THE golden altar, or altar of incense, was before the veil in the first apartment of the sanctuary. It was a cubit square and two cubits high, with a horn upon each corner. The altar was made of the shittim, or acacia wood, and all overlaid with pure gold. Around the top was a beautiful crown of gold, and beneath the crown were rings, in which were staves for carrying the altar, all overlaid with pure gold. (Ex. 30:1-6)
Within the crown of gold encircling the top of the altar, holy fire was kept constantly burning, (Ex. 30:8) from which ascended the fragrant smoke of the incense placed upon it every morning and evening. The perfume pervaded the entire sanctuary, and was carried by the breeze far beyond the precincts of the court.
The incense, composed of an equal weight of four fragrant gums and resins, was prepared by divine direction. It was very sacred, and the person making any like it, even for a perfume, was to be cut off from among the people. ( Ex. 30:34,38)
The altar and the fragrant incense in the earthly sanctuary were an example of the work our great High Priest is performing for us. (Heb. 8:5) Our minds should often dwell upon the work of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. (Heb. 3:1) Moses, when directed to build the sanctuary, was “
caused to see” the heavenly model of which he was to make a “
shadow.” (Ex. 25:40 margin) John, the beloved disciple, was permitted several times in vision to behold the Saviour officiating in the heavenly sanctuary. He saw a heavenly being standing at the glorious golden altar. He beheld the incense offered upon that holy altar. How it must have thrilled his soul when he saw that precious incense added to the poor, faltering prayers of the struggling saints here on the earth: He saw those prayers, after the incense was added, ascend up before God, and they were accepted because they were made fragrant with the incense. (Rev. 8:3,4 margin) “
We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26,27) But even the Spirit could not present the prayers of sinful mortals before a pure and holy God without adding the fragrant incense.
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His separation in person from them, He assured them, “
Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.” (John 16:23) The power in a name is the character of the individual that bears the name. The name of the precious Redeemer is honoured, and every petition presented in that name is granted in the courts of heaven because Jesus lived a sinless life. He “
knew no sin.” The prince of this world had nothing in Jesus, (John 14:30) for He was pure and holy, without one stain of sin. It is Christ's righteousness that makes our prayers accepted before the Father.
John saw the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints ascend up before God. Our prayers, made fragrant by the righteousness of Christ our Saviour, are presented by the Holy Spirit before the Father. To John in vision it appeared like a cloud of smoke bearing the prayers and fragrant incense up before the throne of the Infinite One. The weakest saint who knows how to press his petitions to the throne of grace in the name of Jesus, the sinless One, has all the treasures of heaven at his command. Having the richest millionaire of earth sign his checks at earthly banks would in no way compare with the privilege of the Christian.
The name of Jesus is often added to prayers in a meaningless way. Many prayers are spoken for a mere form of worship, and rise no higher that the head of the one who offers them; but every prayer of faith reaches the ear of the God of the universe. David understood what was typified by the incense, and prayed, “
Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Ps. 141:2)
As there was no other part of the daily ministration that brought the priest so directly into the presence of God as the offering of incense; so there is no part of our religious service that brings us so close to the Master as the pouring out of our souls in earnest prayer. Anciently, as in the antitype, the prayer of faith entered the “
holy dwelling-place” of God in heaven. (2 Chr. 30:27)
A lamb was burned upon the brazen altar in the court each morning and evening at the time the incense was renewed upon the altar. (Ex. 29: 38-40)The golden altar was an “
altar of continual intercession,” representing the prayers of God's people coming up before Him continually; while the brazen altar was an “
altar of continual atonement,” representing the putting away and destruction of sin, the only thing that separates us from God and prevents our prayers from being answered.
The morning and evening lamb was offered as a whole burnt-offering for the entire congregation, showing their desire to put away sin and consecrate themselves to the Lord, so that their prayers could ascend from off the altar with the fragrant incense.
In ancient Israel the people living near the temple gathered at the hour of sacrifice, and often “
the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.” (Luke 1:10) The habit of morning and evening prayer in the home came from this typical worship. The faithful Israelite who was far from the temple would pray with his face toward the temple where the incense was ascending each morning and evening. Josephus says the incense was offered as the sun was setting in the evening, and in the morning as it was rising.
The type was beautiful, but the antitype far surpasses the type. In the heavenly sanctuary there is an inexhaustible supply of Christ's righteousness. In the type the incense was always ascending, typifying that at any time, day or night, when a struggling soul cries out for help, or gives thanks and praise for help received, his prayer is heard. In the morning, as the duties of the day seem more than human strength can bear, the burdened soul can remember that in the type a fresh supply of incense was placed on the altar each morning, and from out the antitypical heavenly sanctuary help will come for the day to the one that claims divine help in the name of Jesus. (Duet. 33:25) In the evening, as we review the work of the day and find it marred by sin, there is blessed comfort, as we kneel confessing our sins, to know that if heaven the fragrant incense of Christ's righteousness will be added to our prayers; as in the type the cloud of incense shielded the priest, (Lev. 16:13) so Christ's righteousness will cover the mistakes of the day; and the Father, looking upon us, will behold only the spotless robe of Christ's righteousness. If we realised more fully the privilege of prayer, we would often say “
I will greatly with the prophet, rejoice in the Lord,...for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Is. 61:10)
Not all prayers that are accepted before God are answered immediately, as it would not always be best for us; but every prayer to which the fragrance of Christ's righteousness has been added, is lodged on heaven's altar, and in God's good time will be answered. John saw those who officiated before the throne of God holding in their hands “
vials full of incense,” which, he said, were “
prayers of saints.” (Rev. 5:8 margin) These prayers had been accepted, for the added incense was so fragrant that John said the vials were full of incense.
In the typical work the one who attempted to use the fragrant perfume of the incense for his own use was cut off from among the people of God; there was to be no imitation of the incense. (Ex. 30:37,38) No fire was to be used for burning the incense except that taken from the altar before the Lord. Nadab and Abihu, while under the influence of strong drink, offered “
strange fire” before the Lord, and were slain, (Lev. 10:1-10) Their fate is an object-lesson of all who fail to appreciate the perfect righteousness of Christ, and appear before the Lord clothed in the “
filthy rags” of their own righteousness. (Is. 64:6)
When the plague was smiting the hosts of Israel, Aaron the high priest, put incense on the censer and ran among the people, “
and the plague was stayed.” (Num. 16:46-48) The sacred incense was burned only on the golden altar and in the censers of the priests. The other Levites were not allowed to burn it. (Num. 16:3:35) The priests who performed the work which typified Christ's work in a special sense, were the only ones who could burn incense before the Lord.
The horns of the golden altar were often touched with the blood of the sin-offering, thus typifying that it was Christ's death that made it possible for our prayers to be answered and for us to be clothed in His righteousness. As the fragrance of the incense was not confined to the sanctuary, but was carried in the air to the surrounding neighbourhood; so in like manner, when one is clothed with Christ's righteousness, an influence will go out from him which those that come in contact with him will recognise by its fragrance as of heavenly origin.
|Ex. 30:1-3;40:26. The golden altar was before the veil.||Rev. 8:3. There is a golden altar in heaven before the throne of God.|
|Ex. 30:7, 8. Incense was burned on the golden altar by the high priest every morning and evening.||Rev. 8:3,4. Much incense is added to the prayers of all saints, and they then ascend before God.|
|Ex. 30:9; Lev. 10:1-9. The one who should burn incense with strange fire was to be destroyed.||Isa. 64:6. One clothed with his own righteousness will be destroyed.|