Sunday, December 24, 2006

Exodus 30

Exodus 30: The Tabernacle: altar of incense, atonement money, basin for washing, anointing oil, and incense


This chapter continues with instructions for building and preparing the tabernacle.
  • The Altar of Incense
    • They were to build an alter, for burning incense. It was to be a half metre long, a half metre wide, and a metre high, with horns built into it, and was to be made of acacia wood. It was then to be overlaid with pure gold.
    • As with other implements of worship, it was to be carried with poles—made out of acacia wood, overlaid with gold—and was to have rings built into the sides, for the poles.
    • It was to be placed in front of the curtain, which was before the ark of the Testimony, where God met with the High Priest.
    • The High Priest (Aaron, to start with) was to burn fragrant incense on this altar whenever he tended to the lamps—that is, every morning, and every day at twilight. They were not to offer any other offerings, nor any other incense, on this altar, other than this specific burning of incense. (The actual incense to be used is described below.)
    • Once a year, the High Priest was to make atonement on the horns of this altar, made with “the blood of the atoning sin offering” (verse 10).
  • Atonement Money
    • At the census, each Israelite who was twenty years old or more was to pay a half shekel as an offering to the LORD. Verse 12 says they were to do this “[w]hen you take a census of the Israelites to count them”—I’m not sure if this was a one-time thing, or a recurring thing that happened on a regular basis, when censuses were taken.
    • My footnotes say that a “half shekel” is “about six grams”, but it doesn’t say six grams of what. Gold? Silver? Possibly bronze?
    • A reason is given for this atonement offering: “Then no plague will come on them when you number them” (verse 12b).
    • Interestingly, this offering of a half shekel was to be given by everyone; the rich were not to give more, and the poor were not to give less.
    • The money collected from this offering was to be used for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It was to be “a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for [their] lives” (verse 18).
  • Basin for Washing
    • Between the Tent of Meeting and the Altar was to be a bronze basin, filled with water, where the priests were to wash their hands and feet.
    • Interestingly, no specifications are given for how to build this basin, except that it’s to be made of bronze; no instructions for how big it was to be or anything else.
    • Any time a priest entered the Tent of Meeting, or presented an offering to the LORD by fire, he was to wash in the basin, first, so that he would not die.
  • Anointing Oil
    • They were to make some oil, which would be used for anointing the Tent of Meeting, the ark, and numerous other implements used in worship.
    • The oil was to be made out of:
      • six kilograms of liquid myrrh
      • three kilograms of fragrant cinnamon
      • three kilograms of fragrant cane
      • six kilograms of cassia
      • four litres of olive oil
    • Once these items were consecrated, they would be “most holy”, and anything that touched them would become holy (verse 29).
    • Aaron and his sons were also to be anointed with this oil, so that they could serve God as priests.
    • This oil—and even this recipe for oil—was to be considered sacred by the Israelites. They were not to use it for any other purpose, and were not to make any other oil using this formula. Anyone who made a perfume like it, or put it on anyone other than a priest, was to be “cut off” from the Israelites (verse 33).
  • Incense
    • The incense for burning on the altar of incense was to be the work of a perfumer. It was to be a fragrant blend of gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, all in equal amounts, ground into powder. (I don’t know what any of those things are, except that verse 34 says that resin, onycha, and galbanum are “fragrant spices”.)
    • As with the anointing oil, this recipe for incense was to be considered holy to the LORD. No other incense was to be made with this formula, and anyone who made incense for his own enjoyment was to be cut off from the Israelites.


As with some of the other offerings/sacrifices I’ve mentioned, I don’t really understand the offering of incense, which was to be burned on the altar of incense every morning and every day at twilight.

I always find it interesting, in the Old Testament laws and commandments, when specific mention is made of rich vs. poor. In the atonement money above, both the rich and the poor were to give a “half shekel”, no more, no less. Were I to guess—which is about all I can do—I would say that this was more of a lesson for the rich than it was for the poor: Before God, there is no rich or poor; all are alike. You can’t buy your way into righteousness, because God doesn’t really need your money—it’s all His anyway. I’m guessing that a half shekel wasn’t a burdensome amount, or less probably would have been demanded of the poor, but since I don’t know how much a “half shekel” really was, that’s only a guess.

In the Old Testament, cleanliness was often associated with righteousness, and in both the Old and the New Testaments, uncleanliness is associated with sinfulness. (Not literally—being dirty isn’t a sin. It’s used as a metaphor. Of course, Matthew 15:1–20 shows us that the Pharisees in Jesus’ day didn’t understand that.) So it’s not surprising that the priests were commanded to wash in the basin, before entering the Tent of Meeting, or before presenting an offering to the LORD.

I once had a discussion with someone—who, I should mention, is more knowledgeable about such things than I am—about whether being “cut off” from the Israelites means being cast out from the community, or if it meant being executed. I believed then, and still do, that being cut off means being cast out of the community; the Old Testament laws have no problem mentioning when someone is to be executed for crimes, so I see no reason for it to play coy in cases such as this. However, because, as I say, this person is more knowledgeable about this than I am, I should mention that when the Old Testament talks about someone being “cut off from his people” as in verses 33 and 38, it might mean that they should be executed.

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