“You shall make the altar of acacia wood…you shall make its horns on its four corners;” Exodus 27:1-2
We may not think much about the altar in today’s modern world where sacrifices are no longer taking place. We may not even recall the description given to build an altar having “horns” on it. What were the “horns” of the altar for?
“The priest shall also put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” Leviticus 4:7
The horns may have been used to tie down the sacrifice. They were also smeared with blood as part of the sacrificial rite. Additionally, the horns of the altar became known as a place of temporary refuge for a criminal based on the text from Exodus 21:13-14.
How important was the altar? Judaism revolved around it. Without the altar, there can be no sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there can be no atonement. Without atonement there can be no reconciliation with God. The portable altar was part of the tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites while they were semi-nomadic, and later altars were made more permanent when the temple was erected. Since the last temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, no atoning sacrifice can be made by a high priest on behalf of the Jews. And since the Jews would insist upon any new temple being rebuilt in the same place as the previous temples, a logistical problem presents itself; modern Israel harbors a litany of holy sites for all three Abrahamic and monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam. As Islam recognizes Abraham as well, they have since laid claim to the temple mount, which was the original location where Abraham was prepared to offer his son to God (many Moslems believe Ishmael was the son offered, whereas the Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac.) Today this holy site is known as the Dome of the Rock, and it is the prominent golden dome you see in most pictures of Jerusalem.
Viewing several pictures of ancient altars quickly evoked imagery in my mind of two things; a king’s crown, as well as the crown of thorns placed on Jesus prior to His crucifixion. As a Christian I truly believe Jesus was the ultimate atoning sacrifice, and as He is known to me as both Jesus and God incarnate, it would only be fitting for Him alone to be able to fulfill the role of both altar and sacrifice. Was not the sacrificial blood upon those thorns on His head? Was His blood not poured out at his feet, at the base of the cross? Is Jesus not where we bring our spiritual sacrifices and offerings? Is Jesus not the one we come to for refuge when we know we are guilty? Does He not provide it?
And just as the altar and sacrifice were critical to Judaism, Jesus, the Christ, is both our altar and sacrifice today and forever.