“You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans. You shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze, and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. And you shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net extends halfway down the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. And the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles are on the two sides of the altar when it is carried. You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made.” (Exodus 27:1-8, ESV)
The bronze altar was set in front of the Tabernacle to receive the sacrificial offerings and burn them on the fire. The ashes would fall down through the grate and could be removed with the shovels, etc. Like the ark and the other pieces of furniture it was to be transported with poles, a man on each corner holding the poles of their shoulders. We’ll see later that this task fell to the tribe of Levi, even as the priesthood fell to this tribe and the family of Aaron within this tribe.
The altar signals that no one approaches Yahweh without a cleansing for sin. Sacrifice after sacrifice was offered on this altar and the annual sacrifice for the whole nation on the Day of Atonement was offered here. But Jesus offered one sacrifice for all and for all time. The inability of the sacrifices to truly cleanse the conscience of the offerer was illustrated over and over by the necessity of repeating the sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice covers all our sins once and for all so that we are fully cleansed and fully confident in our conscience that we have been redeemed.
When you first purchase a car the dealer will tape a temporary, paper tag in your window to signify that you just bought the vehicle and are in the process of getting a permanent license plate made of metal and containing your permanent license number. The temporary tag works but only for a limited time. The permanent tag is, well, permanent. The animal offerings were temporary offerings that anticipated that the permanent one was coming. When the permanent offering of atonement came it proved that God was righteous in accepting the animal offerings with a view to Jesus’ final sacrifice (Romans 3:21-26). I hope you are enjoying Jesus’ perfect and final sacrifice for your sins and feel in your conscience that your life has been purified before God.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV)