Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In the foregoing message I pointed out that it is not easy to understand the record in Exodus concerning the altar. Certain aspects of this record are very puzzling. Exodus 27:5 speaks of “the ledge of the altar beneath.” It is difficult to decide how to translate the Hebrew word for ledge. The King James Version says compass, another version says border, and still other versions speak of a margin or rim. A ledge serves to hold something and is a protection. Some students of the Bible think that the ledge was outside the altar. According to their understanding, the ministering priests stood on the ledge which went around the altar. Those who hold to this view appeal to Leviticus 9:22, a verse which says that Aaron “came down from offering of the sin offering.” They also refer to 2 Chronicles 30:16, saying that the priests stood in “their place,” that is, on the ledge. Therefore, with these two verses as their basis, they understand the border or ledge to be outside the altar and to be a place where the ministering priests could stand.
What was the ledge, and where was it located? These questions are not easily answered. I am quite sure, however, that the ledge was inside the altar. Verse 4 says, “And you shall make for it a grating, a network of bronze; and you shall make upon the net four rings of bronze upon its four ends.” According to verse 5, the network was to reach “unto the half of the altar.” The altar was three cubits high, five cubits long, and five cubits wide. The grating, the network of bronze, inside the altar stretched horizontally from side to side at the middle of the height of the altar. The wood was placed upon this grating, and the sacrifices were put upon the wood. As the wood and the sacrifices burned, the ashes fell through the grating to the bottom of the altar. Furthermore, verse 5 tells us clearly that the grating was put under the ledge of the altar beneath. The composition of this verse is rather unusual, but the Hebrew does say “under the ledge of the altar beneath.” The fact that the grating was under the ledge indicates that the ledge could not have been outside the altar. The grating was not only under the ledge; it was beneath the ledge. If the ledge had been outside, how could the grating inside the altar have been beneath the ledge? Therefore, I believe definitely that the ledge was inside the altar.
The altar was made with acacia wood overlaid with bronze. The fire on the altar was to burn without ceasing. Does it not seem that the heat of the fire would pass through the bronze covering and cause the acacia wood inside to become charred? To be sure, this would have been the situation. For this reason, I believe that the ledge protected the four walls of the altar from the heat of the fire on the grating.
The Bible does not tell us of what material the ledge was made. I believe, however, that it must have been made of bronze. Therefore, I believe that above the grating and around the four walls there was a ledge of bronze protecting the walls from the heat of the fire. This may be the reason verse 5 says that the grating was not only under the ledge, but also beneath the ledge.
One writer has suggested that the network was actually at the bottom of the altar and reached halfway up the sides of the walls. Moreover, this writer supposes that when the altar was set up, it was placed on two heaps of dirt to allow air to reach the fire. However, such an interpretation involves too much guesswork. But if you would ask me how the air could get in, I would have to answer that I do not know, for the Scripture does not give us this detail.
The very fact that the altar has certain puzzling elements has a spiritual significance. The altar should actually be very easy to describe, easier to describe than the other items of furniture. But as we have pointed out, the record concerning the altar is rather puzzling. Although it is simple, it is nevertheless hard to understand. The significance of this is that it is not possible for us to understand thoroughly the mystery of the cross of Christ. Yes, in the New Testament the cross is revealed. We are told clearly that Christ was crucified, and in 1 Corinthians 1 Paul uses the expression “the word of the cross,” telling us that the word of the cross is the power of God (v. 18). But we are unable to apprehend the mystery of Christ’s redemption thoroughly. When I first came into the ministry fifty years ago, I tried many times to give messages on the cross. However, each time I rose up to speak, I did not have much utterance. The reason was that it is very difficult to speak about the cross of Christ.
Are you able to speak about the cross of Christ in an adequate way? Of course, you can declare that the cross was the place where Christ was put to death. You can also say that on the cross Christ bore our sins, that we were crucified with Him, and that even the Devil was destroyed on the cross. But how about the mystery of Christ’s death? Even those who have been teaching the Scriptures for years will find it difficult to speak concerning the mystery of Christ’s all-inclusive death. Christians may place a cross on top of their places of worship, and some may even wear a cross. However, they cannot speak about the cross adequately. We can read the verses in the New Testament which refer either to the cross or to Christ’s crucifixion. Nevertheless, after reading these verses, we still are not able to apprehend the mystery of Christ’s death thoroughly. The death of Christ is a great mystery. Because it is such a mystery, we do not have a way to describe it adequately.
Another puzzling matter is related to the grating, or the network, within the altar. The grating has four rings at its four ends. However, these rings are also for the poles used in carrying the altar (38:5). The grating is on the inside, but the rings are on the outside. How, then, could the rings be attached to the grating? We are told clearly that the rings are upon the four ends of the network, and the rings must be outside the altar. Otherwise, the poles could not be put into the rings. It is puzzling how the rings could be attached to the network and yet be outside the altar.
If there were only the four walls of the altar without the grating inside the altar, the altar would be empty. The significance of the altar depends completely on the grating, the network, with the four rings. Yes, the rings are for the move of the altar, but they are connected to the grating inside the altar. Without the grating, there would be no rings, and without the rings, the altar could not move. This brings us to a very important matter: Without the grating there would be no way to have the fire used in burning the sacrifices. Thus, both for the burning of the sacrifices and for the move of the altar, the grating with the four rings is necessary.
We may compare the grating and the rings to the inward parts of our physical body. Our inward parts are more vital than our skin and hair. In the same principle, the grating is the important part of the altar. If the grating were removed, the altar would become an empty box, not useful for anything. The content of the altar is the grating with the rings.
It is important to find out the significance of the grating. The grating was made of bronze. In typology, bronze signifies the righteous judgment of God. This should also be the significance of the grating being made of bronze. In the foregoing message we pointed out that the altar should be related to a person, for it was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze. This signifies that Christ became a man to die on the cross to bear the judgment of God for us. The cross is not merely a thing; it is related to a person, as indicated by the fact that the altar, a type of the cross, was made of acacia wood, which signifies the humanity of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the cross is related to a person, and this person is Christ.
The bronze grating within the altar signifies that God’s judgment reached the inward parts of Christ. God’s judgment upon Christ as our Substitute was not merely outward. The holy fire of God’s judgment was not just outside of Christ, but also burned within Him. This is indicated in Psalm 22, a psalm concerning the sufferings of Christ on the cross. Verse 14 says, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” This indicates that when Christ bore God’s judgment, that judgment reached His heart, His inward parts. His bones were out of joint, but His heart melted in His inward parts. This means that God’s judgment upon Christ was experienced more inwardly than it was outwardly.
Not many Christian preachers have given messages concerning the inward aspect of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. Most of those who preach about the sufferings of Christ speak about the outward aspect of His sufferings. To repeat, Christ bore God’s judgment not only outwardly, but also inwardly. In fact, He suffered more inwardly than He did outwardly. The grating was not outside of Him; it was in Him. Therefore, the place where the holy fire of God’s judgment burned was in the inward parts of the Lord Jesus.
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