The altar of burnt offering was like a hollow box five cubits square and three cubits high. It was made with boards of shittim wood which were covered with brass. On each corner of the altar were horns also made of wood and covered with brass. A network of brass called a grate was in the center, which held the fire and gave draft for it, and allowed the ashes to fall beneath. This network of brass where the atoning sacrifice was laid to be consumed is the same height as the Ark of the Covenant where His law is contained. God’s justice is as great as His mercy. In the four corners of the grate were four rings of brass which were for the staves to carry the altar. These staves were made of shittim wood and covered with brass. (See Exodus 27:1-8.)
All the vessels that were used with this altar – pans, shovels, bowls, fleshhooks, and firepans – were all made of brass (Exodus 27:3).
As we learned in the previous study on the court yard fence, brass represents the perfection of Christ combined with the sin of sinner. The shittim or acacia wood in the whole sanctuary represents the humanity of Christ. Here we have a beautiful illustration of Christ taking on humanity yet remaining perfect even though He took the sins of the world upon Him on the cross of Calvary.
The altar was "an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy," was the divine decree (Exodus 29:37). It was because of this, no doubt, that Adonijah and Joab fled and caught hold of the horns of the altar when they feared death at the hands of Solomon (1 Kings 1:50; 2:28).
The altar of burnt offering was placed near the gate of the sanctuary of the tent of the congregation (Exodus 40:6, 7). When entering the sanctuary the first thing a person would see would be this altar. It was to this altar with their offerings that they were directed to go. The position of this altar, near the door of the court indicates that the sinner’s first need is to have his sins washed away by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:13, 14; 1 John 1:7). And that until this is done he must not presume to worship God or even enter His presence.
Morning and evening continually, at the stated hour for worship, as the priest placed the lamb on the altar, all Israel bowed in prayer with their faces toward Jerusalem, accepting Christ as their sacrifice and dedicating anew their all to live for Him and serve Him. This was the "continual burnt offering." (Exodus 29:38-42). This continual sacrifice was to represent the death of the Saviour, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).
All burnt-offerings of the sanctuary were burned upon the brazen altar. The fire was kindled by the Lord Himself, and was kept burning continually (Leviticus 9:24). It was never to go out (Leviticus 6:13). The fire which destroys all sin from the earth, like the fire on the brazen a1tar, will come down from God out of heaven, and will not be quenched as long as there is any sin to be consumed (Revelation 20:9; Mark 9:43-48).
The entire body of the whole burnt-offering and portions of various offerings were burned upon this brazen altar. It consumed that which typified sin; and as the fires were continually burning, it has been called “the altar of continual atonement.” Sin separates man from God, and all sin must be put away before the sinner can be at-one-ment with God (Isaiah 59:2). Therefore the work done upon this altar was a symbol of the final destruction of sin, which will be necessary before the redeemed can enjoy their eternal inheritance.
In one of the greatest tests given to human beings Abraham was asked to offer Isaac, his only son, as a burnt offering to God (Genesis 22:2). Despite knowing that God abhorred human sacrifices Abraham did not question God's command.
The offering of Isaac was designed by God to prefigure the sacrifice of His Son. Isaac was a figure of the Son of God, who was offered a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God desired to impress upon Abraham the gospel of salvation to men; and in order to make the truth a reality, and to test his faith, He required Abraham to slay his darling Isaac. All the agony that Abraham endured during that dark and fearful trial was for the purpose of deeply impressing upon his understanding the plan of redemption for fallen man.
The ram offered in the place of Isaac represented the Son of God, who was to be sacrificed in our stead. When man was doomed to death by transgression of the law of God, the Father, looking upon His Son, said to the sinner, "Live: I have found a ransom."
The place where Abraham was to offer Isaac was called 'Moriah' which means see, for it was there that Abraham understood or could see that God was going to send His Son to die for the sins of all mankind.
Morris Lewis a Hebrew scholar, tells us that burnt and offering mean the same thing which is 'to lift up.' This is significant when we consider the words of Christ, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die." John 12:32, 33.
"Every morning and evening a lamb of a year old was burned upon the altar, with its appropriate meat offering, thus symbolizing the daily consecration of the nation to Jehovah, and their constant dependence upon the atoning blood of Christ. God expressly directed that every offering presented for the service of the sanctuary should be 'without blemish.' Exodus 12:5. The priests were to examine all animals brought as a sacrifice, and were to reject every one in which a defect was discovered. Only an offering 'without blemish' could be a symbol of His perfect purity who was to offer Himself as 'a lamb without blemish and without spot.' 1 Peter 1:19. The apostle Paul points to these sacrifices as an illustration of what the followers of Christ are to become. He says, 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.' Romans 12:1. We are to give ourselves to the service of God, and we should seek to make the offering as nearly perfect as possible. God will not be pleased with anything less than the best we can offer. Those who love Him with all the heart, will desire to give Him the best service of the life, and they will be constantly seeking to bring every power of their being into harmony with the laws that will promote their ability to do His will." Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G. White, page 352.
In his book 'The Cross and It's Shadow,' S. N. Haskells says on page 78:-
". . . all the sacrifices were slain in the court . . . No sacrifice was ever slain within the sanctuary; but the offerings were slain in the court, and the blood and flesh were carried within the sanctuary by the priest. Christ, the great antitypical Sacrifice, was slain in the antitypical court, this earth, and then entered the antitypical sanctuary in the heavens with His own blood and the same body in which He bore our sins on Calvary. Sins are forgiven, and are blotted out from the books in the heavenly sanctuary; but they are not destroyed there. Just as in the type the fires of the brazen altar in the court consumed that which in type represented sin; so in the antitype, the wicked will be 'on the breadth of the earth' when fire comes down from God out of heaven and devours them. (Revelation 20:9) This earth is the great antitypical court, where all the work typified in the court of the earthly sanctuary will meet its fulfilment.
"The constant burning upon the altar of that which typified sin, caused an accumulation of ashes. The priests in the earthly sanctuary served 'unto the example and shadow of heavenly things,' (Hebrews 8:5) and even the removal of the ashes was directed of the Lord to be done in a manner to typify a portion of the final work of Christ. The priest was to be clothed in the pure white linen garments, when he removed the ashes from the altar. The ashes were first taken up by the priest and placed 'beside the altar' on the east side. (Leviticus 6:10; 1:16) When the time came to remove them from beside the altar, the priest laid aside his priestly robes, and 'put on other garments;' then he carried the ashes forth without the camp, and poured them out in 'a clean place.' (Leviticus 6:11) Ashes are all that will remain of sin, the devil and sinners after the fires of the last day have finished their work. (Malachi 4:1-3; Ezek 28:18,19) When the purifying fires of the Lord have removed the last trace of sin, there will appear a new earth, a clean place, without one taint of sin upon it; and as the righteous walk over the face of the clean, pure earth, the ashes of sin and all that clung to sin in this earth will be under their feet. Truly the type will then have met its antitype, and the ashes of all sin will be in 'a clean place.'
"When the priest placed the ashes beside the altar, he was clothed in his priestly robes. The ashes represented the confessed sins of the righteous. When Christ bears the confessed sins of His people, He wears His priestly robes; but the time comes when He will place the sins of the righteous on the head of Satan, lay aside His priestly garments, and come to this earth clad in kingly robes, to gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and do iniquity. (Matthew 13:41) Then all sin and sinners will be burned in the fire. Not in priestly robes will Christ come out into the antitypical court, the earth, to complete the final destruction of sin; but as King of kings and Lord of lords."
© S. D. Goeldner
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© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated October, 2017.
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