When Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he must burn the incense perpetually before the LORD for the generations to come.
I. We gather our first lesson from THE SHAPE AND POSITION OF THIS ALTAR. The altar was four-square. The same measure and estimate were thus presented every way, whether towards God, or towards man. But the squareness of the altar also denoted the stability of the service connected with it. Prayer and praise are not temporary things. Prayer indeed will be confined to earth, for it is the language of want. But "praise waiteth for God" in the heavenly, as well as in the earthly Zion.
Burn incense upon it.
I. The first thing that I want to point out is WHAT A LOVELY, SIGNIFICANT, AND INSTRUCTIVE SYMBOL OF PRAYER THE INCENSE IS. Now what were the aspects of prayer suggested by the symbolism?
1. First of all, I suppose that the essence of it is the ascent of a man's soul to God. "To enter into thyself is to ascend to God." To go deep down into thine own heart is to go straight up to the Father in heaven. Incense is prayer, because incense surely wreathes itself upwards to God.
2. Let us learn another lesson from the incense, and that is that the prayer which ascends must be the prayer that comes from a fire. The incense only climbs when it is hot.
3. The kindled incense gave forth fragrant odours. When we present our prayers, they rise up acceptable to God in curling wreaths of fragrance 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. It stood in a right line betwixt the outer court and the mercy-seat, where the symbolical presence of God was visible in the Shekinah: and whosoever approached the altar of incense had to pass by the altar of sacrifice: and whosoever was on his way to the holiest of all had to pass by the altar of incense. All prayer must be preceded by the perfect sacrifice; and my prayer must be offered on the footing of that perfect Sacrifice which Christ Himself has offered. And so you and I remember the Altar of Sacrifice whenever we say, "For Christ's sake. — Amen." And if we mean anything by these words except the mere empty formula, we mean this: — "I stand here, and venture to put my grains of incense upon the altar, because He died yonder upon the Cross, that I might pass into the Holy Place." The prayer that goes another way round, and does not pass by the Altar of Sacrifice, is not the prayer that God desires and accepts. And, still further, let me remind you that, as I said, whosoever was on his road into the holiest of all had to pass by the altar of incense. That is to say, there is no true 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 PERPETUITY OF THIS OFFERING. 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. And dim lives may still, like the priests in this ritual, pile up the incense on the altar at fixed seasons, sure that if we do, it will glow there all the day long. But only remember, there is not much chance of a man's devotion being continuous unless he has, and sticks to, his fixed seasons for formal and verbal supplication.
IV. This altar that bore the perpetual incense, ONCE A YEAR AARON HAD TO OFFER A SACRIFICE OF EXPIATION FOR IT. It was never used for anything except the laying upon it of the fragrant incense, and yet yearly this sacrifice to cleanse it from defilement was duly presented. Now why was that? Was it not in order to express the profound feeling that the purest worship is stained, and that howsoever clear and exclusive may be the occupation and the use of this altar for the one solemn purpose, the iniquities of the offerers had defiled it. Let us be thankful that we have a great High Priest who truly cleanses us from the infirmities of our worship, and bears the iniquities of our natures, and is ever ready to aid our prayers with the incense of His own sacrifice, that all their imperfections may be washed away, and they and we received and made acceptable in His sight.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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 (ver. 9)
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 symbolize power. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much"
(D. R. Jenkins.)
II. Our second lesson from the golden altar is taught us by THE CONDITION NECESSARY TO THE OFFERING OF ITS INCENSE, viz., that there be a fire burning on it.
1. This incense on the altar typified the intercession of Christ. But the fragrance of the incense could not be brought out, nor its efficacy put forth till the action of fire was employed. And these burning coals on the golden altar, to what do they point us in this view of our subject but the sufferings of Christ? "It behoved Christ to suffer."
2. The golden censer on this altar, with the incense rising from it, denotes, we know, the prayers of God's people (see Revelation 8:3, 4). Here again we see that the incense could yield no fragrance without fire. The priest put it on the live coals, and then the odorous clouds went fuming up, a sweet savour, acceptable to God. And here we are taught in a most significant way, the necessity of heartiness in our worship if we would have it well-pleasing to God.
III. Our third lesson from this altar is taught us by the CONTINUOUSNESS OF THE INCENSE upon it. How beautifully this points us to Jesus, His offering, once made upon the brazen altar, was never repeated; and so the incense of His merits, once thrown upon the fire on the golden altar, never needs to be repeated. The intercession of Christ is uninterrupted.
IV. Our fourth lesson from this subject is furnished by observing THE CONNECTION OF THE ALTAR OF INCENSE WITH BOTH THE OUTER AND INNER SANCTUARY. Now we know that the outer part of the sanctuary, or the holy place, represented the Church on earth; while the inner part, or the most holy place, represented the Church in heaven. The lesson taught us by the part of the subject now before us is, that the golden altar, with its incense, belongs alike to both these departments of the Church of Christ. All the service performed, and all the joy experienced by the redeemed in the Church on earth is based upon the sacrifice of Christ, and connected with the incense of His merits. And the same will be true of the. redeemed in the Church in heaven.
V. Our fifth and last lesson from this subject is gathered from THE NATURE AND COMPOSITION OF THE INCENSE offered upon the golden altar. Now, observe this incense was composed of four substances. Three of these, onycha, stacte, and galbanum, were substances entirely unknown to us. These may point to the divinity of Christ, in the mysteriousness of its connection with His death and sacrifice. The frankincense was a substance with which we are acquainted. It may represent the humanity of Christ. This we know and understand, for it was like our own, in all respects, save that it was free from sin. The elements composing this incense were mingled together in equal parts. This seems to point significantly to the entire and perfect harmony of character which distinguished our glorious Saviour. There was nothing out of place in Him. Again, the materials of which the incense was composed had to be beaten into small particles, or reduced to powder before it was prepared to give out its rich fragrance. And so Jesus, our glorious Saviour, had to be brought very low, and stoop to the most wondrous humiliation, before the golden censer of His merits could yield those sweet odours which are so refreshing to the souls of His people, and at the same time so well pleasing to God, and so efficacious to secure our acceptance before Him.
(R. Newton, D. D.)
I. And first I call your attention to THE WONDERFUL CO-OPERATION BETWEEN THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST FOR US, AND THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN US.
1. Note, that we have these both revealed in their fulness at the same time. When our Lord ascended on high to plead before the throne, the Spirit descended to abide in the Church. After the Lord was taken up the disciples received the promise of the Father and were illuminated by the Holy Ghost.
2. Now, as they were connected historically, so are they continually connected as a matter of fact. Herein lies our hope for our own eternal salvation, in the ceaseless plea and the quenchless light.
3. Furthermore, this conjunction, as it is a matter of history, and as it is continuous, will always be seen by us personally when our prayer is the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man that availeth much.
4. That in God's drawing near to man there is the same conjunction of incense and light. If the glory of God were to come forth from between the cherubim, if it should come past the veil to be revealed throughout the world, that glory would pass by these two, the golden altar of incense and the golden lamp of light. I mean this: God can have no dealing with men at all except through the merit of Christ and the light of the Spirit.
II. Secondly, our text seems to teach THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PRAYER AND KNOWLEDGE. The golden altar represents intercession offered by Christ, and also the prayers of all the saints, which are accepted through His intercession; and as the candlestick stood side by side with it, and represented the light of the Spirit of truth, so must true prayer and true knowledge never be separated.
1. So I gather, first, that prayer should be attended with knowledge. It is ill when men worship they know not what. God is light, and He will not have His people worship Him in the dark. When they burn the incense they must also light the lamp.
2. But now turn the thought round the other way — knowledge should always be accompanied by prayer. Revealed truth is as a church-bell summoning us to come into the presence of the Lord, and bow the knee before Him.
III. I desire, in the third place, to show SOME SPECIAL PRACTICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN THE INCENSE AND THE LAMP. "And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it." So, then, there should be prayer especially at the dressing of the lamps: that is to say, when preparing our minds for that ministry by which we enlighten the people among whom we dwell we should be specially earnest in prayer. Dr. Adam Clarke used to say to young ministers, "Study yourselves dead, and then pray yourselves alive again"; and that is an excellent rule. One thing more, this burning of the incense was not only at the dressing of the lamps, but also at the kindling of the lamps, when they began to shine. I want to plead very heartily with you that when it is my privilege to come here this week and at all other times to light the lamps, you who are my beloved helpers will take care to burn the incense at the same time. We need the incense of prayer more than ever in these latter days.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Biblical MuseumThis altar of incense may remind us of many things concerning prayer.
I. ITS SIZE: not very large, the smallest altar. A good prayer need not be long. God knows what we have need of. Like the Lord's Prayer, it may include much.
II. ITS DESIGN: symmetrical. Prayers should not be one-sided, but well-proportioned. Not all about one thing, or too many things. There was a simple beauty about the altar. Four-square, crown of gold.
III. ITS MATERIAL: choice, the best wood and metal. In prayer there may be the word of human infirmity and need; but there must be the fine gold of truth, etc.
IV. ITS PLACE: in the holy place, in front of the vail that concealed the most holy. There should be prayer before entering God's house, as well as inside the house.
V. ITS USE: to burn incense, offering to God of holy desire, thanksgiving, praise. Note —
1. This incense, carefully compounded of the most precious ingredients. Not to be used for ordinary purposes. Prayer is holy to the Lord.
2. The lamp was lighted opposite when the incense was kindled. Prayer needs Divine illumination: should bear the light as being without hypocrisy.
3. The incense was burnt morning and evening. Our days should begin and end with prayer.
I. A TYPICAL INSTITUTION. Notice here —
1. Its daily use.
2. Its annual expiation.
II. AN EMBLEMATIC RITE. In this view it marks —
1. The privilege of Christians.
2. The ground of their acceptance. Application:
(1) (2) (C. Simeon, M. A.) (E. E. Atwater.)
(2) (C. Simeon, M. A.) (E. E. Atwater.)
(C. Simeon, M. A.)
(E. E. Atwater.)