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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 30

 

 

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.


Verses 1-38

Exodus 30-31. Ps. Priestly Supplements.—These two chapters form an appendix to Exodus 25-29. The golden incense altar finds no place in Exodus 25 or Exodus 26:33-36 or Leviticus 16 (where the annual rite of Exodus 30:10 is ignored). Instead we hear of censers in Leviticus 16:12 and Numbers 16:6 f., while the great altar in the court is called "the altar," as if no other were recognised. Similarly Exodus 30:30, requiring the unction of Aaron's sons, betrays itself as later than the series of passages in which the High Priest alone receives it, being often indeed called "the anointed priest." Hence these features, mention of the incense altar, reference to anointing of priests, and distinctive naming of "the brazen altar" or "the altar of burnt-offering," are all marks of secondary elements, wherever they occur. From their contents or phraseology the other sections of Exodus 30 f. betray themselves as supplements.

Exodus 30:1-10 Ps. The Altar of Incense (cf. Exodus 37:25-28, Exodus 40:26).—This altar was to be of gilded acacia wood, 18 inches square and 3 feet high, with horns at the corners, and a gold rim round it, with gold rings for the bearing poles (Exodus 30:1-6), and it was to be placed in front of the veil in the holy place. Incense was to be burnt on it (Exodus 30:7 f.) every morning and every evening (Exodus 30:7 f.) "when Aaron fixeth on the lamps between the evenings" (Exodus 12:6*). No other sort of offering, and no unauthorised incense, was to be used (Exodus 30:9) on it. And an annual rite of atonement (see Driver's note) with the blood of the sin-offering, was prescribed (Exodus 30:10, see above).

Exodus 30:11-16 Ps. The Half-Shekel Ransom-Money.—There was a primitive dread of counting persons and things (cf. 2 Samuel 24). So whenever a census was made, a ransom of half a shekel (say Isaiah 4½d.) was to be required from every person, rich or poor, the standard being "the sacred shekel," perhaps the old Hebrew shekel, equal in weight to the Phœnician (Exodus 30:12-15). The money was to go to the upkeep of worship (Exodus 30:16). The annual Temple tribute (Matthew 17:24*) was based on this ordinance. Perhaps the levy of one-third of the smaller Persian shekel (say 8½d.) in Nehemiah 10:32 was the origin of it, the increased amount showing the growth of devotion to the Temple worship amongst the post-exilic community, after Nehemiah's time.

This passage implies the completed sanctuary, and the census (Numbers 1), and so is out of place here. The binding obligation upon all members of a religious community to contribute towards the cost of worship is still very imperfectly recognised among Christians.

Exodus 30:17-21 Ps. The Bronze Laver (cf. Exodus 38:8, Exodus 40:30).—This passage is an obvious supplement, for it should have come after the law of the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) in the order followed in Exodus 38:8, and, unlike the preceding laws, this has no note of design or size. It is, moreover, a fragment, as its opening should be "And thou shalt make." In Solomon's Temple there were ten large movable lavers, as well as a "molten sea" (1 Kings 7:38 f.). The single laver was to stand on a bronze base between the tent and the altar, so that the officiating priests might wash their hands and feet and so be clean and safe when entering into the sanctuary itself or serving at the altar. The parallel ancient ceremony of handwashing (Lavabo) at the Communion has symbolism as well as decency in its favour: "holy things demand holy persons."

Exodus 30:22-22 Ps. The Anointing Oil (cf. Exodus 37:29 a, Exodus 40:9-11).—This passage is another late supplement, giving minutely the costly composition of the "holy anointing oil" (Exodus 30:23-25) to be applied, not only to Aaron, but to his sons, and to the tent and its fittings (Exodus 30:26-30). The ceremony of unction is an old and widespread religious practice, to mark consecration, and endowment with Divine powers (cf. Isaiah 61:1). If, in later Israel, unction was extended from the high priest to other priests and to the sanctuary, in the English Church we find a converse process—unction, which used to be applied at baptism and confirmation and to the sick, being now restricted to the king. Prophets as well as kings seem in ancient Israel to have sometimes received anointing (1 Kings 19:15 f.). This law comes from a time when priests alone came into consideration; for not only may the oil not be put to common use even for priests, or even its composition imitated, but it must not be applied to any layman on pain of excommunication (Exodus 30:31-33).

Exodus 30:34-38 Ps. The Incense (cf. Exodus 37:29 b).—In early days it was the "sweet smoke" from the burning victims on the altar that was meant by the term Ketoreth. But Orientals are passionately fond of perfumes, and as civilisation became more elaborate it was natural that the ceremonial use of incense should be introduced into worship. In still later times it became a beautiful symbol of acceptable prayer (Ps. 14:12, cf. Revelation 5:8). Knobel, Driver states, had this recipe made up at Giessen, and found the product "strong, refreshing, and very agreeable."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 30:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-30.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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