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The Rest of the Law - Part 2 Building Altars

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Issue #142November 2000

The Rest of the Law - Part 2 Building Altars

How to Build an Altar

Israel heard God speak the Ten Commandments by a voice from the mount. But only Moses heard the rest of the law, because all the others refused to hear it directly from God. They wanted Moses to tell them what God said, so he did so. The difference is that the people received the law on external tablets, rather than having it written on their hearts by the spiritual process of hearing God's voice.

As we have seen already, the first law that Moses heard was to have no gods of gold or silver, because the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). The second law deals with the manner in which our hearts are prepared, so that we can worship God in spirit and in truth. This law is found in Exodus 20:24-26.

24 You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. 25 And if you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it.

These verses mention two types of altars that one can build on which to worship God: earthen altars and stone altars. An altar is a symbolic mountain, a "high place" that represents an ascent into a higher realm of revelation or understanding. One makes an altar in order to be elevated by God in understanding or purity. It also portrays how we are to ascend to meet the Lord as He comes to earth.

The Altar is Our Heart

The altar is the place where God meets man. God looks upon the heart, rather than upon the externals that man tends to hold with such importance. Our bodies are the temple of God, but our hearts are the altar where we meet with God and commune with Him. For this reason, the altar is the focal point of the temple, even as the heart is the focal point of our bodily temples.

The blood sprinkled on the altars in the Old Testament were types and shadows representing the blood of Jesus Christ that was later to sprinkle our hearts. We read this in Hebrews 10,

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

The meat, or food, that we put upon the heart-altar is grace, for we read in Hebrews 13,

9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.

Before the time of Christ, burnt offerings were burned outside the camp. Neither the priests nor the people could partake of these meats, so they derived no sustenance or strength from them.

We, however, are able to partake of the grace of Jesus' body, which was offered outside the camp at the place where the red heifer was burnt totally as a burnt offering. In fact, without eating of His flesh in our hearts, we have no life within us (John 6:53).

Because the altar represents our heart, God gave very specific instructions on how to construct altars. This law comes immediately after prohibiting the root of all evil, and its importance cannot be underestimated.

An Altar of Earth

The Hebrew word for "altar" is mizbayakh. The root word is zabakh, which means "to sacrifice." So an altar is literally a place of sacrifice.

The Hebrew word for "earth" is adamah. It is the same word used in Genesis 2:7, where God formed Adam from the dust of the adamah. Adam was named for the ground, or earth, from which he was formed. Adam's name means "earthy," and for this reason, Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:47 that "the first man is of the earth, earthy." In Hebrew it might read, "the first Adam is of the adamah, Adam."

This law, then, deals with the heart of man. An altar of earth, or the ground, is acceptable to God, because God created it and pronounced it "very good." If mortal, sinful man had created it, it would have been unacceptable as a building material for an altar.

An Altar of Stone

The law also tells us how to build an altar of stone that is acceptable to Him. The stones used must be shaped only by God through His natural processes (like erosion). They cannot be shaped by man's tools to make them look good in his eyes. Why is this? Is this law irrelevant to us today?

Many Christians are yet unaware of what this law teaches us. That makes it important. Men everywhere are attempting to shape their own hearts by their own tools. They learn from Scripture how they are sinners, whether by God's standard (the Law) or by man's standards (the traditions of men). They immediately exercise discipline to conform to those standards of righteousness.

This is not wrong in itself. Just understand that there is nothing you can do to shape the altar of your heart. You can cut stones when you build your house, but you can do nothing to shape your heart. Only God can do that. Those who think that imposing righteous actions upon each other will change their hearts do not really understand this law of building acceptable altars.

The moment you put your tool upon the stones of a man's heart, you have only polluted it.

Does this mean we should not impose any righteous standards? Of course not. Simply recognize the limitations of imposing laws upon yourself and others. Hewn stones are not the building blocks of anyone's heart. Even the divine law, good as it is, cannot make anyone righteous. It can only set a righteous standard that makes sin sinful. It can only restrain evildoers from doing unrighteous things to their neighbors.

Suppose the courts should sentence a thief to solitary confinement in prison. This prevents him from stealing, but does this make him a righteous man? Suppose we sentence the thief according to biblical law, saying that he must pay double restitution to his victim and work as a bondservant until the debt is paid in full. Does this make the thief a righteous man? Well, once the debt is paid, the man is indeed under grace as far as the law is concerned, and he is to be fully forgiven by all. However, if the Spirit of God has not done a work in his heart, the man is not really righteous at all. He merely has a clean slate until the day he steals again.

The laws that men legislate tend to make sinners more bitter and determined to exact revenge, because of the unjust nature of those judgments. Man's laws tend to focus upon destroying the sinner's will and self-respect, giving him a number and taking away his name. Man's laws are more interested in punishment than justice. For this reason, the prison system rehabilitates very few, and even those few are rehabilitated in spite of it, not because of it.

God's law focuses upon justice, which most sinners will recognize as being a righteous standard. So even though it cannot change the heart, it can indeed provide a proper atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit can more easily work in men's hearts. Sinners who are sentenced by the divine law--enforced by true Christians under the direction of the Holy Spirit--have little reason to be bitter when finally released.

The point is that men's laws attempt to hew the stones of the sinner's heart-altar with hammer and chisel. All they do is cause pain, fear, and hatred. They pollute the altars of those inmates, driving them away from God. Yet when they come to see that God's law is far more merciful and just than are man's laws, they are able to open up their hearts to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to shape the stones into an acceptable altar.

In the same manner, many have been driven away from God by the hammers and chisels of the Church. There are millions of good Christians who have been condemned and excommunicated from the Church by men who know not how to restore sinners (or perceived sinners) in a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1). Others are driven away from God by the injustice of hellfire and brimstone doctrines. Some preachers still dangle sinners over the fire in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards, thinking they can shape men's hearts by the tools of hammer of fear and chisel of threats.

I am only amazed that God can do a work in men's hearts in spite of the abundance of hammers and chisels. But that is because He is so smart--not because we are so zealous and righteous.

Approaching God on His Terms

Exodus 20:36 says,

26 And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.

Our approach to God cannot be man-made, even as the altar is not to be shaped by man. We must approach God on His terms, not on our own terms. Any time we set our own terms for approaching God, we merely expose our own nakedness, even as Adam and Eve were found naked after they had sinned in the garden.

Adam and Eve used fig leaves to hide their nakedness. Fig leaves represent a false covering for sin. The true covering is, of course, the blood of Jesus Christ.

The principle is well illustrated in later Scriptures by the fig tree, which was the symbol of the Judah nation. That fig tree was barren--it had no fruit on it--and so Jesus cursed it, saying, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever" (Matt. 21:19). By the next morning, the fig tree had withered from the roots up.

Even so, Jesus said later in Matt. 24:32 that the fig tree would come to life and put forth more leaves at the end of the age. In other words, it would get another chance to bear fruit, but would only manifest the same problem that brought the curse in Jesus' day. This was fulfilled in 1948 when the Jewish state came to life. It brought forth more leaves once again, but it would never bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom, for this is what Jesus declared in His prophecy and curse.

And so we see the nation today (as a whole) laying claim to the birthright name of Israel, declaring themselves to be the Kingdom of God, but covering their sin with only fig leaves. If they are what they claim to be, then they should be covered with the blood of Jesus, the only true covering for sin. Otherwise, their fig leaves only expose their nakedness and barrenness before God.

So it is with all who believe that their own works and will of the flesh will save them.

The Law of Hebrew Slaves

We read in Exodus 21:1, 2,

1 Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them. 2 If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.

More details about setting the bondservants free during the sabbath years are given in Deut. 15:12-15,

12 If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. 13 And when you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

It is plain that this debt release and setting free all the bondservants is only for the duration of the seventh year. If they did not have to return in the eighth year, then there would be no servitude to the year of Jubilee. Yet the law of Jubilee makes it clear that people were to serve until the year of Jubilee--unless they could redeem themselves earlier. (See Lev. 25:54.)

Therefore, we understand that the release in the seventh year is a temporary release in order to allow bondservants to enjoy a sabbath year of rest. Sabbaths were not possible for Israel while they were slaves in Egypt. So God reminds us of this fact in verse 15. Failing to release bondservants in the sabbath year was oppressing them.

The bondservants were also to be liberally furnished with supplies during that year of release. Today we would call this a paid vacation, although the precise amount was not specified in the law, nor was it necessarily the case that the servants be given a year's provisions.

Neither Israel nor Judah kept this law prior to the captivities. Judah was given opportunity to keep the last rest year before their Babylonian captivity, and if they did so, God would send the Babylonian armies home. They actually did agree to this in Jeremiah 34:15, but they did not follow through on their commitment. God then delivered the nation into captivity.

After the Babylonian captivity, dating from 534 B.C., Judah finally began to keep the sabbath years to some extent. The year Rome took Jerusalem (69-70 A.D.) was a sabbath year.

The Creation Sabbath

It was commonly believed in ancient times that the world would continue for 6,000 years and then be brought into judgment. This is reflected in the early Church manu-script called The Epistle of Barnabas, generally dated around 115 A.D. In chapter 13 the writer expounds upon the creation sabbath, saying in verses 4 and 5,

4 Consider, my children, what that signifies, He finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end. 5 For with Him one day is a thousand years; as Himself testifieth, saying, Behold this day shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, shall all things be accomplished.

In my book, Secrets of Time, I show the chronology of the world from Adam to the present time in terms of the Jubilee cycles (49 years). I show that the year 1986-1987 is the 120th Jubilee from Adam--that is, the year 5880 from Adam. On a literal time count, I believe that the 6,000 years of chronological history ends in the year 2106-2107 A.D.

However, God has shortened the time for the elect's sake by the use of the overlapping years. The year of Jubilee is the 50th year, but it is also the first year of the next Jubilee cycle. Hence, a period of ten Jubilees is only 490 years, rather than 500 years. The 120 Jubilees is not 6,000 years, but rather 5880 years. In each Jubilee, God has shortened the time by one year.

This created a different mode of reckoning time. I call it "legal time" in order to contrast it with chronological time. The autumn of 1986 was 6,000 years of legal time, but only 5,880 years of chronological time.

We are now (legally speaking) in the beginning of the Creation Sabbath and have been monitoring events since that time. Details are given in Secrets of Time, which, of course, must be updated as time passes. The latest updated version was done earlier this year (2000). We are not certain how much prophecy will be fulfilled in our day and how much will await the chronological 6,000-year endpoint in the year 2106. Yet we do believe that enough will be fulfilled to prevent the destruction of the world, for Jesus said in Matthew 24:22,

22 And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.

What exactly is God doing at this time to fulfill the law of the Creation Sabbath? There are far too many things to list here, but we believe that God is about to bring about a collapse of the world system called "Mystery Babylon" in Revelation 17. On a more personal, internal level, we believe that God is soon to set free a body of people called Overcomers, or the Remnant. By this, we mean that the Overcomers will be set free from sin and death, so that they will be able to bring forth the promises of the Kingdom of God upon the earth.

We believe that we will shortly see the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19), and that this will begin a worldwide revival of unprecedented proportions. It will be accompanied by the fall of man's dominion, referred to in the Bible as the "beast" empires. Perhaps the main changes in world conditions will occur in this 120-year period mentioned earlier (1986-2106 A.D.).

The Law of the Bondservant's Wife and Children

So far we have discussed the law regarding the freeing of the bondservant. But the law also deals with his wife and children. Exodus 21:3 and 4 says of him,

3 If he comes [into bondage] alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.

Adam and Eve went into bondage together. Therefore, they will come out of bondage together--that is, we are speaking of the Second Adam and His Bride. Provision for this was made in the fourth day (the 4th thousand-year day) when Jesus came and died on the Cross. On the level of our justification by faith, we read in Romans 4:25,

25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

To paraphrase the above verse, because we had sinned, or transgressed the law, Jesus was delivered up to die on the Cross. In the same manner, because his death justified us, He was raised from the dead.

How many were justified? Romans 5:18 tells us,

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Through the first Adam's transgression (one man), his wife and all of his children were sold into bondage to pay the debt for sin. While this seems unfair, it is according to the law of headship and authority, as illustrated in Jesus' parable found in Matthew 18:25.

By the same law, the Second Adam came to do an act of righteousness in order to obtain justification to all men. This was something God did, apart from the will of man or the will of the flesh.

In one sense, mankind as a whole are Adam's children. The Bride, or wife, is perhaps a more limited body of people. In applying the law here, we see first that Adam and Eve were already husband and wife before they were sold into bondage. They went into bondage together. By law, therefore, both of them, along with all their children, must be set free at the end of the six years (i.e., 6,000 years).

We conclude, then, that all mankind must be set free at some point. As Paul says, Jesus' righteous act resulted in "justification of life to all men."

This great liberation, however, is limited at the present time, for it must come only in historical stages. After all, this is only the first sabbath rest year. It is not the Jubilee yet. For this reason, Revelation 20 applies this law by showing us a thousand-year period of relative liberty for mankind under God's Kingdom--but at its end there is a time of judgment. The implication is that the judgment takes place over the next six sabbath cycles (7,000 x 6 = 42,000 years), until we reach the great Creation Jubilee after 49,000 years.