Chapter 29 The Altar's Sweet Savor

Noah builded an altar unto the LORD…And the LORD smelled a sweet savour (Genesis 8:20-21).

The sanctifying power of God’s grace is demonstrated for us in the lives of godly men of old. The new world upon which Noah stood after the flood was, in a sense, resurrection ground. Upon this ground Noah, the man of God, now builds. As with every true child of God, his life was a new beginning in redemption and characterized by joy in praise and prayer through reconciling blood.

He and his family had built an ark which was scorned by the world. But Noah built it in obedience to God and entered it with calm confidence to find within peace and safety. Now that the flood had abated, God spoke again, “Go forth of the ark,” and Noah left it upon Mount Ararat with the old world a veritable graveyard, but a new world visible before his eyes. The riot of evil was past. The new is at rest.

Noah’s First Employment

“Noah builded an altar unto the LORD.” Worship was his first employment. The last trace of judgment had passed away. The new earth was to be filled with what came out of the ark. But coming forth into this new world, there was much need for work to be done. There would be need for a house for his family and stalls for his cattle. The necessities of existence demanded that he begin immediately to plan and build. But Noah gave God the first place in his new life. The first building was an altar: his first act the exercise of worship.

Thus we are taught the primacy of worship. Those who are truly redeemed are first drawn to this sacred exercise. It is the first concern and comes before all that is to contribute to earthly existence. Thus we see for the first time an altar raised. The ground before the flood was cursed, but judgment made it clean, and having such clean ground, an altar was raised on earth.

The Altar of Sacrifice

The altar itself was a figure of Christ in His Godhood. Only He, because He was God, could bear the weight of human sin. The purpose of the altar was to hold up a sacrifice to God. No multitude of angels could have borne such a weight. Only Deity was sufficient, and it was Deity alone in the Lord Jesus which held the sacrifice intact on Calvary’s cross when He was forsaken. He was strong in His own divine right—immovable in His own Godhood.

If the altar set forth our Lord’s deity, then the sacrifice upon it was symbolic of His Humanity. “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Who could count the number of sins? The sins of the whole human race must have been as many as the sands by the seashore. Who but God could absorb all the punishment due them?

Thus our Lord, as the true Altar and Sacrifice, could answer for all our sins. Let no man vainly imagine that we weak mortals can contribute in any way, or carry any of this burden. It is not Christ with angels, or the church, or penance, or purgatory, but Christ and He alone. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

The Sweet Savor of the Offering

“The Lord smelled a sweet savour.” Noah’s sacrificial offering pointed to Calvary’s cross. It is His sacrifice alone which rises to God as a sweet savor. His sacrifice satisfies every attribute of the divine nature.

It is a sweet savor to God’s justice. Justice calls for obedience without faltering and without interruption. Where there is disobedience, then justice demands death. It cannot connive at evil. But in our Lord’s sacrifice there is that which meets every demand of justice so that it is honored with full satisfaction.

It is a sweet savor to God’s truth. Truth can never wink at evil or pretend it is not there. Nor can it restrain from exposing and denouncing it. Neither tears, nor prayers, nor penances can affect truth and cause truth to become untruth by excusing sin. But in the sacrifice of God’s beloved Son, truth smells a sweet savor and is fully satisfied.

It is a sweet savor to God’s holiness. Holiness cannot look upon iniquity or any form of uncleanness. It is of purer eyes than to behold what is impure. But at the cross, where the precious blood of Christ flows and cleanses from all sin, even holiness joys in that sacrifice and smells a sweet savor.

This sacrifice of our Lord’s is the joy of Heaven. It delights every attribute in the Godhead. Then let it be our joy. Let it refresh our souls as we celebrate it.

Lowly Jesus, mighty God,
Suff’ring Lamb and stricken Dove,
In the wrathful winepress trod,
Who can tell Thy wondrous love?

Sin-abhorring, holy Word,
Cursed for sin how didst Thou prove,
Fiery pangs of judgment’s sword!
Bruised, profound, amazing love!

Floods of love like rivers, spilled
From the Bosom judgment clove,
All God’s universe have filled—
Fragrant, deep, atoning love!

From Thy wondrous Cross alone
Bruised Lamb and wounded Dove,
All God’s radiancy hath shone:
Thou art all our Light and Love!

Frank Allaben