Introduction: God frequently repeats matters in the Bible to emphasize them. In Exodus chapter 37, He repeats the details for the gold fixtures found inside the Holy of Holies and the Tent of Meeting. These details relate to the heart of worship and what each believer is expected to do with their access to Him. If there were any subject in the Bible that is worth repeating because of its importance, this is it. But this chapter does not merely repeat the details regarding the gold fixtures, which are found in Exodus 25 and 30. God also changed the order of the items built from the order that He revealed them. From this chapter, He reveals seven important lessons.
First, God reveals that you must first address your sin before you approach Him. Second, through the building of the ark (which symbolized Jesus in both His human and divine forms), God wants you to give thanks for the sacrifice Jesus paid for you. Third, through the building of the mercy seat, He wants you to give thanks for the mercy you have received from Jesus. Fourth, through the table of presence, He wants you to seek out fellowship with Him by providing for those in need. Fifth, through the building of the golden lampstand, He wants you to use your access to be a light to others. Sixth, through the symbolism of the altar of incense, He wants you to pray to Jesus in the throne room. Finally, through the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, He wants you to pray correctly guided by the Holy Spirit.
Sin has separated us from God. While God’s instructions for the Tabernacle began with the heart of worship (the ark), the actual building on the Tabernacle in Exodus 36 began with the building of the curtains that separated the ark from the people. The veil was needed because sin separated mankind from God: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God . . .” (Is. 59:2(a)). God has looked down from heaven and observed that not one person is holy and without sin: “[I]t is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”’ (Rom. 3:10-11). “[T]here is no one who does good.” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Ps. 143:2). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jo. 1:8). Christ, however, came to restore our access to heaven.
Jesus’ tearing of the veil. Jesus’ death caused the curtain to rip from the top to the bottom: “And behold, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38). His blood made us clean (Heb. 9:8-15). We can therefore now enter the Holy of Holies every day “with confidence” to petition in prayer for ourselves and others: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16). By contrast, the High Priest in Old Testament times could only enter the Holy of Holies once per year and after making a blood sacrifice to pray for the nation. “but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, . . .” (Heb. 9:7; Lev. 16:17-18, 29). Any believer in Jesus is also part of His nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). Are you using your access to pray with confidence for both your needs and the needs of others?
The ark of the covenant. After having the builders prepare the covering for the ark, the Jews built the ark of the covenant where God would dwell: “1 Now Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood; its length was two and a half cubits, and its width one and a half cubits, and its height one and a half cubits; 2 and he overlaid it with pure gold inside and out, and made a gold molding for it all around. 3 He cast four rings of gold for it on its four feet; even two rings on one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 4 He made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 5 He put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry it.” (Ex. 37:1-5). This matched the instructions that God previously gave to Moses: (Ex. 25:10-16). The seven required components of the ark included: (1) acacia /shittim wood; (2) a pure gold overlay; (3) specific dimensions for the ark that reveal the story of salvation; (4) a gold molding; (5) four gold rings on the sides for carrying it; (6) acacia /shittim carrying poles; and (7) inside the Ten Commandments, the golden jar of manna and the budding rod of Aaron (each representative of the Trinity). Each part of the ark points to Jesus.
The Ark of the Covenant1
(1) Acacia / Shittim wood. The ark, the carrying poles, the table of showbread, the framing for the Tabernacle, and the altar of burnt offering were all made with acacia / shittim / “shih-taw” wood. (Ex. 37:1; 25:11, 13, 23-30; 26:15-16; 27:1-8). This wood is mentioned 12 times in the Bible. Acacia is a strong desert tree with deep roots. It was resistant to both decay and the heat around it. Many believe that the “burning bush” was an acacia tree (Ex. 3:2). When the tree is pierced, the sap it produces is called “gummi arabicum” or “Gum Arabic”. The sap has large amounts of “tannins” that is used as a pharmaceutical. The Talmud even mentions a medicine made from Acacia. It has also been used as a preservative in many modern foods. Acadia wood can also have long sharp thorns. Each aspect of the acacia symbolized Jesus. Like the wood, His body was not corrupted so that it could be sacrificed for us: “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.” (Ps. 16:10(b); Acts 13:35). Like the sap, His blood also heals and gives life: “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24; Is. 53:5). Many also believe that Jesus’ crown of thorns came from an acacia tree (Jo. 19:2). Recognizing Jesus’ humanity is important because of the suffering He took on for each person. Does your worship include giving thanks for His suffering for you?
(2) The gold overlay. The ark and the poles were overlaid with pure gold (Ex. 37:2). While wood represents Jesus’ humanity, the gold represents His divinity. Although He emptied Himself of His divinity to take on human form, He was still God (Jo. 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:6-8). Does your worship celebrate Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
(3) The dimensions of the ark. Even the dimensions of the ark reveal the story of redemption. To understand this, you must sometimes read each half cubic as an individual unit of measure and then understand that each number represents a different aspect in the story of salvation. The breadth and width was 1 ½ cubits or three half cubits. The number three symbolizes the Trinity. The length was 2 ½ cubits. This totals five half cubits of measure. In the Bible, five is a number that corresponds with grace. Vertically, it was 4 by 1 ½ cubits. This totals six cubits. In the Bible, six is a number associated with mankind because God made mankind on the sixth day. Horizontally, it was 2 by 2 ½ plus 2 by 1 ½. This equals eight cubits. In the Bible, eight is a number associated with new beginnings. This was the day of the circumcision, the day of a priest’s ordination, and the day Jesus rose from the grave. Commentator Ervin Hershberger explains how these dimensions tell what God has done to give each person a new beginning: “the Trinity (3), by grace (5) offers man (6) a new beginning (8). ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are become new’. (2 Cor. 5:17). (Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle, Vision Publishers (2010) p. 18). Does your worship celebrate your new beginning in Jesus by avoiding your old sins?
(4) The gold molding. The ark was surrounded by a gold molding around it (Ex. 37:2; 25:11). This is the crown of “the King of Kings” (Rev. 19:16). Does your worship celebrate Jesus as your King by submitting to His will in every aspect of your life?
(5) The four gold rings. The ark also had four gold rings on each side to lift it up and carry it (Ex. 37:3; 25:12). Four in the Bible corresponds to the earth. The water of life from the Garden of Eden also turned into four rivers (Gen. 2:10). Christ is the source of all life (Jo. 1:4; 11:25-26). Does your worship celebrate Christ as the one gives you life?
(6) The poles for carrying the ark. The ark had to be carried using two poles made of acacia / shittim wood. The poles were not to be removed (Ex. 37:4-5; 25:14-15). The poles were meant to allow for the ark to be transported on the shoulders of men. If any person touched the ark, he would die because of his unholiness. Uzzah died after he touched the ark to keep it from falling off a cart (2 Sam. 6:6-7; 1 Chr. 13:9-14). The beginning of all knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Does your worship of Jesus include a reverent fear of His holiness and a hatred of evil? (Prov. 8:13).
(7) The Trinity inside the ark. As stated above, inside the ark were the Ten Commandments, the budding rod of Aaron, and the golden jar with manna. All three things provide the foundation to God’s throne above it. They also represented the Trinity.
“The Ten Commandments” - hide God’s Law in your heart. Moses was told to put inside the ark the “testimony which I shall give you.” (Ex. 25:16). The “testimony” was God’s First Covenant of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). The Ten Commandments also represented God the Father. If the Ark was built to house this and it is the foundation of God’s throne above it, this reveals that God the Father rules through righteousness (2 Sam. 23:3). With righteousness as the foundation of His rule, He cannot ignore sin or allow it to fester in His presence. He is also a consuming fire when any sin is in His presence (Heb. 12:28-29; Dt. 4:24, 9:3; Ps. 97:3). Thus, sinners cannot be in His holy presence (Ex. 33:20; Jo. 1:18). The Ten Commandments remind us that we all have all sinned and fallen short of God’s righteousness (Ro. 3:9-12; 3:20). Jesus paid the penalty under the Law to allow us to be in the presence of God the Father (1 Jo. 2:2; Col. 2:13-14). But God still wants you to keep the Law in your heart (Ps. 119:11; 40:8(b); 37:11). Because our hearts are wicked (Jer. 17:9), God has written His Law on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). Moreover, instead of a heart of stone, He promises to give you a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). The Spirit convicts you of sin by causing you to remember the Law that you have stored inside you (Jo. 14:26; 15:26). Have you memorized God’s Ten Commandments so that the Spirit can convict you of your sins?
“The golden jar with manna” - live off the bread of life through Jesus. The New Testament reveals that the contents of the ark also included a golden jar with some of the manna that rained down from heaven for 40 years to sustain the Jews in the wilderness (Heb. 9:4; Ex. 16:32-34). Jesus was the bread of life that rained down on the Jews in the wilderness (Jo. 6:35; 6:48-51). He is also the Word who became flesh (Jo. 1:1, 14). To consume the bread of life, you must read the Word. With the one exception of the Sabbath, manna also could not be stored more than one day (Ex. 16:19-20). Jesus therefore says that you should consume what He offers on a daily basis (Matt. 6:11). Are you eating the bread of life each day or only once a week?
“The blossoming rod of Aaron” - find life out of your dead body through the Holy Spirit: God later told Moses to put the budding rod of Aaron “before the testimony.” (Nu. 17:10). The budding rod represents the new life of the Holy Spirit, which is only made possible through Jesus’ death (Jo. 1:4; 3:16; 11:25-26; 14:19). The flowers represent the Holy Spirit, and the wooden rod represents Christ. The Spirit has “set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1; Col. 2:13-14). Today, the Holy Spirit has made us alive by dwelling within us (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). As a rod, the Spirit also has great power. Yet, a rod of power must be used for its force to be felt. Are you turning to the power of the Spirit to deliver you from the temptations of the flesh?
The mercy / atonement seat. After building the ark, the Jews built the cover for the ark, which most English Bibles call the “mercy seat”: “6 He made a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 7 He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat; 8 one cherub at the one end and one cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at the two ends. 9 The cherubim had their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward each other; the faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat.” (Ex. 37:6-9). This matched the instructions that God had previously given to Moses (Ex. 25:17-22). The mercy seat consisted of: (1) a place of atonement; (2) pure gold; (3) horizontal dimensions that matched the ark; (4) undefined vertical dimensions; (5) two cherubim of gold facing the mercy seat, yet with their eyes covered; (6) the absence of a depiction of God; and (7) a place where He speaks to us. These things again all point to Jesus.
The mercy seat2
(1) A place for atonement. Although the Hebrew word “kaporet” is frequently translated as the “mercy seat,” it technically means “to cover”. It was the lid that “covered” the Ten Commandments. The root of the word “kaporet” is kaphar, which means “to atone” and “to cover.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Exodus, Termumah, Vol. 2 (2013) p. 280). The same root word describes the “pitch” that Noah used to cover and seal the ark (Gen. 6:14). Through the sacrifices that God would spell out in Leviticus, the High Priest would “cover” the sins of the people. This happened on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat seven times (Lev. 16:15). The “mercy” seat symbolized Jesus. We receive mercy because He was the “propitiation” for our sins (Ro. 3:25). While grace is receiving a gift you don’t deserve, mercy is not receiving the punishment that you do deserve. The seven drops of blood symbolizes completeness. When Jesus died on the cross, He likewise proclaimed that the process of blood being used for atonement was finished (Jo. 19:30). Moreover, while animal blood could only cover up sin, Jesus’ blood “takes away” the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29). Furthermore, because of Jesus, God will remember your sins no more (Heb. 8:12; 10:17; 1 Jo. 1:9; Ro. 8:1). Are you giving thanks that your sins are both forgiven and forgotten?
(2) The pure gold. The mercy seat was made of pure gold, a symbol of divinity (Ex. 37:6; 25:17). This tells us that only God can forgive sins.
(3) The horizontal dimensions of the mercy seat. The horizontal dimensions of the mercy seat matched the ark exactly (Ex. 37:6; 25:17). The mercy that Jesus gives from judgment matches the condemnation under the Law. Yet, it does not go beyond it. Outside of Jesus’ protection, a person faces judgment under the Law (Rev. 14:10; Hershberger, Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle, Vision Publishers (2010) p. 23).
(4) The undefined vertical dimensions of the mercy seat. While the horizontal dimensions of the ark are described exactly, the vertical width is not mentioned at all. This symbolizes the fact that the mercy provided through Jesus knows no limit (Hershberger, p. 23).
(5) The cherubim above the mercy seat. The cherubim are the angels that surround God in the throne room (Ex. 37:7; 25:22; Nu. 7:89). They look down out of reverence toward God. We also are to treat God with reverence: “Let the people tremble! He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved!” (Ps. 99:1). Is your worship reverent?
(6) The invisible space for God the Father. Unlike other religions in the world at that time, God commanded that He be represented by nothing at all. He appeared as a cloud and ruled from the empty space above the mercy seat between cherubim (Ps. 99:1). God was so against physical images to depict Him that this was His Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6; Dt. 5:8-10). Satan enticed Aaron to build a golden calf as a corrupted way of worshiping God (Ex. 32:2-6). This was an abomination to God (Ex. 32:7-10). If your faith requires something that you can see, it is not faith at all (Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor. 4:18). By contrast, if you believe what you cannot see, God will bless you (Jo. 10:29). Does your faith exist even when you cannot see God answer your prayers?
(7) The place where God speaks to us. God says: “for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” (Lev. 16:1-3). The cloud also symbolized the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within your heart (1 Cor. 3:16). He also speaks to you from there (Jo. 14:26; 15:26). Are you seeking out His guidance through prayer and the Word? (Jam. 1:5).
The table of the presence / “shewbread”. After creating the contents of the Holy of Holies, the builders built the contents of the Tent of Meeting. The first was a table that presented 12 holy loaves of bread, one for each tribe: “10 Then he made the table of acacia wood, two cubits long and a cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. 11 He overlaid it with pure gold, and made a gold molding for it all around. 12 He made a rim for it of a handbreadth all around, and made a gold molding for its rim all around. 13 He cast four gold rings for it and put the rings on the four corners that were on its four feet. 14 Close by the rim were the rings, the holders for the poles to carry the table. 15 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold, to carry the table. 16 He made the utensils which were on the table, its dishes and its pans and its bowls and its jars, with which to pour out drink offerings, of pure gold.” (Ex. 37:10-16). This matched the instructions that God previously gave to Moses (Ex. 25:23-30). The table is called “lechem haPanim,” which literally translates as the “bread of face.” The King James Bible uses the word “shew bread” as a way of suggesting that the bread is continually presented before God. Some Messianic Jews consider the New American Standard Bible to better capture the meaning with the translation “table of the presence.” (First Fruits of Zion p 280). Again, every detail of this table pointed to Jesus.
The table of presence / “shewbread” made of acacia wood and covered in gold3
Jesus in the table. The purpose of the table was to show God’s desire for fellowship with His people by presenting holy bread for His people to symbolically dine with Him. Dining together was considered in Jewish culture to be an intimate act of friendship. Christ also offers to “dine” with any person who opens the door of their heart to Him (Rev. 3:20). The table pointed to Jesus as the means to fellowship with God. The acacia / shittim wood represents the fact that He died as a human to restore your fellowship with God. The gold represents His divinity as your Lord and Savior. Even the measurements of the table pointed to fellowship with Jesus: “The Table was one cubit wide (unity), two cubits long (fellowship, union with Jesus), one and one-half cubits high (suggestive of the Trinity). Tables naturally remind us of fellowship, especially of the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 10:21).” (Hershberger, p. 27). Are you seeking out fellowship with Jesus?
Jesus in the bread. The bread was to be present “at all times.” (Ex. 25:30). God required that the priests prepare 12 loaves of bread using fine flour set to exact specifications (Lev. 24:5-6). The 12 loaves symbolized God’s provision for all of His people. In the wilderness, He provided both manna and quail after the Jews grumbled about their food (Ex. 16:1-8). He later again provided meat when the Jews grew tired of God’s manna (Nu. 11:4-6, 32-33). He transformed the waters of Marah to provide drinking water (Ex. 15:22-27). He made water come out from a rock at Horeb (Ex. 17:6). He also caused the waters to gush out of a rock at Meribah (Nu. 20:10-11; Ps. 81:16; 106:41; Isa. 48:21). He also guided the Jews by a visible pillar of light both by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He even protected the Jews’ feet from swelling (Dt. 8:4). He meant for His priests to eat this holy bread (1 Sam. 21:6; Matt. 12:3-4). Every Sabbath, the priests ate the loaves and replaced them with fresh bread. The bread symbolized Jesus as the bread of life (Jo. 3:41; 6:34-35; Matt. 6:31). He was also the “Word” that “became flesh.” (Jo. 1:1, 14). The flour also had to be “beaten” to create the fine flour. To be our bread of life, Jesus was also beaten and then crucified at the cross (Jo. 19:1, 16). As symbolized by the 12 loaves, He also promises to feed everyone who seeks after His righteousness (Matt. 6:25-34). As one of God’s priests, His bread was meant for you to eat through communion (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). Are you consuming the bread of life that Jesus has provided for you on a daily basis?
Provide for God’s people. Today, these instructions also symbolically apply to God’s believers as His nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). If you are grateful to God for your salvation, you can make yourself a “living sacrifice” (Ro. 12:1). In the Old Testament, a thank offering to God for His forgiveness of sin was done through a bread offering (Lev. 3). Like the bread that God offered to all His tribes, He wants you to provide for those in need. Jesus’ “food” was doing God’s will: “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.’” (Jo. 4:34). Serving God by helping others is also one part of the definition of “undefiled religion” (Jam. 1:27). Does your worship include helping those in need? Or, are you only feeding yourself?
The golden lampstand / “Menorah”. After building the table and food to be presented in the Tent of Meeting, the builders built the golden lampstand or “menorah” that would illuminate it: “17 Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; 19 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20 In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; 21 and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. 22 Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. 23 He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold.” (Ex. 37:17-24). This matched the instructions that God previously gave Moses (Ex. 25:31-40). The gold again symbolized divinity. But, unlike the other fixtures which were “gold plated,” it was pure gold. It also had no exact measurements. This reminds us that God is infinite beyond time and space. But based upon its size, it would have weighed more than 90 pounds. Thus, this fixture was extremely valuable.
The sevenfold Spirit of God, symbolized in the golden lampstand (Isaiah 11:1-2)4
The symbolism of the golden lampstand. The lampstand was meant to look like a golden tree. It had three branches on each side and a trunk in the middle (Ex. 25:31-40; Nu. 8:1-4). God promises that believers will one day see this same golden lampstand in heaven (Zech. 4:1-6). Jesus is the trunk of the lampstand (Jo. 15:1-4; cf. Jo. 11:25-26). The six branches symbolize all of the believers in Jesus (Jo. 15:1-4). God created mankind on the sixth day (Gen. 1:26-27). But mankind is incomplete without Him. With Christ in the middle, there were seven complete lights. The lampstand was also perfectly balanced with three branches on each side, a symbol of harmony. We have peace with God through Jesus (Ro. 5:1). Based upon the structure, our peace and unity with each is only possible through Jesus. The branches also contain three symbols which represent the stages of a believer’s walk with Jesus. The branches included buds, flowers, and almonds. The buds symbolize a life of potential in Jesus. The flowers symbolize the beauty of a life in Jesus. The almonds symbolize the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Does your life show the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
The symbolism of the light. God instructed the priests to ensure that the golden lampstand remained continually burning to provide a beacon of light (Lev. 24:3-4). He gave the Law to the Jews and called them to be holy so that they would be a light to the nations (Is. 42:6). The golden lampstand symbolized their purpose as light to others (Jo. 1:4-5, 9). The lampstand, however, had to be covered from the eyes of the laypersons until their sinful eyes could be atoned for (Nu. 4:9). But Jesus explained that a lampstand was not meant to be hidden. It should instead give light to those around it (Matt. 5:15). Jesus is the true light of the world (Jo. 8:12). But the world did not want His light (Jo. 1:10). Indeed, people turned away from the light because they love darkness (Jo. 3:19-20). Today, the light of Jesus burns in you because your body is the Tabernacle (Matt. 5:14-16; 1 Cor. 3:16). Is your light bringing others to Jesus?
The “beaten” olives of life and the Holy Spirit. God instructed the priests to only use “beaten olives” for the oil for the golden lampstand (Lev. 24:1-2). The burning olives created holy smoke for God to be in the presence of His people. The oil also symbolized the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13; Zech. 4:2-6). Like the Holy Spirit, the olive branch is a symbol of life. It was the first thing that God had the dove bring to Noah (Gen 8:11). The fact that the olives had to be “crushed” also has meaning. In order to have the Holy Spirit be fully manifest in your life, your own will needs to be crushed (2 Cor. 4:8). Are you emptying your own desires of the flesh so that the Holy Spirit can lead you?
A Spirit-filled life bears witness to the seven manifestations of the Spirit. While looking at the throne of God in heaven, the Apostle John explained that the “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Rev. 4:5; same Rev. 3:1 “Seven Spirits of God”). He also explained that “[i]n the midst of the throne. . . stood a Lamb . . . having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Rev. 5:6). Zechariah also saw “. . .a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps.” (Zech. 4:2). Zechariah also revealed that the seven lamps are both God’s Spirit (Zech. 4:2) and His eyes (Zech. 4:10). They are the seven characteristics of the one Holy Spirit. Isaiah 11:2 reveals these seven manifestations. These include: (1) the Spirit of the Lord (Salvation); (2) the Spirit of Wisdom; (3) the Spirit of Understanding; (4) the Spirit of Counsel; (5) the Spirit of Might; (6) the Spirit of Knowledge; and (7) the Spirit of Fear of the Lord (Sanctification). Are you praying in the fullness of His Spirit?
The altar of incense: Next, the Jews built the altar of incense (the “mizbach haketoros”), which sat prominently in between the door to the Tent of Meeting and the veil to the Holy of Holies: “25 Then he made the altar of incense of acacia wood: a cubit long and a cubit wide, square, and two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and he made a gold molding for it all around. 27 He made two golden rings for it under its molding, on its two sides—on opposite sides—as holders for poles with which to carry it. 28 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.” (Ex. 37:25-28). Their actions matched the instructions that God had previously given to Moses (Ex. 30:1-6). The altar of incense had seven components. These included: (1) the burning of incense; (2) acacia / shittim wood for the altar; (3) a pure gold overlay; (4) horns; (5) gold molding; (6) specific dimensions; and (7) poles to carry the altar as the Tabernacle moved. Each of these seven parts to the altar pointed toward Jesus.
The altar of burning incense5
(1) The burning incense. The altar served the purpose of burning incense to God (Ex. 30:1). The altar foreshadowed Jesus. His blood was a sweet aroma to God: “and walk in love, just as Jesus also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph. 5:2). His blood can also make your prayers a sweet aroma to God: “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; . . ..” (Ps. 141:2(a)). The incense also represented the prayers of the believers in Jesus (Lk. 1:10; Rev. 5:8; 8:4). Are you filling the throne room with a sweet aroma of prayer?
(2) Acacia / Shittim wood. The altar of incense was also made with acacia / shittim wood (Ex. 37:25; 30:1, 5). The wood symbolizes Jesus’ humanity. The acacia wood is incorruptible. Likewise, His body was not corrupted so that it could be sacrificed for us (Ps. 16:10; Acts 13:35). Like its sap, His blood also heals and gives life (1 Pet. 2:24; Is. 53:5). Jesus suffered on the cross so that your prayers could reach God.
(3) The gold overlay. The altar and the poles were overlaid with pure gold (Ex. 37:26; 25:3, 4). The gold represented His divinity. Although He emptied Himself of His divinity to take on human form, He was still God (Jo. 1:1:14; Phil. 2:6-8). Only Jesus could cleanse your sins to make your prayers pure before God.
(4) The altar horns. Like the altar of judgment, the altar of incense had horns on top of it (Ex. 37:26; 30:3). The priests put the blood from a sacrifice onto the horns of both altars (Ex. 30:10; Lev. 4:7; 16:18). The horns symbolized God’s power and refuge (Ps. 18:2; 89:17; Luke 1:6; Lam 2:3; 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28; 2 Chrn. 18:10; Hab. 3:4). Adding blood from the sacrifice to the horns means that there is great power in the prayers of a person made righteous before God (Jam. 5:15-16). For those believers who pray in faith, Jesus has given you the power behind His name (Jo. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23). But if you pray with doubt about the power of Jesus’ name, your prayers are worthless and will not be answered (Jam. 1:6-8). Are you praying in His name and in faith?
(5) The gold molding for the altar. The altar, like the ark, was surrounded by a gold molding (Ex. 37:27; 30:3; 25:11). This is the crown of “the King of Kings” (Rev. 19:16). Your King of Kings sits in the throne room advocating for you (Ro. 8:34; Heb. 4:16). You are not to pray through any other person because there is only one mediator between you and God: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5). Are you directing your prayers only to Jesus?
(6) The dimensions of the altar. The altar had a square base, measuring one cubit in each direction. Yet, it was two cubits high (Ex. 37:25; 30:2). Every number in the Bible has meaning. In this context, the number one signifies unity, and the number two means fellowship. In the context of prayer, the unity speaks to the need for unity in the body of Jesus by praying with one accord: “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, . . .” (Acts 1:14(a)). By contrast, causing harm to another person can “hinder” your prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). The vertical two cubits speak to the need for fellowship with Jesus while you pray. Effective prayer requires that you maintain both your horizontal relationships with others and your vertical relationship with Jesus (Hershberger, Ervin, Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle, Vision Publishers (2010) p. 78). Are you building up others in Christ?
(7) The poles to carry the altar. Like all parts of the Tabernacle, the altar was designed to be portable with gold rings and gold-plated acacia / shittim poles (Ex. 30:4-5). This signifies that Jesus will listen to your prayers no matter where you may be: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). Are you praying wherever you go?
The symbolism of the anointing oil and fragrant incense. Finally, the Jews made the incense and anointing oil, just as God had previously commanded: “29 And he made the holy anointing oil and the pure, fragrant incense of spices, the work of a perfumer.” (Ex. 37:29). There were 10 components to proper incense (Ex. 30:34-37). The 10 components of the incense foreshadow both the Lord’s prayer and elements of proper prayer: These include: (1) a personal relationship. “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9), symbolized by the “stacte,” or “balsam” (Ex. 30:34); (2) Faith. “which is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9), symbolized by the “onycha” (Ex. 30:34); (3) Worship. “hollowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9), symbolized by the “galbanum” (Ex. 30:34); (4) Expectation. “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10), symbolized by the “pure frankincense” (Ex. 30:34); (5) Submission. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), symbolized by the “salted” incense (Ex. 30:35); (6) Petition. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), symbolized by the “pure” frankincense (Ex. 30:35); (7) Confession. “And forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12), symbolized by the “holy” incense (Ex. 30:35); (8) Compassion. “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12), symbolized by the “beaten” incense to make it “fine” (Ex. 30:36); (9) Dependence. “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13), symbolized by the incense placed “before the testimony” (Ex. 30:36); (10) Acknowledgement. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13), symbolized by the fact that the incense that could only be used for God (Ex. 30:36); Finally, the anointing oil symbolized the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13; Zech. 4:2-6). Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will abide in you (Jo. 14:16-18). The Holy Spirit will cause you to remember Jesus’ Word to guide you both in life and in your prayers (Jo. 14:26). Yet, if you don’t memorize God’s Word, you are not leaving the Spirit with much to help you “remember” during prayer. God wants you to boost your faith by praying out His prior promises. Your faith comes by “hearing” the Word (Ro. 10:17). This includes hearing the Word in your own prayers. Are you letting the Holy Spirit guide you as you pray?
Image credit: World History Encyclopedia: Exodus 37 Images the Ark of Covenant - Bing images↩︎