Day of Atonement: 7. The Incense and the Bullock

Leviticus 16:11‑19  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Incense and the Bullock. Lev. 16:11-1911And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself: 12And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: 13And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: 14And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. 15Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat: 16And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel. 18And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the Lord, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. 19And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel. (Leviticus 16:11‑19)
The first acts of Aaron that now claim our consideration is the offering of incense, and the sacrifice of the bullock for the Sin-offering. This was expressly for himself and his house. But it is important here as elsewhere to bear in mind the scope, character, and limits of typical instruction. There is an analogy, because it cannot otherwise be a type; but there are bounds, because it is only a type and “not the very image.” Atonement, according to the full mind and intent of God, could have been but once accomplished, and only by the true High Priest, even Christ. A shadowy form was all that could be of old, for Aaron was sinful as the people were; but for Him whom Aaron represented, as He needed no Sin-offering, so was He Himself to be made sin for us. It is well to seize the difference and in some cases contrast, not merely in what is here so obvious, but because there are other points to be noted which may not seem equally plain, where nevertheless the same principle as really applies. We must not fail to read invariably the type in the light of Christ, instead of reducing Christ to the measure of the type. Great mistakes have been made since (if not in) the first century through neglect of the right use of Christ as He is now fully revealed. So it was, to my own personal knowledge, even among Christians more than usually versed in scripture fifty years ago at least; so it has been since, and may be at any time. Several portions of the word of God seem peculiarly liable to a kindred sort of misconstruction, and one might specify three. The earliest in point of place would be the types of the Levitical economy, and indeed generally. Next come the Psalms, as brining in the heart in all its varied feelings, about either the wants and trials of man or the anticipations given of God; but Christ's Spirit is there, and hence the need of not confounding the first man with the Second. Thirdly, there is the prophetic word, so open to bias and error where Christ is not seen duly, and His kingdom as distinct from the church. In all these three departments of divine truth (and it pretty much comprehends the O. T.), who is sufficient for these things? What need of dependence on God, and of watchfulness against our own thoughts, that we may have divine guidance!
There is here, as everywhere, but one safeguard. Human canons do not preserve, nor certainly is truth due to human tradition but to Christ kept by the Spirit before us. He alone from God is made to us wisdom; and it never can be otherwise. As He is the life of the Christian, so is He the true light that now shines, the only One who ever did enlighten, and does fully. Therefore we are only safe in following Him through God's word, these portions especially which without Him are indeed dark. But as there is “no darkness at all “in God, so there is none Christ does not graciously dispel, save what unbelief makes for itself in slighting or forcing His word. Reading it hastily we may find peculiar difficulty, where it lies outside our own relationship. For instance, we come in contact with that which is according to the status or measure of the Jew; but we are Christians and ought never to forget our own place. Again, there are depths of grace and glory in Christ, where it becomes us to bow our heads and adore, rather than to rush in familiarly on such holy ground. But there is no danger in keeping behind, yet close to, Christ; there is all possible blessing in hearing His voice. Let us now endeavor to conform to that only just, true, and full rule for interpreting the word of God. At this point it becomes particularly needful, because our theme concerns the utmost nearness to the presence of God.
We have looked a little at Jehovah's lot in the goat that was slain whose blood was also brought in. We are now called to examine the meaning and application of the sacrifice for Aaron and his house. Here the bullock necessarily has a special principle attached to it. Scripture never heaps together things unmeaningly as men sometimes do. The bullock, though it has a general aim in common with the first goat, is also expressly distinct and has marked differences. On the face of the chapter there was but one bullock, though there were two goats. As it was the largest sort of offering, so here it has a higher connection. The bullock was offered only for the priestly house. There was no complementary bullock to be driven away with their sins laid and confessed on its head, like the second goat which followed up the first, after a notable interval. The bullock and the first goat were slain as nearly about the same time as possible, the bullock first (ver. 11), the goat afterward (ver. 15).
But a remarkable type intervenes before the blood of either was carried within. And Aaron “shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before Jehovah, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring [it] within the veil; and he shall put the incense upon the fire before Jehovah, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that [is] upon the testimony, that he die not” (vers. 12, 13). What does this mean? The traditional idea is that incense represents the prayers of the saints: surely an irrelevant interpretation as applied, not only to the type before us, but to what is analogous in the book of Leviticus, and indeed wherever incense is offered under the law. In the special circumstances of Rev. 5 we do find the prayers of the saints symbolized by incense (ver. 8); but in the very same book (chap. 8:3), we read of “much incense” given, in order to impart efficacy to the prayers of all the saints at the golden altar which was before the throne. Here the distinctness of the incense from the prayers is beyond argument.
It is clear from this, sustained by a great deal more elsewhere, the incense cannot be assumed to mean absolutely or only the prayers of the saints. The royal priests in Rev. 5 present the prayers of the saints as incense; the angel high-priest in Rev. 8 puts to the prayers of all the saints much incense, which no creature could do—only Himself. Where would be the sense in adding the prayers of the saints to the prayers of the saints? We must therefore look for a larger truth in explanation; nor really is it far to seek. Early in Leviticus, and specially in Exodus, we may find seasonable help.
Thus in Ex. 30 we have the detailed composition of the holy perfume for Jehovah, which was not for man “to smell thereto” on pain of being cut off. This it was which beaten small was to be put before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation. It set forth the fragrant grace of Christ, the more tried so much the more abundantly sweet to God. It was what He peculiarly appreciated in Christ. Here the prayers of saints are out of the question. It prefigures the personal grace of Christ tried to the utmost, but even in the minutest as in the deepest thing agreeable to God Who alone could estimate it fully.
In Lev. 2 we have nothing to do with the prayers of the saints, but Christ livingly acceptable to God. Therefore incense enters as an important element in the “meal (not “meat”) offering.” Fine flour, oil mingled or anointed, or. both, with salt, composed it; so too ears of corn green or full. But the peculiar claim of “all the pure incense” is ever reserved for God. The remnant, after the memorial handful for the burning as a sweet savor to Jehovah, was Aaron's and his sons'; but “all frankincense” was burnt upon the altar. It was the expression of Christ's personal grace in its unspeakable preciousness to God. Our prayers here are clearly out of the question. Do not all these offerings at the beginning of Leviticus speak exclusively of Christ? If none but the presumptuous would dispute the bearing of the Holocaust, of the Peace-offering, and of those for sin and trespass, it ought not to be doubted that the Meal-offering has at least as much of the character of Christ offered up to God as any other oblation. They are all the reflection of Christ and His work, each in a distinctive way.
Surely incense in Lev. 16 has nothing to do with the prayers of the saints. Is it not the fragrant grace of Christ's presence which God alone could appreciate in Him, and in Him only? All went up to God. Elsewhere it was His grace rising up in intercession, when making prayers of saints acceptable to God. Ex. 30:34-3834And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: 35And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: 36And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. 37And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. 38Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people. (Exodus 30:34‑38) as seen affords if possible a still clearer proof of the reference to Christ, where our prayers would be quite out of place. But time fails to dwell further on this interesting type, which attests the fragrance of Christ's personal grace to God, and can in no way point to the prayers of saints, whatever be His grace also in making them acceptable.
Before the blood then (not merely of the goat but of the bullock) was brought in and put upon the mercy-seat and before it, the incense rose up before God. Therein was the witness of the exquisite grace of Christ before God, of His personal sweet-savor, when tried by the fire to the uttermost, and this apart from blood-shedding; not apart from fiery judgment, but from that work which was essential to atone for sin. The blood was not yet put there; the incense preceded. But how did the incense rise? Was it not kindled by the holy fire of God? And this fire was closely connected with the Burnt-offering. The fire fell there, and thence was kindled the incense which rose up as a cloud before God and filled the most holy place. It was the fire of His consuming judgment; for this is ever the symbol of that which, testing the Lord in every way and to the fullest possible degree, only brought out the more the fragrance of His grace. The object in atonement was to lay a; ground for divine righteousness; so that God, in blessing to the full, should act consistently with t what was due to Christ and His work, which had glorified Himself even in judging sin. Yet before this basis was laid, there was in the incense the witness of Christ's ineffably fragrant grace God-ward. Such is the meaning of the incense which the high priest burnt in the most holy place.
After this “he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy-seat eastward; and before the mercy-seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock.” It is not, as if there were two offerings of our blessed Lord Jesus or two acts of sacrifice; but at least two objects of His work were here in the mind of God. In order to complete atonement for the people the second goat must be taken into account for that work, though typically it only appears when the high priest emerges from the sanctuary (vers. 20 and 32, 33). But the foremost shadow before us now is the blood of the bullock put upon and before the mercy-seat, put once upon and seven times before the mercy-seat. Once sufficed for God, where approach to Him was invited; man needed seven times. Alas! how dull has man proved to take in the fullest encouragement on God's part; for He it was Who thus in the figure provided all: He despises not any.
But why the bullock and why the goat? The blood of the bullock was carried in on behalf of the priestly family; in this type Aaron and his house. Here the Epistle to the Hebrews marks a contrast. If Aaron must be atoned for, it could not be so with Christ. It were blasphemy to include the Son of God in any such requirement. You might suppose such a caveat quite uncalled for. Alas! I remember a Canadian ex-clergyman who, getting into the minutiae of these types, and, dull indeed to see the guarded glory of the true High Priest, fell into this horrible snare, and was put away from amongst us because of so deep a dishonor to our Lord Jesus. Those who deem such a thought scarcely possible forget that we have an active, subtle, and deadly foe. Let us learn what it is to distrust ourselves, and to cherish confidence in the living God and His word.
Nevertheless it remains that the blood of the bullock was for the priestly family, as that of the goat was for the people. Is there anything in the New Testament to help here? Much. Take one scripture—and a familiar one—in the Gospel of John (11:49-52). The occasion came through an uncomely mouth; but it was God's giving. Caiaphas spoke wickedly, yet God prophesied through him as of old through Balaam. It is not that his heart who uttered the prophecy was in the truth. But if the unscrupulous high priest here prophesied that it was expedient for one man to die for the people, it is clearly the Spirit of God Who comments that He died not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. There we have the death of our Lord for two distinct objects. One cannot avoid perceiving that the children of God are a higher object than “that nation.” Indeed none so much as John, throughout the whole of his Gospel, shows that nation to be reprobate. Never was a people more unbelieving and rebellious. It is all over with them from the very first chapter: “He came to His own [things], and His own [people] received Him not.” The Jews, the rejecters of the Lord, are seen to be themselves rejected of God from the beginning of the fourth Gospel. The other Gospels gradually come up to the same conclusion, because of Jewish unbelief; but John starts with it. For which reason the Lord is introduced by John purging the temple of these wicked men before His public ministry begins; whereas the Synoptic Gospels give no purging of the temple till we approach the end. What could more than this purifying prove that the Jews were the unclean, notwithstanding their high pretensions? And high pretensions always rise more and more when judgment is at the door. Then are a privileged people most lifted up when they have lost all true sense of communion with God.
Thus the truth comes out plainly that the death of Christ was, not merely for the Jewish people, but to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. No doubt this purpose of gathering His children in one involved also another truth of all moment; for there could be no such gathering on God's part without a righteous removal of their sins. Thus the propitiation is necessarily implied, although it be not stated in these words. Atonement is the necessary prerequisite for such a blessing as the gathering together of the scattered children of God unless He could overlook His own dishonor or their unremoved guilt. And therein is one main moral reason why the church never had a place on earth, and never could be called to its own heavenly portion before the Lord Jesus. The atonement was not yet accomplished fact before God, Who could not, consistently with His glory, gather in one without it.