Prayerfulness and Holy Service, Exodus 30


I. The Altar of Incense, 30:1-10

This was a smaller altar, measuring 18 inches square by three feet tall, and built like the ark and the table of showbread, of acacia wood, overlaid with pure gold. it had two pair of gold rings and two poles of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold to transport it. It also had, like the large altar in the courtyard, four horns, the focal point of its annual purification with the blood of a sin offering on the Day of Atonement.
It was placed in front of the ark, before the veil in the holy place, where the priests could attend the the daily incense burning in the morning and in the evening at the same times as the tending of the lamps in the lampstand.
In the Bible, burning incense is often a picture of prayer. David prayed, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You,” and John saw the elders in heaven with “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8; see 8:3–4). Whenever the priest burned the incense, it was a call to the people for a time of prayer
Luke 1:8–10 NASB95
Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.
The fire for burning the incense came from the brazen altar where the sacrifices were offered to God (Lev. 16:12–13; Num. 16:46). This suggests that true prayer must be based on the work of Christ on the cross and on our complete dedication to God. A true fervency in prayer isn’t a religious emotion we work up ourselves; rather, it’s a blessing that God sends down as we yield ourselves to Him.
Prayer isn’t simply a jumble of words we mix together with the hope they’ll be heard by God and answered. The Bible names some of the “ingredients” of prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, submission (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6)—and even gives us a pattern to follow (Matt. 6:5–15).
You can be sure that the priest didn’t rush into the tabernacle, quickly burn the incense, and then rush out. No, he prepared himself and reverently approached the altar, knowing that he was in the presence of the holy God.
Because of the work of Christ on the cross, believers today can go through the veil into the very presence of God, and there present their worship and petitions in the name of Jesus (Heb. 10:19–25).
The priests were warned not to use this golden altar for anything other than burning incense (Ex. 30:9), for there are no substitutes for prayer. No amount of sacrificing can take the place of true praying. The golden altar wasn’t a place for making bargains with God or trying to change His mind.
James 4:1–4 NASB95
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1 John 5:14–15
1 John 5:14–15 NASB95
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
It was a place for adoring Him and praying, “Thy will be done.”
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the priest had to apply blood to the incense altar in order to make it ceremonially clean before God (Ex. 30:10). Even in our praying we can sin!

II. The Atonement Money, 30:11-16

This census was taken to number the fighting men of Israel, 20 years of age and up. Everyone contributed the same half shekel amount; no one who was numbered was free from the contribution. This contribution was “to make atonement for yourselves.”
The amount collected, according to Exodus 38:21-31, was 100 talents, 1,775 shekels for a total of 301,775 shekels (a talent is 3,000 shekels). The number of men twenty years of age and older was 603,550. The silver contributed was used to make both the sockets on which the posts stood and the hooks for the curtains. Whenever the Israelites saw them, they would remember that their house of worship rested on the price that was paid for their redemption.
The punishment for failing to pay the ransom price was severe. Any man who failed to make a contribution was afflicted with one of the very plagues that God had sent against Pharaoh—deadly disease. Taking a census was a risky business; doing it properly was a matter of life and death!

III. The Laver for Washing, 30:17-21

In the tabernacle courtyard, the laver stood between the brazen altar and the tent, and the priests and Levites had to stop there regularly to wash their hands and feet. If they entered the tent or served at the brazen altar without first washing, they were in danger of death.
The size and the shape of the laver wasn’t the important thing. It was the contents of the laver that really mattered. It held clean water, and the supply was replenished all day long by the Levites.
In the Bible, water for drinking is a picture of the Spirit of God
John 7:37–39 NASB95
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God.
Psalm 119:9 NASB95
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.
John 15:3 NASB95
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
The laver typifies the Word of God that cleanses the mind and heart of those who receive it and obey it.
John 17:17 NASB95
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
Exodus 38:8 tells us that the laver was made out of the bronze mirrors of the Jewish women; it is evidence that it typifies God’s Word, for the Word of God is compared to a mirror in James 1:
James 1:22–26 NASB95
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB95
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
There were three ways to achieve ceremonial cleansing: by water, by fir, or by blood. We are cleansed from the guilt of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross. When we confess our sins, that blood cleanses us (1 John 1:5-2:2). But when we disobey God, our hearts and minds are defiled by sin (described in Psalm 51), and it is the “washing of the Word” (Eph. 5:26) that restores us.
But the OT priests became defiled, not by sinning against God but by serving God! Dirt in the courtyard and the dirt floor in the Tabernacle would cause the priests’ feet to become dirty. That plus handling the sacrifices and sprinkling the blood would cause their hands to become defiled. Each priest needed the constant cleansing, or they would die, verse 21.
When we trust Christ to save us, we are “washed all over.” Remember Jesus’ words to Peter in John 13. Paul said it this way in 1 Cor. 6:9-11
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 NASB95
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
We do not require another bath. It is as we go through life, that our hands and feet get dirty as we minister and we need to be cleansed, or we cannot have fellowship with the Lord. If we are out of fellowship with the Lord, we cannot enjoy His love or do His will.
In Psalm 51:2, 7, David prayed twice, “Wash me,” and God answered his prayer, 2 Samuel 12:13. But later Isaiah told the sinners of his day, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean” (Isa. 1:16) which suggests that we need to clean up our own lives and put away the things that defile us. Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

IV. Creating The Anointing Oil, 30:22-33

The anointing oil consisted of four of the finest spices in proportion: myrrh, cinnamon, cane, and cassia which were mixed into olive oil. This special oil was used only to anoint the priests, the Tabernacle, and its furnishings.
Throughout the OT, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed. This symbolically acknowledged that God had granted the His Spirit for power and service
Luke 4:17–19 NASB95
And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Moses poured this oil on his brother Aaron’s head, which meant it ran down his beard, bathing the stones of the breastpiece with is aromatic fragrance
Psalm 133:1-2 calls it a beautiful picture of unity in the Lord
In Christ, believers have received an anointing of the Spirit of God. This is seen in 1 John 2:20, 27 and 2 Cor. 1:21-22.
1 John 2:20, 27
1 John 2:20 NASB95
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
1 John 2:27 NASB95
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
2 Corinthians 1:21–22 NASB95
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
John’s emphasis is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit in guiding the believer into the truth of the Word of God. Paul’s emphasis is on encouragement and stability:
We have been anointed by the Spirit of God.
We have been sealed by the Spirit unto God
We have received the Spirit as the “down payment” of future glory.
So, God has anointed us, sealed us, and given us a foretaste of heaven, then why should we ever despair or feel that He will ever desert us?

V. Creating The Incense, 30:34-38

The incense that was to be used for burning on the altar of incense was to be a specific mixture of four ingredients. It was to be unique to the Tabernacle’s use and never for common use. In a similar way, not just any prayer is acceptable to God. Only prayers offered as He has instructed will be acceptable before Him.
1 John 5:14 NASB95
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
The ingredients were...
Stacte – a fragrant resin obtained from some species of cistus, or ‘rockrose.’
Onycha – the horny plate that covers a species of mussel found in the lakes of India which, when burned, emits a musky odor.
Galbanum – a pleasantly aromatic gum resin
Frankincense – as used by the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, was a gum resin now called olibanum which was derived from certain trees of the genus Boswellia found growing on the limestone of South Arabia and Somaliland. Three of the four ingredients were gum resins.
Verse 35 tells us that an additional ingredient was that this special incense had to be “salted,” for salt symbolized purity and a covenant relationship (Lev. 2:13).
Psalm 66:18 NASB95
If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear;
1 Timothy 2:8 NASB95
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
Colossians 4:6 NASB95
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
All of our speech is to be seasoned with salt. This suggests that we ought to speak to people with the same holy reverence that we speak to God, for He hears what we say. The ability that we have to speak to one another is as much a sacred gift of God as the privilege of prayer. Listen how David combined these thoughts:
Psalm 141:1–3 NASB95
O Lord, I call upon You; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You! May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
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