The Israelite Use of Incense

It was said that Moses, at the direction of Almighty God, first brought in the use of incense in public worship, and that the other nations of antiquity copied the practice from him. It was however a practice that began with Adam. The “Book of Jubilees”, an Apocryphal book, (the Apocrypha was considered canonical by the early church and is to this day by the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church) states that “on the day when Adam went forth from the Garden of Eden, he offered as a sweet savour an offering of frankincense, galbanum, and stacte, and spices, in the morning with the rising of the sun, from the day when he covered his shame.” And of Enoch we read that “he burnt the incense of the sanctuary, even sweet spices, acceptable before the Lord, on the Mount.”

Incense was assigned miraculous powers by the Israelites. It was burned in golden bowls or cauldrons placed on or beside the altar. It was also burned in hand-held censers. In the Blessing of Moses, a poem belonging to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and written about 760 B.C., the sacrificial smoke is offered to the God of Israel.

Let them teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law; Let them offer sacrificial smoke to thy nostrils, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thy altar.

Throughout the Bible the ancient patriarchs were brought into communion with God through smoking incense and at Mt. Sinai God talked to Moses out of a bush that burned with fire (Exodus 3:1- 12). After Moses brought the Israelite people out of Egypt he returned to Mt. Sinai at which time God made a covenant with Moses in which the Ten Commandments were revealed. Exodus 19:8 describes the conditions at the time of this covenant.

Exodus 19:8 “And Mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

The Mysterious smoke mentioned in the covenant on Mt. Sinai is also referred to as a cloud. Exodus 24:15 “And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount. 16 And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the clouds and the smoke are related to the burning of incense. Exodus 40:26 describes Moses burning incense, a cloud covering the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle.

Leviticus 16:2-13 describes how God appeared in a cloud and refers to it as the clouds of incense. Numbers 16:17-19 describes how every man of the congregation had a censer full of burning incense and that the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the congregation.

Isaiah 6:4 describes how Ezekial saw God in a smoke-filled inner court. Numbers 11:25 describes how God was revealed to Moses and the seventy elders in a cloud; that the spirit rested upon them and that they prophesied and ceased not.

The Book of Grass by Andrew and Vinkenoog includes a section on Ancient Scythia and Iran by Mircea Eliade, one of the foremost experts on the history of religions. On pages 11 and 12 is the following:

“On one document appears to indicate the existence of a Getic shamanism: It is Straho’s account of the Myssian KAPNOBATAI, a name that has been translated, by analogy with Aristophanes’ AEROBATES, as ‘those who walk in clouds’; but it should be translated as ‘those who walk in smoke’! Presumably the smoke is hemp smoke, a rudimentary means of ecstasy known to both the Tracians and the Scythians…”

This passage should be carefully noted. Biblical passages make it abundantly clear that the ancient Isrealites also walked in clouds and in smoke. In fact it was in the clouds of smoke that God was revealed to the ancient Isrealites. The words “smoke” and “smoking” appear fifty times in the King James Version of the Bible and two separate times the Bible says of the Lord, “There went up a smoke out of his nostrils.” II Samuel 22:9, Psalms 18:8.
There are numerous other places in the Bible that mention the burning of incense, the mysterious cloud, and smoke. This common thread is found throughout the Bible, including the New Testament. St. Matthew 24:30 “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the Earth morn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”

Revelations 1:7 “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”

Revelations 8:3 “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the Angel’s hand.”

Revelations 15:8 “And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power.”

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