************ Sermon on Exodus 30:17-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 26, 2014
"The Basin for Washing"
In 1818, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born into a world of dying women. The finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of "childbed fever."Exodus 30 also talks about washing. This cleansing took place at the basin for washing.
Semmelweis was troubled by the death rate. He studied the matter and observed that women who were examined by doctors and medical staff became sick and died much more often than women who were not examined.
Semmelweis believed the problem stemmed from doctors' daily routine. Back then a doctor's daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies. From there he made his way to the hospital to examine expectant mothers without first washing his hands. Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to associate such examinations with the resultant infection and death. His own practice was to wash with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years his death rate was one in fifty rather than the one in six of his colleagues.
So, Dr. Semmelweis instituted a strict policy: medical students and doctors who visited the morgue were required to carefully wash their hands before visiting the maternity ward. Mortality rates immediately went down. When this policy was applied throughout the hospital other death rates came down as well.
Do you know the response of the medical community? They mocked him, scorned him, insulted him, and eventually fired him. When Semmelweis was hired at another hospital, the death rate again dropped. And, the medical staff again objected.
I The Basin's Construction
A By now I am sure you have noticed a pattern for the furnishings of the tabernacle. Each time God commands a specific piece of furniture to be built: the ark, the table of showbread, the lampstand, the altar of burnt offering, the altar of incense.
Each time God specifies the materials to be used: usually acacia wood overlaid with gold or bronze.
Each time God specifies the dimensions: a cubit long, a cubit wide, two cubits high or something similar to this.
Each time God specifies rings and poles so the item can be carried.
Each time God specifies its location in the tabernacle.
B "Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing" says the Lord (Ex 30:18). "Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it" (Ex 30:18). That's it. Nothing more. We aren't told about the building materials. We aren't told the dimensions; we know it had to be small enough to be carried; by comparison, when the temple was built, its bronze basin was swimming-pool in size, capable of holding around 20,000 gallons of water. We aren't told about rings and poles or another method of transport. We aren't told its shape. We aren't told its ornamentation.
Does this mean the bronze basin is the only article of the tabernacle that God left up to man to plan and design? We don't want to say that. Remember, the tabernacle and its furnishings copy God's heavenly throne room.
So why doesn't God specify the building materials, size, shape, ornamentation, or transport? Is God's intent to make the bronze basin mysterious and puzzling? Is God saying the bronze basin is different from every other article in the tabernacle? Is God saying there is something special about the bronze basin?
C In our passage God does not say anything about the actual construction of the bronze basin. But that does not mean the Bible is silent on the subject. Listen to what I found in Exodus 38:
(Ex 38:8) They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.In those days mirrors were made of polished bronze. Scripture tells us the mirrors of the women were used to make the bronze basin and its bronze stand.
In Ancient Israel the women used bronze mirrors to clean their face and fix their hair. But the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting abandoned this worldly delight. Like Sarah, their beauty did not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, they had the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight (cf 1 Pet 3:3-4). They were devoted to the service of God so they had no more use of mirrors. Instead, they came every day to the door of the tabernacle to pray and hear the words of the commandments. These women at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting are examples to godly women of all ages and all places. They put serving God first in their life.
II The Basin's Purpose
A All we know is that the bronze basin was meant to hold water for washing the hands and feet of the priests. God deliberately left out any dimensions or specific descriptions because He wants us to focus on the washing.
(Ex 30:19-21) Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. (20) Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the LORD by fire, (21) they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.
Think about this. Before the priests were allowed to do any kind of service for God they were required to stop at the bronze basin and wash their hands and feet. What couldn't they do?
-They couldn't offer a sacrifice.
-They couldn't offer incense.
-They couldn't change the bread on the table of showbread.
-They couldn't light the candles of the golden lampstand.
They couldn't do any of this until they had first stopped at the bronze basin and washed their hands and their feet. The priests needed to be washed and cleansed before they could do any of their priestly duties.
How serious is this command to wash before serving? First, it is a matter of life and death. God said to Moses, "they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die" (Ex 30:21). Wash or die – this message is mentioned twice (Ex 30:20,21). Second, it is a "lasting ordinance" (Ex 30:21). Not a one time thing. Not a take or leave it proposition. It is something they must always do whenever they serve in the tabernacle (or temple).
B Moses emphasizes that the bronze basin was between the Tent of Meeting and the altar of burnt offering (Ex 30:17). Remember the purpose of the altar of burnt offering? It was used to make atonement for sins. It was used so the sinner could be forgiven. So, then, that makes me ask: Why the bronze basin and its washing? Why do forgiven people need to be washed and cleansed?
Let me answer this question by pointing to what happened when the tabernacle and its furnishings were first built: namely, Aaron and his sons were washed (Ex 40:12). This was a one-time act of consecration. Yet, they still had to undergo the daily cleansing at the bronze basin. I want you to notice that what happened at the bronze basin was not a total washing. Two times it is mentioned the priests had to wash their hands and feet and only their hands and feet (Ex 30:19,21).
Aaron and his sons are considered clean in God's sight. Their sins have been forgiven at the altar. However, even the holiest of saints still has the filth of sin clinging to them and they need purification before they can serve the Lord. So, Aaron and his sons washed whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses (Ex 40:32).
The washing that was done once points to justification by the blood of Christ. The washing that is done daily points to sanctification. Or, to put it another way, the altar points to forgiveness and the basin points to sanctification.
Can anyone think of a New Testament story that echoes this? I am thinking of what happened at the Last Supper. Jesus took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. Peter was appalled. Rabbis didn't do that sort of thing – it was beneath them – and he refused to let Jesus wash His feet. "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (Jn 13:8). Overreacting – like he often did – Peter replied, "then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well" (Jn 13:9). Jesus' answer is so instructive:
(John 13:10) "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you."Back then, because of dusty roads and sandals, a person may be clean but their feet still needed regular washing. And, a person may be clean but hands can so easily pick up germs and filth from ordinary, day-to-day life. Similarly, a Christian is washed and made clean by the blood and Spirit of Christ; yet, we need daily cleansing from the sin that continues to cling to us.
C Did you know that we, like Aaron and his sons, are priests of God. Listen to this well-known verse:
(1 Pet 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (cf Rev 1:5-6)This passage is talking about the church. I think also of Lord's Day 12 (which we read together this morning). We learned that Christ is our chief prophet, only high priest, and eternal king; we learned that we as Christians are also prophets, priests, and kings. Congregation, we are priests, like Aaron and his sons, so we need cleansing before we can go about doing the Lord's work every day.
D The bronze basin, then, points to sanctification. People used in the service of the Lord need to be holy and separate and different. That's what the washing in the basin symbolizes. It symbolizes sanctification. It symbolizes being set apart for the Lord's service.
The bronze basin stands for our constant need as Christians to be cleansed in the process we know as sanctification. I think of the words of Psalm 24:
(Ps 24:3-4) Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? (4) He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.The setting is worship. "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place." The answer: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart." The psalmist is first of all talking about Aaron and his sons and their need for clean hands and a pure heart. But I am sure you realize the psalmist has all worshipers in mind – including you and me. Those who enter God's presence are called to be holy. Those who do God's work are called to have clean hands and a pure heart.
We can also point to Paul's words to the church that meets at Corinth:
(2 Cor 7:1) Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.Again, hear the call to be sanctified, to engage in holy living.
Look at the bronze basin, congregation. See your need for daily cleansing. See your need for sanctification. Yes, you are already clean and forgiven because of the blood and Spirit of Christ. But the stain of sin still clings to you. So your hands, your feet, your heart needs daily cleansing. Meaning what? Meaning you need to be sorry for sin, hate it more and more, and run away from it. Meaning your delight is to do the will of God.
Our grandson, Alexander, is a typical toddler. He experiences many parts of his world by means of his mouth. He puts anything and everything into his mouth. Dirt and bugs and germs don't bother him at his age. But, hopefully, there will come a time when it does.The same thing is true spiritually. As we mature in the faith, the more we are bothered by the filth of sin and the more we see the need for cleansing.
III How to be Sanctified
A The bronze basin is a call to be sanctified and holy. The bronze basin is a call to have clean hands and a pure heart. So, how do we achieve this? How do we obtain this?
I want to answer this by going back to the mirrors used to make the bronze basin. Tell me, what are mirrors used for? I use the mirror to see myself. Similarly, when the priests leaned over the basin to wash their hands and feet, they could see a reflection of themselves.
But we can say more. When I look in the mirror I don't just admire my appearance, like a preening rooster. Rather, I use the mirror to shave. I use the mirror to check if my tie is straight. I use the mirror to make sure I have no green specks of food caught in my teeth. I use the mirror to comb my hair.
Do you hear the common refrain? I use the mirror to fix up things about myself; and, without the mirror I can't see what needs to be fixed.
B Do you know what is our mirror as Christians? According to James our mirror is the law of God (James 1:23-25). I look into this mirror and I see what needs to be changed in my life so I can be of service to God. I see my pride, my impatience, my anger. I see my lusts, my lies, my covetous desires. I see my idolatries. I see how I fall short of the glory of God.
I cannot fix what I cannot see. But once I am able to see then, by God's Word and Spirit, I can make a beginning in living the sanctified life and be the Lord's servant.
IV The Basin and Baptism
A There are those who see a connection between the bronze basin and baptism. [I thought there was a connection until I studied for this sermon.] However, there is a major difference. Baptism points to a total washing – the washing away of our sin by the blood and Spirit of Christ. This is a one time act which is never to be repeated. As Jesus put it,
(John 13:10) "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean ..."The bronze basin, on the other hand, points to a partial and continual washing. The priests of the tabernacle had to wash their hands and feet every time they approached God at the altar or the tabernacle.
B But we are permitted to see some connections between the bronze basin and baptism. The bronze basin is a reminder that Aaron and his sons needed to get rid of sin in their lives. Similarly, baptism is a powerful reminder that we need to abandon the sinful way of life, put to death our old nature, and show by our lives that we belong to God. Baptism places us under obligation to live in obedience to God just as Aaron and his sons had to live in obedience to God.
Look at the bronze basin, congregation. Realize, like Aaron and his sons, that we are a royal priesthood. Therefore, we need to undergo daily washing so we can declare the praises of Him Who called us out of darkness into His most wonderful light.
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