Exodus 27:20–30:10: When suffering is a ‘soothing aroma before the LORD’

““You shall take them from their hands, and offer them up in smoke on the altar on the burnt offering for a soothing aroma before the LORD; it is an offering by fire to the LORD.” (Exodus 29:25 NASB)

Some think the sacrifices detailed in the Torah reading תצוה Tetzevah (“you shall command,” Exodus 27:20–30:10) are simply to appease an angry God. But when you read about the Tabernacle and the sacrifices in the Prophets section of the Bible, you see there’s a lot more here than just butchery and blood.

These were not the sacrifices surrounding pagan nations of the time performed. The purpose of these sacrifices do not mirror the sacrifices of the pagan nations. The foundation of the Torah points to the Messiah. We have the benefit of hindsight to see that.

In Isaiah 1, God criticizes the Israelites for their feasts. There’s more to these sacrifices than just showing up and killing an animal. The sacrifices are to point you to something else and to change something inside you.

The menorah is not just a temple nightlight. It’s there to point us to something. The menorah is a representation of the eyes of God. His eyes are always upon His temple and on His people.

When you see the instructions about the menorah and the oil, are repeated in Leviticus 24: 1-4. The mitzvah of the olive oil was for all the descendants of Yisrael (Leviticus 24:20).

God was asking the people to give Him the extra virgin olive oil, the first, the best oil. Every time the menorah needed oil. The children of israel had to make a choice as to whether they were going to give God the best stuff or the leftover.

Worship is not just about singing and dancing and jumping up and down but about putting God first, ahead of our own wants and desires.

The children of Israel were to provide this oil but they did not get to see it in use or fill the lamp themselves. They had to bring the oil, give it to the priests who were the only ones who could go into the Holy Place, the first inner compartment of the Sanctuary and before the veil separating the Most Holy Place.

When you read the book of Malachi, you read the people were no longer were bringing their best and even when the people did bring their best, the priests would skim it off and take it for themselves instead of giving it to God.

“This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” (Malachi 2:13 NASB)

The ephod was made with gold. It had two stones on the shoulders which had the names of the 12 tribes. The breastplate also had the names of the tribes on it. So even though the children of Israel could not enter the tabernacle physically, the priest is carrying their burdens on his shoulders and their desires upon his heart.

Messiah Yeshua said he wants to take our burdens and are cares. This is what a High Priest is supposed to do.

The LORD “heard the cries of the people of Israel.” That is what started the Exodus.

Bringing the oil was to be a “lasting ordinance.” The Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Shabbat are other examples of lasting ordinances. The world is to be full of light and the world’s burdens are supposed to be carried to God.

The light shining from the tabernacle in the Menorah is a part of a package of remembrances to recall where your light comes from and where everything, including our freedom, comes from.

God is the one who brought them out of the Egypt and God wanted to live with them. God yearned for their hearts to change and He also yearns for our hearts to change too.

The priesthood were set aside with a series of rituals that are not easy on the eyes in an age where the most popular posts in the internet are videos of cute cats, baby goats and lambs frolicking and jumping, not of young lambs and goats being slaughtered. The death of the innocent is something we would only want to see in the rear view mirror not a part of our present.

The Apostle Paul mentioned in one of his letters a long list of bad things that his students once did but because of the death of an innocent, they didn’t have to live in those evil ways anymore.

God wants a contrite heart and witnessing the death of an innocent shows us why we need a contrite heart. We don’t revel in the barbecue, but look to see what God is really teaching us.

The altar of incense was to be stoked each time the menorah was trimmed (v. 8), so incense would go up continually. The incense didn’t just go up just during the Day of Atonement or another Feast Day but every day. The recipe of this incense will be described in the next parashah. It was to have a distinctive smell so that when you smell it, you only think of one place. It is supposed to direct your mind to one thing, to God. It’s the olfactory version of the name of God.

If you take this incense and apply it to anything and everything, it becomes profane, which blasphemes God. Just as the anointing oil for the priest was to be a unique recipe for a unique calling, the incense in the temple was also to be special and set aside for a specific purpose.

The Tabernacle was to be a place to meet with God at specific days and times. If you have an event, you have to have a place to host it. You can’t just say to someone, “Let’s have lunch at noon!” If you don’t have a place to meet than the invitation is incomplete.

Once a year, on Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement), the high priest would put the incense on coals from the altar of incense in a “firepan” or censer then go inside the inner veil and make smoke before the Ark of the Testimony. The coals of burning incense that is on the altar of incense is transferred to the front of the veil. The priest doesn’t just cover the altar with blood but he also covers the veil with the smoke of the incense.

Yom haKippurim was only kept at the Tabernacle or Temple, not at the “high places” or just in someone’s home.

Was Heb. 9:4 wrong that the altar of incense was inside the Holy of Holies, i.e., inside the second veil? Messianic commentator and apologist J.K. McKee of Outreach Israel Ministries explains[^1]:

“The Hebrew used here for ‘firepan’ is machtah, meaning ‘fire-holder, censer, snuffdish’ (BDB), rendered in the Greek LXX as thumiatērion or ‘a vessel for burning incense, a censer’ (LS). Not surprisingly, thumiatērion is the actual term that appears in the source text of Hebrews 9:4, and is correctly rendered as ‘censer’ in the KJV, NKJV, and YLT versions. … This is what the high priest would have taken into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, and the author of Hebrews has not made any error here. There is an explanation as to why most Bibles render this with ‘altar of incense.’”

In addition to Hebrews 9, tabernacle incense and the altar of incense appear in Revelation.

“When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Rev. 5:8 NASB)

“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” (Rev. 8:3–5 NASB)

This doesn’t specifically mention the altar of incense, but it does involve prayers of slain saints. It is also related to God’s judgement.

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:9–10 NASB)

We need to uplift to God what is on our hearts, even the feelings that are not “politically correct” like the heartache that you see frequently in Psalms.

“May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.” (Psa. 141:2 NASB)

“And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.” (Luke 1:10–11 NASB)

The “pleasant arom”a was not just the burning flesh or the burning incense but the uplifting of the concerns of His people to His throne.

The Tabernacle’s bronze basin and altar of incense could symbolize two important functions of the Spirit of God.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15–17 NASB)

The Spirit of God and the Word of God work in tandem and are both called Advocate between God and mankind.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. … In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. … Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Iesous is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8:15–17, 26–27, 33–34 NASB)

The “washing of the Word” via the Spirit removes the stain of the rebellious world. The incense and the washing are all part of the spirit of God.

The altar of incense does have an analogue related to prayer and judgement. It seems odd when we see the Spirit of God on the war path such as in the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

We should not try to put God in a box because God is bigger than our understanding. We don’t want to be like those who didn’t recognize Messiah when he came becuse he didn’t come in the way they wanted him to come. We have to admit there are things we don’t understand.

Summary: Tammy.

[^1]: McKee, J.K. “Frequently Asked Questions: H: Hebrews 9:1–5.” Excerpted from McKee’s Hebrews for the Practical Messianic. <http://messianicapologetics.net/faq/H/Hebrews_9_1-5.pdf> March 18, 2014.

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