Why did God command the building of the tabernacle? This article looks at the bronze basin in the tabernacle as it is explained in Exodus 30:17-21. It pointed to the cleansing required and how God provided for such cleansing.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 3 pages.

The Bath Made with Mirrors Read: Exodus 30:17-21

The purpose of the Tabernacle was to reveal God, and so bring Him near to the Israelites with a view to mutual communion and fellowship. Such a physical representation of spiritual truths and experiences, usually called typology, was a temporary concession to the weakness and frailty of sinful humanity. Patrick Fairbairn writes:

The Israelites would certainly, without such outward and visible help as was afforded by a worldly sanctuary, have either sunk into practical ignorance and forgetfulness of God, or betaken themselves to some wrong methods of bringing divine things more distinctly within the grasp and comprehension of their minds ... Till God was made manifest in the flesh, in the person of Christ, even the pious mind anxiously sought to lay hold of some visible link of communion with the higher region of glory.

However, even we can profit from studying the Old Testament types. We do so by asking four questions:

  1. What truths are pictured and predicted? (Old Testament theology)
  2. How did spiritual Israelites experience these truths in the types? (Old Testament spirituality)
  3. What was the New Testament fulfillment of this type? (New Testament theology)
  4. How do I apply or experience these truths? (New Testament spirituality)

Keeping these questions in mind, let us proceed to the second item of furniture in the Tabernacle, the “brass laver” or “brass bath.” This was a metal, water-filled tank which sat on a large metal plate. Taps let water flow out of the tank and into the base plate. We do not know the shape or dimensions of it, but the later laver in Solomon’s Temple was circular and huge.

Let’s first consider the cleansing provided by the laver. Then we will consider how that cleansing is perfected.

Cleansing Provided🔗

Water is the most abundant and necessary element in the world. It has many uses. It is drunk for refreshment. It is sprinkled for fertility and fruitfulness. In the case of the laver, it was used for washing and purifying the priests. Let’s ask Priest Elnathan to explain the details.

“Thank you. I love the brass laver. I didn’t used to. As a teenager and even into my twenties, I found all the priestly washings so tedious and boring. ‘Why can't they just get on with the sacrificing, and then I can get back to my friends?’ I used to think, as I stood with the congregation. However, a year before my thirtieth birthday and my own entrance into the priesthood, I was mercifully and sovereignly born again by the Spirit of God. It was then that I began to understand the holiness of God and my own unholiness. As the day of my consecration drew near, I felt increasingly unfit and unworthy for the priesthood. In fact, on the morning of my consecration service, I remember feeling so dirty and so filthy within and without that I almost ran away. But, by God's grace, I overcame my fears and joined my new colleagues in the Tabernacle for the start of the service. Then came the part of the service I used to find so tedious: the washings. There was the one-time full-body washing with water from the brass laver (Ex. 29:4). Oh, how wonderful that felt! It reminded me so vividly that in the gospel my holy God provides cleansing for unholy souls. What a mercy! I would gladly go through that all-over washing every day I go to serve in the Tabernacle. However, that was a one-time occurrence. Instead, every day I often wash my hands and feet at the laver (Ex. 30:19). This reminds me of my onetime full-body wash. It also reminds me of the ongoing cleansing God continues to provide for my sins — and spurs me on to greater holiness.”

New Testament believers, Christ has not only consecrated all of you as priests (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 5:10) but has also provided a double cleansing. There is the one-time, all-encompassing washing of the soul in regeneration. “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). And there is the oft-repeated ongoing sanctification of various areas of the soul. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25, 26). This same two-fold work of the water is referred to by Christ when seeking to wash the disciples’ feet: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit” (John 13:10).

The brass altar preaches pardon of sin. The brass laver preaches purging from sin. The altar is concerned with the believer’s status; the laver with the believer’s condition. The altar’s blood aims at acceptance with God; the laver’s water aims at communion with God.

The altar says, “without shedding of blood is no remission,” while the laver announces “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

Cleansing Perfected🔗

The laver itself was made of brass, a symbol of strength and indestructibility, endurance and solidity (Dan. 10:6; Rev. 1:5). The base, however, was made out of the burnished and polished metal mirrors of the ladies who assembled at the door of the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:8). They gave up the mirrors which showed them their appearance and helped them to adjust to the fashions and standards of the day. By doing so, they were saying, “No longer will we judge ourselves by our standards or others’ standards. We want to please God and live by His standards.” In his excellent commentary on Exodus, Dr. Philip Ryken suggests that this must have been a time of spiritual revival in Israel. And A.W. Pink writes:

The very material from which the laver was made spoke of surrender, a willingness to part with what was calculated to make something of self; and this, in order that conditions of holy purity might be maintained in the priests. Thus we, too, must sacrifice what would minister to pride if we are to obtain that cleansing which fits for communion with God.

Patrick Fairbairn translates the phrase referring to the women as “the mirrors of the serving-women who served at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” Fairbairn presents evidence that there were groups of pious women who gathered around the Tabernacle entrance and “devoted themselves to regular attendance on the worship of God, for the purpose of performing such services as they might be capable of rendering.” They were Old Testament prototypes of Anna “which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).

It is likely that this polished metal not only formed the basin at the base of the laver, but also acted as a mirror in which the priests might look at themselves to remove every last spot of dirt.

The vital necessity of this cleansing is emphasized in the instructions: “When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation they shall wash with water that they die not” (Ex. 30:20, 21). A speck of dust or dirt not only rendered them unfit for God's presence but also rendered them subject to fatal judgment. For the conscientious priest, this must have caused excruciating worry. He would have thought: “If a minimal neglect of outward purity be judged so severely, what hope do I have with my impure heart?” With what trembling and fear would he go about his daily duties (Ps. 24:3-5; 26:6).

The imperfect Old Testament priests, in need of both outward and inward purity, in need of both regeneration and sanctification, must have longed for a priest they could rely on without fear or worry. As they looked anxiously in the mirror at the base of the laver, how they must have longed to see a reflection of one who was perfect and undefiled. Such a one was Jesus Christ — the One toward whom the laver and the mirrors pointed. “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19; cf. Heb. 7:26-28).

The hope of perfect cleansing becomes a personal reality for believers in heaven. In Revelation 15:2-3, we read of a heavenly laver. The saints are standing on a “sea” (a laver) of glass, singing to the One who has washed them and made them clean forever. As Samuel Ridout concludes:

When all the redeemed of God are gathered there, the day of cleansing from defilement is over, no more need to wash one another’s feet; no more need for the Lord’s washing our feet, but there we stand with harps of God in our hands, nothing to hinder praise and worship. But the sea of glass, the witness and perpetual reminder of our cleansing, will flash forth there a continual remembrance of our Lord’s gracious and humble service throughout our journey here.


  1. Can you see a link between the Old Testament washings, John the Baptist’s “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” and the New Testament practice of infant baptism? If so, what are the common lessons taught in these washings?
  2. How do you know if you have experienced “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)? What evidence would you present to prove your case?
  3. What means, or instruments, does God use to regenerate our souls? (Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23; John 3:5).
  4. How many times a day do you look in the mirror? How many times a day do you look in the mirror of God's Word? What does that say about your standards?
  5. What would be the marks of revival in our society? What would we expect to see surrendered — by men, by women, by teenagers, by children?
  6. Name one thing you could surrender today to keep yourself more unspotted from the world.
  7. What difference would it make to your Christian life if you thought more about your priestly role and status?
  8. How can you increase your desires for holiness in this world and in the world to come?

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