Read Exodus 30
The Altar of Incense
1 “Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high—its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding—two on each of the opposite sides—to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law—before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law—where I will meet with you.
7 “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. 8 He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. 9 Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it.10 Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord.”
11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. 13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. 16 Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.”
Basin for Washing
17 Then the Lord said to Moses, 18 “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it.20 Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord,21 they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. 26 Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, 27 the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, 28 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.
30 “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. 32 Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. 33 Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.’”
34 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.36 Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord.38 Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.”
A casual reader might misunderstand Exodus 30 as instructions for creating ambiance in a restaurant, but God is doing so much more! In this chapter, God outlines specific ways to trigger the Israelites’ memories of His purpose and His love.
The sense of smell is closely linked to memory by the anatomy of the brain. God designed us specifically to connect scents to circumstances. We should not be surprised that He leverages His craftsmanship to help the Israelites (who have demonstrated challenges with remembering) recall who He is.
God commands a special altar built for the sole purpose of burning incense every morning and every night “so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.” Later in the chapter, God gives an exact recipe for the incense and warns it not be used for any other reason. If we smell something too often, we grow accustomed to it and forget the memories tied to it. God never wants us to forget what He has done and what He will do.
He also desires to be with us. The tabernacle was the earthly dwelling place of God. In order to support its creation and maintenance, God establishes a monetary offering. It was the original church building fund! God wants us to use all He’s given us—our time, our talents, our resources, our money–for His glory.
God created us to have a relationship with Him. His instructions in Exodus 30 demonstrate He knows we need routines and disciplines to serve as reminders of His goodness and His love. He does not fault us for that need; He simply instructs us to fulfill it and to remember.
- What do you learn about the character of God in this passage?
- If someone were to look at your spending, what would be said are the things you care about?
- What routines can you set to remind you of God’s love and His work?
Did You Know?
Incense is used as a metaphor for prayers throughout the Bible. In Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:4, the writers describe prayers lifting to God as incense. The scent of God’s love and His work reminds us of His goodness as we send our prayers to Him.