The Brazen Altar

Or, the Finished Work of Christ. (Exodus 27:1-8).

Before we speak of the Altar as connected with the Tabernacle, we shall trace its developement in the Word of God. And in the growing clearness in the truth of the Altar, we shall see has its counterpart in the gradual unfoldings of the prophecies of the coming of Christ.

And this growing clearness was not the result of man groping after God and getting clearer conceptions of Him; as some of the religious leaders of to-day tell us. No, the Word of God witnesses to the fact that man is not seeking after God, see Psalms 14 and 53 and Rom. 3:11. Instead of man seeking after God, it is God who is seeking after man, who has not retained even the knowledge of God with which the race started, instead of adding to it (Rom. 1:28). In the Altar we have not man’s conceptions of God, but God’s revelation of Himself.

Just as soon as sin came in, in grace God provided the Altar, and there are some stages in its developement that we wish to point out. (1) In Eden, that our first parents might be clothed with skins it was necessary that the animals be killed. However dimly, all may be seen here. (2) “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” (Heb. 11:4). Here the Altar is not named, but it is implied. (3) “And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord.” (Gen. 8:20). The altar is named here though the material of which it was constructed is not mentioned. (4) “An altar of earth shalt thou make unto Me.” (Exodus 20:24). “And if thou wilt make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” (Exodus 20:25). Here we have quite an advance on anything we have had so far, we have the altar named and the material given as well, earth and stone. (5) Now we come to the Altar in the Tabernacle, and here we have the greatest fulness of detail, we have size, shape and material given so plainly that it would be possible to now reproduce that altar, a thing impossible with the earlier ones.

Compare with this the prophecies of the coming of Christ. (1) In Eden, “The Seed of the Woman.” Gen. 3:15. The promise is to mankind. (2) Abraham, “The Seed of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:16). The race of the Jews. (3) David, “The Seed of David.” (2 Tim. 2:8). Of the family of David. (4) Born of a Virgin. (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23). (5) Born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). (6) His life of rejection (Isa. 53). (7) The manner of His death. (Psa. 22). (8) The time of His death. (Dan. 9:25-26). (9) His burial with the rich. (Isa. 53:9). (10) His resurrection (Psalm 16:19).

Like the faint point of light of some far distant star, we see the promise in Eden, but when we read the utterances of the Holy Spirit in the Psalms, Isaiah and Micah, the promise shines like the sun, and we feel in reading Isa. 53:and Psa 22, as if that life were lived before us and we stood beside that cross and gazed upon that holy sufferer as He expired on it. God could have unfolded all right in Eden when sin came in, for all was known to Him from eternity, but it was His way to unfold that truth little by little.

The Materials Of The Altar.

Let us look at the materials. It was of brass (or copper) and acacia wood. The acacia wood was a white wood of great durability, it is spoken of as incorruptible wood, and speaks of the holy Humanity of the Lord Jesus, the One who had no sin—who could not sin. He was as to His Manhood the Son of God, the Only-begotten of the Father. This was His peculiar glory. This wood was covered with brass. The brass speaks of the Deity of Christ. Brass has in it ability to sustain the fire; the fire could feed, as it were, upon the victim, and the brass could endure it. Now, when we look back to the Cross, we see the Lord Jesus Christ sustaining the wrath of God. When it is laid upon sinners, it will sink them in an eternal hell, and that word will be eternally true, “The wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Sinners cannot sustain it, it will overwhelm them. But the Son of God, the perfect Man, had an infinite capacity to endure. He bore the wrath of God on account of sin. He put sin away, made satisfaction unto God for it, and came forth out of that judgment. Now we see that One risen from the dead and glorified at the right hand of God.

The Altar is witness to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was no mere man. A real Man He was, blessed be God. But as to His Deity, He was from all eternity. Of Him it was said, “Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” These are days when men are seeking to drag down the Christ of God from His place, the place God’s Word gives Him as Jehovah-Jesus. The man who gives Christ only the place of a good man, is the most illogical of men, for to give Him the place of a good man, if He be not God, would be to give Him a place He does not deserve. If He was not God, He would be a rank imposter, for He claimed to be God. But He was and is God. We read, “Thou Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old—from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). Isaiah could say, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (chapter 9:6). Then let us hold fast in these dark apostate days, hold more dear than life, the blessed, glorious truth that the One who suffered on Calvary’s Cross was the God-Man.

The Deity Of Christ, The Truth For To-Day.

We are in the “last days” and the apostasy, like a tide is sweeping all before it. Denominations, which a few decades ago were sound on this vital truth, now permit men in their colleges and in their pulpits to boldly teach, that our Lord was a man of limited intelligence, that He accepted the Genesis record of Creation and the Fall as true history, because He did not know better. But these men, with sources of information (they say) which He had not, regard as merely allegories, these facts.

In the apostles Peter, Paul and John we have the whole dispensation outlined in their lives, and now we are in the last of the three stages which they represent, the John stage. Peter gives us its dawn; Paul, its meridian; John, its sunset. We have the Apostle Peter giving us the beginning of the dispensation; the Apostle Paul presenting Christianity as a Divine revelation from God—not an improved edition of Judaism, but a Heavenly outcalling; then we have the Apostle John, who lived longest; lived, as it were, until he saw the wreck of that which had been so heavenly in its beginning, we have John contending for the Person of Christ, the Son of God, jealous for the glory of Christ as God. This is the one great thing in the ministry of John. Now we have reached the days when everything is pretty well a wreck. As long as there are companies of believers, who see the order of the Church of God, and that it is their duty to gather together, while ever loyal to all the truth committed to them, they will be known as those who cleave fast to this blessed truth, that Jesus Christ is God.

The Manhood Of Christ.

As the brass speaks of the Deity of Christ, the wood which was overlaid by the brass, brings His Manhood before us. The Shittim wood, or as it should be, Acacia, was a very white and durable wood, and was spoken of as “Incorruptible wood.” Of His birth the angel Gabriel could say to Mary, “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In His life He was “holy, harmless and undefiled” (Heb. 7:26). And in death He saw no corruption. (Psa. 16:10. Acts 2:31).

That He might die, He became man, and so the Word that in a past eternity was with God and was God, by whom all things were made, became flesh (John 1:14). He came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) but not sinful flesh.

The truth of the holy humanity of our Lord is now assailed, just as His deity is assailed, and the virgin birth is scoffed at. Some time ago we were speaking in some large meetings in an American city, on the signs of the apostasy, and among those signs, we dwelt on this. At the close a young minister of a church in the district, that at one time had a reputation for orthodoxy, came to me, to thank me for what I had said, and then told me that he was a member of an examining committee and they had a young man, a candidate for the ministry before them. My friend put the question to him. “Do you believe that Jesus was the son of Joseph, as you are the son of your father?” The answer of that candidate was “Yes.” I asked my friend, “Did you license him?” His reply was, “I objected to him, but he was railroaded through.”

Jesus the son of Joseph. What blasphemy. If He were Joseph’s son He could not be our Saviour, for He would need a saviour Himself. Such wood will not do for the Altar of God. It must be holy manhood, and of all the myriads that have crossed the stage of time, only one was eligible to die for sinners, and to Him belongs exclusively, as to His manhood, the name the “Only Begotten Son.”

The Witness Of The Measurements Of The Altar.

Everything about the Altar is full of significance, we may fail to apprehend its significance, but this does not alter the fact. The material, size, use and place, are all meant by God to teach us, for God is bringing His Son before us. Now let us see how the measurements speak. The Altar is 5 cubits broad (8 feet 9 inches), and it is four-square. The Altar is thus large enough to take in the whole burnt offering. 5 cubits— this reiterates the truth that I have been seeking to put before you in the two kinds of material of the Altar. “Five” speaks of God with man. “Four” is the number of the creature: we speak of the four winds, and the four corners of the earth. “One” speaks of God, who declares, “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isaiah 46:9). Thus four and one (five), suggests that name, Immanuel, “God with us,” “God manifest in flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).

The height of the Altar is 3 cubits. What does three speak of? God fully manifested. “No man hath seen God at any time, but the only begotten which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” And it was in the Cross that God was to be fully manifested. God manifested is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Triune God. The height of the Altar (3 cubits), tells us what the Cross of Christ did.

Amongst the altars of the heathen, you find great variety as to shape, size, and material. When God is going to have an altar, that is in a Divine and blessed way to bring before the hearts of His people what Christ was and is, what He did, the perfection of His Person and work, He says it shall be “Four-square.” We meet that word “four-square” again in Exodus 28:16, and when we meet it, it is in connection with the Breastplate of Judgment. We read, “Foursquare it shall be.” What can there be, that symbolizes righteousness, like that square—equal sides, and equal angles? When men talk of their dealings with one another, and they do the thing that they ought to do, they say they are “acting on the square.” Now, where was righteousness ever displayed, as it is in the Cross work of Christ? Look at Romans 3:25 and 26: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness; that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” The great point in these verses is this, that away back, right back to Abel, God had been saving guilty sinners. All that there seemed to be in view, as an equivalent for their sins (and some of their sins were very heinous), was an animal—a goat or a bullock. So people might say, “Where is the righteousness of God, to make such a difference between that man who brought the animal, and that one who did not?” Well, if there had been nothing else in view, no righteousness: if that bullock was all, then it is true, God was “passing over” sins for a very small trifle. But the time comes when One, more precious than all worlds, dear to the heart of God, dearer than all created intelligences, went to the Cross, and on the Cross offered up Himself as a Sacrifice of infinite worth. God can now say, “It was not because of that animal I forgave sins, but on the ground of the blood of My Blessed Son, which was to be shed.” Oh, what righteousness.

In the outside of the graveyard wall of St. Nicholas’s Church, Galway, Ireland, there is let into the wall what is known as the Linch Stone. These words may be read upon it. “This memorial of the stern and unbending justice of the chief magistrate of this city, James Linch Fitzstephen, elected Mayor, a.d., 1493, who condemned and executed his own guilty son, Walter, on this spot.” The spot is that of the old prison. Young Linch had killed a young Spaniard, had been duly tried and proven guilty, and the father’s sense of the majesty of the law, led him to carry out its sentence when others would not.

That was righteousness. Now, when the Son of God in infinite grace came into this scene, when He took our place on Calvary, God did not say, “I will let it pass.” How could a holy righteous God pass over sin? Never! He could forgive it and pardon the sinner, but only because of His Blessed Son dying. Now, the Cross of Christ is the perfect expression of the righteousness of God. The Altar is four-square.

The Death Of Christ Meets Alike God’s Claims And Man’s Need.

“Hollow with boards shalt thou make it.” The Altar was practically a hollow box, 8 feet 9 inches broad, 5 feet 3 inches high. Let us suppose that the sacrifice is put into it just as we have described it now, a box without top or bottom, the sacrifice would of course fall to the ground. How then could a priest adjust the parts, so that it would burn? That was his work. But to obviate the victim falling down to the ground, a brazen network was let down to the middle of the Altar, which was 3 cubits high, consequently when the sacrifice was put upon the Altar, it rested upon this network of brass 1½ cubits high. What is the striking thing about this? In all the furniture inside, there were only two vessels 1½ cubits high—the Ark and the Table. The Ark, the Table, and the sacrifice are thus all on a level. The Ark and Mercy-Seat was God’s Throne, and the only thing that could meet the holy claims of that Throne, was the death of Christ, and thank God, it did. The Table was what held the loaves, which was the food of the priests, and speaks of man’s need. So just as nothing but the death of Christ could meet God’s claims, so nothing less can meet man’s need. And only the sinner who has seen Christ satisfying every demand of the Throne of God, knows what it is to have a purged conscience and a satisfied heart. For religious works fail to give that as surely as they fail to meet the demands of God’s righteousness.

“Hollow with boards.” As we read these words we think of that marvellous expression in Philippians 2, “He emptied Himself.” Oh! what a thought, “He emptied Himself”—“made Himself of no reputation.” What a wonderful word, that He should come down to this sin-cursed earth as the self-emptied One!

The Sacrifice And The Fire.

But there is another thought, very sad and solemn. It is that that hollow box-like Altar contained in it, not on it, the fire which consumed the sacrifice, typical of what we read in Lamentations 1:13, “From above hath He sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against me.” Oh! that awful fire that reached the Holy Son of God, when for our sakes He hung upon the cruel Cross.

Now let us look at the use of the Altar. In Exodus 29, we find it is a meeting-place. How very precious, how very suggestive, and how exceedingly comforting when we think of it as a meeting-place. God dwells in infinite holiness inside. We look at ourselves as outside. How can God in His holiness meet man in his sin, and bring him nigh to Himself? The Altar shows us how. We see God coming out in purest grace from the Mercy-Seat, which was His Throne. He comes to the Altar, meets the guilty Israelite there, who has in obedience to His command, brought to the Altar a perfect sacrifice for his sin. God had said long years before Christ came, “I have found a ransom.” So while the Israelite had to find and bring his sacrifice, the sinner now has not. God says, “I have found a ransom.” Who is this ransom? “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And so we go back to Calvary, and on that Cross we see in terrible reality what was foreshadowed by the type here. How very expressive was the act of the one who brought the sacrifice! We read, “He shall lay his hands on the head of the goat.” That was identifying himself with the sacrifice, confessing he deserved to die, but that God had provided a substitute. The hymn puts it very sweetly:—

My Faith would lay its hand,
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.”

I am persuaded that Dr. Horatius Bonar meant this identification by faith, when he wrote:—

I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all and frees us
From the accursed load.”