Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:…
I. THE OBJECTS AIMED AT. The Israelites were proved to have been in error when they assumed that the erection of the altar was a sign of religious schism and tribal secession. On the contrary, it was intended to prevent those very evils.
(1) It was erected to preserve the unity of the nation. National unity is always a desirable end of patriotic efforts. It secures strength, mutual help, brotherly sympathy, and the means of progress. Christians should aim at restoring the unity of the Church; or, where this is not possible, at preventing further divisions. While the external unity of the Church is broken, oneness of spirit and oneness of aim should be bonds of common sympathy between Christians. It would be well if Christians could make it evident that their points of difference are far less important than that common ground of essential faith on which all are united. Less emphasis would then be given to the internal controversies of the Church, and more weight to the great conflict with sin and unbelief and the great mission to evangelise the world.
(2) The altar was erected to maintain the religious faith of the trans-Jordanic tribes. Religion is more important to a people than fertile lands and well-built cities. We make a poor exchange when we sacrifice privileges of worship for worldly convenience. Separation from the ordinances of religion endangers the faith of religion. It should be our first duty to see that religious wants are supplied
(a) for ourselves,
(b) for our families,
(c) for destitute places, such as newly built suburbs of great towns, outlying hamlets, the colonies, etc.
II. THE DANGER FEARED. The men who built the altar of witness thought that the national unity and religious faith were endangered.
(1) Separation from the other tribes was a source of danger. It is difficult to be faithful when we stand alone.
(2) Time would increase the danger. These men built the altar with a view to the future. The severest test of faithfulness is the trial of endurance. Christians rarely forsake Christ suddenly. Early impressions linger for a time and fade gradually; but they will fade unless they are renewed. We cannot maintain the faith of a life on the lessons of youth. For constant faith we need constant "means of grace."
(3) New generations would be less fortified against the danger. The altar was built chiefly for the sake of the children of the future. The Church can only be maintained by bringing the children into the places of the elders as these pass away. Children do not become Christians instinctively, or by the influence of the mere atmosphere of religion about them; they must be taught and trained; therefore the education of the young should be a primary object of Christian work.
III. THE MEANS EMPLOYED. An altar of witness was erected. This was not for sacrifice and worship, to rival that of the tabernacle, like the altars attached to the calves at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28, 29).
(1) It was simply a visible symbol.
(a) It was a symbol - truth is often suggested most clearly by parables and illustrations.
(b) It was visible. Truth should be made clear and striking.
(c) It was substantial. Truth should be established by solid evidence, not melted down into vapid sentiments.
(d) It was enduring. We should not be satisfied with superficial impressions, but aim at establishing an enduring faith.
(2) The Christian has altars of witness, e.g.,
(a) the Bible preserved to us through the dark ages,
(b) the institutions of the Church, baptism, the Lord's supper, and public worship;
(c) inwardly to the Christian, the indwelling Christ who is first our altar of sacrifice and then our altar of witness, bearing testimony to the fact that we are His, and one with his true Church by the Spirit He gives to us, and the fruits of this Spirit in our lives (Romans 8:9). - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice: