«Shemot (Exodus) 30:1 states, You are to make an altar on which to burn incense; make it of acacia-wood”. In our parashah we see that Adonai ...»
Ascending Before The Throne
A d’rash for parashat Tetzaveh – Shemot (Exodus) 30:1-10
By Rabbi Reuel Dillon
Shemot (Exodus) 30:1 states, "You are to make an altar on which to burn incense; make it of
acacia-wood”. In our parashah we see that Adonai instructed Am Yisra'el (The People Of
Yisra'el) to make an altar of incense and overlay it with "zahav tahor" (pure gold). It was most
holy and very valuable in the eyes of Adonai. It was located in front of the parochet (curtain),
which concealed the “Aron Ha-eidut” (the Ark of The Covenant), as seen in Shemot (Exodus) 40:5, which states, “Set the gold altar for incense in front of the ark for the testimony, and set up the screen at the entrance to the tabernacle”. It stood in the holy place between the menorah on the south side and the table on the north (Shemot/Exodus 26:35, 40:22, 24). It was placed in the closest relation to the “kadosh hakodashim” (the most holy place) and the place were atonement was made for God’s house and for the people of Yisra’el.
In Ivrim (Hebrews) 9:2-4 we see the intimate connection between the Kadosh Kodashim (holy of holies) and the altar of incense as it states, “A tent was set up, the outer one, which was called the Holy Place; in it were the menorah, the table and the Bread of the Presence. Behind the second parochet was a tent called the Holiest Place, which had the golden censer for burning incense and the Ark of the Covenant, entirely covered with gold...”. Some versions translate the phrase “golden censer”, a literal translation, instead as “golden altar”, but the Torah clearly tells us that the golden altar of incense was placed just outside the Kadosh Kodashim. To some, this makes it look like the writer of Ivrim had no idea was he was talking about. But, what we see actually being described in Ivrim (Hebrews) 9:2-4 is rightly translated as, a “golden censer”, which was brought into the Kadosh Kodashim by the Cohen Hagadol once a year during Yom Kippur. We see a description of this in Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:12-13 where it says, “He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before HaShem and, with his hands full of ground, fragrant incense, bring it inside the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before HaShem, so that the cloud from the incense will cover the ark-cover which is over the testimony, in order that he not die”. But, what is of importance here is to see that the coals and incense is brought from the altar of incense and brought directly into the kadosh kadoshim, the most holy place were communion with El Elyon (God Most High) would take place, especially in connection with the atonement for God’s people.
Again, the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) would take some of the coals from the altar of incense and some of the ground fragrant incense and bring it into the Kadosh Kodashim (holy of holies) and ignite the incense before Adonai. The incense would envelope the cover of the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, where the Cohen would meet with Adonai. Just as Moshe (Moses) met with Adonai on top of Mt. Sinai as it was enveloped with thick smoke and fire, so too did the Cohen HaGadol go to communicate with Adonai and to make atonement for Am Yisra’el (The People of Yisra’el).
Today we are not to attempt to recreate the incense that was burned on the altar of incense that stood before the Arc, as described in Shemot (Exodus) 30:37-38. Although, various sects of Christianity will employ the burning of incense in connection with their religious services, it has not been a part of the synagogue services, most likely to avoid any appearance that we would be burning incense as it was burned in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). With all that being said, there are other ways that we can relate to this altar of incense today in practical ways and within the realm of a Torah pursuant life. The concept of incense and prayer are closely tied together in this parashah and are connected to coming before the throne of El Elyon.
In Tehillim (Psalms) 141:1-2 we read, “A psalm of David: HaShem, I have called you; come to me quickly! Listen to my plea when I call to you. Let my prayer be like incense set before you, my uplifted hands like an evening sacrifice”. Also, Hoshea 14:1-2 exhorts us with the following, “Return, Yisra’el, to HaShem your God, for your guilt has made you stumble. Take words with you, and return to HaShem; say to him, "Forgive all guilt, and accept what is good;
we will pay instead of bulls [the offerings of] our lips”. As we can see, our prayers our correlated to the ritual sacrifices and offerings that Adonai commanded.
Revelation 5:8-9 says, “When he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down in front of the Lamb. Each one held a harp and gold bowls filled with pieces of incense, which are the prayers of God's people; and they sang a new song, "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals; because you were slaughtered; at the cost of blood you ransomed for God persons from every tribe, language, people and nation”. We not only see the strong connection between the altar of incense, the offerings, and our prayers before Adonai, we not only see that it is the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) that brings the incense into the Kadosh Kodashim into the presence of Adonai, but we also see that it is the Cohen Gadol makes atonement for God’s people so that there prayers will be accepted. Shemot (Exodus) 30:10 states, “Aharon is to make atonement on its horns once a year - with the blood of the sin offering of atonement he is to make atonement for it once a year through all your generations; it is especially holy to HaShem."
Through Yeshua we have a new and powerful way to stay in communion with Adonai. It is from the heavenly altar of incense that was cleansed by Yeshua’s blood that our prayers our made holy and acceptable before Adonai. In Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-7 we see it described in the following manner; “In the year of King 'Uziyahu's death I saw Adonai sitting on a high, lofty throne! The hem of his robe filled the temple. S'rafim stood over him, each with six wings - two for covering his face, two for covering his feet and two for flying. They were crying out to each other, "More holy than the holiest holiness is HaShem-Tzva'ot! The whole earth is filled with his glory!" The doorposts shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, "Woe to me! I [too] am doomed! because I, a man with unclean lips, living among a people with unclean lips, have seen with my own eyes the King, HaShem-Tzva'ot!" One of the s'rafim flew to me with a glowing coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Here! This has touched your lips. Your iniquity is gone, your sin is atoned for."
Through Yeshua our Messiah, our Cohen Gadol, and through his offering, he can purify our iniquity, and we can come with confidence before the throne of God and speak with purified lips, and instead of paying with bulls, we will be able to bring forth the offerings of our lips. It was through the torn veil, that is, through Yeshua’s flesh, and through his sacrifice and offering that we are enabled to do this. Yeshua The Messiah is absolutely essential to having a close communion and a personal relationship with the God of Yisra’el.
Ivrim (Hebrews) 10:19-23 assures us with the following; “Having therefore, brothers, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God, let’s draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for he who promised is faithful”. And, Ivrim (Hebrews) 4:14-16 states, “Therefore, since we have a great Cohen Gadol who has passed through to the highest heaven, Yeshua, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we acknowledge as true. For we do not have a Cohen Gadol unable to empathize with our weaknesses; since in every respect he was tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin. Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need”.
The incense-offering and its connection to prayer is the physical representation of a spiritual truth and represents the exaltation of the spiritual man (or woman) to God. When we pray we are elevated to a very holy state. It connects us with the spiritual altar of incense, with the Kadosh Kodashim (holy of holies), and with the Aron Ha-eidut (the Ark of The Covenant).
Shemot (Exodus) 29:37 says, “Seven days you will make atonement on the altar and consecrate it; thus the altar will be especially holy, and whatever touches the altar will become holy”. This is why in 1Timothy 2:8 the Emissary of Yeshua tells us, “Therefore, it is my wish that when the men pray, no matter where, they should lift up hands that are holy…”. The lifting of holy hands is a physical representation of a spiritual truth.
Yeshua gives us unprecedented access to The Father. But, once we do gain this access into the Kadosh Kodashim, and once we are cleansed by Yeshua and made holy by coming into contact with the holy altar of incense and the Kadosh Kodashim, we should be careful not to offer unauthorized incense before Adonai. Shemot (Exodus) 30:9 sternly warns us with the following words; “You are not to offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering or a grain offering; and you are not to pour a drink offering on it”. So, if the altar of incense is tied to the concept of prayer, is it possible for us to offer “unauthorized incense” today? The answer is “yes”. Just because we have gained access to these holy areas before Adonai doesn’t mean that we can conduct ourselves carelessly or in any way that we please. No, we must still come before the Father with a great awe and holy reverence. We must not offer unauthorized incense. We are to offer incense that is in accordance with Adonai's will.
What do I mean? Unauthorized incense or offerings can be compared to prayers that are not in accordance with Adonai’s Torah, which in Hebrew means “instruction”. Mishlei (Proverbs) 28:9 teaches us, “Whoever turns aside his ear from hearing the Law (Torah), even his prayer is an abomination”. In Kefa Alef (1Peter) 3:10-12, the Emissary Kefa teaches us, "Whoever wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, turn from evil and do good, seek peace and chase after it. For ADONAI keeps his eyes on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of ADONAI is against those who do evil things."
The God of Yisra’el cannot stand when we come before Him and offer up prayer or offerings when they are mixed with known un-repented sin. In Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 1:11-13 He makes His disgust of this type of behavior clear. He says, "Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?" asks HaShem. "I'm fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats! Yes, you come to appear in my presence; but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards? Stop bringing worthless grain offerings! They are like disgusting incense to me! Rosh-Hodesh, Shabbat, calling convocations - I can't stand evil together with your assemblies!”.
Yochanan Alef (1John) 3:21-22 says, “Beloved, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have boldness toward God; and whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight”. And, along these lines, there is a particular mitzvah that married couples should be concerned with. Remember, if we turn our ear away from Adonai’s Torah, our prayer is said to be an abomination. Kefa Alef (1Peter) 3:7 reveals to us the following; “You husbands, likewise, conduct your married lives with understanding. Although your wife may be weaker physically, you should respect her as a fellow-heir of the gift of Life. If you don't, your prayers will be blocked”. This is something we should take seriously if we are seeking to have a healthy and effective prayer life.
What Adonai finds favor with and accepts is a heart that is humble and comes before Him in submission to His will, His Torah, and His mitzvot (commandments). The following passage is also the opening of the Amidah, the standing prayer of Yisra’el that observant Jews pray several times a day. Tehillim (Psalms) 51:15-17 states, “Adonai, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise. For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and chastened heart, O God, you will not despise”.
The Hebrew word for prayer is "tefillah". The etymology of this word has its origins from the Hebrew root comprised of the three Hebrew letters Peh-Lamed-Lamed “palal”, and the word "l'hitpallel", meaning "to judge oneself". This interesting word origin provides insight into one of the purposes of prayer. The most important and profound part of any prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, judging ourselves, understanding our role, and our relationship to God.
Speaking of a healthy and effective prayer life, if we take all the before-mentioned teaching seriously we can have a seriously powerful prayer life. For Ya’akov (James) 5:16 teaches us, “Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective”. It says, “the insistent prayer” of a righteous person is powerfully effective.
The word being translated as “insistent” here comes from the Greek word “energeo” and it means “to be active, efficient:
- do, be effectual (fervent), be mighty in, shew forth self, work”. This is where we get our word “energy” or “energetic” from.