Exodus Message #48 Ed Miller Dec. 1, 2021 “The Holy Place – Altar of Incense

Listen to audio above while following along with transcript below (which is also available for download in Word at www.biblestudyministriesinc.com)

“As we get ready to look into the Word of the Lord I want to share a passage from Colossians 2, just to prepare our hearts for looking in the Word.  Colossians 2:2, “Attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding.”  You might say, “Understanding what?”  And the verse goes on, “resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ Himself.”  And then the next verse says, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  So, the wealth, the rich life comes from understanding the mystery, and the mystery is Christ, and when we by the Holy Spirit have Christ dawned upon us, then our whole life becomes very, very rich.  All we ever need for this moment, for the future, until the day we step into heaven is the Lord Jesus.  Since we know where all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, I think we all are without excuse if we don’t find it.  He told us the hiding place, in Christ.  So, let’s commit our time to Him.

Heavenly Father, thank You for gathering us again.  Thank You for the liberty we have so far to meet freely, to open Your Word, and trust the indwelling Holy Spirit to focus our heart and our eyes again on our Lord Jesus Christ.  We commit this session unto You and thank You in advance that You are going to instruct us and draw us unto Yourself, and we’ll run after you.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Welcome to our study of our Lord Jesus as He’s presented to us in this wonderful book of Exodus.  The book of Exodus, as you know, the message is redemption, full redemption.  It’s in story form, it’s in seed form, but the message is redemption by power and by blood.  Since the message is redemption, the great revelation of Christ in Exodus; He’s our Redeemer.  All the truths of redemption are in Him, in our Redeemer.  In our study we’ve come pretty close to the end.  We’re looking at the final one third of the book of Exodus.  One third of the book is given over to one picture, the tabernacle.  A whole third of the book of Exodus is that final picture.  Every truth of redemption is somewhere manifest in that single picture in the tabernacle.  When I say every truth of redemption, I don’t only mean every truth that’s mentioned in Exodus.  I mean every truth that’s mentioned in the entire Bible is somewhere found in the details, blueprint that God handed down for this tabernacle.

We need to remember, also, just by way of review, that everything that is said about the tabernacle is said about you, and is said about me, because we are the tabernacle.  So, if it was God’s pleasure to put every truth of redemption in the tabernacle picture, it’s God’ pleasure to put every truth of redemption in you and in me, which is exactly what He desires to do.  Exodus 25:8, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.”  It was always God’s heart to dwell with His people, to abide in His people.  The picture of the tabernacle is so graphic, He wants to live in a tent made out of skin, and that’s us, and He wants to fill that skin with His glory, and He wants to set up His throne in that house of skin, and He wants to rest in that house of skin, and He wants to manifest His presence through that house of skin.  So, we are the address, we are where He lives.  God lives in us; we are His tabernacle.  The full expression, of course, is in the New Testament.  1 Corinthians 6:19, 20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God.  You are not your own.  You’ve been bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God in your body.”  So, God wants to fill our hearts with redemptive truth.  What He has symbolically put into the tabernacle, He wants the reality in His living temple.

When we left off our meditation, we were walking slowly and deliberately through the tabernacle, stopping to consider some of the precious details of redemption that He fossilized in the furniture that is in this tabernacle.  We’ve already considered the brazen altar of sacrifice in the outer court.  We’ve already considered the brazen laver of cleansing that was in the outer court.  We entered the sanctuary and looked at the Holy Place, the first room, the building, the sanctuary itself.  We stopped at the candlestick and meditated on Christ as not only the light but the life that He put into that candlestick.  Then we moved across the room to the table of shewbread, and that’s where we left off.  In our examination of the table, we saw three main things.  Let me mention them by way of review.

Leviticus 24:9, “It shall be for Aaron and his sons, they shall eat it in a holy place.  It’s most holy to Him, from the Lord’s offering by fire, His portion forever.”  From the standpoint of man, we need to see man and then God; from the viewpoint of man the table pictures an offering, an offering by fire.  Those twelve loaves of bread on the table pictured God’s redeemed people, every tribe, all of them.  God’s people are on the table, and they are an offering to the Lord.  We’re going to look more at the incense when we come to the altar of incense.  From the standpoint of the Lord, it wasn’t an offering; it was a display.  Exodus 25:30, “You shall set the bread of the presence on the table before Me at all times.”  It was always in His sight; it was always in His face.  He can’t take His eyes off His people.  He can’t take His eyes off you.  Oh what a verse this is, Song of Solomon 7:10, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.”  That’s the table.  He is always looking at us and desiring us.

The last thing we saw was God’s command.  From man’s viewpoint it’s an offering, from God it’s a display.  Then Leviticus 24:9, “Aaron and his sons were to eat it on the Sabbath Day.  It shall be for Aaron and his sons; they shall eat it in the Holy Place.  It’s most holy to Him from the Lord’s offering by fire, His portion forever.”  They were to renew those loaves every rest, every Sabbath Day, and the fact that God was delighting in that offering was their food.  They were to feed on the fact that God was pleased with that.  The priests that are described here are Sabbath priests.  Don’t get locked into a day.  Sabbath means rest, and any time you’re resting, you are a Sabbath Christian.  Anytime I’m resting in the Lord I’m a Sabbath Christian.  So, He gives this illustration of the Sabbath priests, those representing Christians at rest, feeding on that which satisfies the Lord.  Our Lord Jesus said in John 4:32, “I have food to eat you do not know about.”  John 4:34, “My food, said Jesus, is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and accomplish His work.”  That same Lord Jesus who said that when He walked on earth in His incarnate body now lives in your heart; He says the same thing.  Living in you, He desires His food, His meat, His drink, is to do the will, the pleasure of His Father.

Before returning to the walk-through with or priest-guide, Ezekiel, remember Him, I told you last week I’m not quite finished with the table of shewbread, because I want to make some connection between that and the Lord’s Table in the New Testament.  It’s almost impossible to look at a table and see on that table bread and wine and not think about the Lord’s Table.  Before I give you what I want to give you, I want to make a qualification here.  I’m going to share my observation.  You may agree with them or you may not.  These are things I observed.  I’m going to contrast the tabernacle table with the Lord’s Table, and I’m going to compare the table with the Lord’s Table, and I’m going to make some conclusions.

I’m not 100% sure the Holy Spirit intended what I will share.  I hope it is.  I don’t want to go against the Lord, but I’m not going to be dogmatic and say, “God put that to picture this.”  I’m not dead sure about that.  I know that it is true to the balance of scripture.  What I’m going to give you is not contradicting the Bible, but whether the Holy Spirit deliberately inspired this to picture that, I’m going to leave that up to you to decide; that’s both in the contrast and in the comparison.

Let me begin by giving three contrasts.  To me they are very, very curious.  Both tables, the table in the tabernacle, the Lord’s Table, are called memorials; they are both called memorials.  Leviticus 24:7, “You shall put frankincense on each row, that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord.”  Leviticus 2:2, “He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, he shall take from it his handful of fine flour, of its oil with all of its frankincense, the priests shall offer it up in smoke as a memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the Lord.”  Leviticus 2:16, “The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, a part of its grapes and its oil with all the incense as an offering by fire to the Lord.”  Alright, that’s the table in the tabernacle.

You are familiar with the table in the New Testament.  1 Corinthians 11:24, “When He had given thanks, He broke it.  He said, ‘This is My body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way He took the cup, also after supper, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  That expression, “In remembrance,” makes it a memorial.  Here’s the contrast.  The memorial in the Old Testament was for God; the memorial in the New Testament is a reminder for His people.  In the Old Testament God remembered the redeemed.  In the New Testament we remember the Redeemer, and I think that contrast is just given so that we can remember that.  The Lord’s Table is for us.  He remembers the redeemed, we remember the Redeemer.

The second contrast is close to that.  The bread and the wine poured out from the table of shewbread I told you was an offering, an offering of His people.  In that Old Testament picture the bread, the wine, the people, are poured out to the Lord as an offering.  But when we come to the Lord’s Table, Mark 14:24, “He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant poured out for many.’”  Matthew 26:27, “When He had taken the cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it all of you.  This is My blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.’”  The same thing is true of bread, Luke 22:19, “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance.’”

You see, in the Old Testament, the bread and wine poured out represents the people; we are being poured out to Him.  When we come to the New Testament, the bread and wine poured out represents Him being poured out to us.  So, it’s a memorial; He remembers the redeemed, we remember the Redeemer.  And it’s a contrast because we pour out to Him, and He pours out to us. 

There’s a third contrast.  When we look more closely at the Table of Shewbread, the bread that was always in His sight, in His face, it represented the fact that He’s focused on us, and He can’t take His eyes off us.  I use the expression that He was feasting His eyes on His people.  Let me develop that image, feasting His eyes.  The ceremony, the table of shewbread with the frankincense and the pouring out of the drink offering, the entire ceremony is called by the Holy Spirit, “food.”  In some ceremonies, and I’m not going to get into all the verses, God said that the priest could eat this portion.  Some ceremonies God said, “The priest could eat this, and some the people eat.”  In some ceremonies, a portion of it was burned.  I want to focus on that.  Leviticus 3:11,”The priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire to the Lord.”  The part that was burned pictured God eating.  God eats, and He consumes by food.  So, the priest had some, people had some, and some was burned, God eating.  It’s a beautiful picture of everybody sitting at the table at the same time and having a banquet.  The priest are eating and God’s people are eating, and some of it is being burned.

Leviticus 21:6, “They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God.  They present the offerings by fire, the food of their God, so they shall be holy.”  Do you see what I’m contrasting?  In the Old Testament the Lord was feeding on the offering on His people.  In the New Testament, Matthew 26:26, “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread.  After a blessing He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’  And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is My blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.’”  “Take and eat, take and drink.”  See, in the Old Testament He’s feeding on us, and in the New Testament we’re feeding on Him.  I don’t know if the Holy Spirit intended that, but it’s very curious to me that in the Old Testament He remembers the redeemed; do we remember the Redeemer?  In Old we are poured out to Him, and in the New He is poured out to us.  In the Old He feeds upon us; we’re His food.  In the New we feed upon Him.  I wanted to share that with you because it so ties into the table.

Before we leave the meditation of the table, in addition to those contrasts, I want to show you a couple of parallels between the Old Testament and the New.  One parallel is this, in the Old Testament the table was to be a continual representation, a continual feast.  Leviticus 24:7, “You shall put pure fragrance on each row, that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord.  Every Sabbath Day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually.  It’s an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel.”  When you hear the expression, of course you have New Testament ears, we’ve come beyond the Old, but when you hear the expression New Covenant you automatically think about the grace of the Lord.  The New Covenant is what God does; the Old Covenant is what man does.  The Old Covenant passed away, and we have what God does.

The thing that makes this so remarkable to see the expression New Covenant on the table of shewbread is to remember where we are in the history.  We are at Mt. Sinai, you remember, and this is the mountain where the Law was given, the commandments were given, and at Mt. Sinai where He gave the Law, He commanded that the table would be a New Covenant table.  So, I just thought that was a wonderful thing, and continually.  Do you see how there is a parable to the New Testament?  Matthew 26:27, “When He had taken the cup and given thanks, He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.  This is My blood of the covenant poured out for the forgiveness of many.”  And then in 1 Corinthians 11:25, “This cup is the New Covenant in My Blood.”  Leviticus 24:8, “Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually, an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel.”  1 Corinthians 11:26, “As oft as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Exodus 25:30, “Set the bread of the presence on the table before Me at all times.”  It is a continual New Covenant celebration.

I don’t know if you’ll follow me on this or agree, but I find this to be, for my own heart, this is the heart of the Lord.  Does the continual celebration pictured in the Old Testament table and the New Testament mean that once a month or once a week, continually, we should keep the ordinance which we call the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist; it doesn’t matter what you call it?  The Sabbath, as I said, is a picture of rest.  If you just confine it to one day, you’re going to miss God’s heart.  It’s every time you rest.  There’s evidence in the New Testament they broke bread many times.  They went from house to house breaking bread.  Even when they met together they had an agape, a gathering, a supper, a wonderful feast.  What did Jesus actually do at that last supper when He instituted the ceremony that we call the Lord’s Table?

The remembrance of redemption, because that’s what we’re remembering here, provided by the Redeemer, illustrated by the fruit of the vine poured out and the bread broken, is much larger than a ceremony.  It’s much larger than an ordinance.  It’s much larger than a ritual.  It’s that, but it’s bigger than that.  It’s expanded.  Do you realize this?  To stay alive physically, something had to die to keep you alive; a cow, a chicken, a bird, and last week a turkey died to keep me alive, and probably some of you as well.  Whether it’s a fish or a deer or a rabbit or some other living thing, it once was alive, and it had to die, so that you could live.  And every plant, every fruit, every vegetable that you put into your mouth was once alive.  A living potato had to die so that I could live.  Living beans died, so that I could live.  Living carrots died, and all of the food.  I need to stay alive by something that had to die, and I’m talking physically.  I need nourishment.  I need food; I need drink.  By selecting bread and drink, He simplified and sanctified the ordinary process of life, not just an ordinance once a week or once a month.  This was His intention from the beginning.

I’m going to read a couple of verses from Genesis 1:29, “God said, ‘Behold, I’ve given you every plant yielding seed that’s on the surface of the earth; every tree which has fruit yielding seed, it shall be food for you.”  And then Genesis 9:3, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you.  I give it all to you, as I gave the green plant.”  The last supper was far more than instituting some religious ceremony.  He was taking us back to the original and taking us back to first intention.  He was taking us back to His heart, and that’s why in the celebration of the Lord’s Table He didn’t say, “every Sabbath, every month.”  He said, “as oft as you eat, as oft as you drink,’ not just in a ceremony, ‘as oft as you eat—breakfast, brunch, lunch, lupper, supper, snacks— she just said leftovers; that’s taking it too far.  The point I’m trying to make is that it’s God’s heart that every time you sit down to eat, He took the simple things of life, food and drink, and every time you put something in your mouth, He wants you to remember that you are alive because something died, and I died for you, and now you’re alive.  This is God’s heart, and I’m not ruling out a ceremony, not at all, and I’ll bring that up in this next parallel, but I’m saying that it’s bigger than that.

Alright, let me show one other parallel.  The table in the Old Testament was established with a powerful warning.  The table in the New Testament is established with a powerful warning.  Let me show you from the Old Testament.  Leviticus 24:9, “It shall be for Aaron and His sons.  They shall eat it in a Holy Place.  It’s most holy to Him from the Lord’s offering by fire, His portion forever.”  Now, what was burned?  It’s called an offering by fire, and it was incense.  When we get to altar we’ll have Ezekiel explain that a little bit, but for now understand that the incense, God gives the formula.  It was made by four special spices blended together and with frankincense and salt, and those four spices were special.

Exodus 30:35, “With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, holy.  You shall beat some of it very fine, put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you.  It shall be most holy.”  That fragrance was to be an acceptable smell to God.  But here is what I want to focus on, Exodus 30:37, “The incense which you make, you shall not make in the same proportion for yourself.  It shall be holy to you for the Lord.  Whoever makes any like it to use it as perfume shall be cut off from the people.”  In other words, incense was for God, and it’s not for you, and if we are not real, if we are living for ourselves, and pretending that we are living for the Lord, we’re offering incense, but we’re using some for ourselves, God said that He was going to strike you dead.   That was Old Testament, and that was the warning.

Such a warning we have in the celebration of the New Testament, Corinthians 11:27, “Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.  He who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason, many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep.”  What God is calling for is reality.  He wants us to be real, not just to say, “The incense, God accepts it, and then you’re are taking some incense and using it for your own personal use.”  We are to be totally surrendered to the Lord, and we’re not to fake it, and we’re not to play a game.  It’s not a game.  Some there were coming in an unworthy manner.  You’ll never be worthy, but you can come in an unworthy manner.  What’s an unworthy manner?  An unworthy manner is coming in a way that was not God ordained.  God ordained a certain way to come, in reality and sincerity, and don’t fake it.  That’s what God is saying, not just going through the motions and form.  In fact, there are many who are weak, who are sick, and not a few die, who have never been to the Lord’s Table.  He’s talking about life.  He’s talking about every time you eat, every time you drink.  He’s talking about that warning to be real.  You need to understand, you have to be spiritual and understand what Christ has done on our behalf.

Every once in a while, I don’t know how often, but they had the Agape Feast.  Some say that part of it was a little ceremony called communion, and the rest was the Agape Feast, and all that.  It’s all one, and when you eat and when you drink, as often you do it, and some do often than others, but as often as you do it, let’s remember Him. 

Okay, so the three contrasts; He remembers the redeemed, and we remember the Redeemer.  We pour ourselves out to Him, and He poured Himself to us.  He feeds on us, and we feed on Him, and that’s our nourishment.  It’s a continual celebration, as oft for Sabbath Christians.  For those who are at rest, it’s not just once a week.  It’s every day of your life, and both have warnings—don’t fake it, don’t be unreal.

Having said that to my entire satisfaction, let’s move on.  We’re almost ready to have Ezekiel take us through in our walk-through from the table of shewbread to the altar of incense, but first, before we get to the altar of incense, I want to address a question that has puzzled some Bible students about the altar of incense.  The question is, “Where was the altar of incense located?  Was it in the Holy Place, making three pieces of furniture, the golden candlestick, the table of shewbread and the golden altar of incense?” 

When one reads Exodus 30:6, “You shall put this altar in front of the veil that’s near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony where I will meet with you.”  You might say, “Well, clearly, it’s in front of the veil.  Yes, but it also says, “In front of the mercy seat,” so some say, “What exactly is being said there?”  The closest piece of furniture, whatever side of the veil, to the ark of the covenant was this mercy seat.  So, some say that it was just in front of veil and then the ark, and some say that it was in the other room.  You might say that is a little weak, and where did they get that.  Well, they go to Hebrews 9:2, “There was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one in which were the lampstand, the table, and the sacred bread, and that’s called the Holy Place.”  You notice that’s only two things, the lampstand and the table.  Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, covered on all sides with God, and then He describes that ark of the covenant.  But if read Hebrews, it looks like the altar of incense was on the inside of the Holy of Holies.

What I’m going to try to do, some have tried to solve the difficulty by saying that on the day of atonement, the high priest had not only had to bring incense and blood into the Holy of Holies, but he actually carried the whole altar into the Holy of Holies.  Some try to get around it that way.  I’ve not been able to make that my own.  As far as where the altar stood, I’m going to be dogmatic, and tell you where it was and which room.  As far as explaining the Hebrews passage, I’m going to be clear, it’s clear to me, but I’ll leave that up to you. 

Where was the altar? I’ll speak with certainty.  The altar was in the Holy Place, not the Holy of Holies.  I can I speak with certainty in the light of Hebrews 9?  Exodus 30:7, “Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it.  He shall burn it every morning, when he trims the lamps.  When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense.  There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord in all your generations.”  We know that the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year.  The Bible clearly tells us that.  Hebrews 9:7, “Into the second, only the high priest enters once a year.”  He can only go in once a year.  If the altar was in the Holy of Holies, how then, two times a day, every morning and every afternoon, 365 days a year could the priest offer on the altar?  So, I speak dogmatically.  The altar was in the Holy Place, three items of furniture.

I know this, when the writer of Hebrews wrote Hebrews 9, he was not mistaken.  That’s inspiration and that’s from the Holy Spirit.  So, we know he meant something.  I might not know what it means, but he meant, and God said that.  Now, it’s possible that, because the writer of Hebrews wrote, the veil had already been rent, that the writer just, and now it’s in front because there is no veil.  He may have been thinking that, but then there would only one room, because that would be like if you are doing a remodeling, and you take down a wall, and then it’s got a bigger room.  I think the key to this seeming contradiction, it’s not a contradiction, is spiritual.  Exodus 36:6, “You shall put the altar in front of the veil near the ark of testimony in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of testimony where I will meet with you.” 

The important thing is not the furniture.  The furniture told a spiritual story.  It’s not a museum piece.  That’s not why we look at the different furniture, to study it as a skillful work of art.  It was that, but that’s not the marvel, the craftmanship.  Each item of furniture told a spiritual story.  It had a function and a purpose.  Clearly, the altar of incense God says, “There I will meet with you.”  The function is to meet with the Lord. We’re moving toward the presence of God.  We came through the Holy Place, we came through the altar, we came through the laver, we came through the candlestick, we came through the table, and now we’re as close as you’re going to get with the furniture, but that piece of furniture, what was it’s function?  The answer is to take us into the presence of God.  “There I will meet with you.”  The meaning, the function, so this is the one piece that really focuses on the inward.  The altar dives deep into the heart.  When you talk about incense you think prayer, and because God is going down deep.  This altar takes you to the core, to the essence, real worship.  The altar had incense continually, and we are to pray without ceasing, and so on, and it’s penetrating.  The golden altar on this side in its message and function penetrated through the veil and took us into the presence of God.

Let me give an illustration.  I go to the doctor, and he says, “You need to have a cardiogram because we need to look at your heart, and they wheel in this machine.”  And I say, “You aren’t going to put that in my body, are you?  I’ve already got some devices up here.  Are you going to put that machine in my body?”  He says, “No, that’s going to be out here, but it’s going to look in there.”  See, that’s the altar of incense.  It’s on this side, but it’s going to look in there.  It’s like an Xray, but it’s going to look in there.  You don’t bring the Xray machine into your body.  It stands on this side of the veil, and it looks at your bones.  I think that’s what the altar of incense was.  In the Holy Place it penetrates deep into my heart through the veil, before the mercy, and the message will take us in there.

I’m going to leave that there, and let’s rejoin Ezekiel.  (Rachel shared Luke 1:8-11, Zacharias offering incense and the people praying outside). Let’s join Ezekiel and continue our walk-through.  He takes us up to the altar of incense, one of the smallest pieces of furniture in all the tabernacle.  It was only a foot and a half square, and it’s only three feet tall, and that’s why some say that the high priest could have lifted that up and carried it in.  It might have been small in size, but I promise you it was very significant in its spiritual message.

The first thing Ezekiel pointed out, that the lampstand ministry and the incense ministry were very much connected, and we can see that in Exodus 30:7&8, “You shall put this altar in front of the veil, near the ark of the testimony in front of the mercy seat, as over the ark of testimony, where I will meet with you.  Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it.  He shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps.  When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense.  There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.”  Every morning, when the lamp was lit, and the oil was refilled, and the wick was cut, every morning, every afternoon, incense, incense, incense.

“To appreciate the altar of incense,” Ezekiel said, “you need to see, as you did at the table, the Godward aspect and the manward aspect, because it meant one thing to God, it meant something completely different to man.”  So, Ezekiel, then, begins to explain to us.  “Just as you couldn’t understand the table unless you saw it was an offering, it was an attraction.”  So, there are two aspects.  The incense, you remember, was a combination of those wonderful spices all blended together.  That special blend of spices, according to the Rabbis, and not according to the Bible, where did they keep all that incense?  And according to the Rabbis they gathered a whole year’s supply and kept it under the table.  There’s no Bible reference for that, but just for interest. 

Exodus 30:35, “With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, holy, and beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you.  It shall be most holy.”  All of the offerings had to have salt.  We see that in Exodus 30, because it’s a purification; it prevents corruption.  Ezekiel said, “Let me give you the double aspect.  The Godward aspect of incense is fragrance.  That’s the part for God.  The blend of spices was fragrant, and it filled the Holy Place with the smell of that incense.  So fragrant was that perfume, that God knew it would have been a temptation for any Israelite to tap the wife of a priest and get the formula, so they could have it privately at home.  Exodus 30:38, “Whoever makes anything like it to use as a perfume will be cut off.”  This was for the Lord alone.  The Godward aspect was acceptance.  He smelled it.  It was sweet.  Sin is sickening to God.  It’s a terrible smell.  It’s foul.  It’s rank. It’s odious.  He can’t stand it.  This had to be sweet and acceptable to God.  “And it was a sign,” Ezekiel said, “that God was pleased, that God was satisfied, and accepted everything that was pictured in whatever took place on this altar.

It’s hard to imagine what that incense meant to God.  I think the sweetest fragrance you’ve ever had, or I’ve ever had, whatever reached your nostrils would be foul compared to the enjoyment God had when this frankincense went up.  I asked a brother one time, in fact it was Tom Wontrop, “What is the sweetest fragrance you’ve ever had?”  He didn’t take us to the bush I talked about last week.  He said it was honeysuckle.  Other people have other ideas.  Some have concluded that the incense was prayer, and God, when He smells your prayer is so pleased and so honored, that the incense is a picture of prayer.  I see where they get that.  Psalm 141:2, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You, the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.”  Revelation 5:8, “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp, golden bowels full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”  But, again, it’s more than that. It’s deeper than that.  It’s more precious than at.  It would be precious if my prayer was incense in the nostrils of a holy God, but that’s not the case.

Why are the prayers associated with the incense?  Ezekiel said, “The answer to that is looking at the incense as it related to man.  As it related to God, it’s fragrance, acceptance, pleasurable.  Related to man, it’s not fragrance.  It’s not the incense.  It’s the burning of the incense.  There are two things about the altar that are so important, and with New Testament thinking, take us back to Calvary and back to the cross, to the work of Christ.  One is fire.  Where did they get the fire to burn incense?  They had to go outside in the outer court, take the coals from off of the altar of sacrifice.  That’s where the animal died.  That’s where the substitute died.  That’s where the victim died.  Take that fire.  No other fire.  If you offered strange fire you’d be killed.  No other fire but the fire that was associated with the sacrifice, they brought that to altar.  Then, once a year, not only that, but once year, Exodus 30:10, “Aaron shall make atonement on the horns once a year.  He shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement, once a year throughout your generations.”  Once a year the same blood from this animal sacrifice that was sprinkled on the mercy seat, that blood had to be put on the horns of this altar of incense. 

You don’t look at the altar of incense without seeing the coals of redemption.  If you don’t look at the altar of incense without seeing the blood of the Lamb put on the horns of the altar, the fire and the blood are so necessary.  So, with that in mind, Leviticus 16:13, “He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he would die.” For God, it’s a fragrance.  For man, it’s the cloud that covers the mercy seat.  No man can see God and live.  You are going to die.  You can’t see God.  That incense for God was a sweet fragrance, for man was a protection.  It was a shelter.  It was keeping man from being destroyed.  From God’s point of view, He said, “I accept the sacrifice.”  From man’s point of view, the mercy seat is clouded in this incense.

Follow, please, as I read Revelation 8:3, “Another angel came, and stood at the altar, having a golden sensor.  Much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayer of the saints.”  The incense doesn’t picture prayer.  Prayer is added to the incense.  It’s different.  Revelation 8:4, “The smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel’s hand.”  So, we pray.  There’s no question it’s connected to prayer.  We pray, but because of the incense, the prayer is acceptable.  Our prayer rises with the incense.  The incense protects us.  It’s a cloud for us.  The prayers of the saints are made acceptable because of the blood of Jesus, because of the sacrifice that took place on the cross, the coals of the altar.  That incense rises.  Even the high priest could not survive the glory of God unless he had that cloud that was protecting him.  The message to God is fragrance; the message to man is cloud, protection, because we pray, “In Jesus; name,” that’s in His protection.  That’s my hope for getting it up there. 

When Isaiah saw the Lord, you know, the Bible says that whole temple was filled with smoke.  That protected Isaiah.  I couldn’t even pray, “Lord, save me, unless my prayer rose with His merits, His incense, His name.”  I’d like to think that my prayers are such a sweet smell to God.  I know better than that. 

Let me tell you a little story and then we’ll close.  As a child I had sort of a difficult time relating to my maternal grandmother.  I have many grandmother stories.  This one is very precious in my memory.  I was always trying to get her to approve of me.  I was always trying to get approval.  So, one day I decided as a little boy, that I would get her a bouquet.  So, I went through the property, my uncles’s property, and I thought I’d make a beautiful bouquet.  I remember that I picked dandelions, and I think daisies, and I don’t know what other kind of flower that was there, maybe violets.  I wanted to crown it with something very precious, so I cut off a stem with beautiful red and purple, poison sumac, and I put that in the bouquet, and I brought it in, “This is for you, nanny.  This is my gift to you.”  This is one time that she showed affection toward me.  She immediately saw what that bouquet was like, and she said, “You know, this is too big to put on the table and display to everybody.  So, I’m going to make it a little smaller, but I really appreciate that you got me it.”  So, she took out the sumac.  That’s what happens when you pray.  He takes out the sumac.  You prayer, and with the incense your prayer goes up, and by the time it reaches the Lord, it’s a sweet savor in His nostrils.

Ezekiel 20:41, just look at those first lines, “I will accept you with your sweet savor.”  Isn’t that beautiful, just that phrase, “I will accept you with your sweet savor.”  And my favorite Psalm 84:8&9, says, “Oh, Lord of Hosts, hear my prayer.  Behold our shield, oh God, and look on the face of Your anointed.” “Hear my prayer, but don’t look at me.  Behold my shield, my cloud, my incense.  Look on the face of Your anointed.  Look on Christ.”  And that’s our only hope.  Yes, our prayers are precious to Him, but it’s because of the incense and the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, Ezekiel said, “We need to look at the veil.”

Let’s pray together.  Heavenly Father, thank You so much for everything that’s pictured in this altar of incense.  Thank You that You are well-pleased with the sacrifice of your Son, with the precious blood that was shed for us.  Thank You that we can hide in that cloud, and rise in acceptance with You, accepted in the Beloved. Oh Lord, we just praise You for all that You put into this tabernacle to instruct us in the things of redemption.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”