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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Incense, a perfume which gives forth its fragrance by burning, and, in particular, that perfume which was burnt upon the altar of incense [ALTAR; CENSER]. Indeed, the burning of incense seems to have been considered among the Hebrews so much of an act of worship or sacred offering, that we read not of any other use of incense than this among them. Nor among the Egyptians do we discover any trace of burnt perfume except in sacerdotal use; but in the Persian sculptures we see incense burnt before the king. The prohibition of the Hebrews to make any perfume for private use—'to smell to'—like that prepared for the altar, merely implies, we apprehend, that the sacred incense had a peculiarly rich fragrance before being burnt, which was forbidden to be imitated in common perfumes.
The ingredients of the sacred incense are enumerated with great precision in : 'Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense; of each shall there be a like weight. And thou shalt make of it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy.' For an explanation of these various ingredients, we must refer to their several names in the present work. The further directions are, that this precious compound should be made or broken up into minute particles, and that it should be deposited, as a very holy thing, in the tabernacle 'before the testimony' (or ark). As the ingredients are so minutely specified, there was nothing to prevent wealthy persons from having a similar perfume for private use: and this, therefore, was forbidden under pain of excommunication: 'Ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people' ().
According to Maimonides, the reason for the use of incense was to prevent the stench which would otherwise have been occasioned by the number of beasts every day slaughtered in the sanctuary, and to render the odor of the sanctuary, and of the vestments of those that ministered, exceedingly grateful.
This is very well; and no doubt the use of incense, which we always find in religions where worship is rendered by sacrifice, had its origin in some such considerations. But we are not to lose sight of the symbolical meaning of this grateful offering. It was a symbol of prayer. It was offered at the time when the people were in the posture and act of prayer; and their orisons were supposed to be presented to God by the priest, and to ascend to Him in the smoke and odor of that fragrant offering. This beautiful idea of the incense frequently occurs in Scripture (comp.;;;;; ).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Incense'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/i/incense.html.