By Denzil Holman
The process of building an altar today differs from Old Testament times. The patriarchs built altars of earth or stone, and the altars in the Tabernacle were of wood covered with brass or altars made of pure gold. The altars were meeting places between God and man. God was specific in His instructions to Moses regarding the building of the altars for the Tabernacle. He gave him instructions regarding the dimensions and the material of which to build them and how not to do it. The purpose of an altar was to worship, to offer sacrifices, and to communicate with God. One of the three elements of the altar was the sacrifice. One definition of the word altar is “a place of slaughter” because it was a place where blood was shed to atone for sin. The word altar comes from the Hebrew word mizbe ‘ah or mizbeach, meaning “to slaughter for sacrifice, or to slay.”
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon (Exodus 20:25-26).
God does not tolerate idolatry, and the heathens used tools to chisel and shape stones into idols to use in their altars. He said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The heathens would elevate their altars because they associated ascending higher with their efforts to get closer to heaven. They would build altars in high places. We are to humble ourselves before God, and our human efforts to get closer to heaven are forbidden.
In the New Testament church age, we don’t build altars and offer sacrifices on them. Jesus became our sacrifice as the perfect Lamb of God to take away our sins, but He is also our altar.
We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle (Hebrews 13:10).
We have an altar, Jesus Christ living within our hearts. If we have obeyed the plan of salvation and are living an overcoming life, the Spirit of God resides within our souls. Our soul, inward man, and heart are all referring to the same place within us where the Spirit of God dwells. We can build an altar anytime and anywhere by calling on the Lord in prayer.
Some people are confused about the association between Old Testament altars and altars within our churches today. Many think it is necessary to come to an altar in one of our churches to repent or worship. For many years they were called “mourner’s benches” and were associated with brush arbors and tent meetings. Altar benches in churches do function as a place for sinners to kneel and for believers to come to pray, but the furniture itself is not the only place to meet God. They are sacred and dear to us because they were places where many of us met God for the first time, but the altar is not a shrine to worship. We worship the God we met there. When an altar becomes an object of worship, it is a shrine. An altar bench or area is simply a designated area in our churches where it is functional and convenient to pray and meet God. Probably in many of our churches when the church was dedicated, various pieces of furniture including the pulpit and the altar were also dedicated for the purpose intended for it in worship.
Some of us meet God in unusual places for the first time. We build altars when we need to pray wherever we are, including our home, automobile, workplace, or others too numerous to enumerate. However, most of us met the Lord in a church after we had heard the preaching of the Word. The important thing is to build an altar.
Why do we need an altar? There are several reasons why we need an altar, but we must first realize our need for an altar. It is not within man to direct his own footsteps. We need an altar for guidance in living for God. We need an altar for fellowship and communication with God as believers. We need an altar of prayer to overcome carnality and maintain a victorious life. A consistent altar experience provides power to be an effective witness. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We need God in every aspect of our lives. We need Him to live here, and we certainly need to know Him personally to receive eternal life.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, [and] ye are the branches: . . . without me ye can do nothing.”
We have heard of the expression, “the self-made man.” This refers to men who paddle their own canoes and chart their own courses through life, thinking they are self-sufficient within themselves. I have talked with people who referred to believers as weak people who needed a crutch to lean on. I’ve heard them boast of their sufficiency. I’ve also seen some of these people reduced to tears and despair when trouble came along and they had no one to turn to in their dark hours. The first step in building an altar is recognizing our need of God, humbling ourselves and kneeling before I I inn in submission.
A proud attitude or look is one of the six things that God hates and is an abomination to Him. It is essential to come with a broken and contrite spirit because God rejects pride and arrogance.
The prodigal son came to himself as he recognized his need. He saw himself in all of his glaring weaknesses and spiritual poverty.
Job asked the question, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” because that godly man knew the source of his strength.
In the Book of Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch went on a long journey to Jerusalem in his quest to find God. He went to great lengths in his desperate search for God.
After recognizing our need of God, there must next be a desire and hunger to communicate with God. The headlong grasping for possessions and things often turns to nothingness like cotton candy or the evaporating morning dew, and we stand with empty hands and, even worse, empty hearts. The longing and thirsting after Him must become strong enough to want God more than earthly things and demand remedy and action on our part.
The Spirit of God draws sinners to repentance. The gentle knock on our heart’s door is asking for a response from us to allow Him in, but He will not force His way inside. He quietly awaits for us to open the door.
No man cometh unto the Father unless the Spirit draws him. The gentle wooing and calling voice of the Lord causes people to recognize their need to build an altar and communicate with Him. When they yield to His call and allow hunger and desire to grow, they are getting closer to making a move toward repentance.
Why do people need to build an altar? The altar of repentance is the way of approach to God and is fundamental in establishing a relationship with God. The altar is the way that God has chosen for us to communicate with Him.
The answer is nasty, ugly sin. Sin causes separation from God as it did in the beginning in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed the commandment of God. God is holy and cannot tolerate sin in His presence. Sin caused a break in communion and fellowship between God and His creation. Sin is not a pleasant subject, and there is not any way to sugarcoat it and make it sound any less dangerous. I have heard people use the expression, “The devil made me do it,” but sin is lethal and will at last cause eternal separation from God if it is not repented of and washed away by the blood of Jesus. Sin is transgression of God’s laws and precepts as they are written in His eternal Word.
The sum total of the damage caused by sin since the beginning of time cannot be calculated. Sin was what caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross on Calvary. He endured that cruel death so that atonement and redemption from sin would be available to us and that fellowship with Him could be restored.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
It is necessary to build altars because sin is a universal problem and we were all born into this world as sinners. Sin has no power of its own but sin is around us and we make choices to sin or not. Because of our Adamic, sinful nature, we have tendencies to sin. In our flesh we are controlled by our sinful nature. We are servants of either the Lord or sin. Before we know Jesus we serve sin and our fleshly desires and tendencies.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed (James 1:14).
With sin comes guilt and condemnation. Sin causes guilt and condemnation but don’t give us solutions for the problem. The Spirit of God brings conviction, which is intended to motivate us to repent.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).
An understanding of how horrible sin is can help motivate us to want to build an altar. I heard an illustration of how filthy sin was many years ago. Someone said to go outside on a rainy night and find a mangy, smelly hound dog that had been running through the woods and was wet and muddy. Next, bring that dog inside and let him crawl in bed with you between clean, white sheets, and we can get a glimpse of how repulsive and rotten sin is in the presence of a holy God.
An understanding of the consequences of sin can cause a person to realize his need to build an altar.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).
After we have recognized our need and desire to find God, our will must be exercised to take action. We must make the choice, decide to turn to God, and build an altar.
The prodigal son said, “I will arise and go to my father.” He could have longed for the father’s house and realized his need to go home, but he had to take the necessary action and say, “I will.”
We are the ones who build the altar. We have to say, “I will build an altar.” If we build it according to I list requirements, He will come and meet us there. He will not build it for us. In Old Testament times, as well as now, seekers had to be proactive and build an altar. God is a gentleman, and He will not force us to serve Him. He will call and plead with us, but we must choose our own personal destiny. There are situations when He won’t call after a while if we refuse to respond.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, hatrlen not your hearts, as in the prvvocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness) (Hebrews 3:7-8).
And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man (Genesis 6:3).
A necessary ingredient in turning to God is faith. We must believe that when we do respond to our need and build an altar of repentance that He will save us.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
In chapter four, we wrote about the brazen altar of sacrifice, which is a type and shadow of repentance. When we come believing the Lord and fall before Him, seeking forgiveness, we must confess and forsake our sins. The next step is baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins. To complete our New Birth experience, we then seek to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the indwelling Spirit of God.
After we obey the plan of salvation, we are thrilled to build altars of worship to our Lord. We thank Him and praise Him for saving us from sin. As I wrote in chapter five, an altar of worship is likened unto the golden altar of incense.
One of the three elements of an altar is a sacrifice. We don’t bring animal sacrifices any longer because it was fulfilled in the perfect Lamb of God on Calvary and He is the atonement for our sins.
Atonement is to make amends or reparation for an offense. Man was guilty of sin, and the offering on the Day of Atonement just rolled the sins ahead toward Calvary. The massive sin debt arrived at the cross of Jesus, and all the future sins of yet unborn humanity collided there at Calvary. He who knew no sin tasted sin for every man.
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22).
He doesn’t ask us to bring animal or human sacrifices, but we daily give ourselves as a living sacrifice. Sacrifice is a subject that causes many to flinch and draw back, but the Lord says that He does not take pleasure in those who draw back (Hebrews 10:38). The one who offers surrenders his possession when a sacrifice is given. There is a release of ownership when we place a gift on the altar of sacrifice. We are not our own, for we are bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:20). He wants us to be a living sacrifice.
1 beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
Verily, verily, 1 say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24).
Our flesh wars against the Spirit of God and does not want to die. There is an ongoing battle to build an altar of living sacrifice to crucify our fleshly desires.
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:6).
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof (Romans 6:12).
Why are we asked to present our bodies a living sacrifice? The answer is found in the Scriptures.
find be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).
We come to God as a new creation, a babe in Christ, but we want to grow into spiritual maturity to conform to the image of God. This is a lifelong pursuit to be like Jesus so we daily offer ourselves as a living sacrifice on an altar. It doesn’t matter where the physical altar is located because we have an altar in our heart, but we need to daily build an altar somewhere.
The apostle Paul said, “I die daily.” He wanted to crucify his flesh and its desires.
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when 1 have preached to others, 1 myself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Paul had a godly fear and recognized that he could stumble and fall. He diligently kept his old nature crucified because he didn’t want to be lost. He realized the importance of not resting on his past record of accomplishments but understood the necessity of an up-to-date experience.
Brethren, 1 count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing 1 do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 1 press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of god in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). One of the benefits of serving God is the umbrella of protection that we enjoy. He watches over us as the apple of His eye.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the almighty. 1 will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my Cod; in him will 1 trust (Psalm 91:1-2).
God is holy. His very nature is pure, holy, and spotlessly white. In the Tabernacle were the Holy Place and the holy altar of incense. Behind the veil was the Holy of Holies, in which the holy ark of the covenant was located.
The word holy is defined: “belonging to or devoted to God. Divine, sacred, morally perfect.”
When Isaiah came into the presence of God, he was totally mesmerized and in awe of the glory of God.
In the year that king Vzziah died 1 saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. find one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:1-3).
His presence is holy and the Word of God is the Holy Bible. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and set apart for His service.
When we build an altar, we submit to Him as our Lord and Savior. We don’t come casually into His presence in a sloppy or haphazard way. He is Almighty God and holds our very lives in His hands. We come with reverence, for He is an awesome God. Isaiah was a changed man after being in the presence of God. He saw his own imperfections and cried, “Woe is me.” Repentance is a change of heart, an about-face. There must be changes in our lives for God to accept our sacrifices when we build an altar unto Him.
The priests had to do everything right or they would be slain by God in judgment. We are under grace now and not the law so God doesn’t deal so harshly with people, but we still have to adhere to scriptural principles to have the favor of God. The purpose of building an altar is building it unto Him and seeking His favor and redemption from our sins. We want to be cleansed from our iniquities.
In the light of His glory, we see our faults and sins revealed and confess and repent of our transgressions. We desire to be transformed to be like Him and conformed to His image. This is one of the reasons why holiness in lifestyle is so important. We live holy to please the Lord and to try to be like Him. We are known as a separated and godly people. God’s people have always been set apart and different from the world. In the Scriptures, notice what He said to Israel about their relationship with Him.
For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy Cod bath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6).
In the New Testament, the same promises and endearments are extended to the church.
But ye are a chosen generation, a ivyal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who bath called you out of darkness into his marvellous fight (1 Peter 2:9).
The priests were set apart for serving the Lord in the Tabernacle. The only way to be a priest was to be born into a family of priests. By our obedience to the gospel, we become part of the royal priesthood. We are born into the family of God through the New Birth experience and have received the adoption of sons because of our Kinsman-Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He became like us so that we could become like Him. We are not God but are children of the Lord. The priests were the ones who went into the presence of God under the law. The others looked on as the priests ministered unto the Lord. If we build an altar, we have access to God and can go behind the veil into the presence of God.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Ghost and must be clean and holy.
Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no un-clean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD (Isaiah 52:11).
This is why we dress right, talk right, and refrain from partaking of sinful and questionable activities. We are to be holy in our outward appearance and in our inner man. Our attitudes and spirit must be holy, or we can become like the
Pharisees. We should be holy in how we treat our brethren in the household of faith and also have a good report of them that are in the world. We should be known as upright people with good character so that we do not bring a reproach upon the Lord. We want our testimony to be effective in reaching others.
God has a will and a plan for each and every one of us. He wants all of us. We want to reach our full potential in God and not waste our lives. We can’t draw a line in the sand and say that we won’t cross that line of surrender and commitment. Our modern society has difficulty with making lasting commitments, but the Lord has not changed and is still the same today. When we build Him an altar, we lay everything on the altar that is ours and give it to Him. All of our possessions, hopes, and plans for the future are subject to Him because of divine ownership when we give ourselves to Him. He is good and has good things in store for us if we will trust Him with our lives.
Building an altar is an act of devotion. It is heart thumping, exciting, and emotional to express our love to God. It is not a ritualistic, mechanical function that we do from a sense of duty but from a heart filled with love. Duty and obligation fall short of the optimum experience in building an altar. The love of God constrains us, and love for God must be the paramount reason for our devotion.
If you haven’t built an altar, build one today.
THE ALTAR BUILDERS
I feel that God stands and watches
with much anticipation
As His people build their altars with love and adoration;
Selecting wood or stone and where this the place will be,
Their mind begins to form the words
of which to make their plea.
With gifted hands crafting carefully,
with hope and expectation,
Tears begin to fall to earth
as God begins the transformation.
As change settles over us like the sun at eventide
He cleanses us of all our sins as we walk side by side.
Oft you’ll find us sifting and searching through the things
Where once we built an altar,
where our memory still clings.
To the hope of His arrival
as doubt and fear begin to fade,
Then faith and mercy join together
while promises are made.
The above article “Build an Altar” is written by Denzil Holman. This article was excerpted from chapter eight in Holman’s book The Altar Builders.
The material is copyrighted and should not be repainted under any other name or author. However, this material may freely be used for personal study or purposes.