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The Bronze Laver

17 [a] The Lord spoke to Moses,[b] 18 “You are also to make a large bronze[c] basin with a bronze stand[d] for washing. You are to put it between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it,[e] 19 and Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and their feet from it.[f] 20 When they enter[g] the tent of meeting, they must wash with[h] water so that they do not die.[i] Also, when they approach[j] the altar to minister by burning incense[k] as an offering made by fire[l] to the Lord, 21 they must wash[m] their hands and their feet so that they do not die. And this[n] will be a perpetual ordinance for them and for their descendants[o] throughout their generations.”[p]

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  1. Exodus 30:17 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.
  2. Exodus 30:17 tn Heb “and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.”
  3. Exodus 30:18 sn The metal for this object was obtained from the women from their mirrors (see Exod 38:8).
  4. Exodus 30:18 tn Heb “and its stand bronze.”
  5. Exodus 30:18 tn The form is the adverb “there” with the directive qamets-he.
  6. Exodus 30:19 tn That is, from water from it.
  7. Exodus 30:20 tn The form is an infinitive construct with the temporal preposition ב (bet), and a suffixed subjective genitive: “in their going in,” or, whenever they enter.
  8. Exodus 30:20 tn “Water” is an adverbial accusative of means, and so is translated “with water.” Gesenius classifies this with verbs of “covering with something.” But he prefers to emend the text with a preposition (see GKC 369 §117.y, n. 1).
  9. Exodus 30:20 tn The verb is a Qal imperfect with a nuance of final imperfect. The purpose/result clause here is indicated only with the conjunction: “and they do not die.” But clearly from the context this is the intended result of their washing—it is in order that they not die.
  10. Exodus 30:20 tn Here, too, the infinitive is used in a temporal clause construction. The verb נָגַשׁ (nagash) is the common verb used for drawing near to the altar to make offerings—the official duties of the priest.
  11. Exodus 30:20 tn The text uses two infinitives construct: “to minister to burn incense”; the first is the general term and expresses the purpose of the drawing near, and the second infinitive is epexegetical, explaining the first infinitive.
  12. Exodus 30:20 tn The translation “as an offering made by fire” is a standard rendering of the one word in the text that appears to refer to “fire.” Milgrom and others contend that it simply means a “gift” (Leviticus 1-16, 161).
  13. Exodus 30:21 tn Heb “and [then] they will wash.”
  14. Exodus 30:21 tn The verb is “it will be.”
  15. Exodus 30:21 tn Heb “for his seed.”
  16. Exodus 30:21 tn Or “for generations to come”; it literally is “to their generations.”sn The symbolic meaning of washing has been taught throughout the ages. This was a practical matter of cleaning hands and feet, but it was also symbolic of purification before Yahweh. It was an outward sign of inner spiritual cleansing, or forgiveness. Jesus washed the disciples feet (Jn 13) to show this same teaching; he asked the disciples if they knew what he had done (so it was more than washing feet). In this passage the theological points for the outline would be these: I. God provides the means of cleansing; II. Cleansing is a prerequisite for participating in the worship, and III. (Believers) priests must regularly appropriate God’s provision of cleansing.