THE OLD TESTAMENT HOUSE OF THE LORD: THREE (EXCERPT OF THE TABERNACLE OF THE CONGREGATION)
Copyright © 2013 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
“The Old Testament House of the Lord: Three” is taken from The Tabernacle of the Congregation, copyright © 2011 Trumpet Ministries
Altar of Burnt Offering
Table of Contents
Altar of Incense
Altar of Burnt Offering
Now we have come to the largest of the seven pieces of furniture of the Tabernacle—the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering. All animal sacrifices were made here, at the door of the Tabernacle. It was here that God met Israel, just as God always meets people today at Calvary.
One cannot go around Calvary and find some other way to God. The cross of Christ stands squarely before the entrance to the holy things of the Lord God, and there is no other way.
And thou shalt make an altar of shittim [acacia] wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits. And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass [possibly, bronze]. And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brasen rings in the four corners thereof. And thou shalt put it under the compass of the altar beneath, that the net may be even to the midst of the altar. And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with brass. And the staves shall be put into the rings, and the staves shall be upon the two sides of the altar, to bear it. Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it was shewed thee in the mount, so shall they make it. (Exodus 27:1-8)
The Altar of Burnt Offering was made of the same acacia wood found throughout the construction of the Tabernacle. In this case, the acacia wood was covered with bronze, the alloy of copper and tin, or perhaps with copper. The scholars are not certain. It seems likely from the account that it was one or the other.
The four horns sticking up from the four corners of the Altar symbolize the fact that the good news of Christ’s atoning death is to be preached to the ends of the earth; and that His death and the resulting atonement, working through the power of His resurrection, will push with irresistible power and authority until the Kingdom of God fills the earth and Christ is Lord of all.
During the days of the Tabernacle of the Congregation the four horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering were used for tying the animals to be sacrificed.
God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. (Psalms 118:27)
The Altar of Burnt Offering was quite large, about four and one-half feet high and seven and one-half feet square. The Altar dominated the Courtyard area as well as the countryside adjacent to the Tabernacle, because of the ceaseless activity of the priests, Levites, worshipers, animals; the sounds coming from it; and the smell of fat and meat cooking.
In the same manner, Christ on the cross dominates (or should dominate) the activities of the Christian Church. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” The word altar has the root meaning of “slaying for sacrifice”; and the term burnt offering has the root meaning of “ascending toward God what is acceptable and pleasing to Him.”
It appears there was a ledge constructed on the top edge of the Altar. Such a ledge would be in keeping with the design of the ledges on the Table of Showbread, Altar of Incense, and the Ark of the Covenant. It would be of wood covered with bronze.
The ledge would serve as a table, holding the five kinds of bronze utensils—shovels, pails for the ashes, basins for the blood, firepans, and the long forks for working with the meat. Also, the pieces of meat could be laid on it, and the priests could lean on it as they reached over and arranged the parts of the sacrifices. Perhaps animal skins were laid on it to keep the priest from getting burned.
Have you ever tried leaning over and placing an object weighing fifty or one hundred pounds in a certain position? Can you imagine doing this all day, day after day, in the heat of the Sinai desert, without leaning on something?
Why didn’t God tell Moses specifically how to arrange the ledge, and how to construct whatever kind of platform the priests stood on so they could reach the top of the Altar of Burnt Offering?
Perhaps the omission of these practical aspects suggests to us that there is no one right way to approach Christ on the cross. Some come with weeping, some come with great joy. Some come in faith, others in skepticism. Men are brought to Christ by ministers of every type of ability and temperament one can imagine. There are well-educated ministers, unlearned ministers, young ministers, old ministers, fluent orators, and the slow and awkward of speech.
The facts that are unchanging, that are of the essence of God’s intention and have prophetic significance, such as the number five (five cubits square, the five utensils, the five types of sacrifices); the wood covered with bronze; are included in the directions. But other facts of the Altar, the amount of dirt with which it must have been filled, and so forth are not stated.
The omission of some aspects may imply, as we have suggested, that the Holy Spirit prefers to work with people in a variety of ways in bringing them to Christ, and therefore does not want the service of sacrifice to be set forth too rigidly as to its details. Or perhaps the Lord is showing us here that He reserves some information so we remain dependent on Him as we labor in the Kingdom of God.
Then again, the omission of certain facts of construction may indicate that these had to do only with the operation of the Altar of Burnt Offering when it was being used with the children of Israel long ago and there is no prophetic significance attached to them.
The “grate” may have been a fairly heavy network of bronze that covered the upper half of the Altar on the outside, like a massive screen all around the four sides of the upper half of the Altar, commencing just below the ledge and extending halfway down the sides of the Altar. Such a bronze grating would provide the strength needed to keep the hollow wood Altar from being pushed apart, broken at the top, or warped out of shape while it was being carried on the march. Also, a bronze network would tend to radiate away the heat of the Altar.
We are aware there are several versions of the position of the grate, and that we may be the only one who pictures the grate as protecting the top half of the Altar. The Hebrew text is not clear as to the location.
Many view the grate as a cooking grate, located halfway down inside the Altar. Others believe the grate was on the outside and covered the bottom half of the Altar. Yet others conceive of the grate as a platform on which the priests stood as they worked with the sacrificial animals.
The four carrying receptacles were set in the four corners of the bronze grating in order to bear the weight of this—the largest and heaviest of the seven holy furnishings. No doubt the carrying poles were very long and thick (probably not round), perhaps allowing seven or eight Levites on each of the four ends.
There must have been some kind of platform, perhaps a mound of earth built up from the ground around the base of the Altar, two feet or higher, for the priests to stand on when ministering at the Altar. Such a platform would bring the top of the Altar down to their waists.
The height of the Altar was four and one-half feet from ground level, and it would have been impossible for men to work all day in that hot climate, placing heavy pieces of meat on the fire, if they were not standing on some kind of elevated platform. Also, there would have been no way in which the priests could have arranged sacrifices across the seven and one-half foot span, the top surface of the Altar, if they were standing on the ground. The top of the Altar would have been on a level with their faces.
We conclude that the Altar must have been filled with earth, and perhaps mounded in the center. Then, glowing coals were placed on top of the earth, wood was placed on the coals, and the sacrifices on the wood.
To have had the fire down inside the Altar would have necessitated digging a hole at the bottom of the Altar for a draft and for collecting the ashes. The ashes of the sacrifices were handled according to precise ceremonial regulations. It would have been very difficult for the priests to treat the ashes of the sacrifices according to the Mosaic regulations if the bronze grate had been inside the Altar, as some have suggested.
Also, if the fire were not burning up at the top of the Altar on a mound of earth but instead were burning down inside the Altar on a grate, the draft coming from a hole at the bottom, the entire bronze Altar would have constituted a huge bronze oven.
Can you imagine what it would have been like for the priests and Levites standing out in the blazing sun of the Sinai Desert, ministering all day around a red hot bronze oven, four and one-half feet high and seven and one-half feet square, raising and lowering large pieces of bulls, goats and sheep? No doubt the strongest priest would have been completely exhausted by noon.
It seems more likely that the Altar of Burnt Offering was a large box, hollow at both ends, filled with earth to the top. The earth was left behind at the start of each journey and the Altar was refilled at the next stop.
If the Altar were filled with earth to the top, the burning wood would have been higher than the sides of the Altar and the sacrifices laid up where everyone could see them. Christ hung on the cross where He could be seen by everyone, young and old. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness on a pole, so the Son of Man was lifted up on the cross that all the ends of the earth might see the redemption God has provided.
If the sacrifices were up at the top of the Altar, the draft of air necessary for a hot wood fire would have come up over the top of the Altar to the burning wood. Under these conditions the bronze sides of the Altar would be warmed only by the desert sun, because the fire was at the surface and earth does not conduct heat readily.
Also, an altar of earth and an earth platform to stand on would have been in keeping with the tenor of the Word of God to Israel. God does not intend that His way of redemption be embellished by the artfulness of the flesh of human beings.
Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon. (Exodus 20:26)
When the poles were inserted in the four bronze receptacles of the grate and the Altar was lifted, the grate of bronze (probably constructed by weaving a network of heavy bronze straps) would be just what was needed to keep this large hollow box square in shape.
The Altar was five cubits square. The number five, as used here, seems to refer to the beginning, or entrance, of spiritual life, just as animal life began on the fifth day of creation. There were five pillars at the entrance to the Tabernacle; and the fifth of the seven holy furnishings, the Altar of Incense, stood at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. The number five appears to be symbolic of the beginning, or entrance, of the Kingdom of God.
The four sides of the Altar portray the four ministries that present Christ crucified: the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, and the pastor-teacher. Therefore, the size and shape of the Altar were significant and not to be changed in any manner. The heavy bronze grating would ensure the maintaining of the exact shape of the Altar of Burnt Offering when it was picked up and carried for many miles over rough terrain by the Levites.
It is believed that bronze typifies God’s judgment on our conduct. Bronze can withstand the heat of the fire that consumes the sacrifice. Also bronze is a tough metal symbolic, in the Scriptures, of strength. Gold is a soft metal, unsuitable for war. Bronze is a metal of war, of resistance, of overcoming.
The bronze horns on the Altar of Burnt Offering indicate that the power of the crucified Christ will overcome all other powers of the universe, and will push against them until they are ground to powder under His bronze (or brass) feet (burnished brass, refined in the furnace of God’s judgment—Revelation 1:15).
If we are to offer our bodies a whole burnt offering, a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), then the altar of our soul must be strengthened with a “grate of bronze.” Otherwise, when the flesh begins to kick and squirm and many pressures come on us, our altar will fall apart or lose its shape.
God weaves great straps of bronze, a network of judgment, in our life and mightily strengthens our soul so we not only can stand up under the sacrifice and the grueling rigors of the march, as we “follow the cloud by day and the fire by night,” but also can push with bronze horns (to speak figuratively) through the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit and the blood of Jesus until we overcome the accuser of the brothers, the huge dragon, the ancient serpent who deceives all humanity.
There were five kinds of utensils associated with the Altar of Burnt Offering, all made of bronze: the pails for the ashes, shovels for handling hot coals and for removing ashes, basins to receive the blood, forks to arrange the sacrifice on the altar and to remove portions to be eaten, and firepans (censers) to hold burning coals from the Altar when necessary for the Divine service.
The Altar of Burnt Offering was located in line with the door of the Tabernacle, out in the Courtyard of the Tabernacle, separated from the door of the Tabernacle only by the Laver—the bronze basin at which the priests washed their hands and feet before entering the Holy Place.
The Altar of Burnt Offering and the Laver were located in front of the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, and it was here that God met the children of Israel.
And thou shalt set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation. And thou shalt set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and shalt put water therein. (Exodus 40:6,7)
At the time of the consecration of Aaron and his sons the Divine fire consumed the offering.
And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:24)
The fire on the Altar of Burnt Offering was to be kept burning at all times.
A study of Leviticus will reveal that there were five main types of sacrificial offerings serviced at the Altar of Burnt Offering:
- The burnt offering
- The meal, or cereal offering
- The peace offering
- The sin offering
- The trespass offering
The priests and Levites were busy all day, commencing with the morning sacrifice, which was a lamb offered each morning as a burnt offering. Many animals were sacrificed each day as the priests ministered to the needs of the tribes of Israel at the Altar of Burnt Offering.
The first five chapters of Leviticus describe the five main types of sacrificial offerings. The first offering, the burnt offering, was not a sin offering. It was an offering of consecration, just as we Christians offer our body to God as an offering of consecration.
Chapter One of Leviticus—the burnt offering, in which the whole animal, except for its skin, was consumed by fire. The burnt offering is especially important because it was mentioned first and because it is from this offering that the Altar derives its name. The idea of the burnt offering is that of a sweet, satisfying fragrance ascending to the Lord.
If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. (Leviticus 1:3-9)
The burnt offering brought to God’s remembrance the perfect consecration of His Son, the Lord Jesus; also, the dedication and offering of the lives of His saints (Romans 12:1,2). The burnt offering teaches us that every person who is called to be a servant of the Lord, as were the children of Israel, must keep on presenting his life to God as a burnt offering, always ready for the fire of God to come down and consume the offering.
Let us not draw back when God makes extraordinary demands on us. We have presented ourselves before God as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ so we may be perfectly obedient, not so we may be able to maintain our own stubborn will and desires against what God intends for us. The Lord Jesus Christ was the perfect burnt offering before God, completely obedient, completely consumed by the fire of God.
Chapter Two of Leviticus—the meal (cereal) offering of fine flour, oil and frankincense.
And when any will offer a meat offering unto the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon: And he shall bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests: and he shall take thereout his handful of the flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof; and the priest shall burn the memorial of it upon the altar, to be an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord: And the remnant of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’: it is a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire. (Leviticus 2:1-3)
The meal offering differed from the other four sacrifices in that the life of an animal, and blood, were not involved. The worshiper could not identify himself with his offering in the same manner that was true of the burnt offering, by laying both his hands on the head of the animal and then killing it.
Rather, the meal offering of fine flour, oil and frankincense represented the work of the man’s hands. In the burnt offering the Israelite was offering himself as a burnt offering to the Lord. But in the meal offering he was offering the works of his hands, his possessions and accomplishments, to the Lord. A handful of his meal offering was burned on the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the remainder belonged to the priests for their food.
All of the frankincense was burned on the Altar because the frankincense was a holy perfume unto the Lord and it was not to be given to the priests.
The meal (grain) offering was made without yeast or honey, for yeast and honey were never to be burned as an offering to the Lord. Also, every grain offering was to be seasoned with salt.
A meal offering could be offered together with another kind of offering that did involve a slain animal (Leviticus 23:18).
Chapter Three of Leviticus—the peace offering.
And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer it of the herd; whether it be a male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about. (Leviticus 3:1,2)
The peace offering was unique in that the worshiper was allowed to eat a portion of the meat that was offered. In the other four types of offerings, the priests would receive something—the skin of the animal of the sin offering and some of the meat of the other offerings. But in the case of the peace offering, the worshiper was directed to eat the flesh of his offering within a prescribed time (Leviticus 7:15).
As was true of the whole burnt offering, the worshiper laid both his hands on the head of his bull, or cow, or lamb, or goat, and then killed his animal at the door of the Tabernacle.
The peace offering was a sweet and satisfying odor to the Lord. It could be a thanksgiving for an answered prayer, or as part of a vow, or a freewill offering to the Lord. The Israelite had not sinned, nor trespassed, nor was he offering himself or his goods in consecration; rather, he was maintaining his peace with God much as we Christians do by giving thanks in everything each day. The worshiper who offered a peace offering was keeping himself in conscious fellowship with the Lord. We are able to keep in conscious fellowship with the Lord because the peace offering of the blood of the Lord Jesus always is being offered to God on our behalf.
Chapter Four of Leviticus—the sin offering.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them: If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering. And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty; When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty; And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty; Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned. (Leviticus 4:1-3,13,22,27,28)
As we study Chapter Four of Leviticus we observe two main aspects of the sin offering: (1) the sins of different classes of people were treated differently depending on their place of responsibility before God—it made a difference whether it was the anointed priest who sinned or one of the common people; and (2) all the sin offerings were for sin committed through error, or unwittingly.
There was no provision in the Lord’s offerings for willful sin. Any Israelite who knew God’s law and deliberately set out to break it was to be cut off from his people. God’s provision for atonement through animal sacrifice was for the person who sinned unintentionally.
Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. (Numbers 15:29-31)
What does that say to us Christians about behaving in a manner we know to be sinful in the sight of God?
We know that God is merciful and that His great love guides us to repentance when we commit sin. But what about the Christian who, although he understands he is doing wrong, keeps on sinning in spite of being reproved by his conscience, by the Holy Spirit, by the Word of God, and by his fellow Christians?
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10:26)
An important fact about the sin offering is that it especially represents Christ. Of the five offerings, the burnt, the meal or cereal (“meat” in King James), the peace, the sin, and the trespass, it seems the sin offering stands out as being central to the Gospel. Christ became sin for us. He takes away the sin of the world.
If the high priest sinned, he had to lay his hands on the head of a young bull and then slay it before the Lord. The priest had to sprinkle the blood before the Veil and put some on the horns of the golden Altar of Incense. Part of the bull was then burned on the Altar of Burnt Offering and part burned outside the camp.
If the entire congregation sinned, the elders of the congregation laid their hands on the head of a young bull and then the bull was killed. Again, the high priest sprinkled the blood before the Veil and put some on the horns of the Altar of Incense. Part of the bull was burned on the Altar of Burnt Offering and the rest burned outside the camp.
When a leader of Israel sinned unintentionally, he put his hands on the head of a male goat and then slew it. This time the blood was not sprinkled before the Veil but the blood was put on the horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering. The fat was burned on the Altar in the same manner as the fat of the peace offering.
When one of the common people sinned unintentionally, unwittingly, he had to lay his hands on the head of a male goat and then slay it. The priest put the blood on the horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering. The fat was burned on the Altar. Or, a common person could offer a female lamb. The result of the sin offerings was that the person breaking the law of God through ignorance or unintentionally was forgiven.
Again, let us stress the fact that there was no provision in the five sacrifices for the Israelite who, knowing God’s Law, set out to break it in defiance of God’s revelation through the Ten Commandments of His will concerning the governing of human conduct.
The Ten Commandments were God’s testimony concerning Himself and His will. The Ten Commandments were God’s covenant with Israel that they should do them and thus find favor with God. When they broke that law unintentionally there was provision for forgiveness.
Chapter Five through Chapter Six, verse seven, of Leviticus—the trespass offering.
And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty. Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty. Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. (Leviticus 5:1-6)
If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. (Leviticus 6:2-5)
There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the sin offering and the trespass offering. However, one distinction is that the sin offering involves sinning against the commandments of the Lord, against one of the Ten Commandments; whereas the trespass offering seems to involve specific misconducts, perhaps not quite as serious in God’s sight as adultery or making a graven image.
The trespass offering makes an atonement for such things as refusing to testify, touching something unclean, violating the ceremonial law, behaving deceitfully or violently against one’s neighbor, lying about something that was lost, and so forth.
Sometimes restitution was involved. A lamb, or goat, or bird had to be offered on the Altar to make an atonement, and then the offender was forgiven.
Again, let us emphasize the fact that these animal sacrifices were for unintentional sin. There was no provision for the Israelite who, knowing God’s law and will, deliberately set out to disobey it.
So it is in the Christian walk. The blood of Christ forgives and cleanses us as soon as we confess a sin that the Holy Spirit has pointed out to us, a sin in which we were deceived, perhaps without being fully aware that we were offending God or man.
But if we accept Christ and then make no attempt to live a holy life, obeying instead the desires of our flesh and mind while hardening our heart against the Word of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then we will die spiritually. We will not be able to participate in the first resurrection at the Lord’s return.
The blood of Christ does not cover willful sinning. God is merciful, and if we repent in time we can return to the Father’s House. But “he, who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
The sacrifices of the Lord performed on the Altar of Burnt Offering were for the purpose of accomplishing the several aspects of making of an atonement for sin. The term atonement is difficult to define because it includes so much. The principal meaning of making an atonement seems to be that of reconciling to God a person who has been cut off from God’s Presence and favor.
Included in the meaning of making an atonement are the following concepts: covering sin; forgiving sin; appeasing the wrath of God; peace with God; cleansing from the guilt of sin, from tendencies toward sin, and from the effects and consequences of sin; imputed (ascribed) righteousness, that is, the righteousness of Christ applied to our account while we still are in the bondage of sin; and also inwrought holiness and righteousness, that is, holiness and righteousness worked out in us so we think, speak and act in a holy and righteous manner.
Through the authority and power of the blood of Christ we are delivered from the authority and power of Satan. Through the authority and power of the blood of Christ we are able to maintain our fellowship with God.
Atonement includes the separating of the light of Christ that is in us from the darkness of sin that is in us. Atonement brings us from total chaos of spirit, soul and body all the way to conformity to the moral image of Christ; to perfect union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to the eternal indwelling of the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit in us; and to absolute dominion over all things through Christ.
Making the Divine atonement brings a human being from the deepest Hell and lifts him to the throne of Christ. Making an atonement through Christ begins when we are the enemy of God and draws us until we are reconciled perfectly to God; until we are abiding in God and He in us; until we become bone of the bone of Christ and flesh of the flesh of Christ.
The four horns on the upper four corners of the Altar of Burnt Offering, which were used on occasion to tether the sacrificial animals, point to the four corners of the earth, reminding Israel that God’s salvation will one day reach out to include all nations.
The great Altar was kept burning all day and all night servicing the needs of the multitude of Israelites. Aaron and his sons and thousands of Levites attended to the work of the Altar. The smell of burning fat and meat filled the entire camp at all hours.
The Altar of Burnt Offering was much larger than the other vessels of the Tabernacle. The Altar of Burnt Offering dominated the Tabernacle and its services. Remember, the people could not see inside the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies because those two areas were covered. Only the priests could enter there. It was out in the Courtyard at the Altar of Burnt Offering that the people could see what was taking place and have their needs met directly.
When the peoples of the earth look at the Church they should see the Altar of Burnt Offering, so to speak. This Altar represents the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
People should hear of the crucified and resurrected Christ from the lips of the Church, and they should see the crucified and resurrected Christ in the lives of the members of the Church. They shall see Christ if we present our bodies a “whole burnt offering unto the Lord” (Romans 12:1,2).
When the Altar of Burnt Offering was to be prepared for moving, as Israel followed the cloud by day and the fire by night, the ashes were removed and a purple cloth was spread over the Altar. The “purple” cloth is a dramatic picture of the royal majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then the censers, forks, shovels, basins, and pots for ashes were put on the purple cloth. Next, a weatherproof covering of porpoises’ skins was spread over the whole, and the bronze-covered acacia-wood carrying poles were inserted into the receptacles of bronze.
After all this had been done, and the rest of the sanctuary and all its vessels had been covered by the priest, and the whole camp was ready to move forward, then the sons of Kohath were allowed to come and pick up the two carrying poles and place them on their shoulders. But the sons of Kohath under no conditions were to touch the seven holy furnishings (Numbers 4:13-15).
Altar of Incense
And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it. A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about. And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal. And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord. (Exodus 30:1-10)
The Altar of Incense was located in the Holy Place, directly in front of the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat was in the Holy of Holies, and the Veil separated the Altar of Incense from the Mercy Seat.
The burning of incense on the Altar of Incense was one of the principal responsibilities of the high priest and there are several passages of Scripture that link the priesthood and the offering of incense. Typical of these passages are the following:
And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? (I Samuel 2:28)
Again, in Deuteronomy 33:10:
They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar.
The two altars of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, the Altar of Burnt Offering (the ascending of a sweet savor unto the Lord by burnt sacrifice) and the Altar of Incense (the ascending of a sweet smell unto the Lord from the holy incense) are listed fifth and sixth in order of the Tabernacle furniture in their first presentation by the Lord.
The two altars were especially the responsibility of the priests, particularly of the anointed (high) priest. The Altar of Burnt Offering had to be listed first of the two because no one can approach with praise unto the Lord God until he first has come by way of the cross of Christ and received the atonement made there for him.
The holy incense that was burned on the Altar of Incense was compounded from stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense, seasoned with salt (King James—“tempered together”). This mixture was the only incense allowed in the Tabernacle, and if any person made perfume like it for his own use he was to be cut off from Israel.
It seems the holy incense was kept in cups on the ledge of the Table of Showbread and thrown on the hot coals of the Altar of Incense according to the specific directions of the Lord. The censers for use within the Tabernacle building were of pure gold, being made from the same refined gold as the Lampstand.
As we said, the burning of incense was a particular responsibility of the high priest of Israel. The incense burned continually, day and night, in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. The high priest replenished the coals and the incense at sunrise and at sunset, twice in each twenty-four hour period, at the same time that he added oil to the seven lamps and adjusted the seven wicks (at sunrise) and lighted the lamps (at sunset).
One very important ceremony involving the holy incense occurred during the annual Day of Atonement.
And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: (Leviticus 16:12,13)
It seems likely that the censer mentioned here is identical with the censer mentioned in Exodus 25:38, where the word “snuffdishes” should be translated censers. The high priest was to put some coals from the Altar of Incense into one of the golden censers from the Lampstand, and with his other hand bring a cup of incense from the Table of Showbread.
With these he went behind the Veil and stood before the Atonement Cover (the lid on the Ark). While standing there he poured the holy incense on the hot coals in the censer. Immediately a cloud of perfume filled the Holy of Holies, especially covering the Propitiatory (Mercy Seat).
To neglect covering the Mercy Seat with a cloud of the holy perfume was to run the risk of death.
Hebrews 9:4 places the Altar of Incense in the Most Holy Place with the Ark of the Covenant. However, it appears unlikely that anything except the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat remained all year within the Holy of Holies.
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews was referring to the Day of Atonement when only the high priest of Israel went within the sacred Veil, perhaps bringing the Altar of Incense with him. He then would take the golden censer from the Lampstand containing coals from the Altar of Incense and pour the holy incense on the glowing coals. All the other days of the year the golden censer would stay with the Lampstand, where it was employed to carry the coals that were placed twice each day on the Altar of Incense.
Another possibility is that the Holy of Holies had been empty for so many hundreds of years, the Ark having been captured by Nebuchadnezzar (about 586 B.C.), that by the time the Book of Hebrews was written the priests had moved the Altar of Incense into the Most Holy Place so the room would contain a holy vessel (the Altar of Incense) during the ceremony of the Day of Atonement.
The golden Altar of Incense was much smaller than the Altar of Burnt Offering, being only eighteen inches square and three feet high. It was, however, higher than the Ark and the Table of Showbread by nine inches.
The Altar of Incense had four horns, similar to the great Altar of Burnt Offering, showing that all the ends of the earth will one day offer praise and prayer to Almighty God. Also, the four horns pointed to the four divisions of Israelites camped around the Tabernacle, indicating that the Church is to offer prayer and praise to God without ceasing.
Acacia wood was used in the construction of the Altar of Incense. The wood was covered with pure gold, including the horns. There was the crown (rim, border) of gold around the top as in the case of the Ark of the Covenant and the Table of Showbread. It had its two golden receptacles for the carrying poles, the receptacles being located just under the crown on two opposite corners. The carrying poles were acacia wood overlaid with gold.
Only one kind of incense was to be burned on this smaller altar—the special holy incense. Animal sacrifice was never to be burned on the Altar of Incense, nor a cereal offering burned on it, nor a drink offering poured on the coals of it. It was for burning the holy incense and for that purpose alone.
In the case of certain sin offerings, blood was put on the horns of the Altar of Incense.
When Israel prepared to take up its journey, following the cloud by day and the fire by night, a cloth of blue was spread over the golden Altar of Incense. Then the protective cover of porpoises’ skins was wrapped over the blue cloth. Finally, the two gold-covered carrying poles were inserted in the two gold receptacles.
Any remaining utensils of ministry of the sanctuary that had not been prepared for moving as yet were put in a cloth of blue, then covered with porpoise skin and put on a frame for carrying.
There was no provision for removing the coals or incense when Israel was on the march. Perhaps the incense was to be kept burning perpetually, even while the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness, but this is unlikely. Keeping the incense burning on the march would present serious practical problems. Also, the incense was only for the Lord to smell.
The Altar of Incense was the fifth piece of furniture of the Tabernacle if one begins at the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering. The celebration of Trumpets was the fifth of the seven Levitical convocations (Leviticus 23:24).
The close relationship between the Altar of Incense and the convocation of Trumpets, each being number five in a series of seven, can be seen in Revelation 8:2-6.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. (Revelation 8:2-6)
It can be seen from this description that the Altar of Incense has great significance in the sight of God. It is associated with the Blowing of Trumpets and therefore with the judgments of God in the last days.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord: So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations. (Exodus 30:17-21)
Less is said, as far as details of construction are concerned, about the bronze Laver than any other of the seven pieces of furniture. The size is not given. The way in which it was to be prepared for carrying is not described.
It appears that God has told us exactly what He wants us to understand, meditate on, and act on as far as the Tabernacle of the Congregation is concerned. Therefore, what is given is to be observed and what is omitted makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to work with the disciple in a variety of ways.
Since the Laver speaks to us of the manner in which God works with each person in the sanctifying of his or her life, perhaps the lack of detail tells us that there is wide room for differences among Christians when it comes to living a holy life. What the Holy Spirit demands of one person is not always true for another.
Sometimes the Spirit of God will speak to a Christian about giving up a certain behavior or performing a particular duty. That Christian is not to go out and bring his fellow Christians under the same obligation—it is just for him. It is his own sanctification. God has not required it of others.
In some aspects of the Christian walk, all are to share. Every one of us is to share in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, for example. But in daily habits of life, of prayer, of Scripture reading, of liberties we may or may not have, the Holy Spirit adjusts these requirements to the spiritual needs of each saint depending on the responsibilities God has laid on that saint as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, and also in terms of the believer’s level of maturity at that time.
Perhaps the lack of detail in the description of the Laver frees each of us to work out his own salvation as the Holy Spirit leads. We are not under someone else’s obligations and he is not under ours.
The Laver was located “between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar,” which seems to indicate that the Laver was placed directly in front of the door of the Tabernacle between the Altar of Burnt Offering and the door of the Tabernacle.
The water in the Laver enabled the high priest and the other priests to wash their hands and their feet before they went into the Tabernacle to minister before the Lord. This reminds us of the words of Paul concerning the Church: “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).
The Altar of Burnt Offering and the Laver stood out in the Courtyard of the Tabernacle, out in the sunlight. They seem to say, “Receive the atonement made by the Lamb of God, Christ, and be baptized in water, washing away your sins.”
The source of the bronze for the Laver and its base is interesting.
And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Exodus 38:8)
God’s Word is a mirror. When we look into it we see ourselves. We can tell from a mirror if we are clean and neat or if there is dirt that needs to be washed away.
If we would minister in the holy things of the Lord we must wash daily through means of the Word of God.
As we read the Word, the Holy Spirit brings to our minds and hearts the things we are doing that are not right in God’s sight. Then we must confess our sins; and the Lord Jesus is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Scholars have differing ideas concerning the form of the Laver and the way it worked. As we have thought about this, two facts seem to stand out: first, when the Laver is mentioned, the foot (base) of the Laver is also mentioned, suggesting that there was something of special importance about the base; second, there were no receptacles in the Laver, no directions for covering or transporting it.
The lack of directions for transporting the Laver is striking indeed when we compare the elaborate precautions taken with the other six pieces of furniture. It seems as though God didn’t care whether the Kohathites carried the Laver, or if it was put in one of the carts, or if anybody standing around did with it as he wished.
However, the Laver was one of the holy objects of the Tabernacle, so we know it actually was covered and transported on the march with the greatest of care.
In addition to the emphasis on the base and the lack of directions for carrying the Laver, a third factor must be considered. The priests ministered all day in a dirty, bloody occupation. The Courtyard of the Tabernacle of the Congregation had some of the problems of a stockyard. The priest would not put his hands or feet into the water while it remained in the Laver. The water was poured on his hands and feet by servants.
Did you ever picture in your mind what it must have been like working all day in the midst of that much blood, bawling animals, people standing in line in the hot sun, the constant lifting of the heavy sides of beef and mutton? The priests would have become very sweaty and dirty. It is easy to understand why God required that the priest entering the Holy Place to minister before the Lampstand or Altar of Incense must first wash his hands and feet at the Laver.
A servant may have used a dipper to pour water on the hands and feet of the priest. An interesting design has been presented by Ben Uri, who has made a study of ancient water fixtures (described in The Tabernacle: Camping with God, Stephen F. Olford, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, New Jersey, 1973, p. 183). Ben Uri suggests a basin pivoting on a rod.
Putting together the lack of directions for carrying the Laver, the emphasis on the base, and the fact that the bronze from the mirrors of the women who ministered at the door of the Tabernacle may not have added up to much bronze, one could conclude that the Laver of the Tabernacle of the Congregation may have been quite small.
In fact, the Laver may have been a small basin of bronze placed on a bronze pedestal—too small to have receptacles and carrying poles, which might have made it look ridiculous if indeed it were of small size. Perhaps it was a low wash basin filled with water; and every time a priest washed it was picked up off the base, poured on the hands and feet of the priest, and then replaced on the base and refilled with water.
If this were the case, the Laver and its base may have been placed in the cloth of blue and carried on the frame with the small golden utensils of the Tabernacle. But, as seems more likely, it probably was placed on the purple cloth with the bronze utensils of the Altar of Burnt Offering and carried along with that altar.
It seems probable that the Laver was carried with the Altar of Burnt Offering, for three reasons:
- The Laver was solid bronze, and the Altar was covered with bronze and its utensils were solid bronze.
- The Laver is closely related in meaning and experience to the Altar of Burnt Offering—each has to do with the bondage of sin in our life. Accepting Christ as our atonement, and being baptized in water, go together. The Spirit, the water, and the blood bear witness in earth (I John 5:8).
- The Laver being carried with the Altar of Burnt Offering provides a symmetry having to do with the overall design of the furnishings of the Tabernacle.
The symmetry is as follows: in the Holy of Holies there were two pieces of furniture that remained together on the march—the Mercy Seat and the Ark of the Covenant. The Mercy Seat was solid gold and was carried on top of the Ark of the Covenant, which was wood overlaid with gold; and the two pieces of furniture were closely related in meaning and experience.
In order to balance these two, thereby enhancing the symmetry of the arrangement of the seven holy furnishings, the two vessels out in the Courtyard also may be considered together. The Laver was solid bronze, the counterpart of the solid gold Mercy Seat; and it may have been carried on top of the purple cloth that covered the Altar of Burnt Offering, which was wood overlaid with bronze—the counterpart of the Ark of the Covenant which was wood overlaid with gold.
There were no directions for carrying the Mercy Seat—it accompanied the Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps the reason for there being no directions for carrying the Laver was that the Laver accompanied the Altar of Burnt Offering.
(“The Old Testament House of the Lord: Three”, 3705-1)