Exodus 29-30

The Altar of Incense

So far we have entered through the gate, mindful that Jesus told us in John 10: “ I am the gate and whoever enters through me will be saved.” In the courtyard we encountered the brazen altar sitting on raised ground where the innocent sacrifice, the lamb without blemish was brought. After the brazen altar was the brazen laver filled with water for cleansing. This was used only by the priests and was placed before the entrance to the Holy Place, the first of two compartments within the Tabernacle Proper.

So we entered into His courts with praise for here is where grace is obtained, where sins are forgiven and we are washed white as snow.  All of this was a portrait of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

In the Holy Place we found light and fellowship in the Holy Place with the Menorah to light our way and the Table of Shewbread a place of fellowship.

The other article of furniture in the Holy Place was the Golden Altar of Incense. It was placed in front of the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.

The Golden Altar of Incense was a square that measured 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet and was 3 feet high. It was made of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold.  Four horns protruded from each corner. It also had a gold molding around it.( Exodus 30) Notice the differences between this altar and the brazen altar in the courtyard. The differences are : size, material, and the sacrifice that was offered on each. The altar in the courtyard was larger, made of brass, not gold and was the place of animal sacrifices. The altar in the Holy Place was overlaid with gold, smaller in size and burned incense, not animal sacrifices. Both burned continuously and both had four horns that protruded from each corner.

The incense burned in the Holy Place was an equal mixture of four spices . Three of those spices are unknown to us today, but the fourth was pure frankincense. They were ground into a compound that can best be described as a perfume. This perfume was never to be used personally outside of the Holy Place.  God also instructed the priest was never to offer any other incense on this altar, or any burnt offering, or grain offering or drink offering.

Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would anoint the four horns with blood as an atoning sin offering for the generations to come.

The incense was a symbol of prayers and intercession of the people going up to God as a sweet fragrance. God wanted His dwelling place to be a place where people could approach Him and pray to Him. “ …for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all nation.” ( Isaiah 56:7)  Jesus twice cleansed the temple, and the accounts tell us He overturned tables and made a whip of cords and drove the moneychangers out and told them: “ My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a den of robbers.” ( Mark 11)

Remember everything God is telling Moses to construct with these specific details is after a pattern in heaven.  In Revelation 5:8 John records this scene in heaven: “ Each one had a harp and were holding golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” And again John describes for us the pattern in heaven in Revelation: “ Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne.”

There can be no doubt what this incense offered up to God was- it is the prayers of His People. And God’s House, His Dwelling Place is to be a House of Prayer. David understood this and  in Psalms 141 prays to God:  “ may my prayer be counted as incense before Thee..”

Obviously the incense at the Golden Altar represents the prayers of the people.

It was here in the Holy Place where Zechariah was burning the incense when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him –“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will name him, John.”  This would be John the Baptist. What is interesting is Zechariah and Elizabeth were well past the age of bearing  children, which Zechariah expressed to the angel, when he said ; “ how can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

What is encouraging here regarding answered prayer is more than likely Zechariah and Elizabeth , who were without a child, had probably prayed for years to have a son. More than likely as the years went by, they had ceased to pray. But the angel says your prayer has been heard.  God answers prayer in His timing, not ours. And He does it in such a way for it to have the maximum impact to do the most good for the most people for the longest period of time in the best possible way.

The incense is a symbol of our prayers. The altar is a representation of Christ who is our High Priest and intercessor before God the Father.  Jesus prayed for people when he was here on earth, he prayed for the generations of believers to come and for his disciples. He prayed for us on the cross. He prayed for God to forgive me and you.  His prayers came up to God as a sweet smelling incense. And just as the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth were answered probably years after they quit asking God for a child, believing it no longer physically possible, God answered His Son’s prayer to forgive me on September 16, 1977. Almost 2000 years after He prayed  that prayer.

“ He(God) who did not spare His Own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also along with Him( Lord Jesus) graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those God has chosen?  It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died- more that that, who was raised to life- IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD AND IS ALSO INTERCEDING FOR US.” (Romans 8)

“Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a High Priest meets your needs- one who is holy, blameless, pure and set apart from sinners exalted above in the heavens. Unlike other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and for the sins of the people. He sacrificed once for all when He offered Himself.” ( Hebrews 7)

Since we have been forgiven of our sins through the blood of Christ, we can come boldly to the throne room of prayer to pray in Jesus’  name.  This is because our praying is based on His work, not our merit. It is in His powerful name that we are saved and in His name we live, speak and act. “ And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask anything in my name, and I will do it.” ( John 17)

The blood of the sacrifices was placed on the horns of the brazen altar to cleanse and purify the believer from his/her sins. Horns in the Bible represent power. This was the power of His Blood to cleanse us of all our sins.

The blood was placed on the four horns of the Golden Altar of Incense on the Day of Atonement and they represent the power of His blood in prayer as we confess our sins and ask for His forgiveness.  “  There is power, power, wonder-working power in the Blood!”

James said ‘ we have not because we ask not’. James also said ‘ And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” ( James 5:15-16)

Prayer is so powerful and so neglected. No wonder God has to allow us to get into desperate situations in order to spend time in prayer.

In the Garden on the night of His arrest, Jesus told the disciples “ Watch and pray lest you fall into temptation.” ( Mark 14)  Want to keep from falling into temptation?  Watch and pray.

Want to keep from worrying and being anxious?  “ Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything BY PRAYER AND PETITION, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ( Phil. 4)

“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”(Isaiah 50) It is in prayer combined with Bible study- the Lord speaks to us.

Why would anyone who understood the power of prayer and how precious our prayers are to our Heavenly Father neglect to pray? ?   For to neglect to pray is to forfeit the peace of God that passes understanding; to be shielded against temptation and sin; to forfeit worry and sleepless nights; to not hear from God personally.

But most of all- we forfeit enlisting the help and intercession of the One who sits at the right hand of God who intercedes for us.  Archimedes said if you gave him fulcrum large enough and a lever long enough and a place to stand outside of the world- he could move the earth through the power of leverage.

Do you understand what we have in prayer?  Our fulcrum is the Word of God. Our lever is prayer. And look where the end of the lever is- in heaven at the right hand of God. And we press down with faith and guess who is helping us- the Holy Spirit within us and none other than the Lord Jesus Christ!

Now do you understand why Paul wrote this?  “ He(God) who did not spare His Own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also ALONG WITH HIM(LORD JESUS) GRACIOUSLY GIVE US ALL THINGS ? ( Romans 8)    Do you believe this?!

Let’s look at an example and a parable regarding fragrant worship as recorded in a story in Luke 7: 36-50.  Here Jesus is at a dinner at the home of a Pharisee, named Simon. While reclining at the dinner table a woman who is described as ‘a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town’ learned Jesus was here having dinner. She came in with an alabaster jar of perfume. We are told in Matthew and Mark’s account she broke this jar.  She anointed his feet with the perfume. The Pharisees knowing this woman’s lifestyle, thought to themselves- ‘ if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – she is a sinner.’

Jesus then told a parable to Simon concerning two debtors. One owed a huge sum of money, the other owed a small sum. But neither could pay their debt. The moneylender forgave them both of their debt. Jesus then asked Simon who would love him more?  Simon replied: I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.  To which Jesus said you have judged correctly.

Jesus then told Simon:  You did not wash my feet when I came, you did not anoint my head with oil. But this woman has anointed my feet with perfume, washed them with her tears and kissed them. “ I tell you, her many sins are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little- loves little.  He then tells the woman: ‘ your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you.’

Her lavish gift did not save her- her faith in Jesus did. Her lavish gift was an expression of love for the forgiveness of her sins, not the basis for the forgiveness of her sins, Jesus made that clear.

What we see is a story of fragrant worship.  All of us are in debt. None of us could or can pay our debts. It matters not if your debts are small or large.

So notice this about fragrant worship:

*Fragrant worship is costly. It is sacrificial. It is given out of an expression of love for what the Lord has done for you.

*Fragrant worship cannot be released sometimes until the vessel is broken. “ You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God you will not despise.’( Psalms 51)

*Fragrant worship is not hindered by others. This woman was not afraid to appear foolish before others in her extravagance to worship the Lord.  I have seen many a football fan appear and act foolish in support of their team.  I also am reminded of a story I read years ago of a man who was saved and desired to be a witness to as many as possible. He traveled on business by train, living in an era before the travel by air was possible. He carried a large suitcase containing his samples and on one side of the suitcase he had printed in large letters:  I am a fool for Christ. When he noticed the crowd looking at his sign, he smiled and turned the suitcase to the other side where he had printed in large letters:  Whose Fool are you?

*Fragrant worship in this case of this sinful woman was accompanied by tears. Our prayers do not always have to accompanied by tears, but often I find my tears come as a result of two emotions:  a broken heart, desperate about some situation in my life or the lives of loved ones; but also tears of gladness that come from the gratefulness of all that God has done and is doing in my life or the life of a loved one.  Both of these situations create an atmosphere of worship because both of these situations remind me and make me aware of Who it is I am talking to. Are you consciously aware of God’s presence in your life?

*Fragrant worship comes as a result of what God has done in forgiving our sins. For we are reminded of what He gave up in order to forgive us of our sins. Love like that cannot help but produce worship from deep inside.

And there in the Holy Place of enlightment and sweet fellowship we consider what God has done. And we agree with John who wrote:  “ How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.”

Here are some facts to remind yourself of when you enter into a time of prayer:

  • I am deeply loved by God.
  • I am completely forgiven by God.
  • I am fully pleasing to God.
  • I am totally accepted by God.
  • I am a new creature – complete in Christ.

These truths apply to all who are saved. Whose sins have been covered by the Blood of the Lamb.  Who now have the privilege to have their prayers come up to God as a sweet smelling incense.

Do you believe this?

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14