What was the brazen altar in the tabernacle?

The brazen altar, also known as the bronze altar or altar of burnt offerings, was an altar God instructed Moses to have built for the tabernacle when the Israelites came out of Egypt (Exodus 27:1–8). During their forty years of wandering in the desert, God helped the Israelites learn about Him by setting in place regulations about how to rightly worship Him. Because they were nomadic at this time, their place of worship and all its furnishings had to be portable.

The brazen altar was the largest of the tabernacle's seven pieces of furniture, measuring approximately 7.5 feet square by 4.5 feet tall. God commanded that it be constructed of acacia wood and then overlaid with bronze. If it had been solid bronze, it would have been too heavy to carry. Like most of the tabernacle's furniture, God instructed that it have rings, or housings, on its corners through which poles could be inserted to transport it. The altar also had four projecting horns, one on each corner post, symbolizing help and refuge. All of the accompanying utensils: pots, shovels, forks, firepans, etc. were to be made of bronze as well. Furthermore, a grating of bronze was to be inserted into the hollow center to hold the firewood and sacrifice as it was being burned, allowing the ash to fall below.

When not being transported, the bronze altar stood prominently in the outer court of the tabernacle as the first and most imposing piece of furniture a worshipper would encounter upon entering this sacred space. The fire was to be kept burning on it at all times (Leviticus 6:13) and daily sacrifices were to be offered both morning and evening (Exodus 29:38–39) as well as any additional sin or guilt offerings (Leviticus 6:25; 7:2). Of course, every year on the Day of Atonement, the altar of burnt offerings also had a prominent role (Leviticus 16:18).

Certainly, the tabernacle and all its furnishings were meant to instruct God's people about Him. In the Most Holy Place, where God's presence dwelled, the furnishings were gold. Highly prized, this metal was also pure, showing that God is holy, perfect, and without defect. The bases supporting the frame for this inner court and the clasps on the outside of those curtains were to be made of silver (Exodus 26:19; 27:11). The worth of the metal decreased the farther away it was located from God's holy presence; however, silver does represent value in the Bible (Proverbs 3:14), showing how valuable coming into God's presence truly is. Finally, the altar in the outer court being made of bronze represents judgment (Numbers 21:9; Isaiah 60:17; Revelation 1:15). Bronze is harder than gold or silver and more resistant to heat, so it has the ability to endure (Deuteronomy 33:25; Jeremiah 1:18).

The setup of the tabernacle teaches that humans cannot approach God's presence without first dealing with the problem of sin. It teaches that a debt of death is owed and that something else can die on behalf of humans. So ultimately, the brazen altar, like all the tabernacle's furnishings, points to Jesus. He came to earth to become the perfect sacrifice for all time that would allow everyone who repents to approach God's presence (Hebrews 10:10). "God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith" (Romans 3:25 NIV). Thus, by looking to Jesus' sacrificial work on the cross as our help and refuge from bearing the wrath of God's judgment (like the horns on the brazen altar), we too can come into God's holy presence and commune with Him (Hebrews 4:16).

Related Truth:

What was the Israelites' tent of meeting?

What is the significance of the horns of the altar?

What was the 'Most Holy Place' or the 'Holy of Holies'?

What is significant about the Ark of the Covenant? What is it?

What was the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant?

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