- Moses in this chapter farther instructed, (1.) Concerning the altar of incense, verse 1-10.
- (2.) Concerning the ransom money, which the Israelites were to pay when they were numbered, verse 11-16.
- (3.) Concerning the laver of brass, verse 17-21.
- (4.) Concerning the anointing oil, verse 22-33.
- (5.) Concerning the incense and perfume, which was to be burned on the golden altar, verse 34-38.
The altar of incense was to be about a yard high, and half a yard square, with horns at the corners, a golden cornish round it, with rings and staves of gold for the convenience of carrying it, Exodus 30:1-5. It doth not appear that there was any grate to this altar for the ashes to fall into, that they might be taken away; but when they burn incense, a golden censer was brought, with coals in it, and placed upon the altar, and in that censer the incense was burnt, and with it all the coals were taken away, so that no coals or ashes fell upon the altar. The altar of incense in Ezekiel's temple is double to what it is here, Ezekiel 41:22, and it is there called an altar of wood, and there is no mention of gold, to signify that the incense in gospel times should be spiritual, the worship plain, and the service of God enlarged. It was placed before the veil, on the outside of that partition, but before the mercy-seat, which was within the veil. For though he that ministered at that altar could not see the mercy-seat, the veil interposing, yet he must look towards it, and direct his incense that way, to teach us, that though we cannot with our bodily eyes see the throne of grace, that blessed mercy-seat, yet we must in prayer by faith set ourselves before it, direct our prayer and look up.
Aaron was to burn sweet incense upon this altar every morning and every evening, which was intended not only to take away the ill smell of the flesh that was burnt daily on the brazen altar, but for the honour of God, and to shew the, acceptableness of his people's services to him. As by the offerings on the brazen altar satisfaction was made for what had been done displeasing to God, so by the offering on this what they did well was, as it were, recommended to the divine acceptance.
This altar was purified with the blood of the sin-offering put upon the horns of it every year, upon the day of atonement. See Leviticus 16:18,19. The high priest was to take this in his way as he came out from the holy of holies. This was to intimate, that the sins of the priests who ministered at this altar, and of the people for whom they ministered, put a ceremonial impurity upon it, from which it must be cleansed by the blood of atonement. This altar typified the mediation of Christ: the brazen altar in the court was a type of Christ dying on earth; the golden altar in the sanctuary was a type of Christ interceding in heaven. This altar was before the mercy-seat, for Christ always appears in the presence of God for us; and his intercession is unto God of a sweet smelling savour. And it typified the devotions of the saints, whose prayers are said to be set forth before God as incense, Psalms 141:2. As the smoke of the incense ascended, so must our desires, being kindled with the fire of holy love. When the priest was burning incense the people were praying, Luke 1:10, to signify that prayer is the true incense. This incense was a perpetual incense, for we must pray always. The lamps were dressed or lighted at the same time that the incense was burnt, to teach us that the reading of the scriptures (which are our light and lamp) is a part of our daily work, and should ordinarily accompany our prayers and praises. The devotions of sanctified souls are well-pleasing to God, of a sweet-smelling savour; the prayers of saints are compared to sweet odours, Revelation 5:8, but it is the incense which Christ adds to them that makes them acceptable; and his blood that atones for the guilt which cleaves to our best services. Yet if the heart and life be not holy, even incense is an abomination, Isaiah 1:13.
Perhaps the repetition of those words, the Lord spake unto Moses, here and afterwards, Exodus 30:17,22,34, intimates, that God did not deliver these precepts to Moses, in a continued discourse, but with many intermissions, giving him time either to write what was said to him, or at least to charge his memory with it.
Some think this refers only to the first numbering of them, when the tabernacle was set up, and that this tax was to make up what was wanting in the voluntary contributions. Others think it was to be always when the people were numbered; and that David offended in not demanding it when he numbered the people. But many of the Jewish writers are of opinion, it was to be an annual tribute; only it was begun when Moses first numbered the people. This was that tribute-money which Christ paid lest he should offend his adversaries. The tribute to be paid was half a shekel, about fifteen-pence of our money. In other offerings men were to give according to their ability, but this, which was the ransom of the soul, must be alike for all; for the rich have as much need of Christ as the poor, and the poor are as welcome to him as the rich. And this was to be paid as a ransom of the soul, that there might be no plague among them - Hereby they acknowledged that they received their lives from God, that they had forfeited their lives to him, and that they depended upon his power and patience for the continuance of them; and thus they did homage to the God of their lives, and deprecated those plagues which their sins had deserved. This money was employed in the service of the tabernacle; with it they bought sacrifices, flour, incense wine, oil, fuel, salt, priests garments, and all other things which the whole congregation was interested in.
The laver, or font was a large vessel, that would contain a good quantity of water. The foot of brass, it is supposed, was so contrived as to receive the water, which was let out of the laver, by spouts or cocks. They then had a laver for the priests only to wash in, but to us now there is a fountain opened for Judah and Jerusalem, Zechariah 13:1, an inexhaustible fountain of living water, so that it is our own fault if we remain in our pollution. Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and feet at this laver every time they went in to minister. For this purpose clean water was put into the laver, fresh every day. Though they washed themselves ever so clean at their own houses, that would not serve, they must wash at the laver. This was designed, to teach them purity in all their ministrations, and to possess them with a reverence of God's holiness, and a dread of the pollutions of sin. They must not only wash and be made clean when they were first consecrated, but they must wash and be kept clean, whenever they went in to minister. He only shall stand in God's holy place that hath clean hands and a pure heart, Psalms 24:3,4. And it was to teach us, who are daily to attend upon God, daily to renew our repentance for sin, and our believing application of the blood of Christ to our souls for remission.
Interpreters are not agreed concerning these ingredients: the spices, which were in all near half a hundred weight, were to be infused in the oil, which was to be about five or six quarts, and then strained out, leaving an admirable smell in the oil. With this oil God's tent and all the furniture of it were to be anointed; it was to be used also in the consecration of the priests. It was to be continued throughout their generations, Exodus 30:31. Solomon was anointed with it, 1 Kings 1:39, and some other of the kings, and all the high priests, with such a quantity of it, as that it ran down to the skirts of the garments; and we read of the making it up, 1 Chronicles 9:30. Yet all agree that in the second temple there was none of this holy oil, which was probably owing to a notion they had, that it was not lawful to make it up; Providence over-ruling that want as a presage of the better unction of the Holy Ghost in gospel-times, the variety of whose gifts was typified by these sweet ingredients.
The incense which was burned upon the golden altar was prepared of sweet spices likewise, though not so rare and rich as those which the anointing oil was compounded of. This was prepared once a year, (the Jews say) a pound for each day of the year, and three pound over for the day of atonement. When it was used it was to be beaten very small; thus it pleased the Lord to bruise the Redeemer, when he offered himself for a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour. Concerning both these preparations the same law is here given, that the like should not be made for any common use. Thus God would preserve in the peoples minds a reverence for his own institutions, and teach us not to profane or abuse any thing whereby God makes himself known.