, and called by some Laurus cinnamomum, by others Cinnamomum zeylanicum. The tree now grows only in India on the Malabar coast, in Ceylon, Borneo, Sumatra, Cochin China, and China. If its habitat has not suffered contraction, we must regard the mention of it here as indicative of a very early commerce of a very extensive character. Sweet calamus. Aromatic reeds, probably of several distinct kind, seem to have been the produce anciently of Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and India. It is impossible to say what exactly was the species here intended. Calamus is mentioned as a spice in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:17; and So Ezekiel 4:14; but the term used (kaneh, "cane ") is vague; and it is not at all clear that one species only is alluded to.

Exodus 30:24

Cassia. The modern cassia is the inner bark of a tree distinct from the cinnamon tree, known to botanists as Cinnamo-mum cassia, which is a native of India, Java, and the Malay peninsula. In taste and scent, it "bears a strong resemblance to cinnamon, but is more pungent and of coarser texture" (Cook). It is uncertain, however, if this is the spice here indicated. The Hebrew word used is kiddah, not ketsioth (as in Psalms 45:8); and it is very doubtful whether the two are identical On the shekel of the sanctuary. see the comment on Exodus 30:13; and on the kin, see Exodus 29:40.

Exodus 30:25

An oil of holy ointment. Literally, "an oil of holy anointing," or "a holy anointing oil," as our translators render in Exodus 30:31, and also in the last clause of the present verse. An ointment compound after the art of the apothecary. Not a simple mixture of the ingredients mentioned, but the product of trained skill and knowledge applied to the materials. Jewish tradition says that the essence of each spice was extracted from it, and only these essences mingled with the olive oil. We are told later (Exodus 37:29) that the task of preparing the holy oil was committed to Bezaleel.

Exodus 30:26-29

Thou shalt anoint the tabernacle. The first application of the holy oil was to be to the inanimate objects constituting the paraphernalia of worship—viz.,

1. The tabernacle itself as a whole;

2. The furniture of the holy of holies—the ark and mercy seat;

3. The furniture of the holy place—the show-bread table, the candlestick, and the altar of incense; and

4. The furniture of the court—the altar of burnt-offering, and the laver. After applying the oil to these, Moses was to proceed to the anointing of the priests. (Compare Le Exodus 8:10-12.)

Exodus 30:27

The table and all his vessels. See above, Exodus 25:29. The candlestick and his vessels. See Exodus 25:37, Exodus 25:38.

Exodus 30:28

The altar of burnt-offering with all his vessels. See Exodus 27:3.

Exodus 30:30

And thou shalt anoint Aaron, etc. Not till all his surroundings had received sanctification was Aaron to be consecrated. The tent, the ark, the table, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the brazen altar, the laver, and its base, each and all were to be touched with the holy oil, and thereby formally dedicated to God's service (Le Exodus 8:10, Exodus 8:11), and then at last was Moses to "pour of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anoint him, to sanctify him" (Le Exodus 8:12). So God constantly prepares men's spheres for them before he inducts them into their spheres. Even in the next world our Blessed Lord "prepares places for us."

Exodus 30:32

Upon man's flesh shall it not be pouredi.e; "it shall not be used by any privately as a mere unguent, but shall be reserved wholly for sacred purposes." Neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it. Rather, "after its proportion.'' The Israelites were not forbidden the use of the different materials in their unguents, or even the combination of the same materials, provided they varied the proportions. The object is simply that the holy oil should remain a thing separate and apart, never applied to any but a holy use.

Exodus 30:33

Upon a stranger. A "stranger" here means any one not of the family of Aaron. Compare Exodus 29:33.


Exodus 30:23-25

The sweetness of the Holy anointing Oil. The holy oil had infused into it the essence of four "principal spices"—myrrh, that scents the garments of the great king (Psalms 45:8; So Psalms 3:6); cinnamon, the choicest of the spices of distant and; sweet calamus, that exhales its best fragrance when bruised; cassia, which, together with sweet calamus, formed one of the glories of the market of Tyro (Ezekiel 27:19). How passing sweet must have been the odour of these blended perfumes—each delicious alone—all enhanced by the combination, which had taxed the best skill of the "apothecary" (Exodus 30:25)! But the sweetness of our anointing oil is greater. "We have an unction from the Holy One." Our "anointing oil" is the Blessed Spirit of God. What is there in all the experiences of this world so sweet to the weary soul as he? How sweet and dear is he—

I. Is THE SOFT GENTLENESS OF HIS DESCENT UPON US. Silently, unperceivedly, without sight, or sound, or stir, the gentle influence comes—steals into the heart—only by degrees makes its presence known to us. A crisis—a manifest change—"tongues of fire," or the rush of a "mighty wind" would cause the weak believer to tremble with fear, and perhaps draw back to his undoing. Our "anointing oil" descends upon us soft as "the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the hill of Sion."

"He comes, sweet influence to impart,

A gracious willing guest,

While he can find one humble heart

Wherein to rest."

II. IN THE METHOD OF HIS ORDINARY WORKING. Not by rude shocks, or sudden terrible alarms; but by the mild coercion of little checks and scarcely-felt restraints—by whispers softly breathed into the ear of the soul—by the suggestion of good thoughts—by the presentation of holy memories—does he effect his ends. Wise as any serpent, harmless as his own emblem, the dove, he feeds us as we are able to receive of him. He has "milk" for such as stand in need of milk. He has "strong meat' for such as can bear it. Manifold and diverse are his gifts, but given to every man "to profit withal" (1 Corinthians 12:7).

"His is that gentle voice we hear,
Soft as the breath of even,
That checks each fault, that calms each fear.

And speaks of Heaven.

"And every virtue we possess,
And every conquest won,
And every thought of holiness,

Are his alone."

III. IN HIS PATIENCE WITH US WHEN WE ABE WAYWARD. God once declared, "My spirit shall not always strive with man" (Genesis 6:3); and Scripture warns us that the Holy Ghost may be "resisted" (Acts 7:51) and even "quenched" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). But how wonderful is his patience and forbearance towards those who thwart and oppose him! How unwilling is he to give them up! How loth to quit their souls, and leave them to their own guidance! Assuredly he is "provoked every day" by each one of us. But he is not even angry—he simply "grieves" (Ephesians 4:30)—is "vexed" (Isaiah 63:10)—made sorrowful. No sooner do we show any signs of relenting than he forgives—encourages us, cheers, comforts, consoles. "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Such a friend to man is "the Comforter."

IV. IN HIS KINDNESS TOWARDS US WHEN WE TURN TO HIM. It is the Christian's privilege to speak with God "as a man to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). With the in-dwelling Spirit we may ever have this "mystic sweet communion." Would we speak to him at any moment, his ear is attent to hear. Unworthy as we are, unclean as we are, rebellious as we are, and self-willed, and self-seeking, he will commune with us, if we will commune with him—he will tell us of the things of heaven, "guide us into all truth" (John 16:13), "receive of Christ's and show it unto us" (ib, 14). The sweetness of such commune is inexpressible—it may well "ravish our heart" (So Exodus 4:9) and make us "sick of love" (So Exodus 5:8).

Verses 34-38


THE HOLY INCENSE. It remained to give directions concerning the composition of the incense, which, according to Exodus 30:7, was to be burnt upon the altar of gold. That it was to be of one and one only peculiar kind had been already implied in the prohibition to burn "strange incense" (Exodus 30:9). Moses is now told exactly how it was to be composed. As the oil was to contain four spices, so was the incense to be made of a like number—stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense—of each the same quantity (Exodus 30:34). The art of the apothecary was to be called in for making it up (Exodus 30:35). A portion of it was to be "beaten very small," and placed in front of the ark of the covenant, probably on the golden altar outside the vail (Exodus 30:36). A prohibition is added, similar to that given with respect to the holy oil: no one is to make any like it for private use, under pain of being "cut off from his people" (Exodus 30:37, Exodus 30:38).

Exodus 30:34

Take unto thee sweet spices. Rather, "Take unto thee spices," or "perfumes." The word has no epithet. Stacte. The Hebrew word used means simply "a drop" (Job 32:1-22 :27), and might be applied to any gum or resin which exuded from a tree. We have no clue to the gum here intended but that which is furnished by the rendering of the LXX; στακτή, which our translators have followed. Now the Greeks seem to have called two gums by this name—one, the natural exudation from the myrrh tree, called above (Exodus 30:23) "pure myrrh," or "the myrrh that flows freely;" and the other gum storax. As it is not likely that the same substance has been given two names within the space of ten verses, we must suppose the latter to be meant. Gum storax is the produce of a tree allied to the poplar, and known as Styrax officinalis, which grows abundantly in Syria and Palestine. It was frequently used as a perfume by the ancients (Herod. 3.107; Plin. H. N. Exodus 12:17, §40). Onycha. The Hebrew word, shekheleth, seems to mean a "shell" of some kind or other. The Greek ὄνυξ, Lat. onycha, was applied to the operculum—the "nail" or "claw"—of certain shell-fish of the genus Strombidae, which were common in the lied Sea, and elsewhere. The particular strombus which furnishes the onycha of the ancients is thought to have been the Unguis odoratus or Blatta Byzantina. The opercula of these shell-fish have, when burnt, a strong odour, "something like castoreum." The onycha is, again coupled with galbanum and gum storax in Ecclesiates Exodus 24:15. Galbanum. The Hebrew word khelb'nah, is so near the Greek χαλβάιη and the Latin galbanum that it has with good reason been assumed to designate the same substance. Galbanum is a gum well known both to ancients and moderns. It is admitted into the pharmacopeia. Several plants seem to produce it, as the Opoidia galbanifera, the Galbanum Persicum, and a plant which grows in Northern Persia, very like the Ferula erubeseens. When burnt, galbanum has a strong pungent odour, which is said to be disagreeable by itself, but to improve and preserve other odours (Plin. H. N. 12.54). Frankincense. On the wide use of frankincense, see the comment on Exodus 24:1. It was the produce of a tree which anciently flourished in Arabia, but which appears to have degenerated, and now produces only an inferior quality. The best frankincense comes now from the high lands of India. It exudes from a tree called salai (the Boswellia setrata or thurifera of botanists). Some think that the frankincense exported largely from Arabia to the neighbouring nations was in part the produce of this tree imported by the Arab merchants from Hindustan.

Exodus 30:35

A confection after the art of the apothecary. Like the holy oil, the incense was to be artistically compounded by one accustomed to deal with such ingredients. It was actually, in the first instance, the work of Bezaleel (Exo 27:1-21 :29). Tempered together. This translation is supported by the authority of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, and is defended by Canon Cook. But the mass of modern critics is in favour of the translation "salted," or "with salt." (So Buxtorf, Gesenius, De Wette, Kalisch, Keil, etc.) If, nobel suggests "comminuted," identifying malakh with marakh. The point is not one of much importance.

Exodus 30:36

Thou shalt beat some of it very small. This is against Knobel's rendering of malakh, which would imply that all was broken into small pieces. A certain portion only was to be thus prepared from time to time and placed ready for offering. It was to be put before the testimonyi.e; opposite the m-k, but outside the vail. This near vicinity to the Divine Presence rendered it most holy.

Exodus 30:37, Exodus 30:38

Ye shall not make unto yourselves, etc. None shall be made by any man for private use according to the same recipe, since the compound, as described, is "holy unto the Lord." If any man does so, he shall be "cut off from among his people"—i.e; "put to death by the civil authority." (See Exodus 31:14.)


Exodus 30:34-38

The Holy Incense.

Let us note here—

I. THE COMPOSTION OF THE INCENSE (Exodus 30:34, Exodus 30:35). The utmost care was taken in the law that the incense should be properly composed, of the right materials, in the right proportion. Equal care is to be taken by Christians with their incense. Prayer is not to be adventured on rashly, carelessly, unpreparedly. The matter, even the very words, of prayer should be carefully weighed beforehand. To approach God with unworthy thoughts, to beseech him for those temporal advantages which we ought to regard as of no moment at all, is to "pray amiss"—to approach him with "strange incense." Equally unbecoming is it to use homely or over-familiar expressions in prayer. What we have to aim at is to reflect "the mind of Christ." Christ has given us three pattern prayers—

1. The Lord's prayer;

2. The intercessory prayer after the last supper (John 17:1-26.), and

3. The prayer in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39).

Let these be our frankincense, and stacte, and onycha. For a fourth material, we may us( the Psalms of David—especially the penitential Psalms. We need not then to fear lest our incense should be "strange."

II. THE CONTINUAL PRESENTATION OF THE INCENSE (verse 30).—A portion of the incense was to be "beaten very small, and. put before the testimony" i.e; before the ark and the presence of God, where it was to remain continually. It was not to be lighted, but to be in constant readiness for lighting. So there is in the Christian heart a prayerful temper, ever present before God, which God accepts and values, in the intervals between actual prayer. Our incense cannot always be mounting in cloud after cloud to the courts of heaven. But the temper may be in us, ready to kindle, at all times.

III. THE VALUE OF THE INCENSE. The incense was among the things that were "most holy" (verse 36). God set special store by it. He would have it near him—in front of the tabernacle—only just outside the vail—and he would have it there constantly. So it pleases him to value the prayers of his saints. Angels offer them (Revelation 8:3). They ascend before his throne (Revelation 8:4). They are acceptable to him. They have power with him. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). One humble prayer, breathed by the publican, gained him forgiveness—"justified" him. One earnest prayer, uttered by the penitent thief, obtained him Paradise. There is no limit to the value of faithful prayer, whereby we draw upon the bank of omnipotence.


Exodus 30:1-11, Exodus 30:34-38

The golden altar and the perfume.

The golden altar was of small dimensions, a cubit in length, a cubit in breadth, and two cubits high. It was a true altar, as shown by its square shape, and by its horns. Its place was immediately in front of the vail dividing the two portions of the sanctuary, with the innermost or' which—the holy of holies—it was regarded as having the more intimate connection (1 Kings 6:22; Hebrews 9:4). The command was that Aaron should burn upon it sweet incense morning and evening—in the morning when he trimmed, and in the evening when he lighted, the lamps. This was done, in the one case, at the offering of morning, in the other, at the offering of evening sacrifice, the synchronism of the acts deserving our attention. Once a year the horns of the altar were to be smeared with the blood of the sin-offering. Minute directions are given for the making of the incense (Exodus 30:34-38). It was to be "salted, pure, and holy" (Exodus 30:35). The burning of this incense on the altar was at once a symbol of prayer and devotion, and a call to the congregation to engage in these spiritual exercises (Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4). As an act of the priest, it may be viewed as a type of the intercession of Christ. The service of this altar suggests the following ideas—

1. Prayer—taking the word in its widest sense, as denoting the exercise of.all devout feeling and spiritual desire towards God—is the holiest act of the spiritual life. It is figured as incense. And the altar of incense stood in immediate relation with the holy of holies. The altar and the incense offered upon it, are declared to be "most holy" (Exodus 30:10, Exodus 30:36). The reason is not difficult to find. The very essence of the devotional life expresses itself in prayer. Its love, its awe, its thankfulness, its aspirations, its unutterable yearnings after God—its breathings after holiness, its very contrition and sorrow for its sins—all ascend to Jehovah in this supreme act of the nature. Words bear but a small part in prayer. The province of words is to define. Hence the soul, in the intensity of its aspirations, in its reachings out towards the infinite, often feels the need of escaping from words, of leaving them behind. Prayer becomes "the burden of a sigh"—"the falling of a tear"—perhaps a purely inward act of the mind realising union with Jehovah. Or its uncontrollable desires may express themselves in "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26). And it is precisely these unutterable parts of our prayers which are the sweetest to God. The appropriate symbol of them is the incense, rising in its unconfined wreaths from the priest's censer, or from the golden altar.

2. Prayer is an act of sacrifice. "In prayer," says Martensen, "the profoundest act of conscience and obedience is inwardly accomplished, for prayer is only in so far a laying hold and appropriation of God, as it is likewise a sacrifice; and we can only receive God into us when we likewise give ourselves to him. he who offers no sacrifice in his prayer, who does not sacrifice his selfwill, does not really pray."

3. The connection with the sacrifice of burnt-offering. The coals for the altar of incense were brought from the altar of burnt-offering (cf. Le Exodus 16:12, Exodus 16:13). This teaches that the worshipper needs reconciling before he can acceptably offer the sacrifices of his devotion. But there is a further connection, arising from the significance of the burnt-offering as a symbol of dedication. Keil says truly—"The incense-offering was not only a spiritualising and transfiguring of the burnt-offering, but a completion of it also." The connection may be stated thus. The yielding up of the life to God, symbolised in the continual burnt-offering, transforms itself in practice into the three following modes of self-surrender.

1. Holy practical activity, of which the fruit, good works, is represented in the shew-bread.

2. Public witness-bearing for God, by manifestation of the truth, and by holiness of walk—represented by the candlestick.

3. Devotion—"the soul's going forth to unite itself in appropriate actings with the great centre of Being, and to devote its own inmost being to him" (Fairbairn)—symbolised by the burning of the incense. This is the culminating act of self-devotion, and crowns the sanctuary-worship, raises it to its consummation.

4. Connection with light. The incense was to be burned at the time of the trimming, and again of the lighting of the lamps. The brighter the light, the purer the devotion. In Christianity no countenance is given to the maxim that devotion is connected with ignorance. Christ and his apostles attach the utmost importance to the possession of right knowledge, and to growth in it. Growth in knowledge is the condition of sanctification, of spiritual fruitfulness, of enlargement of nature, of being filled with all the fulness of God.

5. Prayer a daily duty. The "perpetual incense before the Lord" reminds us of the apostolic injunction, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer, devotion, is to be the element we live in. And prayer, "with thanksgiving," is to sanctify everything we do (Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:5).—J.O.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 30". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-30.html. 1897.
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