Why are there two altars? – Very good question
I was trying to figure out the basic design of the Altar based on Exodus 27:1-6 and Exodus 38:1-6. Based on these text I see the following specifications:
- Dimensions of Altar 5 cubits by 5 cubits by 3 cubits high
- Made of wood covered by Bronze
- Horns on the four corners
- Ledge (no dimension given)
- Grating at half the height
- Grating below Ledge
- Rings below Ledge
Both of these altars assume that the ledge was to stand on. If the ledge was meant to be only decorative, then the altar would be shaped more like a box, and that would be a third design option.
The left altar is based on an assumption that the altar mentioned in 1 Kings 2:28 was the brazen altar of sacrifice and a man, even Joab would be hard pressed to hold two horns at the same time with 5 cubits or 7.5 feet between them.
If the altar mentioned in 1 Kings 2:28 was the Altar of incense, then:
- Joab was brave or crazy
- Adonijah was brave or crazy
- It is surprising that one or both of them were not struck dead.
So the two altars above were for getting a feel for what the altar might have looked like.
I spent the last week preparing to study, with the kids at the kahilah, the parashat Korakh. This is a hard parsha, and so I tried to find something that would teach some of the lessons of the parsha in a unique manner.
For you that do not remember the story, this is the story of Rebellion, and what happens to those who rebel against יהוה and His Anointed.
Korakh was not happy with his lot in life and seems to be trying to establish equality, but his idea of equality seems to be that he himself would be in charge. From his bitterness at his “lot” in life. He started grumbling and the rumors and lies he told, made the hearts of those that heard his words, bitter.
Ultimately, he brings over 250 people into rebellion, directly against Aharon. But, the words indirectly challenged the authority of Moshe and ultimately, יהוה. By questioning Aharon’s position, he and his followers were questioning Moshe’s leadership, and more importantly יהוה’s guidance.
Moshe and Aharon interceded for these rebellious ones, and Moshe asks them to bring their own censors the next day to see who יהוה will choose as Kohen Gadol ( High Priest).
The next day at the show down: Korakh, Dathan, Abirhim, and their families were swallowed by the Earth, and fire comes down and burns all 250 of the men bearing their censers. The men are gone, but their censers remain.
These 250 censers become the covering of the altar of burnt sacrifice that was carried for forty years through the wilderness and lasted until the time of David.
I built a miniature (see above image) altar so we could talk about the material that it was made from and it’s importance. We often learn more when we teach, than those we teach. My lesson was to come the next day as I thought of what it might be like to look at a bronze wall made from the censers of rebellion.
The censers were probably originally mirrors, so it may have been polish to a mirrored surface. This mirrored surface would create a golden hued image of the one facing the altar. Probably a distorted and blurry image.
According to my reading, the lower half of the altar was a net, grid – porous surface. The coals and ashes could be seen trough this lattice, and the heat could be felt.
What would it be like to kneel on the North side of the ark as you slit the throat of a lamb? A lamb that would take your place on the flames. What would it be like to look into that mirror darkly-the beaten and polished surface of the Altar?
As the sinner killed the lamb that was his substitute, he would see through the grating at the bottom of the altar, the coals glowing in a bed of the ashes of burnt wood and burnt lambs.
As he looked up he would see his own reflection in the mirror of rebellion. His own face reflected by this covering of rebellion would remind him that each rebellion starts with a choice. A choice to believe the deceiver. A choice to step off the path, a single sin. A sin like the one that has brought him to this place.
When the sin is allowed to be repeated over and over we have rebellion and rebellion like a disease spreads from individual to individual through gossip, and grumbling.
Above his golden hewed reflection he would see the smoke ascending up into the heavens. He would know that his sins were covered just as the wood that formed the inner part of the altar was covered by this bronze mirror.
He would in a sense see a distorted image of himself standing in the fire with the smoke arising from his head. If that is not an image of the final judgement, I do not know what is.
His lamb would be place on the other side of his reflected image, taking his place in the flames. If this is not an image of redemption, I do not know what is.
In its most basic form, all sin is rebellion. Rebellion against life and against love. But a rebellion like that of Korakh’s can destroy not just the person who is the seed of the rebellion, but it can destroy a congregation or even a nation. The TNK talks about this type of rebellion in this manner:
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:23
My desire is to never be rebellious against יהוה and His words. I am trying to guard my words and speak truth or not at all. To speak love or not at all. I sometimes fail at this, and must look at myself in the mirror of rebellion as my sins are placed upon the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.