Chapter 30:1-10 (ESV) - “You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.”
Question to consider: Why was incense used to bring the prayers of the people before God?
If you were to look at an image of the tabernacle and its courtyard, you could draw a straight line from the bronze altar where the priests sacrificed the animals to the Altar of Incense to the Mercy Seat on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. A curtain separated the bronze altar from the Altar of Incense, and another curtain separated the Altar of Incense from the Ark of the Covenant. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, blood from a sacrifice on the bronze altar would be used to anoint the horns of the Altar of Incense, and a censer from the Altar of Incense would be brought by the high priest into the Holy of Holies to fill the room with smoke.
The smoke from the incense rose up with the prayers of Israel so that God would see, smell, and hear the prayers of His people. The Altar of Incense looked almost like a pastoral lectern with a flat top. It would have had a square base about a foot and a half on each side. The height of the altar was about three feet tall with the flat top extending beyond the base as a molding. It was made of acacia wood and covered with pure gold, and there were gold rings fixed to the base and the molding where gold-covered acacia poles could be put through to carry it when they traveled.
At the corners of the top of the altar were the four horns. The altar actually belonged to the Holy of Holies, but was situated in the Holy Place in front of the curtain. Why do I say this? Because as we learned yesterday, the altar was most holy. The special incense was prepared and burned daily on the altar as the priests interceded in prayer for the people. As king David once wrote, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psalm 141:2)
Now that the Messiah has come, His sacrifice on our behalf has opened the curtain to the most holy place. Rather than approaching God once a year through the high priest, we were made most holy by Christ and adopted as His brothers and sisters so we can come boldly to God as our dear heavenly father to receive mercy and have Him listen to our petitions. We are not a child of God merely by being born into this world as a human. We are not a child of God by our own good works or merits. We are only a child of God when we belong to Christ Jesus. When we were baptized, we received the Holy Spirit, and now instead of burning incense on the most holy altar, the Holy Spirit makes our prayers presentable to God.
Dear heavenly father, what a tremendous blessing it is to be able to be Your children. Thank You for making Yourself known to us through Your Son and for listening to our petitions and providing our needs. Amen.