The altar of incense occupied the middle space in the holy place, close to and in front of the veil leading to the Holy of Holies ( Exodus 30:1-6, 37:25-28, 40:5, Lev.16:18 ). However, it was counted as belonging to the Holy of Holies ( 1 Kings 6:22, Hebrews 9:4 ), perhaps on account of its great sanctity. There has been some debate as to the positioning of the Altar as stated in Exodus 30:6 and Hebrews 9:4. The King James Version has the Greek word 'thymiaerion' as censer, however I think we may agree with Kittels and other versions that the word means "altar of incense". In fact, the Amplified Version explains Hebrews 9:4 with the footnote ' not kept permanently in the Holy of Holies, but taken in on the day of atonement, as the Mischna explains'. For the purpose of our exercise it is enough to place the altar outside the Most Holy Place because it was in daily use (Exodus 30:7-80). Perhaps the part of the meaning of Hebrews 9:5 is that not only was there not now time to talk about these things but the detail was now not available for the writer to be precise.
The altar was a simple box of acacia wood, two cubits high (36"), one cubit wide (18") and one cubit deep (18"). Like the bronze altar it had horns at the four corners that were an extension of the sides at their junction, However unlike the bronze altar the gold altar had a top with a moulding around it. At each corner below the moulding were rings for the purpose of transportation. No special utensils were needed in its service as no offerings were burnt on the altar itself. This altar was reserved exclusively for the burning of incense each morning and evening, which were burnt in a gold bowl or censer placed on top of the altar.
Thoughts for simple sermons :-
1/ The altar was for the burning of incense which is symbolic of prayer and worship (Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 5:8 ). As demonstrated in praise, petition, intercession and thanksgiving.
2/ The incense is called " the perpetual incense " and shows we should "continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name" ( Hebrews 13:15 )
3/ The incense was made from four spices ( Exodus 30:34-36 ). Effectual prayer will have four special ingredients :- fervency, faith, holiness, and submission.
4/ The fire used to burn the incense came from the altar outside ( Lev.16:12 and Numbers 16:46 ). Therefore the blood and the fire came from the Bronze altar. The fire that consumed the sacrifice also consumed the incense and brought out the fragrance of worship. It is Christ's sacrifice at Calvary that makes our worship acceptable to God and our prayers effective.
5/ Only fire from the bronze altar was to be used to kindle the incense. The story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 :1-10 tells that the two presumed to offer unauthorised fire upon the altar of incense inside the tabernacle and both died before the LORD. There is much worship offered today, not based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ and is rejected by God. There is also a prohibition of wine mentioned in verses 8 and 9 that has led some to believe the two were drunk and this was there sin. Others have concluded that the manner of presenting the burning incense was unlawful because only one priest at a time was allowed in the Holy place. It is further suggested that the two intended to enter the Holy of Holies when God's fire killed them. However the motive for there offering was questionable as was Ananias and Sapphira's offering in the New Testament ( Acts 5 ), as the Christian church was just beginning. The bible clearly teaches that to whom much is given, much is required and we must remember that by the Grace of God we have received much.
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