Exodus 20:26
Neither shall you go up by steps to my altar, that your 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.)

To direct the sinner's holy awe in the presence of the holy God, which was expressed in these words of the people, into the proper course of healthy and enduring penitence, Moses first of all took away the false fear of death by the encouraging answer, "Fear not," and then immediately added, "for God is come to prove you." נסּוּת referred to the testing of the state of the heart in relation to God, as it is explained in the exegetical clause which follows: "that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not." By this terrible display of His glory, God desired to inspire them with the true fear of Himself, that they might not sin through distrust, disobedience, or resistance to His guidance and commands.
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