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What is a laver in the Bible?

A laver is a wash basin used for ceremonial cleansing. In Hebrew it is a kiyowr, meaning something round and hollowed out like a chafing dish for coals, a caldron for cooking, or a washbowl for cleansing. The Bible uses the word in that last sense as a wash basin used in the tabernacle and then the temple.

In Exodus 30:18–28, on Mount Horeb when God was giving Moses plans for the construction of the tabernacle, He instructed Moses to have a wash basin, or laver, made for the priests to use before approaching the altar. It was to be made of bronze and then anointed to consecrate it as a holy furnishing for the tabernacle. God declared that He had given special skill to Bezalel, Oholiab, and the craftsmen to make these instruments for worship (Exodus 31:1–11; 35:10–19).

When the time came to carry out these commands, the Israelite women donated their polished brass mirrors to be used to create the bronze laver God required (Exodus 38:8). The craftsmen brought the laver, along with all the other tabernacle furnishings, to Moses for inspection. "And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them" (Exodus 39:43). Seeing that all the work had been completed, Moses erected the tabernacle. "He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses" (Exodus 40:30–32). Leviticus 8:11 records that the laver was anointed, according to God's instructions to consecrate it for its holy purpose. Thus the laver was used in tabernacle worship.

Hundreds of years later, when King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, he hired a man named Hiram to make temple furnishings, including multiple lavers or basins (1 Kings 7:13–51; 2 Chronicles 4). Ten of the lavers were used to wash certain parts of animals brought for sacrifice (Leviticus 1:9; 2 Chronicles 4:6). Five lavers were placed on the north side and five were placed on the south side of the temple (1 Kings 7:38–39). Hiram also made a large laver, referred to as a "sea," in which the priests washed (2 Chronicles 4:2–6).

Later, evil king Ahaz removed the silver and gold from the temple, along with treasures from his own house, and sent them to the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser as his vassal (2 Kings 16:7–18). He also had a new altar built to suit the Assyrian king and moved the original temple altar. Ahaz "cut off the frames of the stands and removed the basin from them, and he took down the sea from the bronze oxen that were under it and put it on a stone pedestal" (2 Kings 16:17). Of course, years later, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple as recorded in 2 Kings 25:8–21. The temple was rebuilt in the time of Ezra, but again destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Thus it would seem any bronze lavers used for ceremonial washing in the temple were pillaged or destroyed.

Indeed, it is not ceremonial cleansing that people need, but rather a cleansing of our hearts. David prayed in Psalm 51:2 for God to, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." In Jeremiah 33:8 God promised His people, "I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me." In 1 John 1:9, John reminded his readers that the promise was for all people who would confess and believe. He wrote, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Rather than seeking an exterior ceremonial ablution from a laver, God desires for us to seek His forgiveness, made possible through Jesus Christ, and the internal cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. The first step is trusting in Jesus Christ.

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