Purity and Peculiarity

17 The Lord said to Moses, 18 “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19 with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20 When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21 They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.”

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. 30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 31 And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be poured on the body of an ordinary person, and you shall make no other like it in composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’”

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.” – Exodus 30:17-38 ESV

Holiness seems to be the theme of these closing verses of chapter 30.

“…it shall be a holy anointing oil…” – vs 25

“You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy.” – vs 30

“Whatever touches them will become holy.” – vs 30

This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations.” – vs 31

It is holy, and it shall be holy to you.” – vs 32

“…make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.” – vs 35

It shall be most holy for you.” – vs 36

It shall be for you holy to the Lord.” – vs 37

The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is קֹדֶשׁ (qōḏeš) and it refers to something as being “sacred,” “separate,” or “set apart.” Even the oil and incense used in the Tabernacle were to be distinctively different and set apart solely for God’s use. There was to be nothing ordinary or pedestrian about God’s house, His priests, or the rites and rituals performed within it. Purity and peculiarity were essential requirements for the worship of God. Yahweh would not dwell in just any tent. His abode had to reflect His glory and grandeur. And His priests, while ordinary men, must be clothed in garments that matched the magnitude of their calling. When performing their priestly duties, they were to be dressed in clothes of unparalleled beauty and anointed with a costly oil made from a proprietary blend of myrrh, sweet-smelling cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil.

Their hands and feet were to be washed in the special bronze basin that was located between the altar of sacrifice and the veil that led into the Holy Place. For Aaron and his sons, the old adage, “cleanliness is next to godliness” was especially true because God had warned, “They must wash with water whenever they go into the Tabernacle to appear before the Lord and when they approach the altar to burn up their special gifts to the Lord—or they will die!” (Exodus 30:20 NLT). They were forbidden to even draw near God’s presence in an unclean state. This ritual too, had to do with holiness or set-apartness. Their cleansing at the basin did not completely rid them of all dirt and grime, but it symbolized their need for purification before they could access a holy and righteous God.

This basin was strategically located at the door of the Tabernacle as a visual reminder to Aaron and his sons that their personal purity was essential. One must keep in mind that the basic was the very first stop after the priests had slaughtered and sacrificed animals on the bronze altar. Their hands and feet would have been covered in blood, requiring them to cleanse themselves before they could pass through the veil into the Holy Place.

It was King David who later wrote:

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart… – Psalm 24:3-4 ESV

The practice of ritual cleansing was meant as a constant reminder to the priests that their personal purity was important to God. His holiness was to be honored at all times, and His perfect righteousness was never to be treated lightly or flippantly. To do so would bring the penalty of death.

It’s interesting to note that God set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests in the Tabernacle. They were chosen by God for this distinguished honor. But their set-apart status was not enough. They needed the proper clothing to wear. They needed blood sacrifices to atone for their sins and make possible their forgiveness. They required anointing with oil to signify their status as God’s chosen servants. Then they needed to be covered in the sweet-smelling blend of olive oil and spices to mask even the smallest hint of unacceptable odor that might offend a holy God. This whole process speaks of their ongoing need for sanctification. Not one step was to be left out. Every phase of the process was essential in preparing them to serve God Almighty.

The aromatic blend of olive oil and expensive spices was not just reserved for Aaron and his sons. It was also to be used “to anoint the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and all its accessories, the incense altar, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the washbasin with its stand” (Exodus 30:26-28 NLT).

This process rendered all the items as holy or set apart to God. And God states that anyone or anything that came into contact with those very same items would be considered holy as well. This is not to say that holiness is contagious or transferable, but that holiness is mandatory. Verse 29 seems to indicate that only those who have been anointed with the holy oil could touch the pieces located within the Tabernacle. No other person, no matter their pedigree or social status, was allowed to enter the Holy Place or touch any of the furniture found within it. Holiness was required.

And God warns that the oil belongs to Him, not Aaron and his sons. It was made for His benefit. The sweet aroma it gave off was for His enjoyment. That meant that no one was to replicate it or use it for any other purpose.

“It must never be used to anoint anyone else, and you must never make any blend like it for yourselves. It is holy, and you must treat it as holy. Anyone who makes a blend like it or anoints someone other than a priest will be cut off from the community.” – Exodus 30:32-33 NLT

Violation of this command would result in expulsion from the community of Israel. Some rabbinical scholars speculate that the penalty actually involved physical death. To be “cut off” meant to be permanently eliminated by means of execution. But whether the penalty involved ex-communication or execution, it would prove to be a costly mistake to violate God’s command.

The same penalty was reserved for any misuse of the incense that was to be placed before the Ark of the Covenant. This special blend of spices was also set apart solely for God’s use. It was to be considered as holy or sacred, and never to be replicated or repurposed for any other use.

“Never use this formula to make this incense for yourselves. It is reserved for the Lord, and you must treat it as holy. Anyone who makes incense like this for personal use will be cut off from the community.” – Exodus 30:37-38 NLT

The Tabernacle did not belong to the people of Israel. It was God’s possession just as they were. And everything associated with the Tabernacle was to be set apart for His use and for His glory. From the anointing oil and incense to the priestly robes and particular pieces of furniture that filled the inner recesses of the Tabernacle, it all belonged to the Lord. The holiness of these items was not tied to the actual composition of the oil and spice blend. What rendered them holy was God’s selection of them as His own. The oil was nothing more than a ceremonial reminder of their set-apart status. God wanted His people to know that His choice of them had rendered them holy. They were His prized possession, and He expected them to demonstrate that reality in their everyday lives. The Tabernacle was meant to be a visual reminder to God’s people of what it means to be holy and set apart. Cleanliness, purity, distinctiveness, and total dedication were required of the Tabernacle and of His people. They were to keep themselves pure and undefiled in all their ways. As the psalmist wrote years later:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways! – Psalm 119:1-3 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.