The Golden Altar Of Incense

Or, Christ’s Present Priestly Service. (Exodus 30:1-10).

The Golden Altar stood in the Holy Place before the Veil. It was made of acacia wood, and covered with gold. It was 1 cubit, or 1 foot 9 inches square; and 2 cubits, or 3 feet 6 inches high. Its size was adapted to its work, as was the Brazen Altar in the Court. Here, it is for the offering of sweet incense; there, it was to receive whole burnt offerings.

In connection with the Golden Altar we have another of what we might call incidental proofs of the inspiration of the Bible. In its order in the Tabernacle, we should have looked for this altar right after the Ark and Mercy Seat, but instead of that it is not spoken about among the golden vessels at all. This looks like an oversight, but we know that there is no such thing in the Word of God. No, this is one of the wondrous perfections of the Word.

This altar, like the laver, brings the priestly work of our Lord Jesus before us, and we know that our Lord could only be a priest in resurrection. “For if He were on earth He should not be a priest” (Heb. 8:4). So God kept back this altar until we had the brazen altar, which is Christ in death, and the two chapters about the priest (chapters 28 and 29) then we get this altar. But there is something more, not only have we instructions about the Golden Altar withheld until we had what spoke of death and resurrection, but we find the Brazen Altar again brought in right at the close of chap. 29, and this altar immediately brought in. Do we not see here, how that God desires we should see the very intimate relationship which exists between the two altars. And the peace and rest of the believer depends on seeing the work of both. The Brazen Altar, Christ on the cross for us, the Golden altar, Christ in glory for us.

In the material of this altar, God brings again before our hearts our glorious Lord, and surely there is need for this. We cannot be reminded too often that our acceptance rests upon no mere creature—for the gold proclaims His Deity. And the wood tells out a truth exceedingly sweet to our hearts, that Christ, who as Man met all the consequences of our sins when He did the Brazen Altar work, is still Man, and ever will be throughout eternity. The youngest believer in Christ should be made aware of the sad fact, that at the present the religious world is honeycombed with errors as to the Person of Christ. As Man, He bore the judgment of God for us; as Man, He now represents us in heaven; and as Man He is coming to receive us to Himself, as we read in Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” To deny that He is coming back as a Man as really as when He went away, is the mark of a deceiver. “For many deceivers are entered into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7. R.V). Thank God, in the Golden Altar we are reminded of the precious truth, that Christ as Man is now maintaining our cause in heaven.

The Altar Where No Blood Is Shed.

The word altar means a place of slaughter, but no slaughter takes place at the Golden Altar, for such sacrifices were forbidden at the Golden Altar (ver. 9), but once in the year, on the day of atonement, the blood of the sin offering was put upon the horns of the golden altar, telling of sacrifice offered elsewhere, to which the blood on its horns is the witness. It is in this sense we sing;

No blood no altar now, the sacrifice is o’er,
No flame no smoke ascends on high, the lamb is slain no more.

As we see the priest putting the sweet smelling incense on the Golden Altar, and the fragrant cloud fill the holy place, we get a faint shadow of what the presence of Christ in the glory means. On the cross bearing the judgment of sin and suffering the hiding of the face of God, dying alone outside the camp, in the place of the sin offering. Now as the Golden Altar, filling heaven with the perpetual fragrance of the sacrifice of Calvary. Those hours of suffering and shame have yielded a rich return of glory.

“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). We have spoken of the intimate relationship between the two altars. The Psalmist needed both in Psa. 84:3, where the sense of the verse is, “The sparrow has found an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young (but my soul) thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King, and my God.”

In the Brazen Altar we get justification, Christ died for us. In the Golden Altar we get acceptance, Christ appearing in the presence of God for us. All that He is, He is for us. What the Father thinks of Him, He thinks of us, for “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:6).

How this goes immensely beyond the beggarly thoughts of salvation which are entertained by most of the Lord’s people. Not merely pardoned, but accepted in the Beloved. We could never imagine the Governor General, when he had pardoned a man under the sentence of death for murder, getting a room ready for that man, and taking him home to be one of the family. If he or any other man ever did attempt to do such a thing, it would be good evidence that their mind was going. But what is unthinkable among men, that very thing God has done. He has pardoned poor sinners and then accepts them in Christ, so that the measure of Christ’s acceptance is the measure of theirs. This is the story the Golden Altar tells out.

The Brazen Altar was sheathed with brass, for it was the type of Him who endured the wrath of God against sin, and having put sin away, has satisfied the demands of the throne of God, and has come forth out of that wrath, which will abide eternally on those who reject Him as their Saviour. The Brazen Altar had no crown, the Golden Altar has. On this Golden Altar no sacrifice is offered, for it speaks of “one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12). And it rebukes the blasphemy of those who profess to offer a real sacrifice for the living and the dead, when they perform the Mass. It was never to have meat offering offered on it, or drink offerings poured upon it. Christ shall never know humiliation nor the weakness of the cross again, His Brazen Altar work has been accomplished and now glorified, He has entered upon His Golden Altar service in heaven, which will last eternally.

“We Have an Altar”; or the Holy Priesthood. (Heb. 13:13-15; 1 Pet. 2:5).

Looking back over the way we have come, in dealing with the types of the Tabernacle, we are struck with the way they brought out the activities of God’s grace. We have been regarded as passive, or in other words, God has been the giver and we the receivers. All this has brought the grace of God before our hearts. But in the altar of incense we see a richer display of that grace than our poor hearts can well take in and respond to, and that is the creature put in the place of the giver, or a worshipper, for worshipping is giving; and the Golden Altar speaks of worship.

Deut. 26 gives us a fine picture of worship. The Israelite in obedience to God’s Word sets out for “the place” which God chose with a basket of the firstfruits of his land. He sets it down before the priest and the altar, and worships the Lord his God. Then the secret of his action comes out as we listen to his touching confession. He goes over in the presence of God, what his people’s former state had been in bondage and affliction. Then he reviews the grace that delivered them from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness, and placed them in a land that flowed with milk and honey. And now in grateful worship, he has brought of that which God has given him. It is easy to read this beautiful picture. Turn now to Eph. 2:11-12. We might summarise what the Spirit brings before us in this passage as “No Christ, no rights, no promises, no hope, and without God in the world.” Could there be a more sorrowful picture drawn? Yet it was all true of each of us. But look at the change we have in verse 13, “Made nigh by the blood of Christ”; verse 18, “Access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Then verses 19 to 22 tell us we are “no more strangers,” but are of “the household of God,” and that we are “builded together” for a dwelling place for God. And what shall we say of the still richer unfolding that we get in chapter 5, where His purpose is declared to be that we are to shine in His glory, near to Christ as His bride. Surely we have been given a goodly inheritance, a “land flowing with milk and honey.” And we too should bring our first-fruits. Let us read Heb. 13:15, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” Here we have the Golden Altar, “By Him” Then we have the incense, “The sacrifice of praise.” And we are surely reminded of the “perpetual incense” by that word “continually.”

We look back to the priest who ministered at this altar, and we say, “What an exalted office.” Yes! no doubt it was. But the poor feeble Christian who in gratitude to God for his salvation, raises a note of praise, is in a still more exalted place. In the Tabernacle we have the type, but in the Christian coming into God’s presence through Christ, in praise or prayer, you have the blessed reality.

Whether in the quiet of the closet, or as one of an assembled company, when believers are stirred up to praise or prayer by the Holy Spirit, the Name of Jesus ascends as fragrant incense before the Father. Need we wonder then that such exercise is “well-pleasing” to Him? The singing may lack that which would make it melodious in the ear of man, but it is sweet unto God. The prayers might not, should not be, like those of one, of which it was said, that “it was the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.” Maybe much in the way it is presented is faulty, but when it passes through the hands of Christ, when it goes up from our Golden Altar, it is a sweeet savour to God.

“To all our prayers and praises,
Christ adds His sweet perfume;
And love the censer raises
Their odours to consume.”

When the Israelite, as in Deut. 16:17, came with his worship to the place which God had chosen, we read, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which He hath given thee.” This is the rule according to which we

The Altar At The Door.

should give to God our praises and thanksgivings. “According to the blessing of the Lord thy God.” Alas! how we have failed in this. As we think of the blessings which God has poured down upon us, and the very scant praise that has ascended to Him from our hearts, we are reminded of a sight we have often seen—the Falls of Niagara. Over those falls there pours an immense volume of water, day and night, year in and year out. There may be seen rising above the falls a cloud of vapour, reflecting in the daytime the rainbow. That cloud of vapour is part of what pours down, but only an infinitesimal part of it. Do we not feel like owning that this makes it all the more like to our scanty worship?

“Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon.” In John 4:24, we read, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.” And in Phil. 3:3 (R.V.), “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Nothing can be acceptable to God, save that which has been produced by the Holy Spirit.

No unsaved sinner can praise God. Some may be gifted with a voice of matchless richness, and this may be cultivated to the very utmost degree, and as they sing before the congregation, the people may be thrilled. Yet for God there is sweeter music in the song of some poor old saint with a cracked voice, who never did understand the first things as to time and tune, but whose heart is full of gratitude and praise.

Just as the fire from the Brazen Altar caused the incense to ascend on the Golden Altar, so do God’s saints catch their inspiration to praise from the Cross of Calvary. And let me say that if this is not the inspiration, then it is “strange incense” which the believer is offering, and not “worship by the Spirit.”

“Strange Fire”; or Worship not Kindled at Calvary

In Lev. 10 we have the sad account of Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, who offered “strange fire” unto the Lord, and were judged for their sin. From the prohibition of wine, which comes immediately afterward, we may surely infer that they had been under its influence when they went in before the Lord. And in this is there not a lesson of deep and solemn import? Wine was forbidden the Nazarite, and it is forbidden the priest here in the exercise of his sacred office. Wine, as we know, excites those under its influence, producing an unreal courage, joy, enthusiasm, or religious fervour, just according to the character of the individual, who is controlled with the intoxication. The type should not be difficult to read. God will not have from His own, that which is only the activity of the flesh under some natural stimulus. The spell of sacerdotal surroundings, artistic church music, and human eloquence, all of which appeal to the sentimental, in those who never learned their need of Christ, or cared to know Him as their Saviour, has led many a true child of God to mistake “strange fire” for the fire of the altar.

As we stand before this Golden Altar, may we not hear those words, “Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). This surely sets before us the believer in his highest character. How shall we sustain it worthily? Let us again briefly look at the way by which we came here. In the Brazen Altar we see the question of sin settled, God glorified, and we who once were afar off, made nigh. In the Laver we saw the work of Christ cleansing from the daily defilement contracted in our walk down here, and so fitting us for the presence of God in holy worship and adoration. In the Lampstand we have the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to unfold to us the beauties and glories of Christ, thus leading us into the fuller knowledge of His will. Then comes the Table with its rich provision, and the desire of our blessed God that we may enjoy to the full what He has spread before us, saying, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved.” Thus surely we are ready to worship, as we read in Deut. 8:10, “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God.” Again in Psa. 22:29, “All they that be fat upon the earth shall eat and worship.” Worship flows from a heart satisfied with Christ. It is the overflowing of such an heart. If such is not the state of the believer’s soul, God gets nothing. Many a meeting is very barren of worship, though there may be a lot of hymn-singing. And the cause is, the hearts of God’s people are not happy in conscious fellowship with Him. May God help us to use our Golden Altar to His glory.