Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. An altar to burn incense. This burning of incense was an emblem of prayer, ascending to God from an inflamed heart. See Psalm cxl. 2; Apocalypse v. 8, and viii. 4. (Challoner) — Nothing but incense was daily offered by the high priest upon this altar. On the day of expiation he touched the four corners with blood. It stood over-against the bread of proposition.
Ver. 2. Height. Ezechiel (xli. 22,) describes his altar of incense, a cubit higher.
Ver. 3. Grate, or covering. Some think the fire and incense were placed on this grate, and the ashes fell under the altar. But fire was taken hence, and put in the thuribles; (Numbers xvi. 17; Calmet) or a brazen thurible was placed on the fire, Leviticus x. 1. (Menochius) — Walls, or sides, of setim-wood. — Crown, cornice or moulding. See chap. xxv. 25.
Ver. 6. Where, &c. Hence some infer, that its situation was in the most holy place. But God spoke also to Moses at the door of the sanctuary (chap. xxix. 42.; Haydock); and most people suppose, that it was placed out of the holy of holies, beside the veil. The golden censer, which St. Paul (Hebrews ix. 4,) tells us was within, might be that of Aaron, which was placed there after the sedition of Core, (Numbers xvi.) or one that might be left smoking before the ark, on the day of expiation. (Calmet) — St. Augustine, &c., believe, however, that it was in the holy of holies. (q. 133.; Origen, hom. 19.; St. Gregory; 1 Kings xiv.; &c.)
Ver. 7. Aaron, or some other priest. They did it by turns, and were bound to observe continence during the time of their ministry. (Leviticus xv. 16; Luke i. 9.) (Calmet)
Ver. 9. Composition, than what is prescribed, ver. 34. (Menochius)
Ver. 10. It. This altar, or this rite; all deserve a singular respect.
Ver. 12. Sum. David perhaps neglected this injunction. (2 Kings xxiv; Josephus, Antiquities vii. 10.) Yet we do not read that Moses took the half sicle when he numbered the people, Numbers i. Whence others gather, that this sum was to be paid every year, as it was done in our Saviour’s time, for the support of the temple, Matthew xvii. 23. Vespasian ordered the Jews to pay the same money for the capitol. (Josephus, Jewish Wars vii. 13.) After the captivity, the third part of a sicle was demanded, 2 Esdras x. 32. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. Half a sicle. A sicle or shekel of silver, (which was also called a stater) according to the standard or weight of the sanctuary, which was the most just and exact, was half an ounce of silver; that is, about half a crown of English money. The obol, or gerah, was about three halfpence. (Challoner) — A priest kept the weights and measures, 1 Paralipomenon xxiii. 29. The Egyptians and Romans took the like precaution to prevent any fraud; and Justinian required that such things should be kept in churches. Some have supposed, that the royal or common sicle was less than that of the sanctuary. But Moses admits of no distinction. (Leviticus xxvii. 25.; Ezechiel xlv. 12.) Perhaps the weights of the Egyptians, &c., might differ from this, which Moses therefore particularizes so well. (Calmet) — Arbuthnot makes the weight of the sicle equal to 9 dwt. 2,57 gr. English Troy weight; and he values that of silver at 2s. 3,375d. sterling. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. Rich. The life of every man is equal in the sight of God, and He will not give the rich occasion to despise his poor neighbour. Thus also the number of the people would be ascertained. (Menochius)
Ver. 18. Its foot also of brass, made of mirrors which the women gave, chap. xxxviii. 8. It was double; one vessel being shallower, to wash the feet &c., and the other containing a quantity of water, which was let out by pipes. The pagans had lavers also; and our holy-water vessels should remind us of that purity and holiness which became the house of God. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Feet. The priests went barefoot in the tabernacle. In the Misna we find the same law binds laymen. None were allowed to enter the temple of Diana, in Crete, with shoes on; and the Roman ladies followed the same custom, when they came down to the temple of Vesta. Huc pede matronam nudo descendere vidi. (Ovid, Fast. 6.) (Calmet) — The priest is ordered to put off his shoes on Good Friday, out of respect for Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross. (Haydock)
Ver. 23. Spices. Perfumes were probably first invented in Arabia and Egypt. Ovid makes Bacchus the author of bloody sacrifices, and of incense offered to Jupiter. (Fast. 3.) — Myrrh. Hebrew, “the head of the myrrh of liberty,” or such as flowed freely and was most excellent, free from any mixture. Sudant sponte….stacten dictam. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xii. 15.) (Calmet) — Stacte takes its name from distilling. (Menochius) — Sicles; this is not expressed in the Hebrew, as this measure is commonly meant. — Cinnamon, a plant extremely rare. Matthcole assures us, that it is not now to be found in Arabia, no more than balm in Judea. — Calamus. Hebrew adds the epithet sweet-smelling both to cinnamon and calamus, or cane, the latter of which grows in the Indies. (Dioscor. i. 17.) That which druggists sell, under this name, is not a proper ingredient for ointments.
Ver. 24. Cassia, not the common sort, which would spoil the perfumes, but the essence of iris, (Hebrew, kode) mentioned in the Septuagint; Ezechiel xxvii. 19; Josephus; &c. (Calmet)
Ver. 29. Sanctified. But if he ought not to touch it, he shall be defiled the more: (Deuteronomy xxii. 9) a double effect, which we perceive in the Christian sacraments. (Calmet)
Ver. 31. Holy unto me, or set apart for the persons and things employed in my service. (Haydock)
Ver. 32. Of man. Some except the kings of Juda, till the reign of Josias. (Rabbins) — But they were anointed with common oil. (Menochius)
Ver. 33. Cut off. Excommunicated, and deprived of all the privileges of the Israelites; (Calmet) or even put to death for his presumption. (Menochius)
Ver. 34. Onycha. An aromatic root, shining like “the nail,” or perhaps the bdellium of Arabia, which is clearer than that of the Indies. (Dioscor.; Galen Medic.) It distills from a tree. Others affirm, that it is the shell of a fish which feeds on spikenard (spica nardi) in the watery places of India. — Galbanum, an unctuous gum, of a strong but not very agreeable smell when alone. — Frankincense, is a juice proceeding by incision from the trees of Saba. — Weight. The Rabbins say 70 or 74 pounds of each.
Ver. 35. Together. Hebrew literally, “salted,” (Chaldean) as salt was to accompany all the sacrifices, Leviticus ii. 13. But it was not, perhaps, to be mixed with this perfume, no more than with the wine of libations. The word may signify “a thing used in embalming, pure and holy.”
Ver. 36. Place. On the table of perfumes, to be burnt morning and evening. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The altar of incense: money to be gathered for the use of the tabernacle: the brazen laver: the holy oil of unction, and the composition of the perfume.
1 Thou shalt make also an altar to burn incense, of setim-wood.
2 It shall be a cubit in length, and another in breadth, that is, four square, and two in height. Horns shall go out of the same.
3 And thou shalt overlay it with the purest gold, as well as the grate thereof, as the walls round about, and the horns. And thou shalt make to it a crown of gold round about,
4 And two golden rings under the crown on either side, that the bars may be put into them, and the altar be carried.
5 And thou shalt make the bars also of setim-wood, and shalt overlay them with gold.
6 And thou shalt set the altar over-against the veil, that hangeth before the ark of the testimony before the propitiatory wherewith the testimony is covered, where I will speak to thee.
7 And Aaron shall burn sweet smelling incense upon it in the morning. When he shall dress the lamps, he shall burn it:
8 And when he shall place them in the evening, he shall burn an everlasting incense before the Lord throughout your generations.
9 You shall not offer upon it incense of another composition, nor oblation, and victim, neither shall you offer libations.
10 And Aaron shall pray upon the horns thereof once a year, with the blood of that which was offered for sin; and shall make atonement upon it in your generations. It shall be most holy to the Lord.
11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
12 *When thou shalt take the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, every one of them shall give a price for their souls to the Lord, and there shall be no scourge among them, when they shall be reckoned.
13 And this shall every one give that passeth at the naming, half a sicle according to the standard of the temple. *A sicle hath twenty obols. Half a sicle shall be offered to the Lord.
14 He that is counted in the number from twenty years and upwards, shall give the price.
15 The rich man shall not add to half a sicle, and the poor man shall diminish nothing.
16 And the money received, which was contributed by the children of Israel, thou shalt deliver unto the uses of the tabernacle of the testimony, that it may be a memorial of them before the Lord, and he may be merciful to their souls.
17 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
18 Thou shalt make also a brazen laver with its foot, to wash in: and thou shalt set it between the tabernacle of the testimony and the altar. And water being put into it:
19 Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet in it:
20 When they are going into the tabernacle of the testimony, and when they are to come to the altar, to offer on it incense to the Lord,
21 Lest perhaps they die. It shall be an everlasting law to him, and to his seed by successions.
22 And the Lord spoke to Moses,
23 Saying: Take spices, of principal and chosen myrrh five hundred sicles, and of cinnamon half so much; that is, two hundred and fifty sicles, of calamus in like manner two hundred and fifty,
24 And of cassia five hundred sicles by the weight of the sanctuary, of oil of olives the measure hin:
25 And thou shalt make the holy oil of unction, an ointment compounded after the art of the perfumer,
26 And therewith thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the testimony, and the ark of the testament,
27 And the table with the vessels thereof, the candlestick and furniture thereof, the altars of incense,
28 And of holocaust, and all the furniture that belongeth to the service of them.
29 And thou shalt sanctify all, and they shall be most holy: he that shall touch them shall be sanctified.
30 Thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and shalt sanctify them, that they may do the office of priesthood unto me.
31 And thou shalt say to the children of Israel: This oil of unction shall be holy unto me throughout your generations.
32 The flesh of man shall not be anointed therewith, and you shall make none other of the same composition, because it is sanctified, and shall be holy unto you.
33 What man soever shall compound such, and shall give thereof to a stranger, he shall be cut off from his people.
34 And the Lord said to Moses: Take unto thee spices, stacte, and onycha, galbanum of sweet savour, and the clearest frankincense, all shall be of equal weight.
35 And thou shalt make incense compounded by the work of the perfumer, well tempered together, and pure, and most worthy of sanctification.
36 And when thou has beaten all into very small powder, thou shalt set of it before the tabernacle of the testimony, in the place where I will appear to thee. Most holy shall this incense be unto you.
37 You shall not make such a composition for your own uses, because it is holy to the Lord.
38 What man soever shall make the like, to enjoy the smell thereof, he shall perish out of his people.
12: Numbers i. 3.
13: Leviticus xxvii. 25.; Numbers iii. 47.; Ezechiel xlv. 12.