Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Altar of Incense and Incense-Offering bring the directions concerning the sanctuary to a close. What follows, from Ex 30:11-31:17, is shown to be merely supplementary to the larger whole by the formula "and Jehovah spake unto Moses," with which every separate command is introduced (cf. Exo 30:11, Exo 30:17, Exo 30:22, Exo 30:24, Exo 31:1, Exo 31:12).
(cf. Exo 37:25-28). Moses was directed to make an altar of burning of incense (lit., incensing of incense), of acacia-wood, one cubit long and one broad, four-cornered, two cubits high, furnished with horns like the altar of burnt-offering (Exo 27:1-2), and to plate it with pure gold, the roof (גּג) thereof (i.e., its upper side or surface, which was also made of wood), and its walls round about, and its horns; so that it was covered with gold quite down to the ground upon which it stood, and for this reason is often called the golden altar (Exo 39:38; Exo 40:5, Exo 40:26; Num 4:11). Moreover it was to be ornamented with a golden wreath, and furnished with golden rings at the corners for the carrying-poles, as the ark of the covenant and the table of shew-bread were (Exo 25:11., Exo 25:25.); and its place was to be in front of the curtain, which concealed the ark of the covenant (Exo 26:31), "before the capporeth" (Exo 40:5), so that, although it really stood in the holy place between the candlestick on the south side and the table on the north (Exo 26:35; Exo 40:22, Exo 40:24), it was placed in the closest relation to the capporeth, and for this reason is not only connected with the most holy place in Kg1 6:22, but is reckoned in Heb 9:4 as part of the furniture of the most holy place (see Delitzsch on Heb 9:4).
Upon this altar Aaron was to burn fragrant incense, the preparation of which is described in Exo 30:34., every morning and evening before Jehovah, at the time when he trimmed the lamps. No "strange incense" was to be offered upon it, - i.e., incense which Jehovah had not appointed (cf. Lev 10:1), that is to say, which had not been prepared according to His instructions-nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat-offering; and no drink-offering was to be poured upon it. As the altar of incense was not only marked as a place of sacrifice by its name מזבּח, "place of slain-offering," but was put on a par with the altar of sacrifice by its square shape and its horns, it was important to describe minutely what sacrifices were to be offered upon it. For the burning of fragrant incense is shown to be a sacrifice, by the fact that it was offered upon a place of sacrifice, or altar. Moreover the word הקטיר, to cause to ascend in smoke and steam, from קטר to smoke or steam, is not only applied to the lighting of incense, but also to the lighting and burning of the bleeding and bloodless sacrifices upon the altar of incense. Lastly, the connection between the incense-offering and the burnt-offering is indicated by the rule that they were to be offered at the same time. Both offerings shadowed forth the devotion of Israel to its God, whilst the fact that they were offered every day exhibited this devotion as constant and uninterrupted. But the distinction between them consisted in this, that in the burnt or whole offering Israel consecrated and sanctified its whole life and action in both body and soul to the Lord, whilst in the incense-offering its prayer was embodied as the exaltation of the spiritual man to God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 5:8; Rev 8:3-4); and with this there was associated the still further distinction, that the devotion was completed in the burnt-offering solely upon the basis of the atoning sprinkling of blood, whereas the incense-offering presupposed reconciliation with God, and on the basis of this the soul rose to God in this embodiment of its prayer, and was thus absorbed into His Spirit. In this respect, the incense-offering was not only a spiritualizing and transfiguring of the burnt-offering, but a completion of that offering also.
Once a year Aaron was to expiate the altar of incense with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement, because it was most holy to the Lord, that is to say, as is expressly observed in the directions concerning this expiatory act (Lev 16:18-19), to purify it from the uncleannesses of the children of Israel. כּפּר, with על objecti constr., signifies literally to cover over a thing, then to cover over sin, or make expiation. In the second clause we have "upon it" (the altar) instead of "upon the horns of it," because the altar itself was expiated in its horns. The use of מן in מדּם is to be explained on the ground that only a part of the blood of the sin-offering was smeared with the finger upon the horns. (For further remarks, see at Lev 16:18-19.) The term "most holy" is not only applied to this altar, in common with the inner division of the tabernacle (Exo 26:33), but also to the altar of burnt-offering (Exo 29:37; Exo 40:10), and all the vessels of the sanctuary (Exo 30:29), which were anointed with holy oil; then to the whole of the tabernacle in its holiest aspect (Num 18:10); and lastly, to all the sacrifices, which were given up entirely to Jehovah (see at Lev 2:3); - consequently to everything which stood in so intimate a relation to Jehovah as to be altogether removed, not only from use and enjoyment on the part of man, but also from contact on the part of unsanctified men. Whoever touched a most holy thing was sanctified thereby (compare Exo 30:29 with Exo 29:37).
The Atonement-Money, which every Israelite had to pay at the numbering of the people, has the first place among the supplementary instructions concerning the erection and furnishing of the sanctuary, and serves to complete the demand for freewill-offerings for the sanctuary (Exo 25:1-9).
"When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel according to them that are numbered, they shall give every one an expiation for his soul to the Lord at their numbering, that a plague may not strike them (happen to them) at their numbering." פּקד, lit., adspexit, then inspexit explorandi causa, hence to review, or number an army or a nation, for the purpose of enrolling for military service. לפקדיהם with reference to the numbered, qui in censum veniunt. כּפר (expiation, expiation-money, from כּפּר to expiate) is to be traced to the idea that the object for which expiation was made was thereby withdrawn from the view of the person to be won or reconciled. It is applied in two ways: (1) on the supposition that the face of the person to be won was covered by the gift (Gen 32:21; Sa1 12:3); and (2) on the supposition that the guilt itself was covered up (Psa 32:1), or wiped away (Jer 18:23), so far as the eye of God was concerned, as though it had no longer any existence, and that the sinful man was protected from the punishment of the judge in consequence of this covering. In this way כּפר has acquired the meaning λύτρον, a payment by which the guilty are redeemed (Exo 21:30; Num 35:31); and this is the meaning which it has in the passage before us, where the soul is said to be protected by the copher, so as to be able to come without danger into the presence of the holy God (Num 8:19. See Oehler in Herzog's Cycl.). Such an approach to God took place at the numbering of the people for the purpose of enrolling them in the army of Jehovah (Num 1:3, cf. Exo 7:4; Exo 12:41). Hence "every one who passed over to those that were numbered," who was enrolled among them, i.e., in the army of Jehovah, - that is to say, every male Israelite of 20 years old and upwards (Exo 30:14), - was to pay half a shekel of the sanctuary as atonement-money; the rich no more, the poor no less (Exo 30:15), because all were equal in the sight of Jehovah; and this payment was to be a "heave" (terumah, see Exo 25:2) for Jehovah for the expiation of the souls. The shekel of the sanctuary, which contained 20 gerahs, was no doubt the original shekel of full weight, as distinguished from the lighter shekel which was current in ordinary use. In Exo 38:26 the half shekel is called בּקע, lit., the split, i.e., half, from בּקע to split; and we find it mentioned as early as the time of the patriarchs as a weight in common use for valuing gold (Gen 24:22), so that, no doubt, even at that time there were distinct silver pieces of this weight, which were probably called shekels when employed for purposes of trade, since the word shekel itself does not denote any particular weight, as we may perceive at once form a comparison of Kg1 10:17 and Ch2 9:16, at least so far as later times are concerned. The sacred shekel, to judge from the weight of Maccabean shekels, which are in existence still, and vary from 256 to 272 Parisian grains, weighed 274 grains, and therefore, according to present valuation, would be worth 26 groschen (about 2s. 7d.), so that the half-shekel of bekah would be 13 groschen (1s. 3 1/2d.).
This atonement-money Moses was to appropriate to the work of the sanctuary (cf. Exo 38:25-28, where the amount and appropriation are reported). Through this appropriation it became "a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord to expiate their souls," i.e., a permanent reminder of their expiation before the Lord, who would henceforth treat them as reconciled because of this payment. It was no ordinary tribute, therefore, which Israel was to pay to Jehovah as its King, but an act demanded by the holiness of the theocratic covenant. As an expiation for souls, it pointed to the unholiness of Israel's nature, and reminded the people continually, that by nature it was alienated from God, and could only remain in covenant with the Lord and live in His kingdom on the ground of His grace, which covered its sin. It was not till this sinful nature had been sanctified by a perfect atonement, and servitude under the law had been glorified and fully transformed into that sonship to which Israel was called as the first-born son of Jehovah, that as children of the kingdom they had no longer to pay this atonement-money for their souls (Mat 17:25-26). - According to Num 1:1, Num 1:18, as compared with Exo 40:17, the census of the nation was not taken till a month after the building of the tabernacle was completed, and yet the atonement-money to be paid at the taking of the census was to be appropriated to the purpose of the building, and must therefore have been paid before. This apparent discrepancy may be reconciled by the simple assumption, that immediately after the command of God had been issued respecting the building of the tabernacle and the contributions which the people were to make for the purpose, the numbering of the males was commenced and the atonement-money collected from the different individuals, that the tabernacle was then built and the whole ceremonial instituted, and that, after all this had been done, the whole nation was enrolled according to its tribes, fathers' houses, and families, on the basis of this provisional numbering, and thus the census was completed. For this reason the census gave exactly the same number of males as the numbering (cf. Exo 38:26 and Num 1:46), although the one had been carried out nine months before the other.
(cf. Exo 38:8). The Brazen Laver, and its use. - The making of this vessel is not only mentioned in a supplementary manner, but no description is given of it because of the subordinate position which it occupied, and from the fact that it was not directly connected with the sanctuary, but was only used by the priests to cleanse themselves for the performance of their duties. כּיּור: a basin, a round, caldron-shaped vessel. כּגּו (its support): by this we are not to understand the pedestal of the caldron, but something separate from the basin, which was no doubt used for drawing off as much water as was required for washing the officiating priests. For although כּן belongs to כּיּור, the fact that it is always specially mentioned in connection with the basin necessarily leads to the conclusion, that it had a certain kind of independence (cf. Exo 31:9; Exo 35:16; Exo 39:39; Exo 40:11; Lev 8:11). These two vessels were to be made of brass or copper, like the other things in the court; and, according to Exo 38:8, they were made of the brass of the mirrors of the women who served before the door of the tabernacle. הצּבאת בּמראת does not mean either "provided with mirrors of the women" (Bhr, i. pp. 485-6), or ornamented "with forms, figures of women, as they were accustomed to appear at the sanctuary" (Knobel). But these views are overthrown by the fact, that ב never signifies with in the sense of an outward addition, but always denotes the means, "not an independent object, but something accompanying and contributing to the action referred to" (Ewald, 217, f. 3). In this case ב can only apply to the material used, whether we connect it with ויּעשׂ as in Exo 31:4, or, what seems decidedly more correct, with נחשׁת as a more precise definition; so that ב would denote that particular quality which distinguished the brass of which the basin was made (Ewald, 217f.), - apart altogether from the fact, that neither the mirrors of women, nor the figures of women, would form a fitting ornament for the basin, as the priests did not require to look at themselves when they washed their hands and feet; and there is still less ground for Knobel's fiction, that Levitical women went to the sanctuary at particular times, forming a certain procession, and taking things with them for the purpose of washing, cleaning, and polishing. The true meaning is given by the Septuagint, ἐκ τῶν κατόπτρων. According to Sa1 2:22, the צבאת were women, though not washer-women, but women who dedicated their lives to the service of Jehovah, and spent them in religious exercises, in fasting and in prayer, like Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, mentioned in Luk 2:37.
(Note: Knobel's objection to this explanation, viz., that "at a time when the sanctuary was not yet erected, the author could not speak of women as coming to the door of the sanctuary, or performing religious service there," would contain its own refutation, if there were any ground for it at all. For before the sanctuary was erected, the author could not speak of Levitical women as coming at particular times to the sanctuary, and bringing things with them for the purpose of washing and cleaning. But the participle צבאת does not imply that they had served there before the erection of the sanctuary, but only that from that time forward, they did perform service there.)
צבא denotes spiritual warfare, and is accordingly rendered by the lxx νηστεύειν, by Onkelos, orare, with which the Rabbins agree. The mirrors of the women had been used for the purpose of earthly adorning. But now the pious Israelites renounced this earthly adorning, and offered it to the Lord as a heave-offering to make the purifying laver in front of the sanctuary, in order that "what had hitherto served as a means of procuring applause in the world might henceforth be the means of procuring the approbation of God" (Hengstenberg, Dissert. vol. ii.). - The laver was to be placed between the tabernacle, i.e., the dwelling, and the altar in the court (Exo 30:18), probably not in a straight line with the door of the dwelling and the altar of burnt-offering, but more sideways, so as to be convenient for the use of the priests, whether they were going into the tabernacle, or going up to the altar for service, to kindle a firing for Jehovah, i.e., to offer sacrifice upon the altar. They were to wash their hands, with which they touched the holy things, and their feet, with which they trod the holy ground (see Exo 3:5), "that they might not die," as is again emphatically stated in Exo 30:20 and Exo 30:21. For touching holy things with unclean hands, and treading upon the floor of the sanctuary with dirty feet, would have been a sin against Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, deserving of death. These directions do not imply "that, notwithstanding all their consecration, they were regarded as still defiled by natural uncleanness" (Baumgarten), but rather that consecration did not stamp them with a character indelebilis, or protect them from the impurities of the sinful nation in the midst of which they lived, or of their own nature, which was still affected with mortal corruption and sin.
The Holy Anointing Oil. - This was to be prepared from the best perfumes ראשׁע בּשׂמים, where ראשׁע, caput, the principal or chief, is subordinate to בּשׂמים), viz., of four fragrant spices and olive-oil. The spices were, (1) liquid myrrh, as distinguished from the dry gum; - (2) קנּמן־בּשׂם, cinnamon of fragrance, the name having been introduced to the Semitic nations along with the thing itself, and then by the Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans (κίνναμον, cinnamum): whether it came from Ceylon, the great mart of cinnamon, is very doubtful, as there is not word that can be discovered in the Indian dialects corresponding to cinnamon; - (3) cane of fragrance, the κάλαμος ἀρωματικός, calamus odoratus, of the Greek sand Romans, i.e., the scented calamus which is imported from India; - and (4) kiddah, probably cassia, and possibly the species called κιττώ in Dioscor. 1, 12, in which case קציעה (Psa 45:9) is either the generic name for cassia, or else refers to a different species. The proportion in which these spices were to be taken was 500 shekels or 14 1/2 lbs. of myrrh, half the quantity, i.e., 7 lbs, of cinnamon, and the same of calamus and cassia; in all, therefore, 21 lbs. of dry spices, which were to be mixed with one hin of oil (about 5 quarts) and 14 lbs. of liquid myrrh. These proportions preclude the supposition, that the spices were pulverized and mixed with the oil and myrrh in their natural condition, for the result in that case would have been a thick mess: they rather favour the statement of the Rabbins, that the dry spices were softened in water and boiled, to extract their essence, which was then mixed with oil and myrrh, and boiled again until all the watery part had evaporated. An artificial production of this kind is also indicated by the expressions מרקחת רקח "spice-work of spice-mixture," and רקח מעשׂה "labour (work) of the perfumer or ointment-maker."
(see at Lev 8:10.). This anointing oil was holy, either because it was made from the four fragrant substances according to the proportions commanded by Jehovah, or because God declared this kind of mixture and preparation holy (cf. Exo 30:32), and forbade for all time, on pain of death (Exo 30:31), not only the use of ointment so prepared for any ordinary anointings, but even an imitation of it. "Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured," i.e., it is not to be used for the ordinary practice of anointing the human body (Exo 30:32). "Man," i.e., the ordinary man in distinction from the priests. בּמתכּנתּו according to its measure, i.e., according to the proportions prescribed for its manufacture. זר (Exo 30:33) a stranger, is not only the non-Israelite, but laymen or non-priests in general. On the expression, "cut off from his people," see at Gen 17:14.
The Holy Incense was also to be made of four ingredients, viz., (1) nataph (στακτή, stacte), i.e., not the resinous myrrh, or sap obtained from the fragrant myrrh and dried, but a kind of storax gum resembling myrrh, which was baked, and then used, like incense, for fumigating; - (2) shecheleth (ὄνυξ, ungius odoratus), the shell of a shell-fish resembling the purpura, of an agreeable odour; - (3) chelbenah (χαλβάνη), a resin of a pungent, bitter flavour, obtained, by means of an incision in the bark, from the ferula, a shrub which grows in Syria, Arabia, and Abyssinia, and then mixed with fragrant substances to give greater pungency to their odour; - and (4) lebonah (λίβανος or λιβανωτός), frankincense, a resin of a pleasant smell, obtained from a tree in Arabia Felix or India, but what tree has not been discovered. זכּה pure, i.e., unadulterated. The words יהיה בּבד בּד "part for part shall it be," are explained by the lxx as meaning ἴσον ἴσῳ ἔσται, Vulg. aequalis ponderis erunt omnia, i.e., with equal parts of all the different substances. But this is hardly correct, as בּד literally means separation, and the use of ב in this sense would be very striking. The explanation given by Aben Ezra is more correct, viz., "every part shall be for itself;" that is to say, each part was to be first of all prepared by itself, and then all the four to be mixed together afterwards.
Of this Moses was to make incense, spicework, etc. (as in Exo 30:25), salted, seasoned with salt (ממלּח, a denom. from מלח salt), like the meat-offering in Lev 2:13. The word does not mean μεμιγμένον, mixtum (lxx, Vulg.), or rubbed to powder, for the rubbing or pulverizing is expressed by שׁחקתּ־הרק in the following verse.
Of this incense (a portion) was to be placed "before the testimony in the tabernacle," i.e., not in the most holy place, but where the altar of incense stood (cf. Exo 30:6 and Lev 16:12). The remainder was of course to be kept elsewhere.
There is the same prohibition against imitating or applying it to a strange use as in the case of the anointing oil (Exo 30:32, Exo 30:33). "To smell thereto," i.e., to enjoy the perfume of it.