Wilderness Instructions, Part 14: You Shall Make an Altar of Acacia Wood -- By Lyn Chaffart
Last week, in Wilderness Instructions, Part 13, as we read about the instructions for the courtyard of the tabernacle in the wilderness, we are reminded not only that Jesus is the only way to God and is accessible by all who seek Him, but also that the exterior of our heart-temples (our characters) is the only picture of Jesus that the unsaved world may ever see, and we need to make sure it is a pure representation of the Jesus we’ve come to know and love!

Today's lesson is the final lesson in this series, and it takes us to Exodus 27:1, where God gives Israel instructions for making the altar of burnt offerings: "You shall make an altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide--the altar shall be square--and its height shall be three cubits." (Exodus 27:1 NKJV).

We see that this is to be a large structure, measuring approximately 7.5 feet (2.25 meters) square, and approximately 3.5 feet (1 meter) high, and like all of the furniture God has given instruction for, it is to be made of Acacia wood, a hard, durable wood that was found in abundance on the Sinai Peninsula, one that was particularly strong against insects.

Unlike the other furniture, however, that were to be overlaid with gold, this alter was to be covered in bronze: "And you shall overlay it with bronze. Also you shall make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze." (Exodus 27:2,3 NKJV)

If gold helps us to remember that Jesus is the most precious thing we could possibly have (See Wilderness Instructions, Part 3: The Ark of the Covenant), then what is the significance of bronze?

Throughout the Bible, bronze, or brass, is used symbolically for the judgment. The serpent that was raised up in the wilderness was made of brass (See Num 21:9). Jesus is represented with feet of fine brass as he walks among His churches in the book of Revelation, inspecting them and pronouncing sentence upon them (see Rev. 1:15). In fact, all references to "brass" in the Old Testament have a negative connotation. It is mentioned for the first time in connection with the descendants of Cain (See Gen 4:22), Samson and Zedekiah were bound with chains of brass (see Judges 16:21, 2 Kings 5:27), etc. Thus, the coating of bronze helps us to think of Jesus, and His ministry of Judgement!

This altar was also to have horns: "You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with bronze." (Exodus 27:2 NKJV).

Psalms 118:27 speaks of "horns" as something used for binding the sacrifice to the Altar, thus giving us a glimpse of the practical purpose of these horns. However, there is a deeper, more symbolic meaning. In the Bible, the horn is the symbol of power and strength (See Micah 4:13, Zechariah 1). Thus, it can be said that the horns on the altar point to the unfaltering purpose of Jesus and to the strength of His love. It was His devotedness to God that held Him to the cross (See Phil 2:8).

Inside the Altar there was to be a grate: "You shall make a grate for it, a network of bronze; and on the network you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners." (Ex. 27:3).

Thus, this bronze-overlaid box was hollow on the inside, and God instructed Moses to make a grate to fit down into the hollow box. The grate was where the fire was built, and where the parts of the offering were laid. While beautiful on the outside, the box contained an internal turmoil. This points us to the inward sufferings of Jesus: "He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).

So what is the purpose of this Altar of Bronze?

It was the place where the sacrifices were made. Thus it represents for us the place where sin is judged and its wages paid. The Altar speaks of death as the consequence of sin, and it also speaks of the remission of sin. As such, the uncompromising judgement of God dealt with sin, not by punishing the sinner, but by smiting the sinner’s substitute: "...who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed." (1 Peter 2:24 NKJV).

And just what does this all mean to our heart-temples?

May I suggest that the Altar of Burnt Offerings stands before us as a perpetual reminder of the gravity of sin and its required consequences? But at the same time, may it also be a perpetual reminder that by the blood sacrifice of the only Human to walk this Earth without sin, by His "stripes you were healed"!

This is the last lesson from the instructions concerning the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness. If you wish to have an even more in-depth study on the wilderness tabernacle and its significance for us today, you are invited to read the excellent study done by Arthur W. Pink. May God bless you as you continue to build your heart temples!

In His love,

Lyn Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries.

** Arthur W. Pink Archives
** Archaeological Study Bible, Copyright 2005 by the Zondervan Corporation, p. 153, The Tabernacle and the Ark and p. 133, Commentary on Vs. 25:37.

(To access the entire "Wilderness Instructions" mini-series, please click here.)