Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

How is incense like prayer?

Yesterday I wrote about incense, and how the LORD told Jeremiah to tell the people that their sacrifices of incense were not going to be received, because of their sin. He was going to send judgment instead. I’d said that there is a connection between incense and prayer, to be explored today.

First, let’s look at the Temple and the altar of incense, called the golden altar. (Exodus 39:38).

for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD.
(1 Chronicles 28:18–19).

The Lexham Bible Dictionary explains that pure incense was manufactured from equal parts of the following substances:

•      stacte—oil of myrrh
•      onycha—an extract from a Red Sea mollusk
•      galbanum—thought to come from the gum of an umbelliferous plant
•      frankincense

This mixture was seasoned with salt (Exodus 30:34–38). The LORD raised up perfumers whose job it was to produce the incense. (Exodus 30:34-38). One of the responsibilities of the priest was to keep incense burning on the altar daily. (2 Chronicles 13:11). Not to burn it was disobedience. (2 Chronicles 29:7-8).

There’s much more to the actual incense ingredients, blending, burning, and spiritual uses, but for now, let’s turn to the main idea for today- the connection between incense and prayers.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Zechariah, in Luke 1:8-11)

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews makes a distinction between the two times incense is used in the temple.

Whereas, therefore, there was a twofold use of the altar of incense; the one of the ordinary priests, to burn incense in the sanctuary every day; and the other of the high priest, to take incense from it when he entered into the most holy place, to fill it with a cloud of its smoke; the apostle intending a comparison peculiarly between the Lord Christ and the high priest only in this place, and not the other priests in the daily. discharge of their office

Incense both accompanies and symbolizes prayer. ( Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). The burning of incense as a sweet smelling offering before the Lord, indicated the worshiper’s duty to present prayers or offerings that were pleasing to God (1 Samuel 2:28).

When the New Covenant came, the new way of praying came. (Matthew 6:9, HebrewsNo longer needing a priest to intercede,no longer needing incense to symbolize types and shadows, we now have the Spirit in us to intercede, and resurrected Jesus next to the right hand of the Father to intercede. We can ourselves go boldly before the throne of grace.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1.) In that it was beaten and pounded before it was used. So doth acceptable prayer proceed from “a broken and contrite heart,” Isaiah 51:17.

(2.) It was of no use until fire was put under it, and that taken from the altar. Nor is that prayer of any virtue or efficacy which is not kindled by the fire from above, the Holy Spirit of God; which we have from our altar, Christ Jesus.

(3.) It naturally ascended upwards towards heaven, as all offerings in the Hebrew are called “ascensions,” risings up. And this is the design of prayer, to ascend unto the throne of God: “I will direct unto thee, and will look up;” that is, pray, Psalms 5:3.

(4.) It yielded a sweet savor: which was one end of it in temple services, wherein there was so much burning of flesh and blood. So doth prayer yield a sweet savor unto God; a savor of rest, wherein he is well pleased.

Owen further observes:

We are always to reckon that the efficacy and prevalency of all our prayers depends on the incense which is in the hand of our merciful high priest. — It is offered with the prayers of the saints, Revelation 8:4. In themselves our prayers are weak and imperfect; it is hard to conceive how they should find acceptance with God. But the invaluable incense of the intercession of Christ gives them acceptance and prevalency.

What an inexpressible privilege it is to pray. The curtain is parted, we may boldly approach the throne of God. He not only hears our prayer, he Himself intercedes for us when we utter groanings too weak to understand. (Romans 8:26).

Do not neglect prayer, a sweet smell of our sacrifice of praise to our Lord who hears.

smoke2

Posted in prophecy

When a sweet smell is foul

Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me. (Jeremiah 6:19-20).

The LORD had instituted incense offerings which can be seen in Exodus 30:7-8; Exodus 30:34; 2 Chronicles 13:11. According to Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, from 1897, we read of incense that the sacrifices were

a fragrant composition prepared by the “art of the apothecary.” It consisted of four ingredients “beaten small” (Exodus 30:34-36). That which was not thus prepared was called “strange incense” (30:9). It was offered along with every meat-offering; and besides was daily offered on the golden altar in the holy place, and on the great day of atonement was burnt by the high priest in the holy of holies (Exodus 30:7 Exodus 30:8). It was the symbol of prayer (Psalms 141:1 Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3 Revelation 8:4). Source Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

A Renaissance era pomander container. Source

In today’s verse from Jeremiah we read that the LORD had become angry with a sweet smelling offering that was devoid of obedience and love for His law. An empty sweet smelling fragrance would do nothing to satisfy Him or render the giver justified in any way. It’s ineffective. Instead, such an empty sacrifice incurs wrath.

The notion of ineffective perfumes reminded me of the 14th century bubonic plague remedy. People were told to carry pomanders, which were perfume balls containing herbs, flowers, and spices, either around their neck or in their hand, and to sniff it constantly so as to ward off the disease.

Pomanders are traditionally mixtures of fragrant substances which are often held within a container – although the term can also be applied to the container itself. The odours given off by the mixtures were once believed to offer protection against disease and they are particularly associated with times of plague, from the 1300s onwards. Their use is linked to centuries-old miasma theories which suggested that disease was transmitted through foul-smelling air. Keeping a sweet-smelling pomander close by was believed to offer protection.

Miasma theory posited that disease was carried by a cloud of poisonous vapor in the air, which was created by decay and could be identified by a bad smell. Following the logic that bad smelling air carried disease, it makes perfect sense that you could “cure” the air by making it smell good. Hence the perfume. And the long nose to stuff good smelling material into.

It seems silly to think that a perfume ball containing a few herbs and sweet-smelling spices would protect one from bubonic plague! But just as silly were the Jews who thought that they could disobey Him all day long and at the end offer the Lord God a sweet smelling offering and everything would be all right. Such empty fragrances do nothing to ward off the disease of sin. Nor would they protect one from wrath and judgment.

So what would satisfy His wrath and stay His judgment?

Thus says the LORD:
Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls
(Jeremiah 6:16)

The good way is traveling the road of His word. It pleases the LORD and it gives rest to the rebellious soul. We also would do well to inquire as to where the good paths are, and walk on them. The sweetest scent of all is obedience.

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Note: Tomorrow- the link between incense and prayer