In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” – John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
I am enjoying this study in Exodus and hope you are as well. So far in studying the tabernacle, we’ve covered the ark of the covenant, the table of “presence bread”, and the golden lampstand. The remainder of the tabernacle furniture includes: the incense altar (covered in this post), the lavar, and the brazen altar. We’ll explore the tabernacle framework, coverings, and the veils last.
The Altar of Incense
Made out of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, the altar of incense stood the tallest of all the furniture in the Holy Place (a foot and a half square and three feet high). An ornamental gold rim like a crown circled the top with golden “horns” on each corner. The altar stood before the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The priest burned incense here, morning and evening, as he trimmed the lamps.
God not only gave specific instructions to the priest for a prescribed mix of spices in the incense, but also the correct fire on the altar (Ex. 30:34-38). The brazen altar, where sacrifices were offered to God, supplied the fire for burning the incense (Lev. 16:12-13; Num. 16:46). The priest that risked disobedience also risked his life, as was the case with Nadab and Abihu. Both were killed when they tried to worship God with “false fire” (Lev. 10). Likewise, any Israelite trying to copy this special incense for personal use would be cut off, possibly leading to his death.
Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “This suggests that true prayer must be based on the work of Christ on the cross and on our complete dedication to God. A true fervency in prayer isn’t a religious emotion we work up ourselves; rather, it’s a blessing that God sends down as we yield ourselves to Him.”
There are no substitutes for prayer. Contrary to some views, prayer isn’t just mumbling words with the hope that the “Big Guy in the sky” hears and answers. The golden altar also wasn’t intended as a bargaining table with God, but rather a place to adore Him and pray that His will be done. Some of the ingredients the Bible lists for prayer include: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, submission (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6). Jesus even gives us a pattern for our prayers (Matt. 6:5-15).
Believers today don’t have the veil that separates ourselves from God, but rather have direct access to His throne because of Jesus’ work on the cross. What an awesome privilege! God extends His grace to us under the new covenant and welcomes our worship and petitions in Jesus’ name (Heb. 10:19-25). And, not only does the Holy Spirit intercede in our hearts (Rom. 8:26-27), but Jesus—our living, reigning Priest-King—continually intercedes for us in heaven as well (Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 4:14-16; 7:19-28). What an amazing blessing!
Now for the convicting part, at least for me. The priest didn’t rush into the tabernacle, burn the incense and then rush out so he could check off one more item on his “to do” list. Rather, he reverently drew near the altar after preparing himself to be in the presence of the holy God.
Although we are privileged to draw near to God because of Christ, He deserves our utmost respect.
Interestingly, the priest had to apply blood to the incense altar once a year—on the Day of Atonement— to make it ceremonially clean before God (Ex. 30:10). Why? Wiersbe writes: “Even in our praying we can sin!” How? He continues: “. . . . special incense had to be ‘salted’ (Ex. 30:35), for salt is a symbol of purity and of a covenant relationship (Lev. 2:13). ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear’ (Ps. 66:18 NKJV). . . . We’re commanded to remove ‘anger or disputing’ from our hearts (1 Tim. 2:8). If God killed every believer today who didn’t pray as He has ordered, how many of us would survive a prayer meeting?”
Ouch. I’ll stop here. If I come across “preachy”, please know that any finger pointing is aimed at myself. . . . Alrighty then, wishing you a wonderful week!