Summary: Often our lives are cluttered by the residue of past experiences, making it difficult for us to receive the full blessings of God.
Text: Numbers 4:13
"And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon..."
My brothers and sisters, biblically, the origin of the altar goes clear back to Genesis when Noah built an altar to offer sacrifices after the flood. Genesis 8 & 20 says: "And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar." Following that there are many references to the altar, beginning with Abraham and continuing through to the New Testament.
Now in Old Testament times, there were many restrictions concerning the altar. In Exodus 20:24-26, for instance, the altar was to be made "of earth or stone that had not been shaped or cut with human
hands" and "there were to be no steps up to the altar."
And then, in Deuteronomy 27:5-6 and Joshua 8:31 it says that "the stones were not to be hewn or cut stones because this would pollute the altar."
Now the altar was used to make animal sacrifices to the Lord. The purification of the altar was accomplished by sprinkling it with blood. Altars were often erected in places where the Lord had accomplished some great work or delivered some prophetic message.
Later, the Israelites had altars in the tabernacle in the desert and once Solomon’s temple was built there were altars in the temple. The Lord gave very detailed instructions about where the altar was to be placed and how it was to be built. But the main function of the altar was for sacrifice and worship — and special care had to be taken to keep it Holy. — And part of that special care was to "GET RID OF THE ASHES THAT ACCUMULATED ON A DAILY BASIS."
Now why was that important? I’m glad you asked me! I’ll answer your question by telling you what my dear, late Grandmother did back during the days when people used coal to heat the house. When I was a youngster most people back then had either a coal furnace or a pot belly stove. That old coal furnace or stove
provided plenty of heat in the winter and was the appliance that cooked our meals everyday. Most folk didn’t have gas or electric heaters and stoves like we have today that cost a fortune to run. They used coal. The coal man would come once a week, and dump a load
in the basement, and those old saints would go down in the basement and shovel it in, or go down there with a bucket and bring up a load to put in the stove.
Now the coal was alright, but coal is dirty and if you weren’t careful you’d have coal dirt everywhere! Not only that, but after the coal burned out, there was a big pile of black soot... and if you didn’t remove the soot from the stove or the furnace, every now and again, it would smother your fire and cause it to go out.
Now watch this here: One of the jobs of the priests in the Old Testament was to never let the flame on the altar go out, because the flame represented the presence of God. Now they didn’t have coal back then ... they used wood. And since the altar flame burned day in and day out, night in and night out, the priest [on a daily basis] would have to go to the altar and scrape the ashes off — because if they left them there, the ashes were subject to put-out the fire and bring down punishment or judgement from God on them and the entire camp... and then the priests would redress the altar with purple cloth.