Maintaining Our Personal Altars

Altars represent places of personal encounter and consecration before the living God. Maintaining our personal altars, is a stewardship of the great gift we’ve been given: the free will offering of Christ on our behalf, adoption into full status as sons and daughters, and eternal access to the very throne of God. Last week we looked at the aspect of compromising the integrity and sacredness of the altar. Let’s proceed now to unpack this concept a bit more.

There were two pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle of Moses, and later in the temple, namely the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the Altar of Incense, that we likened to a backdrop of sorts by which we relate to God. More than simply old methods, or a bygone institution, God’s specific instructions to Moses on the mountain represent a reality that still exists today. Regarding the priests who kept charge of the sanctuary, it was said: “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’” Heb. 8:5

If your life is anything like mine, you can relate to the daily need of the soul, to be cleansed and refreshed.  If I could liken the “pattern of this world” to a huge magnet, I would say that in some way, shape, or form, I feel its’ “beck and call.” Thus my habit, driven by need, of offering myself “as a living sacrifice”, on a daily basis. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom. 12:1-2

Recall with me, the intrinsic connection of the coals, carried in fire pans from the Altar of Burnt Offering, to the Altar of Incense. One fire lights another. Repentance and cleansing (burnt offering), fuel and sustain the fires of a deeper prayer and worship (incense) in my heart. “The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” Lev. 6:12-13 The operative word here is “continual.”

“Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.” Ex. 30:7-8 Again, take note of the specificity in God’s instructions.  “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.’” Ex. 30:34-38

Reminds me of times in my life where I had a sweet encounter with God but then when I shared it with someone it seemed to lose its richness. There are chambers of the heart that I believe are “special reserve”, just for me and God. Beyond being common, or for the general populace, this is the “mix” of my heart’s treasure, for His eyes only.

There are chambers of the heart that I believe are “special reserve”, just for me and God. Beyond being common, or for the general populace, this is the “mix” of my heart’s treasure, for His eyes only. Click To Tweet

The intensity of God’s heart around this altar of worship is revealed in the experience of two of the high priest’s sons. “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ Aaron remained silent.” Lev. 10:1-3 (emphasis mine) Whoa! Strong judgment on God’s part for their disobedience in not first going to the altar of sacrifice for the fire. But there is more to the story.

“Then the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.’” Lev. 10:8-11 Apparently they had been drunk, and lacked discernment on the difference between the holy and unholy, deciding that common unholy fire would burn the incense well enough.  

These two sons were given the privilege of ascending Mount Sinai, along with their father and seventy elders. Ex. 24:1 With privilege (God encounters) comes responsibility. Perhaps the “fear of the Lord” has crossed your mind, as it has mine. Reverential sobriety in our approach towards God is foundational, as we seek to maintain our personal altars.