Exodus 27:1
And you shall make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.
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(1) Thou shalt make an altar.—Heb., the altar. It is assumed that a sanctuary must have an altar, worship without sacrifice being unknown. (See Exodus 5:1-3; Exodus 8:25-28; Exodus 12:27; Exodus 18:12; Exodus 20:24-26, &c.)

Of shittim wood.—This direction seems at first sight to conflict with those given in Exodus 20:24-25, where altars were required to be either of earth or of unhewn stone. But the explanation of the Jewish commentators is probably correct, that what was here directed to be made was rather an “altar-case” than an altar, and that the true altar was the earth with which, at each halt in the wilderness, the “case” of shittim wood covered with bronze was filled. (So Jarchi, Kalisch, and others.)

Foursquare.—Ancient altars were either rectangular or circular, the square and the circle being regarded as perfect figures. A triangular altar was discovered by Mr. Layard in Mesopotamia, but even this had a circular top. In Hebrew architecture and furniture curved lines were for the most part avoided, probably as presenting greater difficulties than straight ones.

The height thereof . . . three cubits.A greater height would have made it difficult to arrange the victims upon the altar. Otherwise the notion of perfection in form would probably have led to the altar being a cube.

Exodus 27:1. Thou shalt make an altar — As God intended in the tabernacle to manifest his presence among his people, so there they were to pay their devotions to him; not in the tabernacle itself, into that only the priests entered as God’s domestic servants, but in the court before the tabernacle, where, as common subjects, they attended. There an altar was ordered to be set up, to which they must bring their sacrifices; and this altar was to sanctify their gifts; from hence they were to present their services to God, as from the mercy-seat he gave his oracles to them: and thus a communion was settled between God and Israel. This altar was placed at the entrance of the sanctuary, and is termed the altar of burnt-offering, and the great altar: it was almost three yards square, and above a yard and a half in height. It was made of wood rather than of solid brass, that it might not be too heavy. But notwithstanding that it was overlaid with brass, (Exodus 27:2,) had it been of common wood, it must soon have been consumed to ashes by the continual heat: hence Le Clerc conjectures that this shittim-wood might be the larch-tree, which bears the fire like stone.27:1-8 In the court before the tabernacle, where the people attended, was an altar, to which they must bring their sacrifices, and on which their priests must offer them to God. It was of wood overlaid with brass. A grate of brass was let into the hollow of the altar, about the middle of which the fire was kept, and the sacrifice burnt. It was made of net-work like a sieve, and hung hollow, that the ashes might fall through. This brazen altar was a type of Christ dying to make atonement for our sins. The wood had been consumed by the fire from heaven, if it had not been secured by the brass: nor could the human nature of Christ have borne the wrath of God, if it had not been supported by Divine power.Rice pillars - These, it should be observed, belonged to the entrance of the tent, not, in their architectural relation, to the entrance of the tabernacle.

Sockets of brass - Their bases (see Exodus 26:19) were of bronze (like the taches of the tentcloth, Exodus 26:11), not of silver, to mark the inferiority of the tent to the tabernacle.

We are indebted to Mr. Fergusson for what may be regarded as a satisfactory reconstruction of the sanctuary in all its main particulars. He holds that what sheltered the Mishkan was actually a tent of ordinary form, such as common sense and practical experience would suggest as best suited for the purpose.

According to this view the five pillars at the entrance of the tent Exodus 26:37 were graduated as they would naturally be at the entrance of any large tent of the best form, the tallest one being in the middle to support one end of a ridge-pole.

Such a ridge-pole, which must have been sixty feet in length, would have required support, and this might have been afforded by a plain pole in the middle of the structure. Over this framing of wood-work the tent-cloth of goats' hair was strained with its cords and tent-pins in the usual way. (See cut.)

Above the tent-cloth of goats' hair was spread the covering of red rams' skins.

The five pillars, to reach across the front of the tent, must have stood five cubits (about 7 1/2 ft.) apart. Their heads were united by connecting rods ("fillets" Exodus 27:10) overlaid with gold Exodus 36:38. The spaces at the sides and back may have been wholly or in part covered in for the use of the officiating priests, like the small apartments which in after times skirted three sides of the temple. It was probably here that those portions of the sacrifices were eaten which were not to be carried out of the sacred precincts Leviticus 6:16, Leviticus 6:26. We may also infer that priests lodged in them. Compare 1 Samuel 3:2-3.

(Compare Exodus 38:1-7.) The great altar which stood in the court immediately in front of the tabernacle was commonly called the altar of burnt-offering, because on it were burnt the whole burnt-offerings, and all those parts of the other animal sacrifices which were offered to the Lord. It was also called the brazen altar, because it was covered with bronze, in distinction from the golden altar or altar of incense Exodus 39:38-39; Exodus 40:5-6.


Ex 27:1-21. Altar for Burnt Offering.

1, 2. altar of shittim wood—The dimensions of this altar which was placed at the entrance of the sanctuary were nearly three yards square, and a yard and a half in height. Under the wooden frame of this chest-like altar the inside was hollow, and each corner was to be terminated by "horns"—angular projections, perpendicular or oblique, in the form of horns. The animals to be sacrificed were bound to these (Ps 118:27), and part of the blood was applied to them.Of the brazen altar, Exodus 27:1-8. Of the court of the tabernacle, Exodus 27:9-17; the length of it, Exodus 27:18. Of the lamps burning always, Exodus 27:20.

This was not that for incense, but another for sacrifices.

And thou shall make an altar of shittim wood,.... This is a different altar from that made of earth before the tabernacle was built, Exodus 20:24 and from the altar of incense, Exodus 30:1 this was to offer burnt offerings on, and was placed at the door of the tabernacle, in the court of the people, where they brought their sacrifices to the priests to offer for them: it stood in the open air, as it was proper it should, that the smoke or the sacrifices might ascend up and scatter. This altar was not typical of the altar of the heart; though indeed all the saints are priests, and every sacrifice of theirs should come from the heart, and particularly love, which is more than all burnt offerings; but the heart is not this altar of brass to bear the fire of divine wrath, which none can endure; nor does it sanctify the gift, it being itself impure: nor of the Lord's table, or the table on which the Lord's supper is set; that is a table, and not an altar, a feast, and not a sacrifice; is not greater than the gift, nor does it sanctify: nor of the cross or Christ, on which he died, bore the sins or his people, and sanctified them by his blood; but of Christ himself, who by his office as a priest, his human nature is the sacrifice, and his divine nature the altar; and he is that altar believers in him have a right to eat of, Hebrews 13:10 his divine nature is greater than the human, is the support of it, which sanctifies and gives it virtue as a sacrifice, and which makes the sacrifices of all his people acceptable to God. This altar of burnt offering is said to be made of "shittim wood", a wood incorruptible and durable; Christ, as God, is from everlasting to everlasting; as man, though he once died, he now lives for evermore, and never did or will see corruption; his priesthood is an unchangeable priesthood, and passes not from one to another, and particularly his sacrifice is of a continual virtue and efficacy:

five cubits long, and five cubits broad: the altar shall be square: as to the length and breadth of it, which were alike, two yards and a half each, according to the common notion of a cubit. The altars of the Heathens were made in imitation of this, they were square as this was. Pausanias makes mention of an altar of Diana, that was "square", sensibly rising up on high. And this figure may denote the perfection of Christ's sacrifice, and the permanency of it; though the altars in Solomon's temple, and in the visions of Ezekiel, are much larger, and which also were square, 2 Chronicles 4:1. Christ's sacrifice is large and extensive, making satisfaction for all his people, and for all their sins; and he is an altar large enough for all their sacrifices to be offered up to God with acceptance:

and the height thereof shall be three cubits; a proper height for a man to minister at; for as Aben Ezra observes, the height of a man is but four cubits ordinarily; so that a man serving at the altar would be a cubit, or half a yard more above it, and would have command of doing on it what he had to do.

And thou shalt make an {a} altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.

(a) For the burnt offering.

1. the altar] the altar κατʼ ἐξοχήν, if not, in P’s view (see on Exodus 30:1-10), the only altar. So Exodus 30:18; Exodus 30:20; Exodus 40:7; Exodus 40:32, &c.

foursquare] ‘An archaism dating from a time when “square” meant equal-sided, and it was necessary to express the number of sides’ (McNeile). See Wright’s Bible Word-Book, s.v.: ‘In Wesley’s Journal (28 July, 1738) a church in Dresden is described as “eight square” ’; and in 1 Kings 6:31 AVm. has ‘five-square.’

1–8. (cf. Exodus 38:1-7). The altar of burnt-offering. This was a hollow frame of acacia planks, overlaid with copper (or bronze) 5 cubits (=7 ½ ft.) in length and breadth, and 3 cubits (= 1 ½ ft.) in height at each corner, a ‘horn,’ of the same material, projected outwards Round the altar, mid-way between top and bottom, ran a projecting ledge,—probably for the priests to stand upon when sacrificing,—supported at its outer edge by a vertical grating of bronze, that rested on the ground. At the corners of this grating, presumably where it me the ledge, there were rings to receive the poles for carrying the altar.Verses 1-8. - THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING. From the description of the tabernacle, or sacred tent in which worship was to be offered by the priests, it followed in natural sequence, that directions should be given concerning the court, or precinct, within which the tabernacle was to stand Ancient temples were almost universally surrounded by precincts, which the Greeks called τεμένη, whereto a sacred character attached; and this was particularly the case in Egypt, where the temenos seems to have been a regular adjunct to the temple (Wilkinson in Rawlinson's Heradotus, vol. 2. p. 202, 2nd edition). Among the chief uses of such an open space, was the offering of victims on altars, as these could not be conveniently consumed elsewhere than in the open air, on account of the clouds of smoke and the fumes of the sacrifices. As in the description of the tabernacle, the furniture was first described, then the structure, so now the altar takes precedence of the court which was to contain it. Verse 1. - Thou shalt make an altar. Rather, "the altar." God had already declared that he would have an altar made to him in the place where he should "record his name" (Exodus 20:24). And, even apart from this, an altar would be regarded as so essential an element in Divine worship, that no place of worship could be without one. Of shittim wood. God had required (1. s. c.) that his altar should be "of earth," or else of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:25). The command now given was to make, not so much an altar, as an altar-case (see ver. 8). There can be no doubt that Jarchi is right in supposing that, whenever the tabernacle for a time became stationary, the hollow case of the altar was rifled up with earth, and that the victims were burnt upon this. Four-square. Altars were commonly either square or round. An Assyrian triangular one was found by Mr. Layard at Nineveh; but even this had a round top. The square shape is the most usual, and was preserved, probably in all the Temple altars, certainly in those of Solomon (2 Chronicles 4:1) and Herod (Joseph. Bell. Jud. 5:05, § 6). To divide the dwelling into two rooms, a curtain was to be made, of the same material, and woven in the same artistic manner as the inner covering of the walls (Exodus 26:1). This was called פּרכת, lit., division, separation, from פּרך to divide, or מסך פּרכת (Exodus 35:12; Exodus 39:34; Exodus 40:21) division of the covering, i.e., to hang this "upon four pillars of gilded acacia-wood and their golden hooks, (standing) upon four silver sockets," under the loops (קרסים) which held the two halves of the inner covering together (Exodus 26:6). Thus the curtain divided the dwelling into two compartments, the one occupying ten cubits and the other twenty of its entire length.
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