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Verses 1-38

The Altar of Incense. The Ransom Money. The Laver. The Anointing Oil. The Incense

1-10. The Altar of Incense. The use of incense in worship was probably due to the worshipper’s desire to honour God by offering to Him what he enjoys himself. ’Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart’ (Proverbs 27:9). It served also to counteract the strong smell of burning flesh, and was therefore usually presented as an accompaniment of sacrifice, and offered either in censers (Leviticus 10:1; Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 16:17), or on an altar erected for the purpose, as here. In Scripture incense is an emblem of prayer, probably because its smoke ascends to the clouds, where God is supposed to dwell: see e.g. Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3. The existence of this altar of incense at the time of Moses has been disputed. In about one hundred places mention is made of ’the altar’ as if there was only one, that of burnt offering; no mention is made of an altar of incense in Leviticus 16, where it might have been expected; it is not alluded to among the furniture of Solomon’s temple; and the directions given here for its construetion would have stood more naturally in Exodus 25 or 26, where the omission is somewhat strange. It is accordingly supposed that this passage, and others where an altar of incense is spoken of, are of later date: see on Exodus 30:6. Indeed, the whole of Exodus 30, 31 is believed by some to be a later addition. Observe the solemn conclusion at the end of Exodus 29.

2. On the horns, see on Exodus 27:2. Of the same] see on Exodus 25:31.

3. Pure gold] Hence this altar is called ’the golden altar’ (Exodus 39:38; Exodus 40:26; Numbers 4:11; Hebrews 9:4; RM, etc.), to distinguish it from the altar of burnt offering, which is called the ’brazen altar’ (Exodus 39:39). Crown] i.e. rim or moulding, as in Exodus 25:11.

6. Before the vail] This means outside the veil and, therefore, in the Holy Place, not in the Holy of Holies, where it would be inaccessible save once a year, when the High Priest entered on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16): see on Exodus 40:5. In Hebrews 9:4, however, it is said to have stood within the Holy of Holies. There seems to have been some doubt, therefore, as to its position in the tabernacle, a fact which is reflected in the construction of this v., which is overloaded and apparently self-contradictory. The altar is before the veil, and it is also before the mercy seat. The LXX omits the words ’before the mercy seat.. testimony.’ This confusion corroborates the view that this altar did not belong to the original furniture of the tabernacle: see on Exodus 30:1-10.

9. Strange incense] i.e. incense prepared differently from that prescribed in Exodus 30:34-38: see on Leviticus 10:1. Meat offering] RV ’meal offering’: see on Leviticus 2.

10. Make atonement upon it] RV ’for it.’ Owing to the imperfection of all human worship, the altar itself needs to be cleansed with a special rite: see on Exodus 28:38; Exodus 29:36. The reference here is to the ceremonial of the yearly Day of Atonement, for which see Leviticus 16. Most holy] see on Leviticus 2:3.

11-16. The Ransom Money. It is here enacted that, when a census is taken, every person above the age of twenty shall pay half a shekel as his ransom. At the time of a census the people would be impressed with the great privilege of membership in God’s chosen nation, and at the same time with their unworthiness to be reckoned in a ’kingdom of priests’: see on Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6. This need of atonement underlies the payment of a money ransom, which is here called a ’ransom, or atonement, for your souls.’ It is to be distinguished from the money given as a redemption for the firstborn, for which see Exodus 13:13. For the use made of the ransom money, see Exodus 38:25-28.

12. When thou takest the sum] A census of the people was probably in contemplation at this time, and was made twice during the forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness: see Numbers 1, 26. Whether it was done regularly does not appear. In time the half shekel became an annual tax devoted to the maintenance of the public sacrifices in the Temple: see e.g. Matthew 17:24. Plague] as the result of disobedience.

13. Half a shekel] A silver shekel was equal to fully half-a-crown. The shekel of the sanctuary seems to have been a standard weight, and was probably preserved by the priests in the sanctuary.

14. Twenty was the age when liability to military service began (Numbers 1:3).

15. All give alike, for it is a ransom for the soul or life, and all souls are equal in the sight of God.

16. For the service of the tabernacle] see Exodus 38:25-28.

17-21. The Laver. This was of bronze (see on Exodus 25:3), and stood in the court of the tabernacle between the altar of burnt offering and the door of the sanctuary, and held the water required for the ablutions of the priests (Exodus 30:19-21 see on Exodus 29:4). According to Exodus 38:8 it was made of the mirrors of the serving women: see on Numbers 4:11. Solomon’s Temple had ten lavers (1 Kings 7:24-43).

22-33. The Holy Anointing Oil.

23. Calamus] The word means ’reed’ or ’cane.’ Several species of aromatic reed are known in the East.

24. Cassia] a kind of cinnamon of a very pungent flavour. An hin] about a gallon and a half.

25. Apothecary] RV ’perfumer.’ In the warm East ointments and perfumes are greatly employed as cosmetics, and the art of preparing these is carried to a high degree of perfection. Among the Jews there was a guild of perfumers in later times.

29. Most holy] see on Leviticus 2:3.

32. Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured] It must be reserved for the priests, and not used as an ordinary unguent: see Exodus 30:33.

33. Stranger] one who is not a priest, as in Exodus 29:33. Cutoff] see on Exodus 12:15.

34-38. The Incense.

34. Stacte] a kind of gum, probably myrrh. Onycha] part of the shell of a shell fish. It burns with a pungent odour. Galbanum] a gum resin. Frankincense] a fragrant gum obtained by slitting the bark of an Indian tree, which was also to be found in ancient times in Arabia: see e.g. Isaiah 60:6; Ezekiel 27:22. The substance called in modern times ’common frankincense’ is obtained largely from fir trees. The English word means ’pure incense.’

35. RV ’and thou shalt make of it incense, a perfume after the art of the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.’ Salt, as preventing corruption, is the symbol of purity and durability; it was used with all sacrifices both animal and vegetable: see Leviticus 2:13; Ezra 6:9; Ezekiel 43:24; Mark 9:49. Among the Arabs salt is the emblem of fidelity and lasting friendship. To have ’eaten salt’ with a person, and so partaken of his hospitality, is equivalent to a pledge of mutual and indissoluble amity. Hence in OT. a ’covenant of salt’ is one that cannot be broken: see Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5, and cp. Ezra 4:14 (AM) and Mark 9:50.

37. This particular compound is not to be used for any profane purpose: cp. the similar direction in the case of the holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:32-33).

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