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Exodus 27:1-8

The Altar

27:1 “You are to make the 1  altar of acacia wood, seven feet six inches long, 2  and seven feet six inches wide; the altar is to be square, 3  and its height is to be 4  four feet six inches. 27:2 You are to make its four horns 5  on its four corners; its horns will be part of it, 6  and you are to overlay it with bronze. 27:3 You are to make its pots for the ashes, 7  its shovels, its tossing bowls, 8  its meat hooks, and its fire pans – you are to make all 9  its utensils of bronze. 27:4 You are to make a grating 10  for it, a network of bronze, and you are to make on the network four bronze rings on its four corners. 27:5 You are to put it under the ledge of the altar below, so that the network will come 11  halfway up the altar. 12  27:6 You are to make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and you are to overlay them with bronze. 27:7 The poles are to be put 13  into the rings so that the poles will be on two sides of the altar when carrying it. 14  27:8 You are to make the altar hollow, out of boards. Just as it was shown you 15  on the mountain, so they must make it. 16 

1 tn The article on this word identifies this as the altar, meaning the main high altar on which the sacrifices would be made.

2 tn The dimensions are five cubits by five cubits by three cubits high.

3 tn Heb “four”; this refers to four sides. S. R. Driver says this is an archaism that means there were four equal sides (Exodus, 291).

4 tn Heb “and three cubits its height.”

5 sn The horns of the altar were indispensable – they were the most sacred part. Blood was put on them; fugitives could cling to them, and the priests would grab the horns of the little altar when making intercessory prayer. They signified power, as horns on an animal did in the wild (and so the word was used for kings as well). The horns may also represent the sacrificial animals killed on the altar.

6 sn The text, as before, uses the prepositional phrase “from it” or “part of it” to say that the horns will be part of the altar – of the same piece as the altar. They were not to be made separately and then attached, but made at the end of the boards used to build the altar (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 363).

7 sn The word is literally “its fat,” but sometimes it describes “fatty ashes” (TEV “the greasy ashes”). The fat would run down and mix with the ashes, and this had to be collected and removed.

8 sn This was the larger bowl used in tossing the blood at the side of the altar.

9 tn The text has “to all its vessels.” This is the lamed (ל) of inclusion according to Gesenius, meaning “all its utensils” (GKC 458 §143.e).

10 tn The noun מִכְבָּר (mikhbar) means “a grating”; it is related to the word that means a “sieve.” This formed a vertical support for the ledge, resting on the ground and supporting its outer edge (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 292).

11 tn The verb is the verb “to be,” here the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive. It is “and it will be” or “that it may be,” or here “that it may come” halfway up.

12 tn Heb “to the half of the altar.”

13 tn The verb is a Hophal perfect with vav consecutive: וְהוּבָא (vÿhuva’, “and it will be brought”). The particle אֶת (’et) here introduces the subject of the passive verb (see a similar use in 21:28, “and its flesh will not be eaten”).

14 tn The construction is the infinitive construct with bet (ב) preposition: “in carrying it.” Here the meaning must be that the poles are not left in the rings, but only put into the rings when they carried it.

15 tn The verb is used impersonally; it reads “just as he showed you.” This form then can be made a passive in the translation.

16 tn Heb “thus they will make.” Here too it could be given a passive translation since the subject is not expressed. But “they” would normally refer to the people who will be making this and so can be retained in the translation.

sn Nothing is said about the top of the altar. Some commentators suggest, in view of the previous instruction for making an altar out of earth and stone, that when this one was to be used it would be filled up with dirt clods and the animal burnt on the top of that. If the animal was burnt inside it, the wood would quickly burn. A number of recent scholars think this was simply an imagined plan to make a portable altar after the pattern of Solomon’s – but that is an unsatisfactory suggestion. This construction must simply represent a portable frame for the altar in the courtyard, an improvement over the field altar. The purpose and function of the altar are not in question. Here worshipers would make their sacrifices to God in order to find forgiveness and atonement, and in order to celebrate in worship with him. No one could worship God apart from this; no one could approach God apart from this. So too the truths that this altar communicated form the basis and center of all Christian worship. One could word an applicable lesson this way: Believers must ensure that the foundation and center of their worship is the altar, i.e., the sacrificial atonement.

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