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Exodus 30:1-19

Context
The Altar of Incense

30:1 1 “You are to make an altar for burning incense; 2  you are to make it of 3  acacia wood. 4  30:2 Its length is to be a foot and a half 5  and its width a foot and a half; it will be square. Its height is to be three feet, 6  with its horns of one piece with it. 7  30:3 You are to overlay it with pure gold – its top, 8  its four walls, 9  and its horns – and make a surrounding border of gold for it. 10  30:4 You are to make two gold rings for it under its border, on its two flanks; you are to make them on its two sides. 11  The rings 12  will be places 13  for poles to carry it with. 30:5 You are to make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.

30:6 “You are to put it in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the testimony (before the atonement lid that is over the testimony), where I will meet you. 30:7 Aaron is to burn sweet incense 14  on it morning by morning; when he attends 15  to the lamps he is to burn incense. 16  30:8 When Aaron sets up the lamps around sundown he is to burn incense on it; it is to be a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. 30:9 You must not offer strange incense on it, nor burnt offering, nor meal offering, and you must not pour out a drink offering on it. 30:10 Aaron is to make atonement on its horns once in the year with some of the blood of the sin offering for atonement; 17  once in the year 18  he is to make atonement on it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.” 19 

The Ransom Money

30:11 20 The Lord spoke to Moses: 21  30:12 “When you take a census 22  of the Israelites according to their number, 23  then each man is to pay a ransom 24  for his life to the Lord when you number them, 25  so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 30:13 Everyone who crosses over to those who are numbered 26  is to pay this: a half shekel 27  according to the shekel of the sanctuary 28  (a shekel weighs twenty gerahs). The half shekel is to be an offering 29  to the Lord. 30:14 Everyone who crosses over to those numbered, from twenty years old and up, is to pay an offering to the Lord. 30:15 The rich are not to increase it, 30  and the poor are not to pay less than the half shekel when giving 31  the offering of the Lord, to make atonement 32  for your lives. 30:16 You are to receive the atonement money 33  from the Israelites and give it for the service 34  of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial 35  for the Israelites before the Lord, to make atonement 36  for your lives.”

The Bronze Laver

30:17 37 The Lord spoke to Moses: 38  30:18 “You are also to make a large bronze 39  basin with a bronze stand 40  for washing. You are to put it between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it, 41  30:19 and Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and their feet from it. 42 

1 sn Why this section has been held until now is a mystery. One would have expected to find it with the instructions for the other furnishings. The widespread contemporary view that it was composed later does not answer the question, it merely moves the issue to the work of an editor rather than the author. N. M. Sarna notes concerning the items in chapter 30 that “all the materials for these final items were anticipated in the list of invited donations in 25:3-6” and that they were not needed for installing Aaron and his sons (Exodus [JPSTC], 193). Verses 1-10 can be divided into three sections: the instructions for building the incense altar (1-5), its placement (6), and its proper use (7-10).

2 tn The expression is מִזְבֵּחַ מִקְטַר קְטֹרֶת (mizbeakh miqtar qÿtoret), either “an altar, namely an altar of incense,” or “an altar, [for] burning incense.” The second noun is “altar of incense,” although some suggest it is an active noun meaning “burning.” If the former, then it is in apposition to the word for “altar” (which is not in construct). The last noun is “incense” or “sweet smoke.” It either qualifies the “altar of incense” or serves as the object of the active noun. B. Jacob says that in order to designate that this altar be used only for incense, the Torah prepared the second word for this passage alone. It specifies the kind of altar this is (Exodus, 828).

3 tn This is an adverbial accusative explaining the material used in building the altar.

4 sn See M. Haran, “The Uses of Incense in Ancient Israel Ritual,” VT 10 (1960): 113-15; N. Glueck, “Incense Altars,” Translating and Understanding the Old Testament, 325-29.

5 tn Heb “a cubit.”

6 tn Heb “two cubits.”

7 tn Heb “its horns from it.”

8 tn Heb “roof.”

9 tn Heb “its walls around.”

10 tn Heb “and make for it border gold around.” The verb is a consecutive perfect. See Exod 25:11, where the ark also has such a molding.

11 sn Since it was a small altar, it needed only two rings, one on either side, in order to be carried. The second clause clarifies that the rings should be on the sides, the right and the left, as you approach the altar.

12 tn Heb “And it”; this refers to the rings collectively in their placement on the box, and so the word “rings” has been used to clarify the referent for the modern reader.

13 tn Heb “for houses.”

14 tn The text uses a cognate accusative (“incense”) with the verb “to burn” or “to make into incense/sweet smoke.” Then, the noun “sweet spices” is added in apposition to clarify the incense as sweet.

15 tn The Hebrew is בְּהֵיטִיבוֹ (bÿhetivo), a Hiphil infinitive construct serving in a temporal clause. The Hebrew verb means “to make good” and so in this context “to fix” or “to dress.” This refers to cleansing and trimming the lamps.

16 sn The point of the little golden altar of incense is normally for intercessory prayer, and then at the Day of Atonement for blood applied atonement. The instructions for making it show that God wanted his people to make a place for prayer. The instructions for its use show that God expects that the requests of his people will be pleasing to him.

17 tn The word “atonements” (plural in Hebrew) is a genitive showing the result or product of the sacrifice made.

18 sn This ruling presupposes that the instruction for the Day of Atonement has been given, or at the very least, is to be given shortly. That is the one day of the year that all sin and all ritual impurity would be removed.

19 sn The phrase “most holy to the Lord” means that the altar cannot be used for any other purpose than what is stated here.

20 sn This brief section has been interpreted a number of ways by biblical scholars (for a good survey and discussion, see B. Jacob, Exodus, 829-35). In this context the danger of erecting and caring for a sanctuary may have been in view. A census would be taken to count the losses and to cover the danger of coming into such proximity with the holy place; payment was made to ransom the lives of the people numbered so that they would not die. The money collected would then be used for the care of the sanctuary. The principle was fairly straightforward: Those numbered among the redeemed of the Lord were to support the work of the Lord to maintain their fellowship with the covenant. The passage is fairly easy to outline: I. Every covenant member must give a ransom for his life to avoid death (11-12); II. The ransom is the same for all, whether rich or poor (13-15); and III. The ransom money supports the sanctuary as a memorial for the ransomed (16).

21 tn Heb “and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.” This full means for introducing a quotation from the Lord is used again in 30:17, 22; 31:1; and 40:1. It appears first in 6:10. Cynthia L. Miller discusses its use in detail (The Representation of Speech in Biblical Hebrew Narrative, 373-86).

22 tn The expression is “when you take [lift up] the sum [head] of the Israelites.”

23 tn The form is לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם (lifqudehem, “according to those that are numbered of/by them”) from the verb פָּקַד (paqad, “to visit”). But the idea of this word seems more to be that of changing or determining the destiny, and so “appoint” and “number” become clear categories of meaning for the word. Here it simply refers to the census, but when this word is used for a census it often involves mustering an army for a military purpose. Here there is no indication of a war, but it may be laying down the principle that when they should do this, here is the price. B. Jacob (Exodus, 835) uses Num 31 as a good illustration, showing that the warrior was essentially a murderer, if he killed anyone in battle. For this reason his blood was forfeit; if he survived he must pay a כֹּפֶר (kofer) because every human life possesses value and must be atoned for. The payment during the census represented a “presumptive ransom” so that they could not be faulted for what they might do in war.

24 tn The “ransom” is כֹּפֶר (kofer), a word related to words translated “atone” and “atonement.” Here the noun refers to what is paid for the life. The idea is that of delivering or redeeming by a substitute – here the substitute is the money. If they paid the amount, their lives would be safe (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:473).

25 tn The temporal clause uses a preposition, an infinitive construct, and then an accusative. The subject is supplied: “in numbering them” means “when [you] number them.” The verb could also be rendered “when you muster them.”

26 sn Each man was to pass in front of the counting officer and join those already counted on the other side.

27 sn The half shekel weight of silver would be about one-fifth of an ounce (6 grams).

28 sn It appears that some standard is in view for the amount of a shekel weight. The sanctuary shekel is sometimes considered to be twice the value of the ordinary shekel. The “gerah,” also of uncertain meaning, was mentioned as a reference point for the ancient reader to understand the value of the required payment. It may also be that the expression meant “a sacred shekel” and looked at the purpose more – a shekel for sanctuary dues. This would mean that the standard of the shekel weight was set because it was the traditional amount of sacred dues (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 333). “Though there is no certainty, the shekel is said to weigh about 11,5 grams…Whether an official standard is meant [by ‘sanctuary shekel’] or whether the sanctuary shekel had a different weight than the ‘ordinary’ shekel is not known” (C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:181).

29 tn Or “contribution” (תְּרוּמָה, tÿrumah).

30 tn Or “pay more.”

31 tn The form is לָתֵת (latet), the Qal infinitive construct with the lamed preposition. The infinitive here is explaining the preceding verbs. They are not to increase or diminish the amount “in paying the offering.” The construction approximates a temporal clause.

32 tn This infinitive construct (לְכַפֵּר, lÿkhapper) provides the purpose of the giving the offering – to atone.

33 tn Heb “the silver of the atonements.” The genitive here is the result (as in “sheep of slaughter”) telling what the money will be used for (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 11, §44).

34 sn The idea of “service” is maintenance and care of the sanctuary and its service, meaning the morning and evening sacrifices and the other elements to be used.

35 sn S. R. Driver says this is “to keep Jehovah in continual remembrance of the ransom which had been paid for their lives” (Exodus, 334).

36 tn The infinitive could be taken in a couple of ways here. It could be an epexegetical infinitive: “making atonement.” Or it could be the infinitive expressing result: “so that atonement will be made for your lives.”

37 sn Another piece of furniture is now introduced, the laver, or washing basin. It was a round (the root means to be round) basin for holding water, but it had to be up on a pedestal or base to let water run out (through taps of some kind) for the priests to wash – they could not simply dip dirty hands into the basin. This was for the priests primarily to wash their hands and feet before entering the tent. It stood in the courtyard between the altar and the tent. No dimensions are given. The passage can be divided into three sections: the instructions (17-18), the rules for washing (19-20), and the reminder that this is a perpetual statute.

38 tn Heb “and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.”

39 sn The metal for this object was obtained from the women from their mirrors (see Exod 38:8).

40 tn Heb “and its stand bronze.”

41 tn The form is the adverb “there” with the directive qamets-he ( ָה).

42 tn That is, from water from it.



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