The Altar of Incense,


Exodus 30.

We have noticed the double character of worship connected with the brazen and golden altars, and also that communications were made to Moses from those two places; for though the golden altar was. outside the veil, yet its position was before the mercy-seat, where God met with the mediator. No doubt the service of the golden altar was primarily in respect of Israel. Christ Himself is the antitype to that altar, as to all else in the tabernacle, and His perfect desires for that people will yet be accomplished - they will yet be the vessel of light in His hand. But as those who are of the priestly family, we are privileged to draw near, and to enter into the desires of Christ as now expressed while intercession for Israel is in abeyance. We listen to these desires for "His own" in John 17. We are privileged to enter into the breathings which went up to the Father - His first thought the Father's glory; but that glory in deepest grace bound up with the Son, making Him known to us. Then the Father's words given to His own that they might take the place in the world of being for Him, sanctified by the truth of the Father's word.

Testimony and communion go together. The incense was burnt when the lamps were dressed and lighted. And again in verse 36 the incense beaten small was placed before the testimony, where the Lord met with Moses to speak to him. The fragrance of the incense was connected with the communications there made. How blessed that there is One who has much more than answered to the feeble shadow. In Him were thoughts, and feelings, and desires which were those of the Son who was ever in the bosom of the Father, and which as perfections in a Man can be and were expressed to God His Father, and all based upon the glorifying of God by His own accomplished work. It is feebly that we can speak of the inexpressible delight of God in the perfections of Christ; but this blessed One is the word of life to us, so that we should have communion with and know these perfections better, and be witnesses for Him as growing up in His nature. The church, as the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, will fulfil the desires expressed by the Lord in John 17:22-23. It will be the vessel of light through which the glory of the heavenly will shine upon the earth.

The words, "And the Lord spake unto Moses" (v.11), begin another detail of the service, which was henceforth to be associated with the tabernacle and priesthood. The sum of the children of Israel is to be taken. The details of the numbering are given in the early chapters of the book of Numbers. God's pleasure is to register His people, whether for earth or heaven. The latter are referred to in Hebrews 12:23, as "the Church of the first-born which are written in heaven," while Psalm 87:6 speaks of the former, "the people," written by Jehovah as born of Zion. In our present chapter we have the registry of those whom He had redeemed and brought out of Egypt. Every one is numbered, for the Lord has a personal interest in each. That is the Lord's side of it, but on the people's side there must be the acknowledgment, that only on the ground of atonement could each one be counted as amongst His people. And here there is no difference between rich or poor, all are equally on the same ground; each acknowledges by his half-shekel that on the ground of ransom alone is he a living soul among the people of God. But further, the money was appointed for the service of the tabernacle. Each one registered not only possessed his soul as a ransomed one, but each had his memorial in the service of the sanctuary. This was very blessed for them, for though the people had not as individuals the special privileges of service, yet each one was represented and had his memorial in the tabernacle by this offering. There is an analogy for the Christian. Looked at as associated with Christ, we are all of one company with Him, entering into the holiest, and worshipping there, but as individuals there are privileges which grace accords to each. The Philippians were not set in the same individual path of service as Paul, but they were not debarred thereby from having fellowship with the ministry of the gospel specially entrusted to him, and lie owns their privilege in the words, "Both in my bonds; and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace." The feeblest saint has the privilege of having his memorial in the service of the interests of Christ. Not only is he written as one of the redeemed, but he has his part in association with the interests of the Lord.

Then follows (v. 17) the provision for the maintenance in priestly communion of those who ministered in the sanctuary. We have seen in chap. 29:4 that they had been already washed or bathed in water. Thus they were clean, as our Lord said to His disciples, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." The Word is that which converts the soul; by which the thoughts and desires of the natural man are judged, and supplanted by new and holy affections and thoughts which are of God. But a soul thus converted and born again can only find in the revelation of the things of God that which responds to these new affections and desires. Such a revelation was figuratively made in the tabernacle and its services. Hence we find such utterances in the lips of saints of old as these: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple" (Ps. 27:4); and again, "My soul thirsteth for Thee … to see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary" (Ps, 63:1-2); and yet again, "How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord. … For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand." (Ps. 84:1-2, 10.) To serve in the sanctuary was the privilege of the priestly company; but in order to their enjoyment of it, all that would hinder their communion and service must be judged by the Word, and their intimacy with these privileges be according to its requirements. It will not allow anything inconsistent with priestly nearness.

The place of the laver was between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar. (v. 18.) Its position shows on the one side an imperative necessity (" that they die not"), and on the other a gracious provision for those who approached. The washing of water judged and removed all that was contrary to holiness, so that the Lord should not judge (1 Cor. 11:31), and also gave fitness for communion with the mind of God as expressed and revealed in the sanctuary. The Lord's gracious action in washing the disciples' feet (John 13) is of the same character. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." When' a priest entered into the sanctuary he was not occupied with the needs or the acceptance of men, as at the brazen altar (though he must be clean for that), but with Him who dwelt there, and with the manifestation of Himself, now known in Christ. The sovereignty of grace flowed out in Christ when He came into this world. Here He died for our sins, but He has gone out of the world to the Father, and His service is to give us intimacy with Himself there. The Word revealing the truth, not only as to His death, but as to His resurrection and departure to the Father, is that which judges all that is of man and associates us with Christ in the place where He is. The type could not foreshadow this, it could not go beyond the intimation of a people in nearness according to the then revelation of God. The place of intimacy into which the Son would bring His own, when about to depart out of this world to the Father, could not be known until He revealed it.

The "oil of holy ointment" is next brought before us. With it the tabernacle and its vessels were to be anointed and sanctified. All was to be set apart for God as holy to Him. The priests who carried on the service and worship of the sanctuary were also anointed. What is for God must be in the power of the Spirit. It figures a scene and service where the energy and will of man have no place. All is sanctified for God. Upon man's flesh, that is upon man as such, the oil must not be poured. Upon a priest it could, that is, upon one taken out of the standing of man in the flesh. The washing of Aaron and his sons from their old associations finds its antitype now in the purification of believers by the death of Christ. Blood too was applied to them. The water and blood from the side of a dead Christ witness that the believer is no longer in the standing of flesh. "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." And the Spirit is the power by which the believer lives to God.

We cannot have shadowed here the privileges which believers possess as anointed by the Spirit. They are 'thus enabled to know the things which are freely given of God. He is too "the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father." Hence by one Spirit we have, through Christ, access to the Father. By the Spirit we are baptized into one body, and united to Christ in heaven. Nothing of this comes before us in the type, and even in that in which we now find an analogy; the antitype surpasses. We can look at believers as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. They are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit, and so far they answer to what is typified, but the saints who compose the church are a new creation in Christ. In Him the whole building fitly framed together grows to a holy temple in the Lord. It will, too, be the heavenly tabernacle of God, the vessel of the Spirit's power towards Israel and the earth in the millennium. The saints of this dispensation will take the place of the priestly family - Aaron and his sons - to Israel. It is this aspect of worship which comes before us in the book of Revelation; we do not find that character of worship which tells of the relationship either of sons before the Father, or of the members of the body of Christ. It is as looking towards the earth that they say, "Unto Him that loveth us, and has washed us from our sins, and made us kings and priests unto God and His Father"; and again, the new song of chap. 5 celebrates redemption to God with a view to reigning upon the earth. Still it will be a blessed moment when the Spirit is poured out from on high, a river of refreshing from the heavenly city.

We have partly anticipated the incense, having looked at it as burnt upon the golden altar, or put before the mercy-seat. In either case it was for God, "holy unto the Lord." The perfections of Christ were for God, while in the anointing oil we have the perfections with which the created scene (the tabernacle) is to be filled in the power of the Spirit. It was too for the anointing of the priests, that they might be sanctified and enabled to minister in the knowledge and savour of these perfections. The incense was for God, nevertheless we are privileged to enter into the delight which He has in Christ. The priests enjoyed the fragrance of the incense while offering it to God.

It seems to me that there is something beyond this which the love of Christ has made ours. He has said, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." I do not think the tabernacle goes beyond the created scene, and what Christ is as the manifestation of God in man, and what He is as man for God, and all this is very blessed and wonderful. But in the verse we have quoted, it is what the Son is with the Father, loved before the foundation of the world. True, He enters that glory as Man, but it is the glory that He had before there was a created scene. He wills that we should see it. Marvellous blessing - fruit of divine and eternal love. Lord, may our hearts respond to it for Thy name's sake! T. H. Reynolds.