Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thoughts about the Altar of Incense in the Tabernacle


1 And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.
2 A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.
3 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.
4 And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.
5 And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
6 And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.
7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.
8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.
9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord. (Exodus 30:1-10)

These verses describe the altar of incense that was to be placed in the holy place in front of the veil leading to the holy of holies.  Incense was to be burned on it every morning and evening. 

That the high priest burns this incense hints it represents the intercessory prayers Christ says on our behalf. 

We learn in Revelation that burning the incense was also to represent the prayer of the Saints (see Rev 5:8).  Saints in our temples today continue to offer intercessory prayers.

What else do we learn about prayer from the instructions about the burning of incense here and in Leviticus 16:12-13?

With the burning of incense in the morning and the evening, we learn about frequency of prayer.  I suppose morning and evening should be the minimum we pray.  Incense isn’t burned all at once, though.  It burns little by little; so too our prayers should continue little by little throughout the day.

I love the association of prayer with burning incense that would create a smell.  Think about what that teaches about prayer.  It tells us that prayer creates a certain kind of atmosphere, a feeling that is special, something we can sense.

Exodus 30:34-38 tells us the ingredients for the perfumed incense and the proportions in which it was to be made.  It was to be ONLY used for these holy things, nowhere else.  The Lord was so serious about this that He commanded those who made it for their own use were to be “cut off” or excommunicated.  We see the Lord wanted the Israelites to think of the temple and remember the temple when they smelled it and associate it only with the temple.  What does this teach us about prayer?  I think it is teaching us to associate prayer with conversing with God and with no other being.  Just as the incense wasn’t for personal use, prayer is not meant to make us look good. 

The blood of Atonement once a year cleansed the altar of incense.  This says to me that our prayers are only effective because of Christ’s sacrifice for us and we should pray for forgiveness of our sins when we find ourselves in the wrong.

Next, see how incense plays a part of the priest’s duties in the Day of Atonement:

11 And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:
12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil:
13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not:
14 And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 ¶Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: (Lev. 16:11-15, emphasis added)

I have written recently about the meaning of the bells on the high priests robes making a sound so “that he die not.”  In the above verses of Leviticus Aaron was instructed to bring incense and the censer of hot coals within the veil into the holy of holies and burn incense so that the cloud of incense would cover the mercy seat “that he die not.”  Once again, we have something that is supposed to become a safety measure, something that is not generally considered to be protective.  We know this should be symbolic of something Christ would do to ensure his spiritual protection. 

I think that this is testifying of Christ’s earnest prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane when he wanted the bitter cup to pass from Him but prayed submissively that God’s will be done.  It was that time more than any other that he needed protection from the temptations of Satan in order to carry out that great sacrifice.  He needed the strength to continue under the crushing burden of humanity’s sins that must have been pressing down on Him.

It is so cool to me that we can learn so much about Christ from these little bits of symbolism of the Tabernacle.