Manners & Customs: Altars
Altars in ancient Bible times
Altar in Eastons Bible Dictionary
(Heb. mizbe'ah, from a word meaning "to slay"), any structure of
earth (Ex. 20:24) or unwrought stone (20:25) on which sacrifices
were offered. Altars were generally erected in conspicuous
places (Gen. 22:9; Ezek. 6:3; 2 Kings 23:12; 16:4; 23:8; Acts
14:13). The word is used in Heb. 13:10 for the sacrifice offered
upon it--the sacrifice Christ offered.
Paul found among the many altars erected in Athens one bearing
the inscription, "To the unknown God" (Acts 17:23), or rather
"to an [i.e., some] unknown God." The reason for this
inscription cannot now be accurately determined. It afforded the
apostle the occasion of proclaiming the gospel to the "men of
The first altar we read of is that erected by Noah (Gen.
8:20). Altars were erected by Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:4; 22:9),
by Isaac (Gen. 26:25), by Jacob (33:20; 35:1, 3), and by Moses
(Ex. 17:15, "Jehovah-nissi").
In the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple, two altars
Altar in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
The first of which we have mention was built by Noah after leaving the ark (Genesis 8:20). 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 (1 Kings 12:7; 2 Kings 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; Genesis 26:25; Genesis 35:1). Mostly for sacrificing; sometimes only as a memorial, as that named by Moses Jehovah Nissi, the pledge that Jehovah 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 (see Fairbairn, Typology). The altar was at "the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation" (Exodus 40:29)...
ALTAR in Naves Topical Bible
-Built by Noah
-Built by Abraham
Ge 12:7,8; 13:18; 22:9
-Built by Isaac
-Built by Jacob
Ge 33:20; 35:1-7
-Built by Moses
Ex 17:15; 24:4
-Built by Balaam
-Built by Joshua
De 27:4-7; Jos 8:30-32
-Built by the Reubenites and Gadites
-Built by Gideon
-Built by Samuel
-Built by Saul
-Built by David
-Built by Elijah
-Mosaic commandments prescribing the construction of
Ex 20:24-26; De 27:5-7; Jos 8:30,31
-Used in idolatrous worship
Jud 6:25; 1Ki 12:32; 16:32; 18:26; 2Ki 16:10; 23:12,15; Isa
27:9; 65:3; Ho 8:11; Ac 17:23
-OF BURNT OFFERINGS
Called BRAZEN ALTAR
Ex 39:39; 1Ki 8:64
Called ALTAR OF GOD
Called ALTAR OF THE LORD
-IN THE TABERNACLE
Constructed by Bezaleel
Ex 38:1-7; with 37:1
Ex 40:6,29; Eze 8:16; Mt 23:35
Ex 27:3-7; 38:3-7; 1Sa 2:13,14
Uses of the horns
Ex 29:36,37,44; 30:26-28; 40:10; Le 8:10,11; Nu 7
Sanctified everything that touched it
Ex 29:37; 30:29; Mt 23:18,19
A place of refuge
Ex 21:14; 1Ki 1:50; 2:28
-IN SOLOMON'S TEMPLE
Renewed by Asa
Removed by Ahaz, and one of idolatrous fashion substituted
Cleansed by Hezekiah
Repaired by Manasseh
Furniture of, taken to Babylon
IN SECOND TEMPLE
EZEKIEL'S VISION OF
Called the GOLDEN ALTAR
Ex 39:38; Nu 4:11
ALTAR OF SWEET INCENSE
ALTAR BEFORE THE LORD
Ex 30:6; 40:5,26
A cover made for, of the censers of Korah
Ex 30:7-10,26,27; 40:27; Le 4:7,18; 8:15; 9:9; 16:12,18
How prepared for carrying
Carried by Kohathites
In Solomon's temple
1Ki 6:19,20; 7:48; 1Ch 28:18
Seen in John's vision
Re 8:3; 9:13
Altar in Smiths Bible Dictionary
The first altar of which we have any account is that built by Noah when he left the ark. Ge 8:20 In the early times altars were usually built in certain spots hallowed by religious associations, e.g., where God appeared. Ge 12:7; 13:18, 26:25; 35:1 Though generally erected for the offering of sacrifice, in some instances they appear to have been only memorials. Ge 12:7; Ex 17:15,16 Altars were most probably originally made of earth. The law of Moses allowed them to be made of either earth or unhewn stones. Ex 20:24,25 I. The Altar of Burnt Offering. It differed in construction at different times. (1) In the tabernacle, Ex 27:1 ff.; Exod 38:1 ff., it was comparatively small and portable. In shape it was square. It as five cubits in length, the same in breadth, and three cubits high. It was made of planks of shittim (or acacia) wood overlaid with brass. The interior was hollow. Ex 27:8 At the four corners were four projections called horns made, like the altar itself, of shittim wood overlaid with brass, Ex 27:2 and to them the victim was bound when about to be sacrificed. Ps 118:27 Round the altar, midway between the top and bottom, ran a projecting ledge, on which perhaps the priest stood when officiating. To the outer edge of this, again, a grating or network of brass was affixed, and reached to the bottom of the altar. At the four corners of the network were four brazen rings, into which were inserted the staves by which the altar was carried. These staves were of the same material as the altar itself. As the priests were forbidden to ascend the altar by steps, Ex 20:26 it has been conjectured that a slope of earth led gradually up to the ledge from which they officiated. The place of the altar was at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.)" Ex 40:29 (2) In Solomon's temple the altar was considerably larger in its dimensions. It differed too in the material of which it was made, being entirely of brass. 1Ki 8:64; 2Ch 7:7 It had no grating, and instead of a single gradual slope, the ascent to it was probably made by three successive platforms, to each of which it has been supposed that steps led. The altar erected by Herod in front of the temple was 15 cubits in height and 50 cubits in length and breadth. According to Le 6:12,13 a perpetual fire was to be kept burning on the altar. II. The Altar of Incense, called also the golden altar to distinguish it from the altar of burnt offering which was called the brazen altar. Ex 38:30 (a) That in the tabernacle was made of acacia wood, overlaid with pure gold. In shape it was square, being a cubit in length and breadth and two cubits in height. Like the altar of burnt offering it had horns at the four corners, which were of one piece with the rest of the altar. This altar stood in the holy place, "before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony." Ex 30:6; 40:5 (b) The altar of Solomon's temple was similar, 1Ki 7:48; 1Ch 28:18 but was made of cedar overlaid with gold. III. Other Altars. In Ac 17:23 reference is made to an alter to an unknown God. There were several altars in Athens with this inscription, erected during the time of a plague. Since they knew not what god was offended and required to be propitiated.
ALTAR in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
I. Classification of Hebrew Altars.
Before considering the Biblical texts attention must be drawn to the fact that these texts know of at least two kinds of altars which were so different in appearance that no contemporary could possibly confuse them. The first was an altar consisting of earth or unhewn stones. It had no fixed shape, but varied with the materials. It might consist of a rock (Jdg 13:19) or a single large stone (1 Sam 14:33-35) or again a number of stones (1 Ki 18:31 f). It could have no horns, nor it would be impossible to give the stone horns without hewing it, nor would a heap of earth lend itself to the formation of horns. It could have no regular pattern for the same reason. On the other hand we meet with a group of passages that refer to altars of quite a different type. We read of horns, of fixed measurements, of a particular pattern, of bronze as the material. To bring home the difference more rapidly illustrations of the two types are given side by side. The first figure represents a cairn altar such as was in use in some other ancient religions. The second is a conjectural restoration of Hebrew altars of burnt offering and incense of the second kind.
Importance of the Distinction:
Both these might be and were called altars, but it is so evident that this common designation could not have caused any eye-witness to confuse the two that in reading the Bible we must carefully examine each text in turn and see to which kind the author is referring. Endless confusion has been caused, even in our own time, by the failure to note this distinction, and the reader can hope to make sense of the Biblical laws and narratives only if he be very careful to picture to himself in every case the exact object to which his text refers. For the sake of clearness different terms will be adopted in this article to denote the two kinds of altars. The first will be termed "lay altars" since, as will be seen, the Law permitted any layman to offer certain sacrifices at an altar of earth or unhewn stone without the assistance of a priest, while the second while be styled "horned altars," owing to their possession of horns which, as already pointed out, could not exist in a lay altar that conformed with the provisions of the law...
Altar Scripture - 2 Kings 16:11
And Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus: so Urijah the priest made [it] against king Ahaz came from Damascus.
Altar Scripture - Deuteronomy 16:21
Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.
Altar Scripture - Exodus 20:25
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
Altar Scripture - Genesis 12:8
And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, [having] Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
Altar Scripture - Joshua 8:31
As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up [any] iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.
Altars in Homes
The altar. The religion in the homes of those early days largely centered about an altar upon which animal sacrifices were offered up to GOD. Thus when Abraham came into the land and had pitched his tent in the vicinity of Bethel, the Scriptural record says of him, "And there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord" (Genesis 12:8). Later on it is recorded that he built an altar at Hebron (Genesis 13:18). It is said that Jacob built one at Shechem (Genesis 33:1-20). And then in obedience to the command of the LORD, he went to Bethel, and like his grandfather, built an altar to the LORD there. Anticipating doing this, he said to his family, "Let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went" (Genesis 35:3).
The altar in the home life of those early days helped to produce a sense of sin, a realization of GOD's holiness, and a knowledge that the way of approach to GOD was through a sacrifice. The altar was the forerunner of the family prayer life in a Christian home today, which is based upon forgiveness of sin through the blood of CHRIST of which the animal sacrifice was a symbol.
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