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The Fragrant Frankincense (2)

C Cann, Glastonbury

(Lev 2.1-2,11; 24.5-9; Song 4.6-7; Phil 4.15-18)

Frankincense and the Table of Shewbread (cont)

The High Priest entered the Inner Sanctuary alone on the annual Day of Atonement. Surrounded by fragrant incense and clothed in white linen, he entered with the blood of sacrifices offered for himself and for the people. Representative blood from these sacrifices was sprinkled before and upon the Ark, typifying Christ's final sacrifice for sin and declaring the cover of the Ark to be the representation and residence of divine mercy – the Mercy Seat. Thus it was possible for the Holy God to move out and present in the Holy Place a table that is a symbol of fellowship upon which were placed the loaves of the shewbread.

The Table of Shewbread was the same height as the Ark, teaching us that what it supported was presented before the Holy God of the Inner Sanctuary, at the same level of appreciation as that which spoke of Christ. It is not insignificant that the table is described as the "pure table" (Lev 24.6) and that the adjective "pure" is the same word used to describe the gold of which the cover of the Ark, the Mercy Seat, was constructed.

Placed upon the table, secured by a rim of gold (Ex 25.25), were two rows of six loaves of shewbread. Primarily they represent the twelve tribes of Israel as the people of God. Within the nation of Israel, the tribes had different roles and marched in assigned formation when the people travelled through the wilderness. The actual names of the tribes were engraved on precious stones upon the shoulders and breastplate of the High Priest. None of these distinctions is represented in the shewbread. Each loaf contained identical ingredients in equal quantity. There were no names assigned to the loaves. The shewbread did not represent role, status or function but position and standing before God.

The shewbread, freshly baked, was renewed each Sabbath. The warmth of the bread would enhance the fragrance of the frankincense. The frankincense sprinkled upon the showbread was identical with that sprinkled upon the Meal Offering. God in His loving kindness viewed His people, with all their failings and disobedience, in position before Him equal with that of Christ; the excellence of Christ which pleased God was imputed to them. In this Day of Grace Israel has no separate position before God; the exalted standing in and through Christ is enjoyed by all believers who constitute the Church.

The Hill of Frankincense

The Song of Solomon is the account of the love of the Bridegroom for the one who will become His bride and her responses to His expressions of affection. Primarily, again, the application must be to Jehovah and Israel but in the wider perspective of the New and Old Testaments it is typical of Christ and the Church. In ch.4 the Bridegroom speaks of the one He loves and the beauty He sees in her. Chapter 5.16 records her response. She could not keep this matter to herself and declared to the daughters of Jerusalem, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend"!

Though His intentions and desire are clear, she is not yet ready to be brought with Him into the presence of His Father. To make this possible it is necessary for Him to make a journey, a journey that He had to undertake alone, a journey to the Hill of Frankincense. The purpose of the journey was to obtain and gather fragrances to bestow upon her to make her fit to enter the presence of His Father.

Inseparably linked with the Hill of Frankincense is the Mountain of Myrrh; they refer to the same place, namely Calvary. This journey was necessary if tattered and soiled garments of sin were to be replaced by fragrant, acceptable garments of holy righteousness. Nothing less than being clothed in these garments of righteousness would make it possible for her (and the Church she figuratively represents) to be His Bride and fit for the Father's house.

Myrrh is associated with death and suffering and in this context death and suffering for sin. It was prophesied: "Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (Is 53.10). This was the great and eternal work He completed at Calvary. It was presented before the holy throne of heaven where it was accepted, and this acceptance was declared throughout heaven and earth when Christ was raised from amongst the dead. The Bridegroom returned from the Hill of Frankincense and the Mountain of Myrrh and His future bride is already viewed as clothed in garments of righteousness and awaits the day when He will come again and take her to be with Him eternally. The Lord Jesus promised this before He went to the cross. He said to the disciples, "In my Father's house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (Jn 14.2).

It is remarkable that Calvary with all its pain and suffering should be represented as the Hill of Frankincense as well as the Mountain of Myrrh. It speaks of the delight that will be shared by the Father, the Son and His bride when the marriage takes place and they (we!) are together eternally. The writer to the Hebrews surely had this in mind when he wrote: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Heb 12.2). The words of Song of Songs 4.6 foreshadow the same glorious occasion: "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away…".

Paul's Words to the Believers at Philippi

The letter to the Colossian believers was written by Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome. Sometime before, when visiting Jerusalem, he was attacked by Jews who caused uproar and threatened his life because he had preached the gospel message to Gentiles. He was taken into custody by Roman soldiers and revealed to them that he was a Roman citizen. This meant that the accusations against him had to be examined formally which resulted in appearances before Felix and Festus, governors of Judæa. Festus arranged for examination before Herod Agrippa II. Paul requested that his case be heard in Caesar's court so was taken to Rome. Whilst awaited the arrival of his accusers, being a Roman citizen he could not be held in a common prison. He was placed, therefore, under supervision by Roman soldiers in a house where he was allowed visitors and a certain amount of freedom. From this "open prison" he was allowed to write personal letters which friends were able to deliver. The Epistle to the Philippians is one of these letters.

Believers at Philippi had deep affection for Paul and had supported him over the years in a way that touched the heart of the apostle. Hearing of his imprisonment they send a further gift by a man named Epaphroditus. The Philippian letter, amongst other matters, expresses the apostle's appreciation of the kindnesses shown to him. It is the expression "an odour of a sweet smell" (4.18) that is significant in our present consideration.

These words specifically record the apostle's appreciation of the kindness and love of the Philippians. This, in turn, reflected their appreciation of what Paul had taught them about Christ. The verse does not use the word "frankincense" but the expression is couched in the "language" of frankincense which we have discussed. Those moral and spiritual graces resident in Christ are examples to the believer and can and should be reflected in the believer. This is generated through new birth which gives new life and enables the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All this was made possible, and could only have been made possible, through that lonely journey to the Mountain of Myrrh and the Hill of Frankincense.

The truth of God as revealed in His Word, and as we have attempted to consider it in its teaching concerning the fragrant frankincense, is not just academic knowledge or theory. If it is truth it is alive and generative and must have expression in the life of the believer. It is its demonstration and activity that are the only proof of its existence. It was this that Paul saw in the acts of love of Philippian believers. It was an odour of a sweet fragrance of Christ that brought joy not only to him but also to the heart of God.

Such conduct should be our continuing objective as believers. Its only limitation is the desire and intention of the believer so it is challenging to think that it should become visible in every aspect of Christian life: in the home, in the workplace, before neighbours, and in the local gatherings of God's people. It is this fragrance of Christ that encourages, warms and harmonises Christian fellowship and friendship and attracts the unsaved to Christ.



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