The Altar of Incense

                                                                                            Exodus 30:1-10
                                                                                            Exodus 37: 25-29

"Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. Its length shall be a cubit, and its width a cubit, it shall be square, and its height shall be two cubits; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and you shall make a gold molding all around for it. And you shall make two gold rings for it under it6s molding; you shall make them on its two side walls--on opposite sides--they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. And when Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering, and you shall not pour out a libation on it. And Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord." (Exodus 30:1-10)

     The golden incense altar was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold and had a horn at each corner.  It was situated just in front of the veil, the curtain which separated the holy place from the holy of holies.  The incense altar, which was 36 inches high and 18 inches square, was much smaller than the brazen altar.  Similar to the showbread table, the golden incense altar had a golden crown or molding around the top of it.  This signifies "Jesus, crowned with the glory and honor" (Heb 2:9)

     Placing the altar before the throne (Ex 30:6) was of great significance.  The golden altar stood next to the veil in the center of the holy place, which separated it from the holy of holies where God manifested His presence.  Thus, the closest the priests could come to God in daily worship was when they ministered at the altar of incense.  This same principle holds true for Christians.  The closest we can come to God is through prayer (Jas 4:8).

     The priest had to burn incense at this altar in the morning and at twilight (Ex 30:7-8), as a perpetual fragrance before the Lord.  The incense was made from the three specific sweet perfumes (Ex 30:34) mixed with frankincense.  The spices were weighed equally (Ex 30:34), mixed into one substance by the performers (Ex 30:35), and beaten to emit their fragrances (Ex 30:36).  The sweet smelling incense was a beautiful picture of Christ in all His perfection and grace before God and mankind.  His life emitted a fragrant perfection of purity and holiness unmarred by sin or fleshly motives.

     Christians are called "a sweet savor" to God and the world (2 Cor 2:14-16).  As we move through society, we are like incense that has been crushed and burned, emitting the perfume of the knowledge of Christ to the glory of God.  The world responds in various ways to Christians as they emit the fragrance of Christ.  To those who are lost and indifferent to the gospel, the incense of Christ is "the savor of death unto death"; but to those who respond to our witness, Christ is the "savor of life unto life."

     The burning incense signified prayer (Ps 141:2, Rev 5:8) and points us in one instance to the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Jn 17, Mk 14:32-42).  This prayer in the 17th chapter of John is no 'last night' performance; it is rather the continuation of a life of previous prayer, as indicated by the phrase "Father, the hour has come" (v 1).  Here in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is at the golden incense altar, on the night before the veil (that is His flesh, Heb 10:20) will be torn from top to bottom, by God His Father (Matt 27:46,51).  Jesus is like the high priest in the Tabernacle, bearing the names of the disciples (and those who believe through their word, vs 20) on His heart.

      Before the priests could offer the incense of prayer, three requirements had to be met.  First the priests had to minister at the brazen altar, shedding the blood of an animal for their sins.  Before we are able to come before a holy God in prayer, we must be cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, which is done by appropriating His sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf.  Second, the priests had to wash all defilement from their hands and feet (Ex 30:18-20) before they could enter the holy place to offer the ministry of prayer.  We must confess our sins and come before God with clean hearts before He will hear our prayers.  Unconfessed sin in the lives of believers hampers God from listening and responding to their prayers (1 Jn 1:6-10).  Third, the priests had to be in the holy place to offer the incense of prayer.  Cleansed by the blood and water, they stepped into the sanctuary to fellowship with God.  "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:22).  It is only when we are in a proper relationship with God that we can have the full assurance that He will answer our prayers.

     Aaron was to offer incense on the golden altar at regular times each day (Ex 30:7-8).  In New Testament times, the disciples kept morning and evening hours of prayer in the Temple and in their homes (Acts 3:1); 10:9,30), indicating that God desires believers to set aside specific times of prayer throughout the day.  The incense burned perpetually before the Lord throughout the years (Ex 30:8), picturing believers offering up prayers continually to God.  Paul instructed us to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Th 5:17), meaning we are to be in a continual attitude of prayer throughout the day.  This is exemplified by the Lord (Heb 7:25) and the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26-27), who perpetually intercedes for us before the throne of God the Father.

     The golden altar also represented the place of intercession before the Lord, thus, when blood from the sin offering was sprinkled on the horns of the altar, it symbolized a prayer for the pardon of sin before God.  The blood, when applied to the altar, gave the incense of prayer its value.  So it is with Christ's blood, which gives value to our prayers before God (Heb 9:14, 13:24) and opens the way for us to come before the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in the time of need (Heb 4:16).

     It is a privilege for us to have access into God's throne room.  Because the veil has been rent through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we can now come "boldly into His throne of grace and receive mercy and obtain grace in our time of need" and have our prayers heard and answered.  Prayer is a privilege, and when we come into His presence it is sweet.  Why not take the next hour and taste the sweetness that an hour of prayer will bring to your life?  If you do, you and those around you will savor a fresh fragrance of God's peace and power flowing from your life.  Purpose to make your life a life full of prayer.  Let your life be changed and be a life-changer.  It will happen through a lifestyle of prayer.

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