On Building Altars

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Building altars is probably not a task we would choose, but the Bible gives many accounts where God commanded the building of altars, or where men voluntarily built them.

The first occasion is found in Genesis 8:20, after Noah and his family and all the creatures in the ark came out onto dry ground. Noah built an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings, and the Lord smelled a sweet savor.

The English definition for altar is “a structure or place on which sacrifices are burned or offered in worship.” The Hebrew meaning for altar is “a place of slaughter or sacrifice.” There was also another purpose for which altars were built. They were memorials of remembrances of happenings or events, as given in Joshua 4:1-8. Joshua at the command of God ordered twelve stones to be taken from the middle of the Jordan river to be set up on Canaan’s side as a reminder to future generations of God’s miracle performed when their fathers crossed into Canaan.

First Samuel 7:12 gives an account of Samuel setting up a stone pillar to remind all Israel that anything they had accomplished thus far was because of God’s help. They were not to forget that.

Consider three patriarchs who built altars of remembrance. They were Abraham, Moses, and Gideon. These men each gave their altar a name, and each name began with “Jehovah”! The name Jehovah is used four other times in the Bible: Exodus 6:3, “By my name Jehovah was I not known”; Isaiah 12:2, “The Lord Jehovah is my strength”; Isaiah 26:4, “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength”; and Psalm 83:18, “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.”

Jehovah, the name of God, is most commonly represented in the King James Version by Lord. The meaning of Jehovah is simply “self-existent one” or “I am.” Mankind and everything else created exists because of Him. He is, and He is because of Himself.

Genesis 22:1-19 is the account of Abraham facing the ultimate test of obedience. God had blessed Abraham and Sarah with the son of promise in their old age. God asked Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Abraham responded the next morning with immediate obedience. Three days later, while they were climbing the mountain, Isaac asked a very legitimate question: “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

Abraham’s answer of faith rings down through the ages, “God will provide himself a lamb.”
after reaching the mount, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood in place, and bound Isaac. as he raised his hand to slay his son, he heard the voice of an angel from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham… Lay not thine hand upon the lad… now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

Abraham looked and saw a ram caught in a thicket, which he offered instead of his son. Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh, meaning, “The Lord will provide.” Hebrews 11:17-19 explains it further. There was not a shade of doubt in Abraham’s mind. God would raise his son to life again.

How about us? Have we built any altars that remind the rising generation of a faith unwavering which believes God’s promise? “He will provide.” Or do we struggle with doubt and fear and give our children little to build upon? We must search our minds, hearts, and desires, and see what we are trusting in and where we have our faith. Do we really believe, if all were taken from us, that God would be faithful and provide for our needs? We can have this confidence: God is able and willing to provide. Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Exodus 17:8-15 records the confrontation between Amalek and Israel at Rephidim. Moses told Joshua to choose men and go out and fight Amalek the very next day. Moses promised to stand on top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand. Verse 10 simply states that Joshua did as Moses commanded. Then Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill to oversee the battle. As long as Moses held up the rod of God, Israel prevailed, but when Moses wearied and dropped his arms, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur found a stone for Moses to sit on, and with one on each side, they held up his arms until the sun went down. Joshua and his people slew Amalek with the edge of the sword.

?After that victory, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah-nissi, meaning, “The Lord is my banner!” He recognized the rod of God as an instrument which signified the presence of God. He had seen many miracles performed by the use of this rod. In this event, the rod was used as an ensign or banner to declare God’s presence. Moses himself was instrumental in displaying the banner of the Lord.

According to verse 16, the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. although Amalek does not exist as a people today, the spirit of Amalek is present in type in our flesh, the world, and Satan. This is the battle we face daily. It’s necessary that we display the banner of the Lord in our lives, and His presence will make the difference between victory and defeat.

The third altar was built by Gideon, a mighty man of valour (Judges 6 & 7). The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, and He delivered them into the hand of the Midianites. In the final confrontation, the Amalekites also became involved. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the enemy when an angel of the Lord appeared unto him. The angel’s message was, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour… Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?”

Gideon replied, “If I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign… Depart not… until I… bring forth my present.”

The angel consented to stay, and Gideon went and made ready meat and broth and cakes. As he returned with this offering, the angel asked him to lay the meat and cakes on a rock and pour out the broth over them. Gideon obeyed. The angel touched the meat and cakes with his staff, and fire rose up out of the rock and consumed the sacrifice. These Gideon willingly offered, even though his family was impoverished by the enemy and in dire straits.

as Gideon perceived his visitor to be an angel of the Lord, he said, “Alas, O Lord God!… I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.”

“The Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.”

Then Gideon built an altar unto the Lord and called it Jehovah-shalom, meaning, “The Lord is peace.” From this time Gideon went forth and with the help of God and three hundred men destroyed the enemies, who were a multitude without number.

Under the new covenant, the Lord Jesus meets every criterion expressed in the names of these altars. Isaiah 9:6 prophesied the one to come was to be “The mighty God” – our great provider; “The everlasting Father” – our banner, strength, and fortress; “The Prince of Peace” – our prince of peace.

The challenge we face is, how well have we done with the altars which are a part of our experience today? – The marriage altar, the family altar, the altar of self denial, the altar of personal worship, to name a few.

May our attitude be like David’s in Psalm 20 verse 5, “We will rejoice in thy SALVATION, and in the name of our GOD we will set up our BANNERS: the LORD fulfil all thy PETITIONS.”

~ Myerstown, PA
January 2013