Temple Service: High Priest (Cohanim) & Preparing the Holy Incense Exodus

Holy Incense Exodus

The burning of the Qetoret (Holy Incense) was central to all of the ceremonies conducted in the Temple as key component required under the Law of Moses. Situated near the Arabian Peninsula along the spice route, large amounts of incense could easily be imported, where Israelites were well acquainted with the use of incense in religious worship having coming from the land of Egypt.

When Moses received instruction to build the tabernacle he was told to include an altar on which his brother Aaron was to burn incense every morning and every evening throughout all of Israel’s generations. Each morning when the menorah was cleaned and each evening when the lamp was lit, a priest burned the Qetoret (Holy Incense) on the small Golden Altar in the center of the sanctuary (Exodus 30:8).

The altar of incense, upon which the priests burned the Holy Incense was made of shittim wood, overlaid with gold and had four horns upon its corner, similar to Canaanite altars found in Palestine.

Incense was offered in a pan called mahtah, which the priest carried in his hand. Aaron carried the incense using a pan he offered for the sins of the people in Numbers 17:11-12.  Both of Aaron’s sons had his own pan (Leviticus 10:1) as well as the insubordinate Levites who sacrificed incense on pans, which were used afterward to cover the altar of burnt offering of the Tabernacle (Numbers 17:4). Apparently, every priest had his own censer.

Using tongs or a golden censer, the priests removed hot coals from the altar of sacrifice and placed them upon the altar of incense twice daily, after which the incense would be sprinkled upon. The prominent position of the altar of incense in the Holy Place was directly before the veil of the tabernacle or Temple.

A special offering of incense was made on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:12-13), in which the Cohen Gadol (High Priest) entered the Holy Place, carrying in his right hand the pan for the incense, filled with live coals, and in his left hand a spoon-like vessel, called kaf, containing the incense. After placing both of these utensils on the floor, the High Priest took the incense from the kaf with the hollow of his hand, and heaped it upon the pan containing the coals (Leviticus 16:12).

The High Priest then placed blood from the sacrifice upon the four horns of the altar of incense, foreshadowing the time when Yeshua, our High Priest would offer his own life for the sins of all mankind. Then the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, where he burned incense in a gold censer, just as our Messiah is in the presence of Yahweh on His throne in Heaven (Hebrew 9:6-15).

The Rabbis teach that the incense that was com-pounded weighed: 368 maneh [measures] – 365 of these corresponded to the number of days in the solar year, one measure a day, half in the morning and half towards evening. Once a year, a new batch was prepared, allowing for one maneh (approximately five pounds) to be burnt every day (half in the morning, half in the evening) and three manot reserved for Yom Kippur.  Any amount leftover after Yom Kippur, the amount used being dependent on the size of each High Priest’s hand (Leviticus 16:12), was added to the next year’s batch. Every 70 years or so, enough excess accumulated to require only half the amount of Qetoret be prepared.

The other three measures were those that the Cohen Gadol or High Priest would bring into the Holy of Holies as a double handful on Yom Kippur. He would replace them in the mortar on the eve of Yom Kippur and regrind them thoroughly to make the Qetoret compound extra fine.

In addition to the daily burning of incense, incense was added to sacrifices, such as the meat and flour offerings.  The incense offering was omitted only in two cases – with the sin offering of the poor (Leviticus 5:11-13) and with the meat offering of the lepers (Leviticus 14:10, 20).

Like the cloudy pillar from which Yahweh spoke to the children of Israel during the Exodus, the burning incense rose in a pillar of smoke before the ark from which Yahweh communed with the priest.

As it was then, so it is today. God can only be approached through prayer, with a sincere heart of thanksgiving and worship. Prayer, like incense is the power to pierce through the darkness of hopelessness and take us into the very presence of God.

From the altar of sacrifice, our savior who suffered and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice did so willingly, so we could have accessed to the Father. The altar where the incense was burnt, located before the mercy seat, represents Yahweh’s throne and our High Priest, Yeshua Ha Mashiach, who has access because of the rent veil (Matthew 27:31), continues to make intercession on our behalf before the Father.

Allow the coals of the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to burn away the dross and sin that hinders communion with God. He will reveal those things we should pray and what we should ask, according to His will.