Exodus 27:1 MEANING

Exodus 27:1


(1) Thou shalt make an altar.--Heb., the altar. It is assumed that a sanctuary must have an altar, worship without sacrifice being unknown. (See Exodus 5:1-3; Exodus 8:25-28; Exodus 12:27; Exodus 18:12; Exodus 20:24-26, &c.)

Of shittim wood.--This direction seems at first sight to conflict with those given in Exodus 20:24-25, where altars were required to be either of earth or of unhewn stone. But the explanation of the Jewish commentators is probably correct, that what was here directed to be made was rather an "altar-case" than an altar, and that the true altar was the earth with which, at each halt in the wilderness, the "case" of shittim wood covered with bronze was filled. (So Jarchi, Kalisch, and others.)

Foursquare.--Ancient altars were either rectangular or circular, the square and the circle being regarded as perfect figures. A triangular altar was discovered by Mr. Layard in Mesopotamia, but even this had a circular top. In Hebrew architecture and furniture curved lines were for the most part avoided, probably as presenting greater difficulties than straight ones.

The height thereof . . . three cubits.--A greater height would have made it difficult to arrange the victims upon the altar. Otherwise the notion of perfection in form would probably have led to the altar being a cube.

Verses 1-8. - THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING. From the description of the tabernacle, or sacred tent in which worship was to be offered by the priests, it followed in natural sequence, that directions should be given concerning the court, or precinct, within which the tabernacle was to stand Ancient temples were almost universally surrounded by precincts, which the Greeks called τεμένη, whereto a sacred character attached; and this was particularly the case in Egypt, where the temenos seems to have been a regular adjunct to the temple (Wilkinson in Rawlinson's Heradotus, vol. 2. p. 202, 2nd edition). Among the chief uses of such an open space, was the offering of victims on altars, as these could not be conveniently consumed elsewhere than in the open air, on account of the clouds of smoke and the fumes of the sacrifices. As in the description of the tabernacle, the furniture was first described, then the structure, so now the altar takes precedence of the court which was to contain it. Verse 1. - Thou shalt make an altar. Rather, "the altar." God had already declared that he would have an altar made to him in the place where he should "record his name" (Exodus 20:24). And, even apart from this, an altar would be regarded as so essential an element in Divine worship, that no place of worship could be without one. Of shittim wood. God had required (1. s. c.) that his altar should be "of earth," or else of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:25). The command now given was to make, not so much an altar, as an altar-case (see ver. 8). There can be no doubt that Jarchi is right in supposing that, whenever the tabernacle for a time became stationary, the hollow case of the altar was rifled up with earth, and that the victims were burnt upon this. Four-square. Altars were commonly either square or round. An Assyrian triangular one was found by Mr. Layard at Nineveh; but even this had a round top. The square shape is the most usual, and was preserved, probably in all the Temple altars, certainly in those of Solomon (2 Chronicles 4:1) and Herod (Joseph. Bell. Jud. 5:05, § 6).

27:1-8 In the court before the tabernacle, where the people attended, was an altar, to which they must bring their sacrifices, and on which their priests must offer them to God. It was of wood overlaid with brass. A grate of brass was let into the hollow of the altar, about the middle of which the fire was kept, and the sacrifice burnt. It was made of net-work like a sieve, and hung hollow, that the ashes might fall through. This brazen altar was a type of Christ dying to make atonement for our sins. The wood had been consumed by the fire from heaven, if it had not been secured by the brass: nor could the human nature of Christ have borne the wrath of God, if it had not been supported by Divine power.And thou shall make an altar of shittim wood,.... This is a different altar from that made of earth before the tabernacle was built, Exodus 20:24 and from the altar of incense, Exodus 30:1 this was to offer burnt offerings on, and was placed at the door of the tabernacle, in the court of the people, where they brought their sacrifices to the priests to offer for them: it stood in the open air, as it was proper it should, that the smoke or the sacrifices might ascend up and scatter. This altar was not typical of the altar of the heart; though indeed all the saints are priests, and every sacrifice of theirs should come from the heart, and particularly love, which is more than all burnt offerings; but the heart is not this altar of brass to bear the fire of divine wrath, which none can endure; nor does it sanctify the gift, it being itself impure: nor of the Lord's table, or the table on which the Lord's supper is set; that is a table, and not an altar, a feast, and not a sacrifice; is not greater than the gift, nor does it sanctify: nor of the cross or Christ, on which he died, bore the sins or his people, and sanctified them by his blood; but of Christ himself, who by his office as a priest, his human nature is the sacrifice, and his divine nature the altar; and he is that altar believers in him have a right to eat of, Hebrews 13:10 his divine nature is greater than the human, is the support of it, which sanctifies and gives it virtue as a sacrifice, and which makes the sacrifices of all his people acceptable to God. This altar of burnt offering is said to be made of "shittim wood", a wood incorruptible and durable; Christ, as God, is from everlasting to everlasting; as man, though he once died, he now lives for evermore, and never did or will see corruption; his priesthood is an unchangeable priesthood, and passes not from one to another, and particularly his sacrifice is of a continual virtue and efficacy:

five cubits long, and five cubits broad: the altar shall be square: as to the length and breadth of it, which were alike, two yards and a half each, according to the common notion of a cubit. The altars of the Heathens were made in imitation of this, they were square as this was. Pausanias makes mention of an altar of Diana, that was "square", sensibly rising up on high. And this figure may denote the perfection of Christ's sacrifice, and the permanency of it; though the altars in Solomon's temple, and in the visions of Ezekiel, are much larger, and which also were square, 2 Chronicles 4:1. Christ's sacrifice is large and extensive, making satisfaction for all his people, and for all their sins; and he is an altar large enough for all their sacrifices to be offered up to God with acceptance:

and the height thereof shall be three cubits; a proper height for a man to minister at; for as Aben Ezra observes, the height of a man is but four cubits ordinarily; so that a man serving at the altar would be a cubit, or half a yard more above it, and would have command of doing on it what he had to do.

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