Exodus 20:26
Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
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(26) Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar.—When the dress of the priests had been so arranged that no exposure of the person was possible (verses 42, 43), this precept became unnecessary. Thus it would seem that Solomon’s altar had steps. (Compare 2Chronicles 4:1 with Ezekiel 43:17.)

Exodus 20:26. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar — Indeed afterward God appointed an altar ten cubits high. But it is probable they went not up to that by steps, but by a sloping ascent. The garments worn in those countries, being perfectly loose, were easily blown aside, so as to discover the lower parts of the body; to prevent, therefore, this inconvenience, and that no indecency might be intermixed with the service of God, this precaution was necessary. And for the same reason the priests were afterward appointed to wear breeches, which were worn by none of the people besides, Exodus 28:42.

20:22-26 Moses having entered into the thick darkness, God there spake in his hearing all that follows from hence to the end of chap. 23, which is mostly an exposition of the ten commandments. The laws in these verses relate to God's worship. The Israelites are assured of God's gracious acceptance of their devotions. Under the gospel, men are encouraged to pray every where, and wherever God's people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.Nothing could be more appropriate as the commencement of the book of the covenant than these regulations for public worship. The rules for the building of altars must have been old and accepted, and are not inconsistent with the directions for the construction of the altar of the court of the tabernacle, Exodus 27:1-8 (compare Joshua 22:26-28). 26. by steps—a precaution taken for the sake of decency, in consequence of the loose, wide, flowing garments of the priests. He seems to mean the steps of ladders, or others of the same nature, which could suddenly be made, and were proper for their present condition, where there was danger of the following inconvenience. For afterwards God appointed an altar ten cubits high, 2 Chronicles 4:1; though some conceive they went not up to that by steps, but by an insensible ascent upon the ground raised by degrees for that purpose. But if the priests did go up to it by steps, God provided against the indecency here mentioned, by prescribing linen breeches to them in that service.

That thy nakedness be not discovered thereon; for these linen breeches were not yet appointed, and the manner then and there was for men to wear long coats or gowns like women. God would remove all appearance or occasion of immodesty, especially in sacred persons and things; and the rather, to show his detestation of that impudence and filthiness which was very usual in some of the solemnities and worships of the heathen.

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar,.... That is, you priests, the sons of Aaron, as the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem paraphrase the words; the altar of burnt offering built when the tabernacle was seemed not to require any, being but three cubits high, Exodus 27:1 but that in Solomon's temple did, being ten cubits high, 2 Chronicles 4:1 and therefore some method must be used to ascend it, and do the business that was to be done on it: now the Jews say (b), there was what they call "Kibbesh", a sort of a causeway made of earth thrown up, which rose gradually and led to the top of the altar, and was about thirty two cubits long and sixteen broad: and so the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the words,"thou shalt not go up by steps to mine altar, but by bridges;''express mention is made of stairs to the altar in Ezekiel's vision, Ezekiel 43:17.

that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon; that part of the body which is not to be named, and ought not to be seen, and which would be exposed if there were many steps, and these at a distance from each other; which would oblige them to take large strides, and so be in danger of discovering those parts which would make them the object of contempt and ridicule with the people; since as yet breeches were not used, and the garments were long loose ones, which were easily turned aside, or the parts under them seen by those below; to prevent which, afterwards linen breeches were ordered to be made for the priests, and to be used by them in their service: Maimonides (c) thinks the reason of this was, because formerly the idolatrous worship of Peor was performed by uncovering of their nakedness before it; and so by this is expressed God's detestation of such an impure and abominable practice; but this is uncertain; however, this we may be sure of, that this is the will of God, that all immodesty and indecency, and whatever tends to create impure thoughts and stir up unclean lusts, should be carefully avoided in his worship.

(b) Middot, c. 3. sect. 3.((c) Ut supra. (Apud L'Empereur in Middot, ib.)

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy {p} nakedness be not discovered thereon.

(p) Which might be by his stooping or flying up of his clothes.

26. Steps are prohibited, because the command is addressed to the Israelite in general, who would sacrifice in his ordinary dress. In later times, when altars of larger size were constructed, a ledge (see on Exodus 27:5), or steps (Ezekiel 43:17), came into use: but sacrifice was then confined to the priests, and exposure of the person was guarded against in their case by linen drawers being specially prescribed for their use (Exodus 28:42). Cf. OTJC.2[183] p. 358.

[183] W. R. Smith, Old Testament in the Jewish Church, ed. 2, 1892.

Verse 26. - Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar. Here the reason of decency, added in the text, is obvious; and the law would necessarily continue until sacerdotal vestments of a very different character from the clothes commonly worn by Orientals were introduced (38:3-43). After their introduction, the reason for the law, and with it the law itself, would drop The supposed "slope of earth" by which the priests are thought to have ascended to the "ledge" on the altar of burnt offerings, and the "inclined plane," said by Josephus to have given access to the great altar of Solomon, rest on no sufficient authority, and are probably pure fictions. As soon as an ascent was needed, owing to the height of the altar, it was probably an ascent by steps (See Ezekiel 43:17.)

Exodus 20:26For the worship of Jehovah, the God of heaven, Israel needed only an altar, on which to cause its sacrifices to ascend to God. The altar, as an elevation built up of earth or rough stones, was a symbol of the elevation of man to God, who is enthroned on high in the heaven; and because man was to raise himself to God in his sacrifices, Israel also was to make an altar, though only of earth, or if of stones, not of hewn stones. "For if thou swingest thy tool (חרב lit., sharpness, then any edge tool) over it (over the stone), thou defilest it" (Exodus 20:25). "Of earth:" i.e., not "of comparatively simple materials, such as befitted a representation of the creature" (Schultz on Deuteronomy 12); for the altar was not to represent the creature, but to be the place to which God came to receive man into His fellowship there. For this reason the altar was to be made of the same material, which formed the earthly soil for the kingdom of God, either of earth or else of stones, just as they existed in their natural state; not, however, "because unpolished stones, which retain their true and native condition, appear to be endowed with a certain native purity, and therefore to be most in harmony with the sanctity of an altar" (Spencer de legg. Hebr. rit. lib. ii. c. 6), for the "native purity" of the earth does not agree with Genesis 3:17; but because the altar was to set forth the nature of the simple earthly soil, unaltered by the hand of man. The earth, which has been involved in the curse of sin, is to be renewed and glorified into the kingdom of God, not by sinful men, but by the gracious hand of God alone. Moreover, Israel was not to erect the altar for its sacrifices in any place that it might choose, but only in every place in which Jehovah should bring His name to remembrance. וגו שׁם הזכּיר does not mean "to make the name of the Lord remembered," i.e., to cause men to remember it; but to establish a memorial of His name, i.e., to make a glorious revelation of His divine nature, and thereby to consecrate the place into a holy soil (cf. Exodus 3:5), upon which Jehovah would come to Israel and bless it. Lastly, the command not to go up to the altar by steps (Exodus 20:26) is followed by the words, "that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon." It was in the feeling of shame that the consciousness of sin first manifested itself, and it was in the shame that the sin was chiefly apparent (Genesis 3:7); hence the nakedness was a disclosure of sin, through which the altar of God would be desecrated, and for this reason it was forbidden to ascend to the altar by steps. These directions with reference to the altar to be built do not refer merely to the altar, which was built for the conclusion of the covenant, nor are they at variance with the later instructions respecting the one altar at the tabernacle, upon which all the sacrifices were to be presented (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:5.), nor are they merely "provisional" but they lay the foundation for the future laws with reference to the places of worship, though without restricting them to one particular locality on the one hand, or allowing an unlimited number of altars on the other. Hence "several places and altars are referred to here, because, whilst the people were wandering in the desert, there could be no fixed place for the tabernacle" (Riehm). But the erection of the altar is unquestionably limited to every place which Jehovah appointed for the purpose by a revelation. We are not to understand the words, however, as referring merely to those places in which the tabernacle and its altar were erected, and to the site of the future temple (Sinai, Shilloh, and Jerusalem), but to all those places also where altars were built and sacrifices offered on extraordinary occasions, on account of God, - appearing there such, for example, as Ebal (Joshua 8:30 compared with Deuteronomy 27:5), the rock in Ophrah (Judges 6:25-26), and many other places besides.
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