In the ancient world altars
were raised platforms usually made of dirt, stones, carved rocks, or
elaborate articles of furniture. In the Bible the people of Israel
received forgiveness of sins by offering a sacrifice on the day of
Illustration of a Stone
The sacrifice was made
in the outer court on the bronze altar, and the blood was brought
into the holy place, and even the holy of holies, and sprinkled upon
the mercy seat.
The Bible reveals that
Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, Cain brought the best
of his good works, while Abel brought a sacrifice to receive
atonement for his sins. The
lesson is well learned that Cain's sacrifice was rejected while
Abel's sacrifice of blood was accepted. But the Bible never mentions
the use of an altar, in fact the first mention of an altar was with
Noah after the flood.
The word altar in the
Hebrew means "a place of slaughter", and was to be thought of as a
fearful place because the one offering the sacrifice is the one who
deserved to die, yet the substitute being offered would receive the
punishment. The killing of an animal was an object lesson that would
make one's skin crawl, because death is a horrible sight. This was
God's purpose, that the sinner would realize that he was the one who
deserve to die, and yet a merciful God provided a sacrifice, a
substitute, to stand in and receive the punishment of death on
behalf of the sinner. The wages of sin is death, and the sinner
would temporarily receive forgiveness, year after year until the
final debt was paid, when the son of God died on the altar of the
cross as a substitute for every sinner who called upon the name of
In ancient times animals
were not always sacrificed upon the altar, but in a nearby place.
The sacrifice was cut in pieces and the fire upon the altar would
consume each piece of the sacrifice.
history offerings were made in the tabernacle, and in the Temple. It
was always in the outer court, upon the bronze altar, the fire being
lit by the Lord himself, that the sacrifices were continually made.
Israelite families came with their offerings throughout the history
of Israel, day after day, until the destruction of the Temple in 70
In the Old Testament the
bronze altar stood outside of the tabernacle in the outer court. In
fact every article of furniture in the holy place was made of gold,
yet in the outer court the articles were made up of bronze,
symbolizing the world, and that the world is under the judgment of
God. The Bronze Altar was actually made of wood overlaid with
Bronze, it was 7 1/2 feet square and over 4 feet high. It contained
a bronze grating at the top of the altar, and next to the altar were
the utensils, bronze pots, shovels to remove the ashes.
Illustration of the 4 horned Bronze
Altar in the Tabernacle of Moses
The altar in the outer
courtyard of the Temple of Solomon was three times the size of the
tabernacle altar, being 15 feet high and 30 feet square.
When Jesus died as the
final sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, sacrifices and offerings
became obsolete, and even the altar was done away with once and for
all. The Bible says "we have an altar... let us then go to him"
(Hebrews 13:10, 13).
When the Jewish Temple
was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., 40 years after the
crucifixion, as predicted by Jesus, the altar became obsolete for
the Jews as well. How could any Jew make a sacrifice without an
altar, and without a Temple. In fact the Temple has not been rebuilt
to this day, and many Jews do not believe in the idea of receiving
forgiveness without the shedding of blood. Therefore it is necessary
to believe in the writings of the ancient prophets, who proclaimed
that God would ultimately bring forgiveness even to the Jews, by
believing in their God who sacrifice his son on the altar of the
cross, once and for all.
Illustration of a 4 Horned
As a place of sacrifice or memorial, the altar represents the sacred
encounter with the living God. When we're in a difficult
situation as Jacob was when fleeing from his brother Esau in Genesis 28, he
encountered God and received a promise of deliverance. He poured oil on a
stone and prayed for protection devoting himself to God. In Genesis 35,
upon the fulfillment of God's promise, God called Jacob to return to Bethel,
this time now with flocks and herds and his wives and children and all that God had
given him. Jacob was called back to that very place to remember and ponder
the deliverance of God. Jacob received another encounter where God gave
him a new name and a new set of promises to walk in.
The altar as a memorial -
When God split the Jordan river and Israel miraculously crossed into the
promised land to fight for their inheritance, the Lord had them bring twelve
stones from the middle of the river and pile them up on the other side.
This was a memorial to future generations as the Lord said,
"Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the
first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.
And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up
in Gilgal. Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your
children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these
stones?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed
over this Jordan on dry land’; for the LORD your God dried up the waters
of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your
God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed
over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD,
that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
We too can build memorials to God. In a tough time you can dedicate a
place to seek God and build an altar to mark that time that you rededicated
yourself, asked for mercy, sought out deliverance from an impossible situation. Or
it might simply be an entry in your journal where desperate cries were lifted to
God. In the years to come you can return to that place and thank God for
what He has done and be refreshed with new faith to move into the next season of
challenges with a new name and new promises.
The altar as a place of sacrifice -
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer
your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your
spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you
will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing
and perfect will. Romans 12:1,2
As born again believers we now have two natures, our reborn spirit and
our old sinful nature. Paul tells us that these two are at war within us.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires
of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to
the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They
are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
But if you are led by
the Spirit, you are not under law. Galatians 5:16-18
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is
good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living
in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful
nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it
out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not
want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do,
it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Now that Christ has sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross, he calls us
to deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily to follow Him. (Luke 9:23)
The problem of legalism arises when we are taught that a complete
transformation has taken place on the day we are born again. As that
sinful nature manifests we are tempted to hide it and join the costume party at
church where we all pretend, rather than all confess. Scripture
tells us that sanctification is a process. We are being transformed into His
image from glory to glory. (2 Cor. 3:18) In other words from season
to season, faith to faith and one grace after the other, we are being changed as
the flesh dies on the altar and we rise into newness of life. The altar
for us then, though an instrument of sacrifice, is actually an instrument of
freedom. It is where we offer the portion of our old nature that God is
calling to die, that we might be free to live in the new nature.
Perhaps it's an old offense that we place on the altar, where we ask for
God's grace and spirit to forgive. Perhaps it's a desire for a person we
are determined to marry or control, whom God has told us to let go.
Perhaps it could even be a covetous desire for grandiose ministry that people
might look upon us with awe for all we have accomplished! As we
become a living sacrifice on the altar of God in that area, we become free and
are able to serve with a childlike spirit, enjoying our daily life with Him,
rather than striving to satisfy an insatiable remnant of the fallen nature, that
will never say, "I'm satisfied, it is enough." The altar allows us to go
free from our sin and fallen desires to mark a place of intimacy with God where
he delivered us from the old to the next season of life. As those
memorials begin to pile up in various places of your history, you'll look back
at what seemed like a horrible sacrifice, realizing it was God willing and
working for His good pleasure.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to
the world. Galatians 6:14
The Bible mentions
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.
8:64 - The same day did the king hallow the middle of the
court that [was] before the house of the LORD: for there he offered
burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and the fat of the peace
offerings: because the brasen altar that [was] before
the LORD [was] too little to receive the burnt offerings, and meat
offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings.
8:30 - And Moses took of the anointing oil, and of the blood
which [was] upon the altar, and sprinkled [it] upon
Aaron, [and] upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon his
sons' garments with him; and sanctified Aaron, [and] his garments,
and his sons, and his sons' garments with him.
9:7 - And Moses said unto Aaron, Go unto the altar,
and offer thy sin offering, and thy burnt offering, and make an
atonement for thyself, and for the people: and offer the offering of
the people, and make an atonement for them; as the LORD commanded.
41:22 - The altar of wood [was] three cubits
high, and the length thereof two cubits; and the corners thereof,
and the length thereof, and the walls thereof, [were] of wood: and
he said unto me, This [is] the table that [is] before the LORD.
Leviticus 16:33 - And he shall make an atonement for the
holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of
the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make
an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the
Chronicles 4:1 - Moreover he made an altar of
brass, twenty cubits the length thereof, and twenty cubits the
breadth thereof, and ten cubits the height thereof.
6:22 - And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until he
had finished all the house: also the whole altar that
[was] by the oracle he overlaid with gold.
29:36 - And thou shalt offer every day a bullock [for] a sin
offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar,
when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it,
to sanctify it.
29:21 - And thou shalt take of the blood that [is] upon the
altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle [it]
upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon the
garments of his sons with him: and he shall be hallowed, and his
garments, and his sons, and his sons' garments with him.
30:18 - Thou shalt also make a laver [of] brass, and his
foot [also of] brass, to wash [withal]: and thou shalt put it
between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar,
and thou shalt put water therein.
22:23 - That we have built us an altar to turn
from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or
meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD
himself require [it];
18:17 - But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a
sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they [are]
holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar,
and shalt burn their fat [for] an offering made by fire, for a sweet
savour unto the LORD.
Chronicles 7:7 - Moreover Solomon hallowed the middle of the
court that [was] before the house of the LORD: for there he offered
burnt offerings, and the fat of the peace offerings, because the
brasen altar which Solomon had made was not able to
receive the burnt offerings, and the meat offerings, and the fat.
47:1 - Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the
house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of
the house eastward: for the forefront of the house [stood toward]
the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of
the house, at the south [side] of the altar.
12:32 - And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month,
on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that [is] in
Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in
Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made: and he placed
in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
- And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon:
[of] shittim wood shalt thou make it.
- Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful
in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
[shall be] accepted upon mine altar; for mine house
shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
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.
1:53 - So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from
the altar. And he came and bowed himself to king
Solomon: and Solomon said unto him, Go to thine house.
- 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
- And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the
tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the
instruments thereof, both the altar and all the
vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them;
Deuteronomy 27:6 - Thou shalt build the altar
of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt
offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:
- And he made the altar of burnt offering [of] shittim
wood: five cubits [was] the length thereof, and five cubits the
breadth thereof; [it was] foursquare; and three cubits the height
6:20 - And the oracle in the forepart [was] twenty cubits in
length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the
height thereof: and he overlaid it with pure gold; and [so] covered
the altar [which was of] cedar.
20:24 - An altar of earth thou shalt make unto
me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace
offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record
my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
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.
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.
8:21 - And he washed the inwards and the legs in water; and
Moses burnt the whole ram upon the altar: it [was] a
burnt sacrifice for a sweet savour, [and] an offering made by fire
unto the LORD; as the LORD commanded Moses.
22:11 - And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the
children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of
Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of
Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of