The Holy Incense
M. A. Sweeney, Earlwood, New South Wales, Australia
The incense of Exodus chapter 30 verses 34- 38 is seen to be distinct from the holy anointing oil of verses 23-33. According to verse 35, ‘Thou shalt make it a perfume’, ‘a sweet smell’, - a ‘confection’, i.e., a mixture compounded especially with the thought of preserving.
This chapter seems to deal progressively with worship. It commences with the altar to burn incense upon; it then speaks of the redeemed, vv. 11 to 16, the cleansed, vv. 17 to 21, the anointed, vv. 22 to 23, and concludes with a beautiful picture of the fragrant life of the Man Christ Jesus, vv. 34 to 38.
The incense required to be made here is unique, its equal never known for there was to be nothing like it on earth. Some of it was laid up before the testimony, v. 36, but its main purpose was to fill the sanctuary with its sweetness. This surely is the type of the new sanctuary which the Lord pitched and not man, and suggestive of the eternal state, Heb. 8. 2. The fragrance penetrated the entire tabernacle, and pervaded the curtains above as well as the movements and ministry of the High Priest who served below. All were completed in its fragrance, thus indicative as such of the life and service of the Lord Jesus.
God gave the ingredients, the composition and the art of tempering it together. The ingredients were of like weight. The weight unknown for none can tell or know Christ’s virtues or sweetness, but God alone. His life was a perfect balance of every grace with no quality or grace outshining at the expense of another. His words and ways, His grace and truth; His smiles and frowns were all in accord with the Father’s will and mind. His own testimony was, ‘I do always the things that please the Father’.
Verse 34 speaks of the spices. They were ‘sweet spices’. Stacte was an aromatic gum, the finest myrrh. The bride of the Song of Solomon says, ‘My Beloved is as a bundle of myrrh unto me. He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts’. Myrrh was used by the Eastern women on the person, in clothes, and in the beds because of its pleasant aroma. But a bundle? How fragrant! Lying all night in her affection the thoughts of her beloved sweetened the dark hours of the night season ‘until the day dawn and the shadows flee away’ and he comes for her. We do well to pursue her example with our Beloved. ‘Stacte’ means ‘a drop’. So small, yet so fresh and fragrant, like the manna from heaven ‘a small thing’ (of no reputation) and a ‘round thing’ (His eternal being).
‘Onycha’ was a soft mussel living in a doublehinged shell, like an oyster. It was only possible to remove the shell by the concussion of sound. The Father’s voice calling from the sanctuary for a burnt offering was heard by Christ, Lev. 1. 6. He veiled His glory and was found in the world as the true Hebrew Servant with intense love for His master and wife and children, and so, with digged ear, opened morning by morning, He heard the Father’s voice.
‘Galbanum’ was an odorous gum - from a word meaning ‘fat’, or ‘fatty’. The fat suggests the richest, and best of the animal and was always God’s portion. Abel the first man to approach God in faith, brought the ‘firstling and the fat’, and ‘offered a more excellent sacrifice’, Heb. 11. 4. ‘Firstling’ and ‘fat’ are both indicative of the Lord Jesus in His fullest excellence to God.
Stacte, Onycha and Galbanum with frankincense, (so called on account of its whiteness and its smoke), together set out the absolute purity of Christ’s life, which was without the dust, or grit of earth, being untouched, unmarked, unspotted, and unspoilt by this world. It was made a ‘confection’, v. 35, ‘after the art of the apothecary’ (i.e., the art of compounding or perfuming) tempered together. ‘Tempered’ is to ‘rub’, ‘pulverize’, ‘disappear as dust’, or ‘to salt’, as the meal offering, Lev. 2. 13. The salt was unseen, but its effects manifest. These spices were pulverized until they were in themselves so finely powdered they could no longer be seen.
Verse 35 declares the mixture was ‘pure and holy.’ Nowhere else in scripture are these words linked together. The reason is that no other life could be so described but only that of the pure, holy, meek and lowly Man, Christ Jesus. The word ‘pure’ means ‘pure in every way’, pure in a physical, chemical, ceremonial and moral sense. He was that ‘holy thing’ brought forth by His virgin mother, Luke 1. 35. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sin and sinners, Heb. 7. 26.
Verse 36 declares that they were to ‘beat some of it very small’. ‘Some only’ was the requirement to be beaten very small and then to be ‘laid up before the sanctuary’. The ointment, or perfume, was tempered together and so complete in itself and fragrant. Some of it was then ‘beaten’, not to improve its fineness or aroma but to manifest its purity and sweetness. The beating is to bruise, or grind to powder. There are here greater degrees of fineness than elsewhere in scripture. Surely we perceive here the dark hours and sufferings of Calvary, ‘Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He hath put Him to grief’, Isa. 53. 9. The wonder of it is that dying, crushed beneath the load of the wrath and curse of God He was still the meek and lowly One, pure and sweet even under the judgemental hand of God.
Verse 37 states it was a composition meaning a ‘measure’, a ‘proportion in size’ made up of a ‘number of ingredients’. God measured, numbered and weighed every ingredient of the composition, though pulverized and brought to dust, and found all the sweetness and value of the perfect humanity of the beloved Son, Christ Jesus. He ever was the delight of His Father.
Verse 38 required that in no way was this compound to be imitated; no likeness allowed. This compound had its place in the tabernacle and God Himself alone was to savour with delight the sweet, precious and unequalled fragrance. ‘Smell’ is to ‘anticipate’, ‘enjoy’, of ‘quick understanding’. Just as God alone could know its weight, He alone could smell, anticipate, and enjoy the full aroma. But while the mind of deity alone can truly value all of Christ, as the lovely hymn declares, ‘The Father only (glorious claim), the Son can comprehend’, yet the saints shall have the opportunity of gazing upon the fresh wonders of His person and graces throughout eternity and to enjoy the unfolding of Christ as the Lamb freshly slain.
The altar of incense upon which the incense was burnt on all occasions, excepting the day of atonement when it was offered upon coals in the golden censer, was placed before the ark and said to be ‘before the Lord’ in the holy place. It stood in the path that led to the ‘holiest of all’ and all who would enter must pass it. As such it sets out for us the essential nature of the intercessory work of the Lord Jesus. The golden altar had direct reference to God’s presence between the cherubim and over the mercy seat. The Lord Jesus is the living Witness of purity and holiness before the Lord for us and stands in the way to add His fragrance to our petitions and constantly adds that sweetness to all our service. Without the intervening veil to hinder we may heed the invitation to ‘draw near with boldness’.
Incense was burnt twice each day upon this altar and the perfume caused to ascend fresh before the Lord. So it was required that ‘in the morning when he dresseth the lamps and when he lighteth the lamps at even’, the incense was to be offered. The object of burning the incense was that the fullness of fragrance would perfume the sanctuary during the ministry of the priests at the lampstand and cause the holy perfume to ascend to the Lord during the night season. Thus it is that at the close of the dark night just as the day is about to dawn we can see the church, presented in all the fullness of its undimmed radiance before God, ascending into in His presence, the last fragrant cloud of Christ’s intercessory work of ‘saving to the uttermost’. Its fullness will be manifest as the Lord Jesus presents the saints in all His faultless and eternal glory. God give us to bow our hearts before Him now in fresh adoration as we anticipate that glorious day!