And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.
The altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and stood about a yard high and eighteen inches square. Incense was burnt upon it every morning and evening, and it was used for this purpose only. The altar and incense were symbolic—
I. Of the prayers of God's people. (1) In prayer we speak to God and tell Him the thoughts of our minds, the feelings of our hearts, the desires of our spirits. The incense smoke ascended, arrow-like, in a straight and most direct column to heaven. Our prayers ascend immediately and in the directest way to the heart and ear of God. (2) In prayer we stand very near God. The altar of incense was placed "before the mercy-seat." (3) The pleasant odour of the incense is symbolic of the acceptableness of prayer.
II. Of intelligent, unceasing, and reverent prayer. (1) The burning of incense is intelligent prayer. It took place in the light, and our prayers should be presented to God intelligently. (2) Unceasing prayer. It was a perpetual incense before the Lord. (3) Reverent prayer. "Ye shall burn no strange incense thereon; it is most holy unto the Lord."
III. Of prayer offered in Christ's name. Aaron sprinkled the golden horns with the blood of atonement. This act is typical of the offering of prayer in the name of Christ.
IV. Of the power of prayer. The horns of the altar symbolise power. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
D. Rhys Jenkins, The Eternal Life, p. 387.
Reference: Exodus 30:7, Exodus 30:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1710.
Exodus 30:8This altar of incense had a very distinct meaning, and there are large lessons to be drawn from it.
I. The incense is a lovely, significant, and instructive symbol of prayer. (1) It teaches that prayer is the ascent of a man's soul to God. (2) That the prayer which ascends must be the prayer that comes from a fire. (3) The kindled incense gave forth fragrant odours. When we present our poor prayers, they rise up acceptable to God in curling wreaths of fragrance that He delights in and that He accepts.
II. Notice the position of the altar of incense in relation to the rest of the sanctuary. It stood in the holy place, midway between the outer court, where the whole assembly of worshippers were in the habit of meeting, and the holiest of all, where the high-priest alone went once a year. Whoever approached the altar of incense had to pass by the altar of sacrifice, and whoever was on his way to the holiest of all had to pass by the altar of incense. These things teach us these plain lessons: (1) That all prayer must be preceded by the perfect sacrifice, and that our prayers must be offered on the footing of the perfect sacrifice which Christ Himself has offered. (2) That there is no true fellowship and communion of spirit with God except on condition of habitual prayer, and they that are strangers to the one are strangers to the other.
III. The offering was perpetual. Morning and evening the incense was piled up and blown into a flame, and all the day and night it smouldered quietly on the altar; that is to say, special seasons and continual devotion, morning and evening kindled, heaped up, and all the day and night glowing.
IV. Once a year Aaron had to offer a sacrifice of expiation for this altar that bore the perpetual incense. Even our prayers are full of imperfections and sins, which need cleansing and forgiveness by the great High-priest.
A. Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 234
Reference: Exodus 30:11-16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1581
Exodus 30:12The word which is here rendered "ransom" is afterwards rendered "atonement." The atonement covered or removed what displeased God, and thus sanctified for His service. Our notion of atonement under the law should ordinarily be limited to the removal of the temporal consequences of moral or ceremonial defilement.
The sum of half a shekel was the tax that every man had to pay as his ransom, and as this is the single instance in the Jewish law in which an offering of money is commanded, it seems highly probable that it was not a ransom for the soul so much as a ransom for the life which the Israelite made when he paid his half-shekel. On all occasions in which the soul, the immortal principle, is undeniably concerned, the appointed offerings are strictly sacrificial.
I. The ransom for the life. Our human lives are forfeited to God; we have not accomplished the great end of our being, and therefore we deserve every moment to die. The Israelites paid their tax as a confession that life had beneforfeited, and as an acknowledgment that its continuance depended wholly on God. We cannot give the half-shekel payment, but we should have before us the practical remembrance that in God's hand is the soul of every living thing.
II. The rich and the poor were to pay just the same sum. This was a clear and unqualified declaration that in the sight of God the distinctions of rank and estate are altogether as nothing; that, whilst He gathers the whole human race under His guardianship, there is no difference in the watchfulness which extends itself to the several individuals.
III. If we understand the word "soul" in the ordinary sense, the text is a clear indication that God values at the same rate the souls of all human beings. Every soul has been redeemed at the price of the blood of God's Son; the Mediator died that the soul might live; and if rich and poor acknowledge by a tribute that from God is the life of the soul, it is right that they should acknowledge it by the same tribute. Rich and poor must offer the same atonement for the soul.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2566.
References: Exodus 30:19.—Parker, vol. ii., p. 321. Exodus 30:22-38.—B. Isaac, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 395. Exodus 31:1-6.—J. Spencer Bartlett, Sermons, p. 284. Exodus 31:1-11.—Parker, vol. ii., p. 251. Exodus 31:6.—J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. ii., p. 368.
A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.
And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.
And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.
And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.
And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.
And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.
Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.
Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.
The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein.
For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat:
When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD:
So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
Moreover the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil olive an hin:
And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.
And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith, and the ark of the testimony,
And the table and all his vessels, and the candlestick and his vessels, and the altar of incense,
And the altar of burnt offering with all his vessels, and the laver and his foot.
And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy: whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy.
And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.
And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations.
Upon man's flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you.
Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, shall even be cut off from his people.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.
And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.
Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.