Sunday, May 16, 2010

Exodus 30:7-10 - The Copper Censer of the Altar of Incense

The Altar itself was not suited for the burning of incense, and therefore served as a "pedestal" of sorts for the Censer, in which the actual burning of incense took place. These verses also discuss the purpose of the Altar and its role in the priestly service. Let's take a look:

Exodus 30:7-10

7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.

8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.

9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.

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.

‎7 ‏וְהִקְטִ֥יר עָלָ֛יו אַהֲרֹ֖ן קְטֹ֣רֶת סַמִּ֑ים בַּבֹּ֣קֶר בַּבֹּ֗קֶר בְּהֵיטִיב֛וֹ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֖ת יַקְטִירֶֽנָּה׃

‎8 ‏וּבְהַעֲלֹ֨ת אַהֲרֹ֧ן אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֛ת בֵּ֥ין הָעֲרְבַּ֖יִם יַקְטִירֶ֑נָּה קְטֹ֧רֶת תָּמִ֛יד לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶֽם׃

‎9 ‏לֹא־תַעֲל֥וּ עָלָ֛יו קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה וְעֹלָ֣ה וּמִנְחָ֑ה וְנֵ֕סֶךְ לֹ֥א תִסְּכ֖וּ עָלָֽיו׃

‎10 ‏וְכִפֶּ֤ר אַהֲרֹן֙ עַל־קַרְנֹתָ֔יו אַחַ֖ת בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה מִדַּ֞ם חַטַּ֣את הַכִּפֻּרִ֗ים אַחַ֤ת בַּשָּׁנָה֙ יְכַפֵּ֤ר עָלָיו֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם קֹֽדֶשׁ־קָֽדָשִׁ֥ים ה֖וּא לַיהוָֽה׃ פ

As you can see from the verses 7 & 8, the incense had to be burnt inside the Tent of the Mishkan at all times. Just like the Lamps of the Lampstand had to be lit all the time, so had to be the incense. However, these verses do not provide any explicit information of where the actual burning of incense had to take place. Was it upon the top of the Altar itself, or somewhere else?
Well, the answer to this important question can be traced through Exodus 30:10(Ceremony of the Day of Atonement) to the Book of Leviticus(Vayikra) 16:12-13:
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:

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:
‎12 ‏וְלָקַ֣ח מְלֹֽא־הַ֠מַּחְתָּה גַּֽחֲלֵי־אֵ֞שׁ מֵעַ֤ל הַמִּזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וּמְלֹ֣א חָפְנָ֔יו קְטֹ֥רֶת סַמִּ֖ים דַּקָּ֑ה וְהֵבִ֖יא מִבֵּ֥ית לַפָּרֹֽכֶת׃

‎13 ‏וְנָתַ֧ן אֶֽת־הַקְּטֹ֛רֶת עַל־הָאֵ֖שׁ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְכִסָּ֣ה׀ עֲנַ֣ן הַקְּטֹ֗רֶת אֶת־הַכַּפֹּ֛רֶת אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־הָעֵד֖וּת וְלֹ֥א יָמֽוּת׃
Now that we have all information about the Altar of Incense, let's sum it up and see what we have got:

If you recall from Exodus 27:3 that describes the utensils of the Altar of Burnt Offering, the Censers (מחתתי) were to be made out of Copper. These Copper Censers were used in the service for both of the Altars - the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Altar Of Incense.

Here is a closer look at one of such Copper Censers, as there were many of them made to accommodate all of the Priests who were entitled to have one of those Censers.

As you can see, these Copper Censers were relatively small(1/4-1/3 cubits in diameter) and probably spherical in shape.

And here is an image of the Altar Of Incense with the Copper Censer on top of it:

And here is another rendering of the Altar with the Censer, so that you can better see the proportions. Also, please note the reflections and the height of the Altar. As you can see, the Altar's height (2 cubits ~ 0.9m) is ideal to operate the Altar comfortably.

As the Leviticus 16:12-13 states, the burning coals from the Altar of Burnt Offering were placed inside this Copper Censer. Then, the High Priest would take it (along with the Incense) inside the the Tent of the Mishkan, and place it upon the Altar. Then, the High Priest would put the Incense upon the burning coals that were inside the Censer and put the Censers' Lid on. And thus, the burning Incense would fill the Tent with the smoke as it was required.
Here is a rendering of the Altar of Incense inside the Tent of the Mishkan, with the Copper Censer on top.

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