THE GOLDEN ALTAR (Exod. 30:1-10)
The golden altar, though not so large as the brazen altar, was more precious, being made of shittim wood but overlaid with gold. It was one cubit, or eighteen inches, square and two cubits, or three feet, high. Like the brazen altar, it had horns fashioned on the four corners of it. Around the edge of the top was a crown, and two golden rings on the sides held gold-covered bars as a means of carrying it. This beautiful little altar was located in the holy place near the second veil, before the ark, which was just beyond the veil. It was midway between the north and south sides of the tabernacle. It is described as the “altar to burn incense upon,” because this was its chief use. Each morning when the priest trimmed the lamps and again when he lighted them, specially prepared holy incense was burned there in worship to Jehovah. Similar aromatic substances were not uncommonly employed by Orientals in offerings of tributary homage as marks of honor to kings. The Magi brought such an offering of frankincense to the infant Jesus in worshipping him as King of the Jews.
There was a close connection between this altar and the brazen altar. Live coals of fire were brought from it to the golden altar, on which the incense was burned (Lev. 16:12). That fire had been divinely sent from God (Lev.9:24). Nadab and Abihu profanely offered incense with other or strange fire and died as a result (Lev. 10:1). Also the blood of the sin-offering was smeared upon the horns of the golden altar once each year, on the great day of atonement. And, too, in every sin-offering for the priests or for the whole congregation collectively some of the blood from the brazen altar was brought and applied to these gold-covered horns (Lev. 4:7, 18).
Typical Meaning of the Golden Altar.– As the golden altar had two uses, we need not be surprised to find an antitypical meaning of each those uses. The significance of the offering of incense is clearly brought out both in the Old and in the New Testament. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense” (Psa. 141:2). “The four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials[bowls,or censers], full of odors [marg., incense], which are the prayers of saints”(Rev. 5:8). (See also Isa. 6:3, 4; and Luke 1:10). What a beautiful symbol is the fragrant odor of this sweet incense ascending there before the Lord! How pleasing to him must be the devotion of loving hearts, the devout feelings of faithful worshippers, the praises of his people, the reaching-out of the souls of the redeemed for blessed communion with him! All this is prayer in the broadest sense. We no longer offer incense, but “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).
This incense-altar was “before the Lord.” Though the veil intervened, yet it is constantly described as being connected with the ark and the mercy-seat. In Heb. 9:4 it is stated that the holiest room “had the golden censer, which was doubtless the incense-altar. Therefore when we pray today we come into God’s holy presence, before the throne of grace, the mercy-seat. There we give pleasure to the loving heart of a kind Creator by sincere hearts’ devotion. And as the incense was offered continually, “a perpetual incense,”that is, each morning and evening always, so we are admonished to “pray without ceasing,” to be “instant [constant] in prayer,” to be “praying always.” “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psa. 34:1).
The blood on the horns of the golden altar also shadowed forth some of the good things that God has now provided for us. Like the brazen altar and the laver, it was directly between the entrance to the court and the ark of God; signifying that it was one of the means by which the sinner came to God. Those who have had their hearts “sprinkled from an evil conscience” (at the brazen altar), and have had their “bodies washed with pure water” (at the laver), the writer to the Hebrews exhorts, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19-22). It is clear from this that the blood of Jesus gives entrance through the veil into the holiest, as we have already shown that the sacrificial blood at the brazen altar gives admittance through the first veil into the holy place. Also we have shown that this holiest place is typical of entire sanctification. A very definite proof of this is that the atoning blood was put on the horns of the golden altar only for those who had been admitted to the holy place -the priests, as individuals, or for the whole congregation, whose representatives, the priests, were admitted (see Lev. 4:7, 18). The blood of the sin-offering for “one of the common people” was smeared on the horns of the brazen altar out in the court (Lev. 4:30). How remarkably did God in these ancient symbols predict the minute details of the process of our salvation. But it may be objected that the priests did not gain entrance to the holiest by this blood on the horns of the golden altar. This was because “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing” (Heb. 9:8). Likewise the common people were not admitted into the holy place by the blood of their sin-offering on the horns of the brazen altar. But as the sinner is now admitted into the holy place of the church by the atoning blood of Jesus, so also those who have already entered it are now admitted into the holiest by the same blood on the horns of the golden altar.
THE ARK AND THE MERCY-SEAT (Exod. 25:10-22)
Of all the furniture of the tabernacle, that of the holy of holies was the most peculiar, the most impressive, and the most significant. It consisted of two distinct articles, yet inasmuch as they belonged together they are commonly spoken of as one.
The ark of the covenant was so called because in it was placed, and it existed as a receptacle for, the two tables of stone on which Jehovah had supernaturally inscribed the ten commandments, the foundation of his law to Israel. It was an ordinary-sized, gold-plated, shittim-wood chest one and one half cubits, or twenty-seven inches, wide and high, and two and one half cubits, or forty-five inches, long. Around the top was a crown of gold, which seems to have been purely for the purpose of ornamentation, as it was on the table and golden altar. Two golden rings, with a gold-covered bar, on each of the two sides furnished a means of conveying it from place to place.
The mercy seat was a slab of pure gold as wide and as long as the ark, and was laid on top of the ark, fitting down inside the crown as a sort of lid. On the ends of it, and of one piece of gold with it, were fashioned two angelic winged figures, called cherubims. These faced each other, looking down upon the mercy-seat and stretching their wings out above and before them until the tips of the wings of the one touched the other’s, making a sort of covering or canopy over this symbolic throne of the invisible God. “There,” above the mercy-seat, overshadowed by the wings of the cherubmin, said the Lord, “I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all thins which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.”(Exod. 25:22). There shone the Shekinah, the glory of the Lord, according to Jewish tradition. There is some ground for this tradition in the pillar of fire that led Israel through the wilderness journey and in the glory of the Lord at different times filled or was seen on the tabernacle. There on the mercy-seat, on the great day of atonement, the atoning blood was sprinkled in the very presence of God. For only there in the presence of this blood could the holy God consistently commune with sinful men.
Typical Significance of the Ark and Mercy-seat. – We must view the ark and mercy-seat together, as they were very closely related to each other, to get a clear idea of their typical meaning. The mercy-seat was God’s throne,with the ark for its base, the cherubim for sides and supports and their outstretched wings for a canopy above. It is doubtess here we get the beautiful expression, “throne of grace.” (Heb. 4:16). It was a place of mercy.
The symbolic and typical significance can be better understood by getting the force of the meaning of the name of the mercy-seat. It is sometimes translated the propitiatory covering. But it was not this in the sense of a mere covering for the ark. According to Dr. Fairbairn, the Hebrew name, capporeth, which means covering, is never used for covering in the ordinary sense. It is never mentioned precisely as the lid of the ark. It was a place where sin was covered. The translators of the Septuagint have, with this in mind, expressed the idea very well as a propitiatory overing. It was an atonement covering. Now Jesus is the true mercy-seat or propitiatory. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Rom.3:24, 25). The blood sprinkled by the mediating high priest on atonement-day on that pure-gold mercy-seat was typical of the precious atoning blood of Jesus. The mercy-seat must be considered with the blood upon it, as the altar with the sacrifice upon it. So also the ark should be regarded, with the symbolic law of God in it, as a type.
The ark was typical of God’s righteous law which sinful man has violated. And the mercy-seat was typical of Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of violating that law. The mercy-seat was the same length and width as the ark; so Jesus’ atonement is coextensive with man’s sin in breaking God’s holy law. It covers every sin. God’s mercy through Christ is equal to his just ice. What a beautiful symbol of the ground on which God offers pardon to those deserving of penalty. It is only in the presence of the propitiatory blood covering his violated law that the Holy One can commune with those who are unholy. Thank God for Jesus the “propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
But what do the cherubim represent? More or less mystery surrounds both the nature and symbolic meaning of the two golden cherubim. That they were winged creatures of the angelic order seems fairly clear. These had wings certainly. Probably these are not essentially different from those seraphim of Isaiah’s vision which had six wings (Isa. 6:2). They are always represented as being closely connected with the throne or presence of God or as doing his work. Certainly the close relation of the golden cherubim to the mercy-seat, as well as the cherubic figures worked in the hangings of the walls and in the veil, signified the fact of the presence of the invisible God.
While we may be sure of this, yet there may be also a fuller significance to them. They certainly cannot symbolize agents, but must represent something different from yet analogous to themselves. When our foreparents were driven from Eden, cherubim were set at the gate to keep the way to the tree of life. They were closely connected with God’s judicial government, executors of justice. Is it not possible that these beings that seem to belong to God’s presence are hieroglyphs of his divine attributes such as justice and mercy? May not one of the golden cherubim of the mercy-seat represent justice and the other mercy as they meet in the presence of the atoning blood of Jesus? There with eyes fixed upon the blood, justice and mercy come face to face and are reconciled together, yea, they become one, and one with the true propitiatory, the Lord Jesus Christ.
continued, next THE ANTITYPICAL HOLY OF HOLIES