Three times in the Bible, prayer is likened to incense. We see it at the beginning of Scripture, in the very middle, and at the end of the Bible.
1. This subject is introduced in Exodus 30, when God commands that an altar of incense be made for the tabernacle, and at the end of the chapter He gives a specific recipe for how the spices are to blended.
2. At mid-Scripture, we have Psalm 141:2: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
3. And in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4, we read that our prayers ascend to heaven like incense; and we’re even told that, figuratively speaking, God collects our prayers like incense in golden bowls.
So how is prayer like incense? I need to give that more thought, but here are some initial ideas: (A) Its raw material comes from God; (B) it is ignited in a burning censer (our hearts); (C) it’s pleasant to our senses and improves our environments, (D) it ascends upward naturally, and (E) it pleases the heart of our Heavenly Father and perfumes heaven. In my book, that makes it one of the most vivid pictures of prayer in all the Bible.
PS – The above copy of the Jewish Altar of Incense is from the replica of the Tabernace found on the grounds of the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Years ago, Katrina, the girls, and I attended a performance and found it deeply moving. More info is at www.greatpassionplay.com.