The altar of incense was a smaller version of the larger altar of sacrifice in front of the tabernacle. This place was in front of the veil in the holy place which shut off the most holy place. Two times during the day incense was to be burned on this altar. Apparently the reason was to send up a cloud of smoke which was to remind Israel of the presence of God.
There were four small horns on the upper corners of the altar. The ceremony of annual atonement for the altar is probably to be understood as a part of the ritual of the great Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16 Leviticus 23:26-32) The altar had to be atoned because it belonged to sinful people. In the Old Testament, objects were considered to have qualities which were attributing only to people in modern times,
Anytime there was a census in Israel they were supposed to pay a tax to the sanctuary. This was “for the service of the tent of meeting.” There were no specifications for when the census was to be taken or how often. It was such a census that gave the Book of Numbers its name. (Numbers 1) Disregard for this census tax gave problems in King David’s time. (2 Samuel 24) Since the people of Israel were God’s army, in time of crisis a census must have been needed to determine the availability of fighting men. In times such as this, since Israel as a whole was God’s firstborn, each man needed to be ransomed. In this time there was no coined money, so the taxes were assessed by weight. The “shekel of the sanctuary” was a standard weight, equivalent to about two-fifths of an ounce.
We do not know the size of the bronze laver but apparently it was rather small. The laver held water for the priest in their ceremonial cleansing before they entered the tent of meeting or before they offered a sacrifice upon the altar. The cleansing was an obvious task as the priest would need to wash after slaughtering the sacrificial animal. The expression “so that they will not die” clearly indicated that those who served in holy worship must be clean. Cleansing the outer man was symbolic of the cleansing of the inner man.
Anointing was intended to set an object or person apart to God. The amount of holy oil to be prepared would have been quite large. A “hin” was about one gallon. The total amount prepared would have been about thirty eight pounds plus the weight of a gallon of olive oil. This anointing oil could not be used for any other purpose and to do so would invite punishment by death. That appears to be the meaning of “cut off from his people.”
The incense used was described as “most holy.” In contrast to the “holy oil” the incense was used closer to the ark and therefore closer to God. Not all of the recipe of rare spices can be presently identified. Frankincense is regularly indentified as quite valuable. The addition of salt is an intriguing idea. Salt may have been nothing more than a preservative, but that is unlikely. The fact that sharing salt between two people was considered their seal upon a covenant relationship was probably the bases of this command. Israel offering their salt to God was probably considered their seal upon the covenant relation that God offered. As in the case of the oil, violation of the rules for the use of the incense was punishable by death.
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