PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 30:1-10; Furniture in God’s Tent – Incense Altar

05/06 Exodus 30:1-10 Furniture in God’s Tent: The Incense Altar (37:25-28; Lev.16:12-14)

We are examining God’s instructions to his people whom he redeemed out of slavery. He rescued them so that they would know him, so that they would enter into relationship with him, so that they would serve and worship him. He gave them instructions for an elaborate tent where he would symbolically dwell with his people, a place where they could approach God in the way that he specified. God’s description began with the container that held his covenant agreement with his people, inscribed on tablets of stone, and the cover of this container, where blood would be applied to cover the sins of God’s people when they violated his covenant. Then he describes the table for the bread of his presence that abundantly supplies our need, and the lamps that overcome the darkness and illumine our path. He describes the tent itself, with the ornate curtain that divided his throne room from the holy place. He gave instruction for the large bronze altar for burning his offerings, and then he turned to describe the people who would serve him in his tent, what they would wear and how they were set apart for his service. He defined the offerings that they were to offer every day, morning and evening on his altar, offerings that would be a pleasing aroma to him. Now, having the priests in place and the burnt offerings begun, he turns back to give instructions for a piece of furniture in the holy place that he skipped over until this point in his instructions.

Exodus 30:1 “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2 A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3 You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. 4 And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”

In the fulfillment passage telling that they built everything according to God’s plan, this incense altar falls logically from a construction perspective right after the ark, table, and lampstand, and before the altar of burnt offerings.

Exodus 37:25 He made the altar of incense of acacia wood. 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. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And he made a molding of gold around it, 27 and made 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. 28 And he made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 29 He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer.

This altar was similar in construction to the altar of burnt offering, in that it had protrusions, or horns on its four corners, but it was much smaller, only about 18 inches square and 3 feet tall. But it was similar in construction to the ark and the table for bread, in that it was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold.

To Cover Odors

A practical function for this incense altar would be to cover the smells of the sacrifices. The tabernacle, with all the animals being offered there, would smell like a slaughter house. The fragrant incense burned on this altar would help to make things smell better in God’s tent.

A Symbol of Prayer

But what is the significance of the altar of incense? And why was it not mentioned back in chapter 25 with the other furniture that was placed in the holy place?

We get a hint at the significance of this altar in the Psalms:

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,

and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

There is some connection between this incense and prayer. We see this connection reinforced when we look to the New Testament. Zechariah, soon to be the father of John the baptist was serving in the temple.

Luke 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

See the connection between this incense altar and prayer? At the hour of incense, ‘the whole multitude of the people were praying outside.’ Even the placement of this altar points us to this. God tells his people to put it ‘in front of the veil’ and ‘in front of the mercy seat’ ‘where I will meet with you.’ God wants to meet with his people. That is what prayer is; meeting with God, conversing with God, talking with God. The prayers of God’s people are pictured to rise up to God as a sweet fragrance to him. This is the reason Jesus gave for overturning tables and chairs and driving out those who bought and sold in the temple.

Mark 11:17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Is.56:7; cf. Mt.21:13; Lk.19:46)

Jesus is angered and takes action against those things that would divert God’s house from being what it was intended to be, a place for God to meet with man; a place of prayer for all the nations.

This prayer / incense connection is made explicit in the book of Revelation. In the scene in the heavenly tabernacle, around the throne of God, when Jesus takes the scroll from his Father.

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The bowls full of incense are the prayers of the saints. Remember, in the bible, the term ‘saint’ is not reserved for some special class of person who has achieved some special standing with God. It means ‘holy ones’, those who have been set apart to God. All of us who are believers in Jesus are called ‘the saints’. Your prayers, my prayers, our prayers are kept as it were in golden bowls in God’s presence, a fragrant aroma to him. Just a few chapters later in Revelation, we see this connection again.

Revelation 8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Qualified to Pray

‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you’ (Ps.141:2). Now we can begin to understand why the altar of incense was left out of the description of the holy place until this point. The sins of God’s people must be dealt with before the prayers of God’s people can be acceptable to God. Guilt must be confessed and the substitute must be offered on the altar of burnt offering before incense can be carried into the presence of God. We are told in verse 10 that:

10 Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”

The instructions for the day of atonement are given in Leviticus 16.

Leviticus 16:11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and 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 does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

We are told in Isaiah 59 that

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Our sins must be dealt with through sacrifice before our prayers can be acceptable. Proverbs tells us

Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

No one is righteous. No, not one. Only when our sins are covered by the blood of our substitute Jesus, only when we are clothed in his perfect righteousness, can we boldly approach the throne of grace.

Devoted to Prayer

And then, pray we must. The early church was devoted to prayer.

Acts 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Acts 6:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

We are encouraged by the example of the Apostles, who prayed like this: ‘my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved’ (Ro.10:1); ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, …And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment’ (Phil.1:3-4,9); ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, …we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Col.1:3,9-10); ‘We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1Th.1:2-3); ‘we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith’ (1Th.3:10); ‘To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (2Th.1:11-12); ‘I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day’ (2Ti.1:3); ‘I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ’ (Phm.1:4-6); ‘Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul’ (3Jo.1:2)

Exhorted to Pray

We are exhorted to ‘be constant in prayer’ (Rom.12:12); to ‘strive together …in your prayers to God’ (Rom.15:30); to pray ‘at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication’ (Eph.6:18). We are told ‘in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’ (Phil.4:6); to ‘continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving’ (Col.4:2); to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1Th.5:17). We are urged ‘that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people’ (1Ti.2:1). We are told to ‘pray for one another… The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (Ja.5:16).

Jesus on Prayer

We are encouraged by the teaching of Jesus to ‘pray for those who persecute you’ (Mt.5:44); to ‘go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret’ (Mt.6:6); to ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Mt.9:38). Jesus said ‘whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith’ (Mt.21:22); he said to ‘watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation’ (Mt.26:41). Jesus told us ‘whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses’ (Mk.11:25); he told us to ‘bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’ (Lk.6:28); he taught us that we ‘ought always to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk.18:1).

We, as followers of Jesus, must be devoted to prayer. We, forgiven sinners, now called to be his holy priesthood, must take up our responsibility to regularly, daily, offer up the fragrant aroma of our prayers to God. Our attitude should be that of Samuel, who, in spite of being rejected by God’s people when they demanded a king, said

1Samuel 12:23 Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

Samuel considered it a sin not to pray. Entering into the presence of God, talking with him, enjoying fellowship with him, making our requests to him, interceding on behalf of others, this should be our delight, our favorite thing to do. Access to God through prayer is an awesome privilege we as believers enjoy.

The Prayers of Jesus

But there is one even greater thing to look at before we leave this subject of prayer. We, as kings and priests (1Pet.2:9; Rev.1:6; 5:10) to God have the awesome privilege and responsibility to commune with God in prayer. But even greater than this, we need to know that we are being prayed for. We, as God’s priests, have a great High Priest, who is praying for us. Did you know, that day and night, moment by moment, you are the subject of Jesus’ conversation with his Father? Jesus prays constantly, without ceasing, for you! Romans tells us:

Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Jesus is right now, at the right hand of his Father, interceding for us. The author of Hebrews tells us:

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

The resurrected Jesus is persistent in prayer for us. He is able to save us to the uttermost. He continues to apply his finished work on the cross to us, continues to intercede for us, continues to carry us on his heart into the presence of his Father with joy.

But what does Jesus pray for us? What is the content of his prayers? He told Peter ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail’ (Lk.22:32). In John chapter 17, we get a glimpse into the heart of Jesus as he prays for us. In verse 9 he says ‘I am praying …for those whom you have given me, for they are yours’. And in verse 20, he says ‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me though their word’. Jesus is praying for his disciples, and for us, who believe in him through their recorded words. What does he pray?

First, he prays for the glory of God; that the Father and the Son would be glorified. Then he prays for us. He asks ‘Holy Father, keep them in your name’ (v.11). He prays ‘keep them from the evil one’ (v.15). He prays ‘sanctify them in the truth’ (v.17). And he asks ‘that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory’ (v.24). Jesus prays for us that we would be kept in his name, that we would be kept from the evil one, that we would be sanctified or set apart in the truth, that we would be with him to see his glory. And in and through it all, he prays for our unity. In verse 11 Jesus prays ‘that they may be one, even as we are one’. In verse 21 he prays ‘that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’. In verse 22-23 ‘the glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Jesus, today, continues to make intercession for us. He prays for the glory of God, for our unity, for our faith, for our protection, for our sanctification, and ultimately, that we would be with him where he is to see him for who he is.

Soul, take encouragement that even when you fail to pray, Jesus never fails to pray for you.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

May 6, 2012 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: