In Exodus 30:1-10, God instructed Moses to build an altar about waist high and gave specific instruction as to how He wanted to maintained.
The incense was to be burned every morning and at twilight.
Three times in the book of Revelation (5:8, 8:3, 8:4), incense is referred to as prayers of the saints.
The High Priest entered the Most Holy only once every year on the Day of Atonement and only with the blood of the sacrificial animal.
The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. (Leviticus 16:1-2)
Before he would enter, the High Priest would light the incense and take it just at the bottom of the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place and allow it to fill the Most Holy Place with smoke so thick, it would veil the Ark of the Covenant, the only object in the small square room. Then and only then would the High Priest dare enter the Most Holy Place.
The incense (prayers) opened the way to the holy presence of the Living God. It was true then. It is true now.
Notice also God's specific instruction that they were never to bring their own concocted potion for incense (Exodus 30:34-38).
When coming before God, we are not to come with our own notion of holiness, our own prejudiced understanding of God. And most especially, we are to approach Him with pure motive and sincere heart that is broken and contrite in His way, willing to be broken His way, not as we prefer or think.
Leviticus 10:1-3 records tragic deaths of Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu because they burned an unauthorized incense fire before the Lord. They were consumed by the "fire from the Lord."
We take so lightly today this approaching the Throne of Grace. Jesus did not make a way for us to approach our Holy God so we could come with arrogant impudence.
No. The same holy God to whom the children of Israel approached with trembling fear is the one whom we serve and know. I think we could do a lot today with a healthy dosage of holy fear in coming to our Heavenly Father.
Yes, there are moments when God feels so close, I can talk to Him about anything and even laugh and joke with Him (God has a great sense of humor, by the way, in case some of you never thought of that - He has made me laugh until tears came out of my eyes with his humor), but it ought never been forgotten that He is our awesome Creator, so holy and pure that He cannot look on evil. And no matter how "close" we feel with Him, we are not on the same "level" as Him. I am amazed at how much impudence God puts up from His children us.
But no man who stands before God can ever stand for long. He will soon fall on his knees before His holy presence. I don't know of any character in the Bible, from kings to slaves) who was able to stand before God (in both sense of the word).
We serve a holy God, who expects nothing less than our best, and then some.
It is when we are in awe of His presence, our prayers like incense rising to cloud the Ark of the Covenant, that we now enter the Most Holy Presence.
...to be continued...