The Tabernacle 3
1 And he made the altar of burnt offering of shittim wood: five cubits was the length thereof, and five cubits the breadth thereof; it was foursquare; and three cubits the height thereof.
2 And he made the horns thereof on the four corners of it; the horns thereof were of the same: and he overlaid it with brass.
3 And he made all the vessels of the altar, the pots, and the shovels, and the basons, and the fleshhooks, and the firepans: all the vessels thereof made he of brass.
4 And he made for the altar a brasen grate of network under the compass thereof beneath unto the midst of it.
5 And he cast four rings for the four ends of the grate of brass, to be places for the staves.
6 And he made the staves of shittim wood, and overlaid them with brass.
7 And he put the staves into the rings on the sides of the altar, to bear it withal; he made the altar hollow with boards.
You have sinned. You took a blood oath, a covenant oath, to observe to do all that Moses said God commanded, but you failed. You wanted to obey. You tried. You love and fear Jehovah, and in gratitude to Him for rescuing you and your family from Egypt you want more than anything to please Him. But still you failed. You violated His commandments. And you feel rotten about it.
Stepping out of your tent into the rising sun of dawn you hope this day will be different, that you will get your act together and keep it together. But doubt gnaws at you. In your heart of hearts you know that today you will sin too. It seems unstoppable, no matter your good intentions and best efforts. Disconsolately, you kick the sand. You wander aimlessly around the encampment. Should you talk to an elder? Should you buck up and soldier on? Should you forget it all, stop worrying about it? Impossible. It eats at you, this sin of yours, shredding your piece of mind like you feared those sharks you saw in the walls of water around you would shred you as you walked the floor of the Red Sea.
What’s that? Someone is calling your name? Looking up you see the Doorkeeper. Standing in front of the ornate curtained entrance to the Tabernacle he is asking you if you would like to come inside, make an offering perhaps. Should you? Dare you? Won’t Moses find out? Won’t Aaron be angry with you? Won’t the priests on duty take one look at you and turn away in disgust?
You stop. Pause is a better word, debating whether this is a tragic mistake or a good idea. Undecided, you feel the warmness in the Doorkeeper’s invitation seep around the edges of your cold fear. Turning, you take a step toward the entrance. But will it do any good? Will this change anything?
This is it. You have reached the entrance. What will you do? Screwing your courage to the sticking point you step over the thresh hold. Into salvation, redemption, and righteousness. And right before you eyes you see it, the Brazen Altar. Five cubits square and three high, how could you possibly miss it? Gleaming a soft bronze color in the early light, smoke still curling up from the morning sacrifice held in place by the horned corners, it draws you like a lodestone.
As a Jew, you know your history. It has been drilled into you on the green banks of the Nile. Father Abraham walking Isaac up to Mount Moriah only to find Jehovah replacing his son with a ram. Jacob at Bethel. Pondering, you recalled what you had recently heard Moses say. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth it shall die. The soul that sinneth it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. (Exodus 18.4, 20) Where there is sin there must be death, and nothing said “death” like the enormous altar in front of you.
…and that, to my understanding, was exactly the point of the Brazen Altar. Gory, burning, stinging the eyes with its smoke, it screamed the death that was necessary to cover sin. If the whole idea of a sacrifice was to cause God to overlook a person’s sin then that sacrifice had to involve death. This is seen not only in the Jews earliest history, but in humanity’s history, which the Jews were obviously familiar with. Adam and Eve sinned. To cover them with skins required death.
The Jewish religion was such a bloody religion precisely because it was designed to point to this aspect of their future Messiah – His death. It was absolutely critical that they understand this so God gave them a process that declared it to them again and again and again. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (Hebrews 9.22)
Ask me what is the saddest thing about the Jewish people and I will tell you this: in spite of their zeal and knowledge in the things of Jehovah they have totally missed the point of their own Messiah. As a result, they rebelliously refused to accept Him when He arrived. They wanted an earthly deliverer, someone who would subdue Rome and raise them to the pinnacle of the world. Their Messiah wanted to deliver them from their sins, and raise them to the pinnacle of Heaven. But under no condition should they have missed this. Jesus said exactly this to Nicodemus, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3.10)
In addition to the impossible-to-miss illustration of the Brazen Altar, the necessary death of the Messiah for the people’s sins was explicitly stated by the greatest preacher of the Old Testament.
1 Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, And as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, And carried our sorrows: Yet we did esteem him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; And with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, Yet he opened not his mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, So he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: And who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: For the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich in his death; Because he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.
This is why it is good for us to keep the cross front and center in our Christianity. That sacrificial death was absolutely necessary, for them and for us. No wonder the Tabernacle was structured in such a way as to remind the Jews of that – every single day.
Where there is sin there must be death. Mine or His. The Brazen Altar proves it.