When I say the words “smell” or “aroma” what comes to mind?
Many of us have circumstance where the smell takes us to a certain place. You can’t quite place it, can you? What is it? It’s just… grandma’s house? Or the place where you and your cousins used to play.
These sorts of sense cues put us in the frame of mind for one thing or another. Perhaps a scent brings up good memories that comfort, or perhaps the smell of another thing evokes a bad memory turning the stomach. Whatever it is, we often forget the power our senses, even an under-appreciated sense like smell.
Barring those of us with Catholic backgrounds, for most, if not all of us, when we smell something like incense, we come up with one of two ideas:
1. We’ve stumbled into a tattoo parlor/head shop and now view various paraphernalia one should really only use for tobacco. You know, I haven’t heard this Grateful Dead song in years.
2. We have come across someone from the East, who perhaps uses incense in a more serious or ritualistic way, as part of their religion.
Not so when one approached the tabernacle to worship. Before the Most Holy Place, Aaron and his successors burned incense on an altar dedicated strictly for that purpose. No other offerings took the place of the incense. The high priest burned incense every evening at twilight.
The incense along with the oil reserved for anointing the priests had a specific recipe. With only certain ingredients did the priests make the incense and the oil. Exodus 30:32-33; 36-38 indicate these fragrances had one purpose, marking the place of worship of the one true God. As soon as a worshiper entered the area of the tabernacle, these specific aromas would catch his attention—he had arrived in the presence of God.
Moreover, we might find some basic components of the ancient world easy to forget. In these days, no air conditioning existed and bathing did not happen on a regular basis for the common person. People worked outside, in the sun, often with animals. Life did not lack joy, but neither did it lack strong smells and all the things that follow strong smells, mainly flies.
When a family entered the tabernacle to worship God, they experienced a lack of these things. The incense, which burned daily, would set into the fabric of the tabernacle and into the clothes of the priests. So, think of a mid-1990s Waffle House, but pleasant. The anointing oil also kept flies off of the people. Perhaps not completely, but their numbers would dwindle. Entering into God’s presence certainly had a seriousness about it, but it did not produce joylessness. Rather, it would serve as a relief from the mundane irritations of the world.
Christian, you fear God, and rightly so. God can destroy the soul and body in hell. However, our fear should have a wonder about it, much like the disciples realizing Jesus could shout, “Hush!” at a storm and receive obedience from nature itself. They might have asked, “Who is it who drives away the flies and the reminder of foul smell from the world? Whose presence has such excellence?” They knew exactly who—the God who brought them out of slavery in the land of Egypt.
Christian, we shall enjoy eternal, unbroken, and unhindered fellowship with the living God. We will see Christ as he is, face to face. The sweetness of the tabernacle, for any fear it evoked, serves as a pointer, a shadow to direct our eyes to the pleasure of basking eternally in the glory of God himself.