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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Exodus 30

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXX.

The altar of burnt-incense is described: the ransom of the half shekel is enjoined: the brass laver, the holy anointing oil, and the perfume, are directed to be made.

Before Christ 1491.


Verse 1

Exodus 30:1. Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon After the account we have given of the former altars, there is nothing difficult in the description of this; which was a little more than half a yard square, and as high again as it was broad. From being covered all over with pure gold, it was commonly called the golden altar, Numbers 4:11. It appears from other passages of Scripture, that the priest took fire from the brazen altar, and put it into a golden censer; and then placed this censer with the fire upon the golden altar, to burn incense upon it. See Leviticus 10:1. Numbers 17:13. The sweet incense which was to be burnt every morning and evening on this altar, is minutely described at the close of this chapter; which, doubtless, was used to perfume the sanctuary, and to prevent that otherwise offensive smell which would have arisen from the sacrifices. The use of incense in sacred rites was very general among the heathens. In the hymns of Orpheus, the incense appropriated to each heathen deity is constantly mentioned; and, of the Egyptians in particular, from whom Orpheus borrowed his philosophy, Plutarch (de Is. & Osir.) tells us, that they offered incense to the sun, rosin ( ρητινην ) in the morning, myrrh at noon, and, about sun-set, what they called kyphi. Aaron, as chief, Exodus 30:7 and the other priests in their course, Luke 1:8-9 were to offer the sacred incense; to point out to us the figurative and spiritual meaning of which, we find that the people in the court of the temple and tabernacle were at prayers, while the priest burnt the incense, Luke 1:10. And, in Revelation 8:3 we read that an angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne: So that this action of the high-priest shadowed forth the intercession of CHRIST, the High-Priest of our profession, offering up the prayers of his servants before the throne of God, as the smoke of the incense ascended before the mercy-seat; representing the propitiousness of God to sinful men, and his readiness to receive those prayers and confessions which are offered up in faith and love through the mediation of Him who is perfect in holiness. Psalms 141:2. It should be observed, that this altar, Exodus 30:6 was to be placed in the sanctuary before the vail, exactly opposite to the mercy-seat, between the table of shew-bread and the candlestick.


Verse 10

Exodus 30:10. Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it This ceremony was to be performed on the great day of expiation; see Leviticus 16:18-19 when the high-priest alone entered into the holy of holies, and made an atonement by blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people, Hebrews 9:7. These atonements and purifications were used, no doubt, to express the weakness and imperfections of all the legal ceremonies; which, though types of the great gospel blessings, yet themselves needed to be purified; see Heb. chapters 9: and 10: throughout. The latter clause of this verse, it is most holy unto the Lord, might, with as much propriety, be rendered, it shall be (that is, thus expiated) most holy unto the Lord; for there is no verb in the Hebrew. The horns of the altar, it is most probable, are used as a part for the whole; for, from Leviticus 16:18-19 it appears, that the blood was not put upon the horns only: the whole altar was sprinkled with it seven times. The altar of burnt-offering had horns upon the four corners of it, upon which the blood of the bullock, ch. Exodus 29:12 is ordered to be put. Horns, says Parkhurst, are the well-known emblems of strength, power, or glory, both in the sacred and prophane writers; and that, not only because the strength of those animals which are furnished with horns, consists therein; (see Deuteronomy 33:17. Psalms 22:22; Psalms 92:10. Dan. ch. 8:) but also because, as horns are in Hebrew expressed by the same word as the rays or columns of light; so are they striking emblems of the natural light, the representative of the REDEEMER, the

Light of the world. We find that, among the heathens, horns are the very hieroglyphical name for force or power: addis cornua pauperi,—thou givest horns (strength or power) to the poor, says Horace, speaking of wine: Τρωας κεραιζε he pushed with horns (force) the Trojans, says Homer, of Achilles. Horns and horned animals, such as bulls; goats, stags, &c. were supposed to bear a peculiar relation to the Apollo or Sun of the heathens: and, indeed, as Spencer has shewn at large, the heathens used to adorn their altars with a variety of horns; which too were often placed upon the heads of their gods.

REFLECTIONS.—1 The incense of praise and thanksgiving for daily mercies is as needful as prayer for daily pardon. 2. Our holiest services need the blood of Christ, or they would be regarded of God as an unclean thing. 3. While Christ is interceding for us in heaven before the golden altar, it becomes us to be found sending up the incense of prayer and praise, that, perfumed by him, they may appear before the throne of God as a sweet-smelling savour.


Verse 12

Exodus 30:12. When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, &c.—. This is, in the Hebrew, when thou shalt lift up the head of the children of Israel, to review, (muster or number) them; and the phrase, doubtless, alludes to the manner in which the poll or muster was taken. The same expression is used in Numbers 1:2; Numbers 26:2 from which passages we learn, that this muster was twice taken by the immediate command of God: but, whether the tax here imposed, as a ransom for their souls, and as a testimony of their homage to the great King who had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage (a type of the delivery of their souls from the bondage of sin); whether this ransom-money was paid upon each such muster, or only upon this first, ch. Exodus 38:24-26 for the purposes of supplying the tabernacle; is a matter much controverted. This first-money, it is plain from Exodus 30:16 as well as ch. 38: was immediately appropriated to the business of erecting and furnishing the tabernacle; and there seems no reason to believe, that either now or at any other time it was assigned to the private use of the Levites. Selden says, that the priestly garments, as well as the sacrifices, were provided out of this money: and, if any thing remained at the end of the year, it was spent in extraordinary burnt-offerings. It seems most probable, that a tribute of this kind was occasionally levied to support the charges of the tabernacle and the temple; and we find, in Nehemiah 10:32-33 that it was not then found sufficient; and accordingly the third part of a shekel more was levied for the service of the house of God. See Lowman on the Government of the Hebrews, p. 96.


Verse 13

Exodus 30:13. Half a shekel i.e. according to some commentators, nearly fourteen-pence. This tax, every man was bound to pay, from twenty years and upwards, Exodus 30:14. And neither more nor less was to be paid by rich or poor, Exodus 30:15 evidently to signify, that every soul is equally valuable in the sight of God, with whom there is no respect of persons; and that the ransom of one cost the same price with the ransom of the other; see 1 Pet. 18-20. This half shekel is said to be after the shekel of the sanctuary, i.e. according to the standard of the sanctuary, as if one should say, a shilling, according to the standard of the Tower. Note; They who value the Gospel, will never grudge to contribute towards the support of it.


Verse 18

Exodus 30:18. Thou shalt also make a laver of brass See 2 Chronicles 4:2. A large font or bason, made of brass, for the priests to wash their hands and feet in, was to be placed at the entrance of the tabernacle; in the water of which, let out through cocks, they were constantly to wash on pain of death, when they ministered at the altar, Exodus 30:20 not only because neglect of doing so would have argued high presumption and profaneness against a positive command of God; but because this neglect would, most probably, have been involved with that greater one of mental impurity; see ch. Exodus 29:4. Psalms 26:6. Hebrews 10:22. Titus 3:5. From the command of washing their feet as well as their hands, as also from the omission of the mention of shoes or sandals in the description of the priests' vestments, it has been concluded, that they ministered bare-footed; see note on ch. Exodus 3:5. It is well known, how careful the heathens were in washing their hands before they sacrificed, or entered upon the performance of other religious duties; whence came the proverb of doing things illotis manibus, with unwashed hands; i.e. in a profane and indecent manner. See Saurin's 54th Dissertation, where will be found an ample and very judicious discussion of all things relating to the tabernacle.


Verses 23-25

Exodus 30:23-25. Take thou also unto thee principal spices, &c.— We have here an account of the ingredients, and of the quantity of that oil, which is called holy, not only on account of its composition being enjoined of God, but because the holy things and persons were anointed with it. It was to be compounded of myrrh; such, it is supposed, as Pliny calls stacte, and affirms to be the best (the Hebrew word rendered pure, Houbigant says, comes from an Arabic root, signifying to drop or distil; and therefore it should be rendered distilling:); Cinnamon, which they had, probably, from Arabia; if it was not somewhat different from that which now goes by the name: sweet calamus or cane, (Jeremiah 6:20.) a spicy root, belonging to a peculiar kind of rush or flag, which Bochart proves to have been the growth of Arabia: and cassia, which is generally thought to have been that aromatic plant called costus, the best whereof was the growth of Arabia. Five hundred shekels weight of the first and the last, that is, about 20lb. 10oz. and half the quantity of the other two, were to be infused in a hin, i.e. about five quarts, of oil-olive; which, as Pliny has observed, is the best preservative of odours. And thus the holy ointment was to be made; which may be considered as emblematical of the gifts and endowments of the HOLY GHOST, bestowed on the church under the Messiah, which are therefore called the anointing of the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:5; Acts 10:38. 2 Corinthians 1:21. 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27. The word rendered apothecary, signifies properly "a compounder of aromatics or perfumes."


Verse 32

Exodus 30:32. Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured The holy anointing oil of this composition was never to be used for any common or ordinary purposes. Whoever presumed to compound any like it, or to apply it to any ordinary person, was to be cut off from Israel. This strict charge tended to inspire men with greater reverence for religion and things set apart for divine service: "God hereby," says Ainsworth, "taught the holy and reverend use of his graces and sanctified ordinances; which must not be communicated with the unregenerate and sensual; who, not having the spirit, turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." Counterfeit graces and virtues, all self-righteousness and self-merit, every thing which is independent of the merits of Christ and the sanctification of the spirit, will only export us to the divine punishment.


Verses 34-38

Exodus 30:34-38. Take unto thee sweet spices The composition of the perfume for the golden altar of incense is next prescribed; concerning which the same prohibition is made, Exodus 30:37-38 as concerning the holy ointment. It was to be compounded of stacte or the best myrrh; of onycha, the original word for which occurs here only in the Bible; but it is supposed to mean the onycha (as we have translated it) an odorous shell, which was of a black colour, and yielded in incense a very sweet perfume; see Bochart, vol. 2: p. 217. (Come however conceive it to have been bdellium:)—and of galbanum, which was a sweet gum, issuing from an incision in the root of a plant growing in Arabia, Syria, &c. The LXX render this, and sweet-scented galbanum with pure frankincense.—An equal quantity of these spices was to be mixed with frankincense, which, tempered together (Exodus 30:35.) by dissolution or melting, composed the perfume: this is the primary meaning of the original word, rendered in the margin of our Bibles salted; which it signifies in a secondary sense, as salts of all kinds are fusible. (See Parkhurst on מלה.) Bishop Patrick has judiciously observed, that "perfumes were from all antiquity used in religious services. The Greek word for sacrifice, Θυσια, is derived, according to Porphyry, from incense απο θυμιασεως ; the first men making a fume, by burning parts of trees, and shrubs, and seeds, and fruits; and the sweeter the scent, the more grateful they fancied the fume was to their gods: so that though, at first, they contented themselves with simple herbs and plants; yet in aftertimes they increased them to a greater number: for that aromatic mixture, called κυφι among the Egyptians, which was burnt morning and evening on their altars, was a composition of sixteen things, which Plutarch reckons up (in his book de Isid. & Osir.); and Sophocles (in his Electr. ver. 637.) brings in Clytemnestra calling for θυματα πανκαρπα, fumes of all sorts of seeds, to be offered to Apollo, that she might be delivered from her terrors."

A review of the altar of incense, considered typically.

This altar was a figure of the intercession of the great High-Priest before the throne, as the altar of burnt-offering was a figure of his satisfactory oblation upon the earth. Let us first attend to the altar, and then to the incense.

The altar itself was, first, a golden crowned altar; which signifies the glorious dignity of the royal Intercessor, who is a Priest upon his throne, and is set down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.—It was a square altar, equally respecting the four corners of the world; to denote how accessible he is to all the ends of the earth.—It was a moveable altar, capable of being transported wherever the church of Israel went: an emblem of his perpetual presence in all places where his name is recorded, or where his people are afflicted. A jail, an isle of Patmos, a lion's den, a fish's belly, a fiery furnace, are all alike to him, who never leaves, never forsakes his faithful people.—It was a hidden altar, to which none approached except the sons of Levi. To know Christ as their interceding Priest, is the distinguishing privilege of all the royal priesthood. These only see him by faith, whom the world seeth no more. But as the way to the golden altar of incense was to pass by the brazen altar of burnt-offering; so none can come to Jesus, as ever living to make intercession for them, who come not to him as dying once to atone for their guilt, and put away their sin by the sacrifice of himself.—It was a horned altar. And what should these four horns at its four corners portend, but the strength and prevalence of his intercession, whom the Father heareth always, and who is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by him, from the four winds of heaven?—It was an altar stained with blood: for though no sacrifices for expiation were offered upon it, yet Aaron was commanded to tip its horns every year with the blood of the atonements. The blood of Jesus Christ the righteous is the strength of his advocacy. This blood presented for ever before the throne of God, enforces all his suits with infinitely louder cries than ever did the blood of Abel.

From the altar let us come to the incense burnt upon it. It represents both the merits of the Lord Jesus, and the prayers of all saints.

The merits of Jesus Christ are that incense, in which the prayers, and tears, and works of all the saints are clad, and wherein they ascend like Manoah's angel, before the presence of JEHOVAH.—The incense in the tabernacle was composed of sweet spices, which shed a rich perfume; but not so grateful to men, as the sweet-smelling sacrifice of Christ was savoury to God.—That incense was burned in the sanctuary, while the people were praying without. The appearing of our High-Priest in the heavenly sanctuary with the sweet odour of his merits, by no means supersedes the prayers of saints on earth. "For these things will God be," not only solicited by the intercession of his Son, but "inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." Ezekiel 36:37.—That incense was continually burned before the Lord, and was a perpetual incense throughout their generations. The intercession of Jesus Christ is everlasting, because he ever liveth. Never, never shall it be discontinued.—That incense was not to be counterfeited, or imitated for any other purpose. Detested be the impiety of that harlot-church, which confides in the merits of any saint, living or dead, ascribing, on whatsoever pretence, the Mediator's glory to another. But the time approaches, when this counterfeit incense, the commodity of Babylon, shall no more be bought by the merchants of the earth.

The prayers of saints are also said to be directed as incense before the Lord, and are resembled to odours preserved in vials of gold by a New-Testament writer. Prayer is that incense, which, according to Malachi's prediction, shall be offered to the name of the Lord in every place. Was the holy incense compounded of various sweet spices? The graces of the Holy Spirit are the precious ingredients in the effectual prayer of the righteous. Some of them were beaten very small; perhaps to intimate that brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit, which the High and Lofty One requires in the worshippers at his footstool.—The fire which burnt the incense, may denote the fervency of spirit required in acceptable worship.—But take heed of the sparks of your own kindling, and lift up holy hands without wrath: for the incense must not be kindled with fire from the kitchen but the altar.—Was the incense burned morning and evening continually? And can we reasonably think the incense of prayer and praise should be less frequently addressed to the God who dwells in the heavens? Jesus Christ is the Altar; Jesus Christ is the Priest who stands with his golden censer: by him your incense of prayer and your incense of praise shall go up as a memorial before God, and meet with gracious acceptance. Without him even incense is an abomination to God; and the most solemn duties are a smoke in his nostrils, and a fire which burneth all the day.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 30:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/exodus-30.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 9th, 2020
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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