Instructions for Making the Incense Altar
30 “And you will make an altar for burning incense; you will make it of acacia wood, 2 a cubit its length and a cubit its width—it will be square—and two cubits its height, its horns of one piece with it. 3 And you will overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around and its horns, and you will make for it a gold molding all around. 4 And you will make two gold rings for it; under its molding on two opposite sides you will make them as holders for poles to carry it with them. 5 You will make the poles of acacia wood, and you will overlay them with gold. 6 And you will put it before the curtain that is upon the ark of the testimony, before the atonement cover, which is on the testimony, there where I will meet with you.
7 “And on it Aaron will turn fragrant incense into smoke; each morning when he tends the lamps, he will turn it into smoke. 8 And when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he will turn it into smoke—incense of continuity—before Yahweh throughout your generations. 9 You will not offer on it strange incense or a burnt offering or a grain offering, and you will not pour a libation on it. 10 And Aaron will make atonement on its horns one time in the year from the blood of the sin offering of the atonement; one time in the year he will make atonement on it throughout your generations; it is a most holy thing for Yahweh.”
Instructions for Numbering the People
11 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, they will each give the ransom of his life for Yahweh when counting them, and a plague will not be among them when counting them. 13 This they will give, everyone who is counted, the half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which is twenty gerahs per shekel. The half shekel is a contribution for Yahweh. 14 Everyone who is counted from twenty years old and above will give the contribution of Yahweh. 15 The rich will not give more, and the poor will not give less than the half shekel to give the contribution of Yahweh to make atonement for their lives. 16 And you will take the atonement money from the Israelites and give it to the service of the tent of assembly, and it will be as a memorial for the Israelites before Yahweh to make atonement for your lives.”
Instructions for Making the Basin
17 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “And you will make a basin of bronze and its bronze stand for washing, and you will put it between the tent of assembly and the altar, and you will put water there. 19 And Aaron and his sons will wash their hands and their feet with it. 20 When they come to the tent of assembly, they will wash with water so that they do not die, or when they approach the altar to serve by turning to smoke an offering made by fire to Yahweh. 21 And they will wash their hands and their feet so that they do not die, and it will be a lasting rule for them—to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.
Instructions for Making Anointing Oil and Incense
22 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “And take for yourself top quality balsam oils, five hundred shekels of flowing myrrh, half as much—two hundred and fifty shekels of fragrant cinnamon, and two hundred and fifty shekels of fragrant reed, 24 and five hundred shekels of cassia, according to the sanctuary shekel, and a hin of olive oil. 25 And you will make it into holy anointing oil, a spice blend of a fragrant ointment the work of a perfumer; it will be holy anointing oil. 26 And you will anoint with it the tent of assembly and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its equipment and the lampstand and its equipment and the incense altar, 28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its equipment and the basin and its stand. 29 And you will consecrate them, and they will be most holy things; anyone who touches them will be holy. 30 And you will anoint Aaron and his sons, and you will consecrate them to serve as priests for me.
31 “And you will speak to the Israelites, saying, ‘This will be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It will not be poured on human flesh, and with its measurements you will not make any like it; it is holy; it will be holy to you. 33 Anyone who compounds perfume like it and who puts it on a stranger will be cut off from his people.’ ”
34 And Yahweh said to Moses, “Take for yourself fragrant perfumes—stacte resin and onycha and galbanum—fragrant perfumes and pure frankincense, an equal part of each, 35 and make it into a compound of incense, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, holy. 36 And you will grind part of it to powder, and you will put part of it before the testimony in the tent of assembly where I will meet with you; it will be a most holy thing to you. 37 And the incense that you will make with its measurements you will not make for yourselves; it will be holy to you for Yahweh. 38 Anyone who makes any like it to smell it will be cut off from his people.”
Provision of Skilled People
31 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur, from the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom and with skill and with knowledge and with every kind of craftsmanship, 4 to devise designs, to work with gold and with silver and with bronze, 5 and in stonecutting for setting and in cutting wood, for doing every kind of craftsmanship. 6 And, look, I have given with him Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, from the tribe of Dan, and I have put skill in the heart of all the skilled of heart, and they will make all that I have commanded you— 7 the tent of assembly and the ark of the testimony and the atonement cover that is on it and all the equipment of the tent, 8 and the table and all its equipment, and the pure gold lampstand and all its equipment, and the incense altar, 9 and the altar of burnt offering and all its equipment, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the garments of woven material, and the garments of the sanctuary for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons to serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the sanctuary. According to all that I have commanded you, they will make it.
Provision of Rest from Work
12 And Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 13 “And you, speak to the Israelites, saying, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, because it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, in order to know that I am Yahweh, who consecrates you. 14 And you must keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; defilers of it will surely be put to death, because anyone who does work on it—that person will be cut off from among his people. 15 On six days work can be done, and on the seventh is a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy day for Yahweh; anyone doing work on the Sabbath day will surely be put to death. 16 The Israelites will pay attention to the Sabbath in order to fulfill the Sabbath throughout their generations as a lasting covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever, because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh he ceased and recovered.”
18 And when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, he gave to Moses the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with the finger of God.
The Golden Calf
32 And the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, and the people gathered opposite Aaron, and they said to him, “Come, make for us gods who will go before us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring it to me.” 3 And all the people took off the rings of gold that were on their ears and brought it to Aaron. 4 And he took from their hand, and he shaped it with a tool, and he made it a cast-image bull calf, and they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
5 And Aaron saw, and he built an altar before it, and Aaron called, and he said, “A feast for Yahweh tomorrow.” 6 And they started early the next day, and they offered burnt offerings, and they presented fellowship offerings, and the people sat to eat and drink, and they rose up to revel.
7 And Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, go down because your people behave corruptly, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt. 8 They have turned aside quickly from the way that I commanded them; they have made for themselves a cast-image bull calf, and they bowed to it, and they sacrificed to it, and they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ”
9 And Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and, indeed, they are a stiff-necked people. 10 And now leave me alone so that my anger may blaze against them, and let me destroy them, and I will make you into a great nation.”
11 And Moses implored Yahweh his God, and he said, “Why, Yahweh, should your anger blaze against your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out to kill them in the mountains and wipe them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger and relent concerning the disaster for your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by yourself, and you told them, ‘I will multiply your offspring like the stars of the heavens, and all this land that I promised I will give to your offspring, and they will inherit it forever.’ ”
14 And Yahweh relented concerning the disaster that he had threatened to do to his people. 15 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the testimony were in his hand, tablets written on their two sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 And the tablets, they were the work of God; and the writing, it was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.
17 And Joshua heard the sound of the people in their shouting, and he said to Moses, “A sound of war is in the camp.”
18 But he said, “There is not a sound of shouting of victory, and there is not a sound of shouting of defeat. I hear a sound of singing.”
19 And as he came near to the camp, he saw the bull calf and dancing, and Moses became angry, and he threw the tablets from his hand, and he broke them under the mountain. 20 And he took the bull calf that they had made, and he burned it with the fire, and he crushed it until it became fine, and he scattered it on the surface of the water, and he made the Israelites drink.
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you brought on them such a great sin?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not my lord become angry. You yourself know the people, that they are intent on evil. 23 And they said to me, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us, because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 And I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off.’ And they gave it to me, and I threw it in the fire, and out came this bull calf.”
25 And Moses saw the people, that they were running wild because Aaron had allowed them to run wild, for a laughingstock among their enemies. 26 And Moses stood at the entrance of the camp, and he said, “Whoever is for Yahweh, to me.” And all the sons of Levi were gathered to him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘Put each his sword on his side. Go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill, each his brother and each his friend and each his close relative.’ ” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses, and from the people on that day about three thousand persons fell. 29 And Moses said, “You are ordained today for Yahweh, because each has been against his son and against his brother and so bringing on you today a blessing.”
30 And the next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to Yahweh. Perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 And Moses returned to Yahweh, and he said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin and made for themselves gods of gold. 32 And now if you will forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me from your scroll that you have written.” 33 And Yahweh said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot him from my scroll. 34 And now go, lead the people to where I spoke to you. Look, my angel will go before you, and on the day when I punish I will punish them for their sin.” 35 And Yahweh afflicted the people because they had made the bull calf that Aaron had made.
Further Testimony About the Son
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know that the testimony which he testifies about me is true. 33 You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 (And I do not receive testimony from people, but I say these things in order that you may be saved.) 35 That one was the lamp which was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice for an hour in his light.
36 “But I have a testimony greater than John’s, for the works which the Father has given to me that I should complete them—the very works which I am doing—these testify about me, that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me, that one has testified about me. You have neither heard his voice at any time nor seen his form. 38 And you do not have his word residing in yourselves, because the one whom that one sent, in this one you do not believe. 39 You search the scriptures because you think that you have eternal life in them, and it is these that testify about me. 40 And you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.
41 “I do not accept glory from people, 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me. If another should come in his own name, you would accept that one! 44 How are you able to believe, if you accept glory from one another, and do not seek the glory which is from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father! The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope! 46 For if you had believed Moses, you would believe me, for that one wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe that one’s writings, how will you believe my words?”
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in courses;
a thousand ornaments are hung on it,
all the shields of the warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle that feed among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of the myrrh,
to the hill of the frankincense.
7 You are completely beautiful, my beloved!
You are flawless!
The Mountains and Fragrance of Lebanon
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride!
Come with me from Lebanon!
Look from the top of Amana,
from the top of Senir and Hermon,
from the dwelling places of the lions,
from the mountains of leopard.
Religion is a tough subject. Jesus staunchly opposed religion for religion’s sake, yet He was a Law-abiding Jew. He recognized the value of worship, community, and discipleship, but not the value of religious constraints: religion can bind someone in tradition and be used for oppression. This knowledge makes it hard to understand why God set up religious systems in the first place. Their purpose is confusing.
In Exodus 30–31, there are full descriptions of altars, taxes, basins, oils, incense, and the Sabbath. In the middle of this, we’re given a glimpse into what it’s all about in a scene where God places His Spirit upon two men so that they may honor Him with a creative craft. They will depict, in art, what it means to know God. Here we get a glimpse into the symbolic work at play. God is not building religion for religion’s sake—He is building systems to help people understand Him. They’re meant to be used for the purpose of knowing Him and nothing else.
Religion is exploited in the narrative in the next chapter, where an impatient Aaron (the man meant to lead God’s people to Him) promotes the worship of another god. (The golden calf was a symbol of Baal, the chief god of a neighboring people group.) Here we are given another glimpse into something deeper, but this situation is not God’s will. We see what happens when people become impatient: they build their own systems, reaching out to something that can’t actually help them.
And this is precisely what we do when we sin. We seek our own way, our own system, when instead we should be seeking God’s way and worshiping Him the way in which He has called us.
Jesus confronts this problem with religion. “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father! The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope! For if you had believed Moses, you would believe me, for that one wrote about me. But if you do not believe that one’s writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45–47). These words would have cut to the core of a highly religious, first-century Jew. Imagine someone claiming that the very way they worshiped and their very book of teachings actually testifies against them. Imagine losing the court case because the authority you appeal to is actually revealing the errors of your ways.
Just a few lines earlier, Jesus provides His reasoning for this statement: “I do not accept glory from people, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me” (John 5:41–42).
Jesus does not seek glory from a religious system—a system that both He and Paul acknowledge was failing because of people’s sinfulness and desires to exploit it. Instead, He’s in the business of relationships. We all have our failing systems, and they’re revealed as we seek Jesus. And when they’re revealed, we must let God work within us and our communities to destroy those systems. A creative act that leads to better worship, discipleship, or community is desirable, but an act that inhibits it must be destroyed.
What systems have you and your worship community built that are keeping you from fully entering into relationship with Jesus?
Author: John D. Barry & Rebecca Van Noord
Publisher: Lexham Press
Publication Date: 2012
This 365-day devotional walks you through the Bible in a year, following a custom reading plan that delves into the stories of the Bible from five unique perspectives.