Washed—So That You Will Not Die

In medical settings hand washing is crucial—sometimes a life and death matter. God instructed Moses to make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle, as Exodus 30:17-21 points out. It’s use was important enough that he described it as a life and death matter: the priests “shall wash their hands and feet so they will not die” (verse 21).

The basin was for washing. God had Moses make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle. It was made from the bronze mirrors of the Israelite women, donated for that purpose. Parents teach children to wash hands so that they don’t spread or ingest germs. But sanitation and microbiology were not the reasons for the basin in the courtyard. Not just the hands, but also the feet of the priests were to be washed. Leviticus 1 tells us that at least some of the sacrifices were washed as port of their being presented to God. Interestingly, we are given far fewer details about the basin in the courtyard than we are about other items, such as the altar or the furniture in the Tabernacle. Solomon’s Temple seems to have been built and furnished like the Tabernacle, but on a much grander scale. 1 Kings 7 records the bronze sea, which along with ten smaller basins, provided water for cleansing in that building. Continue reading “Washed—So That You Will Not Die”

The Courtyard—Separated by a Barrier

Do good fences make good neighbors? There can be good reasons for a fence or wall. Why did God have Moses build a curtain to separate the courtyard of the tabernacle from the camp of Israel? (Exodus 27:9-19).

Live separate from the world. The courtyard marked the holy location of the tabernacle. The courtyard around the tabernacle was a rectangle, about 75 by 100 feet, with posts, apparently supported by pegs and ropes, and was made of linen. It was not designed to keep livestock in or out, but to mark out the precincts of the tabernacle. That was the area that was particularly holy as the symbolic dwelling place of God. Holy means set apart to God. Sinners cannot approach the presence of a holy God without the problem of their sin being dealt with first. That is why, as one entered the courtyard he came to the altar before he drew near to the tabernacle itself. The courtyard was not available for the people generally. It appears from Leviticus 1 that they could bring their animals to be sacrificed into the courtyard to the entrance of the tabernacle. But, usually, it was only the priests who spent extensive time in the courtyard. The closer one came to the most holy place, the more limited the access. Although Israel was God’s holy nation, the fence around the courtyard kept the people at at distance. “The Courtyard was new evidence of the fact that, although the Lord dwelled among Israel, the Israelites could not freely approach Him. (Cf. 39:9-20; Pss. 100:4; 116:17-19.) The work of Christ has removed this restriction; the Lord now dwells in the hearts of his people. We are privileged above the Israel of the Old Covenant: besides the approach to the Lord’s throne through prayer and ‘falling asleep in the Lord’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:18), which was also open to the Israelites, we no longer have a courtyard beyond which the vast majority of the Israelites could not approach, and which they were not always able or allowed to enter.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, pp. 259-260). Continue reading “The Courtyard—Separated by a Barrier”

The Altar: Where God Meets with His People

The bronze altar outside the tabernacle was a busy place. The morning and evening sacrifices were presented there, but throughout the day the people came with sacrifices for the priests to offer for them. Exodus 29:42-43 gives you the heart of the purpose of the altar.

You need a substitute. Why bring a sacrifice? Some have suggested that the sacrifice was primarily something going on inside the person bringing it. It helped him feel close to God. This view has been promoted by those who suggest that mankind is inherently good, or at least has a spark of goodness that can be fanned into a flame. Others have suggested that sacrifices really didn’t happen in the wilderness (despite what Exodus says!), but was a practice picked up from the Canaanites, which the prophets later tried to modify in the direction of spiritual worship of God. More recently the idea that God would give his Son to die in the place of sinners has been dismissed as cosmic child abuse. Continue reading “The Altar: Where God Meets with His People”

Incense and Prayers

The earliest event in the breaking of the 400 year silence since the last Old Testament prophet had spoken took place as the elderly priest, Zechariah, was standing at the altar of incense, when Gabriel appeared to him, telling him that he would have a son who would prepare for the coming Messiah. Exodus 30:1-10 gives the instructions for building this piece of furniture for the holy place in the tabernacle.

The altar of incense stood before the most holy place. Because atonement had been made on the altar in the courtyard, this altar was for incense. Offerings for sin were consumed on the bronze altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle. With their sins forgiven, the priest could now offer incense every morning and evening.

The altar of incense was associated with God’s presence in the most holy place. All the furniture in the tabernacle was holy, set apart to God. But the altar of incense stood right in front of the cutain separating the holy place from the most holy place. Though it clearly belonged to the holy place, since incense was offered twice daily there, and the most holy place could be entered only once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, it was associated with the presence of God in the most holy place, Hebrews 9:3; 1 Kings 6:22. Continue reading “Incense and Prayers”