Welcome friends, today we begin a 5-part series: Abraham’s altars. I recently listened to a message that was preached about 20 years ago by Bro. James Lockee, and he dealt with how Lot lost his tent, altar, and a couple other things when he went to Sodom. He showed that by losing those things, it was all downhill for Lot.
I am curious about what an altar is and what it’s for. Consider this: how would Lot have known that using an altar was important? Who would have taught him its significance? Here’s the answer:
Uncle Abraham. Scripture records Abraham built 4 altars, and we’ll take a look at each one in this series. Each altar has significance to us today, and by understanding the function of each, we can better understand how to invoke more of God and God’s power in our lives throughout our lives.
We don’t kindle fire and kill animals for burnt offerings unto the Lord Old Testament-style nowadays. But by understanding the significance and function of an altar, it will be shown that God’s people today need an altar that they can go to just as much now as the heroes of the faith did back then.
The four altars of Abraham that we will consider are:
- The altar at the plains of Moreh
- The altar east of Bethel
- The altar at Mamre
- The altar upon Jehovah-jireh
NOTE: While his name is technically Abram at points throughout this series, we’ll just refer to him as Abraham to keep it simple. Easy, right?
One facet in our study of Abraham’s altars is that we will consider the surrounding events when Abraham built each altar. This can give us some clues about its significance. We begin by considering Abraham’s first altar, the one at the plains of Moreh.
Our story begins in Genesis 12, when God calls Abraham out from the house of his father, Terah who at that time resided in Haran. Abraham (at age 75) and everyone in his home travel to Canaan, and there he sets up camp at the plains of Moreh. God appears to him when he gets there, confirms that he’ll give the land to his children, and Abraham builds an altar.
And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. – Genesis 12:7 (KJV)
There are 3 things that involve the altar at the plains of Moreh:
- Its purpose was thanksgiving and worship
- It was to be used regularly
- It was Abraham’s first altar
1. Its Purpose Was Thanksgiving and Worship
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. – Hebrews 13:15 (KJV)
In Genesis 12:7, God appeared to Abraham; this in and of itself is a reason to be exceedingly thankful. And if that wasn’t enough, consider what happens next: God confirms his promise that he intends to give this land to Abraham and his children.
If God appeared to you, and then he gave you something that goes far beyond your mortal life, there’s a great deal to be thankful for! And I submit to you that if you are saved and reading this, God has done both of these things for you, just as he did for Abraham in the plains of Moreh.
How? He appeared to you – his Holy Spirit showed you in your heart the need of salvation, and directed you to Christ. Then, based on your decision to be saved, he promised to give you something that would last far past what your physical life could encompass – eternal life. God appeared and gave a lasting promise to Abraham, and if he saved your soul, he did it for you too.
As with Abraham, it is fitting that we prepare an altar “unto the Lord, who appeared to us”. What happens on an altar? Sacrifice. And based on the above verse from Hebrews, we are exhorted by Paul to offer the “sacrifice of praise to God continually”. Abraham’s altar was to offer thanks for what God had done for him, and it is altogether fitting that we should do the same. Ask God for the details, and he’ll give you an altar at which you can offer praise and thanks for what he’s done for you.
2. It Was To Be Used Regularly
I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. – 1 Corinthians 15:31 (KJV)
Just as God is in the process of continually helping and taking care of us, we should be in the continual habit of maintaining our walk with him. What would hinder perpetual and uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord? Our flesh, and the intrinsic sin nature that every saved person still has.
This is the reason that Paul declared that on a daily basis, he needed to “die”, or mortify sin inside himself. It is inevitable that there will be sin that needs confession, that’s a foregone conclusion. But allowing that sin to go unconfessed for long periods of time can nurture some deep-rooted weeds, if you know what I mean. In other words, unconfessed sin can lead to bigger and worse problems if allowed to fester and grow – that’s why our spiritual lives need to be weeded regularly.
And just as important as it is for us to spend the energy to keep things on the up-and-up with God, we ought to be thanking him for the things he does for us all the time. Question(s): when was the last time you thanked God for your health? How about your home? How about your spouse? Your kids? Your family? How about your church? For you pastor? Assistant pastor? Deacons? Sunday School teacher? When was the last time you thanked God for saving you? How about the help he’s been to you at your job? How about keeping your home safe at night while you slept?
It’s better to thank the Lord for those things while you have them, rather than learn to appreciate them when the Lord decides you don’t appreciate them enough and takes them away. The worst feeling I have is when my kids don’t appreciate my generosity to them; in the same respect, imagine how God feels when we take his blessings for granted.
Abraham was moved to the plains of Moreh, and the Scripture doesn’t say how long the Lord told him to be there, if God even gave him a time frame. It’s likely Abraham packed up from the plains of Moreh and moved to Bethel (Abraham’s next stop) at the moment God told him to, and that God didn’t tell him how long he had before the next move.
This much is obvious: Abraham built an altar at the plains of Moreh and several other places, with the intent of living godly the entire time he was tied to a place. The single exception is the altar upon Jehovah-jireh, as the purpose of that altar was a special sacrifice, in the ordeal of offering Isaac. In other words, Abraham’s “residential” altars didn’t get used once and that’s it, they were used repeatedly. Interestingly, Abraham doesn’t build an altar in Egypt – I wander why?
What about your altar? Will you use it once and be done, or will you use it continually, ever giving thanks and praise to the Lord? The decision is yours, and if you’re like Abraham, you’ll use your altar as often as you can.
3. It Was Abraham’s First Altar
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. – James 4:17 (KJV)
The gist of this verse really leaves nowhere to hide. Basically it means if a person knows better, they’re accountable to follow what they know is the right thing.
Suppose I just got married. I forgot to tell my wife that I was going to hang out at Bro. So-and-so’s after bowling one night. I don’t even call and come home at midnight, and my newlywed wife’s not happy. Easy enough mistake; we’ll fight, apologize for getting mad at each other, and then assume that we’ve seen the last of Adam’s random doing-whatever-he-feels-like. Why? Because I should now be aware that this is something that doesn’t thrill my wife, and a husband should respect his wife enough to easily accommodate whenever he can.
Now suppose 9 years down the road (man this is sounding really familiar), I’m still doing the same thing that started easily avoidable fights 9 years ago. One would assume I should know better, right? Right. At this point, it could no longer be construed as accidental, and I couldn’t plead ignorance. It is now a situation of “I should now better”.
There came a point in time that if Abraham’s life was to properly honor God, Abraham was going to need an altar. If Abraham had ignored God’s leadership, what would God be able to do with Abraham? That’s right – nothing.
If God is telling you to have an altar for you and/or your family at which you can lift up your thanks, you’ll make one of two decisions: 1) you’ll establish that prayer altar and get using it (it could be as simple as kneeling at a couch), or 2) you’ll keep things just like they are, even though God has told you to get using your altar.
Abraham had to learn individual altar worship sometime, and he started at the plains of Moreh by building his first altar. Consider yourself: are you in need of a first altar? If you are, what are you going to do?
In review, we considered three things about Abraham’s first altar at the plains of Moreh. We saw that its purpose was thanksgiving and worship, his altar was for regular use, and it was Abraham’s first altar.
Throughout this post there has been a call for each of us to have his own altar. For the intent and purpose of this post, we’ll call an altar a literal, physical place where I can meet with God privately. In New Testament terms, this is the idea of a “closet”. If you already have one, that’s fantastic! Keep at it!
Some people use their family dinner table as an altar, some kneel at a living room couch, some at their bedside, some their personal study rooms, and others have others. Some I know use the vehicle they drive to work in as an altar – for a while that trip to work was my thanksgiving/prayer time, and my altar was my car.
On a personal note, my wife and I use our bedside as our shared altar, we use the living room couch as a family altar, and I have a pine shade in the country that is the most sacred place I know.
We have an old-fashioned altar at church, and that is just as useful an altar as any of the aforementioned. Don’t negate the use of the altar at your church. Us good Baptists see someone going to the altar and think the worst, but it’s time that we see someone using the altar and think more of that person rather than less.
In my case, that altar is 25 miles away, so its use for me is more specific to when I’m at church. It really is a personal preference, and the best thing a person who desires an altar can do is ask the Lord for a special place for you and him to meet. If you do that, I promise you he’ll give you one; and if you’ll use it, be prepared to hear some things you wouldn’t normally hear, and see God’s power in ways you never even dreamed of.
Today we find the function of the altar that the plains of Moreh was particularly Abraham’s thanksgiving. Next time we’ll consider Abraham’s next altar: east of Bethel.