Today's Lectionary Readings: Psalm 51:1-12; Exodus 30:1-10; Hebrews 4:14-5:4
Selected Passages for Reflection: Exodus 30:1-10 (NIV) and Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
“Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high[a]—its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding—two on each of the opposite sides—to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law—before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law—where I will meet with you. 7 “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. 8 He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the LORD for the generations to come. 9 Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering[b] for the generations to come. It is most holy to the LORD.”
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
This detailed Scripture in Exodus on the requirements of the Altar of Incense when read by itself reminds me of reading Christ’s genealogies in Matthew and Luke. “What’s the point?” I ask myself. But just as studying the genealogies shows me the importance of knowing who is in the line of Jesus, so too is looking at this Scripture of building the Altar of Incense. The burning of incense goes hand in hand with raising prayer to God.
When I think about incense, I think of something that has a strong smell, maybe a reminder of something good. I remember the perfume that two of my aunts wore. When I smell those perfumes I am filled with wonderful memories of each of these special women who are now dead. I have a signature perfume that I wear especially around my granddaughters to give them something to remind them of me, while I am still here but also when I’m no longer with them.
God had a purpose for the Altar of Incense just as He had a purpose for each part of the Tabernacle. Incense has a great importance in the Bible, as it is mentioned about 130 times. It was the job of the High Priest to burn the incense, both in the morning and the evening as a prayer of praise being raised to God in heaven. The rising incense was the mediator between man and God.
Everything about the Altar of Incense was dictated by God. Each step in building it, in how it was to be measured, with what type of materials it was to be made of, how and when the incense was to be burned and who was to burn the incense. When the Israelites smelled the incense lifting towards heaven, it was a reminder to them that they were to be praying.
The Psalmist says in Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
Christ came as the Sacrifice, our Altar of Incense and Mediator between us and God. When Christ died, the Old Testament Law was fulfilled with His sacrifice. Our prayers lifted to God in the morning when we awake and in the evening before we go to sleep as well as throughout the day are like incense wafting up from the Altar of Incense in Exodus. Christ is our Great High Priest who takes our prayers to the Father as we read in Hebrews 4:14-16.
Every day I have the freedom to sit before God through Jesus Christ and raise my prayers as incense of praise. I don’t need to burn incense at specific times. I can raise a prayer whenever I smell something good or someone passes by who is wearing perfume or cologne. What a sweet reminder that prayer can be raised to God at any moment or time of day.
What does it mean to you to know that your prayers come before God as sweet incense? Do you take time in the morning to ask God to bless your day and again in the evening to praise Him for His blessings of the day? What can you use as a reminder to pray throughout the day?
Lord God, just as the Psalmist prayed the words to You, may my prayers in the morning, in the evening and throughout the day come before You as incense and my hands lifted up in praise as a daily offering. Amen.
About the Author
Ruth works with Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) at a large church in Colorado Springs, CO. She recently completed studies in Spiritual Direction at North Park Theological Seminary. She loves to listen, mentor and teach young women. She is married, has a son and daughter-in-love and is Omi to two beautiful granddaughters.