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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Psalms 141:2

 

 

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.

Adam Clarke Commentary

As incense - Incense was offered every morning and evening before the Lord, on the golden altar, before the veil of the sanctuary. Exodus 29:39, and Numbers 28:4.

As the evening sacrifice - This was a burnt-offering, accompanied with flour and salt. But it does not appear that David refers to any sacrifice, for he uses not זבח zebach, which is almost universally used for a slaughtered animal; but מנחה minchah, which is generally taken for a gratitude-offering or unbloody sacrifice. The literal translation of the passage is, "Let my prayer be established for incense before thy faces; and the lifting up of my hands for the evening oblation." The psalmist appears to have been at this time at a distance from the sanctuary, and therefore could not perform the Divine worship in the way prescribed by the law. What could he do? Why, as he could not worship according to the letter of the law, he will worship God according to the spirit; then prayer is accepted in the place of incense; and the lifting up of his hands, in gratitude and self-dedication to God, is accepted in the place of the evening minchah or oblation. Who can deplore the necessity that obliged the psalmist to worship God in this way?


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Bibliography
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/psalms-141.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Let my prayer be set forth before thee - Margin, “directed.” The Hebrew word means to fit; to establish; to make firm. The psalmist desires that his prayer should not be like that which is feeble, languishing, easily dissipated, but that it should be like that which is firm and secure.

As incense - See the notes and illustrations at Luke 1:9-10. Let my prayer come before thee in such a manner as incense does when it is offered in worship; in a manner of which the ascending of incense is a suitable emblem. See the notes at Revelation 5:8; notes at Revelation 8:3.

And the lifting up of my hands - In prayer; a natural posture in that act of worship.

As the evening sacrifice - The sacrifice offered on the altar at evening. Let my prayer be as acceptable as that is when it is offered in a proper manner.


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Bibliography
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/psalms-141.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 141:2

Let my prayer be . . . as incense.

The incense of prayer

Throughout the Old Testament you find side by side these two trends of thought--a scrupulous carefulness for the observance of all the requirements of ritual worship, and a clear-eyed recognition that it was all external and symbolical and prophetic.

I. The incense of prayer. The temple was divided into three courts, the outer court, the holy place, and the holiest of all. The altar of incense stood in the second of these, the holy place; the altar of burnt offering stood in the court without. It was not until that altar, with its expiatory sacrifice, had been passed that one could enter into the holy place, where the altar of incense stood. There were three pieces of furniture in that place, the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the table of the shewbread. Of these three, the altar of incense stood in the centre. Twice a day the incense was kindled upon it by a priest, by means of live coals brought from the altar of burnt offering in the outer court. And, thus kindled, the wreaths of fragrant smoke ascended on high. All day long the incense smouldered upon the altar; twice a day it was kindled into a bright flame. I need not dwell upon the careful and sedulous preparation from pure spices which went to the making of the incense. So we have to prepare ourselves by sedulous purity if there is to be any life or power in our devotions. But I pass from that, and ask you to think of the lovely picture of true devoutness given in that inflamed incense, wreathing in coils of fragrance up to the heavens. Prayer is more than petition. It is the going up of the whole soul towards God. Do you realize that, just in the measure in which we set our minds as well as our affections, and our affections as well as our minds, on the things which are above, just to that extent, and not one hair’s breadth further, have we the right to call ourselves Christians at all? Remember, too, that the incense lay dead, unfragrant, and with no capacity of soaring, till it was kindled; that is to say, unless there is a flame in my heart there will be no rising of my aspirations to God. Cold prayers do not go up more than a foot or two above the ground; they have no power to soar. There must be the inflaming before there can be the mounting of the aspiration. It is because we are habitually such tepid Christians that we are so tongue-tied in prayer. Where was the incense kindled from? From coals brought from the altar of burnt offering in the outer court; that is to say, light the fire in your heart with a coal brought from Christ’s sacrifice, and then it will flame; and only then will love well upwards and desires be set on the things above.

II. The sacrifice of the empty-handed. What is implied in likening the uplifted empty hands to the evening sacrifice? First, it is a confession of impotent emptiness, a lifting up of expectant hands to be filled with the gift from God. And, says this psalmist, “because I bring nothing in my hand, Thou dost accept that, as if I came laden with offerings.” That is just a picturesque way of putting a familiar, threadbare truth, which, threadbare as it is, needs to be laid to heart a great deal more by us, that our true worship, and truest honour of God, lies not in giving but in taking. In our service we do not need to bring any merit of our own. This great principle destroys not only the gross externalities of heathen sacrifice, and the notion that worship is a duty, but it destroys the other notion of our having to bring anything to deserve God’s gifts. And so it is an encouragement to us when we feel ourselves what we are, and what we should always feel ourselves to be, empty-handed, coming to Him not only with hearts that aspire like incense, but with petitions that confess our need, and cast ourselves upon His grace. See that you desire what God wishes to give; see that you go to Him for what He does give. See that you give to Him the only thing that He does wish, or that it lies in your power to give, and that is yourself. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The twofold aspect of prayer

Prayer is designed not only to be serviceable to man, but honourable God. It is a tax (redounding indeed with unspeakable benefits to the tax-payer, but still a tax) laid upon our time; just as almsgiving is a tax laid upon our substance; and if we would render unto God the things that are God’s, the tribute-money must be faithfully and punctually paid.

1. Think of yourself before you kneel down, not simply as a suppliant for help, but as a priest addressing himself to offer sacrifice and to burn incense. The time of the morning or evening oblation is come; the altar is ready; the incense is at hand; the sacerdotal robe of Christ’s righteousness waits to be put on; array thyself in it; and go into the sanctuary of thy heart, and do the priestly ministration.

2. It was the quaint but excellent saying of an old saint that a man should deal with distractions in prayer as he would deal with dogs who run out and bark at him when he goes along the street,--walk on fast and straightforward, and take no notice of them. Persevere in presenting yourself to God during the period for which the prayer ought to last, and would last under happier circumstances. He loves to draw out perseverance in prayer, loves the indication thus given that, amidst all discouragements, the soul clings obstinately to Himself; and very early in the world’s history He signified His approval of this temper of mind by rewarding and crowning, as He did, Jacob’s struggle with the Jehovah-Angel. It must be remembered that this quiet, resolute patience, even amidst the disorders and distractions of our own spirit, is probably the most acceptable offering which can be made to the Most High.

3. But definite practical rules may be given, which will not be long acted upon without giving a better tone to our devotions. There are parts of prayer which cannot be selfish, which directly seek either the interests of others, or the glory of God; see that these parts be not absent from your prayers.

The incense of prayer

Doubtless the Jews felt, when they saw the soft white clouds of fragrant smoke rising slowly from the altar of incense, as if the voice of the priest were silently but eloquently pleading in that expressive emblem on their behalf. The association of sound was lost on that of smell, and the two senses were blended in one. And this symbolical mode of supplication, as Dr. George Wilson has remarked, has this one advantage over spoken or written prayer, that it appealed to those who were both blind and deaf, a class that are usually shut out from social worship by their affliction. Those who could not hear the prayers of the priest could join in devotional exercises symbolized by incense through the medium of their sense of smell; and the hallowed impressions shut out by one avenue were admitted to the mind and heart by another.

As the evening sacrifice.--

On evening prayer

1. As God hath sanctified the morning and evening to His service by positive laws, so He has made the face of nature, in those seasons, to invite religious sentiments, and rendered them, peculiarly, fit for devotion; for, in the evening the hurry of the world ceases, its noise is hushed, and nature itself seems to pause in a delightful calm, that man may recollect himself after the hurry of the day, that his agitated passions may subside, and his mind, without distraction, offer its grateful homage to its Maker. The evening and the morning, as it were, turn the leaf, and invite us to read the existence, the wisdom, the power, and goodness of God, engraven in different characters, and displayed in a new scene of wonders. The greatness of the stars, their number, the regularity of their motions, the swiftness of their course, the exactness of their periods, the immensity of their bulk, the profoundness of their silence, at once humble and exalt the heart, lay it in the dust, and raise it to heaven.

2. And as the Creator made the face of nature to inspire evening devotion, so it is strongly recommended by the example of our blessed Saviour; for when the crowds were dismissed, and the business of the day done, He generally retired to offer the evening sacrifice of prayer and praise.

3. Gratitude should prompt us to acknowledge the goodness of God through the day; to thank Him for that food and raiment which He bestowed; for guarding us from the open violence and hidden snares of our temporal and spiritual enemies; for shielding us from accidents and infectious diseases; and, above all, for keeping us from ignominy and atrocious crimes, from the pangs and shame and punishment of notorious sins.

4. Evening devotion is extremely useful, and very effectual, for wearing off those ill impressions that our minds receive during our intercourse with the world. There is nothing, next to the grace of God, more likely to preserve us unspotted from the world than beginning and ending every day with the fear of God and the exercises of fervent devotion.

5. Evening devotion is still further necessary, in order to make our peace with God. In many things we offend all; and besides those flagrant crimes for which our consciences reproach us, there are many sins of thought, word, and deed that escape our observation. Can we, then, with a quiet mind, lie down under this load of guilt without so much as supplicating with our families the forgiveness and mercy of our God?

6. As evening devotion is necessary to obtain pardon of the sins we committed through the day, so is it also to obtain the preservation of our lives through the night. A sleeping man is a prey to every accident: if a fire surround him, he is insensible of his danger, and may be stifled or burnt before he recover from a state of insensibility; if an enemy approach him, he can neither resist nor flee; the decays Of time, or an earthquake, make his habitation totter over his head; he is unable to retire, and may be buried in its ruins; the very animals that lodge under his roof may take away his life; nay, a wrong position in his bed may make soul and body part. Can we then sink down into this helpless state without putting ourselves under the wings of Divine providence, and soliciting the protection of Omnipotence? (J. Riddoch.)


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Bibliography
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 141:2". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-141.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense,.... Which was offered every morning on the altar of incense, at which time the people were praying, Exodus 30:1; and was an emblem of it, even of pure, holy, and fervent prayer; which being offered on the altar Christ, which sanctifies every gift, and by him the High Priest; through whom every sacrifice is acceptable unto God; and through whose blood and righteousness, and the sweet incense of his mediation and intercession, it becomes fragrant and a sweet odour to the Lord; and being directed to him, it goes upwards, is regarded by him, and continues before him as sweet incense; which is what the psalmist prays for; see Malachi 1:11;

and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice; the burnt sacrifice of the evening, according to Ben Melech, the lamb slain every evening; or else the minchah, as the word is; the meat, or rather the bread offering made of fine flour, with oil and frankincense on it, which went along with the former, Exodus 29:38; and so the Targum,

"as the sweet gift offered in the evening.'

This only is mentioned, as being put for both the morning and the evening sacrifice; or because the incense was offered in the morning, from which it is distinguished: or it may be, as Kimchi thinks, this psalm was composed in the evening; and so the inscription in the Syriac version is,

"a psalm of David, when he meditated the evening service.'

Or because this was the last sacrifice of the day; there was no other after it, as Aben Ezra observes; and the most acceptable; to which may be added, that this was the hour for prayer, Acts 3:1. Wherefore "lifting up of the hands" was a prayer gesture, and a very ancient one both among Jews and GentilesF24Vid. Barthii Animadv. in Claudian. ad Rufin. l. 2. v. 205. ; AristotleF25De Mundo, c. 6. Vid. Plutarch. in Vita Camilli. "Sustulit ad sidera palmas", Virgil. Aeneid. 2. so Ovid. Fasti, l. 3. says, all men, when we pray, lift up our hands to heaven; and it is put for that itself, 1 Timothy 2:8; and is desired to be, like that, acceptable unto God; as it is when the heart is lifted up with the hands, and prayer is made in the name and faith of Christ.


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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-141.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Let my prayer be set forth before thee [as] incense; [and] the b lifting up of my hands [as] the evening sacrifice.

(b) He means his earnest zeal and gesture, which he used in prayer: alluding to the sacrifices which were by God's commandment offered in the old law.

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Bibliography
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/psalms-141.html. 1599-1645.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

In the second verse the allusion is evidently to the legal ceremonies. (235) At that time the prayers of God’s people were according to his own appointment sanctified through the offering up of incense and sacrifices, and David depended upon this promise. (236) As to the conjecture some have made, that he was at this time an exile, and cut off from the privileges of the religious assembly, nothing certain can be said upon that point; their idea being that there is a tacit antithesis in the verse — that though prevented from continuing with God’s worshippers into the sanctuary, or using incense and sacrifice, he desired God would accept his prayers notwithstanding. But as there seems no reason to adopt this restricted sense, it is enough to understand the general truth, that as these symbols taught the Lord’s people to consider their prayers equally acceptable to God with the sweetest incense, and most excellent sacrifice, David derived confirmation to his faith from the circumstance. Although the view of the fathers was not confined entirely to the external ceremonies, David was bound to avail himself of such helps. As he considered, therefore, that it was not in vain the incense was burned daily on the altar by God’s commandment, and the evening offering presented, he speaks of his prayers in connection with this ceremonial worship. The lifting up of the hands, evidently means prayer, for those who translate משאת, masath, a gift, obscure and pervert the meaning of the Psalmist. As the word, which is derived from נשא, nasa, meanslifting up in the Hebrew, the natural inference is, that prayer is meant, in allusion to the outward action practiced in it. And we can easily suppose that David here as elsewhere repeats the same thing twice. As to the reason which has led to the universal practice amongst all nations of lifting up the hand in prayer, I have taken notice of it elsewhere.


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Bibliography
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/psalms-141.html. 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

INCENSE AND OFFERING

‘Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’

Psalms 141:2

I. This psalm is for the morning.—As the incense rises, so prayer should rise. It is sweet to God. It is on earth what the intercession of Christ is before the throne. The ancient saints stood to pray, and lifted up their hands. There is nothing we need more as we go forth into the day than that God should put a sentry before our mouth to keep the door of our lips. What we speak very largely determines what we are. St. James says the tongue is the rudder of the whole body, and this is true. If you repress unkind words, you will cease to think unkind thoughts. What you utter tends to become a habit of the inner life. The ungodly say our lips are our own; the child of God desires that every word in the mouth should be beneath God’s control. It is a good thing to cultivate the habit of silence: people who are always talking are like cisterns with a leaking tap. Besides the keeping of the lips, we need to claim the preoccupation of the heart with love, and faith, and hope, that there may be no room for evil things.

II. But more than this, the lifting up of our hands is like the evening sacrifice.—Each evening, in the Temple, there was an offering of meal made to God by the uplifted hand of the priest. It was as though God fed on the gifts and worship of His people. In a distinctly higher sense that is true of us also. We bring to God, at the close of the day, the poor service that we have been permitted to perform, the little acts of kindness, the thoughtfulnesses, the meek bearing of wrong for His sake, and God accepts them in Christ. They feast Him. They are as food to the flaming love of His heart. Let us not think so much of what these things may procure for us, as of their preciousness to God, who accepts us ‘in the Beloved.’

Illustration

‘The Psalmist yearned for his prayer to be taken up into, incorporated as it were, established with the ordered ritual of his Church. From this point of view he is a Church poet, like Ken or Keble.’


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Bibliography
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/psalms-141.html. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Psalms 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee [as] incense; [and] the lifting up of my hands [as] the evening sacrifice.

Ver. 2. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense] Faithful prayer is αναβασις του νου (saith Darnasen), the ascension of the heart to God. In this incense how many sweet spices are burned together by the fire of faith, as humility, hope, love, &c., all which come up for a memorial before God, Acts 10:4; and the saints (as Manoah’s angel) ascend up in the flame, and do wondrously, 13:19-20, while their pillars of smoke are perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the spice merchants, Song of Solomon 3:6, that is, with the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, Hebrews 9:24, those sweet odours poured into the prayers of saints, Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4, for want whereof the incense of the wicked is abomination, Isaiah 1:13, as stinking of the hand that offereth it.

As the evening sacrifice] The sacrificium iuge, that was offered every morning and evening, Exodus 29:39, Numbers 28:4, in reference to that immaculate Lamb of God, slain from the beginning, for an offering and a sweet smelling savour, Ephesians 5:2. Chrysostom telleth us, that the Greek Church made use of this psalm in their evening liturgy.


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Bibliography
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/psalms-141.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 141:2. Let my prayer, &c.— This shews the writer at a distance from the tabernacle; where all their solemn prayers, together with their daily sacrifices, were offered up; and therefore, with his face probably directed thither, he begs that God would accept of all that was in his power to perform: namely, the devotion of his heart, and the elevation of his hands in prayer: as if he had said, "Though this address of mine must necessarily want all those solemnities of preparation required in the service of thy holy tabernacle; yet let the purity and fervour of my heart, and the innocency of my hands now lifted up to thee, in this sad hour of my distress, be accepted instead of these, and prevail for deliverance and a safe retreat to me and my companions."


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Bibliography
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/psalms-141.html. 1801-1803.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Psalms

THE INCENSE OF PRAYER

Psalms 141:2.

The place which this psalm occupies in the Psalter, very near its end, makes it probable that it is considerably later in date than the prior portions of the collection. But the Psalmist, who here penetrates to the inmost meaning of the symbolic sacrificial worship of the Old Testament, was not helped to his clear-sightedness by his date, but by his devotion. For throughout the Old Testament you find side by side these two trends of thought-a scrupulous carefulness for the observance of all the requirements of ritual worship, and a clear-eyed recognition that it was all external and symbolical and prophetic. Who was it that said ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams’? Samuel, away back in the times when many scholars tell us that the loftier conceptions of worship had not yet emerged. Similar utterances are scattered throughout the Old Testament, and the prominence given to the more spiritual side depends not on the speaker’s date but on his disposition and devotion. So here this Psalmist, because his soul was filled with true longings after God, passes clear through the externals and says, ‘Here am I with no incense, but I have brought my prayer. I am empty-handed, but because my hands are empty, I lift them up to Thee; and Thou dost accept them, as if they were-yea, rather than if they were-filled with the most elaborate and costly sacrifices.’

So here are two thoughts suggested, which sound mere commonplace, but if we realised them, in our religious life, that life would be revolutionised; first, the incense of prayer; second, the sacrifice of the empty-handed. Let us look at these two points.

I. The Incense of Prayer. ‘Let my prayer come before Thee as incense.’

Now, that symbol of incense is thus used in many places in Scripture. I need only remind you of one or two instances. You remember how, when the father of John the Baptist went into the Holy Place, as was his priestly duty at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, the whole multitude were in the Outer Court praying; he in the Inner Court, presenting the symbolical worship, and they, without, offering the real. Then, if we turn to the grand imagery of the Book of the Revelation, where we find the heavenly temple opened up to our reverent gaze, we read that the elders, the representatives of redeemed humanity, have ‘golden bowls full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.’ So there is no fancifulness in interpreting the incense of the ancient ritual as meaning simply the prayers of devout hearts. Of course there has been a great deal of nonsense talked about the symbolical signification of these Old Testament rites, and there is need for sober sense to put the rein upon a vivid imagination in interpreting these; still clear utterances of Scripture as well as this verse itself remove all need for hesitation to accept this meaning of the symbol.

Now, let me remind you of the place which the Altar of Incense occupied. The Temple was divided into three courts, the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holiest of All. The Altar of Incense stood in the second of these, the Holy Place; the Altar of Burnt Offering stood in the court without. It was not until that Altar, with its expiatory sacrifice, had been passed, that one could enter into the Holy Place, where the Altar of Incense stood. There were three pieces of furniture in that Place, the Altar of Incense, the Golden Candlestick, and the Table of the Shewbread. Of these three, the Altar of Incense stood in the centre. Twice a day the incense was kindled upon it by a priest, by means of live coals brought from the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Outer Court, and, thus kindled, the wreaths of fragrant smoke ascended on high. All day long the incense smouldered upon the altar; twice a day it was kindled into a bright flame.

Now, if we take these things with us, we can understand a little more of the depth and beauty of this prayer, and see how much it tells us of what we, as the priests of the most High God-which we are, if we are Christian people at all-ought to have in our censers.

I need not dwell upon the careful and sedulous preparation from pure spices which went to the making of the incense. So we have to prepare ourselves by sedulous purity if there is to be any life or power in our devotions. But I pass from that, and ask you to think of the lovely picture of true devoutness given in that inflamed incense, wreathing in coils of fragrance up to the heavens. Prayer is more than petition. It is the going up of the whole soul towards God. Brother! do you know anything of that instinctive and spontaneous rising up of desire and aspiration and faith and love, up and up and up, until they reach Him? Do you realise that just in the measure in which we set our minds as well as our affections, and our affections as well as our minds, on the things which are above, just to that extent, and not one hairsbreadth further, have we the right to call ourselves Christians at all? I fear me that for the great mass of Christian professors the great bulk of their lives creeps along the low levels like the mists in winter, that hug the marshes instead of rising, swirling up like an incense cloud, impelled by nothing but the fire in the censer up and up towards God. Let us each ask the question for himself, Is my prayer ‘directed’-as is the true meaning of the Hebrew word-’before Thee as incense’?

Remember, too, that the incense lay dead, unfragrant, and with no capacity of soaring, till it was kindled; that is to say, unless there is a flame in my heart there will be no rising of my aspirations to God. Cold prayers do not go up more than a foot or two above the ground; they have no power to soar. There must be the inflaming before there can be the mounting of the aspiration. You cannot get a balloon to go up unless the gas within it is warmer than the atmosphere round it. It is because we are habitually such tepid Christians that we are so tongue-tied in prayer.

Where was the incense kindled from? From coals brought from the Altar of Burnt Offering in the outer court; that is to say, light the fire in your heart with a coal brought from Christ’s sacrifice, and then it will flame; and only then will love well upwards and desires be set on the things above. The beginning of Christian fervour lies in the habitual realising as a fact of the great love which ‘loved me and gave itself for me.’ There is no patent way of getting a vivid Christian experience except the old way of clinging close to Jesus Christ the Saviour; and in order to do that, we have to think about Him, as well as to feel about Him, a great deal more than I fear the most of us do.

Further, does not this lovely symbol of my text suggest to us a glorious thought, the acceptableness even of our poor prayers, if they come from hearts inflamed with love because of Christ’s great redeeming love? The Psalmist, thinking humbly of himself and of the worth of anything that he can bring, says, ‘Let my prayer come before Thee as incense,’ an ‘odour of a sweet smell, acceptable to God’; yes, even our prayers will be sweet to Him if they are prayers of true aspiration and mounting faith, leaping from a kindled heart, kindled at the great flame of Christ’s love.

Were you ever in a Roman Catholic cathedral? Did you ever see there the little boys that carry the censers, swinging them backwards and forwards every now and then, and by means of the silver chains lifting the covers? What is that for? Because the incense would go out unless the air was let into it. So a constant effort is needed in order to keep the incense of our prayers alight. We have to swing the censer to get rid of the things that make our hearts cold; we have to stir the fire, and only so shall we keep up our devotion. Remember the incense burned all day long on the altar; though perhaps but smouldering, like the banked-up fires in the furnaces of a steamer that lies at anchor, still the glow was there; and twice a day there came the priest with his pan full of fresh glowing coals from the altar in the Outer Court, and kindled it up into a flame once more. Which things are thus far an allegory that our devotion is to be diffused throughout our lives in a lambent glow, and if it is, it will have to be fed by special acts of worship day by day.

You hear people talk of not caring about times and seasons of prayer, and of the beauty of making all life a prayer. Amen! I say so too. But depend upon it that there will never be devotion diffused through life unless there is devotion concentrated at points in the life. There must be reservoirs as well as pipes in order to supply the water through the whole city. So the incense is perpetually to be heaped on the Altar of Incense, but also it is to be stirred to a fragrant blaze and fed, morning and evening, by fresh coals from the altar.

II. Now let me say a word about the other thought here-the sacrifice of the empty-handed.

‘The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’ In accordance with the genius of Hebrew poetry the same general idea is repeated in the second member of the parallelism, but with modifications. What is implied in likening the uplifted empty hands to the evening sacrifice? First, it is a confession of impotent emptiness, a lifting up of expectant hands to be filled with the gift from God. And, says this Psalmist, ‘Because I bring nothing in my hand, Thou dost accept me, as if I came laden with offerings.’ That is just a picturesque way of putting a familiar, threadbare truth, which, threadbare as it is, needs to be laid to heart a great deal more by us, that our true worship and truest honour of God lies not in giving but in taking. ‘He is not worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing that He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.’ That one truth, Paul felt on Mars Hill, was sure enough to make all the temples and statues by which he was surrounded crumble into nothingness. But it does not merely destroy idolatry. It cuts up by the root much of what we call Christian worship. How many people worship because they think they ought? How many people talk about Christian worship as being a duty-’Our duty we have now performed’? How many have never had a glimpse of this thought, that God wills us to draw near to Him, not because it pleases Him but because it blesses us, and that we are to worship, not in order that we may bring anything, either the sacrifices of bulls and goats, or the more refined ones that we bring nowadays, but in order that, bringing our emptiness into touch with His infinite fulness, as much of that fulness as we need to make us full, and as much of that blessedness as we need to make us blessed, may pass into our lives. Oh! if we understand ‘the giving God,’ as James calls Him in his letter; and if we had learned the old lesson of that fiftieth Psalm, ‘If I were hungry I would not tell thee. . . . Will I eat the flesh of bulls and drink the blood of goats? He that offereth praise glorifieth Me, and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God’-if we had learned that, and laid it to heart, and applied it to our own worship and our lives, mountains of misconception would be lifted away from many hearts. In our service we do not need to bring any merit of our own. This great principle destroys not only the gross externalities of heathen sacrifice, and the notion that worship is a duty, but it destroys the other notion of our having to bring anything to deserve God’s gifts. And so it is an encouragement to us when we feel ourselves to be what we are, and what we should always feel ourselves to be, empty-handed, coming to Him not only with hearts that aspire like incense, but with petitions that confess our need, and cast ourselves upon His grace. See that you desire what God wishes to give; see that you go to Him for what He does give. See that you give to Him the only thing that He does wish, or that it lies in your power to give, and that is yourself.

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling.

‘Let the lifting of my hands be as the evening sacrifice’; as the Psalmist has it in another place, ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?’-it is not a question of rendering, but ‘I will the cup of salvation.’ Taking is our truest worship, and the lifting up of empty, expectant hands is, in God’s sight, as the evening sacrifice.


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Bibliography
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/psalms-141.html.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Be set forth before thee, Heb. be directed to thy face. Let it not be lost, but let it come unto thee and find audience.

As incense; owned and accepted by thee no less than the increase, which by thy command, Exodus 30:7, &c., is offered upon thine altar, from which I am now banished, and so disenabled to offer it there, and therefore I trust thou will accept my prayer instead of it. The lifting up of my hands; my prayer made with hands lifted up, which was the usual gesture. See Job 11:13 Psalms 63:4 88:9, &c.

As the evening sacrifice; which was offered every evening, Exodus 29:39, &c.; which he mentions either,

1. By way of opposition to the incense which was offered in the morning: or,

2. Synecdochically, so as to include the morning sacrifice, and all the sacrifices of the day, of which this was the close; such synecdoches being most frequent, as hath been already observed: or,

3. Because the evening sacrifice was more solemn than the morning, and was attended with more company and more prayers; whence the ninth hour, which was the time of this sacrifice, is called the hour of prayer, Acts 3:1.


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Bibliography
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/psalms-141.html. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

2. Let my prayer be set forth before thee— כון, koon, rendered “set forth,” here takes the sense of prepare, make ready, and, in Niphal future, “My prayers shall be prepared as incense.” The word is used in the Levitical technology, and refers to the careful preparation of the spices for holy incense, forbidden in common use. Exodus 30:34-38, where see note.

Before thee—Better, Before thy face, in thy immediate presence, as in the holy place in the tabernacle.

As the evening sacrifice—Hebrew, As the minchah of evening. The “minchah” was a bloodless offering, made in conjunction with bloody sacrifices, and always with the daily morning and evening lamb. The law respecting the minchah is given in Leviticus 2, and of the daily minchah, Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 4:16, where see notes; in all which places, as also throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, the word is rendered “meat-offering” in our English Bible. It was accounted “a sweet savour unto the Lord,” “most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.” Leviticus 2:2-3. Its import was that of an azkarah, or memorial, and, from Exodus 29:42-46, a standing memorial throughout the generations of the perpetual presence of God with his people, and of the acceptance of their offerings. The psalmist, now in exile among heathen tribes, desires his worship may be as acceptable to God as the most holy services of the tabernacle.


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Bibliography
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/psalms-141.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 141:2. Let my prayer be set forth before thee — Hebrews תכון לפניךְ, be directed to thy face, person, or presence. Let it not be lost, but let it come unto thee and find audience; as incense — Let it be owned and accepted by thee, no less than if it had been offered with incense at thine altar, from which I am now banished, and so am prevented from offering it there. And the lifting up of my hands — My prayer made with hands lifted up, which was the usual gesture in praying; as the evening sacrifice — In which he instances rather than the morning sacrifice, either because this prayer was addressed to God in the evening, or because the evening sacrifice was more solemn than that of the morning, and was attended with more company and more prayers; whence the ninth hour, which was the time of this sacrifice, is emphatically called the hour of prayer, Acts 3:1.


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Bibliography
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/psalms-141.html. 1857.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

incense. Compare Exodus 30:7. Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4.

sacrifice = gift offering. App-43.


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Bibliography
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/psalms-141.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Let my prayer be set forth ('be directed,' the Septuagint, Chaldaic, Vulgate, Ethiopic. In Psalms 140:11 the same Hebrew means 'be established')

Before thee as incense. Incense, with its sweet perfume, is the symbol of prayer accepted before God (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4 : cf. Malachi 1:11). The time of offering the incense, morning and evening (Exodus 30:7-8), was the chosen time for prayer (Luke 1:10).

And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice - or rather, 'meat offering:' Hebrew, minchaah. The burnt offering was regarded as having the prominent place in the morning sacrifice, the meat offering being only an appendage, so that the whole was named from the burnt offering; while in the evening sacrifice the meat offering was regarded as having the chief place (cf. 2 Kings 16:15 : cf. Exodus 29:39-41). As incense represents prayer, so the meat offering symbolizes good works, according to Hengstenberg. Rather, from the parallelism here, the evening offering symbolizes the lifting, of the heart with the hands (Lamentations 3:41; Psalms 63:4; Psalms 86:4; 1 Timothy 2:8) to God, the necessary condition of God's acceptance of prayer: the incense expresses the sweetness of such heartfelt prayer to Him (Genesis 8:21). Possibly this psalm was written in the evening, as the morning sacrifice is not mentioned (Kimchi). (Daniel 9:21; Acts 3:1.) The time of the evening sacrifice was most especially "the hour of prayer," doubtless with a prospective reference designed by the Spirit to time of Christ's sacrifice-namely, at the ninth hour. 1 Kings 18:36, "at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice Christ's sacrifice-namely, at the ninth hour. 1 Kings 18:36, "at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice (minchaah):" so Ezra 9:4-5.


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/psalms-141.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


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Bibliography
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/psalms-141.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Let my prayer
David, who was now driven from Judea, and far from the sanctuary, here prays that the devotion of his heart, and the elevation of his hands, might be accepted; that the one might ascend to heaven fragrant and well pleasing as the cloud of incense, and the other, in conjunction with it, be prevalent as the minchah, or evening oblation.
Proverbs 15:8
set forth
Heb. directed.
5:3
as incense
Exodus 30:7-9,34-38; Leviticus 10:1,2; 16:11-13; Numbers 16:35,46-48; Malachi 1:11; Luke 1:9,10; Revelation 5:8; 8:3,4
the lifting
28:2; 63:4; 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8
the evening
Exodus 29:39,42; 1 Kings 18:36; Ezra 9:4; Daniel 9:21; Acts 3:1

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Psalms 141:2". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/psalms-141.html.

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