The previous readings described the production of the Tabernacle, furniture, utensils, and clothing of the priest. This portion continues with describing the census tax, anointing oil, and incense.
The census tax was a half-shekel, which was between 4.3 grams and 5.5 grams of silver, which is between $2.50 and $3.00 in 2016 US dollar. This tax was collected specifically for the service in the Tabernacle, then later for the Temple. Practically, as there no Temple in Jerusalem at this time, there is no census tax of this nature. The age of a person to be counted was from 20 years old, inferring that this was the common age men began to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle in order to represent themselves and their families.
The holy anointing oil was used to cleanse the items in the Tabernacle and to cleanse the bodies of the priests. While this is certainly spiritually symbolic of being set apart or chosen for service to God, it is also physically purifying as the ingredients of the holy anointing oil both sanitize and heal.
Instructions on how to make the holy anointing oil utilize the Hebrew shekel and hin as measurements. Each shekel was between 9 and 11 grams, 11 grams being used for the following calculations. Each hin is 3.83 liters. The ingredients in English metric are: myrrh (5.5 kg), cinnamon (2.75 kg), cannabis (2.75 kg), cassia (5.5 kg), and olive oil (3.83 lit or 3.55 kg). The oil – as it was made in those exact proportions – was used only by the priests. The priests used this oil to cleanse or set apart things and other priests to the service of God.
A type of oil perhaps similar to this was used to declare the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:16-17; 10:1; 10:9-10; 16:12-13; 1 Kings 1:39-40; 19:15-16). This is the picture meaning of the English word Messiah, which means the anointed one (Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ mashiach) who was anointed (Hebrew מָשַׁח mashach) with oil. In the New Testament, a type of oil was used to heal people (Mark 6:12-13; James 5:14-15; 1 John 2:20-21, 27). The followers of Yeshua in Antioch, current day Turkey, anointed people with oil and therefore were called Christians there (Acts 11:26). Christian (Χριστιανός Christianos) came from Christ (Χριστός Christos) which means anointed one. Christ came from anoint (Greek χρίω chrio).
After describing the ingredients and use of the holy anointing oil, Moses described the ingredients and use of the incense. Like the oil, the incense was to be used only by the designated priests in the religious service of God and not for ordinary means (30:32-33, 37-38). In prophetic literature, the incense represents the prayers of God’s people (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4).
In the previous portion, God’s holy Spirit led men to accurately produce the clothing of the priests; He again affirmed this in this portion, that He filled them with His holy Spirit (28:3; 31:1-11).
Emphasizing the importance of the Fourth Commandment, Yehovah told Moses to repeat and expand on what the Sabbath means. God said that the Sabbath day was a sign of the covenant forever between Him and His people (31:13, 16). It is also a sign of the literal 6-day creation week in Genesis 1-2 (31:17). Obeying God’s commandment of the Sabbath shows that we know and rely on Yehovah alone to make us holy (31:13). God spoke this commandment along with all of the Ten Commandments directly to the people of Israel (Exodus 19); therefore, the two flat pieces of stones on which these commandments were written are called the tablets of testimony (31:18) because God’s instructions are true and His covenant is real. The people witnessed God’s words for themselves. God wrote the commandments in stone on Mount Sinai and gave them to Moses.
Because Moses spent so long on Mount Sinai speaking with Yehovah, the people of Israel doubted that he would return. Moses was the mouthpiece for Yehovah and spoke as God (7:1) since Israel was afraid to hear God for themselves (19:18-21). They therefore needed a something solid and visible to represent God, something in which they could put their trust. The people of Israel force Aaron to make an idol for them, a golden calf; Aaron relented and did so (32:2-4), later being ashamed of his actions and lying to Moses that the golden calf had made itself without his intervention (32:24). Aaron told Israel, “This is your God” (32:4). Aaron also built an altar to make sacrifices in front of the golden calf and proclaimed a feast to Yehovah (32:5).
In the mind of Israel, the golden calf was Yehovah. Today, people burn incense and offer food at the altar of their own gods, and some even offer animal sacrifices. Many Christians, who consider Jesus to be God Himself, keep statues and illustrations of him. Artwork is full of representations of the Trinity. The Roman Catholic Church displays pagan structures and presents them as Christian, such as the phallic symbol from Egypt.