A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

30:1-38, 31:1-18

Basin, Oil, Incense, Atonement money,
Bezalel and Oholiab.

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Chapter 30

Here we have instructions for more items to be used in the Tabernacle. Again the emphasis is on the fact that they are to be holy, dedicated to God’s service.

But there is an important passage in the middle which we will leave for a minute.

Most of the verses are self-explanatory and I don’t intend to make much comment on them so let’s simply read Genesis 30:1-5, 6-10 and 17-38 (OMITTING verses 11-16) (several people could take sections or parts of sections to read.)

1 ‘Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high (about 45 centimetres long and wide and 90 centimetres high - 1ft 6in x 3ft) – its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold moulding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the moulding – two on each of the opposite sides – to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.

Many of the articles of furniture were not to be touched. In order to carry them, rings were made on each of the four corners and long carrying poles inserted so that either two or more men could carry them at a distance, so there was no likelihood that they could be casually touched.

The Ark of the Covenant was so holy, the carrying poles had to remain in the rings at all times to avoid any danger of accidentally touching it while inserting them.

6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law – before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law – where I will meet with you.

7 ‘Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. 8 He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so that incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. 9 Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord.’ (See Leviticus chapter 16)

Basin for washing

17 Then the Lord said to Moses, 18 ‘Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. 20 Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, 21 they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.’

Anointing oil

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 ‘Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels (5.8kg, 12½ lbs) of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia – all according to the sanctuary shekel – and a hin (about 3.8 litres, 6.7 pints) of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. 26 Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, 27 the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, 28 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand.29 You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.

30 ‘Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, “This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. 32 Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. 33 Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.”’


34 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices – gum resin, onycha and galbanum – and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. 36 Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. 38 Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.’

For me, the most noticeable words that stand out in these passages are: ‘consecrate’, ‘sacred’, ‘holy’, ‘fragrant’ and ‘pure’. How might we apply them to ourselves as we approach this same God in worship?

Now we come to the passage that we skipped earlier:

Atonement money

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.

13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, (5.8 grams, ¼ ounce) according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. 16 Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.’

V12 doesn’t prevent the counting of people but if it is done, a ransom price must be paid for everyone counted. (Not a lot – the price of a pint of beer.)

Why was this?

God had undertaken by covenant to be their God and he was prepared to enrol the people as his people. But the people were not pure, fragrant, holy, sacred or consecrated, so in order to be accepted into ‘the people of God’ a ransom price was also set. Not a lot so everyone could pay, and not different according to ability to pay because every soul was equal in God’s sight – it was a purely symbolic payment to remind people that their acceptance was by grace alone.

(This was the precursor of the ½ shekel ‘Temple Tax’ paid at the time of Jesus – see study on John 2b.)

There would of course be many offerings for sin spelled out, but these were for those who had now been accepted as people of God, to maintain their standing before the Almighty.

It is perhaps worth remembering that when (reluctantly) God allowed the people to have kings over them, they were still God’s people, so when David wanted to see how many able-bodied men he had at his command, and ordered them to be counted, it was regarded as a sin – 1 Chronicles 21:1-14.

It is also interesting to notice in verse 13 that the people had to physically move from one place to another; they crossed the line. It was for each of them individually to accept what was offered. Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?

Chapter 31

First read verses 1-11

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘See I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills –

The instructions that the Lord had given Moses were very specific, but Moses himself would not have had the practical skills to carry them out. It is likely that there were many who had practical skills and who had been selected and used (perhaps in pyramid building) while they were slaves in Egypt. Some of the artefacts that have been discovered in those tombs are amazing, demonstrating the skill and craftsmanship of those who made them.

But God’s tabernacle was to be of a different quality altogether, and for this the workmen would need supernatural skills. Two men were specifically chosen and the first we are introduced to is Bezalel. How was he different? Verse 3

4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

Bezalel was to be foreman and it seems that his speciality was with solid objects – metal, stone, and wood. But not an ordinary craftsman – he was to work with precious metals, gemstones, and the best timber. And he was not limited to these, he could ‘engage in all kinds of crafts’.

6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers

Working with Bezalel were Oholiab and a team of skilled craftsmen. Not just those with natural ability, but those to whom God had specifically ‘given ability’.

And these men were:

to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent – 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand –10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.’

The design may have been specific, but not detailed – here the skill of the craftsmen would fill in the gaps. What shape would the silver bases have? How would they be attached to the uprights? What joints should be used in the construction of the frames? What designs should be woven or embroidered into the fabrics? How would the curtains be suspended? (Exodus 26:15-33).

Having said that, it could well be that God did specify every detail; Moses may have simply recorded an abridged version – after all, it took 40 days for God to instruct Moses (Exodus 24:18) – but great skill would still be needed by the craftsmen to make the items.

Now read verses 12-18

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, 13 ‘Say to the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

14 ‘“Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”’

On first reading it seems very harsh that the punishment for not observing the Sabbath was death (V14,15). Why was this necessary?

The reason for this is that it was not to be treated as a holiday but as a holy day. God’s holiness had repeatedly been demonstrated as something the people must respect and totally protect. The people were God’s people; the Sabbath was God’s day. It wasn’t so much that the people needed a day of rest (although scientific evidence shows that they do!) but rather that it was to be a covenant sign (v12,16,17) between God and his people.

There is a continuing theme here: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ Leviticus 19:2

18 When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Two tablets, possibly not because the Law wouldn’t fit on one, but because it was standard practice that each party to a covenant would have their own copy. If so, God’s copy was to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant, and the people’s copy would also be stored there for safety!

Exodus 29 Exodus 32 NIV Copyright