Of all the pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, the Laver has by far the least amount of information given about it. In fact our text is the longest passage you will find in Scripture about this interesting work of brass. Yet, there was plenty for the Israelites to learn from it, and we may also have our understanding brightened especially in the areas of Salvation and Holiness. As important as it was to visit the Brazen Altar, it is equally important for the Christian to make a trip to the Laver.
Our text describes the Laver as a basin or pot made of brass with a pedestal upon which it rested. The priests filled the Laver with water, and they were to wash both their hands and feet with this water before they entered the Tabernacle or presented an offering upon the Brazen Altar. Obviously the priests would not have put their hands or feet directly into the Laver but probably had a pitcher which they could use to dip out some of the water from the Laver and pour it over their hands and feet into a smaller pan or basin. Alternatively, the pedestal may have itself been a lower basin to catch water flowing from the Laver through some form of valve. No shape or sizes are given, but there are some distinct differences with the Laver that might be used to get a better idea of its appearance and use.
One verse, Exodus 38:8, is used to describe the construction of the Laver. There we are told that it was made from the "lookingglasses of the women" who had assembled at the Tabernacle for perhaps this purpose. They did not have the kind of mirrors that we have become so accustomed to, but the women could use a piece of polished metal to view their image. We can imagine the clearness of the water and the reflection from a basin made out of brass so polished that it had once served as a mirror.
The Laver and the Golden Candlestick are the only pieces of furniture which did not have rings and staves used to move them. In fact, the Laver is the only piece of furniture which is not mentioned as being covered by the priests before the Kohathites could transport it (Numbers 4:5-14). One conclusion we might draw from this is that the Laver was not a very heavy item.
It is peculiar that when God described the design of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25 - 31, he gave the instructions for the furniture just prior to describing the area where it resided except for the Altar of Incense and the Laver. The Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Shewbread, and the Golden Candlestick are described just before the details of the Tabernacle; and the Brazen Altar is described just prior to the details of the Outer Court. The Laver is the last piece of furniture mentioned and its description comes almost at the very end of the whole design. Since the Laver is mentioned just prior to the anointing oil and the perfume used in The Most Holy Place, we might conclude from this that the water and act of washing was more significant than the form and shape of the Laver used to hold the water.
No doubt the trip to the Laver was more than just a daily occurrence for the priests. After frequent washings every day, it must have left quite an indelible impression in their minds.
Let us consider first some ideas that the Laver would not have presented.
There is no doubt about the cleansing power of water, but the Laver was not intended for the priests to wash the dirt off of their hands and feet. In our text, God said twice that the priests were to wash themselves with the water from the Laver "that they die not". The first time a priest entered the Tabernacle without washing at the Laver, God would have killed them. This clearly indicates a far more important purpose.
It is critical that we understand that the Laver was not a replacement or substitute for the Brazen Altar. When the priest sinned, he had to offer a sin offering to God upon the Brazen Altar. The Laver was not part of the remedy for sin! Now, if the blood of bulls and goats could not actually take away sin (Hebrews 10:4), how could one ever conceive that water could remit sin? Water never will and never has washed away sins! Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Therefore we must interpret passages such as Acts 22:16 as symbolic. The cleansing nature of water may picture sins being wiped clean, but it is not the agent.
There are many similarities between the washing at the Laver and baptism since they both involve water. However, we should not try to associate the Laver with what we know of baptism (though many Christian writers have made such a mistake). In the New Testament, baptism is associated with both repentance (John's baptism) and regeneration (Christian baptism). The Laver does not picture either of these. Baptism involves immersion and was a singular act, but at the Laver the priests only washed their hands and feet, and this was done repeatedly every day. The Laver may help to broaden our understanding of baptism, but we must avoid making a one for one relationship between it and the Laver.
Now if we were to have tread the grounds of the Tabernacle as did the priests, what conclusions would we have surely come to at the Laver?
If the priest merely walked out of the Tabernacle to get some fresh air, he would have had to wash his hands and feet before re-entering. Certainly after a few occasions of this, any priest would have begun to realize that any contact with the outside world brought on defilement whether it were with people, animals, or the earth itself. There would be no need to wash again if defilement had not occurred.
This thought must have heightened their understanding of the devastating effects of sin that we may so clearly read about now in the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 18:27 God explained that the land of Canaan itself had been defiled by the sins of her inhabitants. This truth prevails throughout the prophets who used the term "polluted" and on into the New Testament where Peter refers to the "pollutions of the world" (2 Peter 2:20). No wonder God chose to clean up the world with a global flood in the days of Noah (Genesis 6:11-13). Sin is not something to be trifled with, and at the Laver we ought to see that its consequences and effects are far more damaging than Satan would like for us to realize.
The overwhelming sense of God's Holiness must have also come over these priests as they washed at the Laver. If just the slightest contact with the sin cursed earth brought on enough defilement as to necessitate cleansing, how utterly spotless God must be. Even the slightest defilement by sin meant the end of fellowship until the pollution was washed away. How could any one ever dare to think they could enter the courts of heaven without the holiness or righteousness of God (Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 22:12; Romans 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; James 2:10).
The increased awareness of the defilement by sin and the spotless Holiness of God would no doubt have caused the priests to realize their need for purity, especially considering their position. The Bible often relates washing with water to the maintaining of purity or personal holiness. In Isaiah 1:16, God clearly makes this association pleading with Israel, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil." In Jeremiah 4:14 it is written, "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved".
This thought is continued in the New Testament where Paul exhorts Christians saying, "let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). James says "lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" (James 1:21) and defines pure religion as keeping oneself "unspotted from the world" (vs. 27). Later he exhorts Christians to "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded" (James 4:8). At the Laver we may be reminded that as priests unto God, we must maintain moral purity. Clean living simply means, "don't sin"! Remember, Jesus delivered us from all of our iniquity in order to "purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).
The washing of hands has often been symbolic of a declaration of innocence. For example, Pilate tried to claim innocence over the murder of Jesus by washing his hands before the Jews saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person" (Matthew 27:24). Perhaps the realization of their innocence overcame the priests every time they washed their hands in the Laver. David made a startling allusion to this in Psalm 26:6 where he relates himself spiritually to the priesthood saying, "I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD". David begins that Psalm by asking "Judge me, O LORD". Was David really innocent of any sin (see also Psalm 24:3-4)? He could only make such a claim because the guilt for his sins would be transferred to the Lamb of God making him truly innocent.
Praise God, at the Laver we may wash our hands in declaration of our innocence. We have been declared not guilty and our position now stands as if we had never sinned. There is no condemnation nor anything that would demand that we be sent to hell (John 5:24). Eternal security was not something invented in the New Testament, it was known by the priests at the Laver for centuries. However, for the Christian, this declaration of innocence is perhaps better pictured in baptism. Is this not "the answer of a good conscience toward God" to which Peter refers (1 Peter 3:21)? Is this not also the "full assurance of faith" found in Hebrews 10:22? What an awesome thought for one who was guilty to be able to now say "I am innocent"!