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Incense was a substance produced by grinding and blending certain spices. When burnt it gave off thick white smoke and a strong smell, characteristics that gave incense its ceremonial usefulness.

Part of Israel’s religious ritual was to burn incense on the altar inside the tabernacle in a symbolic offering of prayer to God (Exodus 30:1; Psalms 141:2; Revelation 8:3; cf. Malachi 1:11). In addition to burning incense at certain ceremonies (e.g. Leviticus 16:12-13), the priests burnt incense every morning and evening, to symbolize before God the unceasing devotion of his people (Exodus 30:7-8; Luke 1:10).

Israel’s law allowed only the priests to burn incense (Exodus 30:7-9; Numbers 3:10). This restriction prompted Korah and other Levites to rebel against Moses and Aaron. Moses tested them by telling them to burn incense to see whether God approved. The outcome was that God destroyed them in a fiery judgment (Numbers 16:1-11; Numbers 16:35).

The art of preparing incense was well known in Egypt and Arabia, and the Israelites had apparently learnt such skills from these people. But the formula God gave to Moses was to be used only for the incense of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:34-38). One ingredient of the incense, frankincense, was also burnt with the cereal offering, and was placed on the sacred bread that was kept inside the tabernacle (Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 6:15; Leviticus 24:7). The wise men who visited the baby Jesus presented frankincense as an expression of their homage (Matthew 2:11).

Spices used in the making of incense came from the gum of certain trees and from various plants and herbs (Song of Song of Solomon 4:14). Some of these were grown locally, but many were imported from the east and were an important source of income for ancient traders (Genesis 37:25; Song of Song of Solomon 3:6; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20). (For details of the ointments, medicines, cosmetics and perfumes that were made from spices and vegetable oils see OIL; SPICES.)

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Incense'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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