‘And thou shalt put it [the altar of incense] before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony,’ etc.
The altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and stood about a yard high and eighteen inches square. Incense was burnt upon it every morning and evening, and it was used for this purpose only. The altar and incense were symbolic—
I. Of the prayers of God’s people.—(1) In prayer we speak to God and tell Him the thoughts of our minds, the feelings of our hearts, the desires of our spirits. The incense smoke ascended, arrow-like, in a straight and most direct column to heaven. Our prayers ascend immediately and in the directest way to the heart and ear of God. (2) In prayer we stand very near God. The altar of incense was placed ‘before the mercy-seat.’ (3) The pleasant odour of the incense is symbolic of the acceptableness of prayer.
II. Of intelligent, unceasing, and reverent prayer.—(1) The burning of incense is intelligent prayer. It took place in the light, and our prayers should be presented to God intelligently. (2) Unceasing prayer. It was a perpetual incense before the Lord. (3) Reverent prayer. ‘Ye shall burn no strange incense thereon; it is most holy unto the Lord.’
III. Of prayer offered in Christ’s name.—Aaron sprinkled the golden horns with the blood of atonement. This act is typical of the offering of prayer in the name of Christ.
IV. Of the power of prayer.—The horns of the altar symbolise power. ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’
(1) ‘What a lovely, significant, and instructive symbol of prayer the incense is! That that was the meaning, and was recognised to be the meaning of the incense in the old worship, there are plenty of illustrations in the Old Testament itself. Isaiah 6. contains one of them, where, in the vision of the higher temple, we find that the consequence of the praise, the adoring prayer,—not the supplicatory one,—of the higher seraphim, was, that “at the voice of him that cried the house was filled with smoke.” As if the voice was transubstantiated, so to speak, into the curling spires of the wreathing incense that went up and filled the sanctuary.
And then there is a still distincter proof of it in one of the old psalms. “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” So that the devouter spirits in these old times apprehended the meaning of the symbolism and felt the beauty of it.’
(2) ‘The very altar of incense needs to have an atonement made for it once in the year throughout their generations with the blood of the sin offering of atonement. The prayer of every heart which knows its own secret will be this: