A. The altar of incense.
1. (1-5) How to make the altar of incense.
“You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.”
a. Make an altar to burn incense on: The altar of incense was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was 18 inches (0.5 meter) square and 3 feet (1 meter) high.
b. Two gold rings you shall make for it… they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it: The altar of incense was also carried by the system of rings and poles, just like the Ark of the Covenant, the table of showbread, and the brazen altar with its grate.
2. (6-10) The use of the altar of incense.
“And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”
a. You shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony: The altar of incense stood outside the veil, in the holy place (not in the most holy place). Therefore, it was fairly close to the Ark of the Covenant, yet separated by the veil.
i. It was in the holy place of the tabernacle together with the golden lampstand and the table of showbread. “The table of showbread represented communion with God, the lampstand spoke of testimony to the world, and now the golden altar speaks of the offering of adoration.” (Morgan)
b. Where I will meet with you: Sprinkled throughout this description of the tabernacle and the furnishings were reminders of the purpose of the tabernacle. It was a place for man to meet with God.
c. Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning: Aaron (and other priests after him) were instructed to burn incense on this altar every day as part of their normal priestly duties, both in the morning and in the evening (when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it).
i. Incense is a picture of prayer, in the sweetness of its smell and the way it ascends to heaven (golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints, according to Revelation 5:8). The ministry at the altar of incense speaks of how God’s people should continually come to Him in prayer.
ii. Revelation 8:3-4 describes the golden altar of incense standing before Gods’ throne: Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
d. You shall not offer strange incense on it: Priests were not permitted to offer God whatever they wanted on the altar of incense. Strange incense was prohibited.
e. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it: It was called the altar of incense, but an animal sacrifice or drink offering was never placed upon it.
i. Prayer is not the place sacrificial atonement is made; it is the place sacrificial atonement is enjoyed. We don’t save ourselves through prayer; we pray because of Jesus’ saving work on the cross.
f. Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement: The altar of incense was not a place of sacrifice, but it was a place for atoning blood. On the Day of Atonement, Aaron had to anoint the horns of the altar of incense with blood from the atoning sacrifice.
i. Once a year the altar of incense received the blood of atonement, but it was a place where atonement was remembered and enjoyed, not made.
ii. This illustrates the principle that prayer does not atone for our sins but must always be made in reference to Jesus’ atoning blood. The Day of Atonement was only once a year, but every day when the priests brought a morning and evening offering of incense they saw the blood-stained horns of the altar. This was a constant reminder of the work of atoning blood.
B. The ransom money for a census.
1. (11-12) The reason for the ransom money.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.”
a. When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number: Later in the book of Numbers, two significant censuses were recorded of the nation of Israel. Here God made provision to make a census without being plagued.
b. That there may be no plague among them when you number them: A census put Israel at risk of plague because a census (a numbering) signified ownership. This spoke against God’s ownership of Israel, because in their thinking, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel didn’t belong to Israel; Israel belonged to God. It was up to Him to command a counting.
i. If a count was made without receiving the ransom money, a census communicated the idea that a king or a human leader owned Israel when God alone did. This was David’s problem in 2 Samuel 24:1-25, when David took a census without the ransom money and God plagued Israel.
2. (13-16) How to take a census with ransom money.
“This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”
a. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD: The census was to include everyone aged twenty and over. This seems to be the Israelite age of full adulthood in this sense. Everyone also had to give an equal amount – one-half shekel.
i. This ransom money spoke clearly: everyone owes God; everyone is obligated to Him. “The Lord commanded that every male over twenty years of age should pay half a shekel as redemption money, confessing that he deserved to die, owning that he was in debt to God, and bringing the sum demanded as a type of a great redemption which would by-and-by be paid for the souls of the sons of men.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Later, the ‘half-shekel’ became an annual temple tax (Matthew 17:24).” (Cole)
b. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less… to make atonement for yourselves: This was not a request for a free-will offering, nor was it a proportional tithe. This was more like a flat tax, where everyone paid the same amount, rich or poor – because this was to make atonement. It wasn’t that the money was the atonement, but it marked the ones who were atoned.
i. In this sense, it is not a pattern for our giving under the New Covenant. New Covenant giving should be proportional, under the principle that we should give in proportion to our blessing (1 Corinthians 16:2).
ii. Instead of a pattern of our own giving, this money was a picture of the cost of our own redemption. “The rich were not to give more, the poor not to give less; to signify that all souls were equally precious in the sight of God, and that no difference of outward circumstances could affect the state of the soul; all had sinned, and all must be redeemed by the same price.” (Clarke)
iii. “The half-shekel was not a gift in the sense of a free-will offering. It was a recognition of redemption, a sign of atonement, made and received. Here the rich and the poor stood upon a perfect equality.” (Morgan)
iv. As well, everyone had to pay their own redemption money. No lump sum for every member of the tribe or family could satisfy this obligation.
c. Appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting: This money was given to the service of the tabernacle. There was a large amount of silver needed in the building of the tabernacle, and this is how it was obtained.
i. “It must have weighed something over four tons, and this was dedicated to the use of the tabernacle: the special application of the precious metal was to make sockets into which the boards which made the walls of the tabernacle should be placed.” (Spurgeon)
C. Other needs for the tabernacle.
1. (17-21) The bronze laver.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”
a. Make a laver of bronze: The bronze laver had no specific dimensions. It was essentially a pool for ceremonial washings, set between the brazen altar and the tent of meeting.
b. Of bronze, with its base also of bronze: When it was made, the metal for the bronze laver came from the mirrors of the women of Israel (Exodus 38:8). It was a wonderful thing for people to give up the measure of their own appearance for God’s cleansing.
c. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar: “The laver then was to stand in the great courtyard, before men entered the Tent itself… Priests must certainly have needed to wash after sacrifice and blood ritual, so it had practical value as well.” (Cole)
d. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die: The bronze laver speaks of the washing that is necessary for anyone who would come into the presence of God.
i. The idea was later expressed in a Psalm: Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and pure heart. (Psalm 24:3-4)
ii. When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, He told them: He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean (John 13:10). When we come to Jesus we are initially cleansed (1 Corinthians 6:11) but must also be continually washed from the dust and dirt of the world by having our feet washed by Jesus.
iii. An important way this washing takes place is through God’s Word: the washing of water by the word. (Ephesians 5:26)
2. (22-33) The holy anointing oil.
Moreover the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Also take for yourself quality spices—five hundred shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much sweet-smelling cinnamon (two hundred and fifty shekels), two hundred and fifty shekels of sweet-smelling cane, five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer. It shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy. And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.’”
a. Make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer: This oil was used for anointing the priests and the articles pertaining to service. It was regarded as a sacred compound that could not be imitated nor used as normal perfuming oil.
b. It shall not be poured on man’s flesh: Since oil is emblematic of the Holy Spirit, we see that the Holy Spirit is not poured out to enhance our flesh, but to glorify Himself.
c. Nor shall you make any other like it… it is holy, and it shall be holy to you: This shows that the work of the Holy Spirit is never to be imitated. There is to be no place for encouraging a man-made imitation of the gifts or operations of the Holy Spirit. To do this denies the holiness of the Holy Spirit, regarding His work as something we can do just as well on our own.
i. ‘Very solemn are the injunctions that neither the sacred oil nor the holy incense was to be used in any way for personal gratification.” (Morgan)
3. (34-38) The holy incense.
And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”
a. Make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy: The special incense for the tabernacle was made according to the same principles as the anointing oil. God didn’t want this sacred smell – symbolizing the sweetness of prayer – to be used for human attraction or adornment.
i. “Where so many sacrifices were offered it was essentially necessary to have some pleasing perfume to counteract the disagreeable smells that must have arisen from the slaughter of so many animals, the sprinkling of so much blood, and the burning of so much flesh.” (Clarke)
ii. Salted: “This ‘salting’ of the mixture was probably designed to secure rapid burning, through the addition of sodium chloride. Perhaps it was also done for the preservative value of the salt.” (Cole)
b. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people: God was so concerned to protect the unique character of the tabernacle incense that He commanded excommunication for anyone who would make these holy things common.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission