The Tabernacle: The Altar
Read: Ex 27:1-8
At the gate of the taberbacle compound, stood the altar, sometimes referred to as the Brazen altar or ‘the altar...at the door’ (Lev 4:7). It is to this item that we turn first, as we move our way inwards towards the holiest of all. This will commence our investigation of the typical purpose of the tabernacle.
The title ‘the altar at the door’ of course distinguishes it from ‘the altar before the Lord’ or the Golden Altar which was within the tabernacle itself, but also positions it for us within the courtyard. The courtyard was the only part of the tabernacle compound that was open to the everyday man or woman, and the Brazen altar was the only item of furniture within that compound available to them. Thus it had special significance. While it was true that only the priests were equipped to perform the service of the altar, it had a ministry for all: it was the place of sacrifice, and it was here that a man came to make an offering, whether it be for sin, or to scale the heights in worship. In his commentary on Exodus John Grant states;
‘the worshipper approaching the Tabernacle and looking through the gate would have his view arrested by the Brazen Altar dominating the court.’
This reminds us that while the wideness of the gate speaks of the scope of salvation, the altar positioned just beyond it speaks of the necessity of sacrifice for salvation.
In the Exodus account, Moses is also given the specifics of its pattern. It was to be made of Shittim wood, overlaid with brass. There is some speculation as to whether this is brass as we know it (a mixture of copper and tin–unlikely given the wilderness situation) or more likely, copper. In any event what is referred to as brass in scripture speaks of judgement, and so the pairing with the incorruptible wood reminds us that in type, this is the coming together of the judgment of God for sin and the real humanity of Christ. Paul tells us that ‘He was made sin for us’ (2 Cor 5:21) while Peter states that He ‘bare our sins in His body on the tree’ (1 Pe 2:24). Our Saviour took a real body so that He might be made an offering for sin. What grace!
In addition to defining the materials it was made from, the measurements are also given; it was to be five cubits long and five cubits wide. This speaks of its compass; it was four square, and so from whichever direction you approached it was equally available to you. Paul reminds us that the gospel is for all as ‘there is no difference...for all have sinned’ (Rom 3:22-23).
The ‘altar at the door’ would have held a special place in the hearts of the ancient Israelites. It enabled the basis of their approach to God; sacrifice. But to us it speaks of much more; it reminds us of the One who ‘suffered without the gate’ (Heb 13:12) who in His incorruptible humanity bore the wrath of God for sin upon the cross, thus providing the shedding of blood necessary to secure our salvation. It is fitting that it is named the ‘altar at the door’–it is available, and it is here to which we must first come before we can scale the heights of tabernacle typology, for without it, all else is meaningless.
Christ is our ‘altar at the door.’ May we have a fresh appreciation of this as we remember Him again today.