Chapter 24 The Golden Altar

Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon (Exodus 30:1).

Our Lord’s image is embodied in every part of the Tabernacle. The whole is God revealing Himself in a marvelous type, and all with a view to man’s entering in to meet Him there. It represents God’s system of grace and glory with which He dwells among His redeemed people. This is clearly seen now in the golden incense altar which filled the whole house of God with sweet and delightful fragrance.

It is doubtless called the golden altar to distinguish it from the brazen altar in the outside court, the covering of which was brass. It was called “the altar of incense” as indicating its use.

Its parts were wood and gold as other furniture pointing to our Lord’s human and divine natures. He is God in God-hood’s greatness and Man in humanity’s low estate. He has glory to sit on Jehovah’s throne, but humility to come and tabernacle with men. Only such a God-Man can redeem a sinner’s soul.

The altar was square, as was the atoning brazen altar. It shows the strength of the Lord Jesus which cannot fail. All the work He does is based on Jehovah’s strength. There is the same presentation to every quarter of the globe. The crown upon the altar indicates our Lord’s royal majesty, as it is written of Him, “The government shall be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6). He who was once so scorned by men on earth wears the heavenly diadem of redemptive glory.

The horns of the altar speak again of authority and power. None can stand before Him. None can prevail against Him. The rings are for transportation and this shows how His great Name will be carried to every place of human habitation— to desert lands, to prison cells, to furnaces of affliction, to hovels of the poor, and to the palaces of kings. No place can shut Him out.

This altar was placed “before the vail,” evidently nearest to the most holy place. The main use was to receive and burn the sacred incense, composed of four chief spices in equal proportions and perfectly blended. The incense was offered night and morning and burned by coals taken off the atoning altar. Thus touched, the sweet fragrance of the incense ascended. It was a fragrance offered within the sanctuary, but we see how atonement and worship are linked together. Thus we are taught the offering of acceptable praise: “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense” (Psalm 141:2). It sets forth, first, the intercession of our own great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God. We must never forget that His intercessions on our behalf receive their life and vigor and acceptance from His own blood-atoning sacrifice. His prevailing intercession on our behalf rests upon His death on the cross in which justice was satisfied, the law fulfilled, the curse endured, and the covenant discharged.

The only direct allusion to the day of atonement in Exodus is in this portion which describes the incense altar. The blood of the brazen altar was brought and sprinkled upon the golden horns of this altar. God’s thought in this was to have a heavenly priesthood to approach Him in the holiest of all. It is the value of that atoning blood which secures our entrance into God’s holy presence, and our acceptance by Him. It is an amazing truth that believers can now enter in with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet too many are content, it would seem, to stand only at the atoning altar for sin’s forgiveness, but never to enter within to a life of intercession in association with our exalted and heavenly Lord.

The ingredients of the incense are named in Exodus 30:34. The stacte suggests the outflow of our Lord’s life on earth; the onycha, His being crushed in death; the galbanum, His strength of determination to carry it all to completion; and the frankincense, His consecrated Lordship over all. There is a word of warning attached to all this. “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people” (verse 38). None were to profane this holy type. None were to trifle with the grand reality. None were to rob the Lord of what is His for His own glory.

Our great High Priest is sitting
At God’s right hand above,
For us His hands uplifting
In sympathy and love:
Whilst here below, in weakness,
We onward speed our way;
In sorrow oft and sickness,
We sigh, and groan, and pray.

Through manifold temptation,
My soul holds on its course,
Christ’s mighty intercession
Alone is my resource;
My gracious High Priest’s pleadings,
Who on the cross did bleed,
Bring down God’s grace and blessings,
Help in each hour of need.

O, Jesus, blessed Saviour,
We hope to see Thee soon,
Who once on earth did suffer,
Who soon for us will come;
’Twas God’s most gracious favor
That gave His son to die,
To live our Intercessor,
To plead for us on high.

A. P. Cecil