Bible Studies - Sanctuary

15. Altar Of Incense

The altar to burn incense upon was made of shittim wood. It was a cubit square and two cubits high, with a horn in each corner. The wood including the horns were overlaid with gold and a golden crown was made around the top. Beneath the crown on both sides were rings into which wooden staves overlaid with gold were placed. (Ex. 30:1-5.) The wood represents Christ's humanity and the gold His perfect life. The crown of gold represents the royalty of Christ being of the tribe of David.

This altar was called the altar of incense or the golden altar. (Ex. 30:27; Num. 4:11.) It was placed in the first apartment of the Sanctuary up against the curtain that lead into the second apartment, so that when the priest officiated at the altar he was facing the Ark of the Covenant. (Ex. 30:6; 40:26.) None but the High Priest was to perform the sacred duty of burning incense on this altar and he was to do so every morning when he dressed the lamps, and every evening when he lit the lamps (Ex. 30:7, 8).

The incense that was to be burned on this altar was made under special instruction from God. It was to be composed of four fragrant gums and resins each of equal weight. It was very sacred and nobody was ever to make anything like it or they were to be cut off from among God's people. (Ex. 30:34-38.) The burning of the incense represented the prayers ascending up to heaven to God:-

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

"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. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." Revelation 8:3, 4.

"The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people, and which can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God." Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G. White, p. 353 par. 2.

"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." Psalms 55:17. This habit of morning and evening prayer by many Christians came in part from this service in the sanctuary. Faithful Israelites like Daniel who were far from the temple would pray facing the direction of the temple (Dan. 6:10). "In this custom Christians have an example for morning and evening prayer. While God condemns a mere round of ceremonies, without the spirit of worship, He looks with great pleasure upon those who love Him, bowing morning and evening to seek pardon for sins committed and to present their requests for needed blessings." Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G. White, p. 353 par. 3.

As there was no other part of the daily ministration that brought the priest so directly into the presence of God as the offering of incense; so there is no part of our religious service that brings us so close to the Master as the pouring out of our souls in earnest prayer.

"To families who observe the hour for daily worship, God has given one of His most precious promises: There 'I will meet with thee.' Ex. 30:6. This custom in our homes will 'diffuse its fragrance' not only in the home itself, but 'far around' our tabernacle. It will bring strength, and power, and honor, and victory not only in our own experiences, but in our efforts for others. This is the reward of all who faithfully and sincerely offer the incense of prayer upon the family altar morning and evening." The Path to the Throne of God by Sarah Peck, p. 129.

"Upon this altar the priest was to burn incense every morning and evening; its horns were touched with the blood of the sin offering, and it was sprinkled with blood upon the great Day of Atonement. The fire upon this altar was kindled by God Himself and was sacredly cherished. Day and night the holy incense diffused its fragrance throughout the sacred apartments, and without, far around the tabernacle." Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G. White, p. 348 par. 1.

The brazen altar is represents the sacrifice of Christ in His work on earth for us. That it was a continual atonement represents the putting away and destruction of sin which separates us from God. While the golden altar we see Christ in His work in heaven where "... he ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25.) This continual intercession represents the prayers of God's people coming up before Him continually.

"John, the beloved disciple, was permitted several times in vision to behold the Saviour officiating in the heavenly sanctuary. He saw a heavenly being standing at the glorious golden altar. He beheld the incense offered upon that holy altar. How it must have thrilled his soul when he saw that precious incense added to the poor, faltering prayers of the struggling saints here on the earth: He saw those prayers, after the incense was added, ascend up before God, and they were accepted because they were made fragrant with the incense. [Rev. 8:3, 4] 'We know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the Will of God.' [Romans 8:26, 27.]" The Cross and It's Shadow by S. N. Haskell, page 25.

"Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him. "When Jesus was upon the earth, He taught His disciples how to pray. He directed them to present their daily needs before God, and to cast all their care upon Him. And the assurance He gave them that their petitions should be heard, is assurance also to us." Steps to Christ by E. G. White, p. 93 par. 2 & 3.

God so desires and longs for us to pray to Him that sometimes He answers us before we ask Him anything, and that He listens to us (Isa. 65:24). We are assured that if we ask for anything in accordance with His will, He will hear our prayer (1 John 5:14). While He walked on this earth Jesus gave His disciples a couple of examples of what a prayer should be like and one of them is found in Matthew 6:9-13. Here He told them that they were to address their prayers to "Our Father in heaven". We are to call His Father Our Father, because He was no ashamed to call us brethren (Heb. 2:11).

Not only were they to address their prayers to "Our Father," they were to ask for all in the name of Jesus Christ. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, he will give it you." John 16:23 (also see John 14:13, 14; 15:16). This in no way means that we should add the name of Jesus in some meaningless way. It is not to be a mere form of worship, but an earnest heart felt plea that God through the name and merits of Jesus Christ will answer our prayer.

"He [Christ] explained that the secret of their success would be in asking for strength and grace in His name. He would be present before the Father to make request for them. The prayer of the humble suppliant He presents as His own desire in that soul’s behalf. Every sincere prayer is heard in heaven. It may not be fluently expressed; but if the heart is in it, it will ascend to the sanctuary where Jesus ministers, and He will present it to the Father without one awkward, stammering word, beautiful and fragrant with the incense of His own perfection." The Desire of Ages by E. G. White, p. 667 par. 3.

Not every prayer will be answered in just the way we want or would like. Sometime it is the wrong time so God says, "Slow." Other times when it would not be beneficial for our or someone else's salvation He says, "No." But when it is the right time and the circumstances are according to God's will He says, "Yes."

"In the future life the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings. We are to look upon every duty, however humble, as sacred because it is a part of God’s service. Our daily prayer should be, 'Lord, help me to do my best. Teach me how to do better work. Give me energy and cheerfulness. Help me to bring into my service the loving ministry of the Saviour.'" The Ministry of Healing by E. G. White, p. 474.

© S. D. Goeldner

© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated August, 2020.

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