Altar of Incense

Altar of Incense


Twice a day was the holy perfume to ascend fresh before the Lord. (Exod xxx. 7.) "And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it; a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations." Reference has already been made, whilst treating of the Candlestick, to these two periods of time, evening and morning. It only remains to be observed that the object of burning incense at these two seasons was, that the fulness of fragrance might perfume the Sanctuary during the ministration of the priest at the Candlestick. When the Lord returned to the glory and joy of the Father's presence above, having accomplished His work on earth, He entered "the better Tabernacle," not for Himself, not on His own account, but as the head and representative of the Church which He had loved, and for which He had died. The light of the Sanctuary then shone forth with its perfect seven-fold lustre; and at the same time that there was thus presented to God a blessed and living witness of the glory and perfectness of that Church which He had loved, and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, a fragrant perfume also ascended on its behalf. For, notwithstanding the heavenly calling of the saints, in union with the Lord, yet their real condition of weakness and failure on earth needed the ceaseless living power of His intercession. The golden Altar rolled forth its perpetual cloud of incense during the night, while the lamp shone out with all its 'perfect light. And again, at the close of this night of darkness and evil, when the day is just about to dawn, and Christ will present the Church in all its full and undimmed radiance before God in heaven, the last fragrant cloud of perfume will ascend on its behalf; the full value of His intercession, "saving to the very uttermost," will be manifested; and the saints will be presented in His glory faultless, because of the preciousness of Him in whom they are accepted, and fully perfumed with all the sweet spices. There are two beautiful little scenes in the Canticles, which point onward to that happy time: "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, I

perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?" (iii. 6.) And, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" (viii. 5.) The bride is here represented coming up out of the wilderness, her tedious journey, her toils and dangers at an end, and entering her rest in triumph, like pillars of smoke, covered with all the fragrance and varied perfumes of the merchant. The barren and waste howling desert has been to her the very garden whence the spices might flow out. The soil least adapted, apparently, to produce such perfumes has been found the most fertile place for their development: for the graces and sweetness of Christ flourish best in scenes of trial, conflict, and danger. His bride will be found, at the close of her wilderness journey, to come up out of the trying and wearisome path covered with all His fragrance, perfumed with all His sweet powders. The other little verse also presents her emerging from the same perilous and toilsome path, "leaning upon her beloved;" sustained alone by Him, and brought up out of the wilderness in safety alone by His strength; conscious of her need of dependence on His arm, even in the very last step of the way, and never more trusting in His care and power than when taken by Him for ever out of the scene of her trial, and placed, perfumed with all His fragrance, in the glory.


And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense : of each shall there be a like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people. (Exod. xxx. 34-38.)

Three sweet spices are here mentioned, "stacte, onycha, and galbanum," the names of which nowhere else occur in Scripture; neither is there any apparent meaning in the Hebrew words thus translated, so as to lead our souls to any particular truth intended to be typified by them. The perfumes are unknown to us. They may have been selected on that very account; in order thereby to designate a sweetness and fragrance not appreciable to human sense, but understood and valued alone by God. Who is able to enumerate the varied graces of Christ? or who can estimate their value? Our souls may and do indeed say, "He is precious;" the fragrance of His

sweet perfumes is wafted towards us; but our thoughts are poor, our words and expressions weak, when we seek to pourtray the beauties and excellencies of His person. All, however, has been presented to God; every varied grace has yielded its sweet odour to Him; and He has delighted in, and appreciated each perfume, as from time to time it has been developed in the thoughts and ways of His Son.

To these three unknown spices pure frankincense was added; of each there was to be "a like weight;" the four ingredients were to be skilfully mingled together, "a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy." It has been truly observed by another, "that there was no unevenness in Christ, nothing salient in His character, because all was in perfect subjection to God, and had its place, and did exactly its service, and then disappeared." 2 Just so these perfumes which formed the incense were of even weight; no one preponderated over the other; varied as each was, yet one did not overpower another; but each lent its one peculiar fragrance to the whole, and one sweet cloud went up, curiously compounded of various scents—sweet as to each ingredient that composed it, and most sweet as to its combined odour. How true a type does this afford of the character of the blessed Lord! Grace, mercy, righteousness, truth, all had their place in Him, and gave their fragrance to each thought, word, and action. There was no preponderating feature in His character, so as to overpower or eclipse other graces : all was perfect, and of even weight. Righteousness was not overpowered by mercy; holiness and love were not opposed; all were tempered together, and could blessedly mingle; a will in subjection to God could skilfully combine every varied fragrance. And when He acted or spake, all were present: the sweet spices, marvellously compounded together, sent forth their one full and blended perfume. In men it is just the reverse: they have features of character that become prominent, and thereby distinguish one man from his fellow; the very names and epithets bestowed on mere human beings are proofs of this. Even that which is naturally sweet and lovely is not held in an even balance. Mercy is applauded at the expense of justice; charity is advocated to the sacrifice of truth; all is uneven and distorted. But in Christ every grace had its due proportion, and its right place.

Some of this sweet compound was to be beaten very small, and put before the testimony. The object of finely pounding the incense was in order that its fragrance might be the more developed, and to evidence the fact that each minute fragment had all the varied perfumes of the whole. So was it in respect of Him to whom this incense points. It was not only on great occasions that the graces of His character manifested themselves; neither was it effort, or the force of circumstances, that produced them: in the smallest as well as greatest action, all that was well pleasing to God was developed. True indeed, the last wondrous act of obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, yields "the hands full of incense ;" but in every previous scene, in every little detail of life, all was also present. The varied circumstances through which it pleased the Father that His beloved Son should pass have each in their turn called forth a holy and pure and sweet perfume, which has sanctified each scene, and made the most trivial action to become precious and pleasing to God. The more, under the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, we ponder over the minutest sayings and actions of the Lord, the more shall we be lost in wonder and praise at the combined perfection of grace, wisdom, and truth manifested by this blessed One in all His paths below.

The prevailing odours which this incense exhaled, when its various ingredients had been tempered together, are expressed in those words, ''''pure, holy." Together with all the sweetness exhibited in the ways of Christ, and the grace and love displayed by Him, so attractive to the poor weary soul, there ever ascended also to God the fragrance of perfect purity and holiness. In the spontaneous outflowings of Ijis gracious character, no motive intruded for His own glory or self-exaltation. The very compassion of His heart beat in unison with the will and purposes of God. When weary and thirsty at the well, He rejoiced in pouring into the heart of a poor sinful woman words of life and healing; still He adds, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work." (John iv. 34.) He tastes this joy, because it is in accordance with the will of God. And when about to lay down His life for the sheep, because of His deep and boundless love for them, He yet speaks of that act as in obedience to a commandment He had received of the Father. (John x. 18.) Here was purity, unmingled with one particle of human taint—motives that may be sifted, and most minutely scrutinized, and which will be found altogether fragrant, and free from the slightest shade of that selfishness and independence of God which so pervade even our best and fairest actions. What holiness also was manifested in the exercise of all His grace! Does sin lose in our estimate any of its evil or corruption though we may hear Him pardon the sinner? Did the poor slave of sin feel less her fearful guilt when she heard those gracious words, "Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more"? Or did the woman "which was a sinner" forget the holiness of Him whose feet she had washed with her tears, and wiped with the hairs of her head, though she received from His lips that blessed sentence, "Go in peace"? Surely, in

reading such histories of the Lord, our souls are filled with a secret consciousness that we are "on holy ground;" and whilst we rejoice at the spontaneous and rich outflowings of such mercy, we dare not for a moment trespass on the grace that could so readily pardon; but are arrested rather by the purity and holiness of Him who had power on earth to forgive sins, at the very moment that His love and pity for the poor ruined sinner so manifest themselves. The blended perfumes of the sweet incense ascend, "a confection tempered together—pure, holy."

The precept, "And thou shalt put of the incense before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee," was fulfilled by putting incense on the golden Altar.3 Thus directly before the throne of grace, in the presence of Him who is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all, the Lord Jesus as our High Priest offers a ceaseless intercession; deriving its value and power from the eternal glories of His person. "Because of the savour of thy good ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth." (Cant. i. 3.) Not only has the blood of atonement made peace, and caused all wrath and vengeance to pass away for ever, but the value of that precious blood is still maintained in all its freshness and cleansing, by our great High Priest . His intercession perpetuates all that is precious, ever causing the sweet savour of His name to abide before God on our behalf; and saving "to the uttermost," or, as it might be rendered, "on to the very end, those that come unto God by Him." Salvation, once commenced, rolls on unchecked to its full consummation in the glory. Jesus carries forward, to the termination of our path here, the perfect and abiding value of all His blessed work. We boast not a mere temporary deliverance ; it is not a fluctuating completeness in which we stand; the living presence, power, and value of Christ before God ever attest our full and eternal salvation. No ill savour of our failures or weaknesses can intrude to hinder our blessing, where the cloud of incense rolls forth its sweet fragrance: the heart of God can there rest respecting us; for, under the shelter of all the grace and holiness of Christ, He views us from off' the throne of mercy; and, "perfumed with all powders of the merchant," we have full and confident access at all times into the Sanctuary. It is true that Satan, with restless malice, accuses the brethren day and night before God (Rev. xii. 10); and oftentimes there may be valid ground for his accusations; but "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He presents a sufficient answer to every plea. He is our "interpreter" with God, one among a thousand, who can show on our behalf uprightness: one who is able to unravel the mystery of God's justice, and our salvation; who can vindicate holiness, and yet cover our every defilement. The presence and power of Christ in the glory for us are results of His wondrous finished work on the cross. On the ground of atonement, effected through the shedding of blood, the Incense Altar yearly took its stand. (Exod. xxx. 10; Lev. xvl 18, 19.) So the present living service of Christ is the telling out, in God's presence, all His own fragrance, which was so fully manifested in His obedience unto death; and all the priestly offices He bears are so many proofs of the dignity and glory of Him who shed His blood upon the cross. He who is our advocate, and our great High Priest, is also "the propitiation for our sins."

No imitation of this holy perfume was to be made. "Ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people." There are many attempts made to follow Christ, and to imitate Him, which spring from the desire to gratify self, and to have something of our own which we may admire, and which may quiet and give rest to the soul. Thus, how much of what passes for Christian grace and sweetness is really but a spurious fabrication of the human heart, for its own self-exaltation, and the feeding of its own vanity! An apparent austerity passes under the name of holiness; a seeming lowliness gets the credit of humility; a smoothness or liberality, which speaks well of all, is called charity; and many an act which is attributed to self-denial nourishes the flesh instead of resisting it. These are perfumes which men make for themselves, to gratify their own hearts; they are not like the incense of the Sanctuary, all for God, all presented to Him. Self had no place in the ways of the blessed Lord, He courted not, but shrunk from, the applause of men. May we glory in nothing else but in Him, and not manufacture, as it were, perfumes to smell thereto, to nourish self-complacency, or to gratify our own hearts; but may whatever we do, as the saints of God, whether in word or deed, be alone to His glory!

It may be seen, on reference to many passages of Scripture, that it was considered a high act of priestly service to present incense on the Altar. "And to the office of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, pertaineth the oil for the light, and the sweet incense," &c. (Num. iv. 16.) "They (the tribe of Levi) shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burntsacrifice upon thine Altar." (Deut. xxxiii. 10.) "And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear

an ephod before me?" (1 Sam. ii. 28.) "But Aaron and his sons offered upon the altar of the burnt-offering, and on the Altar of Incense, and were appointed for all the work of the place most holy, and to make an atonement for Israel." (1 Chron. vi. 49.) "Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense." (2 Chron. ii. 4.) "And they (the priests) burn unto the Lord, every morning and every evening, burnt-sacrifices and sweet incense." (2 Chron. xiii. 11.) Indeed, the intervention of a priest was necessary, if an Israelite would offer anything to the Lord; for it pertained to the priests alone to minister at the altars, and to draw nigh to God in the holy places of His Tabernacle. But now the true worshipper of God is identical with the priest; the poor sinner, who is washed in the blood of the Lamb, is also made a king and a priest . (Rev. i. 5, 6.) The whole family of God compose the royal priesthood; so that it is alike in the power of every believer to draw nigh, even into the Holiest, and to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ . (Heb. x, 19-24; 1 Peter ii. 5, 9; Rev. v. 8.) All worship, prayer, or praise is a priestly service, and appertains alone to those who have been redeemed by Christ . The prayers of such ascend like incense (Psalm cxli. 2), for they are perfumed with the name of Christ; and the fragrance of His intercession renders all sweet and holy before the Lord. (Rev. viii. 3.) We have a striking instance, in the history of Uzziah, of the watchful jealousy of God, that none unsanctioned by Him might intrude into the priest's office. (2 Chron. xxvi. 16-19.) He was one who had run well in the early part of his reign, as long as he had a wise counsellor in Zechariah; but when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction. He took upon himself the service of the priesthood, and presuming on the favour and prosperity he had already found at the hands of the Lord, he ventured to offer incense upon the Altar, which alone pertained to the priests. What should have been the place of communion with God, became to him the place where the fearful corruption of the flesh was manifested to its full extent. In the very act of presenting incense, "the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the Incense Altar. And Azariah, the chief priest, and all the priests looked upon him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him." This attempt to serve the Lord only brought out the more the secret evil that was lurking within. A leprosy of the very worst kind (Lev. xiii. 44) showed itself; and instead of being fit for the presence of God, he was thrust out as one "utterly unclean." Is there not in this a solemn warning for those who, not called of God, and not washed in the blood of Christ, yet assume the place of worshippers before Him; and, like Cain of old, with sin unatoned for "lying at the door," think they may take the place of believers, or seek to render God propitious by some spiritless worship or offering that they present? All such attempts only end in a more fearful manifestation of the evil of the flesh in His presence. The person must be first clean, before he can render acceptable service to the Lord. The blood of the Lamb, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, must be first known and applied, before any true worship can be presented to God. All endeavours to approach without this only make more apparent the desperate leprosy of the nature: a leprosy not showing itself in the ordinary outbreaks of evil, but in its worst form, as appreciated by a priestly eye; a leprosy of the head—the mind, the understanding darkened, the power of reason perverted, and pride of intellect assuming a title to draw near to God; instead of the poor ruined sinner, conscious of his utter vileness, seeking first mercy and grace through the precious blood of Christ. In order to be a servant of God there must be freedom from sin, through the death of the Lord Jesus. (Rom. vi 22.) It is not his service to his new master that frees a man from his former one; but death alone, the death of Christ, sets the sinner at liberty from the thraldom of the flesh; and new life, and the power of the Spirit, enable him to obey

and bring forth fruit unto God. May our souls value and stand fast in the blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; and may many a poor leper hear the gracious words of Him who alone could say, "I will—be thou clean'."

In Luke i. 8-11, we read of Zacharias offering incense, and the people praying without at the time of incense. This period for united prayer seems to have been selected by the Jews, from some secret consciousness of the fitness of such a season, whilst fragrance was going up from the golden Altar to God, for supplication on the part of His people respecting their wants. The contrast to believers is exceedingly beautiful. Our High Priest does not at stated intervals, morning and evening, present incense, but He ever liveth to make intercession for us. (Heb. vii. 25.) "He maketh intercession for us." (Rom. viii. 34.) The consequence is, that the hours of prayer of the believer are not only at certain seasons, but "praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (Eph. vi. 18.) "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." (Col. iv. 2.) "Continuing instant in prayer." (Rom. xii. 12.) Our access into the Holiest is always open, and the sweet savour of the name of Jesus, and the very person of the Lord Himself, are ever our fragrant memorial in the presence of God.


1 In the usual pictorial illustrations of the Tabernacle, the Altar of Incense is represented as standing between the Table and Candlestick, on a line with them, close up to the vail. The author, however, believes that its proper position was about midway in the holy place, between the vail and the Tabernacle door. It will be found, on comparing the portions of Scripture which refer to the placing and covering the Incense Altar, that it was placed last, and covered up last, in the Tabernacle. Whereas, if its position had been between the Table and Candlestick, it would have been deposited and covered in due order after the Table, and before the Candlestick. The path, also, of the high priest lay by this Altar, when he went to light or dress the lamps, which would imply that he met it first in his entrance into the Sanctuary.

s This extract is taken from a tract entitled "The Types of Leviticus," to which the reader is referred for much rich and blessed truth respecting the person and work of the Lord.

a It has been stated above that the place of the Incense Altar was directly in the way up to the Ark, and that this position was equivalent to its being placed "before the Ark ofthe Testimony." Incense, therefore, put on this altar was placed "before the Testimony." Some, in reading this

passage in Exodus, have supposed that some of the incense, unburnt, was kept in the Holiest before the Ark. But we shall nowhere find this to have been done by Moses or the priests; nor was incense ever presented to God without being burnt. It will be found that the only way in which the precept was fulfilled was by placing incense on the Altar, as Moses did (Exod. xl. 27), when he accomplished all the commands of God respecting the Tabernacle and its furniture.

*,* In the enumeration of the vessels of the Tabernacle, in Heb. ix. 1-5, no mention is made of the Incense Altar. The reason of this omission seems to be, that the truths mainly treated of in the chapter are those connected with the great day of atonement, when incense was not burnt on the golden Altar, but was carried within the vail, and placed on burning coals in a golden censer directly before the Ark. The golden censer took the place of the Incense Altar on that day, as to the burning of the incense in it; and it is enumerated consequently in the 9th of Hebrews, amongst the vessels of the Tabernacle, as placed in the Holiest. The vail which divided between the Holiest and holy place being now typically rent (Matt, xxvii. 51 ; Heb. x. 20), the Incense Altar sends forth its holy cloud unhindered, directly before the Mercy Seat. Our access is also into the Holiest, where our great High Priest ministers.