Build an Altar of Acacia Wood

Overlaid with Bronze

27:1-8 and 38:1-7

    DIG: How do we know this was an altar for burnt offerings (see Leviticus 4:7, 10 and 18)? What distinguished this altar from Sanctuary (26:1-37)?

    REFLECT: Why such emphasis on the physical setting and details? What does this say about worship, then and now? How do we take care of sin in our lives today (First John 1:8-10)?

    There were seven pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, and every one of them foreshadowed Jesus Christ. When the Israelite passed through the gate into the courtyard of the Tabernacle with his offering, he stood before an altar made of wood covered over with bronze.524

    Man was standing on the outside. How was he going to approach ADONAI? The first thing he needed was a substitute to die for him. Man might avoid meeting God, but if he wanted to meet God and not die, he must have a substitute. Someone needed to die on the bronze altar for him.525 We read of no altar in the Garden of Eden. Man in his innocence, created in the image of God, needed none. He had no sin to pay for. But it was man’s sin that made an altar necessary, and it was God's grace that provided one.526

    The location of the bronze altar was at the center of the eastern half of the courtyard (49:29). God commanded: Build an altar of acacia wood overlaid with bronze, three cubits, or four feet, six inches high; it is to be square, five cubits, or seven feet, six inches long and the width was the same (27:1; 38:1). Its dimensions were five cubits square, matching those of an altar of earth from the Solomonic period excavated at Arad in southern Israel in 1967-68 (also see 20:24-25).527

    Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze (27:2; 38:2). The horns were used to bind sacrifices upon the altar for burning (Psalm 118:27). When a sin offering was made the priest would dip his finger in the blood of the animals and touch those four horns (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 8:15, 9:9, 16:18). Inasmuch as an animal having horns uses them for attacking other animals, horns came to be symbolic of strength or power (First Samuel 2:1 and 10). A horned altar was found in Tel Dan in 1974.528

    Taking hold of the horns of the altar provided refuge for the guilty Israelite, like Christ provides safety for the sinner fleeing from the righteous judgment of God. In this regard, two men who lived in the days of David and Solomon stand out in stark contrast. Their names were Adonijah and Joab. Both fled for safety to the horns of the altar. Adonijah was spared for a time, though later he was executed for rebellion; whereas, Joab was slain right at the horns of the altar (First Kings 1:50-51; 2:28-34). What was the difference? It seems as though Adonijah’s finding refuge and safety during David’s lifetime speaks to us of mercy in this age of grace; while Joab’s execution during the reign of Solomon foreshadows swift and certain judgment when Christ, the Greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31), returns again. Now is the day of salvation (Second Corinthians 6:2). It will be too late for the Christ-rejecting world to look for mercy when they see the righteous Jesus coming back in glory to reign as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). If they reject His mercy now, they will meet Him as the holy Judge of all the earth later (First Peter 4:5).529

    It was not a pleasant thing to see an innocent animal slaughtered and burned, but then sin is an ugly thing and the sacrifice here, as well as Messiah’s sacrifice on the cross, should be a vivid reminder to everyone of the hideous nature of sin and its price.530

    Continuing with the description of the bronze altar, ADONAI said: Make a grating for it, a bronze network, and make a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the network (27:4; 38:4). It was upon this grating that the sacrifices would be burned. Put it under the ledge so that it is halfway up the altar (27:5; 38:5). Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be just as you were shown on the mountain (27:8). The bottom half of the altar was hollow, and it may later have been filled with small stones, with the fire being built of earth and stones.531

    Bronze would hold the fire, because it can withstand high temperatures. It pictures fire and judgment. Make all its utensils of bronze – its pots to remove the fatty ashes from the sacrifice, its shovels and firepans, its bowls that held the blood from the sacrifice that was sprinkled on the altar, and its meat forks to skewer and turn the sacrifice (27:3; 38:3). After God had accepted the offering by being burned upon the altar, the priest, in white linen, took the ashes from underneath the grate to a place outside of the camp. The ashes were prized, because they were used in sprinkling the unclean, as in the case of lepers.

    Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze (27:6; 38:6). The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried (27:7; 38:7). The altar was to be carried by poles, in a similar fashion to the ark of the Covenant (25:13-15). It was also a holy object. However, there were two differences. First, the poles of the altar were to be overlaid with bronze, not with gold like the ark. Secondly, the poles were to be inserted into the rings of the altar only when it was carried, whereas in the case of the ark, the poles rested permanently in the rings.532

    The significance of the bronze altar is that access to ADONAI is always by means of blood. This is reiterated in both the Old and New Covenants. There are three key passages on this. First, for the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Leviticus 17:11). Secondly, in fact, the Torah requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Thirdly, in Hebrews 9:1 through 10:18 it is emphasized that although the priests of the Levitical system had to repeat the bloody sacrifices day in and day out, Jesus would be the final, once for all time, blood sacrifice.

    Some have said that believers have no bronze altar today. Yet, the author of the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that the bronze altar of the Tabernacle foreshadowed the cross of Jesus Christ, and that the sacrifices offered on the altar pictured His broken body and shed blood.

    The writer to the Hebrews wrote to the messianic community who had left the Temple worship, following the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The anonymous author to the Jewish exiles said: We have an altar from which those who minister at the Tabernacle have no right to eat (Hebrews 13:10). The Temple was still standing at that time. But the nation, as a whole, still rejected Jesus as the Messiah. However, the Old Testament believers, having withdrawn from the Temple worship because they realized that Christ had come to fulfill the Torah, were being bitterly persecuted by the unbelieving Jews for their stand. The Psalmist, however, had the remedy. He said: Taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8; First Peter 2:3). But those who had rejected Christ had no part in the worship at the foot of His cross.

    On the Day of Atonement, the high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies were burned outside the camp of Israel. And so Jesus, also, suffered outside the city gate on the cross to make the people holy through His own blood. Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp of those in the world, no longer a part of its system, its standards or its practices (Hebrews 13:11-13a).

    This is a wonderful lesson that we have before us today. The cross of Jesus Christ is our bronze altar; therefore, that altar was but a faint shadow of Christ. The Holy Spirit does not belittle the Torah but gives it its rightful place in the unfolding of God’s work in history when He says: The Torah has in it a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1 CJB), when Jesus returns again.533


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