Altar

God Doesn’t Ride Shotgun

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Does God seem distant? There may be a valid reason for that, and we might be the cause.

Manasseh, king of Judah, probably committed one of the biggest acts of blasphemy in the history of mankind. He commissioned a carved statue of the heathen idol Asherah, and placed it in the Temple of the Lord (2 Kings 21:7). It was this statue that the Lord referred to as the image of jealousy in Ezekiel 8.

Asherah was a goddess whom the people worshipped through sexual immorality. To make room for the placement of this statue, the altar of the Temple had to be moved aside.

In Manasseh’s mind, there was probably a valid reason for doing this. Many historical scholars believed that Manasseh helped spark an economic boom in Israel by obtaining a “most favored nation” status from the Assyrians. In order to attract Assyria’s favor, he led Israel to worship multiple false gods, including Asherah, who was regarded as the wife of Baal. However, economic gain is never an excuse to rebel against God, and God always deals with this behavior severely.

Manasseh was later arrested by the Assyrians, was treated severely by them, and was only reinstated after he repented and called out to God.

Yet, the damage of his behavior was done. The image of jealousy remained in the Lord’s Temple, and the altar had been moved aside.

Think about how this act violated the Lord’s presence, and the purpose for His Temple. The Temple was a place for people to go to pray, to seek God’s deliverance and guidance, and to be reconciled to Him.

It was a place of repentance, and a place where worshippers sought atonement for sin. The altar was the place where the lambs were sacrificed for sin. Every act of that sacrifice symbolized what God would do for His people through Jesus Christ.

The lamb was tied to one of the four horns of the altar. Those horns represented God’s judgment. So, that lamb was tied to God’s judgment upon us. He took our place there. That lamb was then slain, and its blood was the price paid for our sin. That blood would be collected and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant on the day of atonement to show God’s redemption of us from sin. That blood was also placed upon the horn of the alter, showing that the Blood of the Lamb covered God’s judgment for our sin.

Likewise, the blood of Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world once and for all. Furthermore, the blood of Christ also covered God’s judgment for our sin. It was with this in mind that John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” as he introduced Christ in John 1.

Once the lamb had been slain, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar, where it was cooked, and then eaten by the worshipper, and the priest. The fat was left on the altar to be burnt up, symbolizing God eating His portion. That step in the sacrifice showed restored fellowship between man and God, a friendship and a family relationship that bonded man with God.

The Temple, and more specifically, the altar, was where man went to repent and be reconciled to God. It was where man went for assurance that His sin had been paid for.

Yet, Manasseh had moved that altar to make room for the statue of Asherah, a goddess worshipped through sin and immorality. It was such a betrayal to God, that He later told Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8 that He had been driven from the sanctuary of the Temple. God’s presence was no longer there.

Had the altar been moved for any reason, it would have been a sacrilege. God’s redemption of man would have been de-emphasized for the flavor of the month. However, to move the altar for the image of Asherah, was to move redemption out of the way in favor of licentious sin. This is an all out rebellion against God, and was the closest man could have come to spitting in His face.

Therefore, God’s presence was no longer in His Temple, leading the elders to say in Ezekiel 8 that the Lord had forsaken the earth. (That’s Old Testament for, “God seems distant.”)

So, if God seems distant, maybe it’s because we moved Him out of the way of our desires. Maybe we moved His altar from the temple of our heart to the back recesses of our heart in order to make room for something more pleasing to us… whether it is merely something of the world, or whether it is all-out sin.

However, God does not move to the back. He does not ride shotgun. He is either front and center, in the driver’s seat, or He is gone altogether.

So, if God seems distant to you, examine your heart, and see where your priorities are, and what your spiritual condition is. Then, repent, pray to God for restoration, and welcome Him back to your life.

The Altar (Ezra 3)

It is significant that when the people began to rebuild the Temple in Ezra 3, they began with the building of the altar, because it was the altar that symbolized their redemption and peace with God.

In “The Altar,” we discuss how the altar symbolized redemption, what that entailed, and how we should respond.

The Altar

Jerusalem Reconstruction

Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.

-Ezra 2:2-3

It is significant that the first thing built as the Israelites began the Temple reconstruction project was the brazen altar, because it is at the altar that peace is made between God and man.

Peace with God… that’s a rare condition in this world. Many who think they have peace with God really only have a cease-fire. There is a difference between peace with God, and a ceasefire with God. While the ceasefire pauses the obvious signs of a struggle, it lacks the safety and security of true peace.

In the aftermath of World War II, America made peace with Japan. In the years following, the United States worked to rebuild Japan, which went on to become a world economic power, the dream that the emperor had for the country to begin with. In that peace, two opposing sides agreed to stop fighting, to reconcile, to become partners, and both became stronger as a result.

The Korean War ended with a ceasefire. Technically, the two sides are still at war, and neither feels safe or secure at the moment.

Sadly, many people today have opted for a ceasefire with God, electing to tune out the conviction of His word and Spirit, and deadening their spiritual sensors so they can enjoy the life this world offers. Many times, God gives them up, and allows this to happen. The man in this state thinks he has peace with God, but he remains in rebellion against God, and will still face His judgment.

What you really need is peace with God, which only comes through surrender to God. This involves repenting (turning from sin) and faith (trusting the Lord to save you). It’s one monumental decision to trust Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Once that happens, the Bible teaches that you have peace with God through Jesus Christ your Lord (Romans 5:1).

Then, God begins to transform you into the person He intended on you becoming. He builds you, cares for you, and provides for you, giving you a peace and security that does not come through a mere ceasefire. Then, He gives you the eternal blessing of a place in His Kingdom. You become a new person, and all things become new.

So, peace with God, which comes through your conversion to Christ, is of the utmost importance, which is why the people of Ezra’s day built the altar first. The altar is where peace was made with God.

The altar had four horns fashioned on the corners. These horns represented the judgment of God for sin. When a worshiper brought a sacrifice to the altar, that sacrificial lamb was tied to one of those horns.

Now, it is important to remember that the sacrificial lamb was a picture of Christ. Just as the lamb at the Temple was killed to bring peace with God over sin, Jesus Christ was killed to bring us peace with God once and for all. That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).”

Back to the Old Testament temple, when this lamb was tied to the horn of judgment, it demonstrated that God’s judgment would be passed from the worshiper to the lamb, just as His judgment was passed from us onto Christ.

Then, the lamb was slain, and his blood was placed upon the horn of the alter, thus the blood of the lamb covered the judgment for sin. The blood of Jesus Christ covers the judgment for our sin.

At that point, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar. In some sacrifices, such as the peace offering, the worshiper would eat part of the cooked meat to signify restored fellowship between him and God.

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ restored our fellowship with God.

So, in the reconstruction of the Temple, with the people facing mounting pressure from their enemies, it should come as no surprise that the altar was the first thing to be built. They understood their need to be at peace with God.

Do you?