Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
55. The Laver
We are now to consider the seventh of the Tabernacle’s holy vessels. Though given last in the Divine description of its various pieces of furniture, the Laver was really the second which met the priest in his way into the sacred building. It stood in the outer court, between the brazen-altar and the curtained wall which marked off the holy place. Though closely related to the brazen-altar, everything connected with the Laver was in striking contrast therefrom. The former was made of wood and brass; the latter of brass only. The one was square in shape; the other, most probably, was round. The dimensions of the altar are fully particularized; but no measurements are given in connection with the Laver. The former had rings and staves for carrying it; the latter had not. Instructions were given that the one should be covered when Israel journeyed from camp to camp; but nothing is said of this about the other. The altar was for fire; the Laver for water. The former received the sacrifices of all alike; the latter was for the priests alone. Thus everything about them was sharply distinguished.
That which is most prominent in connection with the Laver was its water for cleansing. "The figure of water is universally familiar, and represents one of the most important and necessary elements in the physical universe. We find it in the vast ocean, comprising by far the largest part of the earth’s surface; and in our inland lakes and rivers, which form such exquisite networks both of beauty and convenience and of commercial value. We find it in the vapor of the skies; and the dews that gather about the vegetable creation, and preserve it from withering through the torrid summer. We find it forming the largest proportion of our own bodies. It is a figure of purity and refreshing; of quickening life and power; of vastness and abundance. Without it, life could not be for a single month maintained. And so we find it in the Bible as one of the most important symbols of spiritual things" (Dr. A. B. Simpson).
Even in Eden we find mention of a river "to water the garden" (Gen. 2:10), type of that river "the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" (Ps. 46:4). This river went out from Eden to water the earth, being parted into four heads: figure of the temporal mercies of God flowing forth to all His creatures. Next, we read of the fearful waters of the Flood, being the instrument of God’s unsparing judgment upon sin—compare the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts by the same element: Exodus 14:1. Then we find it as preserving the life of Hagar and her son (Gen. 16:7, 21:19). Later, we find Jehovah furnishing water from the smitten rock for the refreshment of His people in the wilderness. Water has quite a prominent place in the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. It brought healing to Naaman (2 Kings 5), and saved Jehoshaphat’s army from destruction (2 Kings 2).
So in the New Testament "water" is found in widely different connections. It is the element in which the believer is figuratively buried. It is found in connection with Christ’s first miracle. From the pierced side of the Savior there flowed "blood and water." Finally, in the last chapter of Holy Writ, we read of "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (v. 1). Thus, the contents of the Laver bring before us one of the most far-reaching and many-sided figures of Scripture.
The typical teaching of the Laver is rarely apprehended even among Christians, and their failure at this point has brought an much that is dishonoring to the Lord Jesus. Cleansing by blood and washing with water are sharply distinguished in the Old Testament types, but they are sadly confused in the thoughts of most churchgoers today. The sermons they hear, the hymns they sing, the prayers they utter, both express and add to the awful and Christ-dishonoring disorder of these last days. The thorough and prayerful study of the Tabernacle and all connected with it, would correct much which is now regarded as Scriptural, even in orthodox circles. But we will not anticipate. Let us now consider:
1. Its Signification.
This we may learn at once from the use to which it was put: "For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat" (v. 19). Thus we see at a glance it was designed for priestly purification. At the brazen-altar sins were dealt with and put away. At the golden-altar that which spoke of worship was presented to God. Midway between the two stood the Laver: at it the priests were required to wash their hands and feet, for communion with God necessitates, not only acceptance but purification—a practical answering thereto.
There is therefore no difficulty at all in perceiving the spiritual meaning of the holy vessel which is now before us: happily the commentators are almost unanimous in their interpretation of this type. The Laver tells of the need of cleansing if communion with God is to be maintained: cleansing not from the guilt of sin, but from the defilements of the way. As already said, the question of sin was dealt with at the brazen-altar: that must be settled before there can be any approach unto God. Hence the brazen-altar was the first holy vessel to be met with in the outer court, being stationed just within the entrance. But having there slain the sacrifice and poured out its blood at the foot of the altar, the sons of Aaron were now able to advance; but ere they were ready to burn incense upon the golden-altar they must wash at the Laver. The need for this will be easily discerned.
Having officiated at the brazen-altar their hands would be unclean, smeared with blood. Moreover, as no shoes were provided for Aaron and his sons, the dust of the desert would soil their feet. These must be removed ere they could pass into the holy place; as it is said concerning the eternal Dwelling place of God, "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth" (Rev. 21:27). The spiritual application of this to Christians today is obvious. The blood on the hands of Aaron and his sons evidenced that they had come into contact with death. So we, in our everyday lives, constantly have dealings with those who are dead in trespasses and sins, and their very influence defiles us. In like manner, our passage through this wilderness world, which lieth in the Wicked one (1 John 5:19), fouls our walk. There is therefore a daily need for these to be removed.
It is to be carefully noted that it was in their official character as priests, not merely as Israelites, that Aaron and his sons were required to wash their hands and feet at the Laver. Had they failed in this duty, they had still been Israelites, but they were disqualified for entering into the holy place and ministering before God. How clear and blessed is the typical teaching of this. The soiling of our hands and feet through association with the unregenerate, and in consequence sojourning in a world which knows not and loves not Christ, does not in any wise affect our perfect standing before God: "For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). But though the defilements of the way do not affect our standing, they do interfere with our communion with God. We cannot enter into our priestly privileges (1 Pet. 2:5), nor discharge our priestly duties (Heb. 13:15), till we have been cleansed at the Laver. The Laver, like everything else in the Tabernacle, pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ, and tells of His sufficiency to meet our every need. It shows us that we must have recourse to Him for daily cleansing. This leads us to consider:
2. Its Contents.
"And thou shalt put water therein, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet thereat: when they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water" (vv. 18-20). Water and not blood was the element appointed and used for the purification of the priests. As that aspect of God’s truth set forth in this detail of our type has largely been lost by the saints, we must examine it with doubly close attention.
In our present type the water within the Laver was plainly a figure of the written Word of God. This same figure is employed in the following passages: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word" (Ps. 119:9). "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
"Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word" (Eph. 5:25, 26). "According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:22). "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit" (1 Pet. 1:22). Now, it is of first importance that we should discriminate between two distinct types. In Exodus 29:4 we are told, "And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and thou shalt wash them with water." While in Exodus 30:19 we read, "Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet thereat." The former was done for them; the latter was done by them. In the one they were completely washed all over; in the latter, it was only their hands and feet that were concerned. The former was never repeated; the latter was needed every time they would draw near the golden-altar. The one was a figure of regeneration, the other typified the Christian’s need of daily cleansing. John 3:5; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22 give us the antitype of Exodus 29:4; Psalm 119:9, 1 Peter 1:22 speaks in the language of our present type.
The same distinction noted above is to be observed in the words of Christ to Peter: "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whir" (John 13:10). The R.V. brings out the meaning of the Greek more accurately: "For he that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet." The washing or bathing received at regeneration needs not to be repeated; the washing of the feet is all that is required to make us "clean every whit." The defilements of the way do not raise any need for me to be regenerated again: the new birth is once and for all. Nothing can affect it; nothing I do can cause me to become unborn; such a thing is impossible, both in the natural and spiritual realms.
But side by side with this blessed truth of a washing once for all, which needs not to be, and which, indeed, cannot be repeated, stands another truth of great practical importance. "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet." This is what is so blessedly brought before us in John 13. The particular point there which we would now note is the Lord’s words to Peter, when that disciple demurred at the thought of Christ washing his feet. To him the Savior said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me" (v. 8). Observe that Christ did not say in Me," but "with Me." "In Christ" refers to my spiritual state and standing before God; my acceptance. "With Christ" has to do with fellowship; communion with Him. For this there must be a removal of all that defiles, all that offends His holy eye. For this there must be a coming to Him and a placing of our feet in His hands—an humbling of ourselves before Him and an asking of Him to cleanse our walk. Thus the Laver points to Christ as the Cleanser of His people; its water to the Word which He uses for this.
3. Its Position.
"And thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar" (v. 18). As already stated, the Laver stood midway between the two altars. The priest’s work at the brazen-altar was completed before he passed on to the Laver. This tells us that the question of our acceptance before God is not raised at the Laver. The interpretation and application of this detail is most important. That which the sons of Aaron needed for the removal of the dust of the desert was not blood, but water. So when the believer contracts defilement by treading the path of life through this world, it is not a fresh application of the blood of Christ which he needs, but the water of the Word.
Those Christians who speak and sing of re-applications of the blood of Christ unwittingly degrade His perfect sacrifice to the level of those offered under the Mosaic economy. Every time an Israelite transgressed God’s righteous law, a fresh sin-offering was required. Why? Because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins (Heb. 10:4). But in contradistinction from those sacrifices. Christ has offered a perfect sacrifice for His people once for all (Heb. 9:26, 28). The blood He shed at Calvary has made full atonement; every claim of God’s justice was there met, every demand of His holiness there fully satisfied. There is therefore now no need for any fresh sacrifice. The moment the convicted sinner has "faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25), i.e., puts his trust in the redemptive-work of Christ as the alone ground of his acceptance before God, that moment is he cleansed "from all sin" (1 John 1:7). To him the Spirit saith, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). In simple confidence he may now rest on the Divine declaration that "by one offering lie hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).
True, an evil heart of unbelief still remains within him; true, "in many things we all offend" (James 3:2); but neither the presence of the old nature, nor its evil fruits, can invalidate our perfect standing before God, which rests upon our acceptance in Christ. We are "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10). He has already "made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). It is the realization of this which establishes the heart. It is the recognition of this which keeps us in unclouded peace. It is the laying hold of this which fills us with thanksgiving and praise unto God. To ask Him for a re-application of the blood is to repudiate the fact that we stand "un-blameable and unreproveable in His sight" (Col. 1:22). Nay, what is worse, it is to deny the efficacy and sufficiency of its once-and-for-all application to us.
What is needed by the exercised believer as he is conscious of the blemishes of his service (the "hands") and the failures of his walk (the "feet"), is to avail himself of that which the Laver and its water pre-figured—the provision which God has made for us in His Word. What is needed by us is a practical appropriation of that Word to all the details of our daily lives. It is to seek grace and heed that Word, "He that sayeth he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). It is only by obeying the truth, through the Spirit, that we purify our souls (1 Pet. 1:22). Christ could say, "By the Word of Thy lips I have kept Me from the paths of the Destroyer" (Ps. 17:4); and such ought to be our experience, too. When we fail, then we must act upon 1 John 1:9.
It is important to note that the Laver stood in the outer court and not within the holy place, which was the chamber of worship. With this should be linked the fact that this vessel was only for the use of Aaron’s sons. What is in view here is priestly activity, the removing of that which would otherwise disqualify them for service at the golden-altar. What an unspeakable insult unto Jehovah had they passed into the holy place with soiled hands and feet! For them it would have been fatal, as the twice repeated "that they die not" clearly denotes. In like manner, we cannot enter into the worship of God’s house if we have not first washed at the Laver; the confessing of our sins and the consequent practical cleansing should take place before—in the outer court. Failure at this point is to, morally, bring in "death." "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (1 Cor. 11:28). This involves the taking account of our hands and feet, and washing at the Laver before coming to the Lord’s table.
4. Its Composition.
"Thou shalt also make a Laver of brass" (v. 18). In the outer court everything was made of brass (really "copper"), or covered with brass: altar, laver, pillars, and pins. This was in sharp distinction from the vessels which stood in the inner chamber, which were all of or covered with gold. "It is Divine righteousness testing man in responsibility, and consequently testing man in the place where he is. Brass, on this account, is always found outside of the tabernacle; while gold, which is Divine righteousness as suited to the nature of God, is found within. But testing man, it of necessity condemns him, because he is a sinner; and hence it will be found to have associated with it a constant judicial aspect" (Ed. Dennett).
If the reader will refer back to Article 15 he will there find we have, at some length, entered into the meaning of this symbol. Without again bringing forward the proofs of our definition, we shall here make only the bare statement that "brass" speaks of judgment. The Laver, then, typifies Christ in His character of Judge. In John 5:22 we find Him saying, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son"; and again, "and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man" (v. 27). Hence, in Revelation 1, where One like unto "the Son of man" is seen in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands—judging—inspecting, passing sentence—we are told that His feet were "like unto fine brass" (v. 19).
Thus the Laver of brass presents the inflexible righteousness of Christ testing, judging His people, condemning that which mars their communion with God. But how blessed to remember that He also supplies that water which removes the very things which are condemned! "It is not the execution of judgment upon our Substitute, nor is it the infliction of judgment upon us; but it is the testing and trying of our ways by the Son of God according to the authority given Him to judge among His people, before He judges all the earth in a later day" (Mr. Ridout).
5. Its Use.
Strictly speaking, it was not the Laver itself that was used, but the water in it: "Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet thereat," more literally, "from it." This, the sons of Aaron were to do for themselves. It speaks, then, of believers, in their priestly character, making practical application to all their ways of the Word of Christ (Col. 3:16). The water in the brazen Laver points to the believer judging himself, unsparingly, by that Word.
First of all, that Word should be used to prevent us falling into evil. God’s Word has been given to us for "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path"; that is, to expose the snares of Satan and to reveal the path in which we should walk. O that more and more we may be able to say, "Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee." Second, that Word is to be used in cleansing us from all defilement. We can only heed that exhortation in 2 Corinthians 7:1—"Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit"—by diligently attending to and daily obeying the precepts of Holy Writ. What a searching word is that in Revelation 22:14, "Blessed are they that wash (by the Word) their robes (emblematic of our external deportment), that they might have the right to the tree of life" (R.V.)!
Third, that Word is to be used for refreshment. Though we know of no other commentator who has called attention to this, yet we believe it is definitely taught in our present type. In Exodus 30:20 we are also told that Aaron’s sons were required to wash with water "when they come near the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord." This was upon the brazen altar. It seems to us that the thought here is not so much the removal of defilement, as it is that of coming to the altar in vigor or freshness, as the priests brought with them that which spoke of the highest aspect of Christ’s work.
Water is used by us not only for cleansing, but to invigorate—nothing is more refreshing to tired feet than to bathe them. Is not this thought clearly seen in the first mention of the washing of feet in Scripture? "Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree" (Gen. 18:4). Note how the two angels refused to wash their feet in Lot’s house (Gen. 19:2)—there was no refreshment for them in Sodom! The application to us of this detail in our type is plain: in order to minister before God as priests, we must first receive refreshment from His Word. It is by that alone we are "quickened"—revived and refreshed.
6. Its Manufacture.
It is striking to note the source from which the material for the Laver was obtained. This we are not told in our present passage, but have it made known in Exodus 38:8: "And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the looking-glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." These looking-glasses or mirrors were not like our modern ones, of glass and quicksilver, but were of highly polished brass or copper. Several lines of thought are pointed to by this important devil.
First, we may admire the lovely product which the grace of God, working in their hearts, brought forth. At the beginning, Jehovah bade Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering of every man ("whosoever" 35:5) that giveth it willingly with his heart, ye shall take My offering" (25:8). Here we see the answer of the hearts of the daughters of Israel: they "willingly offered what might gratify vanity, to provide for that vessel of cleansing, that Jehovah’s service and worship might not be hindered" (Mr. Ridout). In like manner, God’s people today delight to give of their substance to the furtherance of His work. But how often the sacrificial giving of the sisters puts the brethren to shame!
Second, have we not here a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus setting aside that which ministered to His glory, in order that He might provide cleansing for His people? He left the worship of angels in Heaven, and came here, to the "outer court," in servant form. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. It is exceedingly striking to observe that in the Gospels, the only record we have of any ministering to Him of their substance were devoted women (Luke 8:2, 3)! So, too, it was women, not the apostles (sad failure on their part!), who washed His feet with tears, and also anointed Him.
Third, the practical application to ourselves is very searching. The very material from which the Laver was made spoke of surrender, a willingness to part with what was calculated to make something of self; and this, in order that conditions of holy purity might be maintained in the priests. Thus we, too, must sacrifice what would minister to pride if we are to obtain that cleansing which fits for communion with God!
Fourth, the uselessness of worldly expedients may be seen here—the women had brought their mirrors from Egypt. "We are ever prone to be ‘like a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.’ Nature’s looking-glass can never furnish a clear and permanent view of our true condition. ‘But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and con-tinueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed’ (James 1:23-25). The man who has constant recourse to the Word of God, and who allows that Word to tell upon his heart and conscience, will be maintained in the holy activities of the Divine life" (C.H.M.).
7. Its Omissions.
These were two in number, and very noticeable they are. First, no dimensions were prescribed for the Laver, nor are we told the quantity of water which it contained. A similar omission was observed in connection with the lampstand. The measurements of all the other vessels are given. The absence of any here in connection with the Laver and its water plainly denotes that an unlimited provision has been made by God for our cleansing. In Christ and His Word is sufficient to minister to our every need.
Second, no directions were given to Israel concerning the covering of the Laver while they journeyed from camp to camp. In Numbers 4 we find instructions for the protection of the ark, the table, the lamp-stand, and both the altars; but nothing is said of the Laver. Does not the absence of any covering to this vessel strikingly accord with its typical character? Does it not tell us that the purifying Word is ever available, and that we need to use it daily in all out wilderness journeyings! Thus, we see again, that the omissions of Scripture (which the carnal mind would regard as defects) are profoundly significant.
We may also take note of the significant omission of further references to the Laver in the Old Testament. Only once is it referred to after the tabernacle was erected and furnished; and that is when it was anointed (Lev. 8:11). Not until we reach the book of Kings do we find that which took the place of the Laver in Solomon’s temple, namely, the "molten sea" (1 Kings 7:23, etc.). Does not thus omission silently testify to Israel’s departure from the Word throughout their history! Probably the "Fountain" of Zechariah 13:1 gives us the Millennial Laver.
That which in Heaven corresponds to the Laver is brought before us in Revelation 15: 2, 3—cf. 1 Kings 7:23. Here the saints will no longer need to wash, but they are eternally reminded of the source of their purity. They are seen standing on a "sea" (Laver) of glass, "singing unto the Lamb." Altar and Laver will never be forgotten. The altar says, "without shedding of blood is no remission." The Laver announces "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Both are witnessed to on High. As another has so beautifully said:
"Here we are permitted to look into the glory. There, in the heavenly sanctuary, is the throne of God and of the Lamb, as the ark was in the tabernacle. The hidden manna is there, answering to the table of shewbread. The seven Spirits of God are before the throne, answering to the candlestick; and the sea of glass, answering to that in Solomon’s temple. Notice it is not now the laver filled with water—no need to remove defilement there; it is a sea of transparent glass, reminding us of the laver which has accomplished its work here. When all the redeemed of God are gathered there, the day of cleansing from defilement is over, no more need to wash one another’s feet; no more need for the Lord’s washing our feet, but there we stand with harps of God in our hands, nothing to hinder praise and worship. But the sea of glass, the witness and perpetual reminder of our cleansing, will flash forth there a continual remembrance of our Lord’s gracious and humble service throughout our journey here" (Mr. Ridout).