The Tabernacle and the court around it have been reconstructed. Now we will talk about the furniture that God ordained man to build and fill the inside of it. These were called holy vessels and God told man how to make every detail of the furnishings.
The brazen altar was the first and central commanding piece of furniture that one saw upon entering the court. It stood mid-way between the gate of the court and the door of the tabernacle. It was square in form, being 7 1/2 feet long, 7 1/2 feet broad, and 4 1/2 feet high. ( Exodus 27: 1) It was to be made of acacia wood and overlaid on the outside with brass, as were also the projections called horns, one of which arose at each corner. (vs. 2) The animals to be sacrificed were sometimes bound to these horns. Psalm 118: 27 – Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
The compass was probably a rim or border encircling the upper part of the altar. It was probably less ornate than those of the ark, incense-altar, and shewbread table. It probably gave the altar a finished look and also helped to keep the sides firmly together. Without the compass, the altar would have been very plain and would not have been in keeping with the rest of the sacred furniture.
The grate of network extended like a shelf or ledge from the middle of the altar on the outside, and served as a platform for the priests to stand on when they offered up sacrifices. Ashes falling accidentally off the altar would escape through the meshes of the grating, while fuel and pieces of the sacrifice would be caught. Though the altar itself had no rings, the grate had four, with one being at each corner. It was through these rings that the poles were put through that carried the altar when God told them to move from place to place. It is thought that since God didn’t tell them to cover the inside and outside with brass, that the hollow of the altar must have been filled with earth, or dirt, and that is the surface on which the fires burned.
The following picture is one example of what the brazen altar may have looked like.
There is another opinion about how the altar looked. According to this plan, the compass was the shelf or ledge around the middle, and the grate was placed under it to support the whole structure. Either way, the platform was only 2 1/4 feet off the ground, so it would have been easy to build a gentle slope of earth up to it so it would be easily accessible. Below is a picture of this version.
Before leaving one place of encampment for another, the ashes and the fire were removed, with the ashes being cast away and the fire being placed in a fire-pan for the purpose of being transported. A cloth of purple was then spread over the top of the altar, and probably fixed to the horns. On it the various vessels connected with the altar were placed, and then a cover of badger’s skin spread over them to protect them. When all was ready for starting, the massive brazen framework was raised, and borne away by its bearers, with only the earth being left behind.
The utensils of the altar were all made of brass. (Exodus 27: 3) Their varied uses are obvious – the pan for removing the ashes to a clean place, the shovel for scraping the ashes together and placing them in the pan, the basins for holding the blood of the slain animals, flesh hooks for keeping the sacrifices in proper position on the fire by lifting up portions that might fall off, fire-pans for holding the fire when the surface of the altar was being cleared, and also for transporting it when the Israelites were on the march. Leviticus 6: 13 – The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out. That’s why they had to transport it when they went from place to place. God must have supernaturally kept it going for them while they were traveling.
Use Of The Altar
The use of the altar was to make reconciliation between God and his sinful people. This was effected 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. This means that daily new animals were slain and fresh blood poured out to please God for the sins of the people. The death of the victim signified that the offerer deserved to die for his transgressions, and that its life was substituted for his. This was the appointed means of substitution so that Jehovah not bring wrath upon His people. As long as they did this, it secured blessings for them which they could enjoy and live in.
Typical And Spiritual Significance Of The Altar
The altar was a type of the cross. The one great sacrifice, Jesus, was offered up on it. As reconciliation was made upon the altar, so the end of all sacrifices was attained when Jesus died. The brazen altar and the various sacrifices offered on it, had no meaning if they did not typify Christ. The blood of the sin-offerings was sprinkled on the altar’s horns, which were symbols of power, protection, and salvation.
The altar was sometimes used as a place of sanctuary where certain transgressors (such as those who had sinned ignorantly), were shielded by divine authority from punishment. There are examples in the Bible where people fled to the horns of the altar hoping that they would be pardoned of the sin they had committed.
The altar was a very conspicuous object in the court. It stood in the center, and when worshippers entered, it was right before them. They could not fail to be impressed with its square and massive form, its bright and blood-stained exterior, its blazing fire, and the ascending curling smoke of the burning offerings, and its white-robed and ministering priests. As the altar was the most prominent of the holy vessels in the tabernacle court, so Christ should be the principal attraction of the church, with the Christian knowing that He made the ultimate sacrifice that was made once and for all for us. Each time we go to church, it should be the focal point of our time there. The cross should be at the center of every sermon that is given there.