READ EXODUS 27
With God’s design for the Tabernacle proper in mind, we now learn about what was to lie outside the Holy Place. In an ideal world, we would study the bronze altar and the court of the Tabernacle together in the same week because of their proximity to one another and theological interplay. But, because of the brevity of this study, we’ll study the bronze altar today and tomorrow, and look into the courtyard of the Tabernacle next week.
Read Exodus 27:1-8. How is the altar described?
What is it for?
Where was it located? (look at surrounding context for clues)
What do you think is the significance of the altar?
The bronze altar was located outside the Holy Place, in the outer courts (which we will study next week). The location of the altar is incredibly significant, particularly when we consider other religions in the Ancient Near Eastern culture. Many other gods were understood to dwell at the place of their altars. Each god had particular sacrifices they preferred, and worshipers would go to their altars to meet with them and gain their approval. But, we notice that God’s altar is not in the place of His dwelling – God dwells in the Holiest Place, but the altar is in the outer courts.
Consider for a moment the character of God. What does this reveal about Him?
God does not delight in death, as many other gods were believed to. Our God is a holy God. He is the author of life, the creator of all living things. God, in His holy and pure and good nature, does not delight in the death of His creation, which is why sacrifices were not done in His presence. Instead, sacrifices were made in the outer courts, the access point to the Holy Place and the Holiest Place. At the Fall, God promised Adam and Eve that their sin would result in death. To regain access to God’s presence, death was required because of their sin. And, in the Tabernacle design, we see this reality come into full picture: every Israelite who entered the courtyard would clearly see the altar in front of the curtain that led to the Holy Place – a constant reminder that access to God comes through sacrifice.
But, the Old Testament teaches us that sacrifice was not the only use for the altar. It was also a place of salvation.
Read 1 Kings 1:50-51 and 2:28. Who would cling to the horns on the altar? Why?
The horns of the altar were likely the place where the cattle was tied to be sacrificed. They were the place to secure the sacrifice, ensuring that the sacrifice brought to the altar was effectively sacrificed. When Israelites were accused of a crime and were pursued by the accusers to be put to death, they could run to the altar and cling to the horns of the altar. There, they would be assured justice and the opportunity to make things right in their community.
How does David describe God in Psalm 18:2?
The altar in the courtyard gives us a picture of who God is. He is a holy God who cannot be in the presence of sin, but He made a way for His people to enter His presence. The way is through sacrifice. The way to God is through the shed blood of an innocent animal. When the Israelites would wonder if they would receive justice, they could cling to the altar, knowing that God would look upon the sacrifices He commanded and forgive their sins – just as He promised. The altar was not just a place of death, but a place of salvation as the people followed God’s commands, entering His presence by means of sacrifice.
How do you see the Gospel in this?
How does this draw you to worship?
PRAY & REFLECT
Praise God that He has made a way for you to enter His presence through Christ. Praise Him for being a Holy God who has granted you access to Himself through the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus.