Brazen Altar

The Brazen Altar of the Tabernacle Was Used for Sacrifice

BrazenAltar.jpg
Brazen Altar Illustration. Getty Images

The brazen, or bronze altar was a key element of the tabernacle in the wilderness, a place where the ancient Israelites sacrificed animals to atone for their sins.

Altars had long been used by the patriarchs, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The word comes from a Hebrew term meaning "place of slaughter or sacrifice."  Before the Hebrew captivity in Egypt, altars were made of earth or stacked stones.

  After God rescued the Jews from slavery, he commanded Moses to build the tabernacle, a portable place where God would live among his people.

When a person entered through the court gate of that tabernacle, the first thing they would see was the brazen altar.  It reminded them they were not worthy to approach holy God without first offering a blood sacrifice for their sins.

Here is how God told Moses to make this altar:

"Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide. Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. Make all its utensils of bronze-its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans. Make a grating for it, a bronze network, and make a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the network. Put it under the ledge of the altar so that it is halfway up the altar. Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze. The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried. Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain." (Exodus 27:1-8, NIV)

This altar measured seven and a half feet on each side by four and a half feet high.  Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, is often a symbol of God's righteousness and judgment in the Bible.  During the Hebrews' desert wanderings, God sent snakes because the people grumbled against God and Moses.  The cure for the snake bites was looking at a bronze snake, which Moses had made and fixed to a pole.

(Numbers 21:9)

The brazen altar was placed on a mound of earth or stones so it was raised above the rest of the tabernacle ground.  It probably had a ramp which the repentant sinner and priest could walk up.  On top was a bronze grate, with grates on all four sides.  Once the fire was kindled in this altar, God ordered that it should not be allowed to die out (Leviticus 6:13).

The horns on the four corners of the altar represented God's power.  The animal would have been tied to the horns before being sacrificed.  Note that this altar and the implements in the courtyard were overlaid with common bronze, but the altar of incense, inside the holy place in the tabernacle tent, was overlaid with precious gold because it was close to God.

Significance of the Brazen Altar

Like the other parts of the tabernacle, the brazen altar pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

God's plan for the salvation of humanity called for a spotless, sinless sacrifice.  Only Jesus met that requirement.  To atone for the sins of the world, Christ was sacrificed on the altar of the cross.  John the Baptist said of him, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, NIV)  Jesus died as the sacrificial lamb, just as the lambs and sheep had died on the brazen altar more than a thousand years before him.

The difference was that Christ's sacrifice was final.  No more sacrifices were needed.  God's holy justice was met.  People seeking to enter heaven today need only accept God's gracious gift of salvation through faith in his Son as sacrifice and Savior.

Bible References

Exodus 27:1-8, 29; Leviticus; Numbers 4:13-14, 7:88; 16, 18, 23.  

Also Known As

Brass altar, bronze altar, altar of sacrifice, altar of burnt offerings.

Example

The brazen altar was tended by the priests.

(Sources:  The Bible Almanac, J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White Jr., editors; New Compact Bible Dictionary, T. Alton Bryant, Editor; www.keyway.ca; www.the-tabernacle-place.com; www.mishkanministries.org; and www.biblebasics.co.uk.)

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Zavada, Jack. "Brazen Altar." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/brazen-altar-700106. Zavada, Jack. (2017, February 12). Brazen Altar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brazen-altar-700106 Zavada, Jack. "Brazen Altar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brazen-altar-700106 (accessed January 21, 2018).