Exodus 30:7 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE ALTAR OF INCENSE
Exo 30:7-10. And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it; a perpetual incense before the Lord, throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt-sacrifice, nor meat-offering; neither shall ye pour drink-offering thereon. And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin-offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy unto the Lord.
THE little acquaintance which Christians in general have with the Mosaic Law, unfits them for the reception of that instruction which the Law is well calculated to convey. Doubtless, to find the precise import of all its ordinances is beyond the power of man. But there is much of it explained in the New Testament; and much may not improperly be explained from analogy; and the light which it reflects on the truths of Christianity would richly repay any efforts that were made for the discovery of it.
In the altar of incense, in its materials, for instance, or its structure, we are not aware that any mystery of practical importance is contained, except indeed that it was preeminently holy, and therefore required peculiar sanctity in those who should approach it. Its situation too, as immediately before the mercy-seat, and separated from it only by the vail which divided the sanctuary from the holy of holies, marked in a peculiar way, that those who burnt incense upon it were to consider themselves as more than ordinarily nigh to God, and to have in exercise every disposition that became them in so high and holy an employment. The use to which it was ordained, is the point to which I would more particularly call your attention. And we may consider it,
As a typical institution—
And here are two things particularly to be noticed in relation to it; namely,
Its daily use—
[Aaron himself in the first instance, and afterwards other priests in their courses [Note: Luk 1:8-9.], was to trim the lamps every morning and evening, and to light any of them that might have gone out. At these seasons, he was to take fire from the altar of burnt-offering, and to put it on a censer, and to burn incense with it upon the altar of incense. This, I say, he was to do every morning and evening; and that was called “a perpetual incense before the Lord.”
This, beyond all doubt, was intended to typify the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as our great “High-Priest, is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man [Note: Heb 8:1-2.].” To him is assigned the office of interceding for his Church and people; and he has ascended up into the more immediate presence of his God for that end: as says the Apostle; “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us [Note: Heb 9:24.].” There he superintends the lamps of his sanctuary, “walking amongst the seven golden candlesticks, which are the seven Churches [Note: Rev 1:13; Rev 1:20; Rev 2:1,].” and either trimming or furnishing them with supplies of oil, as their various necessities may require. At the same time he offers up to God his intercessions for them, pleading with him in behalf of every individual, and obtaining for them all those blessings which they more particularly stand in need of.
To the Aaronic priests God had said, “There will I meet with thee:” and no doubt he did, in numberless instances, as well as in that of Zacharias [Note: Luk 1:11-13.], vouchsafe to them there more peculiar answers to their prayers. Our Great Intercessor could say, “I know that thou hearest me always [Note: Joh 11:42.]:” nor can we doubt but that myriads of his people are either preserved from falling, or restored after their falls, purely through “his intercession for them, that their faith may not ultimately fail [Note: Luk 22:32.].”]
Its annual expiation—
[It was enjoined that “an atonement should be made upon the horns of this altar once a year with the blood of the sin-offering of the atonements.” And this, I apprehend, was to shew that without the blood of atonement no intercession could be of any avail. An atonement must be made for sin: and “without it there could be no remission [Note: Heb 9:22.].” The blood, too, that must be put on this altar must be the blood of bullocks, and not either of goats or lambs: for in the very same offering which was made for sins of ignorance, the blood or bullocks which was shed for a priest, and for the whole congregation, was put upon the horns of the altar of incense; whereas that which was shed for a ruler, or a common person, which was of goats and lambs, was put upon the altar of burnt-offering; by which the sins of priests were marked as of greater enormity than the sins of others; and the altar of incense as of higher sanctity than the altar of burnt-offering [Note: Compare Lev 4:7; Lev 4:18 with Lev 4:22; Lev 4:25; Lev 4:27; Lev 4:30; Lev 4:34.]. This is very strongly expressed in the New Testament, there being always a superior efficacy ascribed to the intercession of Christ than even to his death. Thus when, to the question, “Who is he that condemneth?” the Apostle answers, “It is Christ that died,” he adds, “yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us [Note: Rom 8:34.].” Again, in the Epistle to the Hebrews he lays the greatest stress on the intercession of Christ as being the most effectual for the salvation of his people: “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them [Note: Heb 7:25.].” And to the same effect, also, in his Epistle to the Romans: “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life [Note: Rom 5:10.].” Whether this was intended to be marked by the atonement being only annual, whilst the offering of incense was daily, I pretend not to say. I should apprehend not. I should rather think that that part of the appointment signified that Christ would make the expiation but once, whilst his intercession would be continual: but, at all events, the union of the two is absolutely indissoluble; as St. John intimates, when he says, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is also the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1Jn 2:1.].” In fact, his atonement is the very plea which he offers in our behalf. When the high-priest entered within the vail, immediately after burning the incense he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice upon the mercy-seat and before the mercy-seat [Note: Lev 16:11-14.] ; intimating thereby, that all his hope of acceptance, whether for himself or others, was founded on the sacrifice which he had offered. And precisely thus does the Lord Jesus Christ prevail: for it is in consequence of his having offered his soul a “sacrifice for sin,” that he is authorized to expect a spiritual seed to be secured to him; and in consequence of his “having borne the sins of many,” that he confidently and with effect “maketh intercession for the transgressors [Note: Isa 53:10; Isa 53:12.].”]
I have observed, that we may yet further consider this ordinance,
As an emblematic rite—
In this view it marks,
The privilege of Christians—
[We have before said, that common priests were ordained to officiate at this altar. And are not we “a royal priesthood [Note: 1Pe 2:9.] ?” Are not we “made kings and priests unto our God [Note: Rev 1:5-6.] ?” Yes; and “the prayers we present to God come up before him as incense; and the lifting up of our hands is as an evening sacrifice [Note: Psa 141:2.].” In this manner are we privileged to draw nigh to God. We, every one of us, “have, through Christ, access by one Spirit unto the Father [Note: Eph 2:18.]:” yea, “we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus [Note: Heb 10:19.],” and to prostrate ourselves at the very footstool of God himself. Did God say to Aaron, “I will meet thee there?” so says he to us also: “Draw nigh to me; and I will draw nigh to you [Note: Jam 4:8.].” Nor need we go to Jerusalem, or to his tabernacle to find him: for he has said, that “in every place incense should be offered to him, and a pure offering [Note: Mal 1:11.].” And, that we may feel ourselves more at liberty to approach him, his altar under the Christian dispensation is represented as of wood, and not of gold, and as being four times the size of that which was made for his tabernacle [Note: Compare –5 with Eze 41:22.] ; to denote, I apprehend, the greater simplicity of Gospel worship, and the admission of all nations to the enjoyment of it.
We must indeed pay particular attention to that caution given to Aaron in the text: “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt-sacrifice, nor meat-offering; neither shall ye pour drink-offering thereon.” The incense was to be that alone which God had appointed; and special care was taken to make no confusion between the offerings belonging to the altar of burnt-offering, which were for an atonement, and that which was proper to the altar of incense, which was for acceptance only. Thus, when drawing nigh to God in prayer, we must not bring the fervour of mere animal spirits, which are so often mistaken for true devotion; but a broken and contrite spirit, which alone sends forth an odour that is well pleasing to God [Note: Psa 51:17.]. Nor must we imagine that by our prayers, or by any thing else that we can bring to God, we can atone for sin, or contribute in the least degree towards the efficacy of Christ’s atonement: these must be kept quite distinct: and whilst our prayers are offered on the altar of incense, our pleas must be taken solely from the altar of burnt-offering, even from the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, “by whom alone our offerings can ascend to God [Note: Heb 13:15.],” and “through whom alone they can be acceptable in his sight [Note: 1Pe 2:5.].”
In this manner we are to approach God, whilst we go in before him to trim our lamps, and to have them duly supplied with oil. Every morning and evening at the least must the odours of our incense ascend up before God; or, as the Apostle says, we must “pray without ceasing [Note: 1Th 5:17.]:” and we may be sure that “God will meet with us,” and bless us in all that we solicit at his hands: “However wide we open our mouth, he will fill it [Note: Psa 81:10.] ;” yea, “he will do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think [Note: Eph 3:20.].”]
The ground of their acceptance in the use of it—
[This is strongly marked in the annual atonement made on this altar. Day and night was the priest to officiate there: yet, after he had presented incense on that altar for a whole year, he must make atonement on the altar with blood. And however much or devoutly we pray, we must trust, not in our prayers, but in the great Sacrifice that has been offered for us. Yea, our very prayers need that sacrifice: the very best service we ever offered, needed an atonement; nor could it come up with acceptance before God, if it were not washed in the Redeemer’s blood, and presented to God by him. Hear what St. John says, in the book of Revelation: “Another angel came, (the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus,) and stood at the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar that was before the throne: and the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, out of the angel’s hand [Note: Rev 8:3-4.].” “Were God to call us into judgment for the very best prayer we ever offered, we could not answer him for one of a thousand [Note: Job 9:3.] ;” no, nor for one during our whole lives: but when cleansed in the Redeemer’s blood, both our persons and our services shall be regarded by God as pure, even “without spot or blemish [Note: Eph 5:25-27.].”
Of course, it is here supposed that we harbour no wilful sin within us: for, “if we regard iniquity in our hearts, God will not hear us [Note: Psa 66:18.]:” our very “incense will be an abomination to him [Note: Isa 1:13.] ;” and, in offering it, “we shall be as though we offered swine’s blood, or blessed an idol [Note: Isa 66:3.].” But, if we “draw nigh to God with a true heart, we may also approach him with full assurance of faith [Note: Heb 10:22.].”]
Let us see here,
How highly we are privileged under the Christian dispensation—
[The Jews were privileged, and highly too, in comparison of all the nations of the earth, in that they had ordinances of divine appointment, in the due observance of which they might find favour with God. But how infinitely are we distinguished above the Jews themselves! We have not to seek the intervention of a man, a sinful man, yea, and a dying man, who must soon leave his office to another, and be followed by an endless succession of sinners like himself. We have an High-Priest, who is “Emmanuel, God with us;” “who needed not to offer first for his own sins, and then for the people’s;” and “who, having an unchangeable priesthood, continueth for ever,” and “is consecrated for evermore [Note: Heb 7:23-28.].” Moreover, we are not like the Jews, to whom all access to God in their own persons was prohibited; and who, if they had presumed to invade the priestly office, would have been made monuments of God’s vengeance on the very spot. No: we may draw nigh to God, every one of us for himself: even to God’s throne may we go, and offer him our sacrifices with a certainty of acceptance. The way prepared for us is “a new and living way;” and whilst going to him in that way, “we may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us;” yea, even “before we ask, he will answer; and whilst we are yet speaking, he will hear [Note: Isa 65:24.].” Reflect on these privileges, Brethren, and be thankful for them; and improve them diligently in the way prescribed — — —]
What a holy people we should be unto the Lord—
[What the priests were in their attendance on the altar, yea, what the Lord Jesus Christ himself is before the throne of God, that should we be, to the utmost of our power. We should be ever delighting ourselves in the exercise of prayer and praise, and dedicating our whole selves to the service of our God. Let our “lamps” be ever kept burning bright before the Lord. Let us obtain “from the sacred olive branches fresh supplies of golden oil through the golden pipes” of his word and ordinances [Note: Zec 4:11-12.] ; and let our whole deportment shew, that we correspond with the description given us, “a people near unto the Lord [Note: Psa 148:14.] ” — — —]
Consult other comments:
Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.