Reading 1 - Exo 30:1
"Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense" (Exo 30:1).
Morning and evening, incense was burnt on this altar. Plainly, incense symbolizes prayer: Psa 141:2: "Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense" (cp Rev 5:8-10; Luk 1:10). The incense was ignited by coals from the altar of burnt offering. Thus, the two altars are connected -- teaching us that acceptable prayer must be offered to God through Jesus Christ our sacrifice.
"The incense... is 'the prayer of saints' (Rev 5:8; 8:4). It is a daily obligation: a daily benefit -- a pleasure of God and an advantage to His people. I have known men argue against its necessity. They say, 'God knows, without being told.' This is true, but is not a good reason for the neglect of prayer, in view of the great help it is to us in gendering the habit of expansion of mind towards God, in view of the pleasure it affords to God, and in view of its inculcation by this Mosaic lesson. 'The Lord taketh not pleasure in fools.' 'He taketh pleasure in the righteous.' 'The prayer of the righteous is his delight.' All these things are testified; and it was shown in unmistakable parable when the high priest every morning put sweet-smelling incense in his censer on the fire taken from the altar, and waved his censer before the Lord in the holy place" (RR, "Law of Moses" 193).
Reading 2 - Psa 87
"I will record Rahab [a poetic name for Egypt] and Babylon among those who acknowledge me -- Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush -- and will say, 'This one was born in Zion.' Indeed, of Zion it will be said, 'This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.' The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: 'This one was born in Zion' " (Psa 87:4-6).
Is there any special virtue about birth in Jerusalem? Consider, over the centuries, how many villains first saw the light of day there. But if this is read as meaning newborn -- or spiritually reborn -- there, then all is clear.
The LXX reads for v 5: "A man shall say, Zion is my mother." Paul corroborates this with his allusion to this verse in Gal 4:26: "But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother" (cp also Isa 54:1-3,13; 66:7,8,13). The apostle Paul was both "free born" naturally -- as a citizen of Rome (Act 22:27,28), and "free born" spiritually -- as a citizen of Zion! (A city and a woman are interchangeable also in Rev 21:2,9,10 -- where John looks for a "bride" and sees instead a city!)
So in the register of God's "book of life", the names of the faithful will be written, and they will be "registered" as though born in Zion, the city of the great King... for there is where their eternal inheritance may be claimed.
"Does our birthplace really matter,
Palace, cottage, mansion, slum,
Village silence, city's chatter?
Life has sown, and life did come.
Yes, it does. It really matters,
Born we great or born we less.
We can change our earthly tatters
Into robes of righteousness.
There's a birth we can rely on,
Born in Christ our Lord anew,
Choose your birthplace -- make it Zion;
Endless life 'twill bring to you" (NP Holt).