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Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 30

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 8

Exodus 30:8

Burn incense upon it.


All religious ceremony and ritual is a picture, in external and material form, and upon a lower platform, of something higher, properly religious. Now this altar of incense had a very distinct meaning.

The first thing that I want to point out is what a lovely, significant, and instructive symbol of prayer the incense is. Now what were the aspects of prayer suggested by the symbolism?

1. First of all, I suppose that the essence of it is the ascent of a man’s soul to God. “To enter into thyself is to ascend to God.” To go deep down into thine own heart is to go straight up to the Father in heaven. Incense is prayer, because incense surely wreathes itself upwards to God.

2. Let us learn another lesson from the incense, and that is that the prayer which ascends must be the prayer that comes from a fire. The incense only climbs when it is hot.

3. The kindled incense gave forth fragrant odours. When we present our prayers, they rise up acceptable to God in curling wreaths of fragrance that He accepts.

Notice the position of the altar of incense in relation to the rest of the sanctuary. It stood in the holy place, midway between the outer court, where the whole assembly of worshippers were in the habit of meeting, and the holiest of all. It stood in a right line betwixt the outer court and the mercy-seat, where the symbolical presence of God was visible in the Shekinah: and whosoever approached the altar of incense had to pass by the altar of sacrifice: and whosoever was on his way to the holiest of all had to pass by the altar of incense. All prayer must be preceded by the perfect sacrifice; and my prayer must be offered on the footing of that perfect Sacrifice which Christ Himself has offered. And so you and I remember the Altar of Sacrifice whenever we say, “For Christ’s sake.

Amen.” And if we mean anything by these words except the mere empty formula, we mean this:--“I stand here, and venture to put my grains of incense upon the altar, because He died yonder upon the Cross, that I might pass into the Holy Place.” The prayer that goes another way round, and does not pass by the Altar of Sacrifice, is not the prayer that God desires and accepts. And, still further, let me remind you that, as I said, whosoever was on his road into the holiest of all had to pass by the altar of incense. That is to say, there is no true communion of spirit with God, except on condition of habitual prayer, and they that are strangers to the one, are strangers to the other.

The perpetuity of this offering. Morning and evening the incense was piled up and blown into a flame, and all the day and night it smouldered quietly on the altar; that is to say, special seasons and continual devotion, morning and evening kindled, heaped up, and all the day and night glowing. And dim lives may still, like the priests in this ritual, pile up the incense on the altar at fixed seasons, sure that if we do, it will glow there all the day long. But only remember, there is not much chance of a man’s devotion being continuous unless he has, and sticks to, his fixed seasons for formal and verbal supplication.

This altar that bore the perpetual incense, once a year aaron had to offer a sacrifice of expiation for it. It was never used for anything except the laying upon it of the fragrant incense, and yet yearly this sacrifice to cleanse it from defilement was duly presented. Now why was that? Was it not in order to express the profound feeling that the purest worship is stained, and that howsoever clear and exclusive may be the occupation and the use of this altar for the one solemn purpose, the iniquities of the offerers had defiled it. Let us be thankful that we have a great High Priest who truly cleanses us from the infirmities of our worship, and bears the iniquities of our natures, and is ever ready to aid our prayers with the incense of His own sacrifice, that all their imperfections may be washed away, and they and we received and made acceptable in His sight. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The altar of incense

The altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and stood about a yard high and eighteen inches square. The altar and incense were symbolic--

Of the prayers of God’s people.

1. In prayer we speak to God and tell Him the thoughts of our minds, the feelings of our hearts, the desires of our spirits. The incense smoke ascended, arrow-like, in a straight and most direct column to heaven. Our prayers ascend immediately and in the directest way to the heart and ear of God.

2. In prayer we stand very near God. The altar of incense was placed “before the mercy-seat.”

3. The pleasant odour of the incense is symbolic of the acceptableness of prayer.

Of intelligent, unceasing, and reverent prayer.

1. The burning of incense is intelligent prayer. It took place in the light; and our prayers should be presented to God intelligently.

2. Unceasing prayer. It was a perpetual incense before the Lord.

3. Reverent prayer (Exodus 30:9)

Of prayer offered in Christ’s name. Aaron sprinkled the golden horns, with the blood of atonement. This act is typical of the offering of prayer in the name of Christ.

Of the power of prayer. The horns of the altar symbolize power. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (D. R. Jenkins.)

The altar of incense

We gather our first lesson from the shape and position of this altar. The altar was four-square. The same measure and estimate were thus presented every way, whether towards God, or towards man. But the squareness of the altar also denoted the stability of the service connected with it. Prayer and praise are not temporary things. Prayer indeed will be confined to earth, for it is the language of want. But “praise waiteth for God” in the heavenly, as well as in the earthly Zion.

Our second lesson from the golden altar is taught us by the condition necessary to the offering of its incense, viz., that there be a fire burning on it.

1. This incense on the altar typified the intercession of Christ. But the fragrance of the incense could not be brought out, nor its efficacy put forth till the action of fire was employed. And these burning coals on the golden altar, to what do they point us in this view of our subject but the sufferings of Christ? “It behoved Christ to suffer.”

2. The golden censer on this altar, with the incense rising from it, denotes, we know, the prayers of God’s people (see Revelation 8:3-4). Here again we see that the incense could yield no fragrance without fire. The priest put it on the live coals, and then the odorous clouds went fuming up, a sweet savour, acceptable to God. And here we are taught in a most significant way, the necessity of heartiness in our worship if we would have it well-pleasing to God.

Our third lesson from this altar is taught us by the continuousness of the incense upon it. How beautifully this points us to Jesus, His offering, once made upon the brazen altar, was never repeated; and so the incense of His merits, once thrown upon the fire on the golden altar, never needs to be repeated. The intercession of Christ is uninterrupted.

Our fourth lesson from this subject is furnished by observing the connection of the altar of incense with both the outer and inner sanctuary. Now we know that the outer part of the sanctuary, or the holy place, represented the Church on earth; while the inner part, or the most holy place, represented the Church in heaven. The lesson taught us by the part of the subject now before us is, that the golden altar, with its incense, belongs alike to both these departments of the Church of Christ. All the service performed, and all the joy experienced by the redeemed in the Church on earth is based upon the sacrifice of Christ, and connected with the incense of His merits. And the same will be true of the redeemed in the Church in heaven.

Our fifth and last lesson from this subject is gathered from the nature and composition of the incense offered upon the golden altar. Now, observe this incense was composed of four substances. Three of these, onycha, stacte, and galbanum, were substances entirely unknown to us. These may point to the divinity of Christ, in the mysteriousness of its connection with His death and sacrifice. The frankincense was a substance with which we are acquainted. It may represent the humanity of Christ. This we know and understand, for it was like our own, in all respects, save that it was free from sin. The elements composing this incense were mingled together in equal parts. This seems to point significantly to the entire and perfect harmony of character which distinguished our glorious Saviour. There was nothing out of place in Him. Again, the materials of which the incense was composed had to be beaten into small particles, or reduced to powder before it was prepared to give out its rich fragrance. And so Jesus, our glorious Saviour, had to be brought very low, and stoop to the most wondrous humiliation, before the golden censer of His merits could yield those sweet odours which are so refreshing to the souls of His people, and at the same time so well pleasing to God, and so efficacious to secure our acceptance before Him. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Incense and light

I desire to call your attention to the conjunction which was established by the Divine law between the burning of the incense and the lighting of the lamps; these two things, being both of daily observance, were attended to at the same moment for reasons worthy of our study.

And first I call your attention to the wonderful co-operation between the intercession of Christ for us, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

1. Note, that we have these both revealed in their fulness at the same time. When our Lord ascended on high to plead before the throne, the Spirit descended to abide in the Church. After the Lord was taken up the disciples received the promise of the Father and were illuminated by the Holy Ghost.

2. Now, as they were connected historically, so are they continually connected as a matter of fact. Herein lies our hope for our own eternal salvation, in the ceaseless plea and the quenchless light.

3. Furthermore, this conjunction, as it is a matter of history, and as it is continuous, will always be seen by us personally when our prayer is the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that availeth much.

4. That in God’s drawing near to man there is the same conjunction of incense and light. If the glory of God were to come forth from between the cherubim, if it should come past the veil to be revealed throughout the world, that glory would pass by these two, the golden altar of incense and the golden lamp of light. I mean this: God can have no dealing with men at all except through the merit of Christ and the light of the Spirit.

Secondly, our text seems to teach the connection between prayer and knowledge. The golden altar represents intercession offered by Christ, and also the prayers of all the saints, which are accepted through His intercession; and as the candlestick stood side by side with it, and represented the light of the Spirit of truth, so must true prayer and true knowledge never be separated.

1. So I gather, first, that prayer should be attended with knowledge. It is ill when men worship they know not what. God is light, and He will not have His people worship Him in the dark. When they burn the incense they must also light the lamp.

2. But now turn the thought round the other way--knowledge should always be accompanied by prayer. Revealed truth is as a church-bell summoning us to come into the presence of the Lord, and bow the knee before Him.

I desire, in the third place, to show some special practical connection between the incense and the lamp. “And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.” So, then, there should be prayer especially at the dressing of the lamps: that is to say, when preparing our minds for that ministry by which we enlighten the people among whom we dwell we should be specially earnest in prayer. Dr. Adam Clarke used to say to young ministers, “Study yourselves dead, and then pray yourselves alive again”; and that is an excellent rule. One thing more, this burning of the incense was not only at the dressing of the lamps, but also at the kindling of the lamps, when they began to shine. I want to plead very heartily with you that when it is my privilege to come here this week and at all other times to light the lamps, you who are my beloved helpers will take care to burn the incense at the same time. We need the incense of prayer more than ever in these latter days. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The altar of incense

This altar of incense may remind us of many things concerning prayer.

Its size: not very large, the smallest altar. A good prayer need not be long. God knows what we have need of. Like the Lord’s Prayer, it may include much.

Its design: symmetrical. Prayers should not be one-sided, but well-proportioned. Not all about one thing, or too many things. There was a simple beauty about the altar. Four-square, crown of gold.

Its material: choice, the best wood and metal. In prayer there may be the word of human infirmity and need; but there must be the fine gold of truth, etc.

Its place: in the holy place, in front of the vail that concealed the most holy. There should be prayer before entering God’s house, as well as inside the house.

Its use: to burn incense, offering to God of holy desire, thanksgiving, praise. Note--

1. This incense, carefully compounded of the most precious ingredients. Not to be used for ordinary purposes. Prayer is holy to the Lord.

2. The lamp was lighted opposite when the incense was kindled. Prayer needs Divine illumination: should bear the light as being without hypocrisy.

3. The incense was burnt morning and evening. Our days should begin and end with prayer. (Biblical Museum)


The altar of incense

Consider this as--

A typical institution. Notice here--

1. Its daily use.

2. Its annual expiation.

An emblematic rite. In this view it marks--

1. The privilege of Christians.

2. The ground of their acceptance. Application:

(1) How highly we are privileged under the Christian dispensation.

(2) What a holy people we should be unto the Lord. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

The altar of incense

At the west end of the outer apartment, in front of the curtain which separated it from the holy of holies, stood the altar of incense, three feet high, with four equal sides, each one foot and six inches in horizontal measure. It consisted of a frame of acacia wood, with horns of the same material at the four upper corners; plated over all the external surface with gold. It was not left open at the top, like the great altar of burnt-offering, but covered with a board of acacia wood, overlaid with gold like the four vertical sides; and this cover is designated by the word which signifies the roof of a house. Like the ark and the table, it had rings for convenience in transporting it, and a pair of gilded staves, which, however, did not remain in the rings when the altar was in place. Just above the rings was a crown, or cincture, of the kind affixed to the ark and the table. The incense was probably burned in a censer placed on the top of the altar; the ashes remaining in, and being carried away with, the censer. (E. E. Atwater.)

Verse 12

Exodus 30:12

A ransom for his soul.

The ransom for the life

The word which is here rendered “ransom” is afterwards rendered “atonement.” The atonement covered or removed what displeased God, and thus sanctified for His service. Our notion of atonement under the law should ordinarily be limited to the removal of the temporal consequences of moral or ceremonial defilement. The sum of half a shekel was the tax that every man had to pay as his ransom, and as this is the single instance in the Jewish law in which an offering of money is commanded, it seems highly probable that it was not a ransom for the soul so much as a ransom for the life which the Israelite made when he paid his half-shekel. On all occasions in which the soul, the immortal principle, is undeniably concerned, the appointed offerings are strictly sacrificial. Consider:

The ransom for the life. Our human lives are forfeited to God; we have not accomplished the great end of our being, and therefore we deserve every moment to die. The Israelites paid their tax as a confession that life had been forfeited, and as an acknowledgment that its continuance depended wholly on God. We cannot give the half-shekel payment, but we should have before us the practical remembrance that in God’s hand is the soul of every living thing.

The rich and the poor were to pay just the same sum. This was a clear and unqualified declaration that in the sight of God the distinctions of rank and estate are altogether as nothing; that, whilst He gathers the whole human race under His guardianship, there is no difference in the watchfulness which extends itself to the several individuals.

If we understand the word “soul” in the ordinary sense, the text is a clear indication that God values at the same rate the souls of all human beings. Every soul has been redeemed at the price of the blood of God’s Son. Rich and poor must offer the same atonement for the soul. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The soul-ransom

Divinely appointed. “The Lord spake,” etc. Who else had a right to speak on this matter? How would it have been had man spoken? God mercifully prevents confusion by Himself speaking. So, in our case. “I have found a ransom.”

Universally enforced. “They shall give every man a ransom for his soul.” No moral man shall, in the pride of his self-righteousness, conclude that he needs no ransom; nor shall any vile sinner, in utter despair, conclude that a ransom will in his case be useless. “He gave Himself a Ransom for all.” How if we “neglect so great salvation”?

Equally distributed. “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.” There should be no excuse for misrepresenting their circumstances. They were taught that the soul, and not wealth, was the thing considered. Men spiritually on one level (Leviticus 19:15). The rich and the poor might be sundered by circumstances in the tent, but were on an equality in the Tabernacle. In the house of God the rich and the poor meet together, etc. Each went with his half-shekel to Him who respecteth not the person of any man.

Mercifully measured. “An half-shekel shall be the offering of the Lord.” In other matters there was a difference (see Leviticus 5:7; see marg.; Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 14:21-22; Leviticus 14:30-31). The poor were always treated with special consideration. It was a mercy to the rich to humble him, and to the poor to inculcate proper self-respect. A mercy to all, to inculcate the habit of giving as a “means of grace.” Learn--

1. That in soul matters men are equal before God.

2. That our ransom is paid for us.

3. That we are not redeemed with corruptible things, etc. (J. C. Gray.)

Silver sockets: or, redemption the foundation

1. Observe that this redemption, without which no man might rightly be numbered among the children of Israel lest a plague should break out among them, must be personal and individual. You must each one bring Christ unto the Father, taking Him into your hands by simple faith. No other price must be there; but that price must be brought by every individual, or else there is no acceptable coming to God.

2. It was absolutely essential that each one should bring the half-shekel of redemption money; for redemption is the only way in which you and I can be accepted of God. There were many, no doubt, in the camp of Israel who were men of station and substance; but they must bring the ransom money, or die amid their wealth. Others were wise-hearted and skilful in the arts, yet must they be redeemed or die. Rank could not save the princes, nor office spare the elders: every man of Israel must be redeemed; and no man could pass the muster-roll without his half-shekel, whatever he might say, or do, or be.

3. Note well that every Israelitish man must be alike redeemed, and redeemed with the like, nay, with the same redemption. “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel.”

4. And it must be a redemption that meets the Divine demand, because, you see, the Lord not only says that they must each bring half a shekel, no more, no less, but it must be “the shekel of the sanctuary”--not the shekel of commerce, which might be debased in quality or diminished by wear and tear, but the coin must be according to the standard shekel laid up in the holy place.

I want you to view this illustration as teaching us something about God in relation to man. The tent in the wilderness was typical of God’s coming down to man to hold intercourse with him. The Lord seems to teach us, in relation to His dealing with men, that He will meet man in the way of grace only on the footing of redemption. He treats with man concerning love and grace within His holy shrine; but the basis of that shrine must be atonement.

I think we may apply this illustration to Christ in His Divine Person. The Tabernacle was the type of our Lord Jesus Christ, for God dwells among men in Christ. “He tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory,” “In whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Our Lord is thus the Tabernacle which the Lord hath pitched and not man; and our first and fundamental idea of Him must be in His character as Redeemer. Our Lord does come to us in other characters, and in them all He is right glorious; but unless we receive Him as Redeemer we have missed the essence of His character, the foundation idea of Him.

The Tabernacle was a type of the Church of God as the place of Divine indwelling. What and where is the Church of God? The true Church is founded upon redemption.

1. Christ is a sure Foundation.

2. An invariable Foundation.

I think this Tabernacle in the wilderness may be viewed as a type of the gospel, for the gospel is the revelation of God to man. Now, as that old gospel in the wilderness was, such must ours be, and I want to say just two or three things very plainly, and have done. Redemption must be the foundation of our theology--doctrinal, practical, and experimental. Ah, and not only our theology but our personal hope. The only gospel that I have to preach is that which I have to rest upon myself--“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” This is henceforth the burden of our service, and the glory of our life. Those silver sockets were very precious, but very weighty. I dare say the men who had to move them sometimes thought so. Four tons and more of silver make up a great load. O blessed, blissful draught, to have to put the shoulder to the collar to draw the burden of the Lord--the glorious weight of redemption. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The atonement money

The atonement money preached a very clear and blessed gospel. It told out the great truth, that birth in the flesh availed nothing. Every man must give a ransom for his soul. The price was fixed by God Himself. Each man, whether poor or rich, must bring the same. One could not pay for another. Each person was estimated by God at the same price. Salvation must be an individual, personal matter, between the soul and God. Every man has to bring his own half-shekel. The half-shekel was to be of silver; the unalloyed, unadulterated metal. Three things are probably here presented in type: the Lord Jesus as God--as the pure and spotless One--and as giving His life a ransom for many. The silver, being a solid, imperishable, precious metal, may have this first aspect; its chaste whiteness representing the second; and its being ordinarily employed as money or price may point out its fitness as a type of the third. (H. W. Soltau.)

Universal equality

Why, under these circumstances, the ransom of half a shekel? Everybody when he went over to the official group was called specifically as a man of twenty years of age and upward. Let us see. Strip away wealth. Strip away learning. Strip away rank. Strip away fame. Reduce us to our natural nakedness. What is left? Nothing but a sinful man. There are four moments in our ecclesiastical life when we are all reduced to this naked simplicity, to this fundamental similarity. At the moment of our baptism. The minister receives into his arms, literally following the example of our Lord--“this child,” not this prince or this peasant. Again, at the moment of our marriage. I remember that many years ago, when the Prince of Wales was married, and I was a mere boy, I was struck by the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury turned to the Prince of Wales and said, “Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?” not “this Princess of Denmark.” And then to the woman he said in effect, we know nothing of the heir to the British throne in the house of God,--wilt thou have “this man” to be thy wedded husband? I was struck even then at the way in which the most exalted were reduced to their simple humanity. Then, again, at the Holy Communion, all men are absolutely equal. One table for rich and poor. I remember a beautiful incident in the life of the Duke of Wellington when he was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a position held by the late Earl Granville, whose death we all so much lament. The Iron Duke was in church, and was going to receive the Lord’s Supper, when a peasant, who had not noticed the duke, kneeled by his side. Discovering who he was, and being much terrified, he was getting up, when the duke put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Don’t move, we are all equal here.” Wisely said, profoundly true. There is one other moment when we are all equal--at the moment of death. If any mighty monarch is fortunate enough to be a Christian, the utmost the Christian minister will say at his burial is this, “We commit the body of our dear brother to the dust.” Our brother, nothing more. As there are four moments in our ecclesiastical history when we are reduced to our common humanity and to our absolute similarity, so there is one moment in our civic history, and that moment is to-night, perhaps the only time in your life when you will be absolutely on an equal with the greatest in the land. This is why in that old theocracy every man who was numbered in the census had to pay a tribute to the Tabernacle. When nothing is left except our common humanity surely then we must make our common confession, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” You may be a duke. You may be an Oxford graduate. You may be a millionaire. But all these are superficial distinctions. At bottom you are a sinful man needing the mercy of God as much as the rest of us. Therefore, when for one moment all social, artificial distinctions ceased, each man paid his half-shekel to the Tabernacle as an acknowledgment of his obligation to sue for the mercy of heaven and to do the will of God. (Hugh Price Hughes, M. A.)

Verses 17-21

Exodus 30:17-21

A laver of brass.

The true washing

Divine (John 13:8).

Spiritual (Jeremiah 4:14). Rest not in a mere social or ecclesiastical purity.

Essential. “That they die not” (Revelation 7:13-15). (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The laver

1. This laver teaches us, among other things, that those who would come to God must approach Him with clean hands (see Psalms 26:6; Psalms 24:2-4; Psalms 119:9). I think these texts show that those who profess to serve God must cultivate holiness of heart and life, and that whilst the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin, we are to cleanse ourselves by coming constantly under the power of the Word.

2. None but priests were permitted to wash in this laver, and none were consecrated to the office of priests besides those who were born into the priestly family. All the Lord’s people are priests, and as such they are called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1; Heb 13:15-16; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). They enter the priestly family when born again, and none but those who are “twice born” can offer any sacrifice to God which He will accept. At their ordination the priests were washed all over: this they did not do for themselves; it was done for them by Moses, and answered to the washing of regeneration, which God does for us when He brings us into His house and makes us His servants. Afterwards there was the daily washing of the hands and feet: this Moses did not do for them; they did it themselves, did it every day, and the neglect of it was punished with death (Leviticus 8:6; Exodus 30:18-21). God has made all His people clean. As He sees them, there is no sin on them; but as to their daily walk, they need to be constantly judging themselves by the Word. And as the action of water will remove any defilement of the hands or feet, so the action of the Word, when we come properly under its power, will correct our wrong habits, will purify our thoughts, and make us clean. (G. Rodgers.)

The laver

There are three principal points with which the lessons taught us by the laver may be connected.

In the first place, let us consider what we are taught by the laver with its supply of cleansing water. The laver, with its abundant supply of pure cleansing water, points to the Spirit of God, and the truth through which that Spirit acts, as the great appointed instruments for carrying on the work of sanctification in the souls of believers.

But, secondly, let us inquire what lessons we are taught by the persons who used the laver. It was only the priests who had access to the laver. We see here the true character of God’s people; the high privilege accorded them; and the nature of the service required of them.

But there is a third and last point of view from which to contemplate this laver, and gather instruction from it, and that is the position it occupied. This is very significant. The direction given to Moses, on this point, was most explicit: “Thou shalt put it between the tent of the congregation and the altar.” “The tent of the congregation” means the Tabernacle. Thus the laver stood, by Divine direction, midway between the brazen altar and the Tabernacle. The Jew was required to come first to the brazen altar, with its propitiatory sacrifice, and then to the laver, with its cleansing water. Not the washing first, and then forgiveness, but forgiveness first, and then the washing. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Verses 22-33

Exodus 30:22-33

An holy anointing oil.

The anointing oil

The universal need there is of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

1. There was nothing under the law so holy, but that it needed this Divine unction.

2. Nor is there anything under the gospel which does not need it.

His sufficiency for all to whom that influence is applied. This appears--

1. From the preciousness of the ointment which was used.

2. From the virtue infused into everything anointed with it. Application--

(1) Seek the Holy Spirit for your own souls.

(2) Guard against everything that may reflect dishonour upon Him. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

The use of oil in daily life and in the symbolism of worship

. The use of oil in daily life may be described as threefold.

1. In the first place, it was used for the anointing of the body, by which the skin was rendered soft and smooth; refreshed and invigorated. Orientals ascribed a virtue to it which penetrated even to the bones. Coincident with this was the use of oil in sickness, as a means of lulling pain and restoring health.

2. The second use of oil in the preparation of food is to be looked at from the same point of view. Here also the object was, so to speak, to anoint the food, so as to make it soft and palatable.

3. And thirdly, not less frequent and important was the use of oil for burning and giving light, surely also an anointing for the purpose of enlivening and invigorating. The thing to be anointed was the wick of the lamp. The wick would burn without oil, but only with a weak and miserable light, and very speedily it would become extinguished.

All these modes of using oil are transferred to the symbolism of worship.

1. The first we see at once is the anointing of the Tabernacle, its vessels, and the priests themselves.

2. The second is seen in the minchah, or meat-offering, not “meat” at all in our modern acceptation, but composed of wheat, commingled with oil (Leviticus 2:1-8).

3. The third in correspondence is obviously the ever-burning sacred lamp of the holy place. (J. H. Kurtz, D. D.)

The holy anointing oil

Moses being commanded of God to make an holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:23), was to take a certain quantity of some principal spices, such as myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, and cassia, then to compound them after the art of the apothecary. And thus it is, that the oil of our charity must be rightly ordered; every Christian alms-giver must be a kind of spiritual apothecary. First, his alms must be like myrrh, which distils from the tree without cutting or the least incision, so his charity to be free without the least compulsion. Secondly, cinnamon, hot in taste and hot in operation, so his alms, neither stone-cold as Nabal, nor lukewarm as Laodicea, but hot; as it was said of Dorcas, that she was full of good works. Thirdly, cassia, as sweet as the former, but growing low, the emblem of humility, so giving, but not vain-gloriously. Lastly, calamus, an odoriferous powder, but of a fragile reed; so giving, but acknowledging his weakness, thinking it no way meritorious; for, saith St. Bernard, “Dangerous is the state of that house which thinks to win heaven by keeping house,” etc. (J. Spencer.)

The holy anointing oil

This is to be composed of five ingredients: 500 shekels of pure myrrh, 250 of sweet cinnamon, 250 of sweet calamus, and 500 of cassia, and a hin, about three quarts, of olive oil. It is said to be compounded after the art of the perfumer. It is probable, therefore, as the Rabbins suppose, that the three spices were soaked in water, and boiled, and their essence extracted and mingled with the myrrh and oil (Exodus 30:26-30). With the anointing oil are to be anointed the tent of meeting, the ark of the testimony, the table, the candlestick, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt-offering, the laver, and all their appurtenances. Being thus anointed, they are hallowed, and are accounted most holy (Exodus 30:10). Aaron and his sons are to be anointed and consecrated to their priestly office (Exodus 30:31-33). This is to be a standing oil for anointing, not to be used for common purposes, not to be imitated in ordinary compounds, on pain of excommunication (Genesis 17:14). The anointing oil is an impressive symbol of sanctifying grace. It is analogous to the water of the laver, which cleanses. The latter points to the quality required; the former to the end contemplated. That which is dedicated to God must be cleansed from stain. (J. G. Murphy, LL. D.)

Verses 34-38

Exodus 30:34-38

Sweet spices.

The incense

The incense employed in the service of the Tabernacle was compounded of four ingredients: stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense. It might only be used in the worship of God. The penalty of death was affixed to the making or using of it for profane purposes (Exodus 30:37-38). It is called “holy of holies” (Exodus 30:36), or “most holy.” This incense was burnt morning and evening upon the golden altar of incense, which stood in the holy place (Exodus 30:7-8). We see, here, that in the original institution the burning of incense was the special work of the high priest; the duty is assigned to Aaron himself, not to his sons. Like the shewbread, and the daily sacrifice, the incense also is called “perpetual” (Exodus 30:8). Besides the daily incense, the offering of incense in the Holy of Holies by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, formed a very solemn and important part of the ceremonies of that day. But for the cloud of incense covering the mercy-seat, the high priest would have died on entering the holiest place (Leviticus 16:13). Incense was a symbol, not only of prayer generally, but more especially of intercessory prayer. On one remarkable occasion we find even the power of atoning ascribed to the offering of incense (Numbers 16:46-48). Here the rehearsal, as it were, of the incense-offering of the day of atonement, exercised a similar intercessory and atoning power, even without any accompanying sacrifice or shedding of blood. A wonderful foreshadowing of the more powerful incense-offering of a greater High Priest who “ever liveth,” etc. (E. F. Willis, M. A.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 30". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/exodus-30.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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