Monday, November 25, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Exodus 30:1-10,17-38
The incense altar was not about sacrifices. It seemed to have more connection to the ideas of God's holiness and his relational interaction with Israel. (Two ideas that seem consistently represented throughout the design of the tabernacle.) Unlike the bronze altar outside the tabernacle, this altar was made of gold. Although not conclusive in my opinion, it has been observed by a number of scholars that bronze is often connected to the ideas of fire and God's wrath in the Old Testament. Gold is often connected to the idea of purity.
The rings used to carry the altar, as well as the need to have the altar annually purified of the taint of human sin, indicate its holiness. There were also explicit instructions against using the altar for any other ritual purpose. If these indicators weren't enough, verse 10 clearly identifies it was "most holy to Yahweh".
Regarding relational components of the altar, the smoke from the altar of incense may also have represented the prayers of God's people, ascending up to him like a pleasurable aroma. (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3-4) Burned sacrifices performed in the tabernacle were said to create a "pleasing aroma" for Yahweh. The smoke and pleasing fragrance of this altar are in keeping with this theme.
Verses 7-8 also explain that the incense altar is meant to be burning incense at all times. This would seem to indicate the intention for an ongoing relational connection between Yahweh and his people, consistent with the New Testament instruction to "pray without ceasing"(1st Thessalonians 5:17).
It was not only important that the materials used for the tabernacle be precious, functional and symbolic, the priests serving Yahweh were to conform to this pattern as well. The bronze wash basin functionally kept the priests from dragging dust and other things into the tabernacle. This daily washing process also implied the purity required, not only to interact with Yahweh, but to even serve him.
The spices used for both the anointing oil and the incense altar were imported and very expensive. Further, Yahweh instructed that a perfumer was required to mix them properly.
The anointing oil was placed on all of the ritual utensils and furnishing of the tabernacle, making them "holy". The word for "holy" used here and elsewhere in the Old Testament means "apartness" or "sacredness". In other words, something that is "holy" is specifically set apart from other things in order to be used for the purposes of God. With this anointing oil, Yahweh was making a claim of possession on all the elements of the tabernacle, including anything that even touched these elements.
The representation of the special nature of Yahweh in the incense was so fiercely defended that anyone using the same incense recipe for their own personal enjoyment was cut off from the entire community.
For months now we've been looking at material that, in one way or another, leads us back to the same truths. Namely that God wants to have interaction and relationship with us, but he is also completely perfect, completely "other", and unwilling to compromise his nature in order to be with us. Maybe this study has in some ways felt like beating a dead horse. Maybe you've said to yourself a couple times, "Okay, I get it! God is holy, he's totally different, he's beyond comprehension, he's perfectly perfect and all that other stuff I can't even imagine. Can we move on?" And if you've felt that way, it's hard for me to blame you. But in doing this study I've been attempting to remind myself and share with you some vital truths that we take for granted.
We live in an age where we have never known the separation from God that those worshipping him in ancient times dealt with daily. Most of us who believe did not live under the Mosaic law and experience the freedom from that burden that Christ provides. So part of my goal has been to have us sort of "sit in the dysfunction" of ancient Yahweh worship and recognize the separation that by nature has to exist between us and God without a mediator involved. When I think about the familial friendship I can experience with God today, through Jesus, it's easy for me to downplay God's holiness. His "otherness". Giving focus to his otherness isn't intended to create a sense of distance between us and God, but is instead intended to make his present closeness to us and perfect closeness to us in eternity that much more mind-boggling, humbling and moving.
Today we don't have to jump through hoops to meet with God. We can figuratively jump into his lap, relating with God in both modes of respect and worship as our "father", and casual intimacy as our "daddy", the translation of the name "Abba". Jesus used this name for God and Paul encourages us to use it as well. (See Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6)
As geeks, we know what it's like to feel awkward while navigating relationships. Often more so than others we protect ourselves from the risks of being open and vulnerable with others, especially those we regard highly. But imagine a relationship with the most highly respected person in the world. Imagine not fearing rejection or judgment from this person when you shared your most shameful secrets. What if they were uncompromising in their values, but also affirming, encouraging and loving toward you? This is the kind of relationship Yahweh offers, and also the kind of relationship he models for us as we endeavor to relate with each other. Uncompromised character and unceasing pursuit of closeness. That's who God is and that's what he's calling us to imitate.