Have you noticed a change in the content of these chapters since we first began our study of Exodus. At the beginning, we learned about Moses and his upbringing in the palace. We learned about God choosing him to lead His people out of Egypt. We learned about the 10 Plagues, the Red Sea crossing, and numerous times when God provided for the people in the wilderness. But these last chapters have not had that same excitement. Will we ever get back to the exciting stories?
If we finish two chapters this time, we will soon read about the golden calf incident. That will be very interesting, but let’s not forget to see what God has for us in these two chapters. While they do not contain exciting stories, they do show us something about God and how he interacts with His people. This ought to be of interest to us.
As we look through these two chapters, we will cover several topics: (1) specific articles for the tabernacle, (2) gifted artisans for the tabernacle, and (3) rest for God’s people.
- Articles for the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-38)
a. The altar of incense (30:1-10)
This altar was 1½ by 1½ feet square and 3 feet tall. It was covered with gold and was carried by two gold plated poles which fit into the rings on its sides. It was placed outside the veil of the most holy place where the Lord would meet with the high priest.
The high priest was to burn sweet incense on this small altar when he lit the lamps at twilight. Nothing else was to be offered on this alter. However, the high priest would put blood on the altar’s horns once per year to make atonement for the people (Lev. 16). So this altar was considered holy to the Lord.
Do you remember Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father? “Luke 1:9 tells us that… He was serving at the altar of incense … and it was the time of prayer” (McGee 294). He was fulfilling his duty to offer this incense in the temple just as the Lord had commanded Moses more than 1000 years earlier.
b. The ransom money (30:11-16)
Whenever a census was taken, each man who was 20 years old and up was to give half a shekel as a ransom to the Lord. “This tax was considered a ransom (Ex. 30:12) because its payment guaranteed protection from plagues” (Hannah 154). The obedience of God’s people in this ransom payment would guarantee that the Lord would keep plagues away from them. We usually think of a ransom in a negative way. A bad person kidnaps a person and demands money for their release. In this case, the good Lord was guaranteeing his blessing if they would follow His commands.
The amount was not based on how rich or poor the person was. All paid the same amount. The money collected was considered by God to be an atonement for the people and it was used for servicing the temple.
How much was half a shekel worth? According to the BKCOT, a half shekel was 1/5th of an ounce of silver. As of 9/3/22, an ounce of silver was worth $17.79. So, a half shekel was worth approximately $3.56. If that was what was required by all, this was a very reasonable payment for rich and poor alike. And if there were still 600,000 fighting men, they would have raised $2,136,000 with a half shekel from each man.
Do you ever get stuck thinking about how little your offering will do each Sunday? We look at the annual budget and wonder where the money will come from. But somehow it always comes through. The Lord provides for His work not just by individual gifts but by the gifts of all the people put together.
c. The bronze laver (30:17-21)
A bronze laver was to be positioned between the tabernacle and the altar where sacrifices were burned. It was filled with water and used by the high priest and the other priests to wash themselves before carrying out their duties. The Lord made it clear that the priests had to be cleansed before they could offer sacrifices or carry out any of their ministry duties. If they refused to clean themselves, they would be put to death.
The point is that the Lord wanted his priests to minister before Him with clean, holy lives. “You cannot worship Him, serve Him, or be of use to Him unless you have been cleaned up” (McGee 296). This might be a good application for us today. The Lord wants us to serve Him but it is not acceptable to Him when we come with unclean lives. Christian, if you want to serve the Lord, first confess your sin to God and be cleansed (1 John 1:9). He will forgive you and prepare you for service.
“God does not accept worship until it comes from a cleansed heart nor will He accept service except from a cleansed heart” (McGee 297).
d. The anointing oil (30:22-33)
The tabernacle and priests were to be anointed with a special oil which came from “12½ pounds of myrrh, 6¼ pounds of … cinnamon, 6¼ pounds of cane, 12½ pounds of cassia (from the fragrant bark of a tree), and about four quarts of olive oil” (Hannah 154). The cane “is said to scent the air with fragrance, even while growing” (Bush 200). The ingredients were mixed together in the exact amounts that would created a pleasant smell. But this type of anointing oil was limited in its use. No one outside of the tabernacle was to use it for any other purpose. Those who did would be sentenced to death.
Besides deodorant, I do not use any special perfume or cologne. While I can appreciate the smell of perfume or cologne, it has to be used in the right amount. Too much can be obnoxious to anyone else in the room. But the right amount can be nice.
e. The incense (30:34-38)
Along with the anointing oil, Moses was to make incense (for the altar of incense) made from equal amounts of stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense. “Stacte was a resinous gum that oozed from trees on Mount Gilead. … The onycha came from a species of shell fish that resembled a crab. The galbanum was taken from the leaves of a Syrian plant. These were blended with pure frankincense” (McGee 297). It was to be beaten into a fine powder and then burned inside the tabernacle just outside of the most holy place. But it was not to be used anywhere else but inside the tabernacle. Anyone who used it elsewhere would be sentenced to death.
I wonder why the Lord wanted the sweet smelling incense and oil. Do you enjoy a lighted candle in your home? Apparently, they are very popular because certain malls have entire stores dedicated to candles of a variety of smells. The smell of vanilla, pumpkin spice, or apples adds a pleasant aroma to the room. Perhaps the Lord just wanted to make the duties of the priests enjoyable with these pleasant smells.
Another thought is brought up by Bush. “It [incense] is one of the usages peculiar to palaces, and the houses of the wealthy and great, and as God in the character of Theocratic Ruler of Israel saw fit to be honored in modes analogous to those which were common in reference to eastern sovereigns” (191). In other words, the Lord is worthy of our best. We should treat him as well or better than the most honored people in our lives.
- Artisans for the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-11)
Whenever the Lord wants to accomplish something, he usually uses a person to accomplish it. In the case of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the Lord enabled two specific men to make the various artwork and items for the tabernacle.
a. Bezalel (31:1-5)
Bezalel was from the tribe of Judah. The Holy Spirit filled him with the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to make the beautiful artwork and decorations in the tabernacle. He worked with gold, silver, bronze, jewels, and wood to make things just as the Lord had commanded.
b. Aholiab (31:6-11)
Aholiab was from the tribe of Dan. He was appointed by the Lord to assist Bezalel and other unnamed but gifted artisans who would help in the making of the tabernacle items. He and the others would make the tabernacle, ark, mercy seat, furniture, table, utensils, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering, the laver, the priests garments, and the oil and incense.
ILLUS. Imagine if Bezalel and Aholiab had to make all of the items by themselves. It would have taken a very long time to complete. Thankfully, the Lord provided other gifted people to help with the work. This should be a good reminded for us. The present work of the Lord is not limited to a single person in the church but to all of us. The Lord has given each of us talents that should be used for His purposes.
- Rest for God’s People (Exodus 31:12-18)
The Sabbath day is the 7th day of the week (Saturday). We know it as a day of rest, but what were the Lord’s intentions for this day?
a. The Sabbath sanctified the Israelites (13).
The Sabbath was a rest day given specifically to the Israelites. It was something that would sanctify (set apart) the Jewish people and remind them that the Lord had chosen them.
Apparently, taking a day of rest was not something that the rest of the world was doing at that time. When the Israelites rested on Saturday, they would stand out as different than most other people.
b. The Sabbath was mandatory for the Israelites (14-16).
The Lord made it very clear that no work was to be done on the Sabbath day. They could work for six days straight, but the 7th day was meant for rest. This was such an important requirement to the Lord that anyone found working on the Sabbath was put to death.
c. The Sabbath was meant for their good (17).
While the Sabbath set apart the Israelites from other people and was mandatory for them, it was also meant for their good. The Lord stated that after creating the heavens and the earth in six days, he rested on the seventh and (note this) was refreshed. The Sabbath was meant to provide a time of refreshment for the Israelites.
Sometimes Christians look at the laws in the Old Testament and complain that the Lord was too strict back then. But is that really the case? Could it not be that the Lord was looking out for the best interests of His people by keeping them from becoming overworked, grumpy, and greedy? While Christians are not commanded to keep the Sabbath day, it is still a good idea to rest at some point during the week so as to be refreshed as God was after Creation.
After receiving these instructions, Moses was also given a copy of the laws on two tablets of stone. Exodus 32:15-16 tells us that God’s writing was on both sides of each tablet. In this way, Moses would have all that God had commanded him and he would not have to remember the exact dimensions of each item. In the next chapter we will see what was happening in the camp while Moses and Joshua were on the mountain. But before we read about that, what have we learned here?
1. We have learned that each of us plays a part in our offerings to God. By ourselves, we may not have much to give, but together we can accomplish much for the Lord.
2. We have learned that God cannot use us in ministry unless we are clean. So it is important to confess our sins to God and receive His cleansing before attempting to serve Him.
3. We have learned that God enables us to do His work. While we may not have impressive college degrees or a resume that looks good, God can give us the abilities needed but we must be willing.
4. We have learned that God’s laws were also made for the good of His people. The Sabbath was given to set them apart but it was also given to refresh them after a long week of working.
Bush, George, Notes on Exodus, Volume 2, Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1972, orig. 1852, pp. 190-208.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 153-55.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. I, Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, pp. 294-99.