Skip to main content

The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Copper Laver

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Tamarajo is an avid Bible scholar who loves nothing more than seeking out the treasures in God's Word and sharing them with others.



On Mount Sinai, Moses received more than just the Ten Commandments. Also included were the detailed instructions for building a meeting place for God and His people. The Tabernacle was a temple of worship that involved specific protocols and procedures. These protocols purposely provided a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request.

Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

— Exodus 25:8

From the fall in Genesis until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary, God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. Today, this arrangement can speak volumes about the specifics of such a great salvation and indescribable gift.

. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . ?

— Hebrews 2:3

Every detail that Christ accomplished to restore our relationship with God finds its discovery in the particulars of the wilderness tabernacle.

This lesson will discuss the Copper Laver. As was with all the other furniture, every detail of the Copper Laver will reveal particulars of our great Salvation in Christ Jesus.

Jesus told His disciples after His death that the "Salvation plan" was foretold of in the Law of Moses. The plan began with constructing a place for God and man to meet through a sacrificial system.

Then He (Jesus) said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

— Luke 24:44-45

The Tabernacle's plan and priesthood pointed forward to its fulfillment of the meeting of God with humankind in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This article will study the position and purpose of the Copper Laver.


The Position of the Copper Laver

The Copper Laver was located in the uncovered portion of the Tent of Meeting called the Outer Court between the Copper Altar of Sacrifice and the Tent of Meeting's covered area called the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle included the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.

He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar . . .

— Exodus 40:30

Both Outer Court furnishings, The Copper Laver and the Copper Altar of Sacrifice, are very connected and will be mentioned together throughout this lesson.

Before we continue, the diagram above will be helpful throughout the remainder of this study in terms of The Copper Laver's relationship to other furnishings in other spaces.


Copper and Judgment

The instructions for the materials and construction of the laver were as follows.

“You shall also make a laver of bronze (copper), with its base also of bronze (copper) . . .

— Exodus 30

All of the Tabernacle (Holy of Place and Holy of Holies) furnishings included gold representing Godliness and glory in connection with faith tried and tested by fire. The Outer court furnishings contained copper, which connects with concepts of judgment.

A significant example of this occurs with "copper's" several usages in Jeremiah chapter 52 concerning an occasion of judgment, as it concerned Israel's captivity in Babylon. This example suggests that both Outer Court objects, the Copper Altar of Sacrifice, and the Copper Laver, were places that dealt with the judgment of sin.

In terms of these last two Copper items, the judgment of sin took place outside of the most sacred spaces of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. There could be no meeting with God without judging the sin that separated us from Him. In these very connected objects, He separated sin from us and reconciled us to Himself.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ . . . God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them . . . For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

— II Corinthians 5:18-21

The root of the Greek word translated "reconcile' means to exchange one thing for another. Jesus exchanged His righteousness in place of judgment of our sin on the cross, represented by the Copper Altar of Sacrifice. At the Copper Laver, a cleansing from sin takes place. The first represents justification (the debt of sin paid). The second speaks of sanctification (being cleansed from sin).

While the Copper Altar of Sacrifice spoke of justification through the substitutionary death on our behalf—the Copper Laver will talk about sanctification and the cleansing effect of what Christ has done for us.

"The altar spoke of blood; the laver spoke of water. The altar suggests this verse of Scripture, 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.' The laver points to this: 'Without holiness no man shall see God."

— J. Vernon McGee2

"Here the fountain of life is combined with the cleansing waters of death and judgment. Baptism is a type of these two things—death and resurrection—judgement and life—salvation, but salvation through destruction."

—Henry W. Saltou6

Acutal ancient copper mirror.

Acutal ancient copper mirror.

Examine and Judge Yourself

There is a two-fold aspect to the issue of judgment, as represented by these two copper items.

  • The Altar of Sacrifice was where God's judgment of sin took place.
  • The Laver was the place where self-judgment took place.

The copper of this furnishing was obtained from the women's looking glasses, substantiating the purpose of self-inspection.

M.R. Dehaan, in his book The Tabernacle, comments:

"Now, a mirror reflects the natural features of the individual person looking into it. Looking glasses were for the glorification of the flesh, and the gratification of the old nature. They are a symbol of human vanity and pride . . . The laver, then, speaks of separation from the flesh and from the world, and from the old nature with its pride and lusts, habits and sins " 1

What once was a mirror used for vanity would now become an instrument for humble self-examination.

He made the laver of bronze (copper) and its base of bronze (copper), from the bronze (copper) mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

— Exodus 38:8

Failure by the priesthood to reflect and wash at this station would result in death.

" . . . 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 . . . ”

— Exodus 30

The Psalmist declares that only those with clean hands and a pure heart are granted an audience with King.

. . . who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . .

— Psalm 24

This idea of examination is interestingly linked with a case of self-examination in connection with judgment, death, and issues concerning communion in the New Testament.

. . . whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (a euphemism for death). For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

— I Corinthians 11:27-32

This pattern occurs in the priestly protocols of the Tent of Meeting. The Copper Laver prepared the priesthood for the next visited station, the Table of the Bread of Presence located inside the Holy Place. This table hosted both bread and wine that foreshadowed the Communion Table.

The placement of the Laver is significant, according to J. Vernon McGee.

"The laver stood between the altar and the Holy Place. The cleansing of the believers by confession stands between the cross and the communion of the children of God."2

Out of Christ's side flowed blood represented at the Copper Altar, and water represented by the Copper Laver

As described in the above incident, eating and drinking in an unworthy manner connect with not remembering the greatness of Christ's sacrifice and perhaps discounting the need for His salvation. The writer of Hebrews warns us about this type of complacency. He explains what we are to remember and be mindful of in terms of the cost of His cleansing work on the cross.

By this will we have been sanctified (set apart and made clean) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all . . . this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by one offering He has forever perfected those who are sanctified . . . “Their sins and lawless deeds will I remember no more.” . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse them from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water . . . Anyone who despised Moses’ law died without mercy in the presence of two or three witnesses. How much more severe a punishment do you suppose he deserves, who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded the blood of the covenant that sanctified him to be a common thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

— Hebrews 10

M.R. Dehaan again concludes this section with the following quote.

"It (the laver) speaks of self-judgment and a yielding to God for His service alone." 1


Water and Sanctification

Besides copper, water is the only other key element of this furnishing.

You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it.

— Exodus 30

The Greek definition of sanctification, used in the New Testament, means to separate from profane things and dedicate to God. This concept of separation in connection with water is used in the very beginning.

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the expanse and separated the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse.

— Genesis 1:6-7

We see God connecting the idea of water and separation in the parting of the waters in Exodus when He separated His children from Egypt, the parting of the waters of the River Jericho when He separated His children to Himself in the land of promise.

At the Copper Laver, God asks us to recognize what doesn't belong and forsake it of our own volition.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

— James 4:8

Paul gives us a New Testament instruction that can explain this concept using the example of a husband and wife. He compares the cleansing work of the word of Christ to His bride, the church, to a husband who cleanses his with God's Word.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,(Copper Altar of Sacrifice) that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word (Copper Laver), that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

— Ephesians 5:25-27

At this station, we are separated from sin and separated unto God for divine service.


Commonalites of Water and Copper

There are commonalities between water and copper relating to the Copper Laver's purpose. These commonalities are in conjunction with both judgment and cleansing.

Both water and copper naturally have cleansing properties. Water is considered a universal solvent because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid.3. It carries impurities away. Copper has antimicrobial qualities that resist and destroy bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi, algae, etc. In Combination, the ancients used copper containers for storing water.

In comparing the two courtyard furnishings, the Copper Altar of Sacrifice was filled with fire, and the Copper Laver was filled with water. Both are elements of judgment and cleansing that include separation. Water separates clean things from unclean things. Fire does this as well, especially as it concerns metals. Malachi, the prophet, presents both of these ideas together.

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

— Malachi 3:2,3


Foot Washing

Another New Testament interpretation of this Old Testament observance is that of foot washing. The connection is easily made with the protocol instructions for the Copper Laver.

. . . So they shall wash their hands and their feet . . .

— Exodus 30

With the New Testament event of Jesus washing His disciples' feet in mind, we observe that The inauguration of the priesthood began with Moses's washing of the priests.

Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water.

— Leviticus 8:6

We see Christ do the same with His disciples in a dedication/inauguration between the communion (Table of Bread) and the Passover (Copper Altar of Sacrifice).

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

— John 13

After the initial purification, the priesthood was responsible for their cleansing.

. . . and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

— Exodus 40:30-31

As was discussed earlier, the Old Testament issued a warning for neglecting this phase of the journey toward God.

So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not.

— Exodus 30

Jesus similarly warns Peter that he must not resist this event, or he could not have a part in Him.

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet but is completely clean.

— John 13:2-10

It is also notable that, although the Copper Altar of Sacrifice was the first furnishing to confront the ordinary sinner, the Laver was the first attended by the priesthood.

. . . and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

— Exodus 40:30

Christ, our heavenly High Priest, goes before us and demonstrates every necessary element of presenting us spotless before the throne of God.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless (without spot or blemish) before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,

To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.

— Jude 24-25


The idea of dedication and cleansing can also be viewed through the lens of baptism. The personal examination aspect comes in the form of sin confession. The cleansing component, like with the laver, is connected with water.

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

— Mark 1:4,5

Jesus, Himself links confession with cleansing.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

— I John 1:9

In connection with Jesus washing the disciple's feet and commanding them to do this for one another, James gives us a personal and relational application as it concerns confession.

Confess your faults (sin, misdeed, offence) one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

— James 5:16

Matthew links the topics of fire, water, judgment, separation, and the Holy Spirit in his account of the baptism of Jesus.

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

— Matthew 3:11-12

In his book Christ and the Desert Tabernacle, J.V. Fesko writes about the Copper Laver's connection to the Copper Altar of Sacrifice. The Sacrificial Altar was notable for the fire that burned within it, and the Copper Laver filled with water were both purifying and cleansing agents.

"When the Old Testament priest entered the confines of the tabernacle, he entered not only by the shedding of blood but also by the washing of water. Well, for anyone who enters the church, he enters by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and its application by the Holy Spirit, which is visually represented in the sacrament of Baptism."4

The book of Acts narrates the New Testament revelation and Christ's fulfillment of baptism in terms of water, fire, and the Holy Spirit in the believers' lives.

The following scene illustrates that once judgment took place and the price paid, these forgiven vessels were made fit for the indwelling empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The fire that symbolized judgment was now the fire that represented the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

. . . John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” . . . When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance . . . Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

— Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4, 41

In his book, The Hidden Prophecies In the Song of Moses, J.R. Church observes that the three thousand people baptized in the book of Acts correspond to the laver of Solomon's Temple that was filled with three thousand liquid measures called baths.

Then he made the Sea (Copper Laver) of cast copper . . . It contained three thousand baths.

— II Chronicles 4:1,5

J.R. Church also notes a transition from law to grace in moving from the Copper Altar of Sacrifice to the Copper Laver.

The believer must come by way of the brazen (copper) altar with its blood sacrifice. At the brazen (copper) altar the Jew was judged by the Law of God, but at the laver, he judged himself. In like manner, baptism is a time of self-judgment, a time of introspection, a time when we prepare ourselves for service as a priest in 'the priesthood of the believer" under the leadership of our great High Priest and Lord, Jesus Christ . . . the baptized believer is now prepared as a part of the priesthood to enter into the service of our Savior—into the Holy Place.


Water, Spirit, and New Birth

A connection can also be made with the experience of the new birth in Christ. Water, the Spirit, and the new birth are combined in Jesus's conversation with Nicodemus.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

— John 3:1-5

Immediately following this event, John the Baptist is baptizing and preaching Christ. Much like the New Believers spreading the Gospel to the four corners of the earth.


The Laver and the Menorah

Like the Golden Menorah in the Tabernacle, the Copper Laver was made entirely of metal. All the other furnishings were, at their core, wood, which spoke of Christ's perfect humanity, thus connecting these two items with the things of the Spirit.

The Menorah was filled with oil. The Laver was filled with water. Both of which are used throughout Scripture in connection with the Holy Spirit.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

— I Samuel 16:13

We see the connection between water and the Holy Spirit in the very beginning.

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

— Genesis 1:2

This connection is also seen in the Baptism of Jesus.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

— Matthew 3:16

Much like the Menorah in the Holy Place, The Laver doesn't come with any dimensions. Spiritual things cannot be measured.

The first two mentioned elements of creation were water and light. The Copper Laver was a vessel for water, and the Menorah was an instrument of light. In this, we see a connection with God's redemptive plan through the sacrificial system, including the idea of a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

— II Corinthians 5:17

A new Spirit-filled life resurrected from the waters of death is an image we can draw from these connections and apply to our Christian walk.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death (Copper Laver), that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Menorah).

— Romans 6:4


The Number Ten

Copper Laver also has a numeric connection that relates to obedience to God's commands, creating, and recreating.

God speaks ten times in the creation narrative. Water is also given ten mentions. The Copper Laver filled with water is used ten times in connection with the "Tent of Meeting."

Ten in the Bible most often occurs in concert with man's responsibility and loyalty to God and His commands. The ten commandments present a great example of this. God's good plan only functions appropriately through the cooperation and obedience of His creation.

We failed our test, which subsequently separated us from God into death, as is represented by the chaotic waters of Genesis. When Jesus comes up out of the baptismal waters, the Spirit of God comes upon Him. Jesus becomes clothed in the Holy Spirit. This scene illustrates what Adam lost when he found himself naked upon his disobedience to God's command in the garden narrative.

Immediately following the baptism, Jesus is driven to the wilderness to be tested, in contrast to Adam's test in Eden. Jesus passed the test on our behalf that we might be resurrected to a new life.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.

— Romans 5:19

The abundance of blessing and provision surrounded Adam, yet he disobeyed. Jesus was in a wilderness with no provision, and yet He obeyed.

The following verse gives us an application.

. . . if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

— I John 1:7

In his book Tabernacle in the Wilderness, John Ritchie combines these ideas of walking in the light, self-judgment, testing, and cleansing. All of these are in connection with the Word of God when he writes.

"there must be a walk in the light, self-judgment, and a continual testing and cleansing of all our works and ways by the Word of God, if we would walk with Him. The Word of God is the means by which the Lord keeps His people clean and in condition for communion and service. 'by what means shall a man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto, according to Thy Word' (Psalm 119:9). 'Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth' (John 17:17)" . . . When we come to that Word with honest hearts, prepared to do whatever it commands, and to renounce whatever it condemns, He applies it to us, and thus we are separated from every evil work and way and cleansed from all unrighteousness. If we refuse to allow Him to separate evil from us, by the cleansing Word, He will tell us, as He did of old, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me,' and thus it is that communion is broken; the conscience becomes clogged, and open fall ensues."5


The spaces from God's perspective began with the Most Holy Place in keeping with the idea that it is God who reached out to us.

There is none who seeks after God.

— Romans 3:11

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

— Romans 5:8-11

Credits and Sources

6"The Holy Vessels and Furniture of the Tabernacle" by Henry Soltau Published by Kregel Publications in 1971. Originally published in 1851 by Yapp and Hawkins, London, England.

2"The Tabernacle: God's Portrait of Christ by J. Vernon McGee. Published by Van Kampen Press in Wheaton Illinois.

"The Tabernacle of Moses" by Kevin J. Connor. Published by City Christian Publishing in Portland Oregon. Copyright 1976

1"The Tabernacle" by M.R. Dehaan, M.D. Published by Zondervan Publishing House. Copyright 1995

"Portraits of Christ in the Tabernacle" by Theodore H. Epp. Published by The Good News Broadcasting Association. Copyright 1976

"Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle by Ervin N. Hershberger. Published by Vision Publishers. Copyright 2007

"Spiritual Application of the Tabernacle" by Witness Lee. Published by Living Streams Ministries. Copyright 1987

"Temple Treasures" by Steven Fuson. Published by Bridge-Logos. Copyright 2010

"The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah" by David Levy. Published by The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry Inc. Copyright 1993

"The Tabernacle: Its Priests and Its Services" by William Brown. Published by Hendrickson Publishers. Copyright 1996. Originally published in 1899 by Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, Edinburgh, and London.


4"Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J.V. Fesko. Published by EP Books, Everdale North, Darlington, DL3 OPH, England. Copyright John V. Fesko 2012

5"Tabernacle in the Wilderness" by John Ritchie. Published by Kregel Publications 1982. Originally published: New ed., rev. and enl. Kilmarnock, Scotland. J. Ritchie, 1891

7Hidden Prophecies In the Song of Moses, by J.R. Church. Published by Prophecy Publications Copyright 1991 by J.R. Church.

© 2019 Tamarajo

Related Articles