The Altar: Where God Meets with His People

The bronze altar outside the tabernacle was a busy place. The morning and evening sacrifices were presented there, but throughout the day the people came with sacrifices for the priests to offer for them. Exodus 29:42-43 gives you the heart of the purpose of the altar.

You need a substitute. Why bring a sacrifice? Some have suggested that the sacrifice was primarily something going on inside the person bringing it. It helped him feel close to God. This view has been promoted by those who suggest that mankind is inherently good, or at least has a spark of goodness that can be fanned into a flame. Others have suggested that sacrifices really didn’t happen in the wilderness (despite what Exodus says!), but was a practice picked up from the Canaanites, which the prophets later tried to modify in the direction of spiritual worship of God. More recently the idea that God would give his Son to die in the place of sinners has been dismissed as cosmic child abuse. Continue reading

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Incense and Prayers

The earliest event in the breaking of the 400 year silence since the last Old Testament prophet had spoken took place as the elderly priest, Zechariah, was standing at the altar of incense, when Gabriel appeared to him, telling him that he would have a son who would prepare for the coming Messiah. Exodus 30:1-10 gives the instructions for building this piece of furniture for the holy place in the tabernacle.

The altar of incense stood before the most holy place. Because atonement had been made on the altar in the courtyard, this altar was for incense. Offerings for sin were consumed on the bronze altar in the courtyard of the tabernacle. With their sins forgiven, the priest could now offer incense every morning and evening.

The altar of incense was associated with God’s presence in the most holy place. All the furniture in the tabernacle was holy, set apart to God. But the altar of incense stood right in front of the cutain separating the holy place from the most holy place. Though it clearly belonged to the holy place, since incense was offered twice daily there, and the most holy place could be entered only once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, it was associated with the presence of God in the most holy place, Hebrews 9:3; 1 Kings 6:22. Continue reading

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The Bread of Presence

In the tabernacle stood a table—not impressive in size. It was only about three feet long, one and a half wide, and roughly 29 inches high. But it was covered in gold, and it was an important piece of furniture.

The table held bread in the presence of the Lord. The bread of the Presence was not to feed God. That concept was present among surrounding nations—their gods needed food, so the people brought food to the temple. You may hear that theory about the bread (and the sacrifice of animals) in the worship of Israel, but that is not true. God has no need of food from his people, Psalm 50:7-15. Continue reading

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The Golden Lampstand

A good architect gives thought to lighting. But the golden lampstand in the holy place of the tabernacle, Exodus 25:31-40, was made for deeper reasons than aesthetics.

The lampstand looks back to the source of light. Light marked the beginning of God’s creative work. “Let there be light” was the creative word of the first day. The same Hebrew noun as is used repeatedly in Genesis 1 is Moses’ choice to describe the light given by the lampstand. When God dwells symbolically in the tabernacle in the midst of the camp of Israel, his sanctuary is not to be in darkness. All night long the lamps were kept burning, Exodus 27:20-21.

The lampstand was made to reflect the perfection of Eden. Without being too speculative, it appears that there is a resemblance, a conscious reflection, between the original tree of life and the lampstand, with blossoms incorporated into its construction. I was formed of gold—75 pounds of gold. Continue reading

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Your Good Confession

Timothy was unique, but the confession that he made was not. In 1 Timothy 6:11-13 Paul calls you to hold to your confession.

Keep your good confession. You have made a good confession. Timothy had made a good confession. Paul may be looking back to Timothy’s ordination, but more likely to his baptism. This young man, son of a Greek father and Jewish mother (Acts 16:1), had learned God’s Word from his mother and grandmother. But as a young man he had heard the good news of Jesus Christ and had responded in faith. Included also is the life that Timothy had continued to live before the Lord and his people. You have confessed Christ before many witnesses. Witnesses summon you to remember what you have promised. They remind you of the faithfulness of your God. See Deuteronomy 32:1. Make yours a good confession, one to which you remain true. Your confession is not simply empty words, but it must be something seen in your daily life. Congregation, remember that you are witnesses! You have a responsibility to encourage those who have professed their faith and even to call them to account. You can remind a baptized child of what it means that God has marked him as one who belongs to him. Continue reading

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