Lecture 17.

The Altar of Burnt-offering

(Exodus 38:1-7.)

We have now completed our survey of the tabernacle itself and its furniture, both of the most holy and the holy places. We pass next to the court which was about it, and following the order of actual construction, we come first to the altar of burnt-offering. This was indeed the most prominent article in the court, meeting the one who would draw near to God immediately upon entering the court. We shall find its importance equal to the prominence of its position.

We have already become familiar with the materials of which this altar was made the acacia wood, and the copper with which it was overlaid. Copper was the characteristic metal outside the tabernacle, as gold was within. The dimensions of this altar were five cubits square and three cubits high. Its proportions thus differed from those of the altar of incense, which was twice as high as it was wide. On the four corners of this altar were the horns, "of the same," that is, an integral part of the altar. All its vessels were of copper: pots for the ashes — literally, "the fat" [ashes] — shovels for removing ashes or fire; bowls for catching the blood to be sprinkled; flesh hooks or forks for handling the meat; and fire-pans for holding the fire. There was also a grate of network "unto the midst of the altar," and upon this were four rings for the staves by which it was to be borne; these staves were of acacia wood overlaid with copper. The whole altar was made "hollow" with boards, and the direction had been given to make it as it had been shown to Moses in the mount.

Much of this description needs but little comment in the way of elucidation, but there is some question regarding the "grate of network," its form, place and use. The translation is generally accepted as correct, though the word for "grate" occurs only in this connection. It is derived from a word meaning to "plait," and from the same root we have the word "sieve" in Amos 9:9. The "network" which describes it is manifest. This grating was under the "compass" of the altar. Here, too, we have a word nowhere else used, and whose derivation is not absolutely clear. It is said to be derived from a word meaning to "surround:" hence "border" or "compass" would be the proper rendering.

Regarding this "border" there have been various thoughts; some have regarded it as a shelf or ledge, placed at right angles to the altar, midway between top and bottom. Its purpose was then said to be for the priest to stand upon while offering sacrifice. Some consider that the "grating of network" hung under this ledge, reaching to the ground, and making a sort of enlarged base or ornament to the altar, but do not explain in a satisfactory way the rings which were attached to the four corners of the grate. There would have to be four of these grates, and this carries us beyond the directions of Scripture.

Others again would have the grate as a sort of rim reaching out horizontally from the altar to catch the fire that might fall off the altar. Still others have considered the "compass" to be inside the top of the altar, filling up part of the space, and under it the grate filling up the hollow square which remained much as a picture, surrounded by a frame, the compass. But this, while giving use for the grate and for the rings, gives a somewhat forced meaning to "the midst of the altar," as though it meant half the area of the open top, the other half being filled by the "border."

Another possible thought is that the grating of network was a large square, like a square net set under the altar, and so much larger that when the staves were put in the rings, and the altar thus lifted, the network reached to the midst, or half-way up the sides. The objection to this view is that it seems a cumbersome and needless way of carrying the altar, giving no definite use to the net except the unusual one of being a sort of sack to carry the altar.

We return then to the primary and natural thought of the "grate." It was for fire therefore it must have been within the compass of the altar, not outside of it. But here we have a suggestion as to the "compass," that it was not something made, but simply the rim. The grating was under this, that is, not level with the rim, but below it; in fact, midway between the top and bottom of the altar. The only difficulty of a mechanical character would be the rings. If the grate was inside the altar and halfway down, how could they receive the staves by which the altar was carried? It is confessed that here is a question, and we can only suggest that these rings might have been passed through holes in the corners of the altar, and thus reached the outside, where they would serve for their intended purpose. This would give security to the altar as it was being carried.

These suggestions will be seen also to be in accord with the spiritual significance of the altar, which we will now seek to examine.

The acacia wood, of which it was made, need occupy us but briefly, as we have already learned its meaning. It speaks of the incorruptible, sinless humanity of our Lord, and therefore not subject to death. How fitting, then, that it should be connected with what is the constant witness of death — the altar. Our Lord need not die, therefore He could lay down His life; on all others judgment had a claim; none, therefore, could make atonement even for themselves, much less for others. We see then our Lord as "the Altar that sanctifieth the gift" (Matt. 23:19).

But how necessary was this humanity if there was to be an atonement. The very word for altar is connected with "slaughter" — the shedding of blood. Therefore one who was to be the true altar, must be capable of dying, and at the same time One upon whom death had no claim. This was our Lord's perfect, sinless humanity, as we have repeatedly seen in connection with the acacia wood. Here the emphasis is specially laid upon His sacrificial death, and we need not say how clearly this is connected with His humanity. If "the wages of sin" — death, with the accompanying judgment coming after it, were ever to be lifted from man, it must be on the righteous basis which God has made and accepted. A sacrifice must be made of infinite value and of spotless purity. This is the need for the incarnation: "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14).

Scripture again and again witnesses to this blessed foundation truth: from Genesis to Revelation — in type, history, psalm and prophecy, as well as from the Gospel narratives, the preaching of Christ's witnesses and the unfolding of the doctrine in the Epistles. We will refer to a few passages, and leave the reader to pursue this blessed theme for himself.

This great truth of incarnation for sacrifice and redemption is seen in the promise of the woman's Seed (Gen. 3:15), who was to be bruised in bruising Satan. All the sacrifices set this forth too; never did blood flow from a sacrificial animal that was not divinely intended to show the atoning death of the Lamb of God, who was "foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest (in flesh and blood) in these last times for you" (1 Peter 1:20). Thus the lamb for the Passover was not taken at random, but selected on the tenth day and kept up until the fourteenth day (Ex. 12:3, 6), to show how, Christ personally, as Man, met the full responsibility and requirement before the eye of God before He was manifested in His public ministry.

In typical history we have again and again these types of our Lord and His redeeming work: Joseph in his blameless life, and the special object of his father's love; Isaac, the son of promise, in figure offered up in sacrifice. The whole narrative of Israel's redemption abounds with these types. These very things we are now considering have this as the basis of their significance. In Israel's subsequent history, leaders, judges and kings, spoke of God's thought of a deliverer, often by prior rejection, as in Moses and David. The Psalms echo with the praises of Him who was the Leader and Perfecter of faith (Ps. 16), but who went down into the horrible pit to do God's will by the offering of His body unto death (Ps. 40). Indeed we might get from these psalms a full conception of our Lord's perfect humanity and of His sacrificial death.

The light of this great truth is intensified in the Prophets, where we have the promise of the Son of the Virgin, of God's Servant (Isa. 7:14; Isa. 42:1), and the cross most clearly foretold (Isa. 53). Jeremiah speaks of the righteous Branch of the house of David (Jer. 23:5-6), and Zechariah of the smiting of the Shepherd (Zech. 13:7). But besides the direct prophecies and allusions to this great truth, we find it beneath the surface like the veins of gold in the earth.

The New Testament, of course, is full of this. Its great theme is Christ incarnate and crucified. Take this divine fact from the word of God and we should have nothing left. It is in the very warp and woof of the Scriptures. If this great truth could be eliminated from it, the Bible is destroyed.

But the witness of Scripture as to the deity of our Lord is as full and explicit as to His human nature, typified in the acacia wood. We have already seen how His deity was typified in the gold, and doubtless the same truth is set forth in the brass or copper, at which we will now look, and the special reason for the change of metal.

We have already seen that silver, of which the sockets were made, sets forth redemption, the price paid by each one as a ransom for his soul (Ex. 30:11-16). While thus this precious metal emphasizes the work of our Lord Jesus, yet we are reminded that His work had its value because of what He was; so no doubt the silver too, as a precious metal, suggested His deity. The gold pre-eminently did that, in connection with His glory — fittingly, as the most precious metal, setting forth the eternal form of its display. Similarly the silver by its whiteness would remind us of His divine holiness, which is fittingly connected with that work which "washes whiter than snow." But the silver more prominently called attention to His work than to His deity, and we may expect this to be the case with the metal to which we have now come.

The word translated "brass" in our version, with but few exceptions, seems rather to be copper. Brass, as we know it, is a compound of copper with other metals, but this is probably not the case with the metal as spoken of in Scripture.

Copper is spoken of very early in the Scriptures (Gen. 4:22), where Tubal-cain is described as an instructor to those who worked in brass (copper, as We shall hereafter call it). Suggestively, gold is mentioned first and before the fall: "The gold of that land is good" (Gen. 2:11-12). God's glory is first. It may be suggestive also that copper is mentioned in connection with the family of Cain. It is quite striking that copper seems to have been the earlier and more widely used metal, as compared with iron. The "Bronze Age" preceded, we are told, that of Iron. At any rate, implements were made of copper, and by being subjected to hardening preserved their edge, or elasticity, almost as well as iron or steel.

In this connection we may briefly speak of the characteristics of copper, and later on we shall find how suitably they set forth the spiritual truths appropriate to its use in the altar and laver. Copper is found in many parts of the world; perhaps it is more widely spread than any other metal; it is frequently found united with gold and silver, as well as many other substances, one of the chief of which is sulphur or brimstone. To secure the metal pure from all these foreign elements requires a number of processes in which the action of fire is prominent. Finally the pure metal is secured. Copper also found in large quantities in a pure state.

This metal is of a reddish color, very ductile and malleable; particularly suited, therefore, to beating out into pots and other vessels, or into sheets, to overlay various articles, as the altar. It is susceptible of a high polish. Perhaps its chief characteristic is its toughness or tenacity, in which it exceeds both gold and silver.

Our word "copper" is derived from the Island of Cyprus, where the main supply was obtained for the Romans. But the word in the Hebrew, "nehosheth," is of uncertain origin. A conjecture has been made that it is derived from a word meaning to be bright, allied possibly with a root meaning to adorn" — all too uncertain, however, for more than mention here. A much closer resemblance, indeed identity of root, is in the word for "serpent." This can be seen in the "brazen serpent" — nehash nehosheth (Num. 21:9). It would almost seem that Hezekiah, when he gave the name "Nehushtan" to the brazen serpent ("a piece of brass") was combining the double significance of the words.

The word for "serpent" is given as derived from a word meaning to "hiss," then to "divine." A connection between this word "serpent" and that for "copper" may possibly be found more satisfactory than the conjecture mentioned above. But we find in Scripture a wealth of use of copper which will supply us with clear suggestions as to its spiritual significance. At these we will now look, dividing them into that which speaks of good, and that which sets forth evil characteristics.

"Out of whose hills thou mayest dig copper" (Deut. 8:9). That goodly inheritance was to yield not only food, but metals needed for many utensils. It has been thought that thence is an allusion to the mines of copper and iron in the blessing of Asher: "Thy shoes shall be iron and copper" — as though beneath their feet, in Asher's territory; but a more simple meaning seems to be suggested by the remainder of the verse, "As thy days so shall thy strength be." Although the word here rendered "strength" means "rest," the evident thought is enduring security and protection. (See also Micah 4:13).

Samson was bound with "fetters of brass," ("copper" — Judges 16:21; 2 Kings 25:7). Copper seems to have been the recognized material for bonds. In his lament over Abner, David says: "Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters" (literally, "in copper," 2 Sam. 3:34; see also Lam. 3:7). The cities of Bashan were well protected "with walls and copper bars" (1 Kings 4:13). The prison-house of the Lord's people is strong, but "He hath broken the gates of copper" (Ps. 107:16; see also Isa. 45:2). Of behemoth it is said: "His bones are as strong as pieces of copper" (Job 40:18). David says, "He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel (literally, "copper,' is broken by mine arms" (2 Sam. 22:35). Goliath's helmet and armor were of the same material (1 Sam. 17:5-6). Saul also armed David with a helmet of copper and a coat of mail to meet Goliath, but they were discarded by the man of faith (1 Sam. 17:38).

Copper is spoken of as a symbol of complete defence. Thus God promises Jeremiah: "I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar and brazen walls against the whole land" (Jer. 1:18; Jer. 15:20). The unyielding character of this metal is also suggestive of judgment: "I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as copper" (Lev. 26:19). This order is reversed in Deut. 28:23.

These scriptures and others which could be cited make clear the symbolic meaning of the copper — durability, strength, unyieldingness, whether in protection, bondage, or warfare. Applied to the nature of God, it would declare His unchanging character, His strength, and the impossibility of escape from His judgment; on the other hand, the security of those beneath His protection.

These very traits, when applied to sinful men, speak of stubbornness and hardness of heart: "I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew and thy brow copper" (Isa. 48:4). "Brazen effrontery" is a mark of Satan, and this may give a hint of the connection, as already noticed, between the "serpent" and copper.

Speaking of the "serpent of copper," we mayenquire, Why should that metal have been chosen? We have already had the suggestion of judicial dealing in the brazen fetters and prison. bars. May this not be the thought in the serpent? God's judgment, unchanging and strong, must be visited upon sin. So on the cross, God's judgment of sin, in the likeness of the serpent, is of copper. God's immutable nature, by its very perfection, must judge sin absolutely. "The Son of Man must be lifted up" (John 3:14). Our Lord was "made sin" for us (2 Cor. 5:2 ) bearing God's unchanging judgment against sin, to bring life and healing, instead of judgment, to those who flee to Him for shelter.

This brings us back to the altar of burnt-offering, which was covered with copper, and is in perfect accord with the whole truth set forth in the altar: God's unchanging judgment of sin, which must visit wrath upon the ungodly; but in the cross of Christ it finds expression not in the punishment of the sinner, but in the outpouring of judgment upon the sinless Substitute. As we look upon the altar glowing with its "red and lowering" copper, we are thus reminded that righteousness and judgment are the foundation of God's throne. He must judge sin: He would not be the God that He is if this were not the case. Therefore any presentation of God which leaves out this unchanging character of judgment, presents a false, not the true God.

But in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, this unyielding character is seen in association with an equally perfect love and pity for the sinner. There is justice, so stern and inflexible that the sword falls upon the sinless One, who takes His stand in the place of judgment and there is love so full, so strong, so free, that God's eternal and unchanging nature goes out in tenderest care — forgiving, justifying, saving the lost sinner coming in Christ's name. Christ went into the prison and was bound in our place: the bars of copper are no longer between the soul and liberty. Those heavens, which were once as copper to Him as He cried, "O My God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou Nearest not, and in the night season, and am not silent" (Ps. 22:2), now drop down refreshing showers, and are opened wide for faith to behold the Son of Man upon the throne, for He has magnified God's character in our salvation.*

{*As setting forth the divine attributes, copper speaks of our Lord's deity, as well as of His atoning work, just as the acacia wood represents His humanity, in the same connection. We will give therefore a few scriptures which refer to this fact in relation to His sacrificial work. Naturally we would expect to find greater prominence given to His humanity in this connection, for it was as Man that He laid down His life. But here, as everywhere, while we can distinguish we must not separate between the two natures of our Lord. The whole texture of Scripture illustrates this most important truth.

The language of God to Abraham, "Take now thy son, thine only son" (Gen. 22:2), tells of a love and a sacrifice infinitely greater than Abraham's, and infinitely more efficacious — of God's only begotten Son. Joseph is sent from Hebron, the place of communion, by his father to his brethren he is taken by them and cast into the pit, and sold (Gen. 37:14, etc.). Here we have the foreshadowing of One who came from the Father's bosom, and was rejected even unto death. In the sacrifices there is a suggestion, in the bird of heaven (Lev. 1), of Him who came down from heaven to be slain in the vessel of earth (Lev. 14:5-6). The Psalms bear unequivocal testimony, particularly the 102nd, which we have already quoted; the lowly Sufferer is there addressed as God, the One who eternally abides (Ps. 102:25-27). "I clothe the heavens with blackness" is said by the same One who also declares, "I gave my back to the smiters" (Isa. 50:3, 6). "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the Man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts (Zech. 13:7).

The New Testament adds abundant testimony of the same kind: "Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself" (John 10:17-18). The relation of Son with the Father was not only as Man, but as divine: "Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins (Heb. 1:3). "Who is the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15) this verse is just preceded by one which speaks of His atoning death: "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (ver. 14).}

The materials of the altar then bear their witness to the great fact of atonement let us gather similar lessons from its dimensions. These were five cubits square and three cubits high. The cubit was, as we have already seen, the Hebrew unit of linear measure, as the hin was for liquids, and the shekel for weight. It would suggest human capacity, much as the five fingers of the hand, and therefore responsibility. We have in the length and breadth (five cubits), a double witness of responsibility. The cross of Christ is the declaration of this responsibility, of our having utterly failed in it, and of Christ's having met the judgment for that failure.* The altar was foursquare, reminding us of the absolute righteousness of God, the equality of all His ways. How perfectly that was displayed in the cross! There was no abatement of penalty because of the dignity of the wondrous Substitute — all was foursquare; "There is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2:11).

{*"The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). "And I saw a great white throne … and I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God … And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books … And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11-15). This is the awful penalty for sin — bodily death, then final separation from God, morally and spiritually, after death, and the lake of fire to all eternity. These are the inflexible demands of God's righteousness.}

But from each corner of this four-square altar rose a horn, an integral part of the altar, while also distinct. One beautiful and obvious meaning of these horns is connected with the verse just quoted: inflexible, even-handed justice marked all God's ways, and nowhere more perfectly than here. None could hope for any mitigation of justice in his case. Nothing but even-handed justice would be meted out here. The rich man would find his wealth worthless here, and the poor man could excite no false pity by his poverty; wise and unwise, old and young, bond and free — all here met even-handed justice.

These horns, however, pointed toward the four quarters of the world. Their message was worldwide; and if they declared "all the world guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19), they equally proclaimed the gospel message of sins borne by the Substitute, for "whosoever" in the whole world. The guilt is world-wide, the remedy is worldwide too. All classes, all sorts of men meet here upon one common ground of being "sinners," and claim a common salvation.

Horns in Scripture symbolize strength: "My horn shalt Thou exalt like the horn of a unicorn" (Ps. 92:10). They were the badge or symbol of power: "My horn is exalted in the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:1). It was also a symbol of Messiah's kingdom: "I will make the horn of David to bud" (Ps. 132:17). The horns of the altar suggest that here were focused and intensified the thoughts set forth in the altar; here they were brought to a point. This would explain why the blood of the sin-offering for one of the common people was put upon these horns (Lev. 4:30). It also gives significance to the guilty one coming here for refuge and laying hold upon them. Adonijah sought safety there and found it (1 Kings 1:50). Joab at the same asylum met with the just recompense of his sins (1 Kings 2:28-34), for "if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from Mine altar that he may die" (Ex. 21:14).* It would almost seem that the following language suggested this taking hold of the horns of the altar: "Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me, and he shall make peace with Me" (Isa. 27:5). See also Isa. 25:4.

{*As has been pointed out (J. B. J.), Solomon's reign was that of displayed glory and power, answering to the future reign of our Lord in millennial glory; while that of David is His reign in grace, at present. Joab should have sought mercy from David, before the kingdom of Solomon. As a matter of fact, he was opposed to Solomon.}

But the very place where divine mercy was displayed for those who in repentance sought the Lord, was the witness of their abiding sin in the departure from Him: Judah's sin was written upon the horns of their altars to false gods (Jer. 1-7:1). They might put the blood of sacrifice to idols upon the horns of their altars; they would but witness against them, and would themselves be cut off, as showing there was no strength for mercy in the idol, or his altar (Amos 3:14).*

{*There are other suggestive thoughts connected with the word "horns." "He had horns coming out of His hand." (Hab. 3:4) — beams of light, suggesting not only power, but the light of God's manifested glory. Moses "wist not that the skin of his face shone" (Ex. 34:29). The word for "shone" is this same root from which "horn" comes. Thus we may think of the horns of the altar as setting forth, "God is light," while in their world-wide offer of mercy through the blood, "God is love," and His eternal power linked with these divine facts.}

The altar was three cubits high, which would again remind us of the manifestation suggested by that number. The Cross exhibits God's character. In it we see His righteousness, His holiness and His love His wisdom too and all His attributes find their display here in one form or another. His power is shown in the resurrection of our Lord, of which the three also speaks. How blessed that in what speaks of death, of sacrifice, there should be also in the height of the altar the pledge of resurrection. So, in speaking of His death, our Lord did not stop there, but foretold also His resurrection (Matt. 16:21).

We come next to the brazen or copper grate, with its four rings and its position beneath the compass, or rim, of the altar, and reaching unto the midst. We have seen this to mean that the grate was probably set down below the rim, in the very centre of the altar. Its purpose would be to bear the sacrifice and the fire which consumed it. If we are right in this thought, we have here a type of the nature of our Lord's sufferings, which should magnify His grace, and fill the heart with praise.

Fire is the constant emblem of wrath and judgment, not of an arbitrary character, but that which is necessary and essential. All life is based upon heat, and all heat is in its last analysis a form of fire. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Fire speaks of intense energy, of which God is the only source. As fire, it must burn up all that does not abide its test. Thus God must consume in judgment all that is opposed to His righteous and perfect will. Of this there will be eternal witness in the "lake of fire," where His wrath will necessarily burn against those who have made it necessary for that wrath thus to act.

But there could be no life without heat; so there could be no moral, spiritual life without, God's judgment. Those who plead for the elimination of this character from our God, would plunge all creation into absolute death. It cannot and will not be. The fire must do its work, which even in judgment will display God's goodness as well as His righteousness. But we will gather up a few scripture statements as to fire.

The principal word for fire is a primitive root, as we might expect from its being a common need from the beginning. We find similar words in other languages. It was considered by the ancients as one of the elements, and frequently worshiped as God. We see in this how Satan uses God's gifts, which manifest His goodness and power, as means of blinding men to Himself. And when anything is put in God's place it becomes an idol, and is debased from its proper beneficent use into that which misrepresents Him, and degrades and debauches man. Thus evil ever works in a circle — a descending spiral, which but for the arresting power of God's grace, will go on until eternity stops it in the confines of the lake of fire.

As all error is a perversion or distortion of truth, or a wrong application of it, we may be sure that fire does speak of God, and shows His character, if we but search the word of God to learn as to it. In itself fire is, like everything else in God's creation, but a manifestation of His power and wisdom; from this fact, it becomes a symbol of His energy in a spiritual way.

Upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire were rained by the Lord out of heaven (Gen. 19:24). Whether God made use of natural means to bring about this judgment, is not our care. It is sufficient for us to know that He did it. The future doom of the wicked He has described in the same way: "Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup" (Ps. 11:6). See also Ps. 21:9; Isa. 30:33; Isa. 66:15-16. These and many other solemn passages declare the inevitable and necessary doom of the ungodly.

If it be objected that these passages are all from the Old Testament, and must therefore be taken in a figurative sense, we need but turn to the pages of the New to find the same testimony from the lips of our Saviour Himself: "Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48; Luke 16:23-24). And the closing book of God's word is full of references to the awful judgment of fire, closing with: "This is the second death … the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14-15). Whoever denies this solemn and necessary truth denies Christ and His word.

Fire, then, is a symbol of God's judgment. But we have abundant allusions to it in other scriptures, which give us varied though related views. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses "in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush" (Ex. 3:2). The presence of God was manifest thus, suggesting at once the afflictions through which His people (the bush) were passing in Egypt, and that He had permitted and was using these. Because of His presence the bush was not consumed. On the other hand, in the plague upon the Egyptians, "the fire ran along the ground" in destructive power (Ex. 9:23). When the blood-sheltered people were passing their last night in Egypt, they were to feed upon the lamb "roast with fire" (Ex. 12:8). And all their nights throughout their wilderness journey were lighted by the "pillar of fire" (Ex. 13:21). When God gave them the law, He descended upon Sinai in fire (Ex. 19:18). When Nadab and Abihu sinned by offering "strange fire," the judgment fell upon them in the form of fire (Lev. 10:2). In Ezekiel, the prophet saw the glory of the Lord in connection with the fire (Ezek. 1:4, 27). "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24).

The fire thus is typical of God's judgment which must fall upon all sin. It also shows His essential holiness and righteousness, both in connection with His enemies and His own people. The former, if they do not repent, must endure that unutterable wrath which is forever and ever; the latter must have all their dross burned away, and at the judgment-seat of Christ all their works must stand the test of that discriminating holiness. We will now apply these thoughts to the fire of the altar of burnt-offering.

The tabernacle speaks of God manifest in grace, and therefore, as we have seen, every part is in some way or other typical of Him through whom "grace and truth" were manifested (John 1:17). It is not grace apart from truth — which would not be grace at all — but grace and truth; grace manifested in and by the truth. God is absolute truth, and so is the revelation of Himself. Apart from Him, all is the blackest night of error, the lie of Satan. The only One therefore who could perfectly reveal Him was He who could say, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6).

In the composition and form of the altar we have seen these truths presented in relation to man's actual condition. A spotless and incorruptible humanity linked with absolute Godhead (the shittim wood and the copper) expresses the person of Christ. The copper suggesting, as we have seen, the unyielding, unchanging character of God, which must abide and be maintained in the face of all else. For disobedience and sin this means inflexible and eternal judgment. We might say that the copper, with its fire-like glow, leads us to the fire which burned upon it. Indeed we have the two combined where the Lord is seen walking as Judge amidst the seven golden candlesticks: "His feet like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace" (Rev. 1:15).

Grace, then, facing guilty man, can only be displayed in accord with the "truth" of God's immutable nature; the unyielding demands of His nature, as copper, must be met. This is why the first article we meet in our approach to God is an altar — a place of sacrifice, where life is given up — life for life, we may say, and the fire of divine holiness consumes the Victim.

In its last analysis, therefore, the altar was the place where the fire could burn; and this was upon the grating of copper. On this one spot alone, typically speaking, could the fire of divine holiness and judgment burn without eternal destruction upon its objects. The mountains would "flow down," and the hills melt like wax" (Isa. 64:1-2; Ps. 97:5). When at last He does thus take up His creation to purge it according to His nature, "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10). This, of course, is in necessary judgment" the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning" (Isa. 4:4), a preparatory and anticipative judgment just before the millennium, which shall be literally and completely inflicted at its close, prior to the eternal state.

Who could for one moment abide that awful day of the wrath of God? There was one Person, only one place, where that fire could burn and find all abiding, because all was according to His holy nature. The grate-work, where the fire of divine judgment could burn, was the bosom of the Son of God. Here was One who could righteously be the Substitute for guilty sinners. His holy person enabled Him to be the bearer of wrath. The fire of the thrice-holy God could and did burn there, and found nothing to be consumed save the sins which our Lord in grace had taken upon Himself — sins so great, so many, that one doom awaited our whole race. The Cross! — here were sins judged and put away, Satan's power annulled, the world crucified, and divine righteousness found an eternal foundation for blessing toward creation, with the display of inflexible justice and divine love combined.

The grate of copper we can see would fittingly set forth the nature of our Lord's atoning work; and the thoughts we have been dwelling upon would justify the opinion that the grate was inside the altar, in its very midst.

For our Lord did not bear the fire of divine judgment in any external, superficial way. It is but a feeble and partial view of those sufferings which would enlarge upon the persecution of ungodly men, or even the malice of Satan who urged them on. These might explain the bodily anguish to which our holy Lord. permitted Himself to be subjected; but the fire of divine holiness, heart-searching judgment against sin went down into the utmost centre of His being. Reverently may we tread upon such holy ground. Sin is not an external thing, though it mars the outward man. Its source is the heart, the centre of man's being; and therefore in the sinless Substitute the flame searched down into His holy soul. Atoning suffering, like the sin of man, was in the heart. The piercing of the nails, the crown of thorns, the jeers of the people, the spear-thrust, did not set forth the deep essence of His sufferings. God only, who searcheth the heart, knows what it meant. The Son, who bore this judgment, knows the intensity of that fire which burned down into His soul when made "an offering for sin." The Holy Spirit, through whom He offered Himself without spot unto God, knows what those sufferings meant. For ourselves, may we with chastened, adoring hearts remember,
"The depth of all Thy suffering
No heart could e'er conceive!"

In view of all this, how low is the view that our Lord's sufferings were abated penalty, as some would have it — something less than what the sinner will have to endure. Scripture is perfectly plain, that our Lord bore the full penalty of sin — the wrath, the forsaking of God in the "outer darkness" (God having withdrawn in forsaking judgment) and death. If it be asked, Was the cross the same as the eternal lake of fire? and if not, did the Lord bear the exact penalty which the sinner must bear? We answer, The essence of the judgment is in the wrath and the forsaking of God. It does not change the sinner's heart who, spurning God's grace, would rather be anywhere than in the light of His infinite holiness. The doom is eternal, because the sinner's character remains unchanged, it remains fixed — a great gulf fixed (Luke 16:26), and "he that is unjust, let him be unjust still" (Rev. 22:11), with no desire for God or heaven. But how was it with our Lord? His heart remained as just, as pure, as true, when He was forsaken upon the cross as when He took counsel with the Father before the worlds were made, or when He was displayed in the unsullied light of the "holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18). His sole object there was the Father's will, His one motive to glorify Him, to manifest His love in righteousness. The smiting, the forsaking, the darkness, made no change whatever in that spotless, holy One — praise His name forever!

It was not possible, therefore, that He should be holden of death (Acts 2:24), as all that righteousness required had been done. One answer alone could be given to such a work and piety — to be "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father," and to the throne in heaven. That infinite value attached to the Person is true, but full judgment having been visited and the heart remaining true and absolutely devoted to God, the righteous answer to it could only be to cease the infliction. But man's heart, alas, is unchanged by judgment; nothing but divine grace can do that; and if man will not have grace, he must have judgment.

In one sense we are taking the altar as a figure of the full atoning work of the Lord, to the exclusion of the burning of the sin-offering "without the camp" (Lev. 16:27; Heb. 13:11-12). That would show the effect of wrath-bearing, the forsaking and judgment of God. But do we not have in the fire the essential elements of that? including, as we shall see, much else. Thus the burnt-offering was the normal offering, and gave its name to the altar, because it included the essential elements of all the sacrifices.

It is true, as has been shown,* that the word for the burning without the camp means to consume, to burn up (similar to the word for seraphim, Isa. 6:2, 6), while that for the burning of the fat of the sin-offering upon the altar is the word used for burning incense (Lev. 16:25, 27). But does not the very fact that the fat of that offering, which was consumed outside the camp, was burned as a sweet savor upon the brazen altar, show that while the two thoughts were to be distinguished, they were not to be separated? Otherwise, the altar of burnt-offering and its sacrifice would not signify full atonement.

{*See the "Numerical Bible," Leviticus 1, pp. 289, 290, Notes.}

The grate, then, in the midst of the altar, teaches that in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus God's righteous judgment was borne in His inmost soul. It is to be expected therefore that in the experience book, the Psalms, we will find those utterances of our Lord which express the inward experiences through which He passed when on the cross.

"My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels" (Ps. 22:14). "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon Me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head: therefore my heart faileth Me" (Ps. 40:12). "Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness … for they persecute Him whom Thou hast smitten" (Ps. 69:20, 26). "My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth. My heart is smitten and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread … For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath" (Ps. 102:3-4, 9, 10).

These and similar expressions indicate the inward nature of that anguish which our holy Lord endured in love for us. Thus we see what the "grate" points to. Could we conceive of any heart but His, answering in absolute subjection to God, divinely perfect, bearing the fire of that holiness? The grate must be of copper, or it could not stand the fire put upon it.

And does not this thought of the grate show the propriety of the rings, by which the whole altar was carried, being placed at its corners? What was it that brought our Lord down in the first place? It was His heart of love to God and to man. And what carried Him through His life of lowly suffering and rejection, even up to Calvary? It was the same. Those copper rings tell of a purpose which nothing could turn aside. And according to that devotedness to God and man our Lord accompanies His people every step of their journey through this wilderness scene, bearing witness to the value of His cross. Every blessing, every care, every mercy- is linked by these "rings" with that Heart which bore the judgment we deserved. Is the saint ever tempted to doubt the love of God or of Christ? "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). Every blessing is pledged by the cross. Let us take in the preciousness of this, and count upon that fulness of grace which suffices for "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). The four rings, the number of the earth and of need, may well emphasize these thoughts.

The altar was three cubits high, and the grate in the midst would therefore be one and a half cubits above the ground, or the height of the mercy-seat. Redemption at the cross and acceptance before God are on one plane. God received His beloved Son into glory as our Representative on the basis of His atoning work upon the cross. The Great Shepherd of the sheep was brought again from the dead in the value of the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb. 13:20). So too, as we shall see in another connection, He entered in by His own blood into the holiest, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).

It remains to speak a little of the utensils which were used in connection with the altar. These were: pans to receive the ashes, shovels, basins, flesh-hooks, and fire-pans. They were all made of copper.

The pans or pots (siroth, from a word meaning "to boil") were to receive and remove the ashes. This may come more fully before us in considering the sacrifices; but we may gather here a few thoughts which are suggested. There are two words for "ashes:" one is the general term, largely used in the language of mourning (Esther 4:1, 3; Job 2:8; Job 42:6; Isa. 61:3, etc.), also as showing the emptiness and vanity of things: "He feedeth on ashes" (Isa. 44:20). The other word is only used in connection with the sacrifices, and literally means "fat." This has been thought to be because of the burning of the fat on the altar, which would thus saturate the ashes. Be that as it may, the word is significant and suggestive. Ashes are the witness that the fire has done its work, the witness of an accomplished and accepted sacrifice. So we read in the margin of Psalm 20:3, "The Lord turn to ashes thy burnt sacrifice," translated "accept," in explanation of the text. This witness of an accepted sacrifice is not a sign of sorrow, for which the other word is used; nor of worthlessness and vanity. There is nothing worthless in connection with the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The ashes of the sacrifice were first put on the east side of the altar, toward the sunrise; they were then removed to a clean place outside the camp (Lev. 4:12; Lev. 6:10-11). Our blessed Lord's body, after He had yielded up His life to God on the cross, was kept absolutely inviolate. The piercing of the spear was in fulfilment of Scripture, and furnished the evidence that He had actually died. But "a bone of Him shall not be broken" (John 19:33-37). So that precious body ("A body hast Thou prepared Me," Heb. 10:5) was not suffered to be treated as that of a criminal, but was judicially handed over to those who loved Him, wrapped in fragrant and costly perfume, and laid in a new grave hewn out of the rock (John 19:38-42; Luke 23:52-53). Does not all this show in reality what was suggested in the "fat ashes?" No wonder that the pan in which they were carried to the clean place, and the shovel (yah, from a root meaning to snatch or sweep away), which put them into the pan, were of copper. The same unyielding judgment which had dealt with Him upon the cross now demanded the fullest honor to Him, in judicial testimony to the acceptance of His sacrifice. The east side of the altar, the side of the sunrise, where the ashes were placed, is not only the witness of accepted sacrifice, but the pledge of resurrection.

All this was ever before the. Lord. He always linked His resurrection with His death (Matt. 16:21). The ashes thus would speak of God's acceptance of Christ's sacrifice, giving full assurance to the believer of his acceptance.

But few words need be said as to the other utensils, which were also of copper. The judicial righteousness of God was engaged in every act, and the whole dealing, both in our Lord's death and what followed, was on the basis of that unswerving, unyielding character. Thus the basins (mizrekoth, from a word meaning "to sprinkle") which received the blood, and from which it was poured or sprinkled upon the altar, were of copper. The full measure of judgment had been poured out. The use of the basins or bowls is seen in a passage in Zechariah (Zech. 9:15). The blood of the Lord's enemies, who refuse to yield to Him, is fully shed, and those who are used by Him for this will be "filled like bowls, and as the corners of the altar," where the blood was poured out. The use of the flesh-hooks (mizlegoth, from a root meaning to "draw up") is not stated. They were apparently for handling the various parts of the sacrifice, at different stages. All was in accord with divine justice, to which the Holy One willingly submitted. Oh, the suffering! May we love and worship Him, and abhor the sin which made such suffering necessary.

One other class of utensils remains — the fire-pans (mahathoth, from a root meaning to "take up" — as fire). These were receptacles for coals of fire, and were used probably to carry the fire from the altar of burnt-offering to the altar of incense, or possibly to contain the fire when rearranging the wood or the sacrifice upon the altar. The same word is also used for censers, the pans which contained fire upon which incense was sprinkled. The two uses were so related to each other that the same word is used to describe both. It is also the word translated "snuff-dishes" (Ex. 25:38), which were used to contain the charred ends of the wicks of the lamps upon the golden candlestick. These fire-pans, in connection with the altar of burnt-offering, were to be of copper — all the utensils uniting in one voice with the materials of the grate and the covering to declare that God's judgment is, like all His attributes, inflexible; and that the One who alone could bear that judgment, is the divine-human Son.

We see the solemn and inevitable result of approaching God in any other way than through the divinely-appointed priest and sacrifice, in the destruction of Korah and his company (Num. 16), who despised the priest of God, Aaron, on the plea that all the congregation were holy. God manifested there could be no possible standing or acceptance before Him, save on the ground of sacrifice, through the divinely-appointed priest. Korah and his company were commanded to bring each a brazen censer with Aaron also, and God would declare whom He owned as priest. Fire from God having devoured the blasphemers, Aaron alone remained to represent the people before God. As mediator between God and the rebellious people in that solemn scene, he stood between the living and the dead (Num. 16:46-50), thus setting forth Christ as Mediator and Intercessor, linked with His sacrifice, as the only way to God.

This lesson is impressed by making the brazen censers into plates for a covering to the brazen altar, to keep before their eyes the certainty of judgment for any that despise the sacrifice and priest of God; but it was linked with the altar, as though God would not merely give warning, but turn the eye to the effectual shelter from that judgment which He must execute upon those who refuse His grace.