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The altar and incense

The altar of incense was made of acacia wood with a veneer of gold. Its length was a cubit, and its breadth was a cubit. It was square, and two cubits was its height. Its horns were of one piece with it. It was overlaid it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. It had a molding of gold around it and two rings of gold on it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, as holders for the poles with which to carry it. The poles were of acacia wood and overlaid with gold (Exodus 37:25-28).

The incense on the altar was burned every morning when the lamps were dressed, and at twilight when the lamps were set up (Exodus 30:7-8). It was not allowed to offer on the altar unauthorized incense, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and it was not allowed to pour a drink offering on it. The incense that was used was made of spices, gum resin, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense of equal amounts (Exodus 30:34-35). Regarding this incense, it was forbidden for the Jews to make any for themselves using the same formula (Exodus 30:37).

Note that the Hebrew term from which it is translated into "incense", some versions of the Bible also translate it into "perfume" or "perfumes".

The relation of incense to prayer

It is noteworthy that Scripture is clear that the fragrant fumes that ascended from the incense symbolically represented the prayers of the faithful of God. Psalm 141:2 says: "Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!" (Psalms 141:2 - English Standard Version 2011). The book of Revelation unquestionably indicates that "incense" is symbolic of "the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4).

Incense and the holiness of God

One of the most crucial points to consider is the connection between the incense burned on the annual Day of Atonement and the blood shed on that occasion. This was a unique day, for only the high priest officiated on this occasion.

Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest took a censer full of coals of fire from the altar, situated in the court outside the holy place. Note that that this altar was the place where animals were sacrificed, their blood constituting atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. Together with these coals of fire, the high priest took two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small (Leviticus 16:12).He passed through the holy place beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place. There he put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he did not die (Leviticus 16:12-13). The mercy seat was the covering of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21), and the "testimony" refers to the tables of stone within the ark, upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:16). sweet 16 court dresses

On the two ends of the mercy seat there were two cherubim of gold, which were of one piece with the mercy seat, at the two ends, and they had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them (Exodus 25:18-20). Of this sacred place the Lord said: "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel." (Exodus 25:22 - English Standard Version 2011). The cloud of incense filled the area, covering the mercy seat and the representation of the presence of God (Leviticus 16:13).

This symbolized the holiness of God in contrast to the sinfulness of man. Here we understand that God is a perfectly holy being and that man is marred by sin. Hence there is a need for a method of reconciliation. The Old Testament, by its typological representations, prepared the way for this reality. In connection with this ritual, the high priest also sprinkled the blood of a bullock seven times before the mercy seat. This offering was for the sins of the high priest and his family (Leviticus 16:6; Leviticus 16:11; Leviticus 16:14); an offering similar to the other was done for the people (Leviticus 16:15).

Incense and blood

There is another point about incense that is crucial. There was a relationship between the use of incense and the application of blood. As observed earlier, the incense was typical of the prayers of the saints; it was an act of faith on the part of the people of God. The shedding of blood pictured the Savior’s eventual death. The combining of the two elements, therefore, sets forth the image of the cooperative affinity between Christ’s blood on our behalf, and our prayers to God.

There is another point to consider. The New Testament speaks of the cleansing effect of Christ’s blood, as Hebrews 9:13-14 says:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14 - English Standard Version 2011).