Fill my glass for me
With the wine you gave Jesus that set him free
After three days in the ground
— David J. Matthews, “Bartender” from Busted Stuff © 2002
For the renewed presence of God, there is a new set of rules. Just like Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai, Ezekiel received his Law from God while in Babylon. This lengthy section of new law (43:12-46:24) begins with instructions on how to build and reconsecrate the altar.
Why start with an altar? Why not start with the arc of the covenant? The reason for this goes back to 43:8. Part of the rationale for Israel’s destruction in the first place was because they had butted their doorposts up against the Temple; meaning, they had lost their sense of the awesome holiness of God. In order for Israel to have that relationship with God back, the altar had to be central to their understanding.
. . .
Let me point out a couple significant details about the altar that tend to get lost in a quick reading:
- This altar works out to be 1,156 square feet. That’s the size of a small house! The altar was big enough to handle sacrifices being brought all day without delay.
- This altar is at the exact centre of the new Temple. Repentance and worship are central acts in a life committed to God.
This altar is big and central because it’s where God meets with his children. The altar is the place where God is satisfied. The altar is where God enjoys the worship of his creation—the place people center and focus their attention on God.
The Book of Revelation picks up on this theme when it describes the smoke coming up off the altar mixing with the “prayers of the saints” (8:4, NRSV). These prayers reveal a creation focused on their Creator.
. . .
There’s one detail about this whole altar narrative that I still don’t understand. Ezekiel as described as having a significant role in it. Ezekiel is supposed to give the first bull to the priests on the day the altar is rebuilt. But Ezekiel died in captivity, and the altar that was built when the exiles returned didn’t resemble the plans described here.
I wonder if this was God’s way of giving Ezekiel hope. The bull he was supposed to give was ultimately given by God: Jesus was the sacrifice. The altar on which the sacrifice was laid was a cross, not a 1,156 square foot platform. The Ezekiel narrative states that after seven days of special consecration, regular worship could begin on the eighth. Jesus rose from the grave representing new creation on the fourth day (the number of creation), after three days in the ground.
. . .
Lord God, help me to grasp what it means to be alive in the eighth day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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