The Tabernacle, The Altar of Incense, Doing It Godís Way, Part 3 - Lesson 29
There are two ways to study the tabernacle, one way is that of manís approach to God and the other way is Godís approach to man.
The scriptures present the later way for the description of the tabernacle begins with the Ark of the Covenant which is placed in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and proceeds outward toward the Brazen Altar, where blood is shed along the path from God to man.
The message of this approach of God to man is that God is holy and all who are acceptable to Him must also be holy.
So the path from God and the path to God is a path of holiness and that path is demonstrated in the tabernacle.
Habakkuk 2:20, But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
Today in our study we are in the Holy Place looking at the Altar of Incense.
It is nearest to the Arc of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat and the Shekinah Glory of God for it is positioned against the inner veil on the west side of the Holy Place for the entrance of the Holy Place faces east.
The altar of incense to some degree may have been one of the most important pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle other than the brazen altar and the Ark itself.
At the Altar of Incense the priests would twice-daily burn sweet incense.
This was done at the same time the oil in the candlestick was replenished and the daily burnt offering was made.
1 Chronicles 23:13, The sons of Amram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons for ever, to burn incense before the Lord, to minister unto him, and to bless in his name for ever.
In all of this God is giving a picture using material things of that which He wants you to know in the Spiritual.
This picture is not an end in itself for it is only a picture of what He wants His people to see in Spiritual form.
Unfortunately religion stops with the material and finds worship in that which is seen.
Worship is offered in habitual ritual in this material world that God only has given in order to see that which is to come in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah the Prophet foretold a time when incense would become an abomination to the Lord.
Isaiah 1:13, Bring no more vain oblations (sacrifices); incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Since the coming of Christ, our Great High Priest, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God is not interested in the natural shadow but only in the spiritual reality.
The only true incense that God desires now is that which ascends from the heart.
He is interested in prayers, worship, praise and intercession that come from His Spirit and also the spirit of man.
The command of God in John 4:24 is, God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
This body of sin is not fit to worship God for God only receives worship from your born again spirit.
So the Altar of Incense was provided as a shadow to show the reality of the intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit and Godís Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
For the ministry of intercession, prayer and worship are at the very heart of God for these are the nearest things to the glory of God!
For in this ministry Jesus Christ, as Jude said, presents you, presents me, faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
You cannot get closer to the Father than that!
And this presentation was to be perpetual for in Exodus 30:7-8 Aaron was told to keep the incense burning at all times.
Exodus 30:7-8, And Aaron shall burn thereon-sweet incense every morning: when he dresses the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.
We are instructed in this to be a praying people.
We are instructed in this to recognize Christís continual intercessory ministry on our behalf.
We are to seek counsel from the throne of God through Christ Jesus.
We are to be a "pray without ceasing" people as Paul told the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 5:17 lest we quench the Spirit of God for our prayers are the fuel that is needed for intercessory prayer of the Spirit and our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we are to pray in the Spirit of God and none other, for God will not hear any such prayer.
We are to pray in the Spirit and by the Spirit and to pray in the Spirit is to be born of the Spirit of God.
Jude 1:20, But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.
Today the true incense is that which arises from our hearts as believers and ascends to the Heavenly Sanctuary.
It is that incense that comes by way of our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
The incense of prayer that is most accepted in the beloved is that which is drenched with the fragrance of the beauty of Christ.
Prayer from Godís children lifted up as incense from a heart of love for the Savior is that sweet smelling savor that God so loves and desires.
It is that that reaches the heart of God only through the intercession of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.
The very highest ministry in the Church is the ministry of prayer, supplication and intercession.
But outside the Church the world is full of prayer but most of it is vain prayer for it is not offered to God in His Spirit.
Prayer is to be offered to God according to His way and none other.
This is pictured in the instruction of God to Moses with reference to strange incense and strange fire on the Altar.
Exodus 30:9, Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
There was to be no strange fire or strange incense on the Golden Altar for remember the fate of Aaronís sons, Nadab and Abihu who took it upon themselves to offer strange fire and strange incense which ended up burning and devouring them.
So the most severe judgment in association with the incense altar did not come from without the priesthood but from within the priesthood.
Nadab and Abihu, were both consumed by a fire from the Lord when they went into the sanctuary with incense.
The only reason given for this retribution was that they used fire from other than the brazen altar, called strange fire.
Leviticus 10:9 indicates that their disrespect was due to drunkenness, while the reference to their death is given with the instructions for the ritual of the Day of Atonement.
This may suggest they tried going into the Holy of Holies.
Now the first fire on the Altar was directly lit by God.
On the day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, God showed His approval by lighting the Brazen Altar in the Outer Court with Divine Fire coming out from the Glory of God resting upon the Ark of the Covenant.
Lev. 9:24, And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces.
When the fire on the Brazen Altar was lit, the coals were taken off from the Brazen Altar and used to light the Golden Altar and the Candlestick.
Hence, the fire was a divine fire.
Fire from God lit the oil of the candlestick providing divine light in the Holy Place indicating that God is the source of light.
Fire from God lit the incense atop the Golden Altar indicating that God was the source of prayer for it was prayer to be prayed in the Spirit.
Any other fire was "strange fire."
Any incense other than the prescribed incense was "strange incense."
Anyone who attempted to offer such an offering on the Golden Altar would be punished by being cut off from the Presence of God.
This strange fire and incense is typical of all false worship!
God is not interested in worship that is excited by mere religious feelings (for they are from the flesh).
There is much strange fire and incense going on today in the substitute religions and witchcraft which are an abomination to God and will come under Divine Judgment in due time.
God only accepts that fire which originates with himself on the basis of the blood atonement accomplished at Calvary.
God lit the fire in the Church on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:3-4, And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
God is only interested in worship that is rooted in Spirit and in Truth.
God only accepts incense that He has prescribed.
And He has prescribed Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man.
I Timothy 2:5, For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
No man can approach God the Father except through the Son, Jesus Christ.
Incense, which means prayer, apart from being offered in the name of Jesus Christ is an abomination to the Lord.
There was to be no burnt offering, meal offering or drink offering upon this altar.
There were no sacrifices of blood here.
Incense is all that was to be burned upon the Golden Altar in the Holy Place.
The Outer Court was the place of sacrifice.
The inner court was the place of worship and service.
It speaks to us of Christ fulfilling the law at Calvary and dying once for all.
He now lives in the Power of an endless life to make intercession for us, never to die again for death no longer has a hold on Him nor does it have a hold eternally on those who are His!
Romans 6:9-10, Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. 10For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. 11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now the Altar of Incense was built to be transported, as were all parts of the tabernacle.
In the wilderness wanderings all the articles were covered with their appointed coverings.
As far as the furnishings are concerned the picture given in scripture is that of bundles being carried on the shoulders of four men through the use of staves.
The human eye, observing the vast congregation of traveling Jews would only behold these "bundles" which would not be very attractive to the natural man.
The beauty of all these things would only be seen when they were arranged in the tabernacle in accordance with Godís instruction.
They were not to be seen except by certain individuals appointed to keep them functional and in their proper place so that Godís plan of redemption would be clearly seen.
It was a very precise and orderly process and was to be without any contribution from the imaginations of men, therefore no strange fire or strange incense.
Now the transport of the Altar of Incense is described in;
Numbers 4:11, And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgersí skins, and shall put to the staves thereof:
Again we see a beautiful picture of the Godhead in these coverings.
The covering of blue, as in the blue of the sky, points to the Lord from heaven.
The badgers' skin, as we have spoken of before speaks of the Word being made flesh among us, in the person of Jesus the Son.
Now certainly there was beauty in the Altar of Incense when it was in the Holy Place but when it was in the world, traveling the wilderness it was covered in badgers skin.
There was no beauty in the badgersí skin and this is what is spoken of in Isaiah 53 where we are told: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
In other words Godís Son was not sent to attract to himself followers on the basis of beauty, or outward appearance and when he traveled the dusty roads of Palestine he traveled as did the Altar of Incense covered by badgers skins.
In the Holy Place He reveals His beauty but in the world only His children can see His beauty for His beauty is a Heavenly beauty only revealed in Holiness.
The world operates on the economy of outward beauty but God only attracts followers on the basis of faith in His Word.
Now the Altar of Incense was the source of the incense that was taken into the Most Holy Place on the one day of the year that the High Priest brought in the Atonement blood to sprinkle on the Mercy Seat.
The Altar or table of Incense was not brought into the Most Holy Place but a vessel called the golden censer, referred to in Hebrews 9:4, was filled with incense and brought in by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
Though the writer of Hebrews does not specifically say that the golden censer was from the incense altar, he does state that it was in the holy of holies before the ark, which corresponds to the ritual of the Day of Atonement when sweet incense was burned before the ark.
So each piece of furniture showed its importance by its function.
The Altar of Incense for the incense, the brazen altar for its sacrifice, the table of showbread for its bread and the candlestick for its light.
This illustrates that it was not the item, which was important, but what was on it.
The brazen altar without an offering would have no efficacy, the candlestick without oil would be useless, the table of showbread without bread would illustrate nothing, and likewise, the altar of incense without incense would be meaningless as well.