We’re in Exodus 30 this week and there is a ton of stuff in this passage. If you look at chapter 30, depending on your translation you might see it divided up into several sections. There are five sections in the NIV translation for instance, which gives us a good indication that there are five different topics discussed in this chapter. But if you just look at the section headings you can also notice that there is some patterns within the chapter.
Before we get to looking at the chapter today, I feel the need to give you a bit of education on Hebrew and Greek literature. Hear me out though, this is much more interesting than it sounds and if you pay attention for the next couple of minutes the entire Bible might suddenly make a whole lot more sense to you.
In English, and probably most modern languages today, we gather information one certain way. If you are reading a news article, you expect the most important details to be at the beginning of the article. As you reach the bottom, you get finer and finer details about the story. If you just want the most important info, all you need to do is read the first paragraph to find out. A lot of times all you need to do is read the headline and you might get all the info you need. A recent headline I read was something like “Study Finds Soda is Bad for You.” That might be all of the info I need to make an informed decision concerning soda consumption. On the other hand, if you start reading the article, it might begin by saying that a recent study has found that people who drink three or more sodas a day are 80% more likely to die of a stroke than those who drink one or less sodas a day. I just made all of that up, so please don’t treat this as any kind of fact, it is merely an example.
Toward the end of the article, there might be details like “this study was conducted from 2008-2010 and it observed 1000 people ages 55-75.” This might give context to the study but it might not be important enough of a detail to change your thoughts on the study.
My point is that this is the way that we read. We expect the most important stuff first and then the details to follow. So, we often approach the Bible like this. Consciously or subconsciously, every new chapter we read, we expect the most important details to be first.
But Greek and Hebrew don’t work that way. In fact, the most important point may very well be buried in the middle of a passage. Many times, the important points are the ones that are repeated. Now I’m certain that you’ve noticed this before. You’ve probably been reading your Bible and you think, “I just read that! Why are they telling me this again?” It’s because, particularly in Hebrew, important things are repeated.
Probably the most obvious example of important things being repeated is one of your least favorite books of the Bible I can only assume. That book is Deuteronomy. I assume that it’s one of your least favorite because if you’ve ever tried to read through the Bible, this is most likely the book that you gave up on. Because it all feels like a repeat. Not only do they repeat what they just said, the entire book is a repeat. Deuteronomy literally means “second law.” Deuter – second, nomos – law. It is the being given a second time to another generation, forty years after Moses originally gave it to the Israelites. It is to prepare them as they enter the Promised Land. The law is repeated because it is important.
We some repetition in Exodus 30 but there’s an even neater pattern in this chapter. This chapter is what is known as a chiasm, which is taken from the Greek letter chi, or what we would refer to as an X. It gets its name because the details cross in the middle of the passage.
The Bible is absolutely full of chiasms if you look closely enough for them. I had a professor who could find them in practically every part of the Bible and sometimes they long and intricate things involving 26 points. This morning it is easy though and after I explain this chapter you’ll probably notice a lot more of them in the Bible. I’m not particularly good at identifying these but this one jumped out and I thought that it was a good time to discuss this. We’ll look at the chapter in a bit of detail, but to show you what this chapter is really about, all I need to the five section titles. These are from the NIV translation:
Altar of Incense
Basin for Washing
This is so easy to spot because the sections are marked and it jumps right out that the chapter begins by talking about incense and it ends by talking about incense. Anytime you see a section start and end with the same topic, you’re likely dealing with a chiasm. That means you should dig a bit deeper.
After the first incense section is the atonement money. It discusses a sacrifice that is to be made. There is a very specific requirement that must be fulfilled and not deviated from. The section for the second incense section discusses anointing oil. This gives worship requirements with a specific formula that must be fulfilled and not deviated from. Do you see a pattern forming?
In the middle is a stand alone section about washing. This center section is the most important part of this entire chapter in the writer’s eyes. This is the way that chiasms work. You keep building layer upon layer until you reach the most important point. And then you work your way back out, making commentary on the previous sections in reverse order.
There is one section of this chapter that I want to look at in detail in a moment, but let me flesh out this chiasm a bit more you. Hopefully if you haven’t been able to follow along, you’ll get what I mean by the end.
As I’ve pointed out many times as we’ve studied Exodus, most of these chapters point to Jesus or salvation, or both. Exodus 30 is a picture of salvation.
We start with the altar of incense. Incense is a picture of our prayers. They waft from the ground up into heaven. Salvation is not possible without any part of this passage but personally, salvation starts with our prayers. We pray and ask forgiveness of our sins.
The atonement money is the death of Jesus. It is the price that is paid for our sins. Without atonement salvation is not possible. Atonement is more important than our prayers however, because without atonement our prayers mean nothing.
The third part is the wash basin. It is the washing away of our sins. This is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a distinction between atonement and washing. Atonement is a covering. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked in the Garden of Eden and that their fig leaves couldn’t cover their nakedness, God made a sacrifice and that sacrifice covered their nakedness. Jesus’ death is our atonement sacrifice. But if Jesus wasn’t resurrected, then our sins would only be covered up but not washed away.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17
16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Jesus’ death provided atonement to cover our sins. This is obviously a good thing. But His resurrection fulfills our faith and it is what washes away our sins. This is obviously the most important part of salvation. Sins covered up, good. Sins washed away and forgotten, even better.
And now we work back out. The anointing oil is a commentary on the atonement. I’ve mentioned before that oil is representative of the Holy Spirit. Well, here we have a picture of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? John 16:8-9:
8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[a] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me;
In other words, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict people that they need the work of Jesus because we’re sinful people in need of atonement and washing.
Finally, we come all the way back out to incense again. As I already stated, this is representative of our prayers. Once again, like the Holy Spirit, our prayers are a reminder. We pray for salvation once, but we pray daily to keep our relationship with God strong. We ask forgiveness of our sins daily because this keeps our fellowship with God.
Each section of a chiasm builds upon another until the most important, central point. And then each section comments on previous sections. Not all chiasms come together so cleanly while others are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. In your study, don’t fret about figuring out how each detail builds upon the others or comments on other sections. Finding chiasms is important mostly because it will point you to the most important point of the passage as the original writer saw it.
Now that we’ve gone over the chapter very broadly, I want to go back and look at one section in more detail. More often than not, I will spend most of my time on one section of a chapter that isn’t necessarily its most important theological point. Instead I just wish to highlight something from the passage. We’ve already discussed that the washing is the most important part of the chapter but I want to focus on the atonement for just a moment.
You’re probably familiar with the gospel account where Jesus confronts the money changers in the temple. If not, Mark 11:15-17 tells us the story:
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
“‘My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations’[c]?
But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[d]”
Some people take this to mean that the church is a holy place where business should not occur. You’re angering God if you do any buying or selling in the church. But that doesn’t totally hold water. We can worship anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a special building with a steeple. There are probably millions of church gatherings every week across the world. The temple on the other hand was one specific location that had been made for specific functions. One of them happened to be the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.
What Jesus is angry about is two fold. Jesus calls the sales people robbers because that’s what they were doing. At Passover, millions of people came upon Jerusalem from all over Israel to make their sacrifices. Many of them didn’t want to travel with a lamb and so they would have to buy one at the temple. At an exorbitant price. It’s kind of like when you go to a sporting event or an amusement park and you are forced to pay $3 for a bottle of water that you can buy elsewhere for 50 cents. But you have no other option if you want to drink something.
High markup is one thing but one could at least argue that high demand calls for high prices. On the other hand, the sacrifices had to be approved as unblemished before they could be sacrificed. But unblemished lambs were being rejected and people were then forced to buy an overpriced lamb.
The bigger problem though is the money changers and it all stems from Exodus 30.
11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. 13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel,[b] according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. 16 Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.”
Everybody was to pay the same atonement price whether they were rich or poor. A half shekel is a very small amount of money. In weight measurements, it’s about 1/5 of a ounce. The point is that everyone pays the same amount – just like Jesus’ death is the same atonement for everyone. Good people don’t need less atonement and bad people don’t need more. But everybody has to make an effort to pay it. It was an amount that anyone could afford, but the point was the act of paying it.
In Jesus’ day, the atonement money could only be paid for with a temple shekel. The problem is that no one used that currency, so the money had to be exchanged in much the same way that if you went to Europe, you’d exchange dollars for euros. But there was a tax placed upon the exchange, just like today if you change dollars for euros. The problem was that the tax was tremendous.
So, the half shekel that everybody was supposed to be able to afford became so heavily taxed in the exchange that not everyone could afford it. Not only were the money changers ripping people off with this tax, more importantly they were messing up a picture of salvation through Jesus, that picture being salvation that is available to all.