In the series, we have explored quite a number of areas of the Old Testament

1. The Fall Feast (Part 1)
2. Pauls Explanation Of Col 2 (Part 2)
3. Day Of Atonement (Part 3)
4. Feast Of The Tabernacles (Part 4)
5. Clean And Unclean Meat (Part 5 , Part 6)
6. Burning Of Incense (Part 7)

Introduction

Let us continue the discussion about burning Incense. In the time past, God instructed his priest to burn incense every morning and evening. Burning of incense is often linked to prayer. Here is another example of it.

In Lk 1:8-10 : As the priest was burning incense in the temple, the people were praying outside the temple. This is why we often link burning of incense with prayer.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, there are 2 rules governing incense.

The first rule is regarding the 4 components to be be mixed into the incense in equal proportion.
The second rule is that salt must be added onto incense

We have looked into these in the previous part

Beside the rules, there are 2 warnings associated with burning incense. They contain valuable lessons that we ought to know as Christians. Even though Christians do not need to burn incense, Christians are priest serving in the spiritual temple of the messiah. Let us look at these warning closely.

Warning 1: The Incense Is Holy Unto The Lord

The first warning is recorded here

“But as for the incense which you
  shall make, you shall not make
  any for yourselves, according to
  its composition. It shall be to you
  holy for the Lord. “-YHWH (Ex 30:37)

God told the Israelites not to make incense for themselves. Incense only be burnt for the Lord. No man is suppose to make incense for themselves.  Priest are to make sure that incense are only used in the temple and not elsewhere. Incense must never be lighted for personal pleasure and use.

This tell us that prayer is not done for the sake of fulfilling our own desires. Prayer must be used as a direct and simple communication with the Lord.  Elder James once talks about unanswered prayers.

“You ask and do not receive, 
  because you ask amiss, that
  you may spend it on your
  pleasures. “ – James (Jas 4:3)

This is an concept that parents are very familiar with. For parents sometime reject the request of their children. They do so even though they  had the capability to provide the children with what they desire.  They withheld from their children not because they were stingy, but because they knew that it is a waste of resources and it does not benefit them.

The same thing happens when God hears our prayer. However, Christians often do not examine themselves and their request. they murmur and complain why God did not grant their request. But James tell us plainly, for we have asked amiss, because we want to spend it on our own pleasure. We often fail to examine our own motive behind our request. Let us look at 2 example from the scriptures.

The Request Of James And John

Once James and John came before the Lord with an request

“Grant us that we may sit,
  one on Your right hand and
  the other on Your left, in
  Your glory.”- James And John (Mk 10:37)

“You do not know what you
  ask. Are you able to drink
  the cup that I drink, and be
  baptized with the baptism
  that I am baptized with?” – Jesus (Mk 10:38)

The bible records of another occasion when James and John spoke to Christ This time they were in Samaria, and the people refuse to receive Jesus.

“Lord, do You want us to
  command fire to come
  down from heaven and
  consume them, just as
  Elijah did?”- James And John (Lk 9:54)

This time James and John looks as though they were making this request on behalf of Christ Furthermore their request is biblical, it was base on the story of Elijah in 2 King 1. But how did Jesus react to that?

“You do not know what
  manner of spirit you are of.
 
For the Son of Man did not
  come to destroy men’s lives
  but to save them.”- Jesus (Lk 9:55-56)

The truth is that their prayer is not according to the will of God, but it is according to their desire and to vent their frustration and anger. They made these request to satisfy their own desire.  That is why they are rebuke by Jesus.

A priest must burn incense before the Lord. That is why they need to examine themselves to see if they are burning it for themselves or for God.

What Should One Pray For?

Of course it doesn’t mean that Christians should not pray for themselves. Jesus wanted us to pray for them, but he want us to pray for the things of God before praying for ourselves. Most Christians recite the Lord prayer. But have we consider what the Lord prayer teaches us?

“Hallowed be your name”. In the Lords prayer, we wanted everyone to hallow the name of God. For many in the world do not know the name of Jesus. That is why we need to pray so that others will know. At the same time we need to consider, if our actions bring glory or shame to God? When we pray did we pray for the name of God to be hallowed?

“Your kingdom come”. This kingdom is the church, for there are many places which have not have the church yet. Have we bothered to pray for the church? Perhaps we may not be able to start churches in pioneering are, but we can choose to pray for the church. As we burn our incense, did we burn it for the Lord? 

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The third thing to pray for is for the will of God to be done. This is important, we know that the will of God is always done in heaven. All the angels in heaven submits to him. But men on earth sometimes go against the will of God. That is why we need to pray for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” “Forgive Our Debts as we forgive our debtors” “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” This is the time we can pray for our daily bread, for forgiveness and for deliverance from evil.

That is how one ought to burn incense before the Lord. We must not burn it for ourselves but burn it for God.

Warning 2: One Should Not Burn For The Sake Of Smelling

The second warning is recorded in Ex 30:38

”Whoever makes any like it,
  to smell it, he shall be cut off
  from his people.”- YHWH (Ex 30:38)

No one is allowed to burn the incense for the sake of smelling  it. This rule sounds odd for if the priest were to burn incense, is it possible for them not to smell it? So what does it mean?

IT means one cannot deliberately  burn incense for the sake of smelling. Whoever who burn incense to smell it, he will be cut off from his people. That is why one should never burn incense and smell it for themselves.

In todays context, what does it mean to burn incense for the sake of smelling? Jesus provided us with an example to illustrate this,

The Prayer and Fasting  Of The Pharisees

“God, I thank You that I
  am not like other men—
  extortioners, unjust,
  adulterers, or even as
  this tax collector.”- Pharisee (Lk 18:10)

The Pharisee is burning incense for the sake of smelling the Aroma. Jesus describes his prayer as “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself”. The Pharisee was praying with himself. Those were the things he loved to hear, and God is not pleased with his prayer. It is full of his self righteousness, he is only able to smell his own aroma.

That is why Jesus tells us on the sermon of the mount.

“And when you pray, you shall
  not be like the hypocrites. For
  they love to pray standing in the 
  synagogues and on the corners
  of the streets, that they may be
  seen by men. Assuredly, I say to
  you, they have their reward.”-Jesus (Matt 6:5)

“Moreover, when you fast, do not
  be like the hypocrites, with a sad
  countenance. For they disfigure
  their faces that they may appear
  to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I
  say to you, they have their reward”-Jesus (Matt 6:16)

Prayer and fasting are suppose to be the manifestation of our reverence to God. They are similar to the burning of incense in the old testament. All these are suppose to be actions that were acceptable before God. But it is a pity that many Christians do this for the sake of smelling their own fragrance.

That is why Jesus called their prayer and fasting hypocritical . For they do it for the purpose of being seen by others and to receive praise from others. These Pharisees burnt incense for the sake of smelling the fragrance for themselves. Therefore whenever we offer incense before the Lord. Let us not burn incense for the sake of smelling.

The 2 Incidents Regarding Incense

Besides the 2 warning, the bible tell us of 2 incidents about incense. In those incidents, the priest were punished for burning incense. Burning incense is suppose to be blessings, how could it lead to judgement?

That is why we need to look into these two incidents and learn from them.

Incident 1 : Nadab And Abihu

The first incident of death is recorded in Lev 10:1-2

“Then Nadab and Abihu, the
  sons of Aaron, each took his
  censer and put fire in it, put
  incense on it, and offered profane
  fire before the Lord, which
  He had not commanded them.
 
So fire went out from the Lord
  and devoured them, and they
  died before the Lord.”-Moses (Lev 10:1-2)

Nadab and Abihu burnt incense to the Lord. But they did so not in accordance to the commandment of the Lord. For God instructed Aaron that the fire used to burn the incense must be the fire from the altar.

Incident 2 : The Rebellion Of Korah

Lev 16:12-13. Here God instructed that if Aaron were to burn incense in the tabernacle, he suppose to take his censer to the altar and take fire from the altar. Then he is to add incense into the fire before the Lord and burn it.

“Take a censer and put fire in
  it from the altar, put incense
  on it, and take it quickly to the
  congregation and make atonement
  for them; for wrath has gone
  out from the Lord.
  The plague has begun.”- Moses (Num 16:46)

At that point of time, God was judging the Israelites because of the rebellion of Korah.  Num 16:35 tell u that the fire from the Lord came and devoured 250 leaders who were part of the rebellion of Korah . They were killed for God wanted to punish Israel for their disobedience. As a result a plague come and killed the Israelites.

But when Moses was giving instruction to Aaron to burn incense , he reminded him to use fire from the altar. He is suppose to offer incense and pray for the people, for the anger of God is upon them and the plagues had already started.

Yet in the midst of of these emergency. Moses did not forget the commands of the Lord. That is why Aaron must take the coal from the altar and put fire on it.

Pt 1: Only Fire From The Altar Can Be Used

These two example tell us the importance of using the fire from the altar to burn incense. Nadab and Abihu did not offer according to the commandment of the Lord. They took profane fire, that is fire not from the altar of sacrifice. The result of their incense burning lead to them being judged and punished before the Lord.  This punishment shocked the people, for the fire from the Lord came and killed them before Israel

Some may ask  “Why did God punish them so severely, is this such a great sin?”  These men offered incense, it is just that they have used the wrong fire. Why is this so serious? God gave the reason why he judged them,

“By those who come near Me
  I must be regarded as holy;
  And before all the people
  I must be glorified.’” – YHWH (Lev 10:3)

How would we response? Are we able to accept this reason? Will we remain silent like Aaron?

Many would regard profane fire as a minor issue, but we need to appreciate the word of God. If we  understand the word of God, we will remain silent just like Aaron. For his two sons had replace the will of God with the will of man. God told them to use fire from the altar to burn incense. But these priest claims it is alright to use profane fire.

Are we to follow man or follow God? If we truly regard God as Holy, we will choose to follow his instruction. We will never dare to replace the will of God with our own will.

That is why Aaron remained silent. He could made up excuses for his children, he can defend them saying that they are new to the Job and they just forget. They may be mesmerise by the glory of God and committed the mistake in a moment of folly. But Aaron remain silent for his conscience had already spoken. His sons had went against God and changed the will of God. God killed them as it was meant to be a warning.

Pt 2 : Do not replace Gods will with the instruction of man

If we fear God we must obey his will. For the word of man can never replace the instruction of God.  For Jesus once asked

“But why do you call Me
  ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do
  the things which I say?”- Jesus

Today we have many Christians like Nadab and Abihu, They do not follow the instruction of God and they offer profane fire to him. They said to themselves,  “It is not necessary to use fire from the altar to burn incense. They claims that it is more important to burn incense with faith and love. They believe that since God is full of love, he will not mind if they have forgotten to use the fire from the altar. As long as God can see their faith and love, he will accept their offering. 

That is why they believe that as long as they have faith, God will accept their offering. For if incense using the fire from the altar without faith, will the offering be acceptable before God? From here they conclude that as long as we have faith, it doesn’t matter which fire we use as long as the offering is made with faith.

This is in fact a wrong attitude, for having faith and love does not entitle you a free pass to ignore the instruction of the Lord. True faith and love will make us obey the instruction of God willingly. Those with such faith will never dare to change or subtract the instruction of the Lord.

“If you abide in My word,
  you are My disciples indeed.”-Jesus (Jn 8:31)

If you obey the word of the Lord, you are his disciples indeed. Perhaps we used to obey his word, but do we still obey him today? Have we begin doubting his words? Have we began changing the command of the Lord? If we disobey him, can we be counted as his disciples?

A true disciple will obey all the command of the Lord. He will keep his words all the days in his live. Those who change and disobey the word of God, those who selective keep some and ignore his command. Then we are no longer a disciple of Christ.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep
  My word; and My Father will love
  him, and We will come to him and
  make Our home with him.”-Jesus (Jn 14:23)

Perhaps one may come up with many examples to prove their love for God. Perhaps they may be able to point out how he sacrificed and suffer for God. There are many Christians who are full of love, they are able to perform great acts of kindness that move and touch us greatly. But sadly, they do not follow the word of God completely, they add and subtract from the word of God. Can we count them as true disciples?

“My sheep hear My voice,
  and I know them, and
  they follow Me.” –Jesus (Jn 10:27)

If you love God and have faith in him, you will keep all his words completely.

What is So Special About The Fire From The Altar?

Perhaps some may wonder, what is so special about the fire from the altar? The fire from the altar is no ordinary fire. It came from the Lord

“And Moses and Aaron went into
  the tabernacle of meeting, and
  came out and blessed the people.
  Then the glory of the Lord appeared
  to all the people,

  and fire came out from before the
  Lord and consumed the burnt offering
  and the fat on the altar. When all the
  people saw it, they shouted and fell
  on their faces.”- Moses (Lev 9:23-24)

After Aaron offered the sacrifice, fire came from the Lord and burn up the offering on the altar. Everyone was cheering and they and they fell prostrate to the ground. This fire is a prove that God had accepted the offering of atonement on the altar.

Burning the incense using coals from the altar had a significance. For that fire connects the incense to the offering on the altar. This link is important as incense is the prayer of the people, the altar represent the salvation of God. In order for man to each to the Lord. It must be link to the salvation of God.

Salvation is only made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus. That is why Jesus said that no one goes to the father except through me. In order for our prayer to reach God it must have the grace of Jesus with us.

Conclusion

So far we have studied the issue of burning incense in details

We have covered the composition of the incense. We explored the the need for using salt when burning incense. We have explored the 2 rule and 2 incident regarding the usage of incense

May we learn from them and be good priest before the Lord.

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