The Washing of the Laver
January 26th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-26-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, which is the last in a series – that did not intend to be a series – on the sevenfold provision of God for our cleansing. When I began, I meant for all of it to be encompassed in one sermon; but as I began to prepare and to study, to go through the Scriptures, that one sermon became two, and those two finally became four. God’s sevenfold provision for cleansing: seven ways in the Old Testament that God provided for the cleansing of His people, the washing, the forgiveness of His people.
The first one was the Day of Atonement; that was the expiation of national guilt. One day a year, all of the people in holy convocation, their sins confessed over the head of a scapegoat and driven out into the wilderness; a great solemn day of fasting, of repentance, and the Lord washing away the sin of His people in the blood of expiation, the Day of Atonement; that was one of them [Leviticus 16:1-34]. Then a second one and a third one: the sin offering [Leviticus 4:1-5:13, 6:24-30], and the trespass offering [Leviticus 5:14-6:7, 7:1-7]. They were so very much alike, and they were to expiate sins of ignorance and inadvertence. Then the fourth one, the ashes of a red heifer [Numbers 19:1-22]; and there hadn’t been any study I ever made in my life that meant more to me than the preparation of that sermon – the ashes of a red heifer, our inevitable defilement, our contact with sin and death, inescapable as we live in this world; the washing away of inevitable sin and defilement. Then, last Sunday, the fifth one was on the cleansing of the leper, a type of the progressiveness of sin: one bird slain, and its blood caught in an earthen vessel, and a second live bird dipped in the blood of the first and turned loose in an open field to soar back to heaven with its wings dipped in blood; a picture of the cleansing of the leper [Leviticus 14:1-7].
Now the last two we shall encompass this morning: the laver [Exodus 30:17-21], and the golden plate on the miter of the high priest [Exodus 28:36-38]. Now in the preparation for the sermon this morning, I sense, I realize, I became doubly conscious anew of this thing that you cannot even understand the language of the New Testament, much less its revelation, unless you know what it refers to in Old Book, in the Old Covenant. For Christianity is not isolated, it did not come adventitiously, it’s not out there the fruit of something without root; but it is found in its full meaning back here in this Old Covenant, in these Old Testament Scriptures. There will you find it; it’ll be in a type, it’ll be in a symbol, it’ll be in an incident, it’ll be in a character, a personality, but you’ll find it there. And when finally it comes to glorious and open fruition, it will be couched in the language, and history, and symbol, and type that we have read back here in the Old Testament. Now, you’ll have opportunity to see that this morning in an unusually effective way. So we turn to the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Exodus. The thirtieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and we shall read there of God’s instruction concerning the laver. In the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, beginning at the seventeenth verse:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying:
Thou shalt also make a kiyyor, a laver, thou shalt make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.
And Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:
When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord:
So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
Now, the commandment there is that Moses is to make a laver, and it is two parts: it has a bowl part, in which water is to be poured, and then it has a foot part, a pedestal part [Exodus 30:18]. How big it was we’re not told. How much water it would contain we’re not told. It must have been small enough for them easily to carry it. But when you went into the curtain area of the tabernacle grounds, there was the great altar of sacrifice; beyond it was this laver filled with water, then beyond that the tabernacle itself [Exodus 40:30].
Now we turn the page to the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Exodus and the eighth verse. Exodus 38, and the eighth verse: “And Moses made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, and he made it of the looking glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” [Exodus 38:8]. That’s where he got the bronze, the brass, to cast it. Now, they didn’t have glass in those ancient days; that’s a modern invention, glass is. “And he made the laver of the mirrors”: they were polished pieces of bronze, and I presume the women carried them around, small little mirrors, like you do in your purse today. And they looked at their hair and, if they had rouge and lipstick and powder, why, they utilized those mirrors for those hurly and benign purposes. Now, these women had those looking mirrors made out of polished bronze, and this laver was cast out of those melted looking glasses; which is an unusual thing, when you get to thinking about that. “We see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. I thought that was so applicable here, because this will be a type, a symbol, of a tremendously, vitally important thing that God is doing for the cleansing, the washing of His people. Don’t see it at first. When it was made and cast – “We look through a glass darkly” – finally it became apparent fully what it meant. But it was made out of the mirrors of the women [Exodus 38:8].
Now turn the page just once again to the last chapter and the thirtieth verse, Exodus 40:30, and there we have it placed in the tabernacle grounds and its use. Exodus 40:30:
And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal.
And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat:
When they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as the Lord commanded Moses.
Now, that is the little piece of furniture in the courtyard of which we are now to speak.
I said a moment ago that the Hebrew word translated “laver” here was kiyyor. The Greek word that means “laver,” that refers to this, is lutron, and it is used twice in the New Testament. And we’re going to look in the New Testament and see how this laver was a figure, a type, of a great spiritual truth which is revealed in the New Testament. Now turn to the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and the twenty-sixth verse, Ephesians 5:26, and there you will find one of the two instances where the Greek word for “laver” is used. In Ephesians 5:25-26, Paul writes, “Even as 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.” Now here is the Greek: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it by the lutron,” by the laver, “of the water of the word.” Now you have it translated there “with the washing,” with the washing; the Greek is “in the laver,” or “by the laver of the water of the word”. So that laver represents, Paul says here, the cleansing, the washing of the word of God.
Well, is such a thing in the Bible as that a new conception? No, not at all. Do you remember, in the fifteenth chapter of John and the third verse, where our Lord said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you; ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you”? [John 15:3]. Christ loved us, gave Himself for us, “that He might sanctify and cleanse us with the laver,” with the washing, “of the water of the word” [Ephesians 5:25-26]; a picture, a type, a symbol, of the cleansing of the word of God. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against God” [Psalm 119:11]: the cleansing of the Word, the washing of the word [Ephesians 5:26].
Do you know when you come here and sit down and listen to the Word of God, something happens to your heart? Something happens to your life. Something happens to your family. Something happens to your children. Something happens to your soul! There is a power, a cleansing, a washing, a sanctifying in the Word of God. It’s like getting a hold of a power line fully charged; for the Spirit of God is in His Book, it’s in His Word. Now, I grant you it is possible for a man intellectually to study the Book, it is possible for a man intellectually to know Christ; but I do say that when he fools with it, when he listens to it, when he speaks in His name, he makes himself liable to the great full dynamic charge of the living God. And there is many, and many, and many, and many, a man who first started off to study the Word of God in order to be an infidel and to deride it and scorn it and ridicule it, but as he studied it, he became convinced of it and saved by it! I could give you one illustration out of a thousand.
When Lou Wallace sat down to write Ben Hur, he studied the New Testament and the Word of God in order to write a novel to ridicule it, and to belittle it, and to prove that the claims of Christ as Messiah and Savior were foolish! But after Lou Wallace got through reading the New Testament and studying the life of Christ, when finally he sat down to write the book, it was a book of love and adoration of Jesus as Lord and Savior. I’m just saying to you that when you handle it, and when you read it, and when you study it, you’re opening your heart to the dynamite of the living God: the washing of the Word. There’s power in it, there’s cleansing in it, there’s healing in it, there’s salvation in it, and if I had time – which I do not this morning – I’d like to talk a long time about the fact that no one is ever saved apart from it, the word of God. “We are born again,” says Peter in 1 Peter 1:23, “We are born again by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever,” and verse twenty-five, “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25]. The pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James the Lord’s half brother, James said in 1:18: “Of His own will begat He us by the word” [James 1:18]. That laver represents, Paul says, the cleansing, the “washing of the water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]; that water in there typified the cleansing of our souls and our lives by the word of God.
Now, there is another unusual reference to that passage; and that is found in the story of Jesus and His disciples in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Now the laver was placed between the altar and the door of the tabernacle, the tent of the congregation [Exodus 40:30]. And whenever the priest went toward the tabernacle, there to offer incense, there to offer the blood of expiation, there to pour out blood of atonement, whenever he went in he washed his hands and his feet [Exodus 30:19-21], and whenever he went up to the altar, there to make sacrifice, first he went to the laver and bathed his hands and his feet. Now, what does that mean? This is what that meant: and when the disciples were gathered together, in the thirteenth chapter of John, Jesus girded Himself about with a towel, and began to wash the disciples’ feet [John 13:4-5]. And He came to Simon Peter, to wash Simon’s feet, and the chief apostle said to the Lord, “Lord, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Not You, Lord, wash my feet.” And the Lord said, “Simon, if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me” [John 13:8]. Then Simon replied, “Lord, if it is that, then not my feet only, but my head and all over me” [John 13:9]. Then the Lord replied – now listen to the reply – “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet” [John 13:10]. Well, that was the scene in the temple that Jesus and His disciples had looked upon all the days of their life: the priests had already bathed, already his garments were washed, but before he entered upon the ministry of the Lord, in fellowship and communion with God, he must first wash his feet; for as he walked, even though he’d been bathed, as he walked his feet became defiled and dirty [Exodus 30:19-21].
And the Lord says there that same thing: he that is washed, he that is saved, does not ever need to be saved again, does not need to be bathed again, but he is “clean every whit” [John 13:10]. But he needs to wash his feet; that is, even though we’ve been saved and forgiven, and our souls have been regenerated, and our names written in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and we’re in the family of God as His children, yet day by day as we walk through this world our feet become dirty. We sin each day, every day, and day by day we must wash our feet. That is, not be saved again, but for the sins of that day the Lord is to forgive us, to wash our feet, to bathe our feet as we walk in this world [John 13:10]. That’s the reason when you pray, “And Lord forgive us our sins today, that we committed this day,” that’s a good prayer. Day by day, inescapable defilement; don’t need to be saved again, but to wash our feet. “He that is washed needeth not save but to wash his feet” [John 13:10]; each day to ask God to cleanse us for our shortcomings and our sins of that day.
Now, we must hasten. There’s one other place in the New Testament where that word lutron is used, the “laver,” and that is in this beautiful and very famous passage of Titus 3:5. Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Now there you have it again, that same thing, the second time the Greek word for “laver” is used: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing,” and there’s the laver again, “by the laver of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit,” by the laver of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5]. So that laver, the washing in water, represents the cleansing of the Spirit of God; the washing of our souls.
Now, that is a familiar thing. If we had about an hour, we’d just take off this morning and talk about the type and the simile in the Holy Word of God of water for the washing, the laver of regeneration. Now I’ll take just one incident: there was a great man in the court of Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria – in fact, he was the captain of the host, a mighty man of valor – but he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1]. Great man, and a good man, and an able man, but a sinful man, a lost man like all of us are. And the story of Naaman being sent down there by the king of Damascus, of Syria, to the king of Israel, to heal Naaman of his leprosy; you know, last Sunday morning [I] spoke somewhat that only God could heal [2 Kings 5:14-16]. Here, this king of Israel rends his clothes and cries, “Who am I? Am I God, that he sends this man to me to heal him of his leprosy?” [2 Kings 5:5-7]. No one could heal but God.
And that’s true today. It’s only God who can heal. So Elisha the prophet of the Lord heard about it, and said, “Send him to me” [2 Kings 5:8]. So Naaman came and stood at the door of the house of Elisha, and Elisha did not even come out to greet the great man, did not even look on his face, just sent Gehazi his servant out there to tell him to go down to the muddy Jordan, dip seven times, wash seven times, and he would be clean [2 Kings 5:9-10]. And Naaman was wroth, and went away in a rage. Why, I thought he would come out, and in some great dramatic posture, strike his hand over the place, use words of incantation and magic, and cleanse the leper! [2 Kings 5:11]. Instead, “Go wash and be clean” [2 Kings 5:10]. And when he pulled his chariot around, and driving furiously and in a rage back to Damascus, still a leper [2 Kings 5:12], his charioteer, standing by his side, put his hand on the arm of the great man and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid thee give you a hundred million dollars to be clean, wouldst thou not have done it? Yea, if he had said, ‘Conquer the world! ‘Wouldn’t you have done it to be clean? Some great and mighty thing; how much rather than when he saith, ‘Wash and be clean?'” [2 Kings 5:13].
Aren’t we like that? If we took an hour out of every day of our life to work for our salvation, and if it took that, we’d do it. If it took us to make a pilgrimage to the ends of the earth to be saved, and we’d do that. If it took all the money of our lives and we’d buy it. “How much rather when He saith, Wash, wash and be clean”? And he turned his chariot horses around again and went down to the muddy Jordan, and dipped himself one, two, five, six, and the seventh time, “his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” [1 Kings 5:13-14].
“Well,” you say, “That just happened. That had no meaning.” Oh! that’s what the Book is about, that’s what the Book is about: what they did back there had an ultimate and full meaning out yonder. It represented the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:5]. It represented the cleansing of the power of the cross of Jesus [Hebrews 9:13-14]. It represented the purity and the holiness of our souls as we are washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5], the washing of regeneration [Titus 3:5], taking out the stain of the sin in our souls. Oh, how rich and how full is this merciful revelation of the Lord!
And now, do you know what? This time is gone, and I haven’t got to that miter yet, so we’ll just take another fifth sermon and take it next Sunday morning. But I repeat: this Book is getting to be a new Book to me, and this language that I have read and read and read in the New Testament and the words that it uses, I never knew their meaning until just now. But all those words that I used to just glibly read, now I can see how full and how rich has God poured His infinite revelation into that language, referring back here to these beautiful healing symbols and types of the Old Covenant. And the Book begins to live, and it speaks, and it talks to my heart, and it blesses my soul. It’s bread of heaven [John 6:35, 63]; it’s manna from God [John 6:50].
Now, while we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus; somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church. A family, or one somebody you, while we sing this song and make this appeal, would you come? Down these stairwells, front and back, or on this lower floor, come and stand by me: “Pastor, here I am, giving my heart in faith to Christ,” or “putting my life in the fellowship of this precious church,” while we sing, would you come? Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
LAVER:GOD’S SEVENFOLD PROVISION FOR OUR CLEANSING Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. God’s sevenfold provision of cleansing
1. Day of atonement
2. Sin offering
3. Trespass offering
4. Ashes of the red heifer
5. Cleansing of the leper
II. Laver –
1. Two bronze parts – Exodus 30:17-21
2. Brass – hand mirrors of women
3. Set between great altar and tabernacle