Ark of the Covenant

In the wilderness tabernacle, there were two things a priest had to do before he could enter into the holy place to minister as priest. He had to offer sacrifices for himself and he had to wash his hands and feet. The punishment for failing to do so was death. Aaron and his sons had their full bodies washed once (Exodus 40:11-16) but after that they had to always wash their hands and feet before entering the holy place. Although washing their hands and feet was important to keeping the temple clean and showing reverence for the Lord whose presence the priests were about to enter, there was an even greater significance to these acts. As someone explained: "The hands speak of what they did, their service, their work, everything they put their hands to was important and so their hands needed to be cleansed always, and daily. The initial cleansing was done only once, the daily cleansing was done continuously." "The feet represented where they went, their lives and ways. Their walk had to be a holy walk, so their feet were washed always, everyday." It was especially important for the priests who drew near to God to do these things. No one could enter into the holy place without doing these things. The bible history site has a pretty good explanation of the significance of the bronze laver and other items that were used in the tabernacle worship:


The altar of burnt offering was located at the entrance to the tabernacle of meeting. At this altar, Aaron and his sons offered the sin offerings of the people. The sinner would place his/her hands upon the animal to be slaughtered, and the priest will slay the animal before the Lord. "LEV1.3 If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. LEV1.4 And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." Here we see a practice that foreshadowed the offering of Christ (a perfect unblemished lamb) for the transgressions of sinful man. The salvation of man is dependent upon the work of Christ. If a man is not washed by the blood of the Lamb, he is a debtor to the law and must pay for his transgressions.

Another point worth noting about the altar of burnt offering is that once consecrated, the altar was most holy to the Lord. "EXO29.37 Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy." Ordinary people were not allowed to come near or touch the most holy things. Only the priests could approach the holy things to perform their duties. The most holy things of God are a representation of God Himself. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the most holy place. The sacrifice thus offered on the altar was made holy to the Lord. That is why Jesus rebuked the pharisees for treating the altar with less reverence than it deserved. "MAT23.16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! MAT23.17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? MAT23.18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. MAT23.19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? MAT23.20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. MAT23.21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. MAT23.22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon." It is no joke to approach the altar of the Lord and make a vow which you do not intend to keep. Don't go there if you have no intention of keeping the vow.


A person coming into the holy place of the tabernacle from the outer court where the brazen altar and the laver were situated was faced with the altar of incense straight before him, the seven branched lampstand on the left and the table of showbread on the right. The Lord commanded Aaron and his sons to offer incense (of a very specific composition) before the Lord every morning and evening. "EXO30.7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. EXO30.8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. EXO30.9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. EXO30.10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD." Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord because they offered profane incense before the Lord. The Lord had given specific instructions to Moses about what the priests were to do and not to do in His ministry in the holy place. Deviations from these instructions meant instant death, as we see in the case of Nadab and Abihu.

The incense was offered with the prayers of the saints. While the priest offered incense, the congregation will often stand outside the camp praying (Luke 1:8-10). The Lord loves the sweet smelling aroma. Offering the prayers of the saints with this sweet smell reminded the Lord of his people and their needs and his promises to his people. The incense was to be offered twice a day, so God's people ought to pray at least twice daily since he is open to hearing our petitions at least that often. David said in the Psalms: "PSA141.2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." Daniel prayed three times a day in spite of Nebuchadnezzar's decree. Jesus prayed often and encouraged his disciples to pray often. In Revelation chapters 5 and 8, we are told that the incense should be offered with the prayers of the saints. "REV5.8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." "REV8.3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. REV8.4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. REV8.5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." God hears the prayers of his people but the prayers of sinners are an abomination to the Lord. If we continue disobeying God in spite of repeated warnings, our prayers lose meaning and will likely not be answered.

The incense offered on the altar also made atonement for the people. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses, and the people complained, wrath went out from the Lord and destroyed 14,700 people until Aaron stood between the living and the dead and offered incense to make atonement for the people. "NUM16.46 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun. NUM16.47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people."

Aaron was instructed to offer incense to make atonement for himself by offering incense so that the cloud of the incense covered the mercy seat. "LEV16.12 And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: LEV16.13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not".

In summary, incense was offered upon the altar to make the prayers of God's people acceptable to God. Incense is offered to make atonement for the people. God's people are to pray at least twice daily since he is open to hearing their petitions always.