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The Tabernacle: The Altar of Burnt Offerings

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Included with these Divine Directives were the other moral and ceremonial laws. Read the last half of Exodus and most of Leviticus. Along with the Decalogue, Moses received detailed blueprints for the construction of the Tabernacle, the mobile temple and the centerpiece of the Israelite’s corporate worship.

The Tabernacle was furnished with seven objects, each “a shadow of things to come” (Hebrews 10:1, ESV). They all point to the New Testament ministries of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) ... literally, He “tabernacled” among us!

This week we’ll consider the Altar of Burnt Offerings, The Laver, The Table, The Lamp, The Altar of Incense, The Ark, and the Mercy Seat. (See Genesis 25-30 and 37-40.)

The Tabernacle, erected in the center of the Nation’s camp, was an enclosure, 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide, approximately 150 feet by 75 feet. The fine linen curtains surrounding the Tabernacle were 7½ feet tall (Exodus 27:9-18; 38:9-20).

The entry to the courtyard was on the eastern side, toward the rising sun. Coming through the doorway, the first furnishing a worshipper encountered was the Altar of Burnt Offerings (Exodus 27:1-8; 38:1-7). Altars had been part of Jehovah’s worship since Abel offered the firstborn from his flocks, a spotless lamb, a substitutionary sacrifice, an atonement for his sin. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all built altars. So, it was no surprise that the Altar was front and center in the Tabernacle.

The four sides of the Altar were constructed of acacia wood, carefully and completely covered with bronze. It was 7½ feet square and 4½ feet tall. A solid bronze grate was suspended from rings at each corner, half-way down. (Picture a gigantic barbecue grill!) At each of the four upper corners there was an ornamental “horn” signifying strength and security. The four horns, pointing north, south, east and west were a reminder that salvation was available to all.

Acacia wood was a common wood found in the wilderness. It foreshadowed Jesus’ humanity. As a man, Jesus was ordinary. Of course, He was not a mere man. He was also Divine. The acacia wood was covered with bronze, an alloy able to withstand the fire, just as Jesus endured the cross.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ ” (John 14:6, ESV). In the Tabernacle, no one could progress to the next fixture and on to the tent without passing by the Altar of Burnt Offerings. The altar pointed the way!

And “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). There was no other way into a relationship with the Living God, except by the substitutionary sacrifice offered on the Altar of Burnt Offerings.

Anyone, everyone, was invited to the altar, where one died as payment for another. On Calvary’s Cross, Jesus became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV).

The mystical symbolism of the Old Testament Tabernacle has been precisely fulfilled in Heaven. “Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), he entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12, CSB).

So, why do we study the ancient practices of the Old Testament Hebrew nation? ... Answer: So we can understand the depth of God’s love exhibited at Calvary, and have an idea of what awaits us in the future glories of Heaven!


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