Tabernacle Studies: The Furniture

Edited by Gene Higgins

The Brazen Altar (Exodus 27:1-8)

Speaking broadly, the court and the two vessels within the court typify the Lord Jesus as He was here on earth and the work accomplished by Him on earth; those vessels within the Tabernacle speak of Christ risen and glorified in the heavens and of His work continuously carried on up there for His saints. The two vessels within the court were the brazen altar and the laver.

A) General specifications:

  1. Its size – 5 cubits long x 5 cubits wide x 3 cubits high.
  2. Its materials – Acacia wood overlaid with brass.
  3. Its vessels – network, rings, horns, pans, shovels, basins, flesh hooks, and firepans all of brass.
  4. Its construction – hollow with boards.
  5. Its purpose – It was the place of sacrifice and the place of meeting (Ex 29:42-44).

B) Typical significance: (Luke 23:33; John 19:17-18)

The brazen altar typifies the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and His death there as the once-for-all sacrifice.

  1. The altar was made of acacia wood and brass. Christ’s incorruptible Humanity and perfect Manhood, which was not subject to death but yet capable of dying, is typified in the acacia or shittim wood (Heb 2:14-15, 17; John 1:14). The brass added durability and firmness, and the power to sustain the fire. The wooden boards overlaid with brass tell us that the altar points to the capability of the Sin-Bearer to endure the judgment of God on account of sin when He was made sin for us (Ps 89:19).
  2. The altar was foursquare, the same on all sides. It faced each point of the compass, suggesting the worldwide aspect of the death of Christ. It presents the same dimensions to all – the same provision and conditions to be met for “there is no difference.” The number 5 on both the length and breadth of the altar is the number that tells of grace. Nowhere was it seen more clearly than at the cross. The number 3 in the height is the number of manifestation. Again, at the cross we get the full manifestation of the heart of man (with all its sin and hatred) and of the heart of God (with all its love and grace).

C) The altar was positioned just inside the gate of the court. 

It was the first object encountered by the Israelite as he entered the sacred precincts. It was called “the altar at the door” (Lev 4:7). The point here is that it was only possible to approach God inside the Tabernacle by means of the altar of sacrifice outside the Tabernacle (Ex 29:11, 42). Sin was judged here. This is seen in the death of the animal victims (Rom 6:23) and in the fire which was never to go out (Heb 12:29). Here, atonement was made on the grounds of blood shed (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). Atonement means to cover (Ps 32:1), to purge or cleanse (Isa 6:7), and/or to appease wrath (Gen 32:20).

  1. Concerning the blood: The blood of the burnt, peace, and trespass offerings was sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering round about. The blood of the sin offering was never sprinkled round about or on the side of the altar. It was sprinkled with the finger before the veil and put with the finger on the horns of the incense altar or the brazen altar. The remainder of the blood of the sin offering was poured out at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering.
  2. Concerning the fire: Two distinct words are used for “the burning” upon the altar of burnt offering and “the burning” outside the camp, and they are never interchanged. In the first, it is the thought of a sweet savor going up to God.

We find it in the following cases:

  1. The burnt offering – Lev 1:9, 13, 15, 17
  2. Meal offering – Lev 2:2, 9, 16
  3. Parts of peace offering – Lev 3:5, 11, 16
  4. Parts of sin offering – Lev 4:10, 19, 26, 31, 35
  5. Incense offering – Ex 30:7, 8

In the second, the idea of a fierce, consuming fire is attached to the word. It is used for burning in wrath, as in Leviticus 10:6 and Numbers 16:37. Its use in connection with the sacrifices is confined to the consuming of the sin offering outside the camp (Lev 4:12, 21; 16:27-28).

D) The altar had a brass grate (network). 

It would appear that the altar itself was a hollow square without top or bottom and the grate of strong brazen network was fastened just half-way up the interior. If this is so, then the place of the fire was level with the height of the Mercy Seat – 1 cubits from the ground. From this we learn that God’s mercy and His justice are the same dimensions (Ps 101:1). The grate was “in the midst of the altar,” and there the severed parts of the offerings were laid upon the fire which was built upon this grate. Here we have portrayed the hidden inner sufferings of the Savior as He endured the wrath of God (Isa 53:10) when His soul was made “an offering for sin.”

E) The altar had four horns. 

According to Psalm 118:27, the horns were for the binding of the sacrifice to the altar. In Scripture, the “horn” is the symbol of power and strength (Hab 3:4; Daniel 8:3-20). Also, the horns were sprinkled with blood (Ex 29:12) and there the guilty fled for refuge (1 Kings 2:28). Putting these thoughts together, we have the guilty sinner fleeing for refuge to Christ, who shed His blood as the sacrifice for sin; that sinner will prove the power of God in his immediate salvation (Rom 1:16). The strength of Christ’s love is also suggested here (Eph 5:25).

F) The altar had vessels associated with it:

  1. The pans – to receive the ashes.
  2. The shovels – to remove the fire from the altar to the censers and perhaps the ashes to the pans.
  3. The basins – to receive the blood of sprinkling.
  4. The flesh-hooks – to place the pieces of the offerings upon the fire.
  5. The firepans – to transfer the fire between the two altars (or censers) (Lev 16:12-13).

These utensils speak of all that was necessary in order that the offerings might be presented and dealt with in a suitable manner. So our God, who is a God of order, has seen to it that every detail connected with the offering up of Christ has been provided and arranged and carried out according to His mind and will. Thus we read, “That the Scripture might be fulfilled,” “According to the Scripture,” “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (John 19:28; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Matt. 4:14). See also Acts 13:29.

To summarize:

The brazen altar was the place where sin’s wages were paid and atonement was made.

The different kinds of sacrifices which were offered on the brazen altar are outlined on the attached chart.

Burnt Offering, Lev 1 

Purpose: Dedication or consecration of the person.

Description: Sweet savor unto the Lord. Eph 5:2; Voluntary. Male only. Bullock, sheep, goat, or fowl.

Offerer’s Part: Lay hands on it. Kill it. Cut or flay it. Wash it (except fowl).

Priest’s Part: Sprinkle blood on the altar. Lay parts on the altar. Burn it with fire.

Meal Offering, Lev 2

Purpose: Presentation of material possessions or gifts.

Description: Sweet savor unto the Lord. John 1:14; 6:51.

Offerer’s Part: Voluntary. Fine flour with frankincense and oil, unleavened cakes, wafers, green ears. Bring it to the priest.

Priest’s Part: Take handful for memorial. Burn it with fire on the altar.

Peace Offering, Lev 3

Purpose: Reconciliation and communion.

Description: Sweet savor unto the Lord. Romans 5:1.

Offerer’s Part: Voluntary. Male or female. Cattle, sheep, or goat. Lay hands on it. Kill it.

Priest’s Part: Sprinkle blood on the altar. Burn fat and inwards on the altar.

Sin Offering, Lev 4

Purpose: Expiation and forgiveness of sin. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 13:11, 12.

Description: Compulsory. Male or female. Bullock, sheep, or goat.

Offerer’s Part: Lay hands on it. Kill it.

Priest’s Part: Sprinkle blood before the veil and on altar’s horns. Pour out blood. Carry remains out of camp.

Trespass Offering, Lev 5

Purpose: Compensation and cleansing from sins. Col 2:13, 14; 1 John 1:9.

Description: Compulsory. Sheep, goat, fowl (male or female), flour.

Offerer’s Part: Confess sin. Kill it (except fowl).

Priest’s Part: Sprinkle blood on the altar. Burn fat and inwards on the altar.

Offering God’s Portion Priest’s Portion Offerer’s Portion
Burnt Offering The whole animal. The skin. Nothing.
Meal Offering The handful. Remainder of the offering. Nothing.
Peace Offering All the fat. Breast and shoulder. Remainder.
Sin Offering All the fat put on the brazen
altar; remainder of animal
burned out side camp.
Sometimes it could be
eaten in the court.
Trespass Offering All the fat. Remainder of the offering. Nothing.