(Exodus 30.1-10, 34-38)
The golden altar was to burn incense upon, and its place in the sanctuary was before the veil. It was made of acacia wood, and was overlaid with gold. It was foursquare-a cubit long and a cubit broad, while its height was two cubits.
The command to make all the other furniture of the sanctuary is found in chapter 25 of the book of Exodus, but it is not until we come to chapter 30 of this book that we find instructions for making the altar of incense. This fact has frequently been noted as of more than passing interest. We believe that the golden altar speaks of Christ in His life before the face of God. There are evidenced the merits of His sacrifice on Golgotha, and the value of His Person and work in resurrection life. Obviously this could not be done unless the crosswork were completed. His death, by which He put away sin, and by virtue of which He can make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9.26; 2.17), must precede His priestly activities. May there not be some connexion between these precious truths and the fact that the copper altar with its victim precedes the golden altar with its incense? We believe there is.
CHRIST'S COMPLEX PERSON
The Humanity of the Son of God is before us in the acacia wood of the incense altar, while His Divine glory is indicated in the gold that covered the wood. The Holy Spirit delights to present to our vision the complex Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God and Man in one combined: one Person of two natures. Nothing can be of greater importance than that we have right thoughts respecting Him. Alas! that the adversary has been so successful in deluding men concerning the God-Man. Despite the many types and shadows which set Him forth, the prophecies which predict His character, and the New Testament Scriptures which speak expressly concerning Him, myriads remain in darkness concerning the Son of God, and the great salvation which He has procured; of Him the Spirit says, "I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth"(Isaiah 49.6).
THE ETERNAL SON
Since we are destitute of faculties to explore and investigate the great subject of the nature of God, because of His inscrutability, we are shut up to receiving testimony thereon. We hold that this testimony is clear and definite, and that "the Only Begotten Son", the Being (ho on) "in the bosom of the Father" (John 1.18), was such from eternity. There is One spoken of as begetting and One spoken of as being begotten. As being perhaps more euphonious the term generation has been adopted, and so we speak of eternal Sonship, and of eternal generation. It was the Son who made the worlds (Hebrews 1. 2); it was in the Son of His love all things were created (Colossians 1.13, 16). The words of Agur come before us: "Who hath ascended up into heaven, and descended? Who hath gathered the wind in His fists? Who hath bound the waters in His garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if thou knowest ?" (Proverbs 30.4). The answer "is God the Father, and ... Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father " (2 John 8).
A CROWN OF GOLD
There was one gold rim or crown to the golden altar, and this may suggest the priestly crown,
Where Holiness shines bright."
Provision for approach to God is set forth in the shadows of the golden altar, and thus we are directed to Him who is crowned and anointed to be a Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched not man Truly His is a ministry the more excellent, and He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises. Through His own blood He entered in once for all into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. See Hebrews 8 and 9. It is thus that we can draw near with boldness (freedom of speech) to enter into the Holies by the blood of Jesus. The value of His sacrifice made outside was indicated on the horns of the altar, inside, by the stains of blood thereon.
THE HORNS OF THE ALTAR
These horns, we think, speak of His having all authority, and the blood-stained horns connect the humbling and the exaltation of our Lord. "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should,, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
(Philippians 2). The fat of the victim, whose blood was put on the horns of the golden altar, was on the copper altar, then, outside the camp, the body was burned with fire. The portion on the altar of burnt offerings spoke of what Christ was to God in all the sweetness of His sacrifice: that outside the camp foreshadowed what He became for us. But the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense indicates the abiding efficacy of the cross-work of Him who ever liveth before the face of God for us.
By Him our Sacrifice and Priest, We enter through the veil."
"Let us therefore go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His
reproach" (Hebrews 13.18).
Should these lines be read by saints who have not yet responded to the call to separation, may it be that the Spirit's exhortation quoted above will come home to the heart with force and meaning,
and result in obedience to the call. There are very many who consider such a call as unworthy of attention, there are others who cannot be sure what "outside the coop" means, and there may be those whose exercise has not yet been aroused. If you are exercised, dear reader, please note that the camp is simply that place where the will of the Lord cannot be given effect to. If His claims have become paramount with you, you will not fail to heed His call, even though in giving effect thereto you may have to pay a heavy price. You will be glad to buy the truth and sell it not. A beloved co-labourer used to say, "No matter how much you pay for the truth you have got a good bargain; and no matter how much you get in selling the truth you have made a bad bargain." This is solemnly true. Let us keep well before our hearts that there is a close link between "outside the camp" and
inside the veil."
STRANGE FIRE ON INCENSE
Not only did God specify what was to be burned on the golden altar, but He also mentioned what was not to be offered thereon. "Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt offering, nor meal offering; and ye shall pour no drink offering thereon" (verse 9).The drink offering speaks of the Lord being entirely poured out in divine service, and the meal offering of His perfect life of sufferings, and the burnt offering of His death as a sweet savour unto God. All these are associated with the altar at the door of the tent of meeting, and refer to what our Lord endured in His work and death down here. The golden altar, as we have seen, has to do with His life in resurrection before the throne.
A solemn instance of strange fire is recorded in Leviticus 10 where we read: "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them." Because of this they were devoured by fire before the LORD. Divine service is most solemn, and God has put this on record that we should fear before Him. The fire that should have burned on the golden altar should have come from the copper altar, and we judge these sons of Aaron obtained the fire from some source other than the altar where, typically, Christ is seen in death. Fleshly activity before God in worship we regard as strange fire. The Lord has graciously arranged that, as we come before God in collective worship, we should be brought face to face with the Person and work of the Lord Jesus by means of the loaf and the cup. These are merely symbols, but they are intended to bring Himself before us; and as the loaf is broken and the cup poured out we are, as it were, at the altar of death with our censers to receive the fire that burns there. May it be that no other fire shall ever burn on our censers as we draw nigh to God. While we muse the fire will burn.
Strange incense would speak to us of material other than Christ. The ingredients of the sweet incense that was offered to God all speak
of Him whose name, Person and work are fragrant in the sanctuary. Christ must ever be the subject of our worship, as God is the object, and the Holy Spirit the power.
INCENSE OF PERFUME
Stacte, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense, of each a like weight, and seasoned with salt, were the component parts of the sweet incense. That some of it was beaten very small, and put before the testimony in the tent of meeting, might turn our thoughts to Him who stooped so low for us.
The root thought in the word stacte is to drop, or "distil," something coming from above. May not this be designed by the Spirit to have a link with the One who came from above, who said to those around Him, "I am from above: ... I speak the things which I have seen with My Father" (John 8.28, 88)?
My doctrine shall drop as the rain,
My speech shall distil as the dew
As the small rain upon the tender grass,
And as the showers upon the herb"
But they refused to believe on the heaven-sent One, and concluded that He possessed a demon, so His words will become a fire and a sword instead.
Onycha signifies a "lion," and seems to indicate the King. Galbanum has for its root thought, "fatness," and, in the writer's mind, is linked with the perfect Man, Christ Jesus, whose life on earth provided a feast of fat things for the God of heaven.
Frankincense contains the idea of "whiteness," and recalls the righteous One whose service to God was such that God could term Him, "My righteous Servant."
The Son of God as the One from above is the burden of the Gospel by John: the King of Israel, who will one day soon take unto Him His great power and reign, is the special theme of the Gospel by Matthew: the Man who pleased God so perfectly on the earth is presented in the Gospel by Luke; and God's righteous Servant is seen at work in the story from the pen of Mark. It is this lovely, fragrant One of whom the sweet incense speaks. As the sons of Aaron brought the fire from the copper altar, and put the incense on the glowing embers, the sanctuary was filled with its sweetness. When the high priest brought in the atoning blood, and sprinkled it on and before the mercy-seat, he was lost to view amidst the fragrant cloud of incense which arose from the censer. In the divine presence there must be the fragrance of Christ alone.
THE PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS
In the story of Zacharias seeing the angel of the Lord standing at the right side of the altar of incense, recorded in Luke 1, there are many precious things. The angel had come to announce the birth of John the Baptist, and his appearance to Zacharias was at the time when he was at the altar to burn incense. We are informed that the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense (verse 10). They seem to have appreciated that at that time the clouds of incense would be penetrating through the veil and their words would reach God in the sweet perfume of the clouds of incense. It is thus that we make mention of the name of Christ when we approach the throne of God.
It should be noted that this multitude had come to the house of God to pray. They did not belong to the class of people who on a cold or very wet evening sit down at home and comfort themselves by saying that they can pray at home. It is as needful as ever that we enter into our closets and shut to the door and pray to our Father in heaven, but such prayer individually cannot take the place of the collective assembly prayers. The Spirit of God has so arranged it that the people of God come together and function before Him, and amongst these exercises is that of the assembly prayers. Let us see to it that our seat is not vacant on the occasions when it is possible for us to be present. The golden bowls full of incense are said to be the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5.8) and in Revelation 8.3, 4. we read, "And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand." Those will be days of severe trial, and many and fervent prayers will go up to God, but the divine provision for the people of that day will not be lacking. As we consider thus the value of Christ we may well exclaim:
"Precious name, oh, how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heaven."
The psalmist David appears to have the two altars before his mind and heart when inditing the words of Psalm 141, verse 2. There he says,
"Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."
As he stretched forth his hands in prayer the dual thought contained in the two altars was the burden of his invocation-the sweet fragrance from the incense on the golden altar, and the sweet fragrance from the victim of the ascending offering at the door of God's house. God kept before Himself thus the work of His Son in His death, and in His life before the throne.
To all this there is a sharp contrast in Lamentations 3.44 where we read, "Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud, that our prayers should not pass through." Why was this? What had occurred? The story is a sad one. God's people had been persistent in disobedience. They had refused to listen to His prophets, and to respond to His messengers. At length judgement came, with death for many, and captivity for others. Instead of having a sweet-savour cloud, which speaks of the sweetness of Christ, to add to their words in the divine presence, there is now a cloud surrounding God which shuts their prayers out from His presence. Have we known a period like this when the heavens were brass and the earth was iron? Humility and repentance with confession will bring back the desired condition. Have we not much need today to humble ourselves before our God? We feel certain it is the need of the hour. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you" (1 Peter 5.6, 7), is a message to which we should all take heed.