And you shall make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare…
From the sanctuary, we pass in this chapter to the outer court, the principal object in which was the brazen altar, or altar of burnt offering.
I. THE BRAZEN ALTAR (vers. 1-9).
1. Form of the altar. The altar was a foursquare case of shittim wood, five cubits long and five broad, made with four horns, and overlaid with plates of bronze. Round it, at some distance from the ground, was apparently a ledge, on which the priests stood when engaged with the sacrifices. We must suppose that the central part was filled with earth, or with the unhewn stones commanded in Exodus 20:24, 25. The "grate of network" of ver. 4, seems to us to have supported the ledge, or compass of ver. 5. Some take a different view of it.
2. Its horns. These are rightly understood as the points in which the force or virtue of the altar concentrated itself.
3. Its uses. It was -
(1) the place to which the people brought their offerings to God;
(2) the place at which reconciliation was made for sin;
(3) the place on which the parts of the sacrifices which belonged to God were consumed by fire.
Here, at the altar, were the victims slain; around the altar the atoning blood was poured or sprinkled; in the case of the sin offering, the blood was smeared upon the horns: with live coals from the altar did the priest replenish his censer when he went in to burn incense before the Lord. On this altar was laid the daily burnt-offering, together with the "sacrifices of righteousness," "the burnt-offering, and whole burnt-offering" (Psalm 51:19), by which the people expressed their consecration to God. Here were consumed the fat and choice parts of the peace-offerings, etc.
4. Its typical significance.
(1) The altar, as the place of atonement, reminded the worshipper of sin, and of his need of cleansing from sin's guilt. In this way, it pointed forward to Christ, in whom the whole ritual of sacrifice reaches its consummation.
(2) As the altar of burnt-offering, it taught the duty of unconditional and entire surrender to the will of God. This offering up of the whole being to God in inward consecration underlies the special acts of consecration symbolised in the shew-bread, in the lighted candlestick, and in the ascent of incense from the golden altar.
(3) As God's altar, it was a witness to the Divine readiness to pardon; yet a testimony to the stern truth that without shedding of blood there is no remission (Hebrews 9:22).
II. THE COURT OF THE TABERNACLE (vers. 9-20). On the general construction of the court, see the exposition. We have to view it as a spacious enclosure of a hundred cubits by fifty, its sides formed by linen hangings, five cubits in height, and supported by pillars of brass (bronze) five cubits apart, to which the hangings were attached by hooks and fillets of silver. The brazen altar stood in the forepart of the court; the tabernacle towards the rear. Between the brazen altar and the tabernacle was the laver. The design of this court was to furnish the people, who were precluded from entering the sanctuary, with a place in which they might still, though at some distance, personally appear before Jehovah. The court conferred a privilege, yet taught a lesson. The fact that he could approach no further than its precincts painfully reminded the Israelite that, as yet, the work of atonement was incomplete - that he still stood, because of his unholiness, at a great distance from God. In the gospel of Christ, these barriers are all done away with. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And thou shalt 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.