By Thomas Newberry
Altar of Incense
The Golden Altar of Incense.
Verse 1. "And thou shalt make an altar to burn [burn as incense] incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make IT."
THERE were two altars, the brazen altar of burnt offering and the golden altar of incense. They are both typical of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but in distinct aspects. At the BRAZEN altar, we see Christ in death and resurrection, offering Himself without spot to God, and accepted in all the sweet savour of His perfect sacrifice - the ground of the believer's acceptance and communion with God.
At the GOLDEN altar, we see Christ in all the excellency of His character and ways before God, through whom the children of God draw near and worship with confidence and joy.
Both the brazen and the golden altar were made of shittim wood within, as showing that the Incarnation of Christ lies at the foundation of His whole work on behalf of His people; for the children being partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part of the same.
Verse 2. "And a cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; four square shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof."
The table of shewbread was two cubits in length, and one in breadth, and one cubit and a half in height. This altar was one cubit square, and two in height. The TABLE was on a level with the mercy-seat, and the brazen grate of the altar of burnt offering; for the table sets forth COMMUNION on the ground of atonement made, and in the remembrance of the death of Jesus. The GOLDEN ALTAR was half a cubit higher, because we draw nigh to God in the Name of Him who, though once humbled, is now risen and glorified.
THE HORNS OF THE ALTAR.
"The horns thereof shall be of the same."
The HORN IS the emblem of strength; and there is power in Jesus, on which faith can lay hold in drawing nigh to God; while the human tenderness and sympathy of Jesus give sweet encouragement to faith.
Verse 3. " thou shalt overlay IT with pure gold, the top [roof] thereof, and the sides [walls] thereof round about, and the horns thereof."
The Divine glory and excellency of the Lord Jesus, as well as His humanity, and in combination with it, is thus set forth.
But in the type before us, the same Saviour is represented as present in Spirit in the midst of His worshipping people on earth, by whom the sacrifice of praise is offered up to God continually. It is the vivid setting forth of those invaluable words in Matt. 18.19,20.
The altar stands before, not within the vail in the holy place; for it tells of Jesus in the assembly, and yet it stands before the ark and propitiatory, from whence God holds fellowship with His servants. And in Jesus who is present in Spirit with us on earth, and present in Person for us above, all the promises of God are yea, and amen, to the glory of God by us.
All this is true to the believer individually, as well as to the saints collectively.
THE PERPETUAL USE OF THE ALTAR
Verses 7, 8. "And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even [between the two evenings] he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before Jehovah throughout your generations."
So Christ, the High Priest of our profession, ever liveth to make intercession for us.
In John 17. we have the reality and substance of these Divine foreshadowings. We there see Jesus on earth, surrounded by His disciples; but in Spirit entering into the Holiest, His work finished, and the crown of glory won. In ACT it was the High Priest at the golden altar - IN ANTICIPATION, the High Priest on the day of Atonement entering into the holiest.
Let us look at Him as at the golden altar, and listen to His words, "Father, I glorified Thee on the earth, I finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." "I manifested Thy Name."
He thus presented before His Father, as sweet and fragrant incense, the memorial of what He had been in His character and life on earth; and then claiming for Himself the just recompense of reward, He obtains on behalf of His disciples, and of believers through their word, the richest, choicest, highest blessings. And these words He spake in the world, that we might have His joy fulfilled in ourselves, in being thus enabled to enter into His thoughts concerning us, through this magnificent specimen of His present and perpetual intercession, in the knowledge of the glory which He has, and which He will share with us.
THE TIME OF INCENSE.
We have considered the LAMPSTAND with its seven lamps, as the type of ministry or testimony in connection with Christ, and in the power of the Spirit. Christ Himself PREPARES His servants for this ministry in the Word, and He gives grace and power for its EXERCISE. Just as Aaron dressed the lamps in the morning; and caused the flame to ascend at even, or between the two evenings. In Revelation 1, 2, 3, the Lord Jesus is shown as one like unto the Son of Man in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, giving and directing the testimony which was to be borne in His Name.
Testimony to Christ is a sweet savour unto God, as says the Apostle in 2 Cor. 2.15,16, "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish." This is not all: the type before us beautifully and expressively shows, the connection between the preparation and exercise of ministry, in fellowship with Jesus, and the fragrance of His own intercession. When the servant is preparing, or being prepared for testimony, the intercession of Jesus is ascending on his behalf; and when he is giving his testimony, the sweet savour of the Name of Jesus is going up before God.
Verse 9. "Ye shall offer up no strange incense thereon, nor ascending-offering, nor gift-offering; neither shall ye pour drink-offering thereon."
Thus the altar of incense was kept perfectly distinct from the altar of burnt or ascending-offering. We do well to remember this in drawing nigh to God.
No strange incense was permitted, any more than strange fire. Jesus pleads no other excellency than His own, as the ground for the acceptance of our prayers and praises.
The believer's priestly access to God is a progressive thing. We go from strength to strength.
In the SIN-OFFERING consumed without the camp, we see Jesus "delivered for our offences," and the question of sin settled. At the BRAZEN ALTAR, we see Jesus "raised again for justification, and realise acceptance in Him, and the joy of God's salvation."
At the LAVER we recognise Christ as our SANCTIFICATION, through the Holy Ghost the Comforter sent down from heaven.
At the GOLDEN ALTAR He is presented as the High Priest of our profession, appearing in the presence of God for us, in all the value of His living service, personal excellency, and atoning work, which He pleads, and we plead for our acceptance before God. As guilty sinners, we find acceptance at the brazen altar, through the accepted sacrifice of a crucified and risen Saviour.
At the layer we find provision made for our sanctification in Christ, through the Holy Ghost.
At the golden altar we have fellowship with God, and nearness of access to Him, in all the preciousness of the life and person of Jesus, as He was, and as He is.
In the ark of the covenant within the vail we see every promise of God yea and amen, to us in Christ, and full security for every blessing, for time and for eternity.
THE BLOOD ON THE HORNS OF THE ALTAR OF INCENSE.
Verse 10. "Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once a year, with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto Jehovah."
The foundation of our acceptance is laid in atonement, and we know from Hebrews 10 that this yearly act was a type of the one offering of Jesus, whereby He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And this act of atonement was two-fold, for on the tenth day of the seventh month, Aaron entered within the vail; first, with the blood of the bullock for himself and for his house, typical of Christ and the Church (Heb. 3.6); and then with the blood of the goat for all Israel and the sanctuary. At the same time he put the blood on the horns of the golden altar (Lev. 15). And while no burnt sacrifice nor gift-offering was to be offered on this altar, yet the blood of atonement on the horns of it speaks of peace once made, and the remission of sins once for all, through the sacrifice of Christ.