The Brazen Altar, God Receives His People’s Sacrifices

The word atonement carries with it the idea of the just, holy, righteous side of God’s nature being satisfied. God’s law required death as the penalty for sin. When God saw the death of the innocent sacrifice, he was satisfied that the demands of his law had been carried out. Sacrificing an animal on an altar did not take away the sin. Man was still sinful. The sacrifice only pictured what was necessary for sin to be forgiven—death and shedding of blood. The blood provided an atonement or covering for sin.” –The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus by John R. Cross

Out of the tabernacle’s six pieces of furniture, so far we’ve looked at the ark of the covenant, the table of “presence bread”, the golden lampstand, and the incense altar. We now come to the fifth piece of furniture where animal sacrifices were burned: the brazen altar.

(bible-history.com)
When the common Israelite approached the tabernacle with his sacrifice and passed through that entrance gate he found that between him and the tabernacle structure stood an altar with a priest waiting beside it. The altar was square in shape (foursquare). Its length and breadth were exactly the same as the height of the white linen fence around the court 5 cubits (7 1/2 feet). Its height was 3 cubits (4 1/2 feet) and it was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze with horns at each corner.

(bible-history.com)
The first thing a worshipper met when coming to the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice was a white linen fence that surrounded the tabernacle. This created a courtyard where the priests ministered. At the west end stood the tabernacle proper. The east end held a thirty-foot entrance to the enclosure where the priests met the people coming to offer sacrifices. The priest would inspect every animal carefully to make sure it was acceptable. To identify with the offering, the worshipper would lay his hand on the animal’s head (Lev. 1:1-9). Then the priest would slay the animal and offer it on the brazen altar (Lev. 1-7).

One Way to God

There was only one way to get to the altar of God because there was only one entrance gate to this enclosure. Likewise, there is only one entrance to God. The “gate” is Jesus Christ (John 14:6; 10:9).  Many think that every way is acceptable to God in our pluralistic society, but Scripture teaches otherwise (Prov. 14:12; Matt. 7:13-27). Forgiveness from sin and fellowship with God can only be attained through His Son.

Below is a summary of the significance and symbolism of the brazen altar.

(Source: SlideShare from The presence of_the_lord_v2)

For more on the significance of the tabernacle sacrifices and how they point to Jesus Christ, I found the following post from the Tabernacle Place helpful: The Brazen Altar. Also, The Bronze Altar from Bible History Online offers a more detailed post. Blessings!

God Hears the Prayers of His People

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.” – John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

I am enjoying this study in Exodus and hope you are as well. So far in studying the tabernacle, we’ve covered the ark of the covenant, the table of “presence bread”, and the golden lampstand. The remainder of the tabernacle furniture includes: the incense altar (covered in this post), the lavar, and the brazen altar. We’ll explore the tabernacle framework, coverings, and the veils last.

The Altar of Incense

The priests were warned not to use the golden altar for anything except for burning incense (Ex. 30:9). God’s people were also called to pray whenever the priest burned incense (Luke 1:8-10). Today we are called to “pray continually” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Made out of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, the altar of incense stood the tallest of all the furniture in the Holy Place (a foot and a half square and three feet high). An ornamental gold rim like a crown circled the top with golden “horns” on each corner. The altar stood before the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The priest burned incense here, morning and evening, as he trimmed the lamps.

Prayer 

The Bible often paints a picture of prayer whenever incense is mentioned. John wrote about his experience in seeing the elders in heaven with “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8; also see 8:3-4).

God not only gave specific instructions to the priest for a prescribed mix of spices in the incense, but also the correct fire on the altar (Ex. 30:34-38). The brazen altar, where sacrifices were offered to God, supplied the fire for burning the incense (Lev. 16:12-13; Num. 16:46). The priest that risked disobedience also risked his life, as was the case with Nadab and Abihu. Both were killed when they tried to worship God with “false fire” (Lev. 10). Likewise, any Israelite trying to copy this special incense for personal use would be cut off, possibly leading to his death.

Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “This suggests that true prayer must be based on the work of Christ on the cross and on our complete dedication to God. A true fervency in prayer isn’t a religious emotion we work up ourselves; rather, it’s a blessing that God sends down as we yield ourselves to Him.”

There are no substitutes for prayer. Contrary to some views, prayer isn’t just mumbling words with the hope that the “Big Guy in the sky” hears and answers. The golden altar also wasn’t intended as a bargaining table with God, but rather a place to adore Him and pray that His will be done. Some of the ingredients the Bible lists for prayer include: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, petition, submission (1 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 4:6). Jesus even  gives us a pattern for our prayers (Matt. 6:5-15).

Believers today don’t have the veil that separates ourselves from God, but rather have direct access to His throne because of Jesus’ work on the cross. What an awesome privilege! God extends His grace to us under the new covenant and welcomes our worship and petitions in Jesus’ name (Heb. 10:19-25). And, not only does the Holy Spirit intercede in our hearts (Rom. 8:26-27), but Jesus—our living, reigning Priest-King—continually intercedes for us in heaven as well (Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 4:14-16; 7:19-28). What an amazing blessing!

Now for the convicting part, at least for me. The priest didn’t rush into the tabernacle, burn the incense and then rush out so he could check off one more item on his “to do” list. Rather, he reverently drew near the altar after preparing himself to be in the presence of the holy God.

Reflect

Although we are privileged to draw near to God because of Christ, He deserves our utmost respect.

Interestingly, the priest had to apply blood to the incense altar once a year—on the Day of Atonement— to make it ceremonially clean before God (Ex. 30:10). Why? Wiersbe writes: “Even in our praying we can sin!” How? He continues: “. . . . special incense had to be ‘salted’ (Ex. 30:35), for salt is a symbol of purity and of a covenant relationship (Lev. 2:13). ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear’ (Ps. 66:18 NKJV). . . . We’re commanded to remove ‘anger or disputing’ from our hearts (1 Tim. 2:8). If God killed every believer today who didn’t pray as He has ordered, how many of us would survive a prayer meeting?”

Ouch. I’ll stop here. If I come across “preachy”, please know that any finger pointing is aimed at myself. . . . Alrighty then, wishing you a wonderful week!

Significance of the Lampstand in the Bible

“A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories.” -Exodus 25:39

I hope you are enjoying summer. The months seem to fly by faster and faster. . . . Continuing our study in Exodus, we come to another significant piece of tabernacle furniture: the lampstand.

The candlestick was hammered from about seventy-five pounds of gold. Although the lampstand is laced with symbolism, it primarily points to Jesus Christ.

“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.” -Exodus 27:20-21

Without the lampstand, the priests couldn’t carry out their ministries in the Holy Place for lack of light. Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) observes: “God wants us to offer Him intelligent worship, not ignorant worship (John 4:19-24; Acts 17:22-31; Rom. 1:18:25), and to do that, we need the light of the Word of God to guide us (Ps. 119:105, 130; Prov. 6:23). . . Prayer is enlightened by the Word (John 15:7), and the Word is opened up to us as we pray (Ps. 119:18; Eph. 1:15-23). Both the study of the Word and the exercise of prayer must be energized by the Holy Spirit, who is symbolized by oil (the lampstand, Zech. 4:1-7) and fire (the altar, Acts 2:3-4).

For more on the lampstand’s symbolism, I found the following post from gotquestions.org both interesting and informative. Writing of light, may you enjoy the rest of your summer as daylight lingers longer.

What is the Significance of the Lampstand?

 

The Place Where God Dwells, Part 2

When the Israelites traveled from place to place in their wilderness journey, the pillar of cloud and the ark of the Lord led the way. Out of the six special pieces of tabernacle furniture, the ark is mentioned first. Why? The ark represented God’s power and authority in Israel’s camp.

God Must Be First in Everything (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9)

The New Testament’s version of putting God first.

The ark consisted of a wooden chest measuring forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. God’s “shekinah” presence rested with the ark in the Holy of Holies. God’s throne—represented in the golden mercy seat—sat upon the ark with a cherub at each end; their wings overshadowing the ark.

The Ark Points to Jesus Christ

God designed the ark to symbolize His Son, Jesus, with the wood representing His humanity. The gold—which completely covered the wood—represents His deity.

The contents within the ark included: the tablets of the law (Ex. 25:16), a pot of manna (16:32-34), and Aaron’s rod that budded (Num. 16-17). Of these items, Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) writes: “These objects tell us that the law of God was in Christ’s heart and He perfectly obeyed and fulfilled it (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-9); He is the Bread of Life, who gives eternal life to all who receive Him (John 6:32); and He lives by the power of an endless life so we can be fruitful for God (Heb. 7:16).”

Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. Israel’s sins were covered for another year when he sprinkled blood from the sacrifices on the mercy seat (Lev. 16). Christ fulfilled this type when He died once for all the world’s sins. Jesus, the “Bread of Life”, clothed Himself in humanity that He might enter our world and sacrificially die in our place.

God’s Presence Nourishes His People (Exodus 25:23-29; 37:10-16)

When the priest walked from the outer court into the Holy Place, he would see the table of “presence bread,” on the right. The golden lampstand would be on his left, and the golden altar of incense ahead, which stood before the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.

Like the ark, the table—three feet long, a foot and a half wide, and twenty-seven inches high—reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and deity from the acacia wood overlaid with gold.

Each week, twelve loaves of bread were baked, (see recipe in Lev. 24:5-9). The old loaves were removed and eaten each Sabbath by the priests in the Holy Place while new loaves replaced the old. Wiersbe writes: “The loaves are called “showbread” (Ex. 25:30 NKJV) or “Presence bread (NIV), literally ‘bread of faces’. The presence of twelve loaves of bread in the Holy Place couldn’t help but remind the priests that they were serving the twelve tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people. Through these loaves, the twelve tribes were presented before God and God was present with them in their camp, beholding their worship and their daily walk. The tribes were also represented by the jewels on the breastplate and the shoulders of the high priest (28:6-21). When you combine the images of the jewels and the loaves, you learn that the Lord feeds His people, bears them on His shoulders, and carries them in His heart.”

The loaves of bread were considered a meal offering so no leaven would be in the dough (Lev. 2:1-11). The priests were to eat the bread in a thoughtful manner. The act of a defiled priest eating the bread or sacrificial meat belonging to the priests was punishable by death (Lev. 22:3-9).

Reflect

Ancient Israelites followed the ark of the Lord and pillar of cloud. God’s children today are also led by God from His throne: communicated through His Word, the Bible, and through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Although Moses was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies to receive God’s will for the Israelites when God spoke to him from the golden mercy seat  (Ex. 25:21-22; 29:42; 30:6, 36; Num. 7:89), God’s people today may enter into His presence through the “mercy seat” of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19-25).

God’s throne is no longer reserved for a high priest making atonement for sins once a year. Rather, God’s children may fellowship at the foot of God’s throne any where, any time, because Jesus’ sacrifice makes us right before God by cleansing us from our sin when we place our trust in Him and ask for His forgiveness (Heb. 9:11-10:14).

Paul used the comparison of the church to a loaf of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:1-8; 10:16-17) to emphasize that God’s people must keep themselves free from impurity. Jesus, the “Bread of Life”, not only offers eternal life, but also comforts and nourishes His children.

How are Christians called to act as priests today? What qualifies Jesus to be our mediator and Great High Priest under the new covenant? How is the church to “feed” the world?