The Altar: Sacrifice

(An Excerpt from The Carpenter and the Cradle, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(From Exodus 27:1-8: The Altar of Sacrifice; and  Matthew 6:12-13: The Lord’s Prayer)

“Forgive us…Rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:12a.-13b.).


We don’t see it directly from Exodus 27, but the rest of the laws of sacrifice from the books of the Law tell us: The altar was used for burnt offerings.  Their burning makes one point abundantly clear: The offerings on the altar were dead.  Burning, in the Bible, is the destiny of the dead.

We also don’t see from Exodus 27 the sacrifices that were offered on the altar, and the passages detailing them are far too numerous to list here.  Many types of offerings were to be given to God, but the sacrifices for sin on the bronze altar were the horned animals that the horns on the altar would have represented.  These were the domesticated animals that the Israelites raised and used for food; animals that were “clean;” sheep, goats, cattle.

Yesterday, I asked you what’s wrong with the world (me), and then informed you that I believe it’s separation.  Relational separation.  Broken relationship.  Between God and humanity and between humanity and humanity.  Our brokenness goes deep and affects every area of our lives.

It’s interesting, then, that another biblical way of looking at separation (the relational kind) is wrapped up in this ugly little word: death.  If you’ll think about it for a few minutes, you’ll easily be able to see why separation is equated with death in the Bible and death is equated with separation.

The Bible teaches us that a human is a union of a body, soul, and spirit, and when the body is separated from the real, inner, living person, it’s a dead body.  Likewise, the sting of death for loved ones left behind is their separation from the one who’s died.  Relational separation always involves a type of death, and death always involves a type of separation.

If you can remember back to almost the beginning of these lessons, I talked about the dependencies God gave us and why.  I told you that God, in essence, says to us, “You can choose against my rule in your life.  But to do so is cutting off your very life-source…”  Relationship is life, and life is relationship.  He gave us our physical dependencies to drive home the point that we can’t survive on our own without Him.  And then I talked quite a lot about our dependency on food.  What happens to us without food?  Separated from a life-source (such as food… or its Provider), death results.

So… what’s wrong with the world?  Today’s answer: one word: Death.

And finally, today’s question: “What can be done about it?”

But here’s the staggering thing.  From the Bible, the answer to both questions is “death.”  The cure to the disease is found only in its outcome.

The tent walls that we looked at yesterday reminded us of separation—the positional separation of God’s holy uniqueness.  But also the relational separation between ourselves and God because of our unholy self-first-ness.  And before anyone could approach those walls that represented God’s throneroom, there was the altar: a reminder of death to be reckoned with.

From other passages in the law, we know that only one person (the high priest) ever entered the most holy place and then only once a year and never, ever without the required sacrifices (Lev. 16, Heb. 9:7).  To enter the most holy place meant death.  It always meant death.  If someone entered the wrong time or the wrong way, it meant the death of the trespasser.  For the high priest to enter it once a year in the prescribed way, it still meant death—not his own but the death of a substitute, the death of a sacrifice.

All this talk of separation and death isn’t the part of the story we like to dwell on.  But it’s a very necessary part.

You must remember that the tent God commanded to be built for Him held meaning bigger than its four (or so) walls, and every piece He commanded to furnish it held meaning.  If a man or woman were audacious enough to challenge the restrictions of the most holy place in the wrong way, they died.  Then and there.  Yet every man and woman in the nation of Israel (and me…and you) have, in that bigger meaning kind of way, challenged those restrictions of God’s throneroom.  We’re asked to choose: Who’s in control?  Who’s sitting on the throne of my life?  And every one of us, at some time or another, has chosen the wrong answer.  The answer that means separation.  The separation that means death.  But because that death doesn’t happen all at once or visibly all at once, we don’t realize the horror of our position.  We feel the horror to be far greater when we see the instantaneous, visible, physical death of the man or woman who said to God (effectually), “You’re not the boss of me!” and charged into God’s throneroom, believing (apparently) that God didn’t inhabit that throne.  And we’re meant to feel that horror of the results that followed.  But we’re meant to transfer that immediate horror into its bigger meaning and realize that the results are the same for us—just less instantaneous and less visible.

Don’t forget to hang on till the end of the story, though.  When we get closer to the end and see what the altar of sacrifice really represented in that bigger meaning kind of way, I hope we’ll again be awestruck with wonder and fall down in the worship of the all-relational One who is entirely incapable of putting Self first.  And went to great lengths to demonstrate it.

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