Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statue forever to them – to him and his descendants throughout their generations,” Exodus 30:17-21. (NKJV)
He made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, Exodus 38:8.
“And you shall set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water in it,” Exodus 40:7.
He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing; and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses, Exodus 40:30-32.
The laver was set between the bronze altar at the entrance of the courtyard and the entrance to the tabernacle itself. It’s an interesting article of furniture. For one thing, it’s the only article for which no measurements are given. No height, no width, no telling how many gallons of water it held – nothing. Further, in all their travels and the instructions for covering and moving the furniture of the tabernacle, the laver is never mentioned.
Its use, however, is emphasized. In the ten short verses describing the laver, the fact that Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and their feet whenever they approached the tent or the altar is mentioned five times, with the added warning if they didn’t bother to wash: lest they die, Exodus 30:20. This might seem extreme to us. After all, the priests were probably back and forth all day. There must have been dozens of sacrifices every day. There were no floors anywhere and they wore sandals. Then there was the difficulty with the water: they were in a wilderness with no running water. They had to fetch it from somewhere. With the continual use of the laver, there must have been many trips back and forth.
But it was that or die!
And why is it considered separately from the rest of the articles of the tabernacle? There is only the single verse in Exodus 38:8 which tells us the laver came from bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. The other verses in Exodus 38 tell us the origin of the bronze for the rest of the tabernacle in the “ransom money” from the men.
Who were these “serving women”? Why did they assemble at the door of the tabernacle? And how did their mirrors come into the picture?
Though there are no “official” instructions about these women and their role, there are a couple of other references to them in Scripture.
The first one is in 2 Samuel 2 and introduces the prophet Samuel to us when he was only a child. He was an answer to prayer and had been dedicated to the LORD by his mother. The priest at the time, Eli, had three very wicked sons who were also priests. Their sins included that they would take advantage of the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, 2:22. Again, there is nothing said as to why these women were there.
The New Testament gives us the other reference. In Luke 2:37, we read of one Anna, who was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. She turned out to be the first witness for the Lord Jesus because she was there when Joseph and Mary presented the infant Jesus at the Temple to fulfill requirements of the Law and [she] spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke 2:38.
As for the laver itself, it was for the cleansing of the priests in their daily service.
It’s a fitting symbol for the Word of God, for by it our Lord sanctifies and cleanses His church, that is, true believers, with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26. Now this has nothing to do with the ordinance of baptism, which was designed to be a picture of our identification as believers with the Lord Jesus in His burial and resurrection. It has nothing to do with “being saved,” as in the beliefs of some or, in the case of infants, including them in the “household of faith.” In the Old Testament, “circumcision” of an infant, said to be the OT forerunner of infant baptism, didn’t make him a member of the nation; it signified that he was already a member of the nation. Baptism was meant to be the “profession of faith” of a new believer, not walking an aisle or some other physical movement substituted by human wisdom. In New Testament times, and in a large part of the world today, to be publicly baptized was, and is, likely to be signing your own death certificate.
Why the laver was singled out as to the source of its bronze, since mirrors have to do with us checking our physical appearance, is perhaps God telling us that inward character is more important than physical beauty or handsomeness. After all, beauty fades, hair turns gray, wrinkles appear, and age spots. What might once have been gorgeous or handsome – after a while, not so much. With this in mind, 1 Peter 3:3, 4 says to the ladies, Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel, – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible [imperishable] beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Earlier in the same book, Peter wrote, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 1 Peter 1:24.
Like our physical appearance, whether male or female, the grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever, Isaiah 40:8.
James has a word for us men, too: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he is, James 1:22-24.
The Word is designed to teach us what we are, not give us a reason to pat ourselves on the back. Apart from the Lord Jesus, we are all lost and undone, facing only the judgment and wrath of God and an eternity of suffering.
When the priest was getting ready to enter the tabernacle or approach the altar, he didn’t have to bathe all over. He just had to wash his hands and feet.
Our Lord had something to teach His disciples about this. At the Last Supper, He was about to wash the feet of His disciples. Peter, being himself and not understanding at all what was going on, said to Him,
“Lord, are You washing my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” John 13:8-10.
Later that same evening, He told the eleven disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you,” John 15:3.
Scripture tells us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5.
Paul wrote Titus that regeneration “washes” us, makes us clean. That only happens once. The idea that it can happen more than once is unScriptural. Therefore, even though there’s no need, indeed, no possibility, of daily “getting saved;” there is a need for daily cleansing from the defilement and pollution of this world. By the grace of God, if we’ve been saved, we’re “clean;” we just need to “wash our hands and feet.” If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9.