The first and largest piece of furniture that a worshiper would meet on entering the court of the tabernacle was the bronze altar, where sacrifices were offered to God.
According to the Mosaic Law, this was the only place where sacrifices could be made. Its position just inside the gate (Exodus 40:6) made it easily accessible, unavailable, and unmistakable. Its size indicated its importance and reminded the people that they could not approach God except by the place of sacrifice.
The altar was a hollow box of acacia wood, 5 cubits (7 ½ ft.) square by 3 cubits (41/2ft.) high. It has been said that all the other furniture could be put into it. It was lined with sheets of bronze inside and out to protect it from the heat, and was light enough to be carried on bronze-covered poles that passed through bronze rings fixed at each corner.
A bronze grating ran around the altar, to create a draft and to allow the sacrificial blood to flow to the base of the altar. The horns, which were on each corner, and pointing outward, were for the binding of the sacrifice to the altar (Psalm 118:27). Some of the blood of the sacrifice was put on the four horns before the rest was poured out at the base of the altar (Exodus 29:12, Leviticus 4,8,9,16). In scripture, the “horn” stands for power and strength (Habakkuk 3:4).
The priests were responsible for maintaining the altar fire, which was never to be allowed to go out (Leviticus 6:13).
They were not to let ashes build up at the bottom of the altar, but piled them up beside the altar. Later, they took the ashes outside the camp or city.
In many ways, the Brazen Altar must be construed as the most important vessel designed by the Holy Spirit. Could it be more important than the Ark of the Covenant, over which sat the Mercy-Seat? After all, this represented the very Holy of Holies, the very throne of God! However, no one could reach that place and position except for the Brazen Altar. You simply could not enter the tabernacle till one had first passed the Brazen Altar.
The very position of this altar near the entrance of the main court indicates very clearly the absolute necessity for blood atonement before real fellowship can be initiated with an infinitely Holy God. The use of the altar was to make reconciliation upon (Leviticus 8:15), between God and His sinful people. This was done by the priests, who sprinkled upon it the blood of the atoning victims, and who also put their, carcasses, or certain pieces of them, on the fire to be consumed. The slaughter of animals on this altar was a vivid reminder to Israel that sin indeed requires a high price. Day by day, continually, now propitiatory animals were slain, fresh blood poured out, and the fire ever burning. The blood shed and poured out before and sprinkled upon the altar, was an atonement for the sins of the people. The death of the animal victim signified that the offerer deserved to die for his transgressions, and that its life was substituted for his. It was not a pleasant thing to see an innocent animal slaughtered and burned, but then sin is an ugly thing and the sacrifice here, should be a vivid reminder to everyone of the hideousness of sin and its price. Unlike the Golden Altar of incense in the holy place, the Brazen Altar was a place of bloodshed and death. These were temporal in their nature and participated in by all of Israel.
It’s important to realize that the Israelites went through that one any gate into the tabernacle for only one purpose. They came to make a sacrifice to God. Every person who entered the tabernacle had to bring a sacrifice with him, and once the sacrifice was made he left. Each morning, the priest were to offer a burnt offering on the Brazen Altar (Exodus 29:42,43), a picture of total dedication to the Lord (Leviticus 1).
“And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins…”(Hebrews10:11).
The lamb, goat, bull, etc., were Israel’s substitutes and God accepted them by means of the altar.
These claims of God have since been fully met in Christ at Calvary when He became the offering, the altar, and the priest.
“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians5:2).
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Hebrews13:10).
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews2:17).
So the Cross is now the meeting place between God and the sinner.If the Israelite rejected the Brazen Altar, he shut himself out forever from the mercy of God, and, in like manner, whoever rejects the Cross of Christ, shuts himself out forever from the hope of salvation. Ex.29:37 says:
“Whatever touches the altar shall be holy.”
So every sinner who, by faith, lays hold of Christ is cleansed ( Mark 5:27-29). Just as the altar lifted up the sacrifice in smoke; at the same time, it would lift the offerer up into fellowship with God. And later, when the Cross became the altar for the world’s greatest sacrifece, it lifted up Christ:
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John12:32).
Even though God could speak worlds into existence, He could not and did not speak Redemption into existence.
Sin and all of its effects had to be addressed. For the old covenant it was the Bronze Altar. For the new covenant it was Jesus on the Cross. The Hebrew word for altar is mizbeach and means “slaughter place.” Calvary was indeed the slaughter place.
As mentioned earlier the altar measured 5 by 3.
- 3 is the number of the Godhead (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).
- The number 5 is typical of the grace of God.
- The number 5 is the most prominent number in the whole tabernacle.How fitting that the number of grace should be the dominating number in the place of God’s dwelling among his people.
- The grace (5) of (by) God (3) were its measurements.
- In this connection the number 5 repeats itself, in 5 utensils (pans, shovels, basins, forks, and firepans).
- 5 animals used in the burnt offering (lamb, goat, bull, heifer and turtle dove).
- 5 offerings recorded in Leviticus (burnt, grain, sin, peace, trespass).
- Christ suffered 5 wounds; His feet, His hands, and His side.
The altar was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze.The acacia wood spoke of the humanity of Christ. Wood is an intergal part of the message of Christ. He died on a wooden Cross and carried it to Calvary (John 19:17). Remember, Jesus had a body that was not exempt from suffering ( Hebrews 2:14). Bronze is the hardest of all metals, possessing a greater resistance to fire than gold or silver. Just as gold speaks of glory and silver of redemption, so bronze (brass) speaks of judgment (Numbers 21:9, Deuteronomy 28) and speaks of evil (Judges 16:21, 2Kings 5:27, 1Samuel 17:5,6,35, Psalm 107:16, Isaiah 48:4, Jeremiah 1:18, and Revelation 1:15).
As the brass plates on the altar protected it from the fervent heat and prevented it from being burnt up, so, Christ passed through the fires of God’s wrath without being consumed. He became a man to bear the judgment of God for humanity, just as the wood bore the bronze. As mentioned earlier, this altar had horns on each corner.
They served two purposes.
- The primary purpose of the horns was to bind the innocent substitute while its blood was being shed.
- Second, it was a place of refuge in time of trouble. A person could come to the tabernacle and grab hold of a horn of the altar and cry for mercy. The altar was recognized as a place of refugee, a place of mercy (1 Kings 1:50-53, 1 Kings 2:28). In Matthew 26, it says they celebrated the Passover, they sang a hymn just before leaving. And that hymn that they sung was Psalm 118, because that is the closing hymn of the Passover:
“Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (Psalm118:27). What were the “cords” that bound Jesus to the “altar” of the cross? Certainly not the Roman nails. It was His love. It was the love of God that bound Jesus to the cross.
Then in turn we must:
“present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans12:1).