“Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7, ESV)
Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Samuel all had one thing in common. They built altars. These men, and many others as well, built an altar as a personal place of sacrifice and worship. These were nothing like the elaborate altars we might see in cathedrals today. There was no ornate detail or gold in the design. They were often simply formed of earth or uncut stones. Sometimes just one rock formed the altar.
The first record we have of an altar builder was in Genesis 8. When the flood finally abated and Noah stepped off the ark, his first act was to build an altar to the Lord and offer a sacrifice. This pleased the Lord and He promised to never again destroy every living creature.
“And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21)
Second Samuel 24 tells the story of the time King David built an altar to stop a plague that had killed thousands of people. The prophet Gad instructed him to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunnah. The man offered to give David the threshing floor and all he needed to offer the sacrifice, but David refused to accept it for free.
But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. (II Samuel 24:24, ESV)
A sacrifice is not really a sacrifice if it costs us nothing, and David knew that.
Today we do not build an altar to slaughter an animal to offer to the Lord. Hebrew 10:4 tells us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” When Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by dying for our sins, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was no longer in effect. But that does not mean there are no altar builders today.
Each of us needs a special place where we worship and commune with God. We need a place to reflect and remember God’s mercy, a place to cry out in repentance for our failures. At our altar we recognize our dependence on Him. There we approach God in humility and submission. The sacrifice on this altar is our own self-will. We willingly place ourselves on this altar.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.” (Romans 12:1, CSB) `
Is Your All on the Altar?
Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest,
And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.
(A hymn by E. A. Hoffman – 1900)