And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail. — Leviticus 16:12
Carefully, the high priest lifted the curtain, mentally checking to be certain all was in order. Then, with reverence, he slowly entered the room. This chamber contained no light except the glory of God’s presence, which rested over the mercy seat. In his hands, he carried a golden censer containing coals of fire and incense, “beaten small.” When the incense was burned, it would make a cloud of smoke between him and God, “that he die not.”
Think of how the high priest must have felt as he stood in the Presence of God! He alone could enter the Holy of Holies, and he was allowed in only once each year — on the Day of Atonement. In our time, each of us has the opportunity to come into the presence of God. Instead of coming only once a year, we may come as often as we choose. Yet, we must remember not to approach God carelessly.
Incense symbolizes prayer (see Revelation 8:3), so how would our prayers qualify to become incense “beaten small”? Would just any prayer fall into that category, or might there be some special criterion?
Perhaps today, you will work for a demanding employer or with a quarrelsome fellow employee. Your soft answers in the face of this adversity could qualify your prayers to become incense beaten small.
Maybe you have a terminal illness and have chosen not to worry over the future, but to trust God to bring glory to Himself. This is incense beaten small.
God may ask you today to witness to someone, and witnessing takes you out of your comfort zone. Obedience equals incense beaten small.
Perhaps someone in your family is requesting that you give up some cherished activity to accommodate his or her schedule. Submitting your will to another makes incense beaten small.
Opportunities are before each one of us every day. Some are small things that might seem unimportant. Others are life-changing situations. What will we do with today’s opportunities?
The moment the incense touched the coals, the sweet-smelling smoke billowed and drifted upward. Just so, we can offer praise to God that will ascend as a sweet smell if we have allowed Him access to our daily lives so our prayers are incense beaten small.
The Day of Atonement was one of the greatest days of the Jewish year because, on this day, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies and offered incense and blood for the sins of the people. This was a symbol of the all-inclusive atonement of Christ. Work of all kinds was halted on this day, and the entire nation was called to prayer.
The Tabernacle was divided into two parts. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by a veil, placed there to shield the priest who came into the Holy Place in his daily ministrations from the consuming presence of God, which was over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. The only time anyone entered the Holy of Holies, except when it was necessary to move the Tabernacle, was on the Day of Atonement.
The high priest washed with water, put on his linen robes, and took the offerings into the Holy of Holies. First he made a sin offering for himself and his family, sprinkling that blood before the Mercy Seat.
Lots were cast over two goats. One was brought as a sin offering for the people, and this blood was also sprinkled in the Holy of Holies. Atonement was made for the Tabernacle as a whole, and the brazen altar was sprinkled with the blood of both sin offerings.
Verse 21 is key because it is a picture of what Jesus Christ did for us. One goat was kept alive as a scapegoat. The high priest put his hands upon the goat’s head and confessed the sins of the people. Then the goat was sent away into the wilderness bearing the people’s iniquities. Hebrews 13:12 tells us, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
Then the high priest washed himself again and offered the burnt offering for himself and the people. Finally, the bodies of the slain sin offerings were disposed of, and other ceremonial details performed according to God’s instructions.
Five animals were involved: two for the high priest and his family, two were offered for the people, and the scapegoat was sent alive into the wilderness.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. The way of access to God
D. By annual atonement (16:1-34)
1. The preparation of Aaron (16:1-4)
2. The sacrifices (16:5-22)
a. The procurement and purpose (16:5-10)
b. The sin offering for himself (16:11-14)
c. The sin offering for the people (16:15-19)
d. The live goat, the symbolic sin bearer (16:20-22)
3. The completion of the ritual (16:23-28)
4. The annual atonement established perpetually (16:29-34)
Let us offer ourselves to God each day, so that He can help us live in a way that causes our prayers to ascend to Him as a sweet-smelling savour.