The Tabernacle its construction and furnishings”, Part 32

“The Golden Incense Altar”

And thou shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of shittim wood shall thou make it. A cubit
shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two
cubits shall be the height thereof; the horns thereof shall be of the same. And thou shall
overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns
thereof: and thou shall make unto it a crown of gold round about. And two golden rings shall
thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shall
thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal
.” (Exod 30:1-4)

Close to the `vail,’ stood a small altar, of wood covered with gold, called the `Golden Altar’ or
`Incense Altar.’
It had no fire upon it except what the priests brought in the censers which they set in
the top of this `
Golden Altar,’ and then crumbled the incense upon it, causing it to give forth a fragrant
smoke or perfume, which, filling the `
Holy,’ penetrated also beyond the `second vail’ into the `Most
’ or `Holy of Holies.‘ ” (T17)

The Golden Altar in the `Holy’ would seem to represent the `little flock,’ the consecrated
Church in the present sacrificing condition
. From this altar ascends the sweet incense, acceptable to
God by Jesus Christ—the willing services of the priests: their praises, their willing obedience—all things
whatsoever they do to the glory of God.
Those who thus offer incense acceptable to God (1 Pet 2:
) come very close to their Father—close up to the `Vail’ which separates from the `Most Holy’;
and if they have requests (
prayers) to make they may be presented with the incense—`much
incense with the prayers of saints
.’ (Rev 8:3) The prayers of such priests of God are effectual. Our
Lord Jesus kept the incense continually burning, and could say, `
I know that thou hears me always.’
John 11:42) So the under-priests, `members of his Body,’ will be heard always if they continually offer
the incense of faith, love and obedience to God: and none should expect to have requests recognized
who do not thus keep their covenant—`
If ye abide in me and my words (teachings) abide in you,
ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you
.’ (John 15:7) The necessity of a clear
apprehension of Christ’s teachings as a guide to our requests and expectations, that we may not `
’ and out of harmony with God’s plan, is clearly shown by this scripture—but seldom noticed.”

And thou shall set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark of the testimony (just outside
the Second Vail toward the west end of the Tabernacle
).” (Exod 40:5)

And he put the golden altar in the tent of the congregation before the vail.” (Exod 40:26)

In some instances the `
Holy’ is termed the `Tabernacle or Tent of the congregation.’ (T13,

The reason we bring this up is because many have concluded from Heb 9:1-4 that the Golden Incense
Altar was
within the “Most Holy”.

The first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there
was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the
showbread; which is called
the sanctuary (the “Holy”). And after (or beyond) the second vail, the
tabernacle which is called
the Holiest of all (the “Most Holy”); which had the golden censer, and
the ark of the covenant overlaid roundabout with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had
manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant
.” (Heb 9:1–4)

The Greek word
thumiaterion here rendered “censer” has been rendered as follows in these versions
and translations:

altar of incense” Rotherham (1897), Weymouth (1902), Montgomery (1924), Moffatt (1934),
Standard Version, Revised Standard, New English Bible

incense altar” American Translation (1935), Phillips

vessel…for burning perfumes” Basic English (1941)

golden censer” KJV, Confraternity, New World Translation

Evidently, the term “
golden censer” in the KJV might more correctly have been rendered “altar of
,” since if it were not so it would be the only piece of furniture within the Tabernacle not to be
mentioned. Yet, even were we to assume that the “
golden censer” here mentioned is in reality the
golden altar of incense,” we would still be confronted with the difficulty arising from the fact that it
would place this piece of furniture in the Most Holy, whereas the Old Testament puts it in the Holy.
Exod 40:26; Lev 4:7, 18)

Some, recognizing this difficulty, and endeavoring to harmonize the two accounts, have been led to raise
the question as to whether the language of the Old Testament could not be understood to support that
of the New Testament, and that therefore the traditional view, viz., that the incense altar stood in the
Holy, is erroneous. They claim that the language of
Exod 30:6—“And thou shall put it [the incense
altar] before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the
testimony, where I shall meet with thee
”—is ambiguous, for it does not say which vail (first or
second), nor does it explain what is meant by “
before the vail.” One could stand in the Most Holy, they
say, facing east, with his back toward the Ark of the Covenant, and then declare that whatever stood
between him and the vail would be “
before the vail.”

But there is really no reason for doing such violence to the simple yet plain language of the Old
Testament. It proves itself: “
before the vail” in this instance can only mean east of the second vail, that
is, in the Holy of the Tabernacle.
Such passages as the following surely do establish the fact that
the Incense Altar stood in the Tabernacle
or Tent of the Congregation (i.e. the “Holy”):

And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before
the LORD,
which is in the Tabernacle of the congregation.” (Lev 4:7)

And he shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar which is before the LORD that
is in the tabernacle of the congregation
.” (Lev 4:18)

Leviticus 16 we learn of the three places which called for reconciliation by means of the commingled
blood: the Most Holy, the Holy, and the Court. The three pieces of furniture representatively identified
with these were the Ark of the Covenant, the incense altar, and the altar of burnt-offering.

And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children
of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the
tabernacle of the congregation, that remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness . . .
and he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and
shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of
the altar round about; and he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times,
and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel; and when he hath
made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the
altar, he shall bring the live goat
.” (Lev 16:16–20)

Here the altar has reference to the Court, the tabernacle of the congregation to the Holy, and the holy
(place) to the Most Holy. Now there can be no doubt but that the Most Holy was reconciled by way of the
Ark of the Covenant and, from these scriptures, that the Court was reconciled by way of the
brazen altar
(which is specifically mentioned). If then, it can be proved that on the Day of Atonement the blood was
put upon the incense altar, it ought to establish as fact that this altar stood in the tabernacle of the
congregation, i.e., the Holy. And we do read in reference to this altar:

And Aaron shall make atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin-
offering of atonements: once in a year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your
generations: it is most holy unto the LORD
.” (Exod 30:10)

“Upon its horns was placed the blood of the sin-offering for the sin of the priest, or of the whole
congregation (
Lev 4:7, 18); also once a year, upon the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:18). Its constant
use was for the burning of the divinely prescribed incense, morning and evening (
Exod 30:7, 8), in
connection with the trimming and lighting of the lamps.” (
Ridout, Lectures on the Tabernacle, p. 353)

If then, the Old Testament record is thus correct in setting forth that the incense altar stood in the Holy,
what shall we say about the New Testament (
Heb 9:3, 4) which seems to place it in the Most Holy?
Perhaps there is something wrong with the translation, or even with the manuscripts that support such
a view. And this evidently is the thought of Professor Benjamin Wilson:

For a tabernacle was prepared—the first—in which were both the lamp stand, and the table,
and the loaves of the presence, and the Golden Altar of incense;
this is named the Holy place.”
Heb 9:2, Diaglott)

Significantly he adds this footnote:

“The reading of the Vatican MS. has been adopted as giving a solution of an acknowledged difficulty, and
as perfectly harmonizing with the Mosaic account.”

Or could it be possible that what Paul meant to be inferred in Heb 9:1-4 was that although the
Altar of Incense was rightly placed in the “Holy” of the ancient Tabernacle
(Exod 30:6), it really
belonged to
(or was a part of) the “Most Holy” as seems to be suggested by 1 Kings 6:22 when
Solomon prepared
the inner sanctuary (i.e. the "Most Holy").

The whole altar that belonged to the oracle he overlaid with gold.” Standard

The whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.” Revised Standard

The whole altar that belonged to the Sanctuary he overlaid with gold.” Jewish Pub. Society

He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.” New International

Also the whole (incense) altar that (stood outside the door but) belonged to the holy of holies
he overlaid with gold
.” Amplified

Notes on the Tabernacle”, Pages 183-186)

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