1 - 10 The Altar of Incense
1 “Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2 Its length [shall be] a cubit, and its width a cubit, it shall be square, and its height [shall be] two cubits; its horns [shall be] of one piece with it. 3 You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and you shall make a gold molding all around for it. 4 You shall make two gold rings for it under its molding; you shall make [them] on its two side walls—on opposite sides—and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over [the ark of] the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps 8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. [There shall be] perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”
This chapter shows the objects needed to approach God as a priest. It starts with the altar of incense. The altar of incense is the second altar. It is in the holy place, just before the veil. The first altar, the burnt offering altar, is in the court. The altar of burnt offering is of bronze, the altar of incense is of gold. Bronze speaks of the righteousness of God, gold speaks of the glory of God.
The incense represents prayer and worship (Psa 141:2; Rev 5:8). The altar is a picture of the Lord Jesus. He brings our incense, which are our prayers and worship, to God (Rev 8:3-4), making it pleasing to God. That the altar is placed “in front of the mercy seat” also reminds of the Lord Jesus as the Advocate to the Father: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1Jn 2:1).
The sizes of the altar of incense are smaller than those of the altar of burnt offering. The altar of burnt offering is there for all people: everyone can be saved on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus. The altar of incense is only for those who have been saved, who can approach as priests with worship to God.
The poles indicate that it is a service that takes place in the wilderness. We may enter the sanctuary in spirit, while our feet are still on earth.
The sacrifice of the incense is directly linked to the lighting of the lamps by Aaron. This speaks of the fact that Divine light is needed to worship God. We need to know how He wants us to worship Him (Jn 4:24). There should be nothing from ourselves, nothing from our own thoughts. God wants to hear from us about His Son what He sees in Him. In His Word He revealed His thoughts about His Son (Mt 3:17; 17:5). Through His Spirit we may see this too.
11 - 16 The Contribution at the Census
11 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13 This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. 14 Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. 15 The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”
The contribution at the census shows for whose benefit the priestly service is performed: a redeemed people. At the census, every person comes personally before God’s face. This means judgment because man is a sinner. But that judgment overlooks those for whom is paid.
This is not about blood, but about money. Blood speaks of reconciliation. Money is paid as a recognition of God’s right to each, here especially in connection with the sanctuary.
With this contribution, the amount is the same for everyone. The poor and the rich pay the same amount. There is no regard of the person with God (Acts 10:34 Job 34:19). Every child of God must be aware of God’s full right over him, whether he has just turned or has known the Lord for some time, whether he knows much or little of the Lord Jesus (Pro 22:2).
David once took a census of the people. After the census, a plague has come upon the people. The cause is that he wanted to know the strength of his people for himself. He has forgotten the contribution that expresses the recognition of God’s right over His people (1Chr 21:1-28).
17 - 21 The Laver
17 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it; 20 when they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire [sacrifice] to the LORD. 21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die; and it shall be a perpetual statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their generations.”
The laver shows on what condition the priestly service is performed. This cleansing is not about cleansing the sinner. In the laver only the hands and feet are washed, while the sinner has to be washed completely. This has already happened to the priest (Exo 29:4). This is about the daily cleansing, about the fact that we are defiled daily because of our walk through the world.
There are four cleansings of the believer:
1. The worst form of defilement is because of a sin we have committed in our lives. Cleansing thereof is done by a sin offering (Lev 4:1-35). We must confess that sin, and again realize – that is, see and acknowledge – that the Lord Jesus had to die for that sin.
2. The second defilement is caused by contact with death. Numbers 19 indicates how to become cleansed from this (Num 19:1-22). This is the case when we go through the world and see or hear things that defile our minds. Then we need cleansing water. By reading God’s Word we become pure.
3. The third form is self-examination in the light of God’s Word before we enter the holy place to do priestly service. We see that in the laver.
4. The fourth form has to do with an even higher form of fellowship, that with the Father and the Son. There is no picture of this in the Old Testament. For this we see the Lord Jesus busy in John 13 (Jn 13:1-11) to give His own part with Him (Jn 13:8b).
No dimensions are given of the laver. This indicates that there is no limit to God’s ability and patience to cleanse.
22 - 33 The Holy Anointing Oil
22 Moreover, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred [shekels], and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, 24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. 25 You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand. 29 You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy. 30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me. 31 You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on anyone’s body, nor shall you make [any] like it in the same proportions; it is holy, [and] it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever shall mix [any] like it or whoever puts any of it on a layman shall be cut off from his people.’”
The holy anointing oil represents the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:20,27). The different spices symbolize the glories of Christ. These glories become manifest in believers who use the gift of grace they have received from the Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit works in and among the believers, it will spread a precious fragrance (Psa 133:2). Where He works, the glory of Christ is revealed.
All utensils of the tabernacle are only used after they have been anointed. Everything in the service for God has value only if it happens as a work of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can come to God that does not come from Him (1Chr 29:14b) and in what comes to Him, Christ must be present (Jn 5:23b). In our service, the glory of Christ must become visible in every element of it.
Only that which is sanctified to God may be anointed with this oil. People who have no life out of God can give the impression that they are in the service of God. There may also be elements in a service to God that appear to have been anointed, but are not. We recognize those people who seem to serve God for example in liberal theologians and those elements for example in preaching universalism, meaning that all people and even the devil will be saved at last. This is evil in the eyes of God. It may have no place in the service to God and must be eradicated.
34 - 38 The Holy Incense
34 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. 35 With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, [and] holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you. 37 The incense which you shall make, you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for the LORD. 38 Whoever shall make [any] like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people.”
The anointing oil is for the service, the incense is directly for God. It is the added value to the sacrifices. That is why the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is so pleasing to God because He has brought it. The glory of His Person made the sacrifice so perfectly pleasing.
Everything with Him is perfectly balanced, “of each” there shall be “an equal part”. He shows perfect love where it is needed and perfect holiness where it is needed. God wants to be reminded of this by us.
We can only look at Him ‘in part’. Our knowing is partial, i.e. in parts or piece by piece (1Cor 13:12). We have to look at each part separately and we are not able to know everything to its full extent. Only God sees all parts in their perfect coherence: nobody knows the Son but the Father (Mt 11:27a). But we can enjoy it. If we sacrifice this incense to God, if we tell Him about the perfection of His Son, we also smell the glory of it.
Just as with the anointing oil the LORD forbids the human being to make anything out of it for himself. It is holy to the LORD, which means that it is only for Him. In him who wants to shine himself with what he has seen of the Lord Jesus, sin will manifest itself. Such a person must be put away from among the believers (1Cor 5:13b).
A picture of this we see in what happened with king Uzzia. He wants to sacrifice incense against the explicit commandment of the LORD. Then leprosy breaks out on his forehead and he is driven out of the temple (2Chr 26:16-21). Counterfeiting in the service to God sets His rights and desires aside. He cannot let happen this unpunished.