The Altar of Burnt Offering
Exodus 27: 1-8,
"Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high. And he made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hook and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze. And he made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up. And he cast four rings on the four ends of the grating as holders for the poles. And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze. And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks." (Exodus 38:1-7)
The Altar of Burnt Offering was the first item to be seen entering the door into the Tabernacle outer court. It was a very simple box made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze, 7 1/2 feet square, stood 4 1/2 high, and had four horns pointing outward at each corner. Acacia wood is a hard, incorruptible, indestructible wood that grows in the Sinai Desert. Wood typifies humanity. It beautifully portrays the humanity of Christ, who came from "a root out of a dry ground" (Is 53:2) and was sinless in His human nature (Heb 4:15, 7:26). The indestructibility of the wood speaks of Christ in His humanity, which withstood the fire of crucifixion (Jn 10:18) and the decaying effect of the grave (Acts 2:31), and His body, which was victoriously resurrected (Mt 28:5-6)
Bronze in the Bible speaks of God's judgement, particularly His judgement over our rebellious thinking and speaking against Him (as in Num 16:29-40, Jude v11). Since the wood is overlaid with the bronze, the burnt offering altar reminds us of man under God's judgment for our rebellion against Him. Since the wood is acacia wood, this speaks of Jesus bearing the judgment of God for us on the cross.
The four horns on the corners of the altar spoke of power and were used in binding the sacrifice to the altar. They were also sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice (Ex 29:12). The sacrifice tied to the horns pointed to Christ's unfaltering commitment to carry out the Father's will (Heb 10:5-7) when He allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross as our blood atonement (Mt 26:39,42). The blood-stained horns pointed upward and outward to the four corners of the world, reminding us of the saving power of Christ's blood that will be witnessed throughout the world. (Acts 1:8)
The brazen altar was provided for sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there could be no atonement for sin (Lev 17:11; Heb(;22). The Israelites brought the prescribed offerings without spot or blemish to the priests, who stood at the Tabernacle's gate to receive them. The offerers laid their hands on the heads of the offerings, symbolic of their identification with their substitutionary death on their behalf. Their sins were transferred to the sacrifices, and the life of the sacrifices was transferred to them. The offering had to be unblemished, the very healthiest and best available. This foreshadows the Lord Jesus, who was examined by Pontius Pilot, who declared "I find no fault in Him at all" (Jn 18:38). The offerers then killed the animals, while the priests caught the blood in a basin to be offered as an atonement. The priests, functioning as mediators, sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices on the altar and pouring the remaining blood in the basin at the altar's base, foreshadowing the Lord Jesus, whose precious blood flowed out when His side was pierced on the cross by a Roman spear (Jn 19:34; Pet 1:19). Then the priests cut the sacrifice into pieces, washed the inner parts, and burned various pieces on the altar as a sweet savor to the Lord.
At the altar, an innocent lamb bore the judgement of the guilty. Christ, the believer's lamb (Jn 1:29, Rev 13:8), died on the altar of the cross to bear judgement of God's wrath against sin on our behalf. (Is 53;3-6; Rom 4:25)
The word altar means high place. The sacrifice had to be lifted up on the elevated altar (Lev 9:22). Christ's being lifted up on the cross as our sacrifice speaks of this procedure: "And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (Jn 3:14)
The fire that burned continually on the altar had a twofold meaning. It proclaimed God's holiness and justice, and it was symbolic of His readiness to receive the sacrificial offerings of the people to cleanse them from sin.
The brazen altar and the cross of Christ both speak of justification. In the days of the Tabernacle, the Israelites were restored to a right relationship with God by offering a blood atonement on the altar. Today Jews and Gentiles are restored by appropriating the atoning blood of Christ to take away sins. Justification is not obtained by any work that we do, but is bestowed freely through the grace of God (Rom 4:24), resulting in the removal of the guilt and punishment of sin, the righteousness of Christ being imputed to our lives, and our restoration to favor and fellowship with God (Rom 4:25).
A lamb was burnt at the burnt offering altar every morning and every evening (Ex 29:38-42). We must learn to come to this altar every day to confess our sins to God. Here we must ask ourselves, have we committed our life as a "living sacrifice" to God? Unless we allow Christ to control the altar of our life, we will not be able to manifest the fruitful walk in service for Him that we were created for.