The laver and the anointing oil.
I. THE LAVER ( Exodus 30:17-22 ). This was to be made of brass (bronze), and was to be placed near the door of the tabernacle between it and the altar. It was to be used by Aaron and his sons for purposes of ablution. A new symbol of the purity required in those who serve before Jehovah. The Christian contracts daily defilements in his walk, for which also daily cleansing is required (cf. John 13:10 ; 1 John 1:7 ).
II. THE ANOINTING OIL ( Exodus 30:22-34 ). Precious, fragrant, holy. To be applied not only to Aaron and his sons, but to the tabernacle and all its vessels. See Homily on Consecration ( Exodus 24:6 , Exodus 24:7 ). The oil is the symbol of the Spirit. The holiness imparted to Aaron and his sons by this anointing, and by the rites of consecration generally, was indeed no more than a ceremonial or official holiness. It pertained to the office rather than to the man. Yet the holders of the office were, in virtue of their consecration, laid under obligations to personal holiness as well. The private character of the priest might not avail to nullify his official acts; but the absence in the public representative of the spiritual qualifications for his office would not be allowed to go unpunished. Iniquity in the priest would be visited both on priest and people.— J . O .
An oil of holy ointment. Literally, "an oil of holy anointing," or "a holy anointing oil," as our translators render in Exodus 30:31 , and also in the last clause of the present verse. An ointment compound after the art of the apothecary. Not a simple mixture of the ingredients mentioned, but the product of trained skill and knowledge applied to the materials. Jewish tradition says that the essence of each spice was extracted from it, and only these essences mingled with the olive oil. We are told later ( Exodus 37:29 ) that the task of preparing the holy oil was committed to Bezaleel.
The sweetness of the Holy anointing Oil . The holy oil had infused into it the essence of four "principal spices"—myrrh, that scents the garments of the great king ( Psalms 45:8 ; So Psalms 3:6 ); cinnamon, the choicest of the spices of distant and; sweet calamus, that exhales its best fragrance when bruised; cassia, which, together with sweet calamus, formed one of the glories of the market of Tyro ( Ezekiel 27:19 ). How passing sweet must have been the odour of these blended perfumes—each delicious alone—all enhanced by the combination, which had taxed the best skill of the "apothecary" ( Exodus 30:25 )! But the sweetness of our anointing oil is greater. "We have an unction from the Holy One." Our "anointing oil" is the Blessed Spirit of God. What is there in all the experiences of this world so sweet to the weary soul as he? How sweet and dear is he—
I. Is THE SOFT GENTLENESS OF HIS DESCENT UPON US . Silently, unperceivedly, without sight, or sound, or stir, the gentle influence comes—steals into the heart—only by degrees makes its presence known to us. A crisis—a manifest change—"tongues of fire," or the rush of a "mighty wind" would cause the weak believer to tremble with fear, and perhaps draw back to his undoing. Our "anointing oil" descends upon us soft as "the dew of Hermon, which fell upon the hill of Sion."
"He comes, sweet influence to impart,
A gracious willing guest,
While he can find one humble heart
Wherein to rest."
II. IN THE METHOD OF HIS ORDINARY WORKING . Not by rude shocks, or sudden terrible alarms; but by the mild coercion of little checks and scarcely-felt restraints—by whispers softly breathed into the ear of the soul—by the suggestion of good thoughts—by the presentation of holy memories—does he effect his ends. Wise as any serpent, harmless as his own emblem, the dove, he feeds us as we are able to receive of him. He has "milk" for such as stand in need of milk. He has "strong meat' for such as can bear it. Manifold and diverse are his gifts, but given to every man "to profit withal" ( 1 Corinthians 12:7 ).
"His is that gentle voice we hear,
Soft as the breath of even,
That checks each fault, that calms each fear.
And speaks of Heaven.
"And every virtue we possess,
And every conquest won,
And every thought of holiness,
Are his alone."
III. IN HIS PATIENCE WITH US WHEN WE ABE WAYWARD . God once declared, "My spirit shall not always strive with man" ( Genesis 6:3 ); and Scripture warns us that the Holy Ghost may be "resisted" ( Acts 7:51 ) and even "quenched" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:19 ). But how wonderful is his patience and forbearance towards those who thwart and oppose him! How unwilling is he to give them up! How loth to quit their souls, and leave them to their own guidance! Assuredly he is "provoked every day" by each one of us. But he is not even angry—he simply "grieves" ( Ephesians 4:30 )—is "vexed" ( Isaiah 63:10 )—made sorrowful. No sooner do we show any signs of relenting than he forgives—encourages us, cheers, comforts, consoles. "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Such a friend to man is "the Comforter."
IV. IN HIS KINDNESS TOWARDS US WHEN WE TURN TO HIM . It is the Christian's privilege to speak with God "as a man to his friend" ( Exodus 33:11 ). With the in-dwelling Spirit we may ever have this "mystic sweet communion." Would we speak to him at any moment, his ear is attent to hear. Unworthy as we are, unclean as we are, rebellious as we are, and self-willed, and self-seeking, he will commune with us, if we will commune with him—he will tell us of the things of heaven, "guide us into all truth" ( John 16:13 ), "receive of Christ's and show it unto us" ( ib, 14). The sweetness of such commune is inexpressible—it may well "ravish our heart" (So Exodus 4:9 ) and make us "sick of love" (So Exodus 5:8 ).
The golden altar and the perfume.
The golden altar was of small dimensions, a cubit in length, a cubit in breadth, and two cubits high. It was a true altar, as shown by its square shape, and by its horns. Its place was immediately in front of the vail dividing the two portions of the sanctuary, with the innermost or' which—the holy of holies—it was regarded as having the more intimate connection ( 1 Kings 6:22 ; Hebrews 9:4 ). The command was that Aaron should burn upon it sweet incense morning and evening—in the morning when he trimmed, and in the evening when he lighted, the lamps. This was done, in the one case, at the offering of morning, in the other, at the offering of evening sacrifice, the synchronism of the acts deserving our attention. Once a year the horns of the altar were to be smeared with the blood of the sin-offering. Minute directions are given for the making of the incense ( Exodus 30:34-38 ). It was to be "salted, pure, and holy" ( Exodus 30:35 ). The burning of this incense on the altar was at once a symbol of prayer and devotion, and a call to the congregation to engage in these spiritual exercises ( Psalms 141:2 ; Luke 1:10 ; Revelation 5:8 ; Revelation 8:3 , Revelation 8:4 ). As an act of the priest, it may be viewed as a type of the intercession of Christ. The service of this altar suggests the following ideas—
1 . Prayer—taking the word in its widest sense, as denoting the exercise of.all devout feeling and spiritual desire towards God— is the holiest act of the spiritual life . It is figured as incense. And the altar of incense stood in immediate relation with the holy of holies. The altar and the incense offered upon it, are declared to be "most holy" ( Exodus 30:10 , Exodus 30:36 ). The reason is not difficult to find. The very essence of the devotional life expresses itself in prayer. Its love, its awe, its thankfulness, its aspirations, its unutterable yearnings after God—its breathings after holiness, its very contrition and sorrow for its sins—all ascend to Jehovah in this supreme act of the nature. Words bear but a small part in prayer. The province of words is to define. Hence the soul, in the intensity of its aspirations, in its reachings out towards the infinite, often feels the need of escaping from words, of leaving them behind. Prayer becomes "the burden of a sigh"—"the falling of a tear"—perhaps a purely inward act of the mind realising union with Jehovah. Or its uncontrollable desires may express themselves in "groanings which cannot be uttered" ( Romans 8:26 ). And it is precisely these unutterable parts of our prayers which are the sweetest to God. The appropriate symbol of them is the incense, rising in its unconfined wreaths from the priest's censer, or from the golden altar.
2 . Prayer is an act of sacrifice . "In prayer," says Martensen, "the profoundest act of conscience and obedience is inwardly accomplished, for prayer is only in so far a laying hold and appropriation of God, as it is likewise a sacrifice; and we can only receive God into us when we likewise give ourselves to him. he who offers no sacrifice in his prayer, who does not sacrifice his selfwill, does not really pray."
3 . The connection with the sacrifice of burnt-offering . The coals for the altar of incense were brought from the altar of burnt-offering (cf. Le Exodus 16:12 , Exodus 16:13 ). This teaches that the worshipper needs reconciling before he can acceptably offer the sacrifices of his devotion. But there is a further connection, arising from the significance of the burnt-offering as a symbol of dedication. Keil says truly—"The incense-offering was not only a spiritualising and transfiguring of the burnt-offering, but a completion of it also." The connection may be stated thus. The yielding up of the life to God, symbolised in the continual burnt-offering, transforms itself in practice into the three following modes of self-surrender.
1 . Holy practical activity, of which the fruit, good works, is represented in the shew - bread .
2 . Public witness-bearing for God, by manifestation of the truth, and by holiness of walk—represented by the candlestick .
3 . Devotion—"the soul's going forth to unite itself in appropriate actings with the great centre of Being, and to devote its own inmost being to him" (Fairbairn)—symbolised by the burning of the incense . This is the culminating act of self-devotion, and crowns the sanctuary-worship, raises it to its consummation.
4 . Connection with light . The incense was to be burned at the time of the trimming, and again of the lighting of the lamps. The brighter the light, the purer the devotion. In Christianity no countenance is given to the maxim that devotion is connected with ignorance. Christ and his apostles attach the utmost importance to the possession of right knowledge, and to growth in it. Growth in knowledge is the condition of sanctification, of spiritual fruitfulness, of enlargement of nature, of being filled with all the fulness of God.
5 . Prayer a daily duty . The "perpetual incense before the Lord" reminds us of the apostolic injunction, "Pray without ceasing" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ). Prayer, devotion, is to be the element we live in. And prayer, "with thanksgiving," is to sanctify everything we do ( Ephesians 5:20 ; Philippians 4:6 ; Colossians 3:17 ; 1 Timothy 4:4 , 1 Timothy 4:5 ).— J . O .