A Sweet Aroma

The smell must have been terrible. The bull or the sheep or goat, even the doves being slaughtered for sacrifice must have reeked of the field. The stench of blood shed and burning hides mixed with smoke and numerous other nostril-disturbing smells would have permeated the very clothing and person of the priests.

They were doing their duty. They were performing their high calling. But how could they, in such a blood-spattered, smoke-drenched and death-dealing condition enter into the presence of the Lord? How could they, even hiding behind the substitute sacrifice, not be offensive to the Holy God who would be offended by their odour?

That is why it was important for them, prior to entering the presence of God in the Tabernacle, to wash themselves. We read in Exodus 30:19 to 20: "Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it (the laver for washing). When they go into the tabernacle of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die."

So whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting they must wash with water so that they would not die. They must not bring in contamination with their feet; they must not contaminate God's holy vessels with polluted hands. However, this does not solve the problem of the odour which would cling to them. The smell of death hung on them and would be offensive in God's presence.

God in His mercy provided for this eventuality. We read the account of the making and purpose of the altar of incense in Exodus 30:1-10. The altar of incense was to be placed directly in front of the curtain before the ark of the Testimony, and it was burning fragrant incense every morning and every evening.

The aroma within the confines of what was a reasonably small space, like a sealed unit, can be imagined. As the priest walked into the holy place to present the sacrifice he would have been engulfed by the fragrant aroma. As he stood before the curtain, the altar of incense would have saturated him with its own fragrance. It would have drowned the smell of death and self-effort with the fragrance of life.

What is this pointing us to? As every facet of the Tabernacle has a reference to the redemptive and fellowship-securing work of God, it must point to what makes us, priest or people, acceptable in God's presence. We realize that we cannot stand in God's presence without the marks of death. That is the purpose of the sacrificial altar.

However, we cannot stand with the marks of death without appreciating the fact that such a stance requires a resurrection. To stand in the presence of God according to Tabernacle symbolism means a person has passed through death and has entered a resurrection experience.

This is personally impossible. But it is achievable in our identification with the One who has chosen to be our substitute in death, and who has risen from the dead, so wonderfully portrayed in Isaiah chapter 53.

But another matter arises. We might stand on resurrection ground in front of the Eternal God, but what about our odour? We are so permeated by the stench of self-righteousness, self-effort and self-proneness to sinning that we could never stand in the presence of God long enough to enjoy Him.

Here again is the graciousness of God revealed in the Tabernacle. He provides us with a new aroma. It is the fragrance of the One whose righteousness has been lived out in the corrupt and rebellious world, yet has not been contaminated. It is the living power of the One who from eternity came into time and space to become our substitute sacrifice and sweet-smelling fragrance.

He is the One in whom we are able to experience death to sin, resurrection to newness of life, and to be so permeated by His being that we become acceptable to the eyes and ears and to the nostrils of God.

That which can be a personal experience by faith in Yeshua is also the promise that Ezekiel wrote about for the Nation of Israel: "As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the LORD God: 'Go, serve every one of you his idols – and hereafter – if you will not obey me; but profane my holy name no more with your gifts and your idols.

'For on my holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel,' says the LORD God, 'there the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the first-fruits of your sacrifices, together with all my holy things.

'I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out of the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles.

'Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I lifted my hand in an oath to give to your fathers'" (20:40-43).

God will accept His nation as "a sweet aroma." What a miracle of grace! That which the prophets have railed against – hardness of heart and self-indulgent rebellion over the centuries – has now been overcome. That which the Gentiles have scorned and persecuted in self-righteous hypocrisy has been lifted up in a testimony to God's grace and transforming power.

How is it possible? By the same principle portrayed in the Tabernacle worship; by the same power that has transformed believing Jews and Gentiles into being acceptable to the Eternal and Sovereign Lord. There has been a Substitute who has "borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." He has been "wounded for our transgressions . . . bruised for our iniquities . . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Here is the One who has embodied the Nation in Himself, and as such has poured out His life as the Passover sacrifice for them. It is this One, who by His righteousness has overcome sin and judgement, and has risen to newness of life in order that the Nation will find its fragrance, its "sweet aroma."

That will happen when on a day still future they cry out: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD" (Psalm 118:16 and Matthew 23:39), and they "will look to him whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10). What an awesome day that will be!