The Tabernacle, The Altar of Incense, Part 1 - Lesson 27
Exodus 30:1-10, And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it. 2A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same. 3And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about. 4And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal. 5And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 6And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. 7And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. 8And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. 10And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.
Our lesson today will focus on the third piece of furniture in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle, that piece being an altar upon which incense was burned.
The word altar has as its root, a high place.
It historically has been a high or elevated place on which sacrifices were made to some deity.
Altars were first made of soil mounded up to make a high place.
Altars were also made of stone, wood or animalís horns.
There is no particular shape they must be made into, however, the altar that God describes in our passage is carefully specified, as to its size, shape, materials, and its purpose.
Its purpose was carefully laid out including commands that it not be used to burn strange incense, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offerings, nor drink offerings.
There were two altars in the Tabernacle of Moses, the Brazen Altar and the Golden Altar of Incense.
The Brazen Altar was where the Burnt Offering took place from sacrificed animals and was located in the Outer Court at the entrance of the Tabernacle.
The Golden Altar of Incense was for burning of Incense and was positioned in the Holy Place before the veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.
We are told in our passage concerning this altar that no strange incense is to be burned upon this altar.
That of course means that God has defined what incense is acceptable and what incense is not acceptable.
The burning of incense in the Bible is always connected to prayer or a call for intercession.
David in his Psalm 141:1-2, compares his prayer aimed upward to the ascension of incense lifting upward.
Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I
cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the
lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
God has commanded Moses to build this altar and also commanded Aaron to burn incense upon the altar.
There are two things going on here.
One is the altar itself and the other is the burning that takes place on the altar.
We have said that every piece of furniture in the tabernacle speaks of Christ and this altar is no exception.
Its very construction leads us to know that this altar represents Christ and therefore what takes place on the altar is an activity and revelation of Christ.
Aaron was to burn incense on the altar which is a picture of the prayers of Godís people but notice that the incense must be placed upon the altar.
There is no other place upon which incense is to be burned.
There is an exclusivity here which tells us that Christ is the essential person by whom all prayer must go through before it is acceptable by the Father.
Here again, even in prayer, we find a stipulation by God as to how He is to be approached.
The altar and the incense give us a clear picture of the intercessory ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.
As intercessor or our go-between, Christ appears before the Throne of God in our behalf.
Read Romans 8:34, Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died,
yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also
makes intercession for us.
Read Hebrews 7:25, Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.
We do not have prayer power sufficient to penetrate to the throne of God but we must rely on our Lord Jesus Christ to speak for us.
He is our mouthpiece and He has never lost a case.
God the Father has so ordained that we must have an intercessor for God will only hear those who come through His Son, out Lord Jesus Christ.
Read John 17 and be blessed for in it you will hear from the mouth of Christ his intercessory prayer on your behalf, if you belong to him.
In it He specifies exactly that he prays not for the world but for those whom God the Father has given him.
He asks the Father to keep, through the Fatherís name, those who have been given him that they may be one as Christ and the Father are one.
He prays to the Father not to take them out of this world but that they must stay to do the Fatherís will but in that staying he asks that they be kept from the evil one.
Indeed what the altar and the incense foreshadow, Christ made clear in his earthly ministry that we was to faithfully intercede on the behalf of those whom God the Father gave him.
Now the ministry of the Holy Spirit is also witnessed by the operation of incense.
We are told He makes intercession in us according to the will of God.
We read of this in Romans 8:26, Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
God knows our frame and he not only has the Lord Jesus Christ at his right hand, who intercedes on our behalf, but He also has in us His Spirit.
It is His Spirit who takes that which is in our heart that we do not know how to express, and intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be uttered but can be heard by Jesus Christ.
So both the beginning and the ending of our prayers are under Godís supervision and this is all expressed in the altar of incense.
Now as was the table of showbread, the altar of incense which was also a table had a foundation of shittim wood
Exodus 30:1, And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.
We have spoken of the significance of this before saying that this speaks of the humanity of Christ and it speaks of the righteous branch of humanity for Christ is the only man who is without sin.
But as a branch is designed to bear fruit His branch will bring forth much fruit for God the Father has so ordained.
Jeremiah 23:5, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will
raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and
shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
It is like no other tabernacle piece for it is to be a cubit in length and width and two cubits high
We read of this in Exodus 30:2, A cubit (18 inches)
shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall
it be: and two cubits (36 inches) shall be the height thereof: the horns
thereof shall be of the same.
The Golden Altar was to be foursquare, just as the Brazen Altar and the Most Holy Place were to be.
Another use of the term foursquare is in the description given in Revelation 21-22 of the New Jerusalem, the Foursquare City of God.
God also instructs this altar of incense to have animal horns at each corner of the altar for he says "the horns thereof shall be of the same."
The Brazen altar also had horns.
Horns in the Scripture are always significant of power, authority and kingship.
In Habakkuk 3:4 we are told that God is seen having "horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of HIS POWER."
Habakkuk 3:4, And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.
The horns on the animals are their source of strength, power and their defense.
It is easy to see they use them effectively as weapons.
Look back in the history of warfare and you will find that animal horns were an imposing part of the headdress of soldiers on the battlefield.
The fact that we have four horns on the altar of incense points us to the truth that all power was given unto Christ both in the heavens and in the earth.
Jesus showed his horns of power when he reminded his disciples of this as he commissioned them in Matthew 28:18-20, And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
The picture shown in the Altar of Incense is that all power is in the hands of the One given to intercede for the saints.
So nothing that takes place on earth can stop Godís plan with regard to the righteous branch for regardless of what takes place on Earth God will have His way.
The Horn was also used particularly by the prophets to anoint ministries.
1 Samuel 16:1, And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou
mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine
horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have
provided me a king among his sons.
1 Samuel 16:13, Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
So the horn with oil is used to show that the anointed is endued with the power of Godís Spirit.
The foundation of the altar or table of incense was of shittim wood but its covering was to be of gold.
See Exodus 30:3, And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.
Again in this altar as was true in the Ark of the Covenant and the Table of showbread we see the humanity of Christ and the deity of Christ displayed in the materials used in its construction.
The shittim wood of course displays his incorruptible humanity and the gold displays his divine nature, his deity.
Jesus had two natures in one person, for He was God manifest in the flesh.
Jesus was the Son of God because His Father was God.
Yet, He was also the Son of Man because His mother was Mary.
In Christ we are a new creation, a creation that has His Divine nature overlaying our humanity.
As there were two materials in one Altar, so there are two natures in one mediator between God and Man.
The Altar of Incense had a golden crown on it just as we know of a crown on the Table of Showbread and the Ark of the Covenant.
Crowns are for sovereigns.
And of course the sovereign that this crown signifies is the one who has all power both in heaven and in earth, Christ the King.
A crown in connection with the Altar of Incense reveals that our King is also our intercessor or High Priest.
Jesus is now crowned with glory and honor as our King-Priest at the right hand of God.
Put your mind in gear and think of this soberly, that the Sovereign over all things and with all power represents you, little you, and little me, before the throne of God.
Just ponder that!
The ministry of our Great High Priest is intercession through the power of the Holy Spirit on earth to keep us from falling!
Jude has crescendos of rejoicing in these acts of intercession as he concludes his short epistle in Jude 1:24, Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.
You can count on Jesus Christ interceding for you every day because he intends to present you faultless before the presence of his glory and this purpose for you will not be thwarted for Jesus Christís intentions will be realized.
We can depend with absolute certainty of His intercession for us for we read of it in Hebrews 13:5-6, Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. 6So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
Now Godís instruction to Moses concerning the altar of incense continues with
details concerning the rings which were placed upon it for the purpose of
carrying the altar from place to place.
When God describes the rings to be placed on the Ark, the Table of showbread,
the burnt altar He specifies four rings, one on each corner.
In this description God calls for two rings.
So it appears that each corner did not have a ring, but only two corners had rings, diagonally opposite each other about 25 inches apart.
So if this is true the altar of incense was carried on two rings with the un-ringed corners fore and aft, carried like a diamond shape.
The use of two rings may be to show a type of the two persons of the Godhead engaged in the intercessory work, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
And of course the two golden rings provide for places to insert the staves to bear the Altar of Incense.
Exodus 30:4-5, And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.  And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
The two staves of "incorruptible wood overlaid with gold was used for traveling in the wilderness wanderings and journeying.
This again speaks to us that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth passing through as we travel to eternity.
The Lord Jesus prayed not that we should be taken out of the world, but that we would be kept from the evil that is in the world.
The staves in connection with the Altar Of Incense speak to us of the necessity of the ministry of Christ as intercessor and a personal prayer life and worship time in our earthly lives.
We cannot survive without both!