THE ALTAR OF BURNT-OFFERING
"And thou shalt make an altar of shittim 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. 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 showed thee in the. mount, so shall they make it.” Exodus XXVII. 1-8.
THE Laver for Washing, and the Altar of Burnt-Offering, were placed in the Court of the Tabernacle, to intimate to every Israelite that two things were required from all who would approach the Lord, purification of the life, and dedication of ourselves to God, so that we might be His, not our own. These two objects met the view of everyone desirous to commune with his Maker. They were thus constant types of the perpetual law that God can only be approached by penitents, who seek to be pure in mind, and in heart offer themselves up to the Lord. The Altar now under contemplation represented the worshipping heart; the fire, the love that animates it. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise."---Ps. LI. 17. "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, 0 Lord: for it is good."--Ps. LI. 6.
The sacrifices and burnt-offerings were appointed to represent the offering-up of the affections to the Lord. The animals offered, whether lamb, or ram, or goat, or bullock, were the types of principles in the mind of the worshipper; the devotion of these to the Lord from love, was represented by the fire of the offering, and their acceptance by the Lord was declared by the words so often used respecting the different sacrifices. "It is an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord."-ĚLev. III. 5. Let us notice before proceeding further, the two objects presented in the outer court, the Altar and the Laver.
The two grand faculties of men must be affected even in one who comes into the outer court of religion. The intellect must be purified, and the heart must glow.
This reference to the twofold mental nature of man is universal in the Word. It has its deep ground, no doubt, in the sublime nature of the Divine Essence, which is love and wisdom. From these, man, who is an image of God, has will and understanding. The will is for the reception of the divine love, the understanding for the reception of divine wisdom. There are many subdivisions of each of these grand faculties, but the whole of our attributes may be classified as belonging to these two and their combinations.
All nature is twofold, all things in animal and vegetable life go in pairs, the male and the female. Owing to this duality of the universe every creature has its partner. In man there are the two departments of the brain, the heart and the lungs in the chest, meat and drink in food, the arteries and veins in circulation, and the right and left sides of the whole body. Everything is double, or complementary. In a vast number of instances the stars which we behold as one are now disclosed to be two of distinct colours which, however, blend into one. All these things are the outbirths of the divine love and wisdom, and refer themselves in their double life to goodness and to truth.
In the outer universe we have heat and light, the two great universal elements of nature, the symbols in the outer world of the love and wisdom of God in the inner. And science appears to make it plainer every day, that all things on earth are light and heat variously combined, condensed, recombined, arranged and multiplied.
In religion, and, indeed, in every pursuit, a man must will, as well as think, or there is no real progress made. There is a reference, therefore, incessantly to these two operations throughout the Word. This is one of its divine characteristics, peculiar to its sublime character as the word of the Most High. Hence, we have, " Make you a new heart, and a new spirit." Hence, there is such frequent reference to nations and people, justice and judgment, joy and gladness, charity and faith, loving and believing, and a host of other dual forms of expression.
This, then, was the reason why in the outer court there were the Laver, and the Altar of Burnt-offering, to intimate that every devout worshipper must purify his intellect, and must also have the fire of love within his heart. Within the holy place, the Table of Shewbread, and the Candlestick for light, had the same great lesson to teach. O that we might ever faithfully learn it, so that, like John the Baptist, each Christian might be a burning and a shining light; having a new heart and a new spirit; truly just, and of good judgment; one of the nation united by love, and of the people who praise the Lord with joyful lips. The entrance into the outer court, represented the entrance of the Christian into the outer state of the spiritual life. Hence, the objects in the outer courts were not of gold or of silver, which were used in the Holy of holies, but of BRASS. The Laver was of brass, the altar was of shittim wood, covered with brass (Ex. XXVII. 2), all the vessels belonging to it were to be made of brass (v. 3), the rings were of brass, the staves were of shittim wood, overlaid with brass. This metal, brass, represents goodwill to our fellow-men.
The serpent of brass, which was raised up in the wilderness to be a symbol of hope and healing to those who were smitten and dying of the plague, was the type of the Lord Jesus as the source of true brotherly love; and all those who trust in Him, receive Him, have faith in Him, as the restorer of charity and good-will, are raised from DEATH TO LIFE. It was a serpent of brass, to denote that the Lord Jesus brought this loving-kindness down to the lowest form of life, signified by the serpent, the life of the senses. God was manifested in the flesh, and went about doing good. Saving faith is to believe in Him, and acquire the same nature the nature of true charity, from Him. It is said of the prophet Jeremiah, "I will make thee unto this people a fenced BRASEN WALL: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee, and to deliver thee, saith the Lord."---Jer xv. 20.
When the prophet Zechariah saw the vision which represented the future restoration of the Church, he says he saw chariots going forth from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of brass. These two mountains prefiguring to the Prophet's mental eye the divine charities in the Lord, from which flow the truth and good which alone can restore His Church.
Without charity towards our fellow-creatures, there is in reality no religion. There may be knowledge, eloquence and zeal; there may be faith of a certain kind, though not living faith; there may be a persuasion that the teachings of religion are all true, but there will be no heavenly virtue that fits us for eternal happiness, or will avail in the sight of God. Hence those strong sayings of the apostle John, so much overlooked by those who imagine that salvation is of faith alone. " He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him; but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes."-I John II. 10, 11. "He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death."-I John III. 14. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God: and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."-I John IV. 7. The apostle Paul is often referred to as if he taught salvation by faith alone; but in reality his doctrine is the same as that of St John. He had much to do in the then transition state of the Church, with the controversy against the Judaizers of his day, and faith as used in that controversy meant the Christian religion. When Paul said that we were to be justified by faith without the deeds of the law, he meant we were to be made truly just by Christianity, not by Judaism. But in Christianity, the Apostle always proclaimed that love or charity was chief. "Though," said he, " I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."-I Cor. XIII. 2, 3, 13.
Surely, this is very different teaching from what is usually attributed to the apostle Paul; but it is his constant teaching, when he is rightly understood. "Owe no man anything, but to love one another," he said to the Romans, "for he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law."-Rolll. XIII. 8. "Above ALL THINGS," he said to the Colossians, " put on CHARITY, which is the bond of perfectness."-Col. III. 14. And in his charge to Timothy, he gave his settled judgment that charity was the very end, the object and the soul of all religion. "Now, the end of the commandment is CHARITY, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned."-1 Tim. I. 5. "The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law." -Gal. v. 22, 23. "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."-Gal. v. 14. There cannot, then, be assuredly any room for doubt that the apostolic teaching was like that of our Divine Saviour Himself, the inculcation of brotherly love as the indispensable requirement, without which no one becomes His disciple. "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets."-Matt. VII. 12. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." "And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."-Matt. xxv. 40.
This indispensable substance of real religion even for its novitiates then is represented by BRASS, or, as it should be exactly rendered, COPPER, and therefore both the Laver and the Altar of Burnt-offering, and all the appendages to the latter were of this metal.
The Altar was, in reality, a large brazen fireplace five cubits square, having a network of brass, extending from the top downwards to the middle, and there forming a hearth on which the wooden fire could burn, and the sacrifice be roasted.
The heart, or will, of man is in a certain sense always a sort of fireplace. The wicked heart, inflamed by lusts, burns with unhallowed fires. It is thus described by the prophet Hosea, "They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker. For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait; their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire. They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges."---VII. 4-7. The prophet Isaiah has a similar representation, " Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand: ye shall lie down in sorrow."-I. 11.
"While the wicked heart, with its impious lusts, forms a self-consuming and gnawing misery, scorching up and destroying all its good affections, indeed, a hell in miniature, the heart of a good man is an altar of sacrifice. The fire burns there, and mounts to heaven. This fire the Psalmist alludes to when he says, " My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue."-XXXIX. 3. The same fire is described as existing with the angels: "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire."-Ps.civ. 4. The burning desire to bless others, and to adore the Lord, is one that purifies and exalts the affections, and is indeed kindled from heaven. "He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire," was said of the Lord Jesus.
The fire always burning on the Altar represented the glow of love always existing in a low or an exalting state in the affections of a good man. "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar: it shall never go out" (Lev. VI. 13), is a perpetual law. It was a symbol in ancient times, it is a reality now. The sacred fire that glows in the bosoms of the good, diffuses within them a sense of the presence of heaven, and around them an atmosphere of warmth, of attraction, of joy and blessing.
The network and grate of brass which extended to the halfway down the Altar, and there formed a hearth for the fire to rest on, represents that wonderful blending of tastes, feelings, sensations, and determinations, which we call character.
The impulses of the ruling love, brought to bear on the circumstances and events of life, form principles and habits, until they have made a network which receives and retains what is in harmony with its purposes and ends, but will not admit what is repulsive to itself.
The Burnt-offering signifies the worship of the Lord from love, and the network of brass extending from the upper part of the altar downwards as far as the middle, that is a cubit and a half, or two feet three inches from the ground, and there forming a grated bottom or hearth, on which the fire and object offered were laid, represented the formation of the character in harmony with such worship.
This formation of character is a wonderful operation. It is the object of our existence in the natural world. Every day we are weaving this network which will determine our indelible future. It is said in the Book of Revelation, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them."-Rev. XIV. 13. The works which follow the dead are those inner works which we are performing in the recesses of our own souls, and by which we are weaving our future of blessedness or sorrow. How solemn, and how unspeakably important is the thought, that while our outward doings are seen of men, and result in works which last a longer or a shorter period, but are all perishable, we are by the same acts doing inner works within our own souls which are everlasting. Yet, it is manifestly so. From the ruling love within we are forming a wondrous network downwards, not to the bottom, but to the middle, for this inner character of the will does not come to the outside, it forms the inner texture, which we call our principles, our real disposition. What this is, our future will be. If formed of a network of brotherly love, it will be a fit ground-work from which we can adore the Lord, and will glow with a holy warmth to all around. It will be a network quite open above to all influences from heaven, suffering nothing to arise from below inconsistent with its own heavenly nature. It is a network and a grating. 0, may it ever be woven in us, so as to constitute a character responsive to all that is gentle, noble, pure and good, repulsing all that is mean and false, unholy and impure. Then will the character within, answer to the character of the heaven to which we go, and we shall go no more out (Rev. III. 12).
The Altar had horns upon the four corners of it, like its whole substance, of shittim wood, overlaid with brass. These horns were the symbols, as horns everywhere in the Word are, of power. "But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted."-Ps. LXXV. 9, 10. Such a state as is denoted by the altar of Burnt-offering has always great power. The quiet influence of piety and goodness is felt wherever the good are found. The force of virtue and wisdom are experienced everywhere when they are really present rebuking and abasing sin, diffusing around them a spirit of good, an atmosphere of contentment, purity, order and progress. These are horns from all tbe corners of the Altar.
The rings and the staves, by means of which the Altar was carried about, are to indicate that in the living temples, or in the people of the Lord, service should not be confined to a particular place, for to Walk also is to worship. To pray and to praise, exalting the Lord's goodness, and listening to His Word, are work and worship from the spirit of devotion; to do justly in all our daily proceedings, and earnestly aim at being useful to our fellow-men, are works and worship in the spirit of obedience and usefulness. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God."-Ps. I. 23.
The pans to receive the ashes, the shovels, the flesh-hooks, and the fire-pans, all made of brass, represent the different suitable powers of the soul, active to do, and active to adore from a spirit of brotherly love. The ruling affection enters into everything. What is suitable today to adore and serve the Lord is laid hold of by the spiritual flesh-hooks of earnest desire, and placed upon the heavenly brazier, as the angel took the coal from the celestial altar, and touched the prophet with hallowed fire (Isa. VI. 6, 7). What has been of service, but is no longer suitable, is reverently and lovingly laid aside as ashes, in the sweet memories of bygone days.
One thing we must not omit to notice, there were basins for the drink-offering with 'every sacrifice. The wine in the basins typifies the presence of truth with every offering. The Lord desires intelligence as well as goodness always. Blind devotion is far from being in accordance with infinite mercy. Let thine eye be single, and thy whole body shall be full of light. Let there be new bottles for the new wine, when the old are laid aside. Let there ever be basins on the altar, basins of brass on the altar of brass, basins of gold on the altar of gold, so that every earnest soul may have not only the spirit of love and devotion, but with this also and ever, the spirit of wisdom and understanding.
Lastly, we must not forget that the substantial mass and groundwork of this altar, was of the same wood as that which enters so largely into the composition of the tabernacle, in fact, the only wood used, the fragrant cedar of shittim, We have seen on other occasions that this wood represents the righteousness derived from the Lord Jesus Christ. "Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord."-Isa. LIV. 17. "Without ME ye can do nothing."-John xv. 5. Every loving desire, every hallowed emotion, every sacred principle and feeling, every pure and sanctified thought is breathed into his obedient servants by the Lord Jesus Christ. The prayer he desires to grant is inspired by Him. His spirit helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, and He induces us to cry, Abba, Father.
Like the shittim wood of the Tabernacle and of the Temple, the holy sphere of goodness from the Lord Jesus pervades angels and angelic men, making them like Himself, and then blessing them with Himself. He is to us as the prophet with the child, His hands are on our hands, his eyes upon our eyes, and his mouth upon our mouth, and thus we live again the life of heaven and peace.
Let us pray ever more and more earnestly that whether we adore, or whether we labour, whether we learn, or whether we work, the Lord our Saviour, the Lord our righteousness may be our all in all.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY --From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)