In the Heichal there was an altar for incense that was called by two names. The first was the “Mizbeach Zahav” which means the “Golden Altar” and the second was the “Mizbeach ha Ketoret” or the “Altar of Incense.” The placement of this altar was inside the Heichal, about half-way down the Heichal, about 20 cubits inside. The Heichal was 40 cubits long, so the altar was in the middle of this room. Many people think it was right before the two parochet (veils) separating the Heichal from the Kodesh ha Kodeshim, but it wasn’t.
Earlier, the Menorah and the Mizbeach Zahav have been prepared and we have discussed this. A Kohen has been selected to “sacrifice” the ketoret but this is not what most people envision when the word “sacrifice” is used. They picture blood being spilled, a knife and an animal is involved. But remember, the Scriptures are not written in English and the word “korban” is translated “sacrifice” but that is not accurate. Korban means “to draw near” in an intimate way. We draw near by the Korban Olah and we draw near by the Korban Ketoret.
So, this one kohen has the honor of offering the ketoret, like Zechariah in Luke 1.8-9. We have another kohen who brought the burning coals from one of the fires on the Altar and he was selected in the first lot. They prepared the Altar first and the coals were prepared to be used for this. He got the coals in a silver shovel and then transferred these coals into a gold shovel to be used inside the Heichal. It has to be a gold shovel because everything inside the Sanctuary was gold. If he spilled some coals, it will be swept into a 1 cubit channel called the Amah (“cubit”) in the inner courts (Azarah). If he spilled a large amount, he goes back to the Altar. On the Sabbath, it would not be swept into the Amah but covered by the Psachter. The needs of the Temple “override” the Sabbath, but sweeping these coals did not.
The Ketoret was put in a vessel called the Bazach. He places the Bazach into a larger vessel called the Kaf and carries it into the Heichal, with the priest who cleaned the Mizbeach. The coals have been smoothed out on the Mizbeach Zahav and he takes the Bazach out of the Kaf and hands it to the priest next to him. He has the incense poured into his hands. If the Ketoret spills, it is retrieved and put back into the his hands. Because he has never done this before, he is warned about how to be careful when spreading the ketoret out over the coals because he could get burned. So, he spreads the incense out, starting at the back of the coals and working his way forward. When the incense hits the coals, it flashes and he could set his clothes on fire if he started at the front. Even from the back he needs to be careful because the coals are hot.
He did not begin to do this until the memunay (officer) stood at the doorway of the Heichal and said “Haktier” (offer the incense). That was the signal for all the kohanim to leave the area, the Ulam and the Altar. The kohen opens his hands and sifts the incense between his hands until the ketoret covers the coals. There is a deep silence over everyone in the Temple. Then prayers were offered to coincide with the rising incense, which symbolizes the prayers of the people.
A kohen will return to the Heichal to trim and light two lights on the Menorah. Earlier he did five lights. Both kohanim (one for the ketoret and the other the Menorah) prostrate themselves and back out of the Heichal. When they reach the 12 steps to the Heichal, they blow the magrafah. Now the kohanim run and prostrate and the Levi’im prepare to sing the daily psalm on the Duchan. Lepers who have been healed wait outside the Azarah with their korbanot. The five kohanim who have completed their service wait near the northern end of the Ulam’s steps for the Birkat Kohanim or “priestly blessing.” These steps were their “duchan.”
The Ma’amad or “standing men” gathered. These people are referred to in Luke 1.10 as “whole multitude.” These five kohanim are the five that served in the Heichal (three went in first, then two to finish the Menorah and offer incense). They will be holding the various golden vessels used in their service (the Kuz, Kaf, Machta, Bazach, etc). Then they said the priestly blessing. In Luke 1, the people wondered why Zechariah was taking so long because they knew how long all of this took. He was to come out and bless the people but was delayed (Luke 1.21-22) When giving this blessing, they would raise their hands and form the letter “Shin” with their backs to the Kodesh ha Kodeshim. Ordinarily, this was never done. However, the reason is the same as the Levitical choir with their backs to the Kodesh ha Kodeshim. This blessing was coming from God through them and that was the message conveyed. If the High Priest was with them, he does not raise his hands over his head like the others because he was wearing a headpiece with the name of God on it. Behind these five kohanim stood the kohanim who served the Altar.
After this, the various korbanot are brought to the Altar. Then the Temple music began with the psalm of the day. This closed the communal Tamid service. As you can see, all of this is very well orchestrated and everyone knew their place and what to do. That is how the Body of Messiah should function. We should be “in tune” with the Lord and all pulling in the same direction, but sadly, that is not the case because the tavnit, the “blueprint”,( is not being followed. The incense service teaches that prayer is important, especially communal prayer. Between the morning and afternoon Tamid service, korbanot are brought by individuals. These korbanot included the Free Will, Olah, Shelemim, Todah, Minchah, Chata’at, Asham and Obligatory korbanot.
In Part 6 we are going to begin talking about a neglected subject in the Scriptures, and that is the subject of the Menochot or “bread offerings.” This is a very interesting subject and part of the five types of offerings, called the Korban Minchah.