Day 26

The Incense Altar

Exodus 30:1-38, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, 1 John 2:24-27

BY Guest Writer

Scripture Reading: Exodus 30:1-38, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, 1 John 2:24-27

For years now, my mother has worn patchouli.

It smells like the woods, with a tinge of smoke and a hint of something floral. Even days after she’s visited Nashville, her invisible signature lingers on the pillow where she slept, on the scarf she borrowed, on the blanket on the couch—reminding me that we were together. I’m not sure if I love the fragrance, or if I love that it reminds me of her. But I do know this: when I smell patchouli in a store, it doesn’t smell the same as does when it’s on my mom.

In Exodus 30, the Lord outlines a series of rich, holy, and sacred instructions for the altar of the tabernacle. He includes a recipe for anointing oil and a recipe for incense. I don’t know about you, but in the age of essential oil popularity, the thought occurred to me that I could probably whip up a batch, just to see what it smelled like. But it’s clear through His instructions that these items are meant to be special. They’re exclusive and not to be shared far and wide; they are recipes never to be mixed outside of the church. “Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord” (v. 37). God is ensuring that the only time His people will smell these rich fragrances is in His presence.

Psychologists have found that our sense of smell is closely linked with memory. Perhaps that’s why, when I think of my grandmother, I can still remember the tart scent of her cold cream that she’d pat on her face every night. It’s why at Christmas, I stock up on Balsam Fir candles, to extend the season just a bit longer. Fragrance is a powerful force. It helps us remember. It activates emotion. It recalls stories. It brings us back. It transports us. It slows us down. It comforts.

God knows this. He knows our spiritual as well as our physiological needs—because He created every part of us, including our sense of smell. Isn’t it beautiful to consider that God wants to activate all of our senses as we interact with Him? He isn’t limited to the spiritual realm, but wants our physical bodies to experience His presence, too.

Just like my mother’s patchouli oil leaves a trace, as followers of Jesus, we carry the fragrance of Christ with us everywhere we go. “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Priests no longer have to whip up a batch of something sacred; because of Christ’s work on the cross, now we ourselves are sacred.

As you go about your day, pay attention to the sweet smell of that apple, the bitter fragrance of coffee, the grassy scent of sweat on your children. Even in life’s mundane moments, our sense of smell can remind us of our God and His extravagance.


Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.

Post Comments (71)

71 thoughts on "The Incense Altar"

  1. Kendra Pope says:

    Such a great reminder! We carry a “fragrance” by our attitudes and actions every where and to everyone, including the people in our own lives. I want to be the fragrance of Christ, not Kendra nor anything else that distracts from holy things.

    1. Gina Jo says:

      I love your comment. I agree I want to be the fragrance of Christ not the fragrance of Gina or anything else. Father God give us the strength to be the beautiful fragrance of your son. In your son’ holy name, Jesus Christ, amen.

    2. Kaitlyn Reed says:

      If you’ve committed your life to Christ you already are the fragrance of Him, regardless of your works :)

  2. Victoria Park says:

    “He knows our spiritual as well as our physiological needs—because He created every part of us, including our sense of smell.”. I loved this part of the message. I have struggled with mental health issues most of my life, and its comforting to remember that the complexities of my mind and psyche are no mystery to God and that he can still work with this broken vessel.

  3. Mari says:

    Speaking of kids, what is been heavy on my heart last 24 hours is my son. Most of his friends are already taking SAT and AC T test for college. I know his heart was set to go to college and now he doesn’t even know. We are separated from his dad and this is been hard on him. I. as his mom , want him to be successful and not to struggle. He had his heart set on a Christian college six hours from here. Could you pray for God’s will. And I know, that I know that God does have a plan I just need to calm down.

    1. She Reads Truth says:

      Hi Mari, thanks for sharing! We’re praying for you and your son during this time. -Margot, The SRT Team

      1. Mari says:

        Thank you Matgot! I’m so glad I checked back on SRT to see this! It means so much to me. And you know what’s funny? He wore the The college sweatshirt where he hopes to go. He got three compliments today. He goes to a public school

  4. Mari says:

    Our family calls it “the ratatouille moment”. It’s a kids movie.
    You know the scene where the old man taste the ratatouille and it brings him back to the memories of his mother.

  5. Julia MacCready says:

    Please pray for me today, I walked into sin last night and am doing what I can today to make sure I am not tempted to do so again. I want to be the fragrance of Christ, but right now I feel like I smell like the lust of the world. Please pray for me to stay strong and abide in Christ and let Him redeem me.

    1. Leslie Warnick says:

      Praying for you. God loves you. He knows your heart. Let Him in.

    2. Pam Gillett says:

      It’s so bold of you to reach out and confess! Praying for you. I know God will do mighty things. Jesus is our Redeemer.

    3. Brandi says:

      Praying for you sweet sister. Remember we are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because He has set us free from the law of sin and death! Rom 8:1&2

      1. Mari says:

        Wow, Kathy thank you so much for this. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Especially when you say” am I being that pleasing aroma”. Life has been so hard for me for the past 6 to 8 months and I sometimes wonder about this.

      2. Mari says:

        Sorry Brandi, The above message was meant for Kathy, I think there was a glitch.

    4. Lauren Klouda says:

      Lifting you up in prayer Julia. You are loved.

    5. Mari says:

      Of course Julia we your sisters will pray for you. Stay strong. And remember what Jesus did for all of us at the cross

    6. Hayley Sheldon says:

      Stay brave Julia! The Lord will sustain you!

    7. Leslie Limardo says:

      We’ve all been there at some point or another! God is so good and merciful! My favorite line was always get behind me Satan! I know those moments too well! God is always with you!

    8. Tanya Herrera Rodriguez says:

      Julia, God loves you soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much! There’s not enough o’s to encompass the infinity of his love. The fact that you already confess and want to pivot from temptation, means that you’re halfway there! The other half is me by Jesus and he’s already forgiven you! How precious is that? So let’s get the voice of the accuser to understand who God is and that he stands up for you!

    9. Kaitlyn Reed says:

      When you receive Christ as your savior you immediately gain the aroma of Him, because of what He did not because of anything you did. Your sin doesn’t take away that! You are the fragrance of Christ to God, always. You need to know that! And confessing your sin is a great way to allow God to work in your heart. He has already conquered the sin for you, you’re victorious through Him.

    10. Becky says:

      You are so loved and cherished.

  6. ~ B ~ says:

    Fragrance is often like a time machine to me, just a hint of the right scent can send me immediately into another season of life, most often good seasons. Scent is so important that when my father passed away my sisters and I all grabbed a shirt of his from the unwashed laundry, can’t tell you the number of times I’d just sit with that shirt, deeply remembering my father. 17 1/2 years later, I still have that shirt, though it lost its fragrance years ago but, to compensate, each time I walk into a home improvement store I am immediately reminded of my Dad, and that makes me smile from ear to ear. When my mom died, I received a small bottle of her perfume, just a little spray into the air would instantly make me cry and instantly make me happy. It is profound what scent can do and even more profound that God used it to connect us to Him all those years ago and uses it still to gift us fond memories. He designed us in such a way that He knows just what we need and uses it well to provide. Even more amazing that He chooses to reside in us and connect with us by being a part of what we smell, what we go through and what we do all by making US Holy. How often I forget that I am that valuable to God! Prayerful that as I go through the day I remember that God resides in me, that the fragrance of me, that being with me provides the same emotions for Him that I receive when reminded of my earthly parents. He is a Father who is always gifting, and even as I sit here with too little sleep this week and hair that reflects it, I am with God. Praying that my moment to moment, my day to day that I observe the little gifts around me, that I deeply connect with God in me and that I live out each day thankful in action, deed and word to Christ because He made it all possible.

    1. Churchmouse says:

      Amen. Amen.

    2. GramsieSue says:

      Love this ❤️

    3. Julie says:

      Hallelujah and Amen!

  7. Laura Barthelmess says:

    ❤️ Love!

  8. Churchmouse says:

    I’m reminded of the anointing of Jesus with the precious and expensive perfumed oil. The woman was condemned for being so frivolous. I wonder if Judas smelled the lingering aroma when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss? I wonder if the high priests and Pontius Pilate noticed the unusual fragrance around Jesus? I wonder if the soldiers stopped the flogging for a second, pondering the source of a smell that was not death? What about Simon of Cyrene – was there a lingering of that perfume on the cross beam he carried? Did the centurion at the foot of the cross notice? Did Joseph of Arimethea inhale it deeply as he gave Jesus into His mother’s arms? Did Mary pray that she would always remember that odor rather than the odor of blood? Was the tomb filled with that sweet smell? And oh, does the fragrance of His Holy Spirit emanate from me?

    1. Brandi says:

      So good.

    2. Mari says:

      I don’t have words. I just love what I read. I’m grateful for people like you Churchmouse to help people like me to look at it deeper

    3. Victoria Park says:

      Wow. I hope you write poetry somewhere because this is beautiful. Thanks for using your gift with words to create such a beautiful picture to share with us.

      1. Kellie says:

        Such a gift. Thank you for sharing.

    4. Julie says:

      What profound questions. It really makes you stop and think.

    5. Obi says:

      Wow! So much to ponder! Thanks for sharing.

    6. Katie Werner says:

      Churchmouse, I’m behind several days and just read this. And I wept as I did. Thank you for bringing such thoughtful and insightful commentary to this study. Your words here are powerful, and the Lord is using them to stir my heart. Blessings to you.

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