Read Exodus 30:1-10; 37:25-28
The altar of incense, also known as, the golden altar was located on the west end of the holy place. It stood directly in front of the veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies. It was made from acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was one cubit long and wide and 2 cubits high. It had gold rings on it to hold the gold covered wooden poles used to carry the altar. It also had a gold crown around the top edge. It also had horns on each corner.
A golden censer sat on the altar. This was used to hold the incense, which was burned before the L-rd. The priests burned incense here twice a day. This was done in the morning and evening at the same time the oil in the Menorah was replenished. The incense was to be constantly burning.
Exodus 30:9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
This altar was for incense only, not burnt offerings.
The term "strange incense" refers to incense not made according to divine instruction.
In Leviticus we read how Aaron's sons did not follow the L-rd's command and they where put to death.
Leviticus 10:1-2 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the L-RD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the L-RD, and devoured them, and they died before the L-RD.
Apparently the fire did not come from the brazen altar. It was important that only the fire from the brazen altar be used to prevent fire being taken from a pagan altar.
This altar represents the execution stake of Yeshua where the beautiful perfect life of Yeshua was offered up to G-d as a sweet perfume and fragrant incense. The life of Yeshua, which was perfect, was offered to G-d instead of our lives which are so imperfect. It is typical also of the life of the believer from which there ascends to G-d a sweet odor of our lips in thanksgiving, worship and praise.
The strange incense is a figure of human activities and religious performances, which are offered to G-d for His acceptance in competition with and instead of the life of Yeshua. It is human merit substituted for Mashiach's merit.
Incense symbolizes prayer.
Psalms 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Jewish tradition teaches that the priests prayed at the incense altar. It seems that the people also gathered to pray at this time of day.
Zechariah was performing his duties at the altar of incense when the angel Gabriel visited him.
Luke 1:8-10 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before G-d in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the L-rd. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
The brazen altar represented access to G-d through sacrifice and the incense altar represents access to G-d through prayer. This speaks of Yeshua's intercessory ministry.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one G-d, and one mediator between G-d and men, the man Yeshua HaMashiach (Christ Jesus); Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
The incense was made from 11 different spices. Only 4 are listed in the Bible.
Exodus 30:34 And the L-RD said unto Moshe, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight:
The ingredients of this power made a perfume that was not to be used by anyone else for any other purpose than in the tabernacle. It symbolized Yeshua life, and could not be imitated by another.
The incense burned day and night telling us that we can always approach G-d in prayer. He does not have office hours. We will not get a recording, put on hold, or a busy signal.