Decorating the Altar

Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord , the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.” – Deuteronomy 27:1-8

We revisit the idea of standing stones in this passage.  God is preparing the Israelites for their crossing of the Jordan River.  The Israelites are instructed to erect a special standing stone after they cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  This particular standing stone was to be created from large flagstones covered with plaster.  This is to be the place where the law given to Moses is to be prominently displayed.  This law represents the covenant between God and the Israelites in the promised land.

I am not sure what to make of the instruction not to use iron tools on the altar.  Certainly, this would have made it more difficult to work with stone and mortar.  Perhaps this is somehow similar to the instruction to sacrifice a heifer near a stream and an unplowed and unplanted field from the passage that was in yesterday’s post.

Christian’s have altars, big ones, little ones, altars made of wood and rarely made of stone.  In my church experiences the altar has been a place for communion elements, crosses, offering plates, banner, and candles.  I have not experienced an altar with the commandments given to Moses written on it.

Jesus said He came to fulfill the law rather than replace it.  So perhaps placing symbols of Christ’s sacrifice and love for us on the altar, like the communion elements and the cross, is similar to what was going on in this passage.  As important as these symbols are, I wonder if Jesus is more interested in having His followers write His law on their hearts.  I can’t help but wonder if inscribing God’s love on our hearts is more important than placing items on an altar.  Then again, if items on the altar lead to changed hearts and love for God then they are worthy decorations.

Prayer: God help me to write your law on my heart. 

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