Incense and Light

Yeshua stated that the greatest two commandments are to love Yahweh with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, he said – one regarding our Father and one regarding our brothers and sisters – rest all the Law and the Prophets. Similarly, two passages in Torah Portion Tetzaveh describe items in the Tabernacle that also reflect our relationship to our Father Yahweh and to our fellow man.

Moreover, you shall make an altar as a place for burning incense; you shall make it of acacia wood… You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it (Exodus 30:1,6-7).

The altar of incense kept a fragrant aroma rising up to Yahweh in front of the Ark of the Testimony and the Most Holy Place. It was to be a perpetual, ongoing thing. It is representative of our constant state of communion, of prayer, with Yahweh.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You (Psalm 141:2).

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:4).

The first part of Torah Portion Tetzaveh talks about the light. Not the menorah – the lampstand – but the source of the light. The Israelites are commanded to bring olive oil, but not just any olive oil. They are to bring the purest and clearest of the first oil, producing a clean flame and the brightest light.

You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually (Exodus 27:20).

Yeshua identified two things as “the light of the world.” In John 8:12, he said “I am the light of the world,” and in John 9:5 he clarified it further, saying “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” But in another passage, he said “You are the light of the world.” Why? Because the same pure oil of his light is intended to burn in our light as well – the pure oil of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

When God began to open my heart and my eyes to the Hebraic roots of my faith, I began searching for the things he wanted me to do, how he wanted me to live, and the things that pleased him. In the process, I came across many web sites, newsgroups, chat rooms, media broadcasts and printed materials. But it seems much of the identity of Messianic, Torah-Observant believers was this: we eat kosher, keep Sabbath and celebrate the feasts in Leviticus 23. But I submit to you that those are like the incense ascending to our Father, not the good works that others see that will cause them to glorify the Father. Good works are like the light, produced by the oil of the Holy Spirit, making our city on a hill something that cannot be hidden. What are they?

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does Yahweh require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)?

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-40).

Have we done any of those things? Recently? Consistently?

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).

People will not notice when you skip the ham sandwich or order your salad without bacon – but they will take notice of how you treat your waitress, or how generous you are with your tip. People will not care that you don’t go out shopping on Sabbath, but they will notice whether you are considerate or rude to the cashiers, or allow them the preferred parking space you could have taken or wave them ahead of you in line, or even if you pick up some trash someone has left behind and throw it away. People notice when you are different from the rest, not because you do “strange” things, but because you do “good” things.

You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense (Exodus 30:6-8).

Both are important – the aroma produced by the incense and the light produced by the oil. They go together. If the lamps are not brightly lit when we burn the incense, we just might end up burning ourselves in the darkness.

Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation

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