The Incense Altar

Open Your Bible

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 know this: when I smell patchouli in a store, it doesn’t smell the same as 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. “As for the incense you are making, you must not make any for yourselves using its formula. It is to be regarded by you as holy—belonging to the LORD” (Exodus 30:37). 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 Christ, we carry the fragrance of Christ with us everywhere we go. “For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2Corinthians 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. 

(34) Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

34 thoughts on "The Incense Altar"

  1. Jeanna Vance says:

    So great!! Our house was sprayed by a skunk in the dark hours of the morning and I woke up to the stench. Then I come out and read this Bible study! Ha! I’m listening Lord!

  2. Brandy Deruso says:

    Lord we give you glory for he is great and greatly to be praised!

  3. Angelica Baldwin says:

    It has been interesting to me how specific God has been throughout all of this. Today was good.

  4. Nitz . says:


  5. kimmie says:

    I am such a scent person! I had COVID at the end of May….lost my sense of smell for over a week. Luckily it didn’t last long. I don’t know why it never occurred to me the use of incense and oil was a God implemented thing.

  6. Erica Chiarelli says:

    I have a crazy sense of smell and to think not only is that FROM God but He wants us to experience Him in details such as smell…it seems so small but it’s so amazing! He thinks of everything! We can remember His goodness in ALL things!

  7. Sarah Parsons says:

    I love where it said in the writing that God isn’t limited to the spiritual realm, he wants us to experience him physically too.
    Reading that the oil was not not ordinary people then, and knowing that through Christ, we are sacred now, makes me feel incredibly special. I believe through each of our callings God has on our lives, like our favorite smells and memories, we each have a special blend of anointing that God has placed on our lives.

  8. Sarah Parsons says:

    I love where it said in the writing that God isn’t limited to the spiritual realm, he wants us to experience him physically too.

  9. Summer Stevenson says:

    This is such a great devo!!

  10. Shannon Lowry says:

    Sending you love and hugs traci ❤️

  11. Dorothy says:

    My favorite scents are those of spices, especially the sweet ones and barbecue. They bring back all the memories of the holidays of family together. The barbecue is because for the longest time my mom would slow cook — in her oven with liquid smoke and other barbecue spices — a brisket for Christmas. She would get up about 6 or 7 in the morning and season it and put it in the oven at about 225 degrees. By noon you would start to smell the meat cooking, by 5 or 6 — dinner time, when the whole family was there — it smelt sooooo good, you thought you were in a barbecue restaurant. Later in my mom’s life, my dad started to get barbecue from one of the best barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area. We would put in the oven to keep it warm so the smell was still there. Put nothing ever topped Mom’s brisket — I guess it was the love that also went in to it.
    Sisters, be blessed and take time to smell the scents outside in God’s creation, around you.

  12. Obi O says:


  13. Jessica Marcus says:

    I love this! God cares about every detail in our lives!

  14. Kimberly Ziehl says:

    Agreed thanks for the info Debbie. Reading Exodus reminds me of how extravagant God really is. Even in the smallest of details.

  15. Traci Gendron says:

    I have an unbelievable sense of smell. My husband tells me I’m like a hound…. The sense of smell is so part of my being. I smell Tanner’s clothes every morning and every night. I’m afraid the scent will diminish in time. It actually makes me panic. It is all I have left besides my memories. I remember when he was young his sweat smelled like sulfur from one of his medicines. Not a good smell actually, but it was his. I can imagine kissing him on the head and smelling his hair. The thought is gut wrenching to think I can no longer do that. I love the scents associated with Christmas. So many good memories from when I was a child and the years with Tanner.

    As followers of Jesus Christ, we carry the fragrance of Christ with us everywhere we go. “For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2Corinthians 2:15). We are so blessed!

  16. Mari V says:

    I was raised Catholic and I can remember that on occasion there was a part in the mass that involved incense. Makes me think from today’s reading that this part of the mass was similar. And it’s interesting if I focus I can still smell it.

  17. Cee Gee says:

    I love the insights and information shared here today, DEBBIE- PURSUED BY HIM and ANGIE MILLS!
    I was drawn to the last part of v.10 and the holiness of the altar. I thought of the many marriages, baby christenings and dedications, etc. that take place on our altars. Do we recognize and honor the holiness of that space?! I know that when I see the spread of The Lord’s Supper at the altar, it sharpens that feeling of the holiness there (for me). Just something I am pondering this morning. Thank you, CLAIRE! Like your mom, I love Patchouli!

  18. Christina Fowlkes says:

    Thank you Debbie!

  19. Ruthie Long says:

    Such a poetic and experiential Devo today! I really appreciate it.

  20. Angie Mills says:

    Here are some of the characteristics that I noticed about the Altar of Incense and how it reminds me of Jesus.

    1. There are a few references in the Bible to incense being linked with the prayers of God’s people (Psalm 141:2a; Luke 1:8-13; Revelation 8:3-4.
    2. Aaron was to place fresh incense on the altar every morning and evening. This insured that the incense would be continuously burning and the fragrance would always be present. We should pray at all times (Psalm 34:1; 62:8; Luke 21:36; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). We should always be seeking God’s presence and showing His presence to others. Many people practice a habit of morning and evening devotions as a reminder of God’s constant presence.
    3. The incense was only to be burned on this altar and used only in worship. We should only pray to Almighty God. Our worship, trust, and praise should not go to anyone or anything else. He alone is worthy to be worshipped, honored, and adored because He is worthy to receive all praise, glory, honor, and power.
    4. This is the closest piece of furniture to the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s Presence, was located. Our prayers show an intimacy with God.
    5. This altar was part of the yearly Atonement Ceremony and was sprinkled with the blood of the Day of Atonement sacrifice. We can only approach God in prayer because of Christ’s death. His death was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).
    6. God said that this altar was especially holy to Him (Exodus 30:10). God takes our prayers seriously. They are meaningful to Him and He loves them. They are pleasing to Him. We should view our prayers in the same way. We should take our prayers to Him seriously. We should pray in a meaningful way to Him. We should love coming to Him in prayer.

  21. Rebecca says:

    It was interesting to me that they gave money to have their names registered so no plague would come upon them, and we having been saved by the blood of Jesus, have our names registered in the Book of Life, so that we will not die, but live forever with Jesus. Soooo many aspects in these pages of Exodus pointing to Jesus! Have a fabulous Friday!

  22. Suzanne Smith says:

    I also love this day’s word from God. I’m thankful to all you She’s for sharing your thoughts too. Often someone else’s words will trigger something in me. Healing happens. The aroma of your knowledge of Jesus leads to life.

  23. GramsieSue . says:

    Debbie -Pursued by Him – thank you for the info on the incense. I love how each ingredient points to Jesus. ❤️

  24. Vickie B says:

    Debbie, thank you for sharing these beautiful details. ❤️

  25. Jennifer Loves Jesus says:

    Jesus has anointed my head and my heart with the oil of joy (Psalm 45:7). My love for Him draws me in close, and the scent of salvation is upon me. “…to God we are the fragrance of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). We have “an aroma of life leading to life” (v 16). “And this is the promise that He himself made to us: eternal life” (1 John 2:25). We are annointed for life. Each day we carry this promise no matter what challenges we face. “…He said to me, ‘My grace IS sufficient for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is not a hope or a prayer, it is a fact stated by our Lord. So, I will stand on the truth. I will trust what He says. My hope is in Him not my circumstances. Father God, I trust You. I will remain in You. Into Your hands I commit this day. Anoint me with Your joy. Your strength. Your peace. May Your fragrant aroma spread around me today. Selah. Maranatha. Amen.

  26. Aimee D-R says:

    Lord You are so good.

  27. Krista Darcus says:


  28. Natalie . says:

    When reflecting on this devotional, I thought of the art of hosting. And I’m certainly not making a 1:1 comparison to the tabernacle and a dinner party, but I see hosting as somewhat of a holy act: bringing people together to commune, gather, eat, drink… often lighting candles, creating a space where people feel loved, welcomed, like they belong and can linger. Maybe a space to be able to experience Jesus? Happy Friday, all. Grateful for this community. ❤️

  29. Miriam says:

    My constant prayer is that I would be so filled with the Spirit of God in such a way that is so obvious to people. Just as strong perfume lingers much longer after someone has left, I want my fragrance of being God’s child—a fragrance of life—to linger for others that I’m in contact with. I want to reflect and radiate Christ in my life so that others can sense it even after I’m gone. I pray that my life would be a fragrance of life that is pointing others to Christ and the gospel.
    Also, I love seeing how God uses all our senses to draw us closer to Him! Earlier we saw how He uses beauty to point us to Him and now smell. He is the Almighty Creator and has designed each part of our bodies for a specific purpose to glorify Him and to point us to Him!

  30. Erica Wilson says:

    “…our God and His extravagance”- I LOVE this! I love this reminder that God uses our physical senses to stir our spirits to worship and remembrance.

  31. Mariana Cuartas says:


  32. Kelly (NEO) says:

    Gold (covering the altar), frankincense (in the insence), and myrrh (in the annointing oil). Now where have we seen that combo before? :-)

    Debbie -Pursued by Him – thanks for the info on the spices

  33. Debbie -Pursued by Him says:

    I found the oil and incense details very interesting! I looked up some of the oils and it seems to me they might have smelled like a warm cinnamon bun!!! How comforting to me! The incense ingredients seemed to me to be sweet also but refreshing!

    I found this interesting interpretation about the incense:

    “ a) Stacte – the sap of the Acacia tree which oozed through the bark in the spring in blood-red drops. After congealing, it was ground into powder. The Greek word used in Luke 22:44 for drops is “THROMBOS” which means to thicken, a lump or a dot of blood. In this spice the spiritual anguish of the Lord Jesus is brought before us.
    b) Onycha – the ground-up crusts of a shellfish, native to the Red Sea. One meaning given for onycha is “to peel off by percussion of sound.” This would refer to the pounding of the waves which resulted in the breaking of the amber-like outer crusts of the onycha. Here we have the physical sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus brought before us.
    c) Galbanum – this was the sap of the shrub called “ferula.” The bark of the tree was cut, and the sap which flowed out as a result was caught in basins. After hardening, it was ground into perfume. One characteristic of the tree was the manner in which the sap still ran even after the wound was healed. Christ’s wounds received on the Cross continue even today to send forth blessings to mankind. Here we have His resurrection and glorification brought before us.
    These were combined with frankincense in equal parts to form the incense which is called “sweet” (v 7), “pure” (v 35), and “most holy” (v 36). And this is the incense which was placed upon the golden altar every morning and again every evening in fulfillment of the words of Exodus 30:7, 8, 36. Here the fire which had consumed the sacrifice on the brazen altar was now used to release the sweet savor to Jehovah. The figure is very clear: the blood put on the horns of the altar presents the full value of the work of Christ viewed in God’s presence (Heb 9:11-12, 24-26). The value of that blood in all its freshness and fragrance is ever before the Throne as our Great High Priest appears there. The presence and power of Christ in the glory for us are the results of His finished work on the Cross.”