1. In the Tabernacle:
Every priest in attendance on the altar of Yahweh was required to wash his hands and his feet before entering upon his official duties (Ex 30:19 ff). To this end a laver was ordered to be made as part of the tabernacle equipment (Ex 30:17-21; 38:8). Its composition was of brass (bronze), and it consisted of two parts, the bowl and its pedestal or foot (Ex 30:18, etc.). This first laver was a small one, and was made of the hand mirrors of the women in attendance upon the altar (Ex 38:8). Its place was between the altar and the tabernacle (Ex 40:30).
2. In the Temple:
The difficulty as to the washing of parts of the sacrificial carcasses was overcome, in the temple of Solomon, by the construction of "10 lavers" and a "molten sea" (1Ki 7:23-37; 2Ch 4:2-6; see TEMPLE; SEA,THE MOLTEN ). We learn from 2Ch 4:6 that the "sea" was for the priests to wash in--therefore took the place of the laver in the tabernacle--and the lavers were used as baths for portions of the burnt offerings. The lavers themselves were artistic works of unusual merit for that age. Like that in the tabernacle, each had its own stand or base, which was cast in a separate piece from the laver. These bases rested on wheels which allowed of the laver being moved from one part of the court to another without being turned about. Five stood on the north and five on the south side of the temple. They were ornamented with "lions, oxen, and cherubim," and on a lower level, with a series of wreaths or festoons of flowers (1Ki 7:27-37). In modern speech, the lavers may be described as so many circular open tanks for the storage of water. Each laver contained 40 baths (about 320 gals.) of water. Its height was 5 cubits, the locomotive machinery being 3 cubits in height, and the depth of the bowl or tank, judging from its capacity, about 2 cubits. The last we hear of the lavers, apart from their bases, is that the idolatrous king Ahaz cut off the border of the bases, and removed the bases from them (2Ki 16:17). During the reign of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah foretold that the molten sea and the bases (there being then no lavers) should be carried to Babylon (Jer 27:19). A few years later it is recorded that the bases were broken up, and the brass of which they were made was carried away (Jer 52:17).
3. The Laver in the New Testament:
The Greek word (loutron) occurs twice in the New Testament. In Eph 5:26, Paul says that Christ gave Himself for the church "that he might sanctify it having cleansed it by the washing (Greek "laver") of water with the word"; and in Tit 3:5 he says that we are saved "through the washing (Greek "laver") of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." In these passages the reference is to the constant physical purity demanded of the Jewish priests when in attendance upon the temple. Christians are "a holy priesthood," and are cleansed not by water only, but, in the former passage, "with the word" (compare Joh 15:3); in the latter, by the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" (compare Eze 36:25; Joh 3:5). The feet-washing mentioned by Jesus is emblematic of the same thing (Joh 13:10).
W. Shaw Caldecott