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Shemot/Exodus 30:7 And Aharon shall cause the incense to rise up in smoke upon it every morning
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These are the instructions, just following those for the construction of the incense altar, for its use: for nothing but burning incense, twice a day, every day. The phrase , literally "in the morning, in the morning", is used to signify that incense is to be offered not only each morning, but every morning, every day of the year, "a regular incense offering before the L-RD throughout the ages" (Shemot 30:8, JPS), for all generations. The root , "to raise an odour by burning, to burn incense" (Davidson) is present twice in the text: first as the verb , the Hif'il affix 3ms form with a vav-reversive to make the tense future, "and he shall cause to rise in smoke"; and, second, as the noun , incense. In the latter case, the following noun, , tells us from what the incense is made: sweet spices or aromatics - perhaps this is an early form of aromatherapy!
Umberto Cassuto offers an explanation as to the timing of the incense offering: "Aharon shall burn incense of spices on [this altar] twice every day: when he cleans and trims the lamps of the candelabrum and when he kindles them again. The time of the burning of the incense was synchronised with that of the dressing and kindling of the lamps with the intention, apparently, that, owing to the pleasant fragrance of the incense, the unpleasant odour of extinguished wicks and burnt oil should not be felt."1 The Mishnah says that "the incense offering of the morning was offered between the tossing of the blood and offering up of the limbs" of the morning whole burnt offering (m. Yoma 3:5). The Talmudic Sages say that "it took place in the morning ceremony in the middle of the preparation of the Menorah" (b. Yoma 14b), but cannot decide whether it was between the second and third lamps, or between the fifth and sixth.
There is discussion too as to who actually carried out this command on a daily basis. Was it always Aharon and his successors as High Priest? TheRamban tells us that "This commandment did not devolve upon the High Priest alone, but was also incumbent upon the common priests, as is the law of the lighting of the lamps mentioned in the following verse. Earlier it says, 'Aharon and his sons' (Shemot 27:21). He may have said 'Aharon' here because it was he who would perform it first and that his sons [and subsequent generations of priests] are included." Nahum Sarna amplifies this: "Although it would appear that both the incense offering and the tending and lighting of the lamps are to be the prerogatives of the High Priest, we know that the daily performance of these rituals was carried out by the ordinary priests as well. Not only does 27:21 make this clear in respect of the lamp lighting, but 2 Chronicles 26:8, m. Yoma 4:4 and m. Tamid 6:3 all attest to it in regard to the incense offering." The gospel too adds its voice to the evidence: "Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before G-d when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the L-rd and burn incense" (Luke 1:8-9, ESV). Practical and traditional delegation!
Another question that is raised about the person who carried out the burning of the incense is: if it is being done every day, in the same way at the same time, in the same place and with the same intention, does it really require someone of the intellect and holiness of the High Priest, or does it just need someone who can reliably perform the service mechanically each day? RabbiHirsch takes this head on: "The idea of the highest moral perfection of practical behaviour must be held up beforehand as the purpose of Jewish development of the mind. In the Jewish life, genius is no license for non-observation of the laws of morality, but on the contrary, the highest degree of morality is made the test for the highest degree of true intelligence, and only in it and by it does the nobility of the mind show itself and prove its genuineness." It is precisely, Hirsch argues, in the routine and perfect obedience to HaShem's instructions that the truly great mind is revealed. It is not below the status or dignity of the High Priest to burn incense each day; on the contrary, that is exactly what he and his colleagues are commanded to do. It is in their careful, consistent and diligent execution of these instructions that true intelligence is to be found.
The New Covenant Scriptures warn us against short-termism - Rav Sha'ul wrote that "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8, NASB), so savings, pensions and life insurance can definitely be godly instruments of provision - there are no day-traders in the kingdom of G-d, we are all to be invested for the long-haul. Nevertheless, Yeshua teaches the disciples to think and act on a daily basis. He teaches them to pray, "Give us each day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3, ESV) and admonishes them not to "worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34, NJB). We can see the early church thriving on a daily economy: "day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising G-d and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, ESV). G-d blesses their small but consistent daily obedience as they gather each day before Him and open their homes to one another; growth, growth and more growth, as they carry out their instructions: "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Yeshua as the Messiah" (Acts 5:42, ESV).
Regular and consistent obedience - "If you love me, you will keep my commands" (John 14:15, CJB) - not to earn anything, but responding to G-d's grace to us in Messiah Yeshua, is the way to see the kingdom of G-d growing and to remain part of Yeshua: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love" (John 15:10, NASB). So Rav Sha'ul instructs the Corinthians, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up" (1 Corinthians 16:2, ESV) as a means of regularly disciplining themselves to give so that when he comes to visit them and take their gift on to the poor in Jerusalem, everything will be ready. But that gift is to be "as he may prosper" (ibid.) so that no-one is left short and that people will prosper.
If we are to see revival in our day; if we are to see an outpouring of signs and wonders as the miraculous confirmation of G-d's word and offer of the kingdom; if we are to experience people being convicted of sin and brought into new life, salvation and power in the Holy Spirit; if we are to see the powers of darkness pushed back and defeated in our days - then we have to get our act together and start being serious about our daily commitment and obedience before G-d. That is not prescriptive legalism, with swathes of people slavishly doing the same thing day in and day out without thought or reason, but constructive simple-hearted honest-to-goodness obedience to what He has told each one of us to do. Each of us needs to spend detailed time with the L-rd each day, getting our instructions, being equipped and empowered, and rejoicing in His presence. Then we need to make sure that we carry out those instructions, not thinking ourselves above mundane tasks, or hoping that someone else will do them. In our intentional actions of love and obedience, we will find renewal and life in abundance. As Rav Sha'ul told the Corinthians, "Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16, ESV).
We have a duty of care too for others, particularly within the family of faith. As we have received this word, we need to share it with others so that they too can understand and come into alignment with what G-d desires of us in this day. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13, ESV). Together we can cause the incense to rise as smoke every morning, a pleasing aroma before the L-rd, a witness in the world, and a blessing to share with all who follow Yeshua!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Isaiah 40:30-31; Romans 12:2
Application: Think about how you could bring an incense offering to the L-rd each day. How could you become more obedient in even the littlest ways so that your life is a fragrant and aromatic smoke that blesses your G-d?
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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