What is the altar of incense?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The Altar of Incense

The altar of incense is one of the pieces of furniture inside the Holy Place of God’s Sanctuary (Exodus 30). It was in many ways similar to the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 27:1–8), though of smaller size and costlier material. In “length” and “breadth” it was 1 ft. 51/2 in., “foursquare,” and 2 ft. 11 in. in “height.” There were but two rings, not four as on the other articles of furniture, but one on either side just below the “crown.” These were for carrying the altar. The poles that were used to carry the altar (Exodus 25:13, 28) where from Acacia Wood. The altar was overplayed with pure gold.

The altar of incense was placed in the holy place, next to the “vail,” or curtain, which separated it from the holy of holies (Exodus 40:21–27). Although in the holy place, the altar of incense was regarded as belonging to the most holy (Hebrews 9:3, 4). This idea came from the fact that as the priests in their ministry approached the sacred presence above the mercy seat, the altar of incense was the place to which they came.

Except on the Day of Atonement, priests could not come nearer. It was the place where they approached God, who resided in the holy of holies. Incense offered there not only filled the holy place, but rose and passed over the “vail” into the most holy (Exodus 26:32). The fact that the altar was “before the mercy seat” shows that prayer brings believers into the presence of God.

Incense was to be offered twice daily, at the hours of morning and evening prayer (Exodus 30:7, 8). The altar of incense represented continual intercession in the same way that the altar of burnt offering represented continual atonement. Its “continual” burning teaches us that daily we are to come before the Lord in prayer (Psalms 16:8; 55:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

On the great Day of Atonement, the 10th day of the 7th month, the high priest was to take the blood and put it on the horns of the altar of incense “and make an atonement for it” (Leviticus16:18, 19). This did not make of it an altar of atonement. It was involved in atonement, however, in cases where the high priest sinned (Leviticus 4:3–12), or when the whole congregation committed iniquity “through ignorance” or did “somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord” (Leviticus 4:13–21).

Of all articles of furniture in the tabernacle the altar of incense seems to have been next in importance to the ark and the mercy seat in sacredness. This suggests the great value God places upon prayer.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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