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Temple Incense Spices

Credit: Markku Sandberg/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Markku Sandberg/Flickr/Creative Commons

Incense and Intercession

[by Helene Rudolph] Alongside the fragrant precious anointing oil was the Temple Incense.  Incense is associated with intercession in scripture.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; thee shall be an equal part of each.  And with it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure (and) holy.  And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting, where I shall meet with you; it shall be most holy to you.  And the incense which you shall make, you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for the LORD”. Whoever shall make (any) like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people”. (Exodus 30:34-38)

Pleasant Smells Revive the Soul

The priesthood of old burned incense daily as a fragrant offering unto the LORD.  The Jewish Talmud records that women, as far away from Jerusalem as Jericho, did not wear perfumes, because the fragrance emanating from the incense of “Ketoret” so filled the air during the Temple era.

The Talmud further relates that three things revive a person’s soul: pleasant sights, pleasant sounds and pleasant smells. (Quote from Beged Ivri)

Burning Coals Release Fragrance

Many fragrances are only fully released when brought in contact with burning coals.  These fragrances offered by the priests of God, ascended then as an offering unto Him.

The Holy Incense was not just a substance that would smolder and smoke.

It was a special incense, used with intent in allocated places – in the holy place and behind the veil where the glory of Almighty God rested on the Ark of the Covenant.

It was also used for special offerings presented to God both in the Tent of meeting and later the Temple.

The incense was carefully blended, finely powdered and sifted to obtain a uniform substance.

Private use once again was a capital crime, since it was forbidden to compound or use it for personal pleasure.

The “Ketoret’s” association with fire, reminds us of the fire of God’s holiness.  His vehement flame burns away the dross in our lives, but simultaneously sets us on fire with passion and zeal for Him.  The following scripture in Isaiah confirms this dynamic.

“Indeed (while following) the way of Thy judgements, O LORD, we have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of (our) souls.  At night my soul longs for Thee, indeed, my spirit within me seeks Thee diligently; for when the earth experiences Thy judgements the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:8-9)

We know from Scripture that judgement starts with the house of God first and judgement teaches righteousness.

“For the time is come that judgement must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” ( I Peter 4:17)

Sweet Smelling Spices

Our Bible portion on the incense identifies stacte (flowing myrrh), onycha, galbranum and frankincense.  It also mentions spices twice, which indicates more spices which remain unidentified.  Josephus (37-100 C.E.)

A Jewish general and historian said the incense was made from thirteen sweet-smelling spices.  According to the Spanish-born Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135 – 1204 C.E.), some of these extra items included amber, cassia, cinnamon, costus, myrrh, saffron, spikenard, sweet bark and an herb called, ‘the smoke-raiser” known only to a few, a secret passed down by the priesthood.

We noted in Exodus 30:34 that the written Torah mentions only the four main spices in the Qetoret.  It is only through the Talmud that we know of the other seven, making a total of eleven.

  • Almost two pounds of incense were burned every day in the temple!

This continual fragrant cloud which permeated the air and lingered over the Holy City day by day reflected the fragrance of Messiah.  He is the One who’s fragrance His bride, the heavenly Jerusalem breathes in daily.

(Excerpt from “Fragrance, Bridal Preparation Series” reprinted by author’s permission.)
 Helene Rudolph has lived with her Jewish husband Ariel, in Israel for the past 14 years. They emigrated from South Africa and have two daughters. Helene teaches and ministers to women about the preparation of the Bride of Messiah. She also produces anointing oils at home, in the city of Modi’in where she has her small business. ( )

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