Day 26

The Incense Altar

from the Exodus reading plan


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

BY Claire Gibson

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. 

Post Comments (30)

30 thoughts on "The Incense Altar"

  1. Christina Fowlkes says:

    Thank you Debbie!

  2. Ruthie Long says:

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. GramsieSue . says:

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

  7. Vickie B says:

    Debbie, thank you for sharing these beautiful details. ❤️

  8. 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.

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