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The Altar of Incense


You shall make an altar on which to offer incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2It shall be one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it shall be square, and shall be two cubits high; its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top, and its sides all around and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. 4And you shall make two golden rings for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall hold the poles with which to carry it. 5You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6You shall place it in front of the curtain that is above the ark of the covenant, in front of the mercy seat that is over the covenant, where I will meet with you. 7Aaron shall offer fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall offer it, 8and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall offer it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. 9You shall not offer unholy incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10Once a year Aaron shall perform the rite of atonement on its horns. Throughout your generations he shall perform the atonement for it once a year with the blood of the atoning sin offering. It is most holy to the Lord.

The Half Shekel for the Sanctuary

11 The Lord spoke to Moses: 12When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. 13This is what each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. 14Each one who is registered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. 15The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to the Lord to make atonement for your lives. 16You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting; before the Lord it will be a reminder to the Israelites of the ransom given for your lives.

The Bronze Basin

17 The Lord spoke to Moses: 18You shall make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it; 19with the water Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die: it shall be a perpetual ordinance for them, for him and for his descendants throughout their generations.

The Anointing Oil and Incense

22 The Lord spoke to Moses: 23Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, 24and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; 25and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, 27and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand; 29you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. 30You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests. 31You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.”

34 The Lord said to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), 35and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; 36and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. 37When you make incense according to this composition, you shall not make it for yourselves; it shall be regarded by you as holy to the Lord. 38Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from the people.

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1. And thou shalt make an altar. God now issues His commands respecting the altar of burnt incense, whereby the people were assured that the odor of the worship under the Law was sweet to Him. This ceremony indeed also prevailed among the Gentiles; whence there is frequent mention made by heathen authors of incense-burning; but what its object was they knew not themselves, nor did they care to reflect upon its proper intention, since they conceived themselves to have done all that was required of them, by the bare sign itself. In this way, however, God would encourage His believing people, by giving them to know that the worship which they offered at this command sent up to him a sweet savor. Meanwhile He admonished them diligently to beware lest any uncleanness should profane their sacrifices, but that they should come cleansed and pure into His sight. And David applies this type specially to prayer, when he says:

"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.”
(Psalm 131:2.)

Therefore, as the other altar of which we have been hearing, was devoted to the victims for the purpose of propitiating God, so also this altar perfumed the sacrifices with the odor of its incense, that they might be acceptable to God. Hence it was placed near the ark of the testimony, though with the vail between, that its savor might ascend directly to God without any let or hindrance. There is no ambiguity in the words, except that some think there is a repetition where it is said, “every morning,” and “between the two evens;” 152152     A. V., Margin, ver. 8. others suppose that there are two separate oblations, and this latter view is the more probable, i.e., that the incense was offered morning and evening. He afterwards forbids either the altar itself to be transferred to other uses, or any other kind of incense to be burnt upon it; of this he will speak elsewhere.

10. And Aaron shall make an atonement. We should observe here the correspondence between the two altars; for, as the Israelites were admonished that the sacrifices would not please God, unless all uncleanness were wiped away by pure and holy prayers, so also the altar of incense was purified by the sprinkling of blood, that they might learn that their prayers obtained acceptance through sacrifices. Although this was only done once a year, yet it was daily to be called to mind, in order that they might offer the death of Christ by faith and prayer, 153153     “Ut fide et precibus adolerent mortem Christi.” — Lat. “Afin qu’en appliquant a eux la vertu de la mort de Jesus Christ par foy et prieres;” in order that applying to themselves the virtue of the death of Jesus Christ by faith and prayers. — Fr. and yet might know that their prayers had no sweet savor, unless in so far as they were sprinkled with the blood of atonement.

12. When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel. The tribute which God here demands at the taking of the census, is very fitly annexed to the First Commandment; for God, in making them tributary to Himself, shews that they were under His jurisdiction and power; and because He had purchased them to Himself, He willed that this voluntary gift of acknowledgment should be paid to Him. Princes, in numbering their subjects, make an estimate of their power; but God, who needs not the aid and assistance of men, would have the Israelites testify, at least by some sign, that they live in subjection to Him by whom they were redeemed. Therefore, when David numbered the people, (2 Samuel 24:2,) it was a kind of emancipation of them from their subjection to God; and hence this pride, or temerity, or ingratitude, was so severely punished. But because it was useful and right that the people should be numbered, it is permitted upon this condition, that by paying a ransom for every individual, they should acknowledge God as their sole King. The word is not badly rendered by some an atonement or expiation, because, whilst they confessed that they owed their life to God, He was appeased towards them on the score of this testimony of their gratitude. But it may be derived from a word meaning to cover; for when they voluntarily subjected themselves to God, and fled beneath the shelter of his wings, they were protected and secure, under this covering. Therefore it is said below, that this gift was offered to God as “an atonement for their souls;” and this is expressed in other words, that there should “be no plague” or destruction among them, because their safety rested in God’s protection alone, that they should not be exposed to any evils. And since they had been Pharaoh’s servants, their freedom would have been unlawful unless God had authorized and maintained it. Wherefore it was just. that they should ascribe their deliverance by a solemn rite to God, lest they should suffer the punishment of fugitive slaves. But He appointed the same sum for all, that every one, of whatever rank, from the least, to the greatest, might know that they were altogether His. Nor need we wonder, that since this was a personal due, (as it is commonly phrased,) their condition was not taken into account, so that the rich should pay more than the poor, but that the same price should be paid for every soul. The shekel330330     I am indebted to an anonymous writer in that useful little publication, “Notes and Queries,” vol. 5, p. 325, for the following note. Having given a translation almost identical with that in the text, he adds, “which is as much as to say, that the sickle (or shekel) equalled 14 solidi, less four deniers; or 13.67 solidi. But owing to the rapid declension in the value of French coin after the tenth century, it is manifestly impossible to assign a value to these solidi, unless the precise date of their coinage were known. A writer may, of course, allude to coin indefinitely precedent to his own time. In the present ease, however, we may, as a matter of curiosity, analytically approximate to a result in this way: — The drachm, is now known to have contained about 65 grains of pure silver, consequently the tetradrachma contained 260 grains. The present franc contains about 70 grains of pure silver, and consequently the sol, or 20th part, is 3.5 grains. This last multiplied by 13.67 produces about 48 grains. But the weight of the tetradrachma is 260 grains; therefore the sol with which the comparison was made, must have contained upwards of fivefold its present value in pure silver. Now, according to the depreciation tables of M. Dennis, this condition obtained in 1483, under Charles VIII., at which time Budaeus was actually living, having been born in 1467; but from other circumstances I am induced to believe that the solidus Gallicus mentioned by him was coined by Louis XII. in 1498, at which time the quantity of pure silver was fourfold and a half that of the present day.” Dean Prideaux, Connexion 1:3, says, “Every Jew annually paid a half shekel, i.e., about eighteenpence of our money.” of the sanctuary was equivalent to an Attic tetra-drachma, which Budaeus estimates at 14 sols French, or thereabouts; for the didrachma amounts to seven sols, and the common drachma to three and a half sols, minus a denier Tournois. This is the didrachma of which mention is made in Matthew 17:24; for when the Jews were conquered by the Romans, it is probable that, in order to make their yoke more galling, this right of tribute was transferred to their conquerors. For this divinely prescribed offering being the symbol of their freedom, exempted the Jews from all heathen dominion, as if free or only belonging to God. But. since by their own rebellion they had shaken off God’s yoke, He purposely suffered them to be despoiled of their right, in order to subject them to the tyranny of strangers. And this occurred just before Christ’s coming, that this new and unwonted oppression might increase their longing for Him. But inasmuch as this tribute was paid by command of the Law, the Jews were reminded that they were a people consecrated to God.

18. Thou shalt also make a laver of brass. Although this oblation was a sign of the purity which God required in His priests, yet, inasmuch as this hollow vessel (concha) or laver, which supplied the water, was a part or utensil of the sanctuary, I have thought it best to insert here what is ordained respecting it, not only as to its fashion, but also its use, which could not be well separated: for if bare mention had only been made of a laver or water-vessel, 155155     Addition in Fr., "Sans savoir pourquoy il estoit basti;” without knowing what it was made for. the reader would have received no profit from it. But, when God expressly commands that water should always be ready in this basin for the priests to wash their hands and feet, we gather from hence with what reverence and sanctity God would have His holy service performed. It was, indeed, a common proverb among the Gentiles that they were guilty of impiety who handled holy things with unwashen hands, and they testified in this ceremony that they could not worship God aright except when purified from all pollution and uncleanness. One in Virgil says: —

"——— donec me flumine vivo Abluero." 156156     AEn. 2:719, 720. They are among the words which AEneas reports himself to have spoken to Anchises, when about to bear him out of Troy:
   "Tu, genitor, cape sacra manu, patriosque Penates.
Me, bello e tanto digressum et caede recenti,
Adtrectare nefas; donec me flumine vivo Abluero

"Till in some living stream I cleanse the guilt
Of dire debate and blood in battle spilt.” — Dryden.

And such expressions are of constant occurrence. Sometimes they even seemed almost to hit the right point; as where the poet commands the ungodly and the criminal to depart from the sacrifices, lest they should contaminate them; 157157     Doering’s note on Hor. Carm. 3:1. 1. — “Odi profanum vulgus et arceo,” contains the following words: “He uses these formulas which the priests were accustomed to use at the commencement of their ceremonies, in order to drive away the profane, ἑκάς, βέβηλοι! or ἑκάς, ἑκάς, ὅστις ἀλιτρός· (Callim. Hymn., Ap. 2.) Procul o procul este, profani. (Virg. AEn. 6:258.)" but this was only a fleeting imagination, since no anxiety to repent had awakened in them a desire to propitiate God; and so, even whilst they were diligent in performing ablutions, their minds, darkened with error, knew not what it meant. But the Israelites were thus chiefly reminded how unworthy they were to offer sacrifices to God, since the impurity of the very priests, who were chosen to this once, prevented them from exercising it, until they were cleansed with water. The washing of the hands and feet denoted that all parts of the body were infected with uncleanness; for, since Scripture often uses the word “hands” for the actions of life, and compares the whole course of life to a way or journey, it is very suitable to say by synecdoche that all impurity is purged away by the washing of the hands and feet. The comparison with Christ now remains to be considered; but this we shall understand better a little beyond in reference to the sacrifices.

23. Take thou also unto thee principal spices. Although the oil here treated of was not only destined for the anointing of the priests, but also of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the altars, and all the vessels, yet no fitter place occurs for discussing the sacred unction, than by connecting it with the priesthood, on which it depends. First of all its composition is described, exquisite both in expensiveness and odor; that by its very excellence and costliness the Israelites may learn that no ordinary thing is represented by it; for we have already often seen that there had been set before this rude people a splendor in sacred symbols, which might affect their external senses, so as to uplift them as it were by steps to the knowledge of spiritual things. We must now see why the priest as well as all the vessels and the other parts of the tabernacle had need of anointing. I conclude that without controversy this oil mixed with precious perfumes was a type of the Holy Spirit; for the metaphor of anointing is everywhere met with, when the prophets would commend the power, the effects, and the gifts of the Spirit. Nor is there any doubt but that God, by anointing kings, testified that He would endow them with the spirit of prudence, fortitude, clemency, and justice. Hence it is easily gathered that the tabernacle was sprinkled with oil, that the Israelites might learn that all the exercises of piety profited nothing without the secret operation of the Spirit. Nay, something more was shewn forth, viz., that the efficacy and grace of the Spirit existed and reigned in the truth of the shadows itself; and that whatever good was derived from them was applied by the gift of the same Spirit for the use of believers. In the altar, reconciliation was to be sought, that God might be propitious to them; but, as the Apostle testifies, the sacrifice of Christ’s death would not otherwise have been efficacious to appease God, if He had not suffered by the Spirit, (Hebrews 9:14;) and how does its fruit now reach us, except because the same Spirit washes our souls with the blood, which once was shed, as Peter teaches us? (1 Peter 1:2.) Who now consecrates our prayers but the Spirit, who dictates the groans which cannot be uttered; and by whom we cry, Abba, Father? (Romans 8:15, 26.) Nay, whence comes the faith which admits us to a participation in the benefits of Christ, but from the same Spirit?

But we were especially to consider the anointing of the priest, who was sanctified by the Spirit of God for the performance of his office; thus, as Isaiah, in the person of Jesus Christ, declares that he was anointed with the spirit of prophecy, (Isaiah 61:1;) and David affirms the same of the royal spirit, (Psalm 45:7;) so Daniel is our best interpreter and witness how the sacerdotal unction was at length manifested (in Him 181181     Added from Fr. ), for when he says that the time, when by the death of Christ the prophecy shall be sealed up, was determined upon “to anoint the holy of holies,” he plainly reminds us that the spiritual pattern, which answers to the visible sanctuary, is in Christ; so that believers may really feel that these shadows were not mere empty things. (Daniel 9:24.) We now perceive why Aaron was anointed, viz., because Christ was consecrated by the Holy Spirit to be the Mediator between God and man; and why the tabernacle and its vessels were sprinkled with the same oil, viz., because we are only made partakers of the holiness of Christ by the gift and operation of the Spirit. 182182     “Ou il est dit, Que tout ce que, etc., aucuns mettent legendre masculin, Celuy qui les sanctifiera;” where it is said, “Whatsoever,” etc., some put the masculine gender, “He who shall sanctify them.” This is the translation of LXX. and V. Some translate it in the masculine gender, where of the vessels it is said, “whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy;” ver. 29: as if they were not to be touched by any but the priests; but it appears to me to be rather spoken for another reason, viz., that they may embue the oblations with their own sanctity.

25. And thou shalt take it an oil of holy ointment. Although the genitive is put in the place of an epithet, as if Moses had said “a holy oil;” yet it is so called from its effect, because without it nothing is accounted pure. And assuredly the Spirit of God sanctifies ourselves and all that is ours, because without Him we are unholy, and all that belongs to us corrupt. He enjoins the use of the ceremony throughout all the generations of the ancient people, ver. 31. In these words there is an implied contrast with the new Church, which wants no shadows since the manifestation of the substance; and justly does the only begotten Son of God possess the name of Christ, since by His coming He has abolished these figures. And Simeon, when he took Him in his arms, and called Him “the Lord’s Christ,” 183183     The reference here is to Luke 2:28. It does not, however, appear that Simeon actually called Him “the Lord’s Christ,” though the Evangelist states, ver. 26, that “it was revealed to him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ." taught that the external use of the legal oil had ceased. So much the sillier is the superstition of the Papacy, when in imitation of the Jews it anoints its priests, and altars, and other toys: 184184     Lat., “Nugas;” Fr, “L’autel avec tout leur bagage.” “Now that your oil came not from the Apostles, your own doctor Panormitane is witness; for thus he writeth: ‘The Apostles in old time gave the Holy Ghost only by laying on of hands; but now-a-days, because bishops be not so holy, order hath been taken that they should give this sacrament with chrism.’” — Jewel’s Defence of the Apology, Parker Society’s edition, p. 178.
   "Transtulerunt item sua haec olea, cure ad homines moribundos, tum etiam ad parietes, altaria, and campanas: necnon calices et alia hujusmodi, qum videmus, κακοβηλίᾳ improbanda ex veteri Judaismo esse traducta. Excusat ille Innocentius, (Decret. Greg., lib. 1, tit. 15, de Sacra Unctione.) Ecclesiam haec faciendo non Judaizare,” etc. — Petr. Mart. Loci Com., Cl. 4, cap. 1:21.
as if they desired to bury Christ again with their ointments; wherefore let us hold this invention in detestation as blasphemous, because it overthrows the limits prescribed by God.

In order that the Jews may hold this mystery in just reverence, he forbids similar ointment to be made. We know that ointments were then among the luxuries of a fine banquet; but it is accounted profanation if they make use of this kind; and we must mark the reason, that what is holy, may be holy unto them, ver. 32, i.e., that they may reverently observe what is peculiarly devoted to their salvation. For although the sacred things divinely instituted always retain their nature, and cannot be either corrupted or made void by our vices, yet may we by our filthiness, by our impure use or neglect of them, pollute them as far as in us lies.

34. Take unto thee sweet spices. This oblation might have been noticed with the others, yet, since it merely describes the composition of the incense, which is connected with the altar of incense, and in fact is but an appendage to it, I have seen no reason why I should separate them. Let the curious subtilely discuss, if they please, the ingredients themselves; it is enough for me that they were chosen at God’s will to make a very sweet smell. For I know not whether it is likely, as some suppose, that galbanum 154154     “Not of strong and evil savor, as R. Salomom, for then it had been unfit to make a perfume of.” — Tostatus in Willet. “Dioscor. asserit galbanum esse gravis odoris, et Plinius ait galbanum foetere et castorem olere; quod forte intelligit de partibus galbani magis terrestribus — ideoque noster interpres addit τὸ bonis odoris;” (i.e., V., after LXX. Χαλβάνην ἡδυσμῦ·) Corn. a Lapide, in loco. is of a strong and disagreeable savor, and, since they only offer this conjecture in an unknown matter, they deserve little credit. My conviction is that it was sweet, which the words of Moses himself a little further on confirm, where he denounces the penalty of death upon those who should use such perfume for their private gratification; for this prohibition would have been absurd, unless its odor had been very agreeable. Besides, the analogy between the sign and the thing signified would not have held good, unless its sweet savor had testified that God is greatly pleased with the prayers of His people. Moreover, in order that the sacred symbol might be the more reverenced, it was not allowable to transfer this mixture to private use; for since men are rude and earthly-minded, there is nothing they are more prone to than to mix up heavenly things with those of earth. Therefore, to elevate their minds the more, it was necessary that the incense, in which there was a special holiness due to God alone, should be set apart from common use.