Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why the altar to God cannot be made of cut stones

In the old testament, people built makeshift altars or pillars to the Lord at places that God has shown kindness to them. Sacrifices are made at the altar to God as a worship to Him. The altar also serves to mark the place where God has shown kindness to them. Because God is faithful, altars mark a permanent place where God will always remember His kindness to men, and respond to them there. In Genesis 28 and 35, you can read about the pillar Jacob built for the Lord in Bethel, and how the Lord remember the place where He has shown kindness to Jacob, and continue to show him kindness there. Noah, Abraham, Isaac all made altars to the Lord in this manner.

Actually the Lord gave instructions in the bible on how the altar to Him is to be built. It is found in Exodus 20. This shall be our anchor chapter in this writing:
24You shall make an altar of earth for me, and shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your cattle. In every place where I record my name I will come to you and I will bless you. 25If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of cut stones; for if you lift up your tool on it, you have polluted it. 26Neither shall you go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed to it.' (Exodus, 20:24-26, WEB)
Before verse 24 in Exodus 20, God gave the 10 commandments and the people were very afraid. And God immediately taught the people through Moses in verse 24 about building the altar and how sacrifices to Him can be made on it. The animal sacrifices speak of Jesus' work at the cross. I believe God know men will fail and the only way out is Jesus' coming to die for men's sins at the cross. This is how Exodus 20 ends. In Exodus 21, God immediately speaks about the slave in the master's house, which is a picture of Jesus being sent to be nailed at the cross because our Lord loves His Master (God) and His wife (the church, who is the bride of Christ) and chose to be pierced and remain as our High Priest in human form forever. 

So we see that God's heart is in redemption through His Son. But do you know that Jesus is hidden in verse 25 as well? In verse 25, God says that if an altar of stone is to be made (this is different from the altar of earth mentioned in verse 24), it shall not be made from stones cut by hand, because once we cut the stone, we would have polluted or defiled it. The word "polluted" means "pierced" in Hebrew. It is the same word used in the messianic verse of Isaiah 53:5:
5But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53, WEB)
The stones in Exodus 20:25 that are used to make the altar to God represents Jesus our Rock. He can only be pierced by God, and certainly not by us. That's why for the altar we use stones that are naturally cut (by God). When Elijah built the altar to God at Mount Carmel (1Kings 18) against the prophets of Baal, he built a stone altar to the Lord using twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel. When God answered his prayer with fire from the heavens, all the stones were consumed. Both the stones and the animal sacrifices speak about Jesus' work at the cross.  

Wow. When I learnt this about the stone altar for God, it educated me about the way we should come to God. My standing before God is in Christ. And God wanted me to bring Jesus to Him when I worship Him. I do not stand before God on my own. In verse 26 it says we should not go up to the altar by steps. This means there is no level of attainment when it comes to getting closer to God. We are all the same. No one can say that he is on a high level with God using steps that he has cut (achieved) for himself. As believers we come to God on level ground and we all get to bring Jesus to God to remind Him of the perfection of His Son's work. And thus be blessed and accepted by Almighty God our Father. Only His Son's work can satisfy His heart and His righteous requirements. 

Beloved, knowing this, 
16Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need.

Praise the Lord! Shalom. 

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