You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans. You shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze, and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. And you shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net extends halfway down the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. And the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles are on the two sides of the altar when it is carried. You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made. Exodus 27:1-8 ESV
Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. And when it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” . . . Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and put him to death. And he was buried in his own house in the wilderness. I Kings 2:28b-29, 34 ESV
Janet and her friends were outside playing hide and seek. Home base was the telephone pole on the corner. The other kids all hid themselves while Janet covered her eyes and counted out loud. Then she went to look for them. While she looked, the other kids tried to sneak past her and run to the telephone pole. If they touched the telephone pole before Janet tagged them, they were safe. The first kid Janet tagged before that one reached the telephone pole would be it the next time.
When God’s people were building the furniture for the tabernacle, one of the most important things they made was the altar. The altar stood out in the courtyard of the tabernacle where everyone could see it. The priests would sacrifice animals on the altar as a picture of the sacrifice the promised Savior would make so that people’s sins could be forgiven. Because the altar pointed to such an incredible thing, it also had another purpose. Someone who had done something wrong might run to the altar and take hold of its horns. That person might be safe from punishment as long as he was holding onto the altar’s horns.
However, holding onto the altar’s horns didn’t keep a person safe for good. If the person was really guilty of a crime, he would be put to death even if he was by the altar. The altar couldn’t take away sins; it could only point ahead to the one sacrifice that would take away all the world’s sins. Jesus, the promised Savior, made that perfect sacrifice for us. We all have sinned and deserve God’s punishment, but we can take hold of what Jesus did for us on the cross by faith. The Holy Spirit helps us hang onto Jesus with faith, and we can be sure that what Jesus did for us will keep us safe with him now and forever.
Dear Jesus, thank you for making the perfect sacrifice for us. Please keep us close to you always. Amen.