Exodus 30:1-10,22-38; 37:25-29
The final object in the Holy Place is the altar of incense.  The altar of incense was also made of acacia wood like some of the previous items and overlaid in gold.  It was 18” x 18” by 36” tall (roughly 1/2m x 1/2m by 1m tall) and as you enter the Holy Place, this altar would be directly ahead and resting just before the veil.  It is extremely special before the Lord and the priests continually offered incense to the Lord day and night. Similar to the brazen altar, it also had four horns; one at each corner.  This altar, however, was used primarily to burn incense. Blood was applied to the four horns only once per year on Yom Kippur.

Incense altar diagram

Altar of Incense Location

On Yom Kippur (literally meaning “day” and “atonement”) the high priest would sacrifice an animal on the brazen altar to pay for his sins as well as the sins of all the people.  The high priest brought blood from the bronze altar into the Holy Place with the purpose of being spread on the four horns of the altar of incense.  Then this blood sacrifice was taken behind the curtain and into the Most Holy Place by the high priecst.  It was an offering for God’s forgiveness and atonement for all the people of Israel.


Priest before the Altar of Incense

“Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it. Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord.”  Exodus 30:7-10

This is a bit of a side note, but something I want to include anyway.  I have often mentioned different points of the compass as reference points describing where different things are placed within the tabernacle and they do have symbolic significance.  Notice that this pattern of worship that we have been tracing is continually moving from east to west.  If you remember, the tabernacle is the structure that was mobile but eventually the temple in Jerusalem was built by this same pattern; with it’s entrance facing east.  As with the tabernacle, the direction that the temple was laid out is quite significant.  The entrance to both the complex and the tabernacle itself always faced to the east.

Ezekiel has a lot to say about the entrance to the temple through the eastern gate (also called the Golden Gate, the Beautiful Gate, or Gate of Mercy).  It is commonly thought that the temple described in chapters 40-48 is either prophetic or of a heavenly nature.  When the glory of the Lord departed the temple in Ezekiel 10 and 11, we find God’s glory moving from the Most Holy Place, into the Holy Place and then the courtyard.  Finally in chapter 11:22-23 we see that glory of the Lord has moved out of the temple complex all together and moved towards the east.  It is also thought that chapter 43 and 44 speak of the future, however, and we see the glory of the Lord coming from the east and back into the temple. It is fascinating to me that to this day, the Muslims keep the eastern gate into the Temple Mount sealed “just in case” Jesus were to return as we see in chapter 43; that Jesus the Messiah would be prevented from entering the temple area as scripture says He will!

Jesus and the Altar of Incense

The Altar of Incense is perhaps one of the most intriguing pieces of furniture we have looked at so far.  Christ is clearly seen in both the function of this piece and in the role and function of the High Priest as the mediator on behalf of the people.  As we looked at earlier in this study, Jesus is the unblemished sacrifice that was offered once and for all for our sin.  Figuratively, it was His blood that was brought from the outer courtyard into the Holy Place and then into the Most Holy Place where it was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant.

Jesus literally took the place of all the animal sacrifices that were made on behalf of the people when He gave Himself on the cross.  He is both the sacrifice and the high priest mediator working on our behalf and it was His own blood sacrifice that made it possible for us to be the presence of God 24/7.  Think about that last statement.  Where the high priest was only allowed to enter into the presence of God once a year, through Jesus our High Priest, we have the opportunity to be in God’s presence whenever we want to!  We don’t have to wait for that one special day each year!

Digging Deeper:  This would be a great opportunity to reread Hebrews 9 and 10 and look more closely at Christ as the High Priest and the sacrifice He gave once and for all.

Revelation 8:3-4 give us a picture of how this altar now functions in Christ.  It is the prayers of the saints that are offered up as incense.  1 Thess 5:17 encourages us to pray continually.  Just as the incense on the altar was to be kept burning in the tabernacle, so our prayers are to be offered continually.  1 Tim 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.”  Jesus is our High Priest who mediates between God and man so that we might enter boldly into the throne room – the Most Holy Place.  It is His work at this altar and at this altar that allows us to have atonement once and for all.  There is nothing that we could do ourselves to enter into the Most Holy Place, it was only by the work of Jesus Christ.  Wow… what an honor and privilege we have been given!

Digging Deeper:  Other scriptures to consider:
Exodus 30:9-10; Psalm 141:2; 2 Cor 2:15; 1 Pet 1:17-21; Rev 5:8; 8:4

Ephesians 1:7-8 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Praise God for the riches of His grace!  Praise Him with unceasing praise!

God’s grace and peace to you until next time!

Like Incense / Sometimes By Step
Lyrics: Brooke Ligertwood and Rich Mullins.

May my prayer like incense rise before You
The lifting of my hands as sacrifice
Oh Lord Jesus turn Your eyes upon me
For I know there is mercy in Your sight

Your statutes are my heritage forever
My heart is set on keeping Your decrees
Please still my anxious urge toward rebellion
Let Love keep my will upon its knees

Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You

To all creation I can see a limit
But Your commands are boundless and have none
So Your Word is my joy and meditation
From the rising to the setting of the sun

All Your ways are loving and are faithful
The road is narrow but Your burden light
Because You gladly lean to lead the humble
I shall gladly kneel to leave my pride


To all creation I can see a limit
But Your commands are boundless and have none
So Your Word is my joy and meditation
From the rising to the setting of the sun


I will seek You in the morning
I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

Endless Song
By Shannon Wexelberg

Here’s my life it is not my own
Such a debt I owe for I have been ransomed
What a price You have paid for me
Bought my liberty, freedom is my anthemLet me not forget your sacrifice
Everyday recount the ways you’ve changed my life!Let my heart sing an endless song
And let it rise from a child forgiven
Let my life tell the story of Your redeeming blood
Jesus, Lamb of God Such amazing love

Here’s my heart it belongs to you
Let my gratitude overflow in praising
What a joy Savior and a friend
Mercies never end; love that is unfailing

Let me not forget your sacrifice
Everyday recount the ways you’ve changed my life!