Message – The Incense Altar
Series: Thru the Bible – Exodus
Incense altar & censer
Articles within the Tabernacle of Meeting:
There were three articles or furnishings within the Tabernacle of Meeting. From left to right:
- The Menorah, Lampstand or Candelabra
- Incense altar
- The Showbread Table
Incense altar & censer
“(1) You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. (2) A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. (3) And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. (4) Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. (5) You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. (6) And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.”
“(25) He made the incense altar of acacia wood. Its length was a cubit and its width a cubit—it was square—and two cubits was its height. Its horns were of one piece with it. (26) And he overlaid it with pure gold: its top, its sides all around, and its horns. He also made for it a molding of gold all around it. (27) He made two rings of gold for it under its molding, by its two corners on both sides, as holders for the poles with which to bear it. (28) And he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold. (29) He also made the holy anointing oil and the pure incense of sweet spices, according to the work of the perfumer.”
“(26) He put the gold altar in the tabernacle of meeting in front of the veil; (27) and he burned sweet incense on it, as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
It’s use – Lev. 4:1-7,
“(1) Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, (2) “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them, (3) if the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering. (4) He shall bring the bull to the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, lay his hand on the bull’s head, and kill the bull before the LORD. (5) Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and bring it to the tabernacle of meeting. (6) The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the LORD, in front of the veil of the sanctuary. (7) And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of meeting; and he shall pour the remaining blood of the bull at the base of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
The Incense – Exod. 30:34-38,
“(34) And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. (35) You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. (36) And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. (37) But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. (38) Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”
The Censor –
2Chron. 4:19-22, “(19) Thus Solomon had all the furnishings made for the house of God: the altar of gold and the tables on which was the showbread; 20 the lampstands with their lamps of pure gold, to burn in the prescribed manner in front of the inner sanctuary, 21 with the flowers and the lamps and the wick-trimmers of gold, of purest gold; 22 the trimmers, the bowls, the ladles, and the censers of pure gold. As for the entry of the sanctuary, its inner doors to the Most Holy Place, and the doors of the main hall of the temple, were gold.”
Lev. 16:11-14, “(11) And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. (12) Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. (13) And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. (14) He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.”
[Notice that Aaron took live coals of fire from the bronze altar of sacrifice, placed them on an censor and carried it into the tabernacle, then he took some incense from the incense altar in his hand and went into the Holiest of holies. There he sprinkled blood from the sacrifice and put incense on the live coals in the censor which caused a fragrant smoke to rise over the mercy seat.]
Josephus in Antiquity of the Jews Book III Chapt. 6 verse 8 says of the Incense Altar:
“8. Now between this candlestick, and the table, which, as we said, were within the sanctuary, was the altar of incense; made of wood indeed, but of the same wood of which the foregoing vessels were made, such as was not liable to corruption. It was entirely crusted over with a golden plate. Its breadth on each side was a cubit; but the altitude double. Upon it was a grate of gold, that was extant above the altar; which had a golden crown encompassing it round about; whereto belonged rings and bars; by which the Priests carried it, when they journeyed. Before this Tabernacle there was reared a brazen altar: but it was within made of wood: five cubits by measure on each side: but its height was but three: in like manner adorned with brass plates, as bright as gold. It had also a brazen hearth of net work; for the ground underneath received the fire from the hearth, because it had no basis to receive it. Hard by this altar lay the basins, and the vials, and the censers, and the caldrons, made of gold. But the other vessels, made for the use of the sacrifices, were all of brass. And such was the construction of the Tabernacle: and these were the vessels thereto belonging.”
Symbolism & Importance:
Regard God as HOLY – Lev. 10:1-3,
“(1) Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. (2) So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. (3) And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace.”
Prayer & Praise
Luke 1:5-22, (Also Illustrates need for holiness and respect towards God)
“(5) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (6) And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (7) But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. (8) So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, (9) according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. (10) And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. (11) Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (12) And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. (13) But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (14) And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. (15) For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (16) And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (17) He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (18) And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” (19) And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. (20) But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (21) And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. (22) But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.”
“(1) LORD, I cry out to You; Make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. (2) Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” – this sacrifice was at the ninth hour of the day.
Gill is helpful here by telling us,
“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense,….” Which was offered every morning on the altar of incense, at which time the people were praying, (Illustrated above in Luke 1:10); and was an emblem of it, even of pure, holy, and fervent prayer; which being offered on the altar Christ, which sanctifies every gift, and by Him as the High Priest; through Whom every sacrifice is acceptable unto God; and through Whose blood and righteousness, and the sweet incense of His mediation and Intercession for the saints, it becomes a sweet fragrance to the Lord; and being directed to Him, it is regarded by Him, and continues before Him as sweet incense; which is what the psalmist here prays for;
“and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice”; David was using this as representing the burnt sacrifice of the evening, or the bread offering made of fine flour, with oil and frankincense on it, which went along with the former, Exod. 29:35-41; and so the Targum,
Also, Peter and John when they were healed the lame man at the gate called beautiful in Acts 3:1, it was in the ninth hour at the time of the evening sacrifice.
So “lifting up of the hands” was a prayer gesture, and a very ancient one both among Jews and Gentiles.
1Tim. 2:8; describes this as acceptable to God… “(8) I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;”
Rev. 8:3-5, “3. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. 5. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.”
*** A discrepancy concerning the Altar of Incense ***
The Bible “appears” to place the altar of incense in two different locations:
- In the Tabernacle of Meeting just BEFORE and OUTSIDE of the Holiest of Holies as in Lev. 16:11-14 that we read earlier.
- In Hebrews 9:1-7 in recounting the same service mentioned in Lev. 16 it seems to place it INSIDE the Holiest of Holies…
- “(1) Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. (2) For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; (3) and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, (4) which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; (5) and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (6) Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. (7) But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance”
In Hebrews 9:4 the word translated as either altar or censor is the Greek word thumiaterion which denotes either a place or a j7 vessel, used in burning incense. So it does not specifically mean either “altar” or “censor” which is why this word is translated as “censer” in the KJV and “altar” in the ASV.
Since we know that there was NO altar in the Holy Place, it MUST be in reference to a censor which was brought in with him.
Also, as we saw in Luke 1, incense were burnt on the incense altar twice a day EVERY day! If it had been in the Holiest of Holies, that would be impossible, because that was only entered ONCE A YEAR.
Also the text literally reads: “behind the second veil was a room which is called the holy of holies, having [echousa, present participle] a golden altar of incense.” The verb echousa can be translated in the sense of “belonging to,” or in close “association with” something.
This would be VERY Jewish. As I have told you many times, Jews thought holistically as opposed to analytically.
Thus, a strong case can be made for the fact that the writer of Hebrews was not stressing the location of this object (whether the altar itself or the censor) but was rather, emphasizing its theological relation with the most holy place in the tabernacle.
You see, the purpose of the incense altar was to create a fragrant aroma BEFORE THE LORD Who was on the other side of the curtain – therefore the altar of incense was directly associated with and in some way “belonged to” the Holy place. Also, the censor, which carried the incense was considered an extension of the altar itself and so in a symbolic way the altar DID actually go into the holiest of holies.
Fire is connected to several things in scripture and while some are unpleasant I think even those are intended to represent extremes.
- Coals are used to cleanse Isaiah’s lips.
- Fire is used as a crucible for purifying and trying.
- The tongue is said to be a fire – a world of iniquity.
- Love is like a fire – that cannot be quenched.
- God’s word is said to be a fire in Jeremiah.
So I think it is fair to say that coals and fire can speak of fervently spoken words or rather words which are spoken from a heart stirred to passion.
Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thess. 5:17
Eph. 6:18, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—”
Have fervent love one for another.
The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much.
The unholy fire of Aaron’s sons could represent unholy passions which are not dedicated to God.
It could be argued that 1 Jn. 5 may be referring to such when he tells us of a prayer NOT to offer – sins leading to death or willful or high-handed sins. Passionate rage against God.
We will begin to discuss the Showbread Table, what it was and some ways in which it serves as a type and shadow of today under the New Covenant…next week!
There is more information in the audio/video of the actual message. I hope you listen, learn and enjoy!
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