The Altar of Incense
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 30:

Exodus 30

1And 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 vail 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.

Now, verse 34:

Exodus 30

34And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
35And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
36And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
37And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.
38Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

Turn with me to chapter 37 of the book of Exodus, the paragraph which begins with verse 25:

Exodus 37

25And he [that pronoun refers to Bezaleel, the architect of the tabernacle] made the incense altar of shittim wood: the length of it was a cubit, and the breadth of it a cubit; it was foursquare; and two cubits was the height of it; the horns thereof were of the same.
26And he overlaid it with pure gold, both the top of it, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns of it: also he made unto it a crown of gold round about.
27And he made two rings of gold for it under the crown thereof, by the two corners of it, upon the two sides thereof, to be places for the staves to bear it withal.
28And he made the staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with gold.

These two passages of Scripture give an account first of the plan that was given by God to Moses, and then of the compliance with that plan in the actual construction of the tabernacle by Bezaleel, the architect anointed for that purpose.

In our study of the tabernacle furniture, because we have been studying the tabernacle by observing the furniture, we have come to a piece of furniture known as the altar of incense. We have discussed the Ark of the Covenant and the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, which is the Mercy Seat–that is, two pieces of furniture–and we have come in our study to the third piece. It is the last piece that is mentioned. There were five pieces of furniture within the tabernacle itself. In the Most Holy Place were the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. In front of the veil was the altar of incense. We are studying the pieces of furniture in their order from the Ark of the Covenant to the altar of incense, to the candlestick, to the shewbread, to the laver, to the altar of burnt offerings; so it has been necessary for us to skip about in the book of Exodus for the scriptural description of the furniture.

Significance of the Altar of Incense

We know the purpose of the Mercy Seat. We know the purpose of the Ark of the Covenant. We want to discover the general significance of the altar of incense in the same way we discovered the general significance of the Ark of the Covenant and that of the Mercy Seat. We do that by finding out what the Scriptures have to say in various places about those pieces of furniture. If we had only the passages which we have read, we would know that there was an altar of incense. We would know that an especially prepared incense was offered on it. We would know that incense was burned continuously, with new incense offered every morning and night. We would know that that altar of incense itself was anointed with blood on the day of atonement. That is about all you would know. We would not know its significance; we would not know what it actually stood for.

Turn, please, to the book of Revelation, chapter 8. When we began our study of the tabernacle, we were told that it was a copy of the original tabernacle in Heaven so it seems to me that if we are able to find the purpose of the altar of incense in the original tabernacle in Heaven, we will be able to recognize the general significance of the altar of incense in the earthly tabernacle:

Revelation 8

1And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
2And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
3And another angel came and stood at the altar…

Related to Prayer

The altar mentioned here is the altar of incense. If we had time to study the entire book of Revelation, there would be no doubt about that. Just accept by faith until you find it for sure yourself.

Revelation 8

3…having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
4And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

This tells very specifically that the altar of incense is related to the prayers of the saints of God. Let us say, before we begin to talk about it in detail, that the altar of incense symbolizes intercessory prayer on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was typified by Aaron the high priest and on the part of all believers.

Turn, please, to chapter 5 of the book of Revelation, verse 7:

Revelation 5

7And he [the Lord Jesus Christ] came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne [that is, God the Father] .
8And when he had taken the book [the book of God's plans and purpose for the earth which would ultimately culminate in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth as the Prince of Peace] , the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, [notice] having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

The word “odours” could just as well be translated “incense”–incense of the prayers of the saints. If we were to read this chapter through, we would find that these prayers were intercessory prayers, prayers of the saints of God prayed down through the ages for the coming kingdom. Among those prayers is perhaps the prayer that you may thoughtlessly pray at night as you say, “Our Father which art in Heaven, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Do you mean what you are saying when you pray that prayer? You are praying for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth and for the establishment of His millennial kingdom.

Will you go back to the book of Exodus, chapter 30, as we recognize that the altar of incense is the place of prayer. The incense represents the prayers of both the Intercessor–the Lord Jesus Christ–and the saint intecessors–the individual believers. This is further amplified if you will glance at verse 7:

Exodus 30

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.

Aaron began this practice of burning incense both morning and evening. Aaron's successor continued that practice on down through the centuries until the day of Christ, and even after the crucifixion of Christ until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. So faithful were the priests in the observance of this custom that this hour became a critical hour every day in the lives of all of the Jews who were endeavoring to live according to the Word of God. Because incense was offered at that particular time, the word “incense” became associated in the minds of people with that hour.

The Place of Intercession

I would like for you to see how the word “incense” and the word “prayer” are used interchangeably. Turn, please, to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. This chapter records for us the birth, or the preparation for the birth of John the Baptist:

Luke 1

5There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth [you recognize there John's descendancy from Aaron].
6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

You would think that it would read “at the time of prayer”, because that was exactly it. But no, the burning of incense was so important that incense and prayer began to be used interchangeably after so many years; so they were praying without “at the time of incense”.

Turn, please, to chapter 3 of the Acts of the Apostles for further verification of this fact:

Acts 3

1Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
2And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

The rest of the story you know. This lame man called upon Peter and John and they healed him in the power of Christ. We are interested primarily in the first verse of this chapter, when Peter and John went up to the temple. It was the hour of prayer. The Jewish day started at sundown of the day before. If you count the hours, you will find that the ninth hour was the morning hour when Aaron was offering incense before the Lord. So you see “the hour of prayer” and “the hour of incense” are used interchangeably in the Word of God. For that reason we are sure that the altar of incense symbolizes the place of intercession in the believer's life and in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Turn, please, to Psalm 141 to see that my suggestion is not a figment of my imagination. It is rooted in the Word of God. In Psalm 141 David cries:

Psalms 141

1Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
2Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

You see, there should be no doubt in any of our minds as to the general significance of the altar of incense.

Construction Materials

Now let us go back to chapter 30 of the book of Exodus and notice how this general fact is verified in specific details related to the altar of incense. The first thing I would call to your attention is the actual construction of the altar of incense in its materials and size:

Exodus 30

1And 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.

These verses remind us of the materials of which the altar of incense was constructed, shittim wood and gold. The gold overlaid the wood, as was true of the Ark of the Covenant. Since we spent quite a bit of time discussing the meaning of shittim wood and gold in the pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, we will pass over that and say merely that it was typical of the humanity and the deity of Christ as they were combined in the intercessory work of the Savior.

Size of the Altar

After the material of the altar of incense is brought to our attention, the size of the altar is brought to our attention. In our study of the tabernacle we have found that there are two measurements for the cubit. One is eighteen inches and one is twenty-one inches; why there are two no one seems to know. It does not make a great deal of difference. If you follow the eighteen inch measure, this altar of incense was eighteen inches square and thirty-six inches high. If you follow the twenty-one inch measure, it was twenty-one inches square and forty-two inches high.

I do not think the actual size of it is of any particular significance unless you consider it in relation to the other pieces of furniture in the tabernacle. If you consider it in that fashion, you will find that the altar of incense was the smallest piece of furniture in the tabernacle. The Ark of the Covenant was one and one-half cubits high. The table of shewbread was the same, one and one-half cubits high. The dimensions for the candlestick are not given for reasons which we will see when we come to that piece of furniture. So the altar of incense was the smallest piece of furniture in the tabernacle and the last to be made, which I think would emphasize that prayer, significant though it is, is something that can be done in a small way, something that can be done in a corner, something that can be done without a great deal of fanfare, something that can be done with faith as little as a grain of mustard seed.

You will remember that when the disciples were concerned about their ability to accomplish things, the Lord Jesus Christ said to them, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains” (Matthew 17:20).

Universal Power of Prayer

I do not think that we should pass over that fact that the altar of incense was foursquare. I think that would indicate, as do four corners in many places in the Word of God, the universality of the power of prayer. In chapter 7 of the book of Revelation, verse 9, we are told that when all things are finished–that is, when the last revival has been held and the last person has come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and folk are standing in the presence of God–there will be people in Heaven from every tribe and nation and kindred and tongue. Prayer is a universal custom and a universal need.

One thing that impresses me about the measurements of this altar other than what I have been suggesting is the emphasis that is placed upon the number two. We read that two cubits shall be the height of it; the horns shall be the same, which means there will be two horns, and in verse 4 we read:

Exodus 30

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;…

Significance of the Number Two

The number two is repeatedly emphasized. We have learned in our study that such a thing is not an accident; there is significance in it. I think, since the altar of incense is typical of the ministry of intercessory prayer, the reason is found in Matthew, chapter 18, verse 15:

Matthew 18

15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

How many people are there? You and he–that is two.

Matthew 18

16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

Two is sufficient. If you and he can get together, that's two. If you and he cannot get together, then take someone else with you; and perhaps if you can take a third one, that will make four of you. That is two times two. Notice in verse 17:

Matthew 18

17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
18Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19[Notice] Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

What is the important number in relation to prayer? It is two. Scripture bears out Scripture. God is very jealous of His types. That is why when Moses struck the rock instead of just speaking to it, God would not let him go into the promised land; when Moses did that, he upset the picture God had planned. God watches over all His types. The number two in the dimensions of the altar of incense, I verily believe, is emphasized because two is important in relation to prayer.

Matthew 18

20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

How many does it take to have a meeting? How many does it take to guarantee the presence of the Lord? Just two; that is all–if two of you shall agree, if two of you shall gather together in the name of the Lord.

Power In Prayer

Let us go back to Exodus, chapter 30, and notice some other descriptions of this altar of incense:

Exodus 30

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.

The first things that are called to our attention other than the material are the horns of the altar. We have already learned in our study that horns are symbols of power. How many horns were there on the altar? There were two. The power of prayer will be found in two things–in the Word of God and in your faith in the Word of God. If you know the Word of God, you are able to remind God of His promises. If you have faith, though it be as small as a grain of mustard seed, you are able to believe the Word of God. As you believe the Word of God, you are able to leave the place of prayer with assurance that the prayer you have prayed is answered. That lifts prayer out of the realm of mere repetition of words. It lifts prayer into the realm of power; there is power in prayer.

Many churches refer to their Wednesday night meeting as their “hour of power” because prayer is recognized as a powerful thing. The horns upon the altar are a reminder of the power of prayer.

Prayer Directed By the Holy Spirit

Then notice in this verse that around the altar of incense there was a crown of gold. The crown of gold was around the Ark of the Covenant. We suggested that it represented the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Mercy Seat. The Lord Jesus Christ, exalted at the right hand of God, is engaged in intercessory prayer in our behalf. So it is fitting that there should be a crown of gold around the altar of incense. But if you read carefully the description of the altar of incense, you will recognize also that the crown of gold was there to keep the fire from being wasted as it burned upon the altar of incense.

Fire is a type of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the crown of gold around the altar of incense is to remind us that we must not blaspheme the Holy Spirit, that we must not make a mockery of prayer which should be directed by the Holy Spirit by praying in the flesh.

Do you really mean every thing you say when you pray? Do you? Sometimes when you pray for an unsaved loved one you say, “Lord, do anything to save him, anything.” Do you really mean that? Suppose God should decide to call the loved one's attention to his need of salvation by bringing him to the brink of death, saving his soul, and then taking him on home to Heaven. Did you really mean it? Many, many times we pray that way, but when we face reality, we don't really mean it. When that happens, we are breaking down the crown of gold that is around the altar of incense. The fire, the power of the Holy Spirit is being wasted. I believe that one of the greatest resources available to Christian people and one that is perhaps wasted more than any other is the resource of prayer.

A Moveable Altar

Now notice, please, Exodus, chapter 30, verse 4:

Exodus 30

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.

When we see the staves mentioned again, we are reminded of the staves through the rings of the Ark of the Covenant and the purpose of those staves. Remember that those staves were never taken out of the rings until the Ark was settled permanently in the temple because everywhere the people went, the Ark had to go. We are reminded of the same thing in connection with the altar of incense; the Israelites were a journeying people, and everywhere they went the privilege of prayer accompanied them. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, and we ought to remember that no matter where we are, the throne of grace is available to us.

Often people get the idea that they have to wait to go to church to pray, or they have to wait until they get in their closet to pray. But the altar of incense can be moved to any location and set up on a moment's notice, and there you can offer the incense of intercessory prayer to the Lord. Prayer is available to all believers everywhere.

Position of the Altar

Let us notice briefly the position of the altar of incense because I believe its very position is significant. We are told that it was right before the Mercy Seat. As we read further, we will learn that there was a veil that separated the altar of incense from the Mercy Seat; but when the veil was lifted, you could see that the altar of incense was right before the Mercy Seat, the place where God meets man. If you will examine these pieces of furniture even more closely, you will find that they formed a cross. Follow the suggestion: Begin at the altar of burnt offerings. Go in a straight line to the laver. Go in a straight line still farther to the altar of incense. Go in a straight line still farther to the Mercy Seat and notice on one side the golden lampstand and on the other the table of shewbread. If you were to draw a line from one piece of furniture to the other, you would find that you had drawn the form of a cross; at the very heart of it would be the altar of incense. This reminds us that the altar of incense is symbolic of the fact that the most vital battle that the Lord Jesus Christ fought in regard to His dying was in Gethsemane. It was not the nails and the spear that He fought. It was not His enemies that He fought. He fought His battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place of prayer. I think that is why the altar of incense is found in the location in which it is.

Continual Prayer

Let us notice the use of the altar of incense because I believe we will find there a very good lesson:

Exodus 30

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.

Three things are told us about the burning of incense. It was burned in the morning; it was burned in the evening; it was burned continually. If we are to think of our prayer life as we stand at the altar of incense, we might be reminded of the need of praying before we begin the day. Prayer, then, will be primarily for direction and wisdom for the day that is about to start. We will pray at night. That will be a prayer of thanksgiving and of praise that the Lord has seen us through the day. There will be elements of praise and petition any time you pray, but I am thinking specifically. Do you have an altar of incense? Could it be typified in the manner we are talking about? Do you pray in the morning? Do you pray at night? Do you have this time of fellowship with the Lord? You have the answer to that.

Notice the third thing that is said about the offering of the incense. It was offered continuously before the Lord. It never ceased. The incense went up always. There was never a moment that incense was not ascending before the throne of grace. You can see in this fact, I think, why the Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). “In everything give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5:18). “By prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).

Perpetual Intercession of the Savior

We said that the altar of incense represents not only believer's prayers, but it represents the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ. If it should seem strange to you that both are represented in the altar of incense, though we showed you from the Scripture that it is true, you might remember that Christ and His own are one. Will you turn, please, to chapter 7 of the book of Hebrews. The truth that is found in this chapter of the book of Hebrews is a tremendous truth and one that has meant much to me in my life:

Hebrews 7

19For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
20And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
21(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
22By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament [of a better covenant, or a better agreement].
23And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death [that is, the Aaronic priesthood consisted of a great number of priests; when one died, another succeeded him]:
24But this man [Jesus] , because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
25Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
26[Notice] For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;

The incense offered continuously upon the altar of incense is an illustration of the perpetual intercession of the Savior at the right hand of God on your behalf and mine. I appreciate it when people say, “I am praying for you.” I really appreciate it. I appreciate it when my loved ones pray for me. But I recognize that man is subject to failure, and one of his failures is his inability to pursue. Even though you tell me you are praying for me, there will be a time when you forget. My loved ones may say that they will hold me up in prayer, but there will come a time when they cannot. Here is a promise from the Word of God that we are never without someone to pray for us. The Lord Jesus Christ is making intercession for us. He prays for us about things, the need of which we are not at the moment conscious.

Since my surgery I try to get in bed by 10:00. I am asleep by 10:15, but often I am awake by 12:00, and I don't go to sleep any more. I spend a great deal of that time in prayer, praying for individuals, praying for you as the Lord brings your names to my mind. I don't always know what to pray for. Sometimes I just say, “Lord, there will be a need if there is not one now. Will You meet that need?” If you tell me, I know what to pray for. The wonderful thing about our Lord Jesus Christ is that He knows what to pray for for us even before we are conscious of it.

One of the perfect illustrations of that is found in the life of Peter. Peter was on the upgrade. He had just been congratulated by the Savior for a tremendous testimony. He had a spiritual perception that the other disciples did not have. He had won a spiritual victory. May I remind you that sometimes that is the most dangerous time of one's life? When everything is going well, when you seem to have won a spiritual victory, that is a dangerous time. The Lord Jesus Christ knew it was for Peter, so He said to him in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, “Peter, Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I will pray for you.” No, that is not what He said. He said, “Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you. I saw this thing coming, and I have already prayed for you, that your faith fail not.” Thus the continuous offering of the incense on the altar of incense reminds us of our never failing Christ.

Testimony Related to Prayer Life

Turn back, please, to chapter 30 of the book of Exodus and notice something else that comes to our attention. Aaron never offered incense upon the altar without doing this:

Exodus 30

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.

We will have to anticipate ourselves a bit. We will find this as factual information when we come to the study of the lampstand or the seven-branched candlestick there in the tabernacle. We will have to tell you and verify it later that the lampstand is a symbol of our testimony, a symbol of the witness that we give for Christ. Did you notice that incense was never offered upon the altar without the lamp's burning brightly because the lamps were trimmed? When they were trimmed, they burned more brightly. Your testimony, your witness for the Lord, will be no brighter than your prayer life is deep. Remember that.

Exodus 30

9Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.

We can group together the burnt offering, the meat offering (the word really is “meal”; it does not refer to flesh), and the drink offering because they are all related to the same thing. We will realize that when we come to the study of the book of Leviticus. But you will notice in the first part of the verse, “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon…” So there are two prohibitions in regard to this altar. One of them is that no strange incense shall be burned. What does that mean? It means incense that is not made according to the divine formula. The other is that none of the three offerings mentioned here will be offered at the altar of incense. What does that mean? No offerings that belong to the brazen altar out in the courtyard should be offered at the altar of incense within the tabernacle.

Acceptable Prayer

When you have time, read chapter 16 of the book of Numbers and notice what is recorded there concerning the strange fire that was offered by the sons of Korah and the thing that happened to them. They died. Their incense was not acceptable since it was not based upon a blood sacrifice.

Read in II Chronicles, chapter 26, how King Uzziah offered strange incense upon the altar and was struck down with leprosy. Why? Because he dared to offer incense without a mediator.

Those two lessons become very practical when we realize, even though it sounds bigoted and narrow, that no prayer can ever be acceptable at the throne of grace without the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The man who does not believe in the efficacy of the blood of Christ cannot be heard in Heaven. He cannot be. If that is narrow, it is just as narrow as the Word of God. Any individual who does not pray his prayer in the name of Jesus cannot be heard at the throne of grace. I am not suggesting merely that you ought to tack on the phrase, “in Jesus' name”. That is mere form. But if you do not come in the name of the Mediator, you cannot be heard at the throne of grace. Your incense is not acceptable.

The second prohibition related to the offerings was that the burnt offerings should never be offered at the altar of incense. When we look for a personal application of that to our own lives, we are reminded that when we do come to the throne of grace, when we come to offer our own lives, we are reminded that we must not plead for acceptance. That dishonors the Lord. If you have not been accepted by the time you get to the altar in the courtyard, you will not be accepted at the altar inside. If you have reached the altar of incense, it is dishonoring to the Lord and it shows a lack of faith for you to beg God to hear you.

How many times when people pray, they spend most of the time begging the Lord to hear them. That is not necessary. When you come to the altar of incense, you pray in faith, having confidence that the Lord hears you. That is the only way to pray effectively.

Significance of the Incense

Look at the last part of chapter 30 and notice a word or two about the incense which was offered before the Lord. Quantitatively the incense, in verse 34, was made up of the same weight of four different spices. We are not told how much that weight was. We are told that these spices must be pure, and we are told in verse 36 that it must be beaten very small when it was mixed together. The incense that was made of these spices suggested the ingredients that are necessary for effective intercessory prayer–one not any more important than the other, equal weights of these spices.

The fact that these spices were beaten very small would indicate what we have declared any number of times, that prayer is warfare. It is not easy; it is a struggle. The Lord Jesus Christ sweated great drops of blood because of His ministry of prayer in the wilderness so that the angels had to come and minister to Him. They had to come and strengthen Him. Prayer is a warfare. I am not talking about the prayers that you read. I am talking about the warfare of prayer.

Notice the spices that are mentioned in verse 34. First of all, stacte was of the myrrh family, Myrrh in the Scriptures is always related to death. Onycha was of a black gum aromatic spice. The third, galbanum, was a gum that was used medicinally as an antispasmodic. We would say “tranquilizer” today. Frankincense was an incense known for its sweet and lovely odor.

Go back over these spices and notice what happens in the life of the individual who prays. If prayer is successful, there must be the death of self. That is why stacte was specified. If prayer is to be effective, it must have a solid foundation. That was the reason for the inclusion of onycha. If these attitudes exist, prayer brings peace. That was the reason for galbanum. Frankincense provided a sweet odor in the nostrils of God; God loves to hear our voices in prayer. We may not think He does, but He does.

Conclusion

The last thing I want to say to you is found in Psalm 84, verse 1:

Psalms 84

1How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
2My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
3Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

May I say that the sparrow and the swallow show more spiritual discernment than many of us do for they have found a place of refuge at the altar of incense. Would to God we would follow their example, and we can if we will accept the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That is the altar of burnt offerings. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). That is the altar of incense.


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