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Altar of Incense

‘How Do You Smell?’

Exodus 30:1-10



It has been a wonderful study of the Tabernacle so far, and the best is yet to come as we enter the Holy of Holies next time.  But as of now, we have looked at the first 5 articles of furniture...the 2 outside and now the 3 in the Holy Place.  Hold on to your hat – check out this powerful parallel...


We see Jesus in every furnishing, and even in their order, when you compare them to the Gospel of John:


1.     Brazen Altar – John 1, Jesus, the Lamb of God

2.     Brazen Laver – John 4, Jesus, the water of life

3.     Table of Shewbread – John 6, Jesus, the bread of life

4.     Golden Lampstand – John 9, Jesus, the light of the world

5.     Altar of Incense – John 17, the Great High Priestly prayer of Jesus!


As soon as we enter the Holy Place our sense of smell takes over...first it is the fresh bread, then the olive oil, but the prevailing aroma is that of sweet incense from this altar.  All 3 of these indoor furnishings speak of worship.


The Altar of Incense is only 18” square and 3’ tall.  Not large and imposing like the outdoor altar of brass we looked at.


Basically we have 2 altars, one outdoor and one indoor.

  • One is brass, the other is gold
  • The outdoor one has no crown, the indoor one does
  • Outside we see Christ in humiliation, inside in exaltation
  • Outside we see what Jesus did on earth, inside we see what He’s doing right now in heaven, living and making intercession for us


Every time the High Priest would light the golden lampstand he would also burn incense.  He would take a golden censer [shallow bowl] and gather burning coals from the brazen altar outside.  That was put inside the altar of incense, and then sprinkle the incense upon it.  The smoke and smell would rise up, symbolic of our prayers going up to heaven.


Joke—the late, great Curtis Hutson used to tell a story about an old black preacher out in the country.  He wanted to preach on this text, and illustrate it by burning incense in the service.  He instructed the deacons, “We don’t have golden bowls, but get some coffee cans and put burning coals in them and bring ‘em down the aisle when I call for you.”  He got into the message, so eloquent, and began to say, [sung] “Hmmm...Bring on the incense pots.”  Nobody came.  He sang it again, and again.  “Brother deacons...bring on the incense pots!”  Finally they came down the aisle looking distressed.  The pastor said, “Hmmm...what happened to the incense pots?”  One answered, “ pastor, we threw ‘em out the window when the bottoms got hot!”


Incense in the Bible is a picture of prayer.

Psalms 141:2
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Revelation 5:8
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

God is saving our prayers in heaven.  They are manifested there as incense in golden bowls!  No prayer goes unnoticed!  Even better...

Revelation 8:3
And another angel came and stood at the altar, 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.

Whose prayers have been added to ours?  The intercessory prayers of Jesus!  He ever liveth to make intercession for us!


Your back may be against the wall, your finances may be shattered, maybe you don’t know where to turn about some problem ... well, be encouraged, because Jesus is praying for you!


A.    The Altar.

Once again we see the fusing together of Jesus’ humanity and His deity...the incorruptible acacia wood overlaid w/ gold.  It’s His 2 fold nature. 


Then we see the horns of the altar smeared w/ blood on the day of atonement.  This reminds us that the reason we can even pray at all is only because of the blood of Jesus.


This furnishing also has a golden crown.

Psalms 21:3
... thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.

One day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess before the One with the crown on His head!


Until that day He is our advocate [a legal term].  He is representing us in heaven, pleading our case.

Ill.—when Satan approaches God to make accusation against me, saying, did you see that Jerry Shirley and what he did this week?  My advocate stands up and says, OBJECTION! Those sins have already been paid for by my blood.  And then God Almighty says, SUSTAINED!


The altar speaks of the person of Jesus.


B.    The Incense.

v. 34        These 4 ingredients are not to be duplicated.  V. 33 said if you do you’ll be cut off.


Stacte—a resinous gum that oozed from trees on Mt. Gilead.  It was a bleeding tree that provided it.

Onycha—this came from a species of shellfish, like a crab, found in the Red Sea.  It was ground into a powder which gave off a fragrance.  That shellfish gave its life for the fragrance.

Frankincense—a bitter white substance which came from piercing a tree or shrub that grew in the cracks of marble rock.  It required very little moisture, so any moisture taken from it was at great expense.

Galbanum—a great deal of secrecy surrounds one knows for sure, it may be a rare Syrian leaf, or something else.  Many Bible scholars agree that the High Priest kept this one ingredient highly secret since duplication of this formula would be deadly.


These ingredients were ground and blended together to the delight of the Father.  Like the 4 Gospels and the story of Jesus, no matter which angle you look at Him from, like a diamond, He shines!


        1.     The Prayers of the Savior.

v. 34        ‘like weight’  = perfect balance.  Jesus is the perfect balance of justice and mercy.  But we humans have balance trouble.  As a pastor I sometimes preach so hard against sin that I seem uncaring, other times I try to be loving, and seem soft on sin.  Sometimes I try to be firm and seem inflexible, then I try to be flexible and appear wishy washy!

        But Jesus is perfectly balanced.


v. 36        ‘very small’ = down to the tiniest details.


It was a perpetual sacrifice, just like Jesus prays for us every hour of every day!


        2.     The Prayers of the Saints.

                a. The approach.

Some have imagined a contradiction here.

Exodus 30:6
And 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.

Hebrews 9:2-4
2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. 3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant ...

The golden censer is part of the altar of incense.  So...who moved it?

Leviticus 16:12-13
12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: 13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony...

Once a year the High Priest would carry that censer inside the veil.  But today we have direct access to God in prayer...but remember, our access is thru Jesus, which is why we pray ‘in Jesus’ name’!


                b.     The aroma.

How do you smell to God?  If you want it to be a sweet savour in the nostrils of God, do this:

  • Add some fire to your prayers, v. 7.  This is passion.  Jesus prayed early in the morning, or all night long.  In the garden His prayers broke the blood vessels in His brow!
  • Make it continual, v. 8.  This is persistence.  ‘Perpetual’.  ‘Pray without ceasing’.
  • Add some praise to your prayers. 

Hebrews 13:15
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.


When I visit in the home of a smoker my wife knows it when I get home.  And when I eat at Popeye’s everyone knows where I’ve been.  I guarantee you that when the priest walked out of the tabernacle nobody had to ask where he’d been.


Some Christians just smell like they’ve been w/ God!  It’s obvious as they put off that scent!


Here’s a startling verse:

John 17:9
I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

If you aren’t saved, these things we’ve talked about don’t apply to you, until you pray that first prayer of salvation.

For those who insist on remaining lost, the Bible says that one day the smoke of their torment will ascend forever and ever.

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