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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 31

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-18


THE ALTAR OF INCENSE (Exodus 30:1-10 )

Of what material and for what purpose was it made (Exodus 30:1 )? Its size and shape (Exodus 30:2 )? Its furnishings (Exodus 30:3 )? The means for its removal (Exodus 30:4-5 )? Its location (Exodus 30:6 )? How often and at what time was the incense to be offered (Exodus 30:7-8 )? What prohibition was placed on its use (Exodus 30:9 )? How does Exodus 30:10 bear on “the iniquity of the holy things”?

Although no sacrifice was offered on the altar of incense yet the worship there was acceptable only because of the sacrifice previously made at the brazen altar. These two altars were connected as one by the fact that the live coals which consumed the sacrifice on the brazen altar also burned the incense before the altar of incense.

This incense symbolized prayer, thanksgiving and obedience accepted through the intercession of the high priest. The offerer of the sacrifice, having been reconciled to God at the brazen altar and cleansed or sanctified as shadowed forth by the laver, soon to be spoken of, is here at the altar of incense seen to be accepted of God and adoring Him in consequence.

See Psa 141:2 ; 1 Timothy 2:8 ; and especially Revelation 5:8 ; Revelation 8:3-4 . The fact that the altar was “before the Lord” is significant. Although the veil interposed between it and the ark, nevertheless God speaks of it as if nothing intervened, thus showing its intimate relation to the ark, the mercy seat and the divine presence. So prayer brings us into closest communion with our heavenly Father.

We have spoken of the relation of the two altars, the significance of which lies in the fact that in the brazen altar we have Christ typified in His atoning sacrifice, and in the incense of the golden altar we have Him typified in His intercession. The incense (intercession) is thus bound up with, and finds its efficacy in, the altar (His sacrifice). Compare Romans 8:34 ; Hebrews 9:25 . Efficaciousness in prayer, therefore, is always in conjunction with the work of Christ for us. In Revelation 8:0 incense was offered with the prayers of the saints. It is the incense, therefore, typifying Christ’s intercession, which makes the prayers of the saints acceptable to God.

SUPPORT OF THE WORSHIP (Exodus 30:11-16 )

The numbering here referred to took place as recorded in Numbers 1:3 . What accompanied the numbering, and how did it become a testimony of their actual condition of guilt before God (Exodus 30:12 )? What penalty attached to failure in this case? Amount of ransom (Exodus 30:13 )? (The approximate value of the shekel was 60 cents.) Upon whom did the obligation rest, and upon what scale (Exodus 30:14-15 )? For what purpose was the money used (Exodus 30:16 )?

THE LAVER (Exodus 30:17-21 )

What next was to be made, of what material and for what purpose (Exodus 30:18 )? Where placed? What parts of the priests’ persons were to be washed (v.19)? (Notice the word “thereat,” indicating probably that water was removed from the laver into a smaller vessel for this purpose.) When (v.20)? What penalty attached to a failure to comply (Exodus 30:21 )?

This washing symbolized the soul purity of those who might approach God. (See John 3:5 ; Ephesians 5:25-26 ; Titus 3:5 .) The laver represents not the regeneration of the believer in Christ so much as it does his daily renewal in Christ. As Moorehead says, there is a bath which requires no repetition, being accomplished once for all (John 13:10 RV). Regeneration is never repeated (1 Corinthians 6:11 RV). But the believer comes into daily contact with the world’s defilement, and is polluted by his own remaining corruption. How is he to be kept clean? How is interrupted communion to be re-established? By washing the disciples’ feet Christ gave an illustration of the way in which this might be done. This act was a type of His intercession on our behalf continually (John 13:1-17 ; 1 John 2:1 ).

This purpose is set before us in the laver, for Aaron and his sons were bathed upon their entrance on the priest’s office, which acts were not to be repeated in the same way or for the same purpose. Their acceptance and consecration in that sense were final and complete from the beginning. But each time they entered the sanctuary to perform their office they must wash their hands and feet. It was for this the laver was provided.

So at the altar our sin is judged and forgiven, and at the laver our sin is washed away from our persons. Jesus Christ in His atoning death and prevailing intercession is the glorious antitype of both.

BEZALEEL AND AHOLIAB (Exodus 31:1-11 )

These are two of the most interesting of the secondary characters in the Old Testament.

They who did the mechanical work on the Tabernacle and the garments of the high priests work so sacred and important in God’s eyes must have had the consciousness of His being very near to them, and they to Him. Humanly speaking, what a nervous strain must have been their experience continually! Yet how did God provide against this, and at the same time for the perfect execution of His will (Exodus 31:3 )?

Note the lesson here of the way God provides for the execution of His will and His work in the spiritual realm, whom he chooses He anoints and equips in every necessity for His work. That these two men had the natural gifts for such employment were not enough, but these gifts must be imbued with power from on high.

Oh that every preacher, teacher and Christian worker might appreciate this, and put himself in that attitude before God where he might attain the equipment!

THE SABBATH LAW (Exodus 31:12-17 )

Why do you suppose his reference to the Sabbath is found here? Was it to prevent even so holy a work as the building of the tabernacle to be done on that day?

What does God call the Sabbath in Exodus 31:12 ? What is meant by the closing words of Exodus 31:17 ? God does not require “rest and refreshment” as we do, but may He not experience “delight from the accomplishment of His work and the contemplation of its excellence”?


Note this verse and compare it with Exodus 24:12 . How sacred the words: “written with the finger of God”! Certainly no material finger is referred to, but there was a putting forth of power for the purpose which effected the result just the same.


1. What truth is illustrated in the order in which this revelation is given?

2. What does the altar of incense symbolize?

3. The significance of the two altars?

4. The symbolism of the laver? And the anointing oil?

5. How does God provide for the execution of His work?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 31". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/exodus-31.html. 1897-1910.
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