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Verses 1-10

GOLDEN ALTAR OF INCENSE

"And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of acacia wood shalt thou make it. 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 one piece with it. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and 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 for it under the crown thereof, upon the two ribs thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make them; and they shall be for places for staves wherewith to bear it. And thou shalt make the staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put it before the veil 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 incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before Jehovah throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt-offering, nor meal-offering; and ye shall pour no drink-offering thereon. And Aaron shall make atonement upon the horns of it once in the year; with the blood of the sin-offering of atonement once in the year shall he make atonement for it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto Jehovah."

"The horns ..." mentioned in Exodus 30:2 were said by Clements to be "superfluous on an altar for burning incense, but have been introduced in imitation of the much larger altar,"[11] but his comment is contradicted by the fact that on the Day of Atonement the blood of the sin-offering was indeed placed upon this altar; and such applications were always made upon "the horns" of the altar.

"Before the veil ... before the mercy-seat ..." See the chapter introduction for comment on the location. Some have quibbled about the Book of Hebrews' association of this golden altar with the Holy of Holies; but, as a matter of fact, it did pertain to the ark and the mercy-seat, notwithstanding its location before the veil. The placement of it before the veil was, "a special arrangement, designed to teach the important lesson, that though we cannot with the eye of sense see the throne of grace, `we must direct our prayer to it, and look up.'"[12] Barmby stated that, "The altar was an appendage of the holy of holies, though not actually inside of it, in the same way (to use a homely illustration by Delitzsch) as the signboard of a shop belongs to the shop and not to the street."[13]

"And Aaron shall burn incense thereon,.." (Exodus 30:7). Chadwick commented upon how appropriate it was that incense should thus symbolize the prayers of God's people: "Fragrance is indeed matter passing into the immaterial; it is the sigh of the sensuous for the spiritual state of being."[14] There are a number of things in these ten verses that frustrate all efforts to date the passage after the exile. At that time, there was no need to carry the golden altar anywhere, since the second temple, like the first, was a solid also permanent building. Also, why should Aaron have been singled out, if at that later date Aaron had been dead for long generations and the function mentioned here was performed by the priests in rotation? To imagine that those alleged interpolators used such language to impose a fraud upon the sacred writings is impossible. That Aaron and his successors to the office of the high priest actually burned incense on this altar was doubtless true. But in time, "Aaron came to mean the whole priestly order, and in later times any of the priests might have officiated at this altar in rotation (See Luke 1:10)."[15]

"It is most holy ..." (Exodus 30:10). Rawlinson's comment on this was:

"There seems to be sufficient reason for considering the altar of incense as, next to the ark and the mercy-seat, the most sacred object in the furniture of the tabernacle. This precedence indicates the extreme value which God sets upon prayer."[16]

See the chapter introduction for more on the rank of the golden altar. That the incense actually did represent prayer is seen in a number of N.T. passages, as in Luke 1:10; Revelation 8:4, etc.

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