I’ve had a song stuck in my head for a week. It’s “Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship. The words “come to the altar” sound like a blessed invitation. Altars are strictly symbolic now, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the subject. We have an altar- our hearts. So this week, we’re studying altars!
It surprised me to find out that in the King James Version of the Bible; they mention altars 433 times!¹ This was a much deeper topic than I envisioned. We will condense our mini-study down to a few examples.
Building Altars for God
The first mention of an altar is in Gen 8:20. When Noah emerged from the ark, he saw the world was barren. The first thing Noah did, however, before doing anything else was to build “an altar to the Lord.” Instead of concentrating on all the chores he probably needed to do, his first act was to worship God. God had preserved his family. Noah, in gratefulness, thought of God first. When God smelled the aroma of the sacrifice, it says he was pleased. (He takes delight in our worship!) He made a covenant right then to never destroy the earth with a flood again.
We see another example of altar building in Gen 12:7 when Abram (Abraham), following God’s direction and guidance, travels to the land of the Canaanites. God appears to Abram and says, “To your offspring, I will give this land. So he built an altar there to the Lord.” It commemorated God’s promise and his encounter with God. God had revealed a promise and a blessing to Abram, and in thanksgiving and commemoration, he constructed an altar.
Altar of Incense
God himself gave the instructions in Exodus 30:1-10 for the construction of the “Altar of Incense.”
It stood in front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It was as “close” to God as the people could get, and therefore sometimes called “the altar before the Lord.” Incense burned continuously on this altar. They made no other kind of offerings there. The fragrant smoke symbolized the continuous prayers of the people.
Altar of Burnt Offering
Possibly the most commonly known altars in the Bible are those of animal sacrifices. If you’ve ever read through Leviticus, you know there are many verses devoted to the proper procedures for altar sacrifices. In a nutshell, they offered the blood of spotless animals as a temporary payment for the people’s sin. These animal sacrifices were symbolic of the sacrifice of sinless Jesus, whose death to come would pay for our sin.
It’s interesting to me that altars were built for many reasons- in times of joy and sorrow, to announce battle victories or defeats, to show a need for repentance, and as memorials and celebrations, just to name a few.
Meaning of Altar in the Bible
No matter the reason for the altar, the common thread was that it was an interaction between God and his people. They wanted to connect and interact with God.
That thread continues today. Altars remind us of our connection with God. They may be in our churches. It might be where we see people respond to Jesus for the first time. Maybe some of you have them in a special place in your homes.
Building an Altar
But we also build altars now- in our hearts. That is where He lives within us and where we interact and communicate with him. We do that through prayer and study, sacrifice and service. He meets us whenever we come to him. His arms are always open wide! You can come to your altar in a chair, at a desk, or in your bed. It may occur while you are driving, working, or going for a walk. It’s coming to God to be in his presence and lay our worship or burdens before Him.
That thought just makes me want to linger longer in his presence. I like the thought of quietly resting in God’s presence at his altar in my heart. It’s always a place of forgiveness, healing, and acceptance. He is king of the universe but totally accessible to us anytime and anywhere.
As you think about building and preparing your altar to God, ask yourself these questions:
When you are experiencing the grace and mercy of God in your life, do you come to the altar of worship like Noah?
Coming out of a storm, do you put God first as Noah did?
How do you respond when God reveals his promises and blessings as he did to Abram?
How does your altar of prayer compare to the Altar of Incense?
Just like your people of old, today we still desire to connect and interact with you. We know that Jesus’ sacrifice has allowed us to come to you with no barriers between us. We lay aside our pride as we prepare our altars for you. They are not made with stone or metal, but deep within our hearts. Thank you for accepting our worship and responding to us in love. Teach us to live in gratefulness and joy in our personal relationship with you. Send us out with your strength and confidence to do your will.
1. The New Compact Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
4 thoughts on “We Have an Altar”
I’ve heard people say that when God gives a promise, there may come a time to lay that promise on the altar, like Abraham did with Isaac. How do I know for sure if it’s really God telling me to lay the promise on the altar, and not the devil trying to deceive me into giving up on God’s promise?
I’m not sure what “laying a promise on an altar” really means. All God’s promises are true and forever. The devil will always try to convince you that God’s promises are false, misleading, etc. (Look how he deceived Eve…) His work continues to this day. I’m not sure what promise you are referring to, but I do know that while we are not in control of His timeline, His promises never fail. Maybe this will help clarify for you: https://busyblessedwomen.com/what-are-the-promises-of-god/
Really liked this lesson!
Thanks Cindy! Looking forward to seeing you all soon!