Exodus 30
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
5. The Altar of Incense. Exodus 30:1–10

The reason why the directions concerning the altar of incense are given so late is seen in the design of it, which puts it among the things directly connected with the ritual worship; also in the fact that it marks the last point in the movement of the priest towards the Holy of holies, the highest point in the ritual before the entrance into the Holy of holies. This eminent position is even indicated in the circumstance that, being slender in form, gilt all over, adorned besides with a golden rim, furnished with golden rings, even with golden staves to carry it with, it stands at the middle of the veil of the Holy of holies, bearing a direct relation to the mercy-seat. For this reason we would rather find a theological idea than an archæological error in that passage of the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:4) which puts it in the Holy of holies. For this is the altar which by its incense symbolizes the prayer of the high-priest (Rev. 5:8; Heb. 5:7). On the day of atonement (according to Lev. 16:13) the incense is to be carried into the Holy of holies and fill the whole room. The morning and evening sacrifice on the altar of burnt-offering are here to find their higher expression in the fragrant incense which Aaron has to offer morning and evening in the holy place; and it is not without significance that this incense is intimately connected with those sacrifices. In the morning he is to burn incense when he trims the lamps, and in the evening when he lights them; for without illumination and the light of knowledge even his prayer does not attain its higher form of sacerdotal intercession. The incense, moreover, is to be a perpetual one before Jehovah, and so to continue throughout the future generations. This implies the exclusion, in the first place, of common incense, for not all prayers are true prayers, e. g. those of selfishness and fanaticism; secondly, of the burnt-offering, for here the material point is the offering of the heart, not mortifications of the body; finally, of meal-offerings and drink-offerings, for prayer requires abstemiousness. Finally, the altar of prayer is to have its horns sprinkled once a year with the blood of the sin-offering as an atonement. This doubtless was simultaneous with the sprinkling of the mercy-seat, but had not the same meaning. The expiation is offered to the mercy-seat; the altar of incense is covered with the expiation newly dedicated by it.

6. The Assessments for the Temple. Exo 30:11–16

It should be here observed that in this section there is no reference to the temporary work of building the tabernacle, but to those things which enter into the regular ritual service which is to continue through future time. It is therefore certainly an error when Keil and Knobel start out with the notion that the shekel or half-shekel of the sanctuary is to be expended once for all on the erection of the tabernacle. The tabernacle itself was to be built from voluntary contributions (35:5), not from legally imposed taxes, and in this voluntary way more was given than was needed (36:5 sqq.). Moreover, the designation of the use of the money, עַל־עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד [“for the service of the tent of meeting,” Exo 30:16], does not mean: for the work of the building, but: for the perpetual service of God in the building. This is implied also in Luther’s translation [and in the A. V.]. Moreover, it is said, that this tax is to be collected from the Israelites when the census of the adult males is taken. But such an enumeration did not take place till after the tabernacle was erected (Num. 1:1–18).1 These enumerations, too, had to be repeated from time to time. The question is easily solved when we reflect on the continuous pecuniary demands made by the sacrificial service. Besides the personal occasions for special offerings (Lev. 1 sqq.), a perpetual sacrificial service was ordained. For this service (29:38 and in this place.), which is to be distinguished from the great offering at the dedication of the tabernacle (Num. 7), and not less from the consecratory offerings or heave-offerings for the priests (Ex. 29:9 sqq.). a legally-imposed tax for the temple was necessary; for the priests had themselves no means for it. This explains also how this contribution serves for expiation (Exo 30:12); it did not do this directly, but because it served for the permanent expiation of the people by means of the offerings. In this connection it is important to observe the directions, that only adult men make the contribution for this expiation, and that every man, as representative of the whole congregation of the people, without distinction of poor and rich, contributed the same amount, viz. half a shekel. As a consequence of the census this tax had also to be paid by the Levites. The sacred shekel, different from the common one, is afterwards more exactly defined; and as the half-shekel amounted to 13 groschen [i. e., 31 cents, or 1 shilling and 3 pence; but vid. note on p. 91], the tax could not fall heavily on any man able to bear arms. Only it is to be remarked, that the taxation—as well as the census itself—is imposed on the adult members of the political congregation of the people. By this payment the consecrated congregation of the people is distinguished from a people in the unconsecrated state of nature.—כֹּפֶר is the term applied to the payment on account of the use for which it was designed. So also the enumeration is indirectly an enumeration, or review, which Jehovah institutes with His people. It is true that in the voluntary gifts of silver for the building of the sanctuary the precept concerning the half-shekel was taken as a standard.2

7. The Laver. Exo 30:17–21 (38:8)

The command concerning the copper laver is not, as some would think, to be regarded as a supplementary direction: it is connected with the foregoing as being the last thing through the medium of which the regular services of the tabernacle were carried on. The expiation which the Israelites have to pay for with the half-shekel applies to the Levites and priests (comp. Matt. 17:25, where no exception seems to be made). Besides this there were special expiations for the priests, when they were consecrated, and on the day of atonement. But all this was not sufficient to make them appear as pure men in reference to their daily deportment. They were obliged on penalty of death to wash their hands and feet, when they were about to enter the inner sanctuary, or even only to approach the altar of burnt-offering to minister. This washing symbolizes a purification from the daily (even unconscious) defilements. Later the Pharisees applied the practice of washing the hands also to preparation for the daily meals (Mark 7:3 sqq.); and little as Christ sanctioned this ordinance, He yet made the washing of the feet a highly significant transaction before the Passover meal and the first Lord’s supper.—As to the base (כֵּן) of the laver in particular, the passage 38:8 has led to extended discussions. The expression בְּמַרְאֹת, etc., may mean “from [of] the mirrors,” as the LXX. and Vulg. translate. This explanation is reduced to an ascetic or pietistic form by Heng-stenberg, who says that what heretofore had served as a means of gaining the good-will of the world was henceforth to become a means of gaining the good-will of God. According to this, then, there ought to be no mirrors in pious households, and especially none in a pastor’s robing-room. We would confidently [with Bähr] render: “[provided] with women’s mirrors,” were it not that brass itself had been used for metal mirrors, and that בְּ might also mean “as,” “in the character of,” according to which the passage would mean: “to serve as mirrors for women.”3—Observing here again the general connection, we see that the topic is not the erection of the tabernacle, but life in the tabernacle as marked by the sacred utensils permanently belonging to it. Furthermore, it is clear that reference is made to crowds of women who were to come into the court. Keil, it is true, observes with regard to the character of these women: “The צֹבְאֹת are indeed, according to 1 Sam. 1:22, women; not washer-women, however, but women who devoted their lives to pious exercises,” etc. But, it may be asked, might not the pious exercises consist just in the washing of the sanctuary and keeping it clean? Or could not the women who did the washing be pious women? Luther, it is well known, thought otherwise. Knobel remarks, with entire correctness, that before the erection of the tabernacle there could be nothing said of women coming into the court of the tabernacle; but he adds a most singular explanation of the passage. Furthermore, we must ask, what could here be the use of the expression, “out of the mirrors of the women,” since it is related beforehand that all the materials for the building and its furniture were furnished voluntarily and in the mass?4 The LXX. seem first to have invented this ascetic notion—one which in the connection has no sense at all. As to this connection, however, we are to observe that this base sustained the laver of the priests. If now they had to cleanse themselves in preparation for their service, is it not to be expected that a similar command was imposed on the women who kept the court in order? To be sure, they could not wash themselves in the court, at least not their feet, from considerations of modesty; and they did not need to do it, since they did not have to touch the altar. But they were quite fittingly reminded of their duty to appear comely by the mirrors of the base,5 on which the laver rested, and in which the priests were to cleanse themselves. It is easy to see that this use of the base was for the purposes of symbolic admonition rather than of the toilette. We also find it more natural that the mirror, at its first appearance in the Scriptures, should receive this higher symbolic significance, according to which the law is also called a mirror, than that it should at the outset be proscribed with the remark, that henceforth the pious women used no more mirrors. In its spiritual sense the washing of the priests is also a perpetual ordinance.

8. The Holy Anointing Oil. Exo 30:22–33

In the case of the anointing oil, it is at once obvious that it is not designed to be used simply at the erection of the tabernacle. In the first place, direction is given of what materials and in what proportions it shall be compounded; next, the use of the oil is stated, i. e., to anoint the several parts of the sanctuary; finally, there is enunciated the sternest prohibition against any imitation of this sacred anointing oil for common use. The number four being the mundane number [the four points of the compass], the union of four fragrant spices with olive oil indicates that the sanctuary is to be dedicated with the noblest of the world’s products, as combined with the oil of unction, the spirit of the sanctuary. If one were to look for pairs of opposites, myrrh and cinnamon might be taken as related to one another; so calamus and cassia. It might be said of the myrrh, that it denotes that fine, higher kind of pain which enables one to overcome natural pain; cinnamon denotes the warmest feeling of light and life; the bitterness of calamus might also be noticed; but the significance of the cassia is difficult to determine. With this ointment everything in the sanctuary is anointed, Aaron not excepted. But it is pronounced to be a most severe and punishable offence for common men to aspire to make this composition (this reconciliation) of the spiritual perfumes of the world and the spiritual oil of the sanctuary. On the anointing oil vid. Bähr, Symbolik II., p. 173. The correct method of preparing it is called a sacred art.

9. The Holy Incense. Exo 30:34–38

As in the anointing oil four kinds of spices are combined with oil as the base of the ointment and are subsidiary to it, so it is here the pure frankincense which constitutes the base; but the spices combined with it are three in number. Inasmuch as the incense certainly symbolizes prayer (Ps. 141:2), we may naturally look for three principal occasions of prayer. The first and noblest resembles the spontaneous exudation of trees, suggesting the breathings of prayer prompted by the higher life. The second substance is a pulverized shell of a mollusk—something obtained by crushing; the meaning of this is readily understood, vid. Ps. 51:19 [17]. “According to modern authorities, when burnt alone it (the onycha) has a bad odor; but everywhere, e. g., in India, it is made the fundamental ingredient of incense, and imparts to the materials of the incense their real strength” (Knobel). The third substance, galbanum, being used as an antidote to the most diverse injurious forces, seems fitted to denote the divine remedial force in the soul, as being liable to be irritated by the most manifold injurious influences. Says Knobel: “I had the sacred incense of the Hebrews prepared in the laboratory of Prof. Mettenheimer in Giessen; I tested it, and found its odor strong, refreshing, and very agreeable.” In this case the ingredients are of equal weight; the rigorous prohibition of imitation for common use is the same. This may symbolize that prayer is not to be used for selfish or worldly purposes. It is incorrect, with Knobel, to say that the incense consists of the same number of ingredients as the anointing oil.


1[Keil and Knobel infer from 38:26 that a census was taken before the tabernacle was finished, and that the one mentioned in Num. 1 is the same thing more formally executed and recorded. The identity of the numbers in 38:26 and Num. 1:46 seems to favour this supposition.—TR.]

2[This refers to the above-mentioned correspondence between 38:26 and Num. 1:46. Lange apparently makes the former describe the voluntary contributions of the people for the construction of the tabernacle. But if it was, it is singular that a purely voluntary contribution, when summed up, should have proved to amount to exactly one-half a shekel for each adult male.—TR.]

3[This certainly is not a satisfactory explanation. Not to mention that grammatically it is the least probably, it is almost inconceivable that it should be said, that the laver was made of brass in order that it might serve as a mirror for the women who ministered at the tabernacle! If Hengstenberg’s interpretation partakes of a pietistic spirit, surely this is the opposite extreme. Knobel renders מַרְאֹת, etc., by “Anblicken,” i.e., views, or figures, “of women marching up to the door of the tabernacle.” He adds: “Probably they were Levite women who at particular times presented themselves in a sort of procession at the sanctuary, in order there to wash, to clean, to furbish.” But we can hardly agree with him that “such figures were appropriate on the vessel which was for the priests to wash from.” Grammatically too this rendering is open to the same objection as that of Bähr’s viz. that בְּ cannot naturally to rendedred “with,” in the sense of “accompanied by” or “furnished with.” Keil’s statement, that בְּ “never signifies with in the sense of outward addition,” is too strong (comp. Ps. 66:13); but certainly that is a rare use of the preposition. The translation, “made the laver of brass.…of the mirros” etc., is the easiest; but it is not necessary in adopting it to adopt Hengstenberg’s theory of the significance of the thing.—TR.]

4[The use of the observation was to state a fact. And this supposition is in no way interfered with by the circumstance that the contributions for the tabernacle were made voluntarily.—TR.]

5[Lange understands that only the base, not the whole laver, was made to serve for this purpose. The attempt made in what follows to meet the obvious objection to his theory, viz. that the use attributed to this copper base is quite out of keeping with the tenor of the narrative, is rather strained. The symbolic use certainly cannot exclude the literal use. The declaration, therefore, must stand that the base (or the whole laver) was made in order to serve for the purpose of mirrors for the attendant women. But if the symbolic use was the chief or only one, why confine it to the women? Did not the priests need such admonition as Well as they?—TR.]

And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Exodus 29
Top of Page
Top of Page