Summary: Beautiful, compelling symbolism burns brightly from this God-designed furnishing of the Tabernacle, as well as the utensils and other articles with it. Link inc. to formatted text, audio, and PowerPoint.
The Brazen Altar
433 times the Bible uses the word ‘altar.’ The first mention is in Gen. 8:20 when Noah built an altar after the flood. There may have been an earlier altar when Adam and Eve fell into sin and God made them coats of animal skins. Later we see their son Abel bringing a blood offering, so it makes sense.
Of course, there are many more altars of offering throughout the rest of the Bible. Abraham built one everywhere he went, for instance. But what is the purpose of the altar, and why does God instruct Israel to build one in conjunction with the Tabernacle if they are going to meet with Him and worship Him properly?
When you enter the Tabernacle thru the gate, which is on the east, you come to this altar first, made of acacia wood, known for its hardness and durability. It is harder than oak. The boards are overlaid with brass. 7.5’ square and 4.5’ tall, with a horn on each corner to tie the animals to. A mesh or grate of brass is inside midway down where the offerings are burnt.
V. 3 tells us of these utensils, some to get rid of ashes, others to carry blood into the Holy of Holies. The fleshhooks allow the priest to move the sacrifice. The firepans were used to move the coals of fire from place to place when the Tabernacle was transported...it was a perpetual fire. The first ever sacrifice there was consumed by fire from God in heaven which was never to go out. They also used these firepans to move fire inside to the altar of incense.
The word ‘altar’ literally means, “A place of slaughter.” In the OT man had to do this to meet with God. But why not today? Our altar at the front is a different kind of altar.
10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. 11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
Jesus is our sacrifice, once and for all!
In the brazen altar we see the person and work of Christ:
• The acacia wood is incorruptible.
• The tree it comes from bears hard thorns, like the ones beaten into our Savior’s brow.
• If you pierce that tree at night by morning it will put off a resin that is used for medicinal purposes...reminding us of the spear put into His side and out flowed blood and water, healing our souls!
• The brass overlay shows it is a place where sin is judged.
God had a dilemma of sorts. He is a Holy God who can have nothing to do with sin. But He wants to fellowship with us. But man has chosen sin. There must be a sacrifice for sin, including death and blood. That way holy God is satisfied and sinful man is justified!
The drama of salvation unfolds in the altar. A living, vivid picture is inside.
a. A convicted sinner.
Imagine a man standing outside the white linen fence of the Tabernacle. He wants to come inside and be with God, but he realizes he cannot because that white linen stands for God’s purity. He knows he’s not worthy, for he had stood at the base of Mt. Sinai and heard the thunder of God’s law, and he had severely broken it time and again. He stands there as a convicted sinner, guilty. To try to climb the fence or jump over would mean instant death...there’s only one way in. It’s the gate that is Jesus...the gate to the sheepfold. “I am the way...” The thief tries to get in another way but even if they get in it’s only to be told to get out, and shot in the back as they depart, symbolically speaking.