Close up of the Seraphim angel represented on the Temple Curtain
Temple view of Holy of Holies with the curtain open - not the usual view from the Altar of Incense.
The second altar was the Altar of Incense (mizbach haketoros) (Exodus 30:1-10), called also the Golden Altar (mizbach hazahav) (39:38; Numbers 4:11), and the Inner Altar (mizbach hap'nimi) stood near the Holy of Holies, before the Veil that covers the Ark of the Covenant.
The incense altar is chittim/acacia wood, covered in pure gold. It's a tall rectangular altar, measuring one cubit wide and deep, two cubits high, with a horn on each corner (grabbing the horns of the altar for salvation and refuge), and rings on two sides through which poles could be passed to carry it (Exodus 37:25-26). Moses consecrated the altar with the anointing oil when the Tabernacle was dedicated (Leviticus 40:9).
Incense was burned daily in the morning and evening prayers, and was very important. The incense used was made according to a specific formula (Exodus 30:34-35). Burning incense is symbolic of the peoples' prayer rising up to God. Revelation says God smells all of our prayers in the incense burned in His Heavenly Temple.
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67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us [dawn upon us] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah, an older priest, and his wife Elizabeth (a child of priests - descendant of Aaron) were barren. And righteous before God. An angel appears to Zechariah during his rotation of offering Incense at that Altar in the Temple of the Lord. In other words, Zechariah is not in the Temple every day. It is an important occasion and there are people praying for him in another part of the Temple.
Zechariah is filled with trouble and fear at the sight of Gabriel, but didn't grab the horns of the altar for refuge. Instead he asks for a sign. (Instead of believing his wife is expecting?!) Why is Zechariah able to prophesy after the birth of his son?
Zechariah is without fear. He is righteous, again, before God's eyes. Zechariah is living forgiveness in the tender mercy of God.
because of the tender mercy of our God,
the sunrise shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace