Grasping God's Purpose: "Smelling Like Worship" – Exodus 30

Did you ever feel like you were praying to the ceiling? Did you ever honestly feel like you were seeking God, but He was tied up doing something else and your issues were not on His heart? I am not suggesting this was true, but I am asking if you FELT that way. Do you know what I mean? Today, the Word beckons us back to the study of worship and intimacy with God. That study presupposes something about you… that you WANT to have a thriving walk with your Creator. It presupposes that you have a gnawing in your life that cannot be satisfied by food and drink, fun and recreation. That hole inside your innermost being is God shaped – and it has been with man since our mutiny of the Holy One in the Garden of Eden. We thought we could face life alone. We thought God was holding out on us something really good in that tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After all, innocence, we thought, was for BABIES – and we were grown-ups. We thought it would set us free to shake our fist at God and sing the anthem: “I did it MY WAY!

The problem is that broken relationships that produce freedom in our schedule also leave a hole in our heart. Ask anyone that came out of a marriage. They had the familiar ring of the sixties singer as she sang: “one less man to pick up after” but they learned the song of lament: “I know I should be happy, but all I do is cry.” The backside of freedom is stark loneliness, and a deep hole that once had a relationship. That is man’s state apart from a new birth in their relationship with God today.

We have been attempting to do something great. We have desired to construct a beautiful picture of worship by looking at the Tabernacle – God’s planned construction effort based on His own plan. If you work through the whole of this study, there is a beautiful benefit – at the end you will see the complete masterpiece God designed to describe in visual terms the path of restoration for lost intimacy. Our work on this picture reminds me of another stunning progressive work made long ago… When Michelangelo painted God and man touching in the Sistine Chapel in the four years between 1508 and 1512, he could not paint the whole fresco at one time. In the “buon fresco” method, the fresh plaster had to be applied over a rough underlay, only in amounts that could be completed in one day. This area is called the giornata (“a day’s work”), and on very close inspection you can observe up close the different day stages in small seams that separate one giornata from the next. In the same way, we have been constructing a picture of worship and intimacy, but not in one sermon – one giornata. It has taken a few lessons, but only when you step back can you see the whole picture… and it is a beautiful one!

We started in Exodus 25 forging the pattern of worship. We saw that God offered a building program to model and even richer idea – how to KNOW Him again.

Key Principle: God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms. The place and the experience should change us!

In God’s record, the description began on the inside of the central and most holy meeting place, at the Ark of the Covenant. It is as though God’s record began with the central issue: this is a meeting place that God wanted to manifest His character in some specific ways.


There were four of the furnishings in the order they were presented in Exodus 25 that told us of God’s plan for worship:

  • First, we focused on the Ark (Aw-rone), where we saw that true worship has the Word of God at its heart. (Exodus 25: 10-16)

The transportable container that contained the Word of the Living God was at the very center of the worship was to be God’s own Word. The center was not an emotional expression of powerful music, smoke machines, subtle lighting or ecstatic utterances. In fact, the box for the Word reminded us of three important details, that can in the form of commands: Carefully make a vessel for the Word, Keep it with you, Make it for God’s self revealed testimony.

  • Second, we followed the ark instructions to the fashioned lid, called the “Mercy Seat” (Kapporeth), where we noted that true worship is meeting God at the only place we can today – at the place covered in His mercy (Exodus 25: 17-22).

Just as angels prepare to stand in His Holy presence, I can do no less. He is the author or my life and my universe. Time with Him and a life walked together is life on the highest plane. Again, the Word revealed three important details: The place of mercy is the Interface with God, two angels stood watch and observed God’s mercy, and the place was where God summoned people – God drew them to His forgiveness.

  • Third, we stopped to note the table of the “Bread of His Presence” (Lechem Panim), where we were reminded that true worship takes constant renewed effort (Exodus 25:23-30).

God wanted a table of bread, made by human hands, so that people would recall that HE IS PRESENT WITH THEM.  Another three details were offered: Protect the bread from slipping with a rim – for the symbol represents something very precious; Keep the symbol of bread always renewed, and it will take work to make, maintain and protect.

  • Finally, we gazed at the fashioned Lampstand (Menorah), and were reminded that true worship dispels lies and highlights truth (Exodus 25:31-40)

The seven branches were hammered and fashioned out of gold with three stated details: The seven showed completion, the almond blossom (shaqad) showed God’s watch care (shoqed), and the light emphasized the truth.

The furnishings left us with a picture like this: the heart of worship is trusting in the Word of God and the Testimony of what He has done, seen through His mercy. The application of that mercy is found in the shed blood that is poured out for a sacrifice. We are to keep that record with us, as well as constantly working to keep in front of us the evidence of God’s good provisions. In all of this, we are to remember that whether we “see” Him or not, He is watching over us – and His truth lights our way.


Next, there were four coverings over the Holy Place and Holy of Holies that were related in Exodus 26:

  • First, the linen ceiling was described (26:1-6) as it was placed directly over the framework of wood (26:15-30). The fabric comprised the actual ceiling of the Sanctuary that could be seen on the inside when a priest entered the Holy Place. The fabric was assembled to two pieces from the ten panels (five and five connected by fashioned golden loops). They were colored in red, blue and purple on white panels, with images of cherubim on each panel. Three items stick out in the description: the count, color and characters:

On the Count we saw little reason to look for meaning beyond the practical. In the Colors: of the cloth with the specific six part WEAVE PATTERN – we saw that most often White denoted cleanliness –the “righteousness of the Saints” (Revelation 19:8), the garb of the armies of Heaven (Revelation 19:14). Obviously, the poetic use of the color was CLEAN (as in “whiter than snow” in Psalm 51:7). If the color is symbolic, it must relate to this idea. In the Blue, Purple and Scarlet: ROYAL SPLENDOR and MAJESTY of God in the Heavens, and this was His place of meeting.

  • Second, there were the Curtains Of Goats’ Hair (26:7-13) referred to as the “tent” was placed over the Curtains of Fine Linen.

The details of this curtain include the RAW MATERIAL, the SIZE of the woven material, and the ARRANGEMENT of the pieces. The color was brown – and the material was the INTELLIGENT weave of the GOAT HAIR that is used by Bedouin today in the desert. The hair was sheared from the GOAT – the animal of the primary SIN OFFERING (Chata’ah – cp. 4:24,5:6, 9:3) of Leviticus. Particularly on the Day of Atonement, two goats were presented to the Lord – one was killed as a sin offering, the other preserved alive as the SCAPEGOAT (Leviticus 16:7-10). Keep reading, because the third covering and the waterproof fourth suggest God was going somewhere with the pattern…

  • Third was the Rams’ Skin Dyed Red referred to as the Covering and was probably only on the top.
  • Finally, the whole structure was covered by a waterproof Covering of the “Tahash” Skins. This final covering was the only thing visible above the wall from the outside of the Tabernacle. (26:14).

Goats and Rams were a part of the sin payment system God set up in the sacrifices long ago. Add to that the other curtains above it, and I think the picture isn’t stretched – God wanted the people to connect to His ROYALTY but be covered by the sacrifice. As a Pastor today, it is EXACTLY that which I want for my flock. I want people to stand beneath the Cross, but stop allowing the shame that Jesus paid for to shadow over your sense of CALL, COMMISSION and PURPOSE.

God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms. When we meet Him, we contact His splendor and majesty, and that can be a painful experience – because we LOSE our right to be a victim, and take on the identity of one called by the King… that is a painful moment to the lazy follower.

If you continue reading about the Tabernacle, after the Furniture and Fabric, there is quite a bit of information about the Fragrance – the aromas of the worship place.


There were two aromas that show help us understand the Tabernacle – the anointing oil on the priests and furnishings, and the aroma of the incense burned on an altar that permeated the whole area.

The Smell that goes OUT: The Perfume of a God’s Holy Ones (30:22-33)

Exodus 30:22 Moreover, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, 24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. 25 “You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 “With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand. 29 “You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy. 30 “You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me. 31 “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32 ‘It shall not be poured on anyone’s body, nor shall you make any like it in the same proportions; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 ‘Whoever shall mix any like it or whoever puts any of it on a layman shall be cut off from his people.’”

The priests of God were to carry with them a distinct aroma. They smelled like where they worked! The place of worship was to have a specific fragrance. The things of God exuded the bouquet of God. What did it smell like? Well, first, we have to admit we really don’t know. It wasn’t imitated because of the prohibition in Exodus 30:32-33. Like the unspoken name of YHWH, we have fewer people who encountered the method of mixing the oils – so there are few sources. The Bible offers this about the ingredients:

  • 2 parts myrrh (Mor- darror: “free flowing or pure myrrh) – if shekel is understood (200 oz. by weight).
  • 1 part cinnamon (kinamone: from erect; a bark) – if shekel is understood (100 oz. by weight).
  • 1 part fragrant cane (kaneh-bosem) – if shekel is understood (100 oz. by weight).
  • 2 parts cassia (kiddaw: from kawdad – to bow down or split) – if shekel is understood (200 oz. by weight).

All of these were crushed and blended into a little less than a gallon of virgin olive oil. That would yield more than a five gallon bucket of liquid when bound.

The Uses of Oil

Oil was not an unusual substance to the Biblical person. They used it, as did the Egyptians they were leaving, for many purposes:

  • Cleaning: People anointed themselves with oil, as a means of “cleaning”, refreshing or invigorating their bodies (Deuteronomy 28:40; Ruth 3:3; 2 Sam 14:2; Micah 6:15; Psalms 104:15, Proverbs 27:9).
  • Etiquette: Anointing was an act of hospitality (Luke 7:38,46); in royal situations a preparation for physical contact with the King or Prince (Esther 2:12).
  • Gifts or Displays of Wealth: The wealthy were perfumed (Song of Songs 4:10; John 12:3-5).
  • Medicine: Oil was applied to the fevered, and also to wounds and skin abrasions (Psalms 109:18; Isaiah 1:6; Mark 6:13; James 5:14). Sometimes it was a comfort to those who were in pain, and a reminder they were not alone. It often also carried an antiseptic quality.
  • War: The expression, “oil the shields” (Isaiah 21:5), refers to the custom of rubbing oil on the leather of the shield so as to make it supple in final preparations for battle.
  • Preparation for disintegration: The bodies of the dead were often anointed (Mark 14:8; Luke 23:56;John 12:3)
  • Consecration of the Holy: Be they priests Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3) or the sacred vessels (Exodus 30:26) – perfumed oil was used. Both the high priest and the king were called “the anointed” (Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:20; Psalms 132:10).
  • Messiah: The Promised One was called the “Anointed” or Messiah (Psalms 2:2; Daniel 9:25,26; John 1:41; Acts 9:22; 17:2,3; 18:5,28), the Messiah of the Old Testament.

We cannot be certain of the plants, and we have “holes” in our knowledge of the exact measures, but we can say several things about the aroma of the priests:

First, it was associated with the essential CLEAN smell of the time. It was the smell of WELCOME HOSPITALITY and the smell of SAFE and WELL CARED FOR people. I don’t want to over-stretch the purpose of the narrative, but there are a few things I think we can safely say about God’s intent:

  • God wanted His priests to look, act and smell clean: they were to keep themselves unspotted by the world’s dirt. This didn’t mean they didn’t get both dirty and bloody to intercede and help the repentant sinner – that came with the job. What it meant was they didn’t choose to get dirty for any other reason. They prepared and maintained their cleanliness SO THAT THEY WERE PREPARED to be used of God. Does God expect less from His people today? Peter pointed out to the Gentiles he wrote to: 1 Peter 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.    

  • God wanted neighboring people to NOTICE the place and people of worship: He wanted the world about them to know that He was their God – He provided for them well. From the day in Genesis 22 that Abraham exclaimed the name of the place of sacrifice “The Lord will See (Provide) – Jehovah Jireh”, it was clear that God wanted to be known by His holy provision. When King David exclaimed (Psalm 37:25): “I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread.” – his heart was to show God as GIVING, LOVING and NOT STINGY. I openly wonder if we praise God for the incredible extravagance He pours out on us regularly? Do unbelievers hear how we feel about GOD or how we complain about GOVERNMENT more?

It is time for God’s people to pick up the PRAISE put down the PROTEST. We need to draw in people with a winsomeness and JOY about how GOOD GOD is to us!

  • God wanted His own people to notice that He that was an inviting God – a God that beckoned them to come to Him. He offered great invitations to them, as He does to us. Jesus beckoned: Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I wonder if our children associate a life lived for Jesus as a HEAVY LIFE? I wonder if they see church as a hassle and the Bible as a rule book. Isn’t it time we showed them something better?

Let me say it plainly: We need to smell different than the lost world around us. We need to smell like a place that is inviting, hospitable, happy and safe. If we smell harsh – they will not come to meet our Savior. If we smell fake – they will feel we are suckering them in for the sake of their wallets, or something of that sort. It is time for a cleaning in many lives in the church – so that the place will SMELL BETTER.

The Smell that Goes UP: The Incense that God smelled (Exodus 30:34-38)

The other smell in the Tabernacle was not to change the atmosphere for the neighbors nor for the worshippers – it was a smell for GOD HIMSELF. That God loved the smell of the sacrifice is well documented (see Leviticus 3:16, 6:21). Yet, God also awaited to SMELL the prayers that were so well embraced by the aroma of a sweet incense.  The time of prayer was the time of the incense burning, because the two were mixed together into the nostrils of God. Luke opened with the story of the time of incense burning:  Luke 1:8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

This was a special moment before God –a time when God perceived in a special way the needs and presentation of His people. It was a pleasing aroma to Him:

Exodus 30:34 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. 35 “With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36 “You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you. 37 “The incense which you shall make, you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves; it shall be holy to you for the LORD. 38 “Whoever shall make any like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people.”

Look closely at the ingredients. We don’t know if God intended us to see anything in them, but the rabbis of old certainly did – all in relation to PRAYER:

  • Stacte – is Nataf in Hebrew. which was a bitter gum resin that naturally oozes to the surface. Some rabbis noted in sermons long ago that it appeared on the face of the tree forced out of the inner heart of the tree by some stress or pressure, causing it to be abundant on the outside of the tree. Still others noted that God made the tree with so much sap that it always had much to “give away”. What is clear is that it was a resin that oozed out of the tree – as some of our prayers do from our heart because of stress and pressures that we need to pour out willingly to God, or our abundance from which it flows.
  • Onycha – is shekh-ay’-leth in Hebrew, (an unused root in association with a lion’s roar). The word likely refers to the operculum (closing flap of gill in fish, but a special gland in some shell fish). This comes from below the surface of the Red Sea and may be representative of prayers from the “depths”… Some prayer comes from the depths of our lives that need to be carefully rooted out of the encased shells of our lives, and shared with the God who loves us. It is the only way deep issues can be healed!
  • Galbanum – (Chelbanum from cheleb or fat – drawn out) – is a word used for a number of differing processes – as in being tapped from the commiphora tree like Maple Syrup. A tap is burrowed from the outside into the tree, piercing the exterior and “wounding the tree” to get the bitterness inside out. Some prayer, the rabbis taught, was to empty our souls of the bitterness trapped within us before God, who alone could handle it. The word is now more commonly associated with the extraction from “Ferula gummosa” –  a low shrub of Persian slopes. Galbanum of this type is used in the making of modern perfume – the ingredient which gives the distinctive smell to the fragrances “Must” by Cartier, and “Chanel No. 19”.
  • Frankencense – is tapped from Boswellia trees and is milky white in color.  Frankencense is “levonah” in Hebrew, (lavan=white). It is not only white in color, it makes a thick whitened smoke when it burns. Many Old City shops carry it and Catholic Churches use it in the incensers to this day. The point is that it’s addition to the incense was that, like the prayers of God’s people, it made an impact or a change that was evident to all. Prayer changes people and the spiritual atmosphere with a noticeable fragrance and color.

By the time of Paul’s journeys in the first century, incense had a whole different connotation to a Roman. He didn’t think PRAYER – he thought PARADE!

This was as natural as the mind link between July 4th and fireworks in the American mind. Let me explain.  As Rome spread her control over the Mediterranean – eventually calling it “Mare Nostrum” or “Our Sea” – it became the custom from the time of the Emperors to welcome victorious generals and their troops to the Rome with a massive celebration – The Roman Triumph, or POMPA. In fact, the purpose of those ARCHES all over ancient Rome were to add a “Station” to the Pompa procession. State Pompa processions generally followed the Via Sacra through the Forum and (after Domition) ended at the Coliseum.

In order to celebrate the Triumph some conditions had to be satisfied:

  • The general being honored must have been the field commander.
  • The campaign had to be completed, the region pacified, and the troops brought home.
  • Though the number is unclear, it seems that at least 5000 of the enemy must have died in battle.
  • The conquest must have contributed to Roman expansion – though this was sometimes strained.
  • It must have been against a foreign foe, not a civil war.

A typically procession would follow this order:

  • State officials and Roman Senators
  • Trumpeters.
  • Spoils of war (after 70 CE they brought the Menorah, the Table of the Bread of Presence and gold trumpets in Titus’ Triumph of the Jewish War.)
  • Pictures of the conquered land, models of ships destroyed and citadels captured.
  • A white bull to be sacrificed.
  • Captives in chains: Enemy princes, generals and leaders to be executed.
  • Lictors: Officials bearing fasces (bound rods) who cleared the way for the person(s) to be honored.
  • Musicians playing lyres.
  • Priests carrying censers of perfume. To the victors it was a perfume of joy, triumph and life. To the following captives it spoke of defeat and death.
  • The general in a chariot drawn by 4 (white?) horses. The general wore a purple tunic with gold palm leaves and over it a purple toga with gold stars.
  • The general’s family.
  • His army wearing their decorations and shouting “Lo triumphe!” (words from the original name of Bacchus).

Other priests were positioned along the line of march along with an honor guard of soldiers holding holding urns of burning incense. The aroma would be sweet to the victors, but the smell of death or permanent enslavement to those in chains. Days of celebration would follow during which many of the captives would be offered to Roman vanity and bloodletting in the arena. For the victors there were fame, fortune and honors. For the captives there was slavery or death.

Paul said the smell of our outreach is the very same thing to those we share Christ among:

2 Corinthians 2:12 Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia. 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms. The place and the experience should change us! It should make us SMELL LIKE WORSHIPPERS. It should draw people to a CHOICE – they will come in, or they will walk away to avoid the fragrance.