The Gold in the Tabernacle (2): The Golden Altar

As we move through the sanctuary, the next item of furniture that we see is the altar of incense. Again, it is wood and gold, according to the pattern. But there is another addition to this piece of furniture that highlights its purpose and use. Upon it was to be placed the sweet incense that is described in Exodus 30:34-38. (It was placed in the golden censer which sat on the top of the altar and contained the coals of fire from off the altar of burnt offering, as specified in Leviticus 16:12.) This incense was to be refreshed each morning and evening at the same time as the lamps were dressed. It was to be “… a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout [the] generations” (Exo 30:8).

The composition of the incense in Exodus 30:34-35 is of five ingredients. Each one of these had to be of equal weight and, when analyzed, tells us of a characteristic of our blessed Lord, primarily as He passed through the anguish of Gethsemane’s garden.

Stacte is actually dried myrrh. The free-flowing original resin was dried by the fire and ground into powder. Our Lord’s sufferings were enhanced by those fires in that night when His holy soul was tested – the testing that prepared Him to be placed upon the fires of God’s wrath.

Onycha is derived from ground shell-fish which fed on the nard plant. It speaks to us of the majesty of our Lord even in Gethsemane. He could address His persecutors with dignity and, in His presence they went backward and fell to the ground before Him.

Galbanum was an acrid Arabian gum that was used to drive away vermin and reptiles. All thoughts of self-preservation were dismissed readily in Gethsemane as the Lord accepted the Father’s will and as He saw the condition of His disciples – sleepy, in the dark, and with the adversaries coming towards them.

Frankincense was derived from a bitter Arabian gum that burned with a white flame. It reminds us of the Lord’s total devotion and dedication to the task at hand with a holy purity in the face of the load of sin that was to be put upon Him as the sacrifice.

Salt (“tempered together” is actually “salted” in Hebrew) is a natural preservative and was designated by God as indicative of permanence. The salt of the covenant was never to be lacking from the offerings of the Lord made by fire (Lev 2:13). Our Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of such intense suffering that night demonstrated His commitment to the work He had willingly undertaken.

One other comment here is perhaps worth making. In Exodus 30:36 we are told that some of it was to be beaten very small, even after having compounded it after the art of the apothecary. Let us be aware that even the minutest particle of Christ’s fragrant character exudes all the savors that delight the heart of the Father. Placing this incense before God always establishes the right basis for communion with Him.

The Ark and the Mercy Seat

As we continue on our “journey of gold” through the tabernacle, we come next to the Holy of Holies. Immediately we find the ark and the mercy seat with its cherubim of glory. The ark itself is wood and gold, as the other pieces farther out, but the mercy seat is solid gold! In and of itself, it must have been a beautiful sight with the cherubim overshadowing the mercy-seat.

But what might the Lord instruct to place on such an item as this? Look again, and follow the High Priest on the Great Day of Atonement (Lev 16:12-16) as he takes the blood of the two-fold sin offering and sprinkles it on the mercy seat! Blood? There? Why deface such a beautiful article and its weight of gold with blood? We are compelled to realize that the illustration God is giving us is full of eternal meaning. The sacrifice of Christ satisfied the very throne of the Eternal God in the heavens, and blood, the blood of His only-begotten Son, has been presented there for an eternal propitiation. Let it be recognized that there is no instruction for removing that blood, even to “clean” the mercy seat! The sacrifice of Christ is efficacious for eternity!

The High Priest’s Garments

There is one more item in this glorious journey that we should consider. The High Priest of Israel was to be attired in very special and specifically-designed garments as he moved among his people, representing the God of Israel. These garments are detailed for us in Exodus 28. Those garments have certain unique characteristics, but among them is the use of gold in their creation and production. Seventeen times in this chapter, gold is mentioned for various portions of the “garments for glory and beauty.” This included much from the golden plate upon his forehead to the golden bells and the pomegranates on the hem of his robe.

In other parts of the tabernacle there were to be curtains and hangings made out of a weaving of linen, blue, purple, and scarlet. But when those threads were brought to the garments of the High Priest, the weaving was then to also include gold. The ephod, the girdle, and the breastplate were all to have this intricate weaving of gold thread among the other colors. What a sight it must have been as the High Priest moved in the midst of the camp dressed in those glorious garments in the sunshine of the day! It was a public demonstration of how beautiful the God of heaven truly is.

Our great High Priest moves in the midst of the golden lampstands of Christian testimony in all the glory of His full deity. The display of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:13-16 is just a little glimpse at the glory that surrounds His holy Person. Even there, His breast is adorned with a golden girdle. The sight is overwhelming even to the apostle John (v17). But the high-priestly character is always there, and He lays His right hand upon His beloved apostle and opens John’s eyes to the wonders of prophecy throughout the rest of that book. Oh, the beauty of our glorious Lord!

Let’s just review for a moment what we have seen in this golden journey. The humanity of our blessed Lord has been highlighted by the shittim wood. His life was seen in the bread laid out on the golden table. His spiritual way has lit this earthly journey, and His devotion illustrated by the sweetness of the incense upon the golden altar. We have considered the value of the sacrificial blood sprinkled upon the mercy seat, and now He moves in glory among His own. What a beautiful picture of our Lord’s pathway here on earth, yet never disassociated from the intrinsic glory of His eternal nature. Blessed be His name!