In the center, at the west end of the holy place stood the altar of incense.
It was located just before the door-hanging of the holy of holies. Even though there was a curtain between them, this was thought of as the last thing before the sacred throne itself. Exodus 30:6 – Thou shalt put it before the veil, that is by the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with thee.
Like other altars, it was four-sided. It measured 18 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 3 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold on the top and sides and horns.
Around the top was an ornamental crown or rim of gold; beneath that were two rings for the gold-covered staves to pass through to carry it by. There was one on each side so that it could be carried easily.
At first Aaron offered incense upon the golden altar, and afterward, on great occasions, the high priest did so; but ordinarily the duty was discharged by a priest, chosen weekly by lot, every morning and every evening.
Incense was made of various sweet-smelling and precious spices, according to divine directions given by God. A similar compound was forbidden to be made for any other purpose other than use in the tabernacle itself. (That’s why in the time of Herod’s Temple they did not know the secret recipe that was used in making the incense, so they had to come up with something else.)
When the incense was to be offered, a fire pan with live coals from the brazen altar was put upon the golden altar for burning it. The clouds of smoke arising from it were full of perfume, and spread their fragrance all around. They penetrated the veil and went into the holy of holies to reach the throne of God.
As the priest was presenting this offering, he was the people’s intercessor to God. He prayed for them and asked God to hear and answer their petitions. It took all three things to make a sacrifice that God was pleased with: the incense, the animal sacrifices, and the atoning blood that was put on the horns of the altar. From the blood-sprinkled altar rose the sweet incense that made their sacrifice pleasing to God.
The burning of the incense in the holy place is regarded as an emblem of prayer. David renewed it again when he became king. As the sweet fragrance of smoking incense is most agreeable to the senses, so are the prayers of God’s children very pleasing and acceptable to him. It was from an altar with blood-sprinkled horns that the evening and morning incense ascended, and it is so that when our great high priest intercedes for us on high, it is on the ground of His atoning sacrifice. The very hands he holds up are those that were once nailed to the accursed tree.
From his heavenly throne, he is now looking down and inviting all of His believers to offer up their prayers, which are as sweet incense to His nostrils. Jesus himself will present them and intercede for us so that our prayers will be answered.
The following is a poem that was found in the antiquities:
Thou standest at the altar,
Thou offerest every prayer;
In Faith’s unclouded vision
We see Thee ever there.
Out of Thy hand the incense
Ascends before the throne,
Where Thou art interceding,
Lord Jesus, for Thine own. — Eddis.
Below is a drawing of what The Golden Altar may have looked like just to give you an idea.