(Altar Series | part 1)
If the present pandemic would have erupted in the days of Exodus, they would have created some kind of a quarantined section outside the camp. The priests would have examined the state of the patients every few days, and when the symptoms would disappear – they would be sent to the Tabernacle with a suitable sacrifice.
Would the Courtyard be under quarantine restrictions? Hmmmm….
There were two altars in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple). One made of bronze, the other of gold. The Brazen altar was the biggest instrument found in the Tabernacle. And it was located in the courtyard. Which means everyone could see who was coming in and going out, and based on the type of sacrifice they were bringing, assume just what kind of sin they were repenting of. Quite embarrassing.
If it were up to me, I would have switched between the two. Why does everyone need to know what exactly I did wrong, and see me repent publicly? Not to mention the strong smells and scary sights found by that altar: particles of flesh, blood, fire, death and smoke. I’d much rather be seen by the Golden altar, while I burn incense of prayer, praise and worship before my Beloved; where the aroma is sweet and the sights aesthetic.
Does Everyone Need To Know?
But that is the nature of sin, and that is how the Corona Virus works too. It incubates in an unseen realm, its symptoms are not always immediate, yet it spreads rapidly. One little sneeze, and the entire surrounding is affected. One little word I’ve misspoken; one nugget of gossip that may be entertaining those who share it, but is infecting others with shrapnel; and that addiction I think affects only me, but in the spiritual and unseen world causes damage to a spiritual Body.
The treatment for both also runs in parallels: quarantine, or sent outside the camp. And of course, everyone around is notified. Humiliating? Yes, to a degree! But that is the only way to bring an end to it.
When I truly repent of something, when I get to that place inside me that is so ready to change direction and set my eyes – not on others who are ministering in the Court, not on my usual diversions and indulgences outside the Gate – only towards the Holy of Hollies, then I don’t even care if others hear or watch or know. I so much want to see a lasting change, and to stop affecting others by my wrongdoings, that I don’t really mind if others see it. On the contrary, I want people to know that something had changed.
When this present situation will be all over, will everything go back to the way it was before? I am asking God to help me make the most out of this unique situation. I do not want to regret not using this down time to go deeper, or untie some ancient bonds, or develop a new habit that I know is good for me but “who ever has time for that…”
Social media is full of theories concerning what the Corona is meant to achieve in the kingdoms of darkness and conspiracy. Some of these theories are scary and intriguing and certainly possible. But they take over my time and mind. I would prefer to know what is God planning to achieve through that. The enemy may try to shake us in order to establish his order, but God has a way to use these shakings. He shakes us every once in a while, not so that we lose our faith, but in order to build and edify it (Mark. 14:31).
Nearly 37 years ago I chose to enter His Courts through the one and only Gate that leads to the Holy of Hollies. Since then I need to make a repeated choice: to stand by the Brazen altar. There I leave various feelings, thoughts, memories and reactions that have no place in God’s kingdom. I love seeing how He conquers every such territory with His weighty glory.
Incense Prayer – The “Pitum Haketoret”
Since the destruction of the Temple on 70 AD, the daily commandment to burn incense on the Golden altar is no longer applicable. The Pharisees found creative solutions to bypass the blood and sacrifice requirements. Various prayers were put together to replace the different ceremonies taken place in the Temple, in an attempt to provide what both altars were meant to provide: atonement, forgiveness, repentance and a sweet aroma.
God’s commandment to burn incense daily on the Golden altar, as the sun was setting (Ex. 30:1-10), was substituted by a special prayer, called “Pitum Haketoret” (The Compounding of the Incense). It’s a combination of various psalms that refer to the different ingredients of the incense. This prayer is said until this very day in synagogues.
Kabbalah literature (the ancient Jewish mystical interpretation of the Bible) teaches that declaring the “Pitum Haketoret” can put an end to a plague. The claim is based on Numbers 17:47-48. But this is one more case where Rabbinical Judaism is bypassing the importance of blood. Most of its rules and regulations are based on parts of stories in the Bible, at times even parts of verses, taking things out of context.
Look at v. 46: “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started”.
Moses commands Aaron to take the censer and put fire in it. Where did he get the fire? There was only one source of fire in the Tabernacle: the Brazen altar. Which means that the fire was saturated with the blood of sacrifices. It was not the incense that provided atonement and put an end to the plague, it was the combination of coals sprinkled with innocent blood and sweet aroma.
Just a few short words are used to describe Aaron’s running to and fro between the two altars, in a scene that conveys much courage and stress. With every second that passed more people were killed by the plague. Aaron was interceding for the people with his own body, knowing he himself can contract it, yet he knew that the censer in his hands was purified.
We all want to be seen when we are at our best. We prefer that people hear our carefully crafted prayers, the ones that carry a sweet aroma of perfumed incense, and our worship and praise. We are happy to share the altar of gold found within us, but let us not forget you don’t start there. You have to go through the bigger altar for your prayers to produce that desired sweetness. The Golden altar is smaller, located in an intimate section of the Tabernacle, far from sight.
When a plague erupts, whether it looks like a miniature ball with a crown of strange arms, or be it some hidden sin that is spreading unseen through us, God is calling us to come to the outer altar, the one saturated in blood and exposed to the public. There He commands us to burn the sin and let go of any foreign fire we hold on to. To confess, forgive, change direction.
Humiliating? Yes. But that’s the only way leading to His Glory, the only way Aaron had put an end to a plague.
Running between two altars, and among a dying nation
(Illustrated by Michal Ben Hamo)
Abba, how privileged we are to have a High Priest who runs on our behalf between both ends – stopping plagues with His own blood, and receiving our sweet praises when they ascend to His throne. There is an appropriate time for each of these, please teach us to not confuse the two or neglect one of them.