PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 30:34-38; The Fragrant Incense of Prayer

06/03 Exodus 30:34-38 The Fragrant Incense

Incense and Prayer

Several weeks ago, we looked at Exodus 30:1-10, which described the building of the golden altar for incense. Then we looked at the ransom money, the bronze washbasin, the holy anointing oil, and now, at the conclusion of the the instructions for how the tabernacle was to be constructed and used, we come back to a description of how the incense is to be made. We saw when we looked at the altar for incense, that the incense is a symbol of prayer.

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

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

In Luke 1, when Zechariah was serving in the temple, we are told:

Luke 1:9 …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.

The hour of incense was a time for praying. Morning and evening, prayers to God were offered with the holy incense. Jesus taught that:

Mark 11:17 …‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’… (Is.56:7; cf. Mt.21:13; Lk.19:46)

And in the book of Revelation, we see the scene in heaven, where there are

Revelation 5:8 … golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

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.

Our prayers are a fragrant incense offered to God.

Exodus 30:34 The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

Gospel Centered Prayer – Based on Substitution

We looked at the fact that the altar of incense is not mentioned until after the altar for sacrifice; because our sins must be covered by the blood of our sacrificial substitute before our prayers can be acceptable to a holy God.

This incense was made of sweet spices; many of them are difficult to identify today. The word translated ‘stacte’ literally means ‘drops’ and refers to the oozing gum resin from trees, possibly myrrh. ‘Onycha’ is thought to be an aromatic powder derived from scraping mollusk shells. ‘Galbanum’ is a very strong smelling gum resin taken from the stalk of the Ferula plant. Frankincense is a resin from Boswellia trees.

One curious ingredient is salt. The incense was to be ‘blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy’. Why salt? Salt was highly valued as a preservative in the ancient world, but incense does not go bad and would not need a preservative.

We find instructions in Leviticus that:

Leviticus 2:13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Salt, a preservative that makes things last, is symbolic of the permanence of the covenant agreement between God and his people. We find the phrase ‘covenant of salt’ several other times in the scriptures (Num.18:19; 2Ch.13:5). ‘Covenant of salt’ was a way of saying a covenant that would last or be preserved, synonymous with ‘an everlasting covenant’. Adding salt to the incense offered in the holy place would be a reminder that approach to God in prayer was based on a covenant relationship, where forgiveness was granted and access was opened through the sacrifice of a substitute.

Our prayers are to be gospel-grounded, gospel-centered prayers. When we approach God, we can approach him only on the basis of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. We must always be mindful of the covenant God has made with us, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. We cannot come to God on our own merits. We must come in the name of Jesus, on the merits of Jesus, trusting in and relying on the price Jesus paid in full on the cross. Our only access to the Father is through his Son Jesus.

Meeting with God in Prayer

But what is prayer? We see that prayer, by definition, is entering into the presence of God, talking with him, enjoying fellowship with him, making our requests to him, interceding with him for others. This is a fragrant pleasing aroma to him. For us as believers, it is a sin not to pray. Sin is missing the mark; falling short of doing what we were created to do. We were designed to have fellowship with God; we were created to commune with him, we were made for intimacy and fellowship with the infinite God. When we fail to take seriously this privilege of prayer, we miss the mark; we fail to be what we were designed to be – beings in relationship with our sovereign Creator.

This was the purpose of the tabernacle – to teach Israel what it means to be in relationship with a holy God. God says:

Exodus 25:8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

The first piece of furniture God described was the box that held the terms of his covenant relationship with his people, together with its cover or mercy seat, where he would be propitiated. He said:

Exodus 25:22 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.

Then, in chapter 29, after describing the twice daily burnt offering, he says:

Exodus 29:42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. … 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

This is highlighted in the instructions for the placement of the golden altar of incense.

Exodus 30:6 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.

We see this theme repeated in verse 36; the incense is to be put ‘before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you’. God desires to meet with his people, to dwell in their midst and to be their God. Prayer in essence is meeting with God.

Misuses of Prayer

James tells us that there are two potential misuses of prayer.

James 4:2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Neglect of Prayer

The first misuse of prayer is simply not praying. You do not have because you do not ask. How often are we guilty of not spending time with God in prayer? Jesus strongly encouraged and invited us us to pray. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

John 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. …26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

I think the worst misuse of prayer today is our total neglect of prayer. We fail to place this fragrant incense before the throne of God. We have this blood bought privilege of bold access to the Father through the Son under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and we simply don’t bother. We are too busy to pray. We are too distracted to pray. We have more important things to do than pray. To say this sounds blasphemous: Too busy! More important things to do! More important than entering the presence of the Creator of the universe to talk to him?! But how often is that exactly what we say by our actions? We have been loved by the Father with an everlasting love. We were ransomed with the priceless blood of God the Son. We are being empowered and transformed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have the King of kings living in us, and we don’t bother to talk with him.

Not For You

The other misuse of prayer mentioned by James is that we think prayer is for us and about us. He says:

James 4:2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

We misuse prayer when we use it as a tool to get what we want. ‘You desire and do not have… You covet and cannot obtain… You ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’. When we ask out of covetousness, wanting something we don’t have, when we ask out of discontent with what God has given us, when we ask because we are after something, then we ask wrongly.

We are told that this incense is most holy. ‘You shall not make it for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD’. This incense was not for personal use or private pleasure. Prayer is primarily and ultimately not for you. It is for the LORD. A common misconception is that prayer is how we get stuff from God. That is a distortion of what prayer is. Prayer is given to us by God, it is communion with God, it is all about God, and it it ultimately for God, for his pleasure. We are to talk to God, not to get stuff from him, but to deepen our relationship with him. This is what Jesus taught.

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Do not use prayer to get praise from others. Do not pray to impress God. Do not use prayer as a tool to get what you want. This is not what prayer is for. Spend time privately in communion with your Father.

It is not wrong to bring our needs to God in prayer. Jesus taught us to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’. But our first concern must be ‘may your name be magnified’

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (cf. Lk.11:2-4)

Of course we are to ask God for what we need. We honor him when we take our requests to him because we are declaring that he is the only one who can meet our needs. But we must not attempt to use him as if he were a genie in a bottle who exists to give us what we want.

Illustrations of Asking

Maybe an illustration would help. Think of the parable known as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk.15). Really, it is a parable about a father and two sons. One son came to his father and asked for his share of the inheritance. This was equivalent to saying ‘dad, I don’t care about you, I just want your stuff. I don’t want to wait until you are dead to get my share, so give it to me right now.’ He asked his father and got what he wanted and then he got as far away from his father as he could as quickly as possible. How often do we approach God this way? ‘I don’t care about you, but I know you are rich and I want the gifts you give so I can go away and enjoy them on my own’. This is a severe example of misuse of prayer. But the older brother is not any better. He sees his broken, humbled, and repentant brother welcomed back into relationship with his father, and he is bitter, angry, jealous, and resentful. He dishonors his father by refusing to attend the feast, and when his father comes out to entreat him, he answers his father with disrespect.

Luke 15:29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

He was outwardly obedient, but this episode reveals his heart. He was self-righteous and he also was more interested in his father’s stuff than the father himself. He was doing all the right things as a means to get what he wanted. He was not interested in relationship; either with his lost brother or with his father. He was doing what he thought he had to do to get what he wanted from his father so he could go off and party with his friends. Two bad examples at opposite ends of the spectrum – one doing everything wrong and one doing everything right; both more interested in the gifts their father gave than in the father himself.

But where is the good example? What should prayer look like? What does it look like to want the relationship even if the gifts never come? What does it look like to want God to get glory more than wanting my own needs to get met? Jesus told his disciples:

John 12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” …

Jesus, wrestling in the garden with the prospect of becoming sin for us, of bearing in his body the sins of the world, of drinking the cup of the righteous wrath of his Father against my sin,

Mark 14:36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Open honest communication. Plain asking. Humble submission to the will of the Father. Priority placed not on the gift, but on relationship with the giver. A desire above all for God to be glorified in all things. This is a sweet aroma, well pleasing to the Father. May we be those who continually offer up a sweet aroma of prayer to God. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~


June 3, 2012 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , ,

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