Altar

The first of which we have mention was built by Noah after leaving the ark. In Genesis 12 where Abraham built an altar, Jacob had his dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth in Bethel.......

The first of which we have mention was built by Noah after leaving the ark (Genesis.8:20). In Genesis 12 where Abraham built an altar, Jacob had his dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth in Bethel (Genesis.28:18).

The English (from the Latin) means an elevation or high place: not the site, but the erections on them which could be built or removed (1Kings.12:7; 2Kings.23:15). So the Greek bomos, and Hebrew bamath. But the proper Hebrew name mizbeach is "the sacrificing place" Septuagint thusiasterion. Spots hallowed by divine revelations or appearances were originally the sites of altars (Genesis 12:7; Genesis.13:18;26:25;35:1). Mostly for sacrificing; sometimes only as a memorial, as that named by Moses Yahweh Nissi, the pledge that Yahweh would war against Amalek to all generations (Exodus.17:15-16), and that built by Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh, "not for burnt offering, nor sacrifice, but as a witness" (Joshua.22:26-27).

Altars were to be made only of earth or else unhewn stone, on which no iron tool was used, and without steps up to them (Exodus.20:24-26). Steps toward the E. on the contrary are introduced in the temple yet future (Ezekiel.43:17), marking its distinctness from any past temple. No pomp or ornament was allowed; all was to be plain and simple; for it was the meeting place between God and the sinner, and therefore a place of shedding of blood without which there is no remission (Leviticus.17:11; Hebrews.9:22), a place of fellowship with God for us only through death. The mother dust of earth, or its stones in their native state as from the hand of God, were the suitable material. The art of sinful beings would mar, rather than aid, the consecration of the common meeting ground. The earth made for man's nourishment, but now the witness of his sin and drinker in of his forfeited life, was the most suitable. The altar was at "the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation" (Exodus.40:29).

From there Abram moved on to the hill country east of Bethel, pitching his tent with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. He built an altar there to the LORD and invoked the LORD by name. (Genesis.12:8)

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on top of it. He named that place Bethel. (Genesis.28:18)

In the tabernacle the altar of burnt offering was made of shittim (acacia) boards overlaid with brass, terming a square of five cubits, or eight feet. three cubits high or five feet, the hollow within being probably filled with earth or stones. A ledge (Hebrew karkob) projected on the side for the priest to stand on, to which a slope of earth gradually led up on the S. side, and outside the ledge was a network of brass. At the grainers were four horn shaped projections. to which the victim was bound (Psalm.118:27), and which were touched with blood in consecrating priests (Exodus 29:12), and in the sin offering (Leviticus.4:7). The horn symbolizes might. The culmination's of the altar, being hornlike, imply the mighty salvation and security which Yehweh engages to the believing worshippers approaching Him in His own appointed way. Hence it was the asylum or place of refuge (1Kings.1:50; Exodus.21:14).

To grasp the altar horns in faith was to lay hold of Yahweh's strength. In Solomon's temple the altar square was entirely of brass, and was 20 cubits, or from 30 to 35 feet, and the height 10 cubits. In Malachi.1:7,12, it is called "the table of the Lord." In Herod's temple the altar was 50 cubits long, and 50 broad, and 15 high; a pipe from the S.W. grainer conveyed away the blood to the brook Kedron. Except in emergencies (as Judges.6:24; 1Samuel.7:9-10; 2Samuel.24:18,25; 1Kings.8:64;18:31-32) only the one altar was sanctioned (Leviticus.17:8-9; Deuteronomy.12:13-14), to mark the unity and ubiquity of God, as contrasted with the many altars of the manifold idols and local deities of pagandom. Every true Israelite, wherever he might be, realized his share in the common daily sacrifices at the one altar in Zion, whence Yahweh ruled to the ends of the earth.

The brass utensils for the altar (Exodus.27:3) were pans, to receive the ashes and fat; shovels, for removing the ashes; basins, for the blood; flesh hooks, with three prongs, to take flesh out of the cauldron (1.Samuel2:13-14); firepans, or censers, for taking coals off the altar, or for burning incense (Leviticus.16:12; Numbers.16:6-7; Exodus.25:38); the same Hebrew maktoth means snuff dishes, as "tongs" means snuffers for the candlesticks. Asa "renewed" the altar, i.e. reconsecrated it, after it had been polluted by idolatries (2Chronicles.20:8). Hezekiah had it "cleansed" (2Chronicles.29:12-18) of all the uncleanness brought into it in Ahaz' reign. Manasseh, on his repentance, repaired it (2Chronicles.33:16). Rabbis pretended it stood on the spot where man was created. In Zerubbabel's temple the altar was built before the temple foundations were laid (Ezra.3:2).

The original fire of the tabernacle "came out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat" (Leviticus.9:24). The rabbis say, It couched upon the altar like a lion, bright as the sun, the flame solid and pure, consuming things wet and dry alike, without smoke. The divine fire on the altar; the shekinah cloud, representing the divine habitation with them, which was given to the king and the high priest with the oil of unction; the spirit of prophecy; the Urim and Thummim whereby the high priest miraculously learned God's will; and the ark of the covenant, whence God gave His answers in a clear voice, were the five things of the old temple wanting in the second temple.

Heated stones (Hebrew) were laid upon the altar, by which the incense was kindled (Isaiah.6:6). The golden altar of incense (distinguished from the brazen altar of burnt offering), of acacia wood (in Solomon's temple cedar) underneath, two cubits high, one square. Once a year, on the great day of atonement, the high priest sprinkled upon its horns the blood of the sin offering (Exodus.30:6-10; Leviticus.16:18-19). Morning and evening incense was burnt on it with fire taken from the altar of burnt offering. It had a border round the top, and two golden rings at the sides for the staves to bear it with. It was "before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat;" between the candlestick and the shewbread table. In Hebrews.9:4 "censer," not "altar of incense," is right; for the latter was in the outer not the inner holy place.

Ark of the Covenant, Bread of the Presence Table, Lamp-stand, Holocaust Altar, Washing Bronze Basin, Altar of Incense. (Exodus 25-31)

Tabernacle usually designates the movable tent like sanctuary of the Hebrews before the erection of Solomon's Temple

Christ is the heavenly altar as well as the only intercession, through the incense of whose merits our prayers are accepted. "The souls under the altar" (Revelation.6:9) are shut up unto Him in joyful expectancy, until He come to raise the sleeping bodies (Revelation 8:3-4). Fire not taken from the altar of burnt offering, thereby breaking the He between the incense altar and the sacrificial burnt offering altar. The incense daily offered symbolized prayer (Psalm.141:2; Luke.1:10).

As the incense on the altar within drew its kindling from the fire of the sacrificial altar without, so believing prayer of the heart within, continually ascending to God, rests on one's having first once for all become sharer in the benefit of Christ's outward sacrificial atonement. Therefore the inner altar was ornate and golden, the outer altar bore marks of humiliation and death. Nowhere is an altar in the sacrificial sense in the Christian church recognized in the New Testament The words "we have an altar" (Hebrews.13:10; note that it is not altars, such as apostate churches erect in their worship), so far from sanctioning a Christian altar on earth, oppose the idea; for Christ Himself is our altar of which we spiritually eat, and of which they who Judaize, by serving the tabernacle and resting on meats and ordinances, "have no right to eat." Our sacrifices are spiritual, not the dead letter; compare Hebrews 13:9,15-16.

"Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."(Hebrews 5:8-9)
Crucifix by Michelangelo displayed at the Bargello Palace (photo from web)- Florence, Toscana, Italy


© 2024 Duns Scotus Bible Centre. All rights reserved