“Aaron will burn fragrant incense on it as a pleasing aroma every morning; he is to burn it when he prepares the lamps. Aharon is also to burn it when he lights the lamps at dusk; this is the regular burning of incense before Adonai through all your generations. You are not to offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering or a grain offering; and you are not to pour a drink offering on it.”-Exodus 30:7-9
In my last post about the Altar of Incense or the Golden altar, I talked about KETORET ZARAH which refers to “unauthorized incense”.
There is another underlying meaning of KETORET ZARAH that I didn’t go into last time.
In many of the other cultures of the time, it was common practice for pagan priests to burn incense to their gods.
And interestingly, incense was also used as a deodorizer to vanquish foul odors.
A variety of incenses were available for sale or barter on the market.
However, Israel was not only prohibited from using these other incenses, they weren’t even allowed to accept any incense from outside the nation of Israel.
Incense could NOT be outsourced.
KETORET means “incense” (but can also mean “bonding”).
ZARAH means “outsider”.
So another good way to translate KETORET ZARAH would be to call it “incense from an outsider”.
Later on we will be introduced to the term “strange fire”.
The Hebrew word for “strange fire” comes from the phrase we just learned: ZARAH.
So literally speaking, ZARAH means “outsider”.
Can you see how God is adding another layer to the wall meant to separate Israel from everyone else?
Now what is really exciting is how the rituals surrounding the Altar of Incense demonstrates that when we come to God in prayer, we must do so on His terms.
We cannot approach God in prayer anyway we like and expect Him to answer.
Let’s examine the procedures the High Priest had to go through and see how this is so.
FIRST, the High Priest had to purified by the blood at the Altar of Sacrifice (the brazen altar).
The High Priest had to perform an animal sacrifice once in the morning, and then later in the evening at the Brazen Altar.
The lesson here is that before we can come to God in prayer (remember the burning incense of the Golden Altar symbolizes prayer) we must be purified by the blood of the sacrifice just as the High Priest had to do.
For believers today, the Cross is the true altar of sacrifice that the Brazen Altar pointed to and Yeshua is the sacrificial animal that purifies.
SECOND, just as the High Priest did his ritual washing with the Brazen Laver, we also must be washed clean by means of water.
Yeshua says He is our Living Water.
The Scriptures tell us that we must be washed clean by Him before we can approach the Father.
The ritual water washing also represents confessing and repenting of our sins.
We must leave our sins behind before approaching the Lord with our prayers, just as the priests had to wash away the dirt and soil from their feet and hands before they the approached the Lord.
FINALLY, after being purified by the blood of the sacrificial animal and cleansed by the water, then the High Priest enters the Holy Place to approach the Altar of Incense.
In Moses’ time, the Holy Place was a tent and then later it would become a wood and stone building called the Temple.
Just as the priests in Moses’ day had to be purified and cleansed before gaining access into the Holy Place, we also must be purified and cleansed by Yeshua before the Holy Spirit will come to dwell within us.
Today, the sanctuary is literally the disciples of Yeshua.
I also wanted to add that the coals the High Priest added to the top of the Altar of Incense had to be taken from the Brazen Altar.
So laid out right here for us in the Book of Exodus is a template or a model if you will for how we are to approach the Lord in prayer.
Finally, I have a feeling there may be some some skeptics out there who might take issue with me claiming that the Altar of Incense symbolizes prayer.
Some of you may be thinking that that’s just a bunch a allegorical sentimental spiritualizing nonsense.
Well, brace yourself, because I’m going to share some undeniable New Testament evidence that the smoke of the incense does indeed represent prayer that has BEEN MADE ACCEPTABLE to the Lord.
Check out the below NT verses below and prepare to be blown away!
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“When the Lamb broke the 7th seal,
there was silence in heaven
for what seemed like half an hour.
Then I saw the 7 angels who stand before God,
and they were given 7 shofars.
Another angel came and stood at the altar
with a gold incense bowl,
and he was given a large quantity of incense
to add to the prayers of all God’s people
on the gold altar in front of the throne.
The smoke of the incense went up
with the prayers of God’s people
from the hand of the angel before God.”