Question: "What was the significance of the bronze laver?"
Answer: The bronze laver, also called the “bronze basin” (NIV) and the “laver of brass” (KJV), was one of the furnishings required by God in the outer courts of the tabernacle and temple. It stood between the temple and the altar, and it held water for washing (Exodus 30:18).
The first bronze laver was made for the tabernacle, the movable tent erected in the desert after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The bronze laver was for Aaron and his sons (the priests) to wash their hands and feet before they entered the tabernacle, “so that they will not die” (Exodus 30:20). The priests also had to wash their hands and their feet before they approached the altar with a food offering (verse 21). God declared that this was to be a statute forever to them. The washing of the priests was to be observed by Aaron and his descendants in all ages, as long as their priesthood lasted. God wanted His people to understand the importance of purity.
Exodus 38:8 tells us that the bronze laver and its base of bronze were made from the mirrors brought by “the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” The women of that day did not have glass mirrors as we do today. They used highly polished brass and other metals. Job 37:18 refers to a “mirror of cast bronze.” The serving women donated their mirrors to the tabernacle to be used in creating the bronze laver.
After the Jews ended their wandering in the desert, the tabernacle was replaced by the temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon. The bronze laver in the temple was made by a bronze worker named Hiram of Tyre who also crafted the bronze pillars that stood at the entrance to the temple vestibule (1 Kings 7:13–14). The “Sea of cast metal” (1 Kings 7:23), so called because of its great size, took the place of the tabernacle’s laver, but its function was the same—the washing of the priests.
This second laver was much larger than the one in the tabernacle: 15 feet in diameter at the top and about 47 feet in circumference, with a depth of 7.5 feet (1 Kings 7:23). The depth of the water in the bronze laver seems to indicate that the priests completely immersed themselves in it, rather than just washing their hands and feet. The brim of the laver was carved with flowers, and oxen were carved or cut on the outside all around. The laver stood on a pedestal of twelve bronze oxen, three facing each direction of the compass. The temple court also held ten bronze basins for washing the sacrifices (2 Chronicles 4:6), but the Sea, or the bronze laver, was only for the priests to wash in.
When the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 605 BC, they “broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried all the bronze to Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:17). The bronze laver had to be rebuilt for Zerubbabel’s temple.
There are no biblical descriptions of the bronze laver as part of Herod’s temple, but historians believe the bronze laver rested on twelve bronze bulls and sat between the altar and the temple, as Moses had instructed. When the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70, the temple was completely destroyed, and the furnishings, including the laver, were either stolen or destroyed.
It is significant that the bronze laver was the last object to be encountered before entering the tabernacle (Exodus 40:6–7). Before entering God’s presence, one must be cleansed. The Levitical priests had to continually wash to ready themselves for the presence of Holy God, but Jesus Christ fulfilled all the Law (Matthew 5:17). When Christ died, His people were cleansed once for all time by His blood shed on the cross. We no longer need a ritualistic washing with water to come before God, because Christ has “provided purification for sins” (Hebrews 1:3). Now we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16), being sure that we are acceptable to Him because we are spiritually clean.