Exodus 27:1-8, Exodus 38:1-5, Exodus 30:17-21, and Exodus 38:8
There were two pieces of furniture in the outer court: the brazen altar and the brazen laver. The brazen altar was twice the height of the ark. When we think of an altar, we think of worship and sacrifice. An altar is a place of humiliation and submission for the Israelite. The altar provides the ministry of reconciliation.
This is what happened when we came to the Cross for salvation. We were humbled as sinners and we submitted to the Lamb of God, then we received salvation. We threw ourselves on the mercy of God. The atonement not only saves us, but also glorifies God. Immediately after our conversion, we hungered for spiritual food – God’s holy Word, which would equate with the laver. When the priests had sacrificed to God, their next appointment was the brazen laver. They could not serve apart from using the laver. The laver suggests separation and sanctification.
The Brazen Altar
The altar reminds us of Hebrews 9:22, “without the shedding of blood.” There was no entrance to God’s presence except by blood. In this age, there is no entrance into the presence of God except through the sacrifice and blood of Christ. With this truth in view, it is significant that the altar was built foursquare. This suggests its sufficiency for Israel as they encamped on its four sides. In an even greater degree, it depicts the sacrifice of Christ, on the altar of the Cross, as sufficient to meet the need of the world. In virtue of this glorious truth, the risen triumphant Lord could say to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
There were two materials used in the building of the altar: acacia wood and brass. Note at this point that all the vessels in the Holy and Most Holy place were covered with pure gold.
The Acacia Wood
The acacia wood speaks of our Lord’s incorruptible humanity.
1. This wood was indestructible. Man and demon tried to mar His character and destroy Him. [Describe] The Lord withstood the wiles of the devil and the hatred of man. He also triumphed in and over the judgment and wrath of God against sin. Parts of this tree were also made into medicine to meet the needs of the sick.
2. The acacia tree grew in the desert. It possessed a long top root through which it maintained life from hidden resources. Consider Luke’s account of our Lord as the perfect man engaging in prayer on seven major occasions. Isaiah 53:2 speaks prophetically of our Lord, that He would “grow up as a root out of dry ground.” This is the man-ward aspect. The God-ward aspect was entirely different. “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant.”
3. The acacia wood was covered with brass (copper). The ancients evidently had a process of hardening copper that made it the most fire-resistant of all metals. This metal speaks to us of Christ who alone could endure the fierceness of the wrath of God. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “He endured the Cross, despising the shame.”
God’s judgment would have consumed mere man instantly. The fact that the brass (or copper) speaks of the fierceness of the wrath of God against sin is further evidenced by the incident in Numbers 16. The earth swallowed up Korah, with his fellow rebels Dathan and Abiram. Then fire came down from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who had offered incense in this brass censer.
Moses commanded Eleazar to take the censers out of the fire; the reason given for this is “that they are hallowed.” Then their censers were taken and made into broad plates, which completely covered the altar on all four sides. This was to be a sign to the Jews of the judgment of God upon any who would approach Him in their own way and not in the God-appointed way.
The Altar as a Type
The altar is a type of the Cross - the grating midway (meaning “lifted up”).
The altar was the only place where the Israelite could obtain a postponement of divine judgment. His sins were covered. The Cross of Christ is the only place where a sinner can receive forgiveness of sins, be justified, and reconciled.
The horns pointed in all directions telling us that the power of the blood is available to all mankind, inclusive of Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, learned and unlearned, and rich and poor alike. The horns also speak of power. It is interesting that horns were found on the altar of incense, which represents prayer. The power of the blood and the power of prayer are suggested thoughts here.
Animal sacrifices are a type of Christ (The Lamb and the Fire). Animals were subjected to the intense heat of the fire, which represents Christ’s sufferings. There was no substitute for Him as in Isaac’s case. Stoves represent the pilgrim character as well as the gospel, the death and resurrection.
The Brazen Laver
(Exodus 30:17-21, Exodus 38:8, Exodus 40:7)
The brazen laver was one of the two vessels that stood in the outer court of the tabernacle. It stood between the brazen altar and the door of the tabernacle. The laver was to be made out of the mirrors of the women who assembled at the door of the congregation (see Exodus 38:8). The Egyptians had developed the technique of polishing brass so that one could see their reflections. For some, what they saw was gratifying. For others, it meant that what they saw needed some improvement; so the mirrors were instruments of self-gratification.
The Jewish women were no different from the Egyptians in this respect and evidently had brought large quantities of these looking glasses with them. These they surrendered to the Lord and His service to be used to make that that typified the need for personal holiness. This is an important factor in a believer’s life – surrender and sanctification. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow…Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
There was no measurement given for the laver. This was mainly because there is not limit to the holiness that God would wish for His people to show. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be ye holy: for I am holy.” In the context of the mirror, James reminds us that the Word is a mirror. Read James 1:22-25. If we want a good look at ourselves we should read the Word.
In Psalm 119, the Word is called the judgment of God fifteen times. What the Law was to the Israelite, the Word should be to the believer. We no sooner begin to read the Word than we find we are being judged by it. As sinners, we were judged for our sin – condemned. We saw ourselves without Christ – eternally lost. As believers we read of the holiness of God, then we read of our own sinfulness of heart and it drives us “to our knees” in confession. Like Peter we say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
The laver was a small vessel, yet it met the need of every priest. Though the Word of God is small, it can meet the need for the cleansing of every believer. It is interesting to note that there are no measurements given as to the size of the laver. Being a picture of the Word, it reminds us that the Word cannot be measured. The Bible is a wonderful book, but it cannot be measured or be contained in any one vessel. It never needs to be repaired.
The Water of the Laver
The laver was filled with water. The water was for the cleansing of the priests. [Describe the defilement] At his consecration, the priest was bathed all over by Moses at the laver. This bathing had to be done but once (see Leviticus 8:6) and done by another. But, in his service for God, the priest had to wash his hands and feet every time he entered into the Holy Place (see Exodus 30:19-21). The penalty for not doing so was death (see Exodus 30:20-21). The original washing typifies regeneration in our day, an experience that is never repeated. It also explains the Lord’s word to Peter, “He that is washed (completely) needeth not save to wash (partially) his feet, but is clean every whit.” (John 13:10)
The water in the laver is the Word of God. [Give the guide here as to how to discern between the Word and the Spirit when water is mentioned] If the water is still, it is the Word. If the water is moving, it is the Spirit. So then, the water in the laver speaks to us of the Word of God being applied by the Spirit of God. They that are in the flesh cannot please God (see Romans 8:8).
Psalm 49:9 says, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way.” John 15:3 says, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The church is constantly being “cleansed and sanctified with the washing of water by the Word” (see Ephesians 5:26). How important it is that we should often apply the Word of God, by the power of the Spirit to our lives.
Let me sum up the contents of our talk: It was mandatory for the priest to wash at the laver before entering God’s presence in service. If he should fail to wash, he would die (see Exodus 30:20-21). The application for us today is:
1. If we fail to come regularly for cleansing from the Word, we will die spiritually.
2. If we fail to apply the Word to our lives before serving God, His judgment will rest upon us.
Brethren, we should apply the Word often to our lives. We should confess our sins in the light of the Word. Then, and only then, will we be in a spiritual condition to serve and worship God acceptably.