Exodus 30 continues to explain the various artifacts of worship contained in the tabernacle.
The altar of incense was a smaller structure than the altar upon which sacrifices were offered, but its design was similar in some aspects. The altar of incense was to be overlaid with gold rather than bronze, but it still had the decorative horns and gold rings for transport. Aaron, or the high priest, was to burn the incense on this altar and it was to be placed before the veil, behind which was the most holy place. This altar of incense was very important to God and was to be purified once a year. The yearly event of purifying things touched by the hands of man would eventually be the annual even called the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16. We may wonder why this altar existed, and why did God direct that it was to burn continuously? Was it to help create an environment that was distinguished from the environment outside of the tabernacle? Was it to foster a sense of holiness and to underscore the importance of this physical space? Very likely the answer is a combination of these. When the people were in the tabernacle, they were as close as they could be to the presence of God, and God wanted to build in reminders of the holiness and the sanctity of that space and more importantly, their relationship with Him.
The ransom money is the earliest incarnation we have of giving money to the Lord so that His work can continue. The description of the money and how it is gathered is connected to a regular census that took place, although the frequency for collection is not detailed at this time. The money was to be used in service to the temple by the Levites, to continue to provide the materials needed to carry out the various aspects of worship. The term “ransom money” is a reference to the fact that the Israelites owed their lives to God. It is because of Him that they are able to live and subsist as they are and regular reminders of this fact reinforces the important dynamics of their relationship with God.
The bronze laver was a bowl for the washing of hands and feet. The presence of this device and the importance placed on it is a sign that this early covenant between God and His people had a huge spiritual component. Recall that the various artifacts of the tabernacle are purified with blood from animal offerings and that Aaron and his sons were also purified with blood. The washing of hands and feet was to happen “lest they die.” This physical cleanliness was not the entire point of the laver and its surrounding commandments, rather, the washing was to remind the people of their lack of holiness and their default state of impurity due to their sin. Washing was a reminder to the high priests and the other priests that they were in a constant need of purification as they ministered to God with the various activities taking place in the tabernacle.
The holy anointing oil takes the idea of purification to an even higher level than the washing at the bronze laver. Verses 22-33 make it clear how valuable the ingredients of the oil are, how then the oil itself is highly valuable, and that the use of the oil was to be taken very seriously. Setting apart materials and men for the use of worship to God was not to be taken lightly and the seriousness with which the Israelites were meant to approach the holy anointing oil was to be of the utmost. Aaron and his sons are part of the anointing process with this valuable oil, signaling that they, like the ark of the covenant, are used in service to the worship of Almighty God. If it was used improperly, the person responsible was to be cast out of the Israelite community. The importance of this oil is not the point, however. The importance of the oil points to a higher truth: that the relationship they have with God was holy, singular, special, and to be respected higher than any other thing. The requirement of the washing, the anointing, the gold and bronze overlays, and ceremonial clothing all work together to compose an environment where the people understand that their relationship with God is more important than anything else.
The incense is also similar in importance and likeness to the holy anointing oil. It was to be used in the altar of incense and the ingredients were distinct and valuable. Stressing the importance of the relationship again, this incense was to be used for no other purpose other than in service to God in the tabernacle. Given the valuable ingredients, it was sure to be a pleasant smell. But if one were to replicate and use it for personal use, they would be cut off from the rest of the Israelite community forever.
The lesson that we can take from this chapter is fairly obvious: the relationship that man has with God is more important than anything. Even though we do not have physical materials prescribed in the New Testament like the ones described here, we can rest assured that the spiritual rigors that we employ in our service to God are just as important as the bronze laver and the holy anointing oil.