Altar of Incense

INCENSE, ALTAR OF. The altar of incense was part of the furniture prescribed in the orders God gave to Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exod 30:1-11). It was a cubit square and two cubits high, with horns on the corners, formed of acacia wood and plated with gold (Exod 37:25-28). Rings were added through which poles could be inserted for the purpose of carrying it. The high priest was directed to burn incense on it every morning and evening, but to offer no sacrifice or pour no libation upon it. Presumably this is identical with the golden altar mentioned later (Exod 39:38), and is distinguished from the large bronze altar that stood in the courtyard of the Tabernacle.

The apparent conflict between Exodus 30:6 and 40:26 and the other passages which locate it beyond the veil has been given different solutions. Snaith (Leviticus & Numbers, p. 43) suggests that the original text was modified to suit the arrangement of the second and third Temples, and that there was no altar of incense in the Tabernacle. He follows Wellhausen’s argument that two separate sources are responsible for the difference. In the light of the fact that small incense altars were used by the Canaanites from the earliest times in Pal., it is hardly possible that such were unknown, or that an altar of incense could not have been part of the furniture of the Tabernacle. The apparent discrepancy in the location of the golden altar may arise from differing usages between the Tabernacle and the Temple, or from the fact that it stood so close to the Ark that it was classed with the Holy of Holies because it represented an intercessory ministry in the presence of God. One Jewish source suggests that Exodus 25:1-27:19 is the blueprint for the construction of the Tabernacle, while Exodus 40:1-33 describes the actual assembling of the building, and consequently a modification of position. See also Altar; Tabernacle.