Offering Incense

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Default article daily reflection

“Every morning when Aaron maintains the lamps, he must burn fragrant incense on the altar. And each evening when he lights the lamps, he must again burn incense in the LORD’s presence. This must be done from generation to generation.”

Exodus 30:7-8

Exodus 30 adds instructions pertaining to the Tabernacle. The chapter begins with the design of the incense altar, a small golden altar that stood in the sanctuary of the Tabernacle, just outside of the Most Holy Place (traditionally called the Holy of Holies, where the Ark was placed). This altar would be used every morning and evening as the high priest enters the sanctuary to offer daily sacrifices. Exodus 30 ends with a detailed formula for the incense that was to be burned on altar—a unique blend of spices dedicated for this sole purpose.

Incense offerings were common in the Ancient Near East, as well as among the Israelites. Because the spices contained in incense were costly, these offerings reflected the dedication of the worshiper. The burning of the incense also created an ambiance of mystery, both by its smell and by its smoke. It signified God’s presence. Moreover, as the smoke of incense rose, it signified the prayers of the worshiper. In Psalm 141:2, for example, David prays, “Accept my prayers as incense offered to you.” In the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 5:8, the elders who fall down before the Lamb in worship hold “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

Thus, the use of incense in the Tabernacle provides for us a stirring image for our own prayer life. Like the High Priest, we have the privilege of offering to God the incense of our prayers. His example encourages us to do this on a daily basis, at least each morning and evening. How good it is to begin and end each day by offering to the Lord that which honors him.

Until I began reflecting on Exodus 30, it never occurred to me how my own devotional practice mirrors the use of incense in the Tabernacle. No, I don’t burn literal incense when I spend time with the Lord. But I do like to light a candle, which reminds me of the light and presence of God. Moreover, I prefer a candle that has a scent. Nothing overly sweet and flowery, however. I am partial to the smell of spices or fir trees, something similar to the unique incense for the Tabernacle. After years of burning a candle during my devotional times, the fragrance itself reminds me that God is present, encouraging me to pray with openness and gratitude.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you associate particular smells with worship or prayer? How might it impact your devotional life if you were to think of your prayers as incense offered to God?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, as I offer my prayers to you now, my imagination is engaged. I’m thinking of my prayers as if they were offerings of incense. May these prayers give you delight, as I recognize you as God, drawing near by your grace.

Thank you, dear Lord, for making yourself known to us in so many different ways . . . even through smells. May every part of your creation continually point us to you. And may we use all of your creation as tools for your work and worship.

All praise be to you, holy, mysterious, mighty, merciful God! Amen.