This verse (36) shows us more fully that in the first institution of the priesthood an earthly people were primarily in view. We have noticed that in verses 12-14 the blood was put on the horns of the brazen altar, and yet the carcase of the victim was burned without the camp. As yet the blood was not carried within the veil. The brazen altar was the place where Jehovah met the children of Israel (see v. 43), where they approached to Him in their worship. They drew near to Him on the ground of atonement having been made, and through the intervention of the priests. The priestly family themselves had a place within the sanctuary as separated to minister to the Lord, but besides this the exercise of their priesthood was in view of the earthly people. This is apparent from what follows. (vv. 38-43.) The two lambs, which were to be offered day by day continually with their meat-offering and drink-offering, represented the daily and continual worship of the children of Israel ascending from the brazen altar to the Lord as a sweet savour, though necessarily offered by the priesthood. There was no direct approach for the people. Let us, as Christians, bear in mind that our privilege is entrance into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, not to worship outside through a priesthood, but as part of the priestly family, in the company of the great High Priest who is inside.
There were two things required on the altar before the worship could begin. It must be cleansed by making atonement for it,* and be anointed in order to sanctify it. Atonement was necessary because Israel was a sinful people. It was made by blood being sprinkled upon the altar - this was in view of the people; the anointing set it apart to the Lord. The worship of the people could thus begin upon these two grounds, and from thence it could be maintained in identification with the altar. Their worship could not be apart from the altar. By atonement and anointing it was constituted most holy - "holy of holies," though it stood in the court of the tabernacle. There is nothing like the cross, the place where the Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up, whether for earth or for heaven - nothing so holy, for though the scene enacted on Calvary was not in heaven, yet it was in the presence of God and morally outside of earth. Jesus lifted up between earth and heaven. Innocence is not holiness. Had Adam continued in innocence, he could not have known God, or worshipped Him according to the holiness of His own nature. This alone could be declared in the cross, but then the holiness of the cross affects everything which is connected with it. "Whatsoever touched the altar shall be holy." Our Lord refers to this in Matt. 23:19. Everything offered to God must be according to the holiness witnessed in the cross; that is, it must be on the ground of evil having been judged there, and of the redemption and sanctification consequent on blood-shedding. In Num. 7:10-88 we get the gifts which the princes of the people offered for the dedication of the altar in the day that it was anointed. They represent the whole-hearted worship of a willing people.
*This is the better rendering of verse 36.
Besides the two lambs offered daily, which with the meat-offerings and drink-offerings the Lord calls (Num. 28:2) "My offering, and my bread . . . for a sweet savour unto me," there is another element introduced in connection with the altar, "I will meet you" (plural) - that is, the children of Israel - "to speak there unto thee" - Moses. Communications were made to the mediator for a people who drew near at the door of the tabernacle, and they were made at the altar. There were also communications made from within. (See chap. 25:22.) The contrast is brought out in Num. 7, where, after the princes of the people had offered, Moses went within and heard the voice of One speaking to him from off the mercy-seat. We may notice here that though in the last verses of chap. 29 the subject in hand is apparently concluded, and so far as the worship of Israel and their place in connection with the tabernacle is concerned it is, yet that the first ten verses of chap. 30 are connected with that which precedes. In verse 11 a fresh subject is introduced by the words "And the Lord spake unto Moses." No such break occurs between the worship of the brazen altar and the introduction of the golden altar and the worship connected therewith. It is the one subject of worship, though at two places. We have already noticed that Moses as the apostle of Israel received communications from two places - the altar and the mercy-seat. Blessing too is connected with two places. In Lev. 9:22 Aaron blessed the people ere he came down from offering the various sacrifices. It was blessing from the altar at the door of the tabernacle. Then Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle, and on coming out blessed the people as from within. There is also the worship at the door of the tabernacle, and the worship at the golden altar before the veil. The one is connected with the work of Christ, the other with His perfections, though based upon the work, for the fire which consumed the incense must be taken from the altar where the burnt-sacrifice was offered.
But to return to chapter 29. We may notice in connection with the Lord speaking to Moses at the brazen altar that we have the antitype in the communications made to His disciples by the Lord Jesus after He rose from the dead. He gave directions which were based upon the work of the cross. Luke 24:47 gives us such, also Matthew 28:19, 20; and again, in Acts 1:2, 3, He gave commandments to the apostles He had chosen, and spoke with them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Communications as to the assembly and the truths connected therewith were given after His ascension. Matt. 16:18 is not an exception to this. It really reveals the nature and out-of-the-world character of the assembly, but the communications for it in that character are by the Holy Ghost from Christ within. Christians may also be looked at as in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, and as taking the place for the moment of Israel as a people upon earth, and in this sense direction and guidance is still given as to the government of a people who share in the sufferings of Christ, witnesses that He has suffered here, and partakers in the glory to be revealed when He comes out as King and Priest. In Luke 24:50 too the Lord blesses His people as upon earth before He was carried up into heaven; but in Ephesians 1:3 they are blessed in the heavenly places, and this is made known to them by the Spirit sent down from Him now that He is there.
It is very blessed to think of the ground which the Lord here lays for the apostolic direction of His people, and consequently for their full and final blessing, and also for His dwelling amongst a redeemed people - the lamb offered upon the altar morning and evening. During the night, when none were conscious of it, the fire was ever burning on the altar (Lev. 6:9), the sweet savour of the sacrifice was ever before the Lord. Thus during the dark night of Israel's unbelief the work of the Lord Jesus is before God on their behalf, and the very way, as well as the ground, of their blessing is secured. In verse 44 also we see how the tabernacle and the altar are connected. Jehovah's glory on the one and Jehovah's sacrifice on the other. Thus He secures the purpose for which He brought a people forth out of the land of Egypt, that He might dwell among them and be their God, and this will yet be accomplished. Though we have partly anticipated the character of the golden altar, yet hitherto we have chiefly been occupied (in the closing verses of chapter 29) with the worship and direction and blessing of an earthly people, and we have seen that it is connected with the work of the cross. This is the foundation of all worship, but there is yet more typified here by the burning of incense on the golden altar. W may say that the sweet savour of the incense was to delight the heart of God. It was no question of meeting His claims on men, or of their being accepted, for no burnt sacrifice, or even meat offering, might be offered on it. It is not the work of Christ, but the perfections of Him who did the work with which the worshipper is engaged, as he realises the delight of God in them. There being now no veil, not only the incense goes within, but the worshipper himself is within also, where Christ is supreme, and what He is to the Father is known and uttered forth in worship. We may well ask ourselves how far our worship goes, whether we are contented with recounting the benefits which flow to us from the sacrifice of Christ, or whether we know the place within where all the perfections of Christ fill the holy place.
Furthermore, we must remember, that though the tabernacle was placed amongst the people of Israel, yet that we Christians are a spiritual house as well as a holy priesthood. Such a thought carries us farther than the door of the tabernacle. We do know, and thank and praise as knowing, the work of Christ as the foundation of all our blessing; but in Him we are builded together for a habitation of God by the Spirit, and thus by the Spirit can set forth His perfections and glory to the delight of the heart of our God and Father in our worship. It is instructive and beautiful to see that the day of atonement, when the blood was carried within, is anticipated in verse 10, and the reconciliation effected by that blood constituted the golden altar most holy to the Lord. It again shows us the intense holiness that is connected with the dealing with sin, though its effect here is to render to God the worship not only of thankful, but of adoring hearts. The worship of the first day of the week begins with the death of Christ as having brought us within, that we may there join with Him in His praises, and receive the communications which He makes to us from within, for we must note here that the position of the golden altar (verse 6) brings out the mention of the testimony in the ark, and the meeting-place where God spoke with Moses.
One other thing must be noticed, that the burning of incense was Aaron's work, and it is only as we are in the company of the great High Priest that we can enter into the sweet perfume of the incense which He offers. We worship in His company. It is important also for us to remember that the incense is for God. No one could make anything like it to smell thereto, yet as brought into the holy place we enter into what Christ is to God. The maintaining too of the light, and the giving it forth, are intimately connected with what Christ is for God. The testimony of the Spirit is given forth because of the presence of Christ Within. Hence it is said, "He shall glorify Me." The Spirit knows the deep perfections of the blessed Man who is before God, and, we may say, delights to speak of them. It is by the Spirit we are enabled to worship within, where the incense is, for it is by the Spirit that Christ's perfections are made known to us. Here everything is looked at in its perfection in Him. Aaron lights the lamps and burns the incense, but what is true in Him is also true in us. Testimony and communion go together - the word of God and prayer. T. H. Reynolds.