The Sacrifice, the Alter, and Clothes

My wife and I read Exodus 20:22-26 this morning:

22 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 26 Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’ 
           First, there is a warning here against making other gods (particularly gods of material possessions that have some kind of value to man–that is, gods of silver and gods of gold) immediately after God gave His commands not to put other gods before Him. The Lord knew the natural inclination of man to sin, therefore He gave this warning immediately after revealing His will. 
           But having warned them He immediately gives directives concerning sacrifice. Knowing that men would indeed break these commands God graciously reminds them of their need for a sacrifice. Here a burnt offering and a peace offering are mentioned. The burnt offering showing the need for a sacrifice to propitiate (satisfy) the wrath of God, and the peace offering to make peace between man and God. We know from the NT that Jesus is the burnt offering and that He is the peace offering. “He is the propitiation for our sins,” and “He has made peace through the blood of His cross.” 
             After mentioning the need for these sacrifices, the LORD says, ‘if you make me an alter of stone you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you use a tool on it you have profaned it.” The purpose of this, it seems to me, is to put into the minds of God’s people that the manner in which redemption is carried out is entirely of God. Men could never have devised a plan that would encompass the salvation of the world. Only God could conceive a plan so wise and perfect in order to make atonement for the sins of His people. The people would not use tools to hewn the stone of the alter. In other words, God would determine the way in which redemption would be carried out.  Man could never have conceived of so great a plan of redemption as to have determined that the Son of God would become Man, would live a perfect life, would die on the cross and would rise from the dead. Man could never have foreseen that the alter on which the sacrifice would be offered was the cross on which our Lord suffered. 
        Finally, there is  a command for the priest not to go up the steps to the alter unless their nakedness be exposed. (Ex. 28:42,43) There are a few ways we could take this. The first is to say that there is an intimation here to the cultic prostitution practices of the ancient Near East. Often the priests in the pagan lands would be naked as they ministered at the Temples of their false gods. Cultic immorality was prevalent and God did not want Israel to be like the other nations. But I think there is a simpler explanation. Since it is in the context of sacrifice for sins, I wonder if God is impressing on the minds of His people the need for covering. The first time that nakedness appears in Scripture is in Genesis 2 where Adam and Eve, having disobeyed God, see that they were naked before Him and needed to be clothed. Most theologians have noted that the animals God used to cloth Adam and Eve were most likely then the first sacrifice for sin. This of course points forward to the Lord Jesus Christ. It shows us that by His righteous life and death on the cross He would clothe us with His righteousness. Interestingly, He is the great High priest and the sacrifice. And while He was going to the alter to make atonement for our sins, He would have his “seamless” robe taken off Him by man.  He would go up the steps of the alter to lay down His life for us, and He would become naked so that we might be clothed. 

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