Everything in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was gold. Everything outside was bronze, like the Bronze Altar in the courtyard, or Azarah. The ALtar of Incense will have similarities with some of the other items that were built for the Mishkan. It was made of Shittim wood (Acacia) and covered with gold. It was square and had four horns on the corners. We will have more on the shittim wood later. Notice that this altar was square, but why would that be important? There are Torah teachers who say that the Mishkan was circular (Breaking Israel News article called “Biblical Tabernacle is Nothing Like What You Think, Says Bible-Savvy Engineer” and available on the Internet). This is not true. The Mishkan was not circular. There are “corners” and the actual dimensions are given in the Scriptures. This teaching cannot possibly be true, but it is accepted. Why?
Antisemitism is rising in this country. Even in Bible teaching you will hear “The Jews are wrong” and is a Replacement Theology and antisemitism. There is another teaching that says the Temple was not on the Temple Mount, but near the Gihon Spring. That is impossible according to the archaeology, but it is taught and accepted by many. The bottom line of all this is if the Jews are wrong, then we must replace their error with something else, resulting in Replacement Theology.
This altar was overlaid with gold, as we have said, and its horns (power of God) were at the corners. There was a gold crown or molding around the top. It had two rings on two sides so that the poles to carry it could go through them. These poles were also made of shittim wood and covered with gold. It was applied like paint. This altar was put in front of the paroket (veil) in the Mishkan that was nearest to the Ark of the Covenant, in front of the kipporet (mercy seat) where God spoke (the Devir).
In 1 Cor 11.1-3 we have an example of order. We have God, Messiah, Man and Woman. This order does not mean man is above woman in the Kingdom of God, but it deals with roles and hierarchy. When we think of the Ark of the Covenant, we think of the Ark as the Ark. In Exo 30.6 we see something different. It says, “And you shall put the altar before the paroket that is before the Ark of the Testimonial Tablets (Aron ha Edut), in front of the kipporet (mercy seat) that is over the testimonial tablets, where I will meet with you.” This is saying that what makes the Ark important is the tablets (luchot), the two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments. But it is giving special significance to the kipporet, which is translated as “mercy seat” in English and that is a terrible translation. What is even more significant than the kipporet, is where God meets “with you.” The actual point of meeting in the Mishkan with the Lord himself.
Now, we have read that there is an atonement that is received by certain items, vessels and garments. We have all heard of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. What needs to be conveyed is this. Our concept of atonement is greatly lacking. What we don’t understand about atonement is a lot. Our definition falls far short. There is more to it than what we see. Where is this brought out? In the Mishkan/Temple and its ceremonies.
Verse 6 brings out an order, culminating in a place where God himself will speak with you. 1 Kings 8.6 says, “Then the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place into the inner sanctuary (called the Devir) in the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubim.” Solomon made these cherubim out of shittim wood, covered with gold, and were around 20 feet high, and the wing of one touched the north side wall of the most holy place, and the wing of the other touched the southern wall. Then, the two remaining wings were stretched over the Ark (1 Kings 6.26-28; 1 Chr 3.10-13). This is in the Kodesh Ha Kodeshim (Holy of Holies), also called the “Devir” in Hebrew which is a word related to “Davar” meaning “oracle or speaking.”
Any priest can burn the fragrant incense on the altar of incense, and he shall burn it every morning during the Shacharit service, when he trims the lamps of the Menorah. When he trims the lamps at “twilight” (bein ha eruvim), he shall burn incense again. There was to be incense before the Lord continually, so that is why it was done during the Tamid service twice daily. They were not to offer strange incenses on this altar, or an olah, or a minchah, or at a time not appointed by the Lord, and not two or more at a time. They were not to pour out a libation on it. These are some of the restrictions for this altar. Atonement is made on its horns on Yom Kippur, with the blood of the sin offering (blood of a bull and and goat-Lev 16.18).
Exo 30.11-16 tells us about the Law of the Shekel. Whenever a census of warriors was done, every adult Israelite was to pay a half-shekel, called the “Hotzi Shekel.” It was a ransom (“kapper”) for his soul as a potential life-taker, though not a deliberate murderer. This is done so that there be no plague among them. The word for plague there is “negef” and it has the same root as the Hebrew for “slaughter in battle.” Again, the word ransom is “kapper” (atonement, like “kippur”) and there is much more to this word than we realize.
The “soul” in Exo 30.11-15 is the word “nafshu” and it is related to the word “nefesh.” We are talking about an individual life, and blood sustains life. The life of the flesh is in the blood because it sustains life. The ruach is the spirit of man, and neshemah is the “God consciousness” that we have when born again. Everyone that passes before the officers mustering the forces to battle shall give a “hotzi shekel”, the full weight used in conjunction with the holy things. It is a “terumah” or contribution to the Lord. The same phrase is used in Num 31.52. A terumah is freely given, not a “i have to” attitude, so the heart plays a role here.
The rich did not pay more, and the poor did not pay less because all souls are of equal value in the eyes of the Lord. They have the same ransom. Everyone was mustered for war, from 20 years old and over. They all will give the half-shekel. The money raised was then taken and given for the service of the Sanctuary, “that it may be a memorial” for the sons of Israel before the Lord (Exo 30.16). The silver was used for the bases of the pillars and for the hooks to keep the borders of the Mishkan together (Exo 38.27).
We will pick here in Part 39, beginning with an explanation of the phrase, “that it may be a memorial” from the book “The Pentateuch and Haftorahs” by Rabbi Joseph Hertz.