"His hands splattered with blood and his feet soiled from the dust of the Tabernacle court, the priest moved quickly but reverently to the ... laver for cleansing. The words of Moses were fresh in his mind each time he was called to serve: they shall wash with water that they die not. Purification before and during service in the Tabernacle was mandatory for the priests who ministered before God ".1 "When they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord: So shall they wash their hands and their feet, that they die not" (Ex 30.20-21). The Brazen Altar and the Laver stood in direct line between the gate and the Tabernacle or "Tent of Meeting". No dimensions are given for it and in the books of Moses which follow Exodus it is only mentioned once (Lev 8.11).
"As ye have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thess 4.1,3). Holiness must mark the house of God. As the priests were required to wash, so believers must be clean from defilement. "Sanctification is Gods will for the believer, and His purpose in calling them by the gospel (v.7); it must be learned from God (v.4) as He teaches it by His Word (Jn 17.17,19) and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly".2
The Laver was not for the use of all Israelites: only for the priests. At the consecration of the priests Moses washed Aaron and his sons with water (Lev 8.6). At that point another (Moses) washed them, but at the Laver they washed themselves. When individuals are saved they are "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1.2), but it is necessary to ensure that they are practically sanctified; they must wash at the Laver. To serve God with hands that were dirty and feet that were not clean would bring death.
On the Day of Atonement the High Priest washed his flesh then put on the holy garments (Lev 16.4). After atonement had been made and the scapegoat had been sent away into the wilderness, he "put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place" (Lev 16.23-24).
Daily, Aaron and his sons were required to wash their hands and feet when they went into the Tabernacle and when they approached the Brazen Altar to place an offering upon it. This was to be a statute forever; the need for washing would never be set aside. They must do so "that they die not" (Ex 30.19-21).
The Laver was a vessel for holding water. It was made from "brass" (actually copper) which had been highly polished and served originally as mirrors which the women of Israel used for self-contemplation. As they looked into them they saw themselves, but after the mirrors had been formed into the Laver it was the priests who looked into them and saw what was necessary for the preservation of their cleanliness in the service of God. Their view was no longer self-centred but Christ-centred.
The closing verses of the Exodus 29 may lead the reader to consider that the description of the Tabernacle is now complete with the declaration that it was the place where the Lord would dwell amongst them. Further detail, however, is still required and ch.30 gives instruction regarding the Altar of Incense, the Laver, the anointing oil, and the sweet spices. It appears to be almost an appendix and yet the Laver was the second vessel in the court of the Tabernacle and occupied a prominent place. This raises the question, "Why were these items left until after the consecration of the priests had been dealt with, a ceremony that had to take place after the Tabernacle had been erected?"
All that had been previously dealt with described what was necessary for man to approach God. True it is that this is given from the Holiest of All outwards towards the worshipper, but with the consecration of the priests all is now in place for the worshipper to approach. But how has this to be maintained? The priest understands that he will place the offerings of the worshipper upon the Brazen Altar, he knows that there is a Table of Shewbread in the Holy Place signifying the One who is the food of priests. But when the Golden Altar and the Laver are dealt with it is the maintenance of Tabernacle which is in view. "We see in type the divine system in Exodus 25-29. The next thing is to see what characterises it and how it is sustained, and Exodus 30 gives us this".3 It is, therefore, placed where it is because after dealing with the priests there is unfolded the vital ministry that they would carry out in the Holy Place.
It is significant that no measurements are given for the Laver. Why is this? "We are not told that it is so high or so large in circumference the Altar had measurements which speaks of the claims of the throne, measured and met by Christ. In relation to sin, Christ was the only one who knew exactly how to weigh these claims, and how to satisfy them. But when we come to the Laver we have to do with the claims of God upon His people where is the one who can say, I know the claims of the Word of God and have fully met them ".4
The diagram above shows the layout of the Camp. Offerers brought their sacrifices to the gate. Inside the gate, in the court of the Tabernacle, the offerings were slain and offered on the Brazen Altar. The order for setting up camp round the Tabernacle can be seen. The numbers quoted for the tribes are those of the males provided in Numbers 2 and 4. In Scripture there are two numbers given for the Levites, the first being the number of males over one month old (Num 3.14-34), and the second being that of the serving Levites between the ages of thirty years and fifty years (Num 4.34-49). At the east side of the Tabernacle, the side of the sun rising, where the gate was situated, Moses, Aaron, and his sons were placed.
Further inside the court there was the Laver after which there was the Tabernacle sanctuary. This consisted of two compartments. The first, the Holy Place, contained the Table of Shewbread, the Lampstand, and the Golden Altar of Incense. The second compartment was the Holiest of All, which was separated from the Holy Place by the Vail. Into the Holiest of All the High Priest entered once per year on the Day of Atonement. He was not permitted to enter on any other occasion. In the Holiest of All there was the Ark and the Mercy Seat. Over that spot there was a cloud by day and fire by night indicating the presence of the Lord. When the cloud moved the people followed, so it led them through the wilderness until their arrival in Canaan.
The Tabernacle was placed at the centre of the camp. Opinions of the size of the camp vary. It is reckoned to have been between seven and fourteen miles across. It was large enough to house in excess of two million souls, so these measurements are credible. Anyone bringing an offering to the Tabernacle from an encampment on the outer edge of the camp would travel a distance of several miles.
The Tabernacle, however, would never be out of sight of any in the camp. The cloud would be seen by all. A distance of up to seven miles would not prevent it being seen. In this way the Lord was in the midst of His people. His purpose was to receive their worship, to lead them and to care for them. Their responsibility was to obey Him and worship Him. The Lord was always faithful, but the people fell short.
Today, there is no unique Tabernacle or Temple placed on earth. Nevertheless, the Lord still delights to meet with His people. When an assembly gathers to His name He is in their midst (Mt 18.20). Their responsibility is to "wash their hands and their feet" (Ex 30.19).
1 The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah: D M Levy.
2 Expository Dictionary: W E Vine.
3 An Outline of the Book of Exodus: C A Coates.
4 Lectures on the Tabernacle: W J McClure.