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What was the Altar of Incense?
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What was the Altar of Incense?

In a nutshell, the article discusses the Altar of Incense, a significant element in Israelite worship, detailing its construction, purpose, and symbolic meaning.

It explains how the altar, made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, was used for burning incense, representing prayers and intercession, and its role in the Day of Atonement.

The article highlights the altar’s deeper spiritual significance for modern Christians, symbolizing continual prayer, Jesus’ intercession, and spiritual atonement.

Introduction

The altar of incense, also known as the golden altar, holds a significant place in the history of the Israelites as a crucial aspect of the worship practices ordained by God.

Its purpose, design, and symbolism contribute to a rich tapestry of meaning that, when explored, provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between God and His people.

In this blog post, we will delve into the nature of the altar of incense, its construction and use within the context of the Israelite’s worship, and its symbolic significance for the modern Evangelical Christian.

As we explore the intricacies of the altar of incense, we will discover that it not only served a functional purpose within the worship practices of the Israelites, but also represented important spiritual truths that continue to hold meaning for believers today.

By examining the scriptural references to the altar of incense in the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, we will uncover a deeper appreciation for this often-overlooked piece of biblical history.

What was the altar of incense?

The Construction of the Altar of Incense

The design and dimensions of the altar of incense are detailed in Exodus 30:1-5 (NKJV):

“You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.”

According to these instructions, the altar was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. It measured approximately 1.5 feet square and 3 feet high, with four horns projecting from its corners. Gold rings and poles were included for carrying the altar during the Israelites’ desert wanderings.

The Placement of the Altar of Incense

The altar of incense was placed within the Holy Place, just outside the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Exodus 30:6 (NKJV) states:

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“And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.”

This strategic placement was significant, as the altar stood in close proximity to the presence of God, symbolized by the Ark and the mercy seat.

The Function of the Altar of Incense

The primary purpose of the altar of incense was to burn a special mixture of incense, as prescribed by God. Exodus 30:7-8 (NKJV) provides instructions for this:

“Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.”

The incense was to be burned continuously, creating a perpetual fragrance in the Holy Place. The specific recipe for the incense is described in Exodus 30:34-38 (NKJV). This mixture was to be considered holy, and no imitation of it was to be made for personal use.

Additionally, the altar of incense was occasionally used for atonement. Leviticus 16:18-19 (NKJV) describes the role of the altar in the Day of Atonement ritual:

“And he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.”

On this day, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial animals on the horns of the altar, signifying the cleansing of the altar and the people.

Symbolism of the Altar of Incense

The altar of incense, like many elements of the Israelite’s worship practices, holds symbolic significance that can be applied to modern Christian faith. Some of the key spiritual truths represented by the altar of incense include:

Prayer

The burning of incense on the altar is often associated with the prayers of God’s people. In Psalm 141:2 (NKJV), the psalmist writes:

“Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”

The continual burning of incense on the altar serves as a reminder that believers should be in constant communication with God through prayer.

Intercession

The role of the high priest in maintaining the altar of incense and offering the incense to God symbolizes the intercessory work of Jesus Christ on behalf of believers. Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV) states:

“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

As the high priest maintained the altar and offered incense, Jesus continually intercedes for believers, presenting their prayers and needs before the Father.

Atonement

The use of the altar of incense in the Day of Atonement ritual points to the ultimate atonement provided by Jesus Christ through His sacrificial death on the cross. Hebrews 9:11-12 (NKJV) explains:

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”

Just as the blood of the sacrificial animals was sprinkled on the altar of incense to cleanse and consecrate it, Jesus’ blood provides eternal redemption and cleansing for believers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the altar of incense holds a vital place in the worship practices of the Israelites and continues to have profound symbolic significance for modern Christians. Its construction, placement, and use within the tabernacle all contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between God and His people.

Moreover, the altar of incense serves as a reminder of the importance of prayer, the intercessory work of Jesus Christ, and the atonement provided through His sacrifice.

By exploring the scriptural references to the altar of incense in the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible, we not only gain a deeper appreciation for this often-overlooked piece of biblical history but also glean valuable spiritual lessons that can be applied to our own faith journey.

As believers in Jesus Christ, let us remember the spiritual truths symbolized by the altar of incense and be encouraged to approach God’s presence with boldness, knowing that our prayers are like a pleasing aroma before the Lord, and that we have a High Priest who continually intercedes on our behalf.

Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.