The Incense of Worship

I have been listening to a two-part teaching on worship by Bryn Jones which I found really insightful and helpful for my worship. The teaching can be found by following the link to The Restorer on the Links page, and I would highly recommend that you have a listen and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how your worship can become more like the way that God ordains it. Below is my summary of the key points.

Incense smokeThe LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD.”
(accents by me)

This passage is the Lord speaking to Moses and telling him exactly how He ordains His worship to be. Our worship is for Jesus, not for ourselves (although it is good for us as we shall see), and so it should be done the way He wants it to be – not based on our desires or preferences. The Lord gives Moses four constituents that together form true worship, and gives a promise that if it is done this way then He shall meet with us! We should long to keep meeting with the Lord, so let’s find out what these four elements mean for us.


Stacte is a word which means “an oozing substance” or “overflowing drops”. The stacte itself was a specific sap (or gum) that would spontaneously exude from its tree. The word is used in the Old Testament to refer to Rain (God’s overflowing provision to us), Wine (God’s overflowing love to us by His covenant), Speech/Prophecy (God’s overflowing words from our lips).

The incense of our worship needs to be filled with the overflow of our hearts. The spirit within us which cries “Abba Father” () wants to spontaneously overflow with praise to the Father, and we need to let it! Our worship needs to come from an overflow of praise within us. If you read the story of King David praising the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant was returned in you see a picture of what this spontaneous overflowing praise looks like. Another example is the woman in who poured a jar of expensive ointment over Jesus – she just wanted to give all she had in worshipping Him!


Onycha was a powder made from sea shells that had been ground, specifically the shells were from a certain creature found in the Red Sea. recounts Moses’ speach to the Israelites on the day that they crossed the Red Sea on foot whilst their enemies were washed away behind them. The passage through the Red Sea was God’s mighty deliverance for His people – they were brought out of Egyptian slavery by a miracle and told that they would never see their enemy again.

It’s vital that as part of our worship we remember the mighty deliverance that Jesus has given us by His death and resurrection. We need to remember that our sins were once like scarlet but are now white as snow (), and that we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ Jesus ()! What fantastic things to remember, and what great reasons to praise Him!

To prepare the incense the Israelites would have had to have gone down to the Red Sea to find these shells. Whilst there they would have explained to the younger generations that the Red Sea is a constant reminder of the day the Lord delivered them from their enemies. Although the onycha was from the Red Sea, a place in their history, we need to note that it was not a symbol of their Egyptian slavery. As we look back on God’s deliverance we’re not looking at our pre-salvation life, we’re looking back to the time that our new life started – the old has passed away, the new has come ()! Our worship should involve telling each other, and reminding ourselves, of all the wonderful things that the Lord has done for us – telling our testimonies of when Jesus delivered us and the life of constant blessings that ensued. We must make sure that the incense of our worship involves remembering who God is and the deliverance we’ve received.


Galbanum, like stacte, is a gum from a tree. The unique thing about Galbanum is that it has a very disagreeable bitter taste, but when it is burnt it gives off a sweet aroma. This process of transformation is seen throughout the Bible. God promises us that He will turn our mourning into dancing (), and that what we sow in tears we will reap in songs of joy ()!

tells us that we should have joy in all situations, that we should turn any bitter taste that a situation gives us into the sweet smell of praise to a God who is always good; a God who works all things together for our good (). A great example of this ‘galbanum worship’ can be seen in when Paul and Silas are stoned, beaten and imprisoned for preaching about Jesus, and the first thing they do in prison is pray and sing hymns! They’ve turned a bitter situation into a sweet smell of praise. The next few verses show how God is able to turn their situation around and the results are an earthquake and the jailer getting saved!

We need to make sure that we train ourselves to worship in all situations, that we have the same attitude that King David expressed in when he tells his soul and all that is within him to bless the Lord. We need to be able to lift our spirits by worshipping Him at all times.


In the Lord’s instruction to Moses the three spices described above were to be mixed with Frankincense – an aromatic resin known for its sweet smell. The Frankincense was the ingredient that brought the others together. The part of our worship that holds everything together is our love for God and our obedience to Him – this frames our worship. If we try and worship whilst being disobedient then our worship doesn’t have the sweet smell that it should. The apostle Paul says in that if we don’t have love then we’re like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal – so our worship must always come from a heart that is obedient and that has love for both God and His people.

God will meet us

God – the creator of everything we can see – has promised that He will meet with us when we worship the way He asks us to, so let’s make sure that our worship:

  • Is a true spontaneous overflow from our hearts (stacte)
  • Remembers who God is and what He has done for us – that He has made us new creations (onycha)
  • Is our first response in all situations, no matter how bitter they may seem, as we know that our praise is always a sweet aroma to the Father (galbanum)
  • Is framed with love and obedience for the Lord Jesus (Frankincense)

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34 The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. (ESV)

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (ESV)

6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.

And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. 17 And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.

20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. (ESV)

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. (ESV)

13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (ESV)

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. (ESV)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (ESV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (ESV)

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness, (ESV)

Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy! (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (ESV)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (ESV)

103:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (ESV)

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (ESV)

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Comments & Responses

2 Responses so far.

  1. […] One of the constituents of the incense that was used in worship in Exodus 30:34-37 was onycha. The onycha was from shells found at the Red Sea, so whenever the incense was made, a journey had to be taken back to the Red Sea – the water through which God delivered them from their Egytian slavery. They were made to remember the deliverance they had received, and how much better life was for them in the promised land than it was whilst being oppressed slaves. For the New Testament believer Jesus wants us to always remember His wonderful sacrifice, our deliverance from darkness to light (1 Peter 2:9), and our transformation into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). For more about the incense, check the post on the incense of worship. […]

  2. Paul Parsons says:

    Thank you for this. I am using the subject matter in a sunday meeting I am taking.

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