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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.
Exodus 37:25-28; Exodus 40:26-27. The altar of incense was to be a casing of boards of shittim wood Exodus 25:5, Exodus 25:18 inches square and three feet in height (taking the cubit as 18 inches), entirely covered with plates of gold. Four "horns" were to project upward at the corners like those of the altar of burnt-offering Exodus 27:2. A crown or moulding of gold was to run round the top. On each of two opposite sides there was to be a gold ring through which the staves were to be put when it was moved from place to place.
2A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.
3And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.
4And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.
By the two corners thereof - Not corners. See the margin. The sense appears to be: And two gold rings shalt thou make for it under its moulding; on its two sides shalt thou make them (i. e. one ring on each side).
5And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
6And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.
The place for the altar of incense was outside the veil, opposite to the ark of the covenant and between the candlestick on the south side and the showbread table on the north Exodus 40:22-24. It appears to have been regarded as having a more intimate connection with the holy of holies than the other things in the holy place; and the mention of the mercy-seat in this verse, if we associate with it the significance of incense as figuring the prayers of the Lord's people Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4, seems to furnish additional pound for an inference that the incense altar took precedence of the table of showbread and the candlestick.
7And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.
The lamps - See Exodus 25:37.
The offering of the incense accompanied that of the morning and evening sacrifice. The two forms of offering symbolized the spirit of man reaching after communion with Yahweh, both in act and utterance. See Psalm 141:2.
8And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.
9Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
By this regulation, the symbolism of the altar of incense was kept free from ambiguity. atonement was made by means of the victim on the brazen altar in the court ontside; the prayers of the reconciled worshippers had their type within the tabernacle.
10And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.
See the marginal references.
11And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
The Ransom of Souls. - Exodus 38:25-28. On comparing these words with those of Numbers 1:1-3, we may perhaps infer that the first passage relates to a mere counting of the adult Israelites at the time when the money was taken from each, and that what the latter passage enjoins was a formal enrolment of them according to their genealogies and their order of military service.
A ransom for his soul - What the sincere worshipper thus paid was at once the fruit and the sign of his faith in the goodness of Yahweh, who had redeemed him and brought him into the covenant. Hence, the payment is rightly called a ransom inasmuch as it involved a personal appropriation of the fact of his redemption. On the word soul, see Leviticus 17:11.
That there be no plague - i. e. that they might not incur punishment for the neglect and contempt of spiritual privileges. Compare Exodus 28:35; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; and the exhortation in our communion Service.
12When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
13This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.
Half a shekel - The probable weight of silver in the half-shekel would now be worth about 1 shilling, 3 1/2d. (Compare Genesis 23:16. See Exodus 38:24 note.) Gerah is, literally, a bean, probably the bean of the carob or locust-tree. It was used as the name of a small weight, as our word grain came into use from a grain of wheat.
14Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.
15The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
Every Israelite stood in one and the same relation to Yahweh. See Exodus 30:11-12.
16And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
tabernacle of the congregation - tent of meeting, here and in Exodus 30:18, Exodus 30:20,
A memorial unto the children of Israel - The silver used in the tabernacle was a memorial to remind each man of his position before the Lord, as one of the covenanted people.
17And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Exodus 38:8. The bronze for the "Laver of brass" and its foot was supplied from the bronze mirrors of the women who voluntarily gave up these articles of luxury. Bronze mirrors were much used by the ancient Egyptians. No hint is given as to the form of the laver. The brazen sea and the ten lavers that served the same purpose in the temple of Solomon, were elaborately worked in artistic designs and are minutely described 1 Kings 7:23-29.
18Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.
19For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:
Wash their hands and their feet - On certain solemn occasions he was required to bathe his whole person Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 16:4. The laver must also have furnished the water for washing those parts of the victims that needed cleansing Leviticus 1:9.
20When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD:
That they die not - See Exodus 28:35 note.
21So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
22Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Compare Exodus 37:29.
23Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
Principal spices - i. e. the best spices.
Pure myrrh - Is a gum which comes from the stem of a low, thorny, ragged tree, that grows in Arabia Felix and Eastern Africa, called by botanists Balsamodendron myrrha. The word here rendered pure, is literally, "freely flowing", an epithet which is explained by the fact that the best myrrh is said to exude spontaneously from the bark, while that of inferior quality oozes out in greater quantity from incisions made in the bark.
Five hundred shekels - Probably rather more than 15 1/4 lbs. See Exodus 38:24.
Cinnamon - is obtained from a tree allied to the laurel that grows in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and other islands of the Indian Ocean, known in Botany as the Cinnamomum zeylanicum. It is the inner rind of the tree dried in the sun. It was imported from India in very early times by the people of Ophir, and brought with other spices from the south part of Arabia by the trading caravans that visited Egypt and Syria. The mention of these spices in Exodus may be taken as the earliest notice we have connected with commerce with the remote East.
Two hundred and fifty shekels - about 7 lbs. 14 oz.
Sweet calamus - The fragrant cane (or rush) was probably what is now known in India as the Lemon Grass.
24And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:
Cassia - is the inner bark of an Indian tree (Cinnamomum cassia), which differs from that which produces cinnamon in the shape of its leaves and some other particulars. It was probably in ancient times, as it is at present, by far less costly than cinnamon, and it may have been on this account that it was used in double quantity.
An hin - Probably about six pints. See Leviticus 19:36.
25And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.
An oil of holy ointment - Rather, a holy anointing oil.
After the art of the apothecary - According to Jewish tradition, the essences of the spices were first extracted, and then mixed with the oil. The preparation of the anointing oil, as well as of the incense, was entrusted to Bezaleel Exodus 37:29, and the care of preserving it to Eleazar, the son of Aaron Numbers 4:16. In a later age, it was prepared by the sons of the priests 1 Chronicles 9:30.
26And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony,
27And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense,
28And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot.
29And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.
30And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.
31And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations.
32Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you.
Upon man's flesh - i. e. on the persons of those who were not priests who might employ it for such anointing as was usual on festive occasions (Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 27:9; Matthew 6:17, etc.).
33Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.
A stranger - See Exodus 29:33.
Cut off from his people - See Exodus 31:14.
34And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
Exodus 37:29. The incense, like the anointing oil, consisted of four aromatic ingredients.
Stacte - supposed to be either the gum of the Storax tree (Styrax officinale) found in Syria and the neighboring countries, or the gum known as Benzoin, or Gum Benjamin, which is an important ingredient in the incense now used in churches and mosques, and is the produce of another storax tree (Styrax benzoin) that grows in Java and Sumatra.
Onycha - , a perfume perhaps made from the cap of the strombus, or wing-shell, which abounds in the Red Sea.
Galbanum - , a gum of a yellowish brown color, in the form of either grains or masses. It is imported from India, Persia, and Africa; but the plant from which it comes is not yet certainly known.
Pure frankincense - This was the most important of the aromatic gums. Like myrrh, it was regarded by itself as a precious perfume Sol 3:6; Matthew 2:11, and it was used unmixed with other substances in some of the rites of the law. The tree from which it is obtained is not found in Arabia, and it was most likely imported from India by the Sabaeans, like Cinnamon, Cassia, and Calamus (see Exodus 30:23). The tree is now known as the Boswellia serrata, or B. thurifera, and grows abundantly in the highlands of India. The frankincense of commerce is a different substance, the resin of the spruce and of some other kinds of fir.
35And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
See Exodus 30:25.
Tempered together - The four substances were perhaps pounded and thoroughly mixed together, and then fused into a mass. This rendering is to be preferred to that in the margin.
36And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
See Exodus 30:6.
37And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.
Compare Exodus 30:32-33.
38Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.