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Is Incense Evil?

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People tell me that burning incense is evil. But how can that be? Didn’t they burn incense in Bible times? I can’t seem to get an answer from anybody. Can you give me one?


Steve Answers:

I’d be happy to offer you an answer, plus an opportunity to check out for yourself a few passages in the Bible.

When I first read your question, I found it troubling that you couldn’t get an answer from anybody. I hope you can find some people willing to study this with you, especially if they can’t give you an answer themselves.

I’d recommend that after you study the topic for yourself you share what you find with those who didn’t have an answer. Then ask them to study the subject for themselves so you can discuss it. Or study the passages together.

Here are some passages I’d recommend. I looked in a Bible concordance (a reference book or computer program that lists every word used in the Bible and where it’s found). The word “incense” appears 121 times in the King James Version. The first mention comes in Exodus, and the last in Revelation. Here are some samples:

• Exodus 25:6—The Israelites were to donate incense as part of the rest of their offerings.
• Exodus 30:1, 7, 8—God instructed Moses to build an altar of incense in the Temple. And the Israelites should burn incense on the altar every morning and evening.
• Leviticus 10:1—The high priest’s sons played around with the incense that was to be holy, and it seriously offended God.
• Leviticus 16:12, 13—Incense was part of the Day of Atonement ceremony, when the high priest went into the Most Holy Place to the mercy seat.
• Numbers 16—In this wild story about people defiant of Moses and Aaron, incense was used by the “bad guys” and the “good guys.”
• 1 Kings 11:8—Solomon provided altars and incense for his foreign wives to worship their foreign gods.
• Psalm 141:2—David asked God for his prayer to be like incense.
• Isaiah 1:13—Israel’s hypocrisy made God sick, so He found their offering of incense detestable.
• Luke 1:8-13—Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was doing his priestly duty of offering incense at the Temple when an angel told him about the miraculous coming of John the Baptist.
• Revelation 8:3—An angel offered incense in the temple in heaven. The incense was mixed with the prayers of the saints.

Check out these passages and others (Jeremiah and Ezekiel have a bunch of them). Incense seems to have been used in religious worship—to God as well as to false gods.But don’t jump to the conclusion that incense was used only in worship. It was like air freshener or perfume. Only when incense that was dedicated for holy use was misused did it become evil.In more recent times, incense sometimes has been associated with the drug culture as a way to cover the smell of marijuana smoke. But using incense as an air freshener today is no different from lighting scented candles for a nice aroma.

That’s my answer, plus some texts to get you started as you study the topic for yourself.

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