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THE GOLDEN ALTAR OF INCENSE
Before this chapter the Lord has given instructions concerning the tabernacle, its court and all the furniture both outside and inside, except the altar of incense and the laver. Two full chapters intervene before these are considered. The reason for this may be that, as regards the altar of incense, true worship (of which it speaks) comes after the sacrifices being made and the priests consecrated (that is, believers put in their place as priests). As to the laver, it is mentioned too only after the priests are consecrated, for it was used for the daily washing of their hands and feet.
The altar for the burning of incense stood in the holy place (not the holiest) just in front of the veil. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid, not with copper (as was the altar of burnt offering) but with gold. No animal offerings or grain offerings were put on this altar, but only incense which was burned on it to produce a sweet odor. This speaks only of worship, the worship arising spontaneously in hearts renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
Its measurements were one cubit square and two cubits high. We have noted that the ark had one-half cubit involved in all three of its dimensions (Exodus 25:10), indicating that the throne of God is beyond our understanding in every way. The table of showbread had the one-half cubit involved only in its height (Exodus 25:23), implying that our fellowship is limited in regard to others all around us, but toward God it is to be precious beyond our understanding. But the altar of incense had no one-half involved in its dimensions, for this speaks of worship which believers give, and this is definitely limited. Worship has its sweet influence on those around us (one cubit in each direction), but twice that upward toward God.
The golden altar itself speaks of Christ as the Sustainer of our worship, His perfect Manhood indicated in the acacia wood, His eternal deity in the gold. The border at the top is called "a crown" in the KJV (v.3), and rightly so, as Strong's Concordance confirms. It reminds us of the Lord Jesus at present "crowned with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:9), worthy of the profound worship of all His own.
Two gold rings were to be placed, one on either side, under the border. It was not necessary to have four rings, as in the ark, because of its smaller size. The poles for carrying it were also made of acacia wood overlaid with gold.
The altar was close to the veil, its back toward the veil. Thus in the outer sanctuary there was the table of showbread on the right side as one entered, the lampstand on the left and the altar of incense straight ahead. Emphasis is therefore placed on communion (the table), testimony (the lampstand) and worship (the altar). We see these three in Lazarus, Martha and Mary in John 12:3-12. Lazarus sat at the table with the Lord (communion), Martha served (testimony) and Mary anointed His feet (worship).
Just as there was to be a continual burnt offering, so incense was to be burned on the altar both morning and evening, therefore called "perpetual incense" (v.8). This was to be done along with the trimming of the lamps. The connection of these is important too. Our lamps of testimony must be trimmed by self-judgment continually, so as to burn always with fresh brightness, and our worship is to be continually new and fresh.
Warning is given as to not offering "strange fire" on the altar, or burnt offering, meal offering or libation (drink offering) (v.9). The only incense allowed to be offered was what God prescribed (ch.30:34-36). One might like the smell of something else, just as people are often influenced greatly by the sight of lovely ornaments, vestments, stained glass windows, sounds of beautiful music, with feelings of subdued awe and wonder, and they feel they have been transported into a state of inspired worship. But such things can be totally misleading, for we should stop to realize that people's thoughts are not in this way centered on the beauty of the person of the Lord Jesus. God knows what is true worship, and human feelings and opinions have no place. God showed His thoughts of this when Nadab and Abihu (Aaron's sons) offered strange fire (Leviticus 10:1-2). They were themselves immediately consumed by fire. The incense speaks of the fragrances of the Lord Jesus: nothing can substitute for this before God.
However, once a year Aaron was to put blood on the horns of this altar. This was the blood of the sin offering shed on the great day of atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34), with its blood brought in by Aaron to be sprinkled before and on the mercy seat, then also on the horns of the golden altar and on the altar (vs.18-19). Thus, atonement was made on the altar (Exodus 30:10). In this way there was a continual reminder that worship is based on the value of the blood of Christ shed on Calvary.
THE SILVER RANSOM MONEY
When the children of Israel were numbered in a census, then each individual was required to pay to the Lord one half shekel as a ransom for himself (vs.12-13). It is called "atonement money" in verse 16. We may wonder as to why atonement was made by the blood of the sacrifice offered, yet besides this atonement money was required. This special individual requirement was to press home upon every person that atonement costs something. Of course a half shekel is nothing in comparison to the price the Lord Jesus paid in giving Himself. But the rich were not to give more, nor the poor to give less than a half shekel. All are on precisely the same basis in the matter of atonement.
This included only those who were twenty years of age and older. No doubt this was in consideration of the fact that those younger, not yet employed, would lack the means of paying. The money would however be used to pay the expenses of the service of the tabernacle.
Spiritually, this had only a typical meaning, for1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 1:18 tells us, "you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold." Yet this requirement of the half shekel of silver establishes the fact that silver is symbolical of atonement. This was "a memorial," therefore a reminder of the cost of redemption. We know today that redemption costs us nothing, but the cost to the Lord Jesus was beyond our understanding, as the one half shekel implies, -- "the half was not told me" (1 Kings 10:7).
THE COPPER LAVER
We have before seen that on entering the courtyard, one immediately faced the altar of burnt offering, just as we must first come face to face with the cross of Christ. There the question of our sins is met, God is glorified and believing sinners forgiven by virtue of the one sacrifice of Christ.
But the copper laver stood between the altar of burn offering and the entrance to the tabernacle. It did not signify cleansing by blood: this was seen in the altar of burnt offering. Cleansing by blood takes place once and for all, as is emphasized in the one offering of the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 10:12-18). The laver was the place of many washings by water, washings of the hands and feet of the priests.
Of course, under law there were many sacrifices on the burnt offering altar, all of these typical of the one sacrifice of Christ, so that Hebrews 10:1-39 shows the great contrast now as regards the value of Christ's one offering in comparison to the many Old Testament offerings. this is cleansing judicially by blood from the guilt of our sins.
However, the laver speaks of moral cleansing by the water of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26). Each time a priest entered the tabernacle he was required first to wash his hands and feet. Previously, when the priests were consecrated, their bodies were washed with water (Exodus 29:4). This speaks of the washing of new birth, done only once (Heb 1:22), a general washing that makes a moral difference in the individual. Yet a believer, though in principle thoroughly cleansed, is in circumstances where his feet become defiled through contact with the evil around him, and therefore often needs his feet washed (John 13:5-10). Hands are not mentioned in the New Testament, but if believers wash one another's feet (symbolically) their hands will be cleansed by the water (John 13:14).
The laver was made of copper, but no dimensions are given. Chapter 38:8 informs us that it was made from the mirrors of serving women. Thus the condition of the priests' feet would be reflected as they came near. So the holiness of God (of which copper speaks) faithfully reveals our true condition, and the water of the Word cleanses away the defilement that holiness has exposed.
This washing was imperative, whether a priest was going in to do service in the tabernacle or whether he was offering a sacrifice on the copper altar (v.20). Attempting to do such service without washing would be punishable by death (v.21). How careful we should be to give due respect to the holiness of God in all matters of worship and service.
THE ANOINTING OIL
The oil symbolizes the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:2-6; Zechariah 4:12), He by whom the Lord Jesus was anointed at the River Jordan (Matthew 3:16), and by whom all believers of this present age are anointed (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). This anointing oil, however, was not confined to olive oil, but was compounded of special spices mixed with olive oil. These fragrant spices speak of the fragrances of the Lord Jesus, of which the Spirit of God bears beautiful witness. We must fully believe that all of them are deeply important, whether or not we understand their significance. Myrrh, the first ingredient, is obtained by an incision in the tree, and it exudes in drops, like drops of blood of teardrops. It is sweet-smelling, but bitter to the taste. Therefore it symbolizes the sufferings of Christ, He enduring the bitterness of the cross, and we reaping the sweetness of its results.
As well as myrrh, there were included in the making of the anointing oil sweet smelling cinnamon, sweet smelling cane and cassia. These are all typical of other fragrances that are found in the Lord Jesus, to which the Spirit of God bears witness. Likely involved in these are the eternal deity of His person, His perfect Manhood and His walk of pure devotion to God, though we may not be able to distinguish which spice speaks of what virtue in this all-glorious son of God.
The anointing oil was to be used to anoint the tabernacle itself, the ark, the table, the lampstand and its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and its utensils, and the laver and its base (vs.26-28). Also the same oil was used to anoint Aaron and his sons (v.30). Thus, everything connected with the things of God was consecrated and set apart for the one purpose of glorifying the God of glory. Today too, the Church, together with all it bears witness to, is consecrated to God. Also, the priests were anointed, as is every believer today -- anointed by the Spirit of God, to be God's sole possession. This anointing originally took place at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47), but it remains true for every child of God at present.
The oil was not to be poured upon man's flesh (v.32) because there is a total contrast between "the flesh" and the "the Spirit." The Spirit of God is not given to improve the flesh. In fact it is by the Spirit that the believer is enabled to totally judge the flesh. Also, nothing was to be made even similar to this anointing oil. Men may conceive limitations of the work of the Spirit of God that seem plausible, but there is no substitute for Him. Romans 8:1-39 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 are very clear in this matter.
If one compounded anything like it, he was to be cut off in death (v.33), or if one put the anointing oil on a stranger, he was to suffer the same fate. For "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Appropriately, following the anointing oil (the unction of the Spirit) is the instruction concerning the incense, which speaks of worship. The ingredients of this again draw attention to the Lord Jesus. The first spice is stacte, which means "to drop," as words drop from the lips, reminding us of "the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22) -- words that flowed out from His heart. The second spice, onycha, means "fingernail," telling us of the very details of the work of the Lord's hands, another reason for our adoring worship. Galbanum has a double meaning. "fatness" and "lamentation." The fat of the offerings was always devoted to God, and speaks of the devotedness of the Lord Jesus to His God and Father. Along with this, "lamentation" speaks of His sorrow, for as One who was totally devoted to God, He suffered the cruel reproaches of men. "Frankincense" means "white," and speaks of the purity of the Lord Jesus in His lovely separation to God.
Such fragrances seen in the Lord Jesus cannot but draw out the worship of believing hearts: indeed this is the true material for worship. It was also to be salted (v.35) for salt, crystallizing at right angles, speaks of righteousness, another indispensable ingredient.
Some of the incense was to be beaten very fine (for the finest details of the fragrance of Christ are valuable to God), and put before the ark of the testimony in the most holy place, where God would meet with Israel (v.36). It was "most holy," for God finds pure, real delight in the worship of His saints who present to Him that which speaks of His Son.
This incense was for God, therefore no one was to make for themselves anything like it. This would be the principle of seeking worship for ourselves, as many false christ do. Anyone in Israel guilty of such perversion of the incense should be cut off from his people in death. This incense was to be burned on the altar of incense (ch.30:1).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 30". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany