The laver was the seventh article of furniture described to Moses, but the second article of furniture that the priest encountered before passing into the tabernacle. It stood between the altar of sacrifice and the door to the tabernacle, so the priests could wash their hands and feet before entering the tabernacle. Made from the mirrors of the women who ministered at the entrance gate to the tabernacle (Exodus 38:8), the laver was one of the two articles for which no dimensions are given. The other was the golden lampstand.
Many passages in the New Testament point to water as a type of the Word of God. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (Ephesians 5:25–26).* "'Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you'" (John 15:3). "When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:4–6).
Water is also a type of the Holy Spirit. "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."' Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37–39; see also Titus 3:5).
It is significant that the supply of copper that made up the laver came from the mirrors of the women who ministered at the gate of the tabernacle. The Word of God is also a type of mirror, for James tells us, "If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing" (1:23–25).
The purpose for this washing by the priests was primarily for sanctification, not external cleanliness. Since the laver is mentioned next after the golden altar of incense, some see a connection between the two. The cleansing afforded by the laver had to take place before the priest could approach God in prayer, for incense is a type of prayer (Psalm 141:2; Isaiah 6:3–4; Revelation 5:8). Furthermore, the laver was not to be used until the blood of the sacrifice had been shed. Just so, the Word and the Spirit cannot be instrumental in our lives until the blood of the Lamb has been applied to our lives. It wasn't until after Jesus returned to the Holy of Holies in heaven with His own blood (Hebrews 9:12) that the Holy Spirit was released upon the believers in Jerusalem. Therefore, the altar of sacrifice speaks of Calvary, while the laver points us to Pentecost.
Of course, the laver was just a vessel; it was the water that was useful to the priests.
The laver and its contents speak to us of the priesthood of believers' making a practical application of the Word of God to their lives. Whereas the sacrifice at the altar indicated God's judgment of our sins, the water at the laver points us to the believer's judging himself by the Word. Therefore, the priests were instructed to wash their hands and feet "so that they may not die" (Exodus 30:20–21). God is instructing us on the importance of having our work (hands) and our walk (feet) consecrated to Him.
When I get up in the morning and shower, I am clean all over. Later, when I inevitably dribble coffee on my hand as I walk with my cup to the study, I do not need to shower my entire body again. I need only to wash my hand. Likewise, I was saved by "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit"(Titus 3:5) when I accepted the life-cleansing work of Calvary into my life. But then, I find that in my daily walk with God, defilements dribble into my work and onto my walk. It is then that I need to apply the cleansing power of the Word (Ephesians 5:26; John 13:10) to my life.
This daily washing in God's Word is the true meaning of the foot-washing ceremonies some like to practice. In the Old Testament, the priests had to wash their hands and feet prior to ministering on behalf of the people within the Holy Place of the tabernacle. Jesus continued this tradition by washing the disciples' feet before they were sent out to minister to people. Jesus was not instituting a new rite or ordinance for His church when He washed the disciples' feet. He was showing them by example that they were being cleansed and prepared to walk as His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). And so, John reminds us, "Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:5–6).
By Jim Thornber
* All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.