Of all articles of furniture in the tabernacle, the altar of incense appears to have been next in significance to the ark and the mercy seat in sacredness. This implies the great importance God places upon prayer. The altar of incense represented continual intercession in the same way that the altar of burnt offering represented continual atonement.
Though the altar of incense was in many aspects similar to the altar of burnt offering (smaller in size and more expensive material), it was different in that on its “horns” the blood of “certain sin offerings” was touched (Lev. 4:7, 18).
About these “certain sin offerings,” Moses wrote, “You shall make an altar to burn incense on…” “And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD” (Exodus 30:1, 10).
This incident points to the great Day of Atonement, the 10th day of the 7th month, when the high priest took the blood and put it on the horns of the altar of incense “and make an atonement for it” (Lev. 16:18, 19).
But this did not make the alter of incense as an altar of atonement. The altar of incense was involved in atonement, only when the high priest sinned (Lev. 4:3–12), or when the whole congregation committed sin “through ignorance” or did “somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord” (Lev. 4:13–21).
Upon these occasions the high priest touched the blood of the sacrifice to the horns of the altar. In these two occurrences the altar of incense took the place of the altar of burnt offering, on which was sprinkled the blood of private sin offerings (Lev. 4:22–35).
In His service,