The brazen altar
Scripture: Exodus 27:1-8, 38:1-7
The court that signified the separated place where God was to be met with by fallen men contained two pieces of furniture, the altar and the laver. The Tabernacle was given as a revelation of Christ’s person and ministry. As the approaching worshipper came to the Tabernacle he entered into a progressive revelation of Christ and His work. At first he saw that which was a representation of Christ as the door to God’s presence and favour. Then he was confronted with the altar which elaborated on how Christ was the door to fellowship with God. Here he learned lessons on how it could be that he had access within the pure white fence, how he could be justified before God and enjoy fellowship with the Holy One. The closer we get to God the more we will learn of Christ. In Revelation 5:5-10 those saints in Heaven are represented as learning of Christ in adoring wonder.
The brazen altar was the place where sin was judged and its guilt dealt with. It was a place of death, fire, blood shedding and substitute suffering to make atonement and produce peace with God. The brazen altar brings us to the work of Christ at Calvary as He suffered for the sins of His people.
I THE MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE OF THE BRAZEN ALTAR.
1. The altar was composed of two materials:
a) Shittim wood. Shittim wood is a picture of the incorruptible and sinless humanity of Christ.
(i) This was a tree that thrived in very dry ground. Cp Isaiah 53:2 — His incarnation.
(ii) This tree was one which had very long, sharp thorns. These are marks of the fall and the curse it brought on the earth, Genesis 3:18. The shittim wood used in the altar was that which was prepared by the Holy Ghost. There was none of the twisted, thorny nature to be seen. In this the sinless nature of Christ is seen — sharing our nature yet without the sin of our nature. Cp Luke 1:35. Being sinless He was like this incorruptible wood — not subject to death but willingly laying down His life, John 10:18.
(iii) This tree produced a healing gum/resin that was the basis of many medicines. It was obtained by piercing the tree. The Son of God became man so that He might be wounded for our transgressions and in His wounding secure our healing (Isaiah 53:5).
The shittim boards were overlaid with brass. It is this overlaying that prevented the shittim wood from being consumed in the flames of the altar. Brass speaks of the judgement of God and here at the altar speaks especially of the power of Christ to endure the flames of Divine wrath in judgement on sin. Christ was no feeble Saviour, Psalm 89:19. He was not consumed by the death He suffered for sin, but rose in triumph and victory.
It was not very long until the appearance of the brazen altar changed — another reminder of Divine judgement added to it. Cp Numbers 16:36-40. The emphasis is on the one acceptable way to approach God.
These horns were at each of the 4 corners of the altar, Exodus 27:2. They were an important part of the structure of the altar, being part of both the shittim wood and brazen structure. Their purpose was to tie the sacrifice in place, to make sure that it remained on the altar, Psalm 118:27. Horns in Scripture are also a symbol of power. In reference to Christ they will indicate the strength of determination He had to go to Calvary and pay the price. Cp Luke 9:51, Matthew 27:39-44. Further, there is reference to the power of His atonement to the ends of the earth to redeem sinners.
3. The brazen grate
In the heart of the altar a grate was made. It was here that the fires of judgement burned hottest. The sufferings of Christ were no superficial matter. The fire of Divine wrath burned in His heart and burned to the midst of His being. The sufferings of Christ fall into two categories —
a) those inflicted by men which were bodily, superficial sufferings. Cp Isaiah 50:6, Mark 15:15, 19.
b) those inflicted by God which were spiritual and hidden by a veil of darkness. See Zechariah 13:7, Isaiah 53:10.
A variety of utensils were made and used in the work of the altar. They were all of brass and speak of all that was necessary for the proper ordering of the sacrifice in a manner that was acceptable to God. Basons for the blood, tools for the removal of the ashes, and arranging the parts of the offering as required. The emphasis is on things being done in an orderly, methodical agreement with the commands of God. When Christ suffered at the cross He did so in a Divinely ordered fashion so that His work was perfectly acceptable to God on the behalf of sinners. Cp Matthew 26:52-54, John 19:28.
5. Staves and coverings.
The staves made the altar portable. They were of the same construction as the altar — a mighty Saviour, strong to deliver! Everywhere the people of God went the altar was to be with them. Cp Numbers 4:13-14. Two coverings spoken of —
a) The purple covering spoke of His royalty. The sufferings of Christ are linked with His glory that followed (I Pet 1:11). The eye of faith sees royal beauty in the blood-stained sacrificial Lamb of God. See Matt 27:37.
b) A rough covering of badger skin hid this from view when the altar was outside the court. Christ’s sufferings and His glory are hidden from the unbeliever. Contrast the divergent views of Christ held by the unconverted dying thief and his saved companion — thy kingdom, Luke 23:42.
II THE PROMINENCE OF THE ALTAR.
The importance of the altar and its work is emphasized in several ways —
1. Its position.
The altar confronted the approaching guilty Israelite. It was the first article that he saw. Appears the altar was elevated slightly, Leviticus 9:22. The altar faced the door of the Tabernacle proper, Exodus 40:6 — a direct link made between this position and the presence of God, Exodus 29:11, Exodus 29:42. Access to the presence of God was by the altar alone. Its position was never altered in God’s plan. It is striking to note that it was inside the gate and not outside. The atonement of Christ which is represented here is not for all the world but for every individual who will come to God by Christ the gate.
2. Its size, Exodus 27:1, Exodus 38:1.
The brazen altar was by far the biggest item of Tabernacle furniture. It was almost large enough to hold all the other pieces. Its size indicated its importance.
3. Its constant use.
The Brazen altar was in constant use — it was constantly needed. There was no feast, no solemn assembly, not a single morning or evening went past without its use. It was the basis of all Levitical ceremonies. They all began here! It stood ever smoking, ever blood-stained, ever open to any guilty soul who approached it. The work of Christ is the constant basis of approach to God. His sacrifice is ever available to any sinner who desires peace with God. We ought to take care that every spiritual exercise begins at the cross!