Should you drive through flowing water? Hm, well . . . where and under what circumstances? If we’re talking about a flash flood flowing over a street and you are not in immediate danger, don’t drive through it. Too many have been swept off of roads under those circumstances. But if you are going to drive in the country of Honduras, you are going to either drive through some rivers or not go anywhere. Many of the roads had a bridge at one time, but years of neglect have crumbled them and the country doesn’t have the money to rebuild. So, the road veers off to the side and down to the river. You drive through or you’re stuck. Now, as a rule, it is good advice to not drive through flowing water. But there are places and circumstances where it is necessary to drive through flowing water. Okay, but that is not really the truth of our passage. It is a truth we need to deal with, but not the main truth. You and I are soul stained and stand in need of a good blood bath so that we can be in the Presence of Yahweh. That, my friends, is the main truth here. Don’t allow the questions of the passage to blind you to the truth.
Exodus 27:1-8 is about the construction of the Altar in the Tabernacle. The only thing that some can see here is a contradiction with the instructions found in Exodus 20:24-26 which states very clearly that altars are to be made with either dirt or uncut stones. And at first glance, there does seem to be this glaring contradiction. In our text the Altar is to be made out of acacia wood and overlaid with copper. The most common theory seems to be that you have two main sources in the Old Testament: P which stands for the Priestly source and E which stands for the Elohist source. Earlier scholarship broke it up into JEPD: Jehovist; Elohist; Priestly and Deuteronomic. Anyway, the theory is that the instructions for the altar here in Exodus 27 are from P while the instructions in Exodus 20 are from E. Confused yet? But what if the instructions are about different altars and different circumstances? What if Exodus 20 is about constructing a semi permanent altar which would remain in that spot as a reminder that the people stopped in that place to worship Yahweh, a reminder for generations to come. And if that be the case, what if Exodus 27 is about the Altar which will be in the Tabernacle only; the Altar which will need to be portable along with everything else? Are we intended to read Exodus 20 as if it applies to every altar ever made? If so, then there is definitely a contradiction here. But that seems to be a huge assumption. The Exodus 20 passage begins with the Ten Words and then focuses on the command not to make idols. It seems an appropriate time to inform them about making altars in places where they worship Yahweh. The Tabernacle is not in the picture at all there.
Okay, so in the Tabernacle the Altar is to be about seven and a half wide and long and four and a half feet high. It is to be hollow with a copper grate on the inside about half way down. This is most likely the grate that the burning coals were placed upon along with the sacrifice. As the sacrifice burns, the ash from the coals and the grease from the animal falls through the grate to the ground where it can be more easily cleaned. The tools for the clean up – a pail and a shovel – were made of copper. The fork and the fire-pan were also made of copper. Copper has a melting-point of 1,083o C. I have no idea what that converts into in Fahrenheit, though it is extremely hot. It is to have four horns, one on each corner. We are not at all sure what the horns represent. We know that the animals were tied to the horns as they were about to be sacrificed (Psalm 118:7) so they may have been purely functional. However Adonijah ran to the altar and grabbed hold of the horns for refuge (1 Kings 1:50). That maneuver did not work so will for Joab who was executed while holding on to the horns of the altar (1 Kings 2:28-34). So, I don’t know.
Much of this article has dealt with the reality that sometimes God speaks to certain people under certain circumstances. And there is truth here. Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Is that command for all followers of Jesus. If so, we are failing miserably aren’t we? But there is another truth in this passage. Yahweh is so holy that sacrifices are necessary; blood must be shed. There was a chasm between God and man. Sin sullied souls demand sacrifice. The Presence of God traveled with them through the wilderness, but so did the Altar; so did the need for sacrifice. The Holy Presence demanded a deep cleansing. Jesus is that sacrifice today. We stand sanctified by the precious blood of Jesus; the perfect sacrifice made once for all. We don’t need an Altar, but we need the cleansing.