Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
After so many messages on chapter twenty-nine, we come now to a wonderful matter in chapter thirty—the golden incense altar (30:1-5).
In studying the types in the Old Testament, especially in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, the most difficult thing is to see how to apply these types to our daily Christian life. It is not so difficult to study the types in a doctrinal way or to understand them in a doctrinal way. But to apply these types in a practical way to our daily life as Christians requires a certain amount of experience.
Regarding the incense altar, I would like to ask this question: Why is the incense altar revealed so late in the sequence in the book of Exodus? From reading chapter twenty-five we know that the first item in the tabernacle to be mentioned is the ark. The record then goes on to speak of the table, the lampstand, and the building of the tabernacle itself. As we read chapters twenty-five and twenty-six, we may wonder why there is no mention of the incense altar in this section. Furthermore, chapter twenty-seven describes the bronze altar and the court of the tabernacle; chapter twenty-eight speaks of the priestly garments; and chapter twenty-nine is concerned with the sanctification of the priests. Actually, Exodus 29 is concerned with the priests’ food. Thus, chapter twenty-eight talks about the clothing of the priests, and chapter twenty-nine, their food. It is after all this that we have the description of the golden incense altar in 30:1-5. Therefore, the incense altar is the last item revealed of the furniture within the tabernacle. It is described after the revelation of the tabernacle with the rest of its furniture and the equipping of the priesthood. In other words, the incense altar comes in only after the tabernacle with all the rest of its furniture has been revealed.
We have seen that the incense altar is described after the chapter concerning the sanctification of the priests. When the priests have their clothing and their food, their hands are filled, and they are ready to serve God. By the end of chapter twenty-nine the tabernacle with its furniture is ready, and the priesthood is also ready. Now is the time for the holy service to begin. But with what should this holy service, this priestly service, begin? Some may think that the priestly service ought to begin at the altar of burnt offering, not at the incense altar. However, according to the divine record in Exodus, this service begins at the golden incense altar, which is the second altar.
With respect to the tabernacle, there are two altars: the altar of burnt offering in the outer court, the first altar, and the golden incense altar in the Holy Place, the second altar. In the sight of God, the priestly service begins at the incense altar, at the place where prayers are offered to God. I believe that it will be very helpful to our Christian life to dwell on the importance of the priestly service beginning at the incense altar.
In order to be impressed with the significance of the incense altar, I would ask you to pay attention to the diagram of the tabernacle printed with this message. The entrance to the outer court is on the east, toward the sunrise. The altar of burnt offering and the laver were in the outer court. The tabernacle, a structure thirty cubits long, ten cubits wide, and ten cubits high, was divided into two parts: the Holy Place, measuring twenty cubits by ten cubits, and the Holy of Holies, a cube ten cubits in length, width, and height. The table was on the north side of the Holy Place, and the lampstand was on the south side. The ark, the focal point of the entire tabernacle, was in the Holy of Holies. But where was the incense altar located? It was in the Holy Place, very close to the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.
Actually there is some ambiguity in the Scriptures regarding the location of the incense altar. It is difficult to say whether it was outside the veil or within the veil. Regarding the standing place of the incense altar, there is apparently a discrepancy between the mentioning of it in the Old Testament and that in the New Testament. Exodus 30:6 says that the incense altar was put “before the veil,” that is, outside the veil. This indicates clearly that the incense altar was put in the Holy Place, which was outside the veil, not in the Holy of Holies, which was within the veil. But Hebrews 9:4 says that the Holy of Holies has the incense altar. Therefore, many Christian teachers and Bible readers have thought that some error or misconstruction must somehow have occurred. But it is not so! The apparent discrepancy has a very spiritual significance according to a number of points.
First, the Old Testament record of the incense altar’s standing place implies the closest relation of the incense altar to the ark of testimony, over which is the propitiation-cover, where God meets with His people (Exo. 30:6). The record even says that the incense altar is set “before the ark of the testimony,” without mentioning the separating veil that stands between them (Exo. 40:5).
Second, according to the American Standard Version, 1 Kings 6:22 says that the incense altar “belonged to the oracle.” “Oracle” here means the speaking place of God; it denotes the Holy of Holies, in which was the ark of testimony with the propitiation-cover, where God spoke to His people. Thus, the Old Testament indicated already that the incense altar belonged to the Holy of Holies. (Though it was in the Holy Place, its function was for the ark of testimony in the Holy of Holies. On the day of atonement, both the incense altar and the propitiation-cover of the ark of testimony were sprinkled with the same blood for atonement—Exodus 30:10; Lev. 16:15-16.) Hence, in Exodus 26:35 only the table and the lampstand are mentioned as being in the Holy Place. There is no mention of the incense altar.
Third, the incense altar is related to prayer (Luke 1:10-11), and in Hebrews we see that to pray is to enter the Holy of Holies (Heb. 10:19) and to come to the throne of grace, signified by the propitiation-cover over the ark of testimony in the Holy of Holies. Our prayer often begins with our mind, which is part of our soul, signified by the Holy Place. But our prayer should usher us into our spirit, signified by the Holy of Holies. Due to all these points, the writer of Hebrews had to reckon that the incense altar belongs to the Holy of Holies Hebrews 9:4 does not say that a golden incense altar is in the Holy of Holies, as the lampstand and the table are in the Holy Place in verse 2. It says that the Holy of Holies has a golden altar, since it belongs to the Holy of Holies. This concept fits the whole emphasis of the book of Hebrews—that we should press on from the soul (signified by the Holy Place) to the spirit (signified by the Holy of Holies).
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