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8. The service of the priests 29:38-30:38
The altar of incense and the incense offering 30:1-10
The place of this altar in the tabernacle has been a problem for some readers of the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews 9:4 can be understood as describing its location as being inside the holy of holies with the ark. The writer of Hebrews probably meant that the veil, not the holy of holies, had the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant connected with it (Hebrews 9:3-4). These pieces of furniture were on either side of the veil. Describing it this way clarified that the writer meant the veil between the holy place and the holy of holies. Old Testament passages say that the incense altar was inside the holy place with the golden lampstand and the table of showbread (cf. Exodus 30:6; Exodus 40:3-5; Exodus 40:21-27). Most commentators on Exodus locate it in the holy place. [Note: E.g., Cassuto, p. 391; Keil and Delitzsch, 2:208; Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 472; Hyatt, p. 292; Cole, p. 205; Ellison, p. 162; Maxie D. Dunnam, Exodus, p. 327; Hannah, p. 154; and Durham, p. 399. This is also the position of the writers of the articles on the tabernacle and the temple in The New Bible Dictionary, the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, and the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia.] Furthermore, Leviticus 16:2 and Hebrews 9:7 say that the high priest went into the holy of holies only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Another view is that the altar of incense was in the holy of holies. [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, A Faith That Endures: The Book of Hebrews Applied to the Real Issues of Life, pp. 139-40.]
The priests would offer incense on this altar each morning and each evening, and the incense would burn all the time. The priests presented the daily burnt offering and the daily incense offering together each day. Both were demonstrations of constant uninterrupted devotion to God. Students of Exodus have almost universally recognized the incense offered as a symbol of prayer that ascends to God (cf. Revelation 5:8). It was a sweet aroma in His nostrils and was essential to the maintenance of the divine-human relationship.
"Morning and evening prayers have been the habit of all ages. With the one we go forth to our labour till the evening, asking that our Father will give us His God-speed and guidance and protection. With the other we entreat forgiveness and mercy." [Note: Meyer, p. 375.]
"He who offers no sacrifice in his prayer, who does not sacrifice his self-will, does not really pray." [Note: Ibid., p. 387.]
The horns of this altar (Exodus 30:10), as well as the horns on the altar of burnt offerings (the brazen altar), probably symbolized strength. [Note: Margit Sring, "The Horn-Motifs of the Bible and the Ancient Near East," Andrews University Seminary Studies 22:3 (Autumn 1984):334.]
Once a year Aaron applied the atonement blood on this altar to cleanse it afresh for another year (Exodus 30:10). The description "most holy to the LORD" means the altar could not be used for any other purpose than what is stated here.
The directions concerning the sanctuary conclude with this section.
The atonement money 30:11-16
The directions regarding the tabernacle opened with instructions concerning contributions for its construction (Exodus 25:1-9). They close with this directive that every Israelite 20 years or older was to pay a flat fee of half a shekel during Israel’s census for the tabernacle’s maintenance (Numbers 1:2; Numbers 26:2). Everyone was to pay the same amount because the cost of everyone’s atonement was the same in the Lord’s sight.
"It was no ordinary tribute, therefore, which Israel was to pay to Jehovah as its King, but an act demanded by the holiness of the theocratic covenant. As an expiation for souls, it pointed to the unholiness of Israel’s nature, and reminded the people continually, that by nature it was alienated from God, and could only remain in covenant with the Lord and live in His kingdom on the ground of His grace, which covered its sin." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:212.]
Israel’s leaders collected this money whenever they took a census. In time it became a yearly "temple tax" (Matthew 17:24). A half shekel weighed .2 ounces (6 grams), and it was silver. "Money" in Exodus 30:16 is literally "silver." In our Lord’s day it amounted to two days wages (Matthew 17:24). Evidently the taking of a census incurred some guilt (Exodus 30:12). Perhaps it reflected lack of complete trust in God to multiply the nation as He had promised (cf. 2 Samuel 24).
"Do you recognize that you belong to a redeemed world? Even if all do not avail themselves of the Redemption which has been achieved, yet it is available for all; and more benefits than we can ever estimate are always accruing since God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." [Note: Meyer, p. 391.]
The brazen laver 30:17-21
The laver was a large reservoir for the water that the priests used to wash with as they performed their duties. It stood between the brazen altar and the sanctuary. Its presence there symbolized the fact that cleansing is necessary after the making of atonement and before the enjoyment of fellowship with God.
"The necessity of daily cleansing on the part of those who are engaged even in the most holy service, and of all who would approach God, is so obvious as hardly to require comment. The body washed with pure water has for its counterpart the daily cleansing of the soul, without which no man may minister in the Divine presence [cf. John 13:10]." [Note: Ibid., p. 351.]
The "base" (Exodus 30:18) was probably not a pedestal but a smaller vessel used to draw as much water out of the laver as the priest might need to wash. The priests washed their feet as well as their hands (Exodus 30:21).
The anointing oil 30:22-33
The special mixture God specified here was for use only in anointing the tabernacle, its furnishings, its utensils, and the priests. Four fragrant spices blended with olive oil to produce an excellent perfume. It was holy (different) in that the Israelites used it exclusively for this special purpose in the service of God. The priests could use it for no other purpose in Israel.
The incense 30:34-38
As with the anointing oil, only a certain mixture of four ingredients was acceptable as incense for burning on the incense altar. Similarly not just any prayer is acceptable to God; only prayers offered as He has instructed will be acceptable (cf. 1 John 5:14).
"Stacte is a fragrant resin obtained from some species of cistus, or ’rockrose.’ Onycha is the horny plate that covers a species of mussel found in the lakes of India which, when burned, emits a musky odor. Galbanum is a pleasantly aromatic gum resin derived from certain umbelliferous plants. Frankincense (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." [Note: John V. Myers, "What Was ’Brimstone?’" Kronos 9:1 (Fall 1983):58.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany