Our reading today starts off with the command to consecrate the priests. The word “consecrate” in the Hebrew is the verb form of the adjective “holy.” The priests are holy or set apart to the Lord, just as the plate they would wear on their heads would say. So too for anyone: if you are Holy to the Lord, it will be plain to all that see you. And this consecration requires that Aaron be anointed (29:7) – the Hebrew word מָשַׁח – mashah – where we get our word Messiah. This is another pointer to our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, Who is completely holy and anointed for His work. The fact that a sacrifice for the sin of the priests had to be made (vv. 10-14), and made over and over again (v. 36), shows us that the culmination of the High Priesthood – One Who could truly take away our sins in His sinlessness – was not found in the Aaronic priesthood.
In verse 29, we see that the High Priesthood is to pass according to physical descent. In verses 31-33 we see that part of the being made holy is eating the body of the lamb slain and the bread, both pointers to Christ (see John 6:53-58). Note in verse 34 that the eating of the body of the lamb and the bread can be done only once. In verse 37 we see that holiness is partially regulated by the physical, as touching the holy altar makes something holy. In verses 38-42 we see the need for constant atonement for sin (see Heb 10:1-10).
Chapter 30 starts with instructions for another altar: the altar of incense. Notice that this altar is overlaid in gold (v. 3), because it will be in the very presence of God (v. 6). Note the injunction against burning unauthorized incense (i.e., “strange fire” – v. 9). Also notice that this altar – not the altar used throughout the rest of the year – is the one used on the Day of Atonement (v. 10). Again, we have a pointer forward to Christ and His sacrifice in the presence of God.
Verses 11-16 record the instructions for the census tax, which would be collected once per year. This is the same Temple Tax that Peter pays for himself and Christ with the shekel from the mouth of the fish (Matt 17:24-27). This would be for the work of the ministry*. With the bronze basin, we see the requirement for spiritual cleanness when entering the presence of God (vv. 17-21). In verses 22-33, we see that the priests, the Ark, the whole tent, the altars, and everything used in the Tabernacle is to be anointed. All of these things point us forward to the Person and Work of Christ, our Messiah, which all of these people and things pint forward to. In the commands about the incense (vv. 34-38) we see that God forbids using what is holy for any unholy means.
Chapter 31 begins with the appointing of Bezalel (31:1), Oholiab (v. 6), and those “all able men” (also v. 6). We see here that what God commands to be done, He also gifts the body of believers to do. In verse 13 we see that “above all” the Sabbath must be kept. This obedience to the fourth commandment is the outworking of the first three. Note that keeping the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11) is the first do commandment (there are only two of those!). So either Israel does that, or they do one or more of the first three do not commandments. And keeping the Sabbath is tied in with the holiness of the nation. Twice God warns that the penalty for failure to keep this command is death (vv. 14-15). And again the correlation is made between creation days and days of the week.
Or reading today ends with the giving of the two tablets, written by the very hand of God. From Exodus 34:28, we know that what was written on these were the Ten Commandments. This shows again that the Ten Commandments are the basis of the law, and that all the other specific laws are practical out-workings of these Ten.
God is good. He provides for what He commands. And He provides richly in the person Jesus Christ Who is the fulfillment of the sacrifices for sin, the means of the right worship of God, and our only means of holiness.
*The Old Testament sets a standard of giving for the work of the ministry (here), providing for the living of the priests and Levites through the tithe (as we will see later), as well as other times where special projects call for giving (like with the building of the Tabernacle). We should be careful, however, about equating the Old Testament giving commands with what God requires of Christians today. First, the tithe in the Old Testament was not money, it was food, and it was used exclusively for those who worked in the Temple (those who do the work of ministry – this can be correlated to the New Testament assertion that those who work as ministers of the word should make a living doing so – see 1 Cor 9:14). Second, the Temple tax was a flat tax (Ex 30:15). Third, as we have seen, the specific commands of the Law do not apply to the church since Christ fulfilled the law. Fourth, as we have also seen, we are called to a higher standard than the Law as Christians. Fifth, the only requested collection taken in the New Testament is for the poor. Sixth, all of the giving in the New Testament was offered freely, not as a requirement.