Surely the daily life of a priest in the Old Testament would have qualified as a “dirty job.” These servants of God regularly had to make animal and grain offerings on behalf of the Israelite people to bring them atonement and peace with the Lord. It was bloody work. That’s why the next piece of furniture after the bronze altar was so important: the bronze laver.
What is the Bronze Laver?
If this is your first time reading about the tabernacle, then your first question is probably, “What’s a laver?” We can look to the book of Exodus to find our answer:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”Exodus 30:17-21 NKJV
From these verses we gather a few important details: first, the laver is made of bronze; second, it can hold water; third, it is placed in the middle of the outer court, between the bronze altar and the tent of meeting; fourth, its water is to be used by the priests for washing their hands and feet while they serve in the tabernacle. Interestingly, that’s pretty much it. We don’t know whether the laver was tall or short, whether it had any handles, or even how much water it held. This is in contrast with many other items described in the tabernacle, which are given highly detailed records of their dimensions, materials, and placement. With the laver we know very little — simply that it was made of bronze and used to hold water for washing. In the whole book of Exodus we only gather one extra detail regarding this laver: the source of the bronze.
Mirrors of Bronze
He made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.— Exodus 38:8 NKJV
This small verse can be easy to glance over, but it gives us a key insight into the spiritual significance of the bronze laver. The laver itself was not made from random pieces of bronze which the Israelites found lying around. Rather, it was made from the bronze mirrors of the serving women.
Why is this an important detail? Well, consider: what does a mirror do? It reflects. It shows the beholder who they are. The vessel which the priests used to wash themselves was basically a giant mirror filled with water (which is, itself, reflective). Every time they came to wash, it was like they were coming to a mirror. Every time they came to wash, they were made to see who they were.
Two Types of Reflection
There are two ways for us to perceive our reflection: first, by the natural mirror and second, by the divine mirror.
The Natural Mirror
In their natural use, mirrors are tools used to boast in the vanity and pride in the heart of man. When we look into a mirror, we see only the outward form of things. We see ourselves as we want to see. Samuel Ridout, a 19th century minister, views the man in Luke 18:9-14 as an illustration of this kind of self-reflection:
Holding the glass before himself, he [the man in Luke 18:9] contemplates his excellences and beauties: “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.” He looks again and says: “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” How satisfied with himself! — and that is what we naturally do.— S. Ridout, https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/S_Ridout/SR_Tabernacle18.html
The natural use of the mirror is one of self-exaltation — it is filled with boasts of “I”, “me”, and “my”. The more we look at ourselves in this outward way, the more our self-pride grows. “I go to church every Sunday”; “No one tithes more often than me”; “My kids are much better than the neighbors’”. Our natural reflection leads to comparison to others and boasting in our self-worth. Rarely do we see — or, at least, admit to — the truth of our selves.
The Divine Mirror
To be exposed as our true selves requires a deeper reflection than the natural reflection can provide. It requires God’s own “mirror” to be held up to us. Consider when Jesus came to Peter after a futile night of fishing. Jesus told him to cast the net into the sea one more time. Peter reluctantly obeyed, only to find his nets overflowing with fish! He then bowed himself before Jesus and pleaded, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” By encountering the Lord Jesus and hearing His word, Peter felt exposed to the point that he bowed himself low and admitted himself a sinful man. He saw that in his innermost part he was a sinner. Paul had a similar experience when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Such is the experience of the bronze laver. Titus Chu reflects on this further:
Within you do you have the realization, “No matter how beautiful I am outwardly, no matter how handsome my outward appearance is, within me — in the innermost part of my being — I’m in sinfulness; I’m in my weakness; I’m in my limitations. Within me, Lord, I’m ashamed of myself.” When I come to the laver, I come to a mirror. When I come to the laver, I come to light. When I come to the laver, I come to the real understanding of, “Wow, Lord, this is me.”— Titus Chu. Winter Vision Week 2015, Message 3.
In its spiritual principle, the bronze laver didn’t just show the priests their outward appearance, but their inward person as well. Like both Peter and Paul, a crucial early stage in every Christian’s life involves being exposed by the Lord’s “mirror.” Before He exposes us for who we are, our inclination is fleshly, natural, and religious: we may boast in our prayer life, or exalt in our own ability to serve others, or maybe consider ourselves a “good brother/sister.” While we may be “a good brother/sister,” as we progress in our life with the Lord and as we serve in the church, we should frequently be brought to the laver to be exposed and reminded for who we are inwardly. Such exposure brings us back to the bronze altar for forgiveness, and prepares us to serve within the tent of meeting.