I remember burning those fuzzy hippie 70’s incense sticks in my childhood room instead of lighting a candle like the rest of the modern-day world for a nice aroma to wrap around me. Now I buy those Bath & Bodyworks plug-in bulbs called wallflowers in an attempt to cover up “elderly cat smell” (God bless her) and whatever else the kids have spilled on the carpet and not told me about. Still, nothing is as tantalizing as something that’s burning (I know it appears I’m a pyromaniac for mentioning fire in my last consecutive three Sunday blogs–but I’m not). Think how good bonfires are when you roast marshmallows over the open flame, or a barbecue grill that sizzles the fat drippings from a bacon burger in the grease catcher and sends deliciousness swirling around your nostrils. Mmm.
Did you know that God loves the smell of a good barbecue just as much as anyone! The smell of a pure sacrifice was pleasing to Him in Old Testament accounts and on very specific occasions. In Exodus, God instructed priests to continually burn incense at His golden altar in the Tabernacle. This incense was to be prepared like a perfume consisting of equal blended parts of frankincense, gum resin, onycha and galbanum. This was the fragrance God declared pure and holy and was not for sale or to be used by anyone else. This incense burned around the clock inside the tabernacle in front of the curtain concealing the ark of the covenant. Fragrance billowed and a faint crackle of glowing embers glowed under the altar.
Apart from the Lord, appointed priests were the only ones allowed to inhale the spices which lingered in the air which I can only imagine wafted up like steamy and fragrant rice. This is making me hungry, you might say. What’s the meaning of our sense of smell being kindled?
There is no “smoke screen” here. The incense is an unmistakable picture of prayer offered to the Lord. You might say God hungers daily for the prayers of the saints because he desires a relationship with his creation that is rich and flavorful. He is actually keeping our prayers in a golden bowl that is not yet full (hmm, either this is a metaphor or it’s a honking big bowl!). Dining with God is an offering of prayer. Oh, but you say, I can’t possibly pray continually like the incense which burned continually. You may be right, and that’s why Jesus is the sweet-smelling sacrifice who literally lives to make intercession for us now according to Hebrews 7:25.
“Let my prayer be set forth as incense before You, the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice”-Psalm 141:2