Within the Veil

“You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen.  It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim.  You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold.  Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver.  And you shall hang the veil from the clasps.  Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil.  The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy,” Exodus 26:31-33 NKJV.

And he made a veil of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen; it was worked with an artistic design of cherubim.  He made for it four pillars of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold, with their hooks of gold; and he cast four sockets of silver for them, Exodus 36:35-36 NKJV.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,
Matthew 27:50- 51 NKJV.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, Hebrews 10:19-20 NKJV .

The two references in Exodus describe the instructions for and the construction of the second veil, which separated the two compartments of the tabernacle.  The first veil covered the entrance into the tabernacle itself.  The vast majority of Israelites never saw the inside of the tabernacle, let alone dare to enter it.  Only the priests, under very limited circumstances, had that privilege.  But even they would never have dared push aside the second veil to enter the Most Holy Place.  Among them, only the High Priest, a direct descendant of Aaron, had that privilege, but even he only one time in the year, on the Day of Atonement.  So afraid were the others that it’s said that a rope was tied around his waist just in case he died for some reason while performing his duties, so that the others could pull his body out to where they could get to it for burial.

The third verse occurred at the Crucifixion as our Lord had completed His sacrifice for sinners like us.  After He yielded up His spirit, Matthew reports that the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  Granted, this was the veil in Herod’s temple and not in the original tabernacle, but the significance is still the same.  Keep in mind also, this veil was not some cheap, simple curtain, easily ripped.  It’s reported that it was about a hand-breadth, that is, about five inches, thick, and carefully and intricately woven.  No mere human strength could have made a dent in it, let alone tear it in two.

And it was torn in two from top to bottom, indication of something more than a human action.  Now, it’s true that the priests patched it up and their various rituals continued for another 40 years until the Romans finally put a stop to everything by destroying the Temple and pretty much the nation itself, which disappeared from history until its reappearance in 1948.  Nor have we heard the last of her, political agitating notwithstanding.  Israel will yet blossom and bud, And fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6.

These veils teach us some lessons.

The first veils were in the tabernacle, a building given to Israel by God.  Entrance through them was very limited, though Israel otherwise was given blessings not given to other nations.

In spite of those blessings, she stands as an object lesson that no number of merely external things is enough to bring true understanding of the things of God.  Moses commented on this.

In Deuteronomy 29:2-3, he said to Israel, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land – the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders.  And he relates their further experiences:  how their clothing hadn’t worn out and their food had been miraculously provided for forty years, vs. 5, 6.  But in between those two statements, he makes this solemn declaration:  “But the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” v. 4.

All that Israel had, and yet how quickly and how often she turned away from the God who had so richly blessed her and acted just like the nations she had replaced.  Indeed, she was worse than they, because she knew better.  Except for a small minority of individuals, she didn’t care.

The veil was there to symbolize that they had no direct access to God, but had to go through ritual and sacrifice and priesthood.

But the veil has been torn in two.  The humblest believer may now come into the presence of God on his or her own behalf and on behalf of others.  And we may do that boldly.  This means that we have liberty and permission to do so.  His door is never closed.  But I’m afraid that, too often, God is more willing to receive us than we are enter His presence.  We’re too busy, too caught up in the everyday things of life and of making a living.  And we live in a world that increasingly denies and rejects the God of the Bible.  I’m afraid that we haven’t seen anything yet.

In spite of all that, and of our own failings and faults, let us…

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name, Psalm 100:4.

May God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.

“The Altar of Incense”

“You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood.  A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its width – it shall be square – and two cubits shall be its height.  Its horns shall be of one piece with it.  And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around.  Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides.  You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it.  You shall make two poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.  And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.

“Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.  And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.  You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it.  And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once  year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD….”

And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each.  You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy.  And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you.  It shall be most holy to you.  But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition.  It shall be to you holy for the LORD.  Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people,”  Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38 NKJV.

He made also the holy anointing oil and the pure incense of sweet spices, according to the work of the perfumer, Exodus 37:29 NKJV.

Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hand full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil.  And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die, Leviticus 16:12, 13 NKJV.

This is the last article of furniture before one reaches the veil, which is the separation from the holy place, where we are, and the most holy place, where God told His OT people that He would meet them.

There are 139 occurrences of the word, “incense,” in Scripture.  All but 7 of them are in the OT.  Of those 7 times, 3 are in Luke 1, where Zechariah the priest was burning incense, and the other 4 are in Revelation.  The ones in Luke are at the announcement to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth, though both old and well beyond such things, were to be parents, parents of the forerunner and herald of the Messiah.

The first three occurrences in Revelation describe incense as the prayers of the saints, 5:8; 8:4, or as being offered with the prayers of the saints where it is described as much incense being offered with those prayers, emphasis added.  The last reference, 18:13, is in regard to the false church.

We don’t often think of our prayers as incense, or that God finds them well-pleasing and fragrant.  Too often, I’m afraid, we don’t really think of them at all.  We just “say” them.  But, at least in theory, we’re coming into the presence of the God who created the universe and holds it together by His power.  At the same time, though, He has numbered the hairs on our head.  We are never to think that He’s too busy to be concerned about us.  We’re never to think that there is any problem that is too great for Him to handle, or too minor to bring to His attention.  He already knows all about them; in fact, He might have already set in motion their answer.  In promising a time of future blessing for Israel, God said, “It shall come to pass, That before they call, I will answer, Isaiah 65:25, emphasis added.  While this speaks of the future, I think it’s also a present reality and blessing for believers.

Nor do we think of the necessity of much incense being added to them as Revelation teaches.

Some religious circles talk of the merits of the saints.  The difficulty with that is that “the saints,” whether man-made or Scriptural, have no merit in and of themselves, let alone having any “left-over” for others to borrow.  We have only demerits.   There’s only ever been One with merit, and that is why we are taught to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17.

“The name of the Lord Jesus,” “in Jesus’ name” – these are not some sort of magic talisman, some “abracadabra” or “open sesame,” that we can utter in order to get God to grant us three wishes.  No, no.  It’s the recognition that only through Him, through the Lord Jesus, have we any right – any permission – to come into the presence of God, and that in such fullness that we may come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Hebrews 4:16, emphasis added.  Using His name is, in effect, pleading His merit, not some imaginary merit of sinful humans.

It is His merit, and His alone, which is the much incense added to the prayers of the saints and makes them effective.

Though we don’t think very much about it, if at all, I’m not sure that God is at all pleased with our negligence in this matter.  In the Old Testament, it was forbidden either to make incense for personal use, Exodus 30:37, 38, or to offer any other incense in the worship of God.  It is this latter which got Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, though priests themselves, into trouble, Leviticus 10:1, 2.

Just because it might not get us into trouble like it did them, it’s still a serious sin:  to make light of or adding to or subtracting from who the Lord Jesus was or what He did for us in His life or on the Cross.