March 30, 2022

Finding Christ in the Bronze Laver

The bronze laver in the Tabernacle of Moses was the location where ritual washings took place. It was here that priests were washed, clothed, and anointed prior to becoming a priest and where they became ritually clean before serving and representing Israel. These cleansing waters of the laver can teach us that it is only through the Savior that we can become spiritually clean.

The bronze laver was located in the courtyard of the Tabernacle and was placed between the altar of sacrifice and the door of the sanctuary. Of the six pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, the laver has the fewest details. The one verse description only records that it had some sort of bronze bowl that held water, and that it had a base or stand that held it off the ground. The size of the laver is not given. In Exodus 38:8 we also learn that the laver was made “from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (Exodus 38:8 NIV). Sadly, the Bible does not give us any details on what type of service these faithful women gave, but it does show that women not only contributed to the construction of the Tabernacle, but also somehow served there. These bronze mirrors would not be like our modern-day glass mirrors, but instead would be made from a polished piece of bronze that gave a vague reflection of the person. These donated mirrors were then likely hammered into shape, or melted down to create the laver.

The bronze laver was used only by the priests for ritual washing. Normal Israelites could only come to the altar of sacrifice and thus would not be ritually washed here. Animals sacrificed at the altar were also not washed here, but instead once they were killed were washed and cut into pieces on tables next to the altar.

Two main types of ritual washings of the priests took place at the laver. The first type of washing occurred prior to a high priest or a priest being able to serve at the Tabernacle or later Temples. This washing, clothing, and anointing ritual was preparatory for them before they could represent the people, and occurred only once in their life. In Exodus 40 it reads, “And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.” (Exodus 40:12-13). This consecration of the priests included three important and symbolic acts: washing, clothing, and anointing. These gestures were to demonstrate and teach Israel that the priests were authorized to act on their behalf.

Moses anoints Aaron as high priest with a horn of oil

The priest would first be washed with water from the laver. The Bible does not give any details on this washing, but it would strictly be a ritual washing, meaning that it was not like washing with soap and water, but instead designed to symbolically show that the priest was now ritually clean to serve.

Once washed, the priests were then clothed with the holy garments. The bestowing of clothing in ancient times was highly symbolic and demonstrated a significant gift or endowing of power or authority. Similar rituals can be seen today with the wearing of robes during a graduation, or by a judge in a court. These ceremonial robes represent the receiving of power or special knowledge by the person wearing them.

Next, Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons with sacred anointing oil and blood from the sacrifice. The oil would likely be stored in the horn of an animal, the horn a symbol of power and strength. The Bible does not give any details on the anointing process with oil, but we are told about the process of anointing with blood, which might give us hints to the full process. [3] Moses would first take the blood of the sacrifice of a ram and place a small amount of the blood on the right ear of the priest, then on his right thumb, and then on his right toe. (Exodus 29:20 and Leviticus 8:23-24).

Moses places blood on the right ear of Aaron

Blood is placed on the right thumb of Aaron

Blood is dabbed on the right toe of Aaron

While this ritual will seem quite strange to modern readers, the symbolism behind it is quite powerful. First it is important to remember that the Hebrew word for atonement simply means to cover, or blot out. Thus this act of covering with blood could directly relate to the act of atonement. Second, each of the body parts covered with blood can represent important aspects of service at the Tabernacle or Temple. The right ear can symbolize the need for the priest to listen to the word of the Lord as they serve and represent the people. The right thumb can represent the actions and labors of the priest. The right toe can symbolize the need for the priest to walk in the paths of righteousness. By covering each of these parts of the body with blood, it would hopefully remind the priest that it is only through the shedding of blood that they can be cleansed and thus be worthy to represent the people in the Tabernacle.

A priest washing his hands at the bronze laver

The second type of ritual washing at the laver took place each time the priest served. Before the priest would offer sacrifice at the altar, he would first come and wash his hands and feet. Again, this was not a washing like we might think with soap and water, but only a ritual washing. Once the priest had offered sacrifice at the altar, he would then wash again before entering the holy place when lighting the menorah, replacing and eating the showbread, or when praying at the altar of incense. Similar to the anointing process, the washing of the hands and feet can be a symbol of the required purity of the priest’s actions and their walk in the service of the Lord.

From these two main ritual washings, we can see that the laver was designed to be a constant reminder for the priests that they were to be clean before serving in the house of the Lord. It would be a physical act that would daily remind them of the importance of being spiritually clean. With this in mind, it is quite remarkable that the laver was made from bronze mirrors, an item used to inspect yourself. As the priests used the laver, they would look into the reflective bronze and water, and perhaps be reminded of their need to inspect their spiritual cleanliness on a daily basis.

These ritual washings at the laver can be reminiscent of baptism and other cleansing rituals that help teach us of the importance of becoming spiritually clean. Similar to the priests, as followers of the Savior, we each should daily inspect our lives and actions. We should ask ourselves if we reflect the countenance or image of Christ in our lives (see Alma 5:14). As we serve in the house of the Lord, however that might look for us, do we come prepared, clean, and clothed in the power of God? And perhaps most important, do we remember that it is only because of the blood of Christ that we can become clean and pure. While we always must seek to reflect the Savior in our lives and actions, it is ultimately only because of his atonement that we can become worthy to enter into his presence. 

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.