The Utensils of the Altar
Paul McCauley, Belfast, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
‘And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass’, Exod. 27. 3.
The brazen altar was the one item in the whole tabernacle to which all the nation had access. Each individual could come with an appreciation of a sacrifice. However, there were utensils connected with the altar that only the priests could use – pans, shovels, basins, fleshhooks and firepans. Only those who spent time in the privacy of the holy place could handle them.
Today these utensils have a beautiful significance for us in relation to the Person of Christ and His work at Calvary. To appreciate them we need to come away from the clamour of the crowd, and with priestly understanding of what it is to be set apart for God’s pleasure spend time alone in His presence.
Our objective is to take a look at each of these items and learn how we can apply their significance to our lives for the glory of God. May God help us also to increase in our appreciation of Calvary as we become familiar with the utensils of the altar.
1. We begin with the Pans
The purpose for the pans of the brazen alter is stated as, ‘And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes’, Exod. 27. 3. It is amazing to think of the value that God placed on ashes! Yet, as we enter into what these ashes represent perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Ashes tell us that nothing has been held back, and that God has accepted everything. It points us forward to that One who would pour out His life; not giving of Himself, but giving Himself, and in so doing fully satisfy the heart of God. There was nothing held back when it came to Christ. He loved His own which were in the world, and, ‘he loved them unto the end’, John 13. 1. He loved them right to the very farthest point. The ultimate expression of love and devotion is the lifeless form of God’s Son upon the cross. Thank God He did not stop short. When the pathway got too difficult for John Mark he turned back, Acts 13. 13. The Saviour did not turn back home until His work was finished and God’s will was fulfilled. Ananias and Sapphira kept back part of what they had, but when our Lord gave He had nothing left, as it was written, ‘Messiah shall be cut off, and shall have nothing’, Dan. 9. 26 JND.
So God instructed that pans were to be used by a priest clothed in linen to place the ashes beside the altar, and then to carry them out to ‘a clean place’, Lev. 6. 10, 11. Is this not a foreshadowing of the burial of the Saviour? Men ‘appointed his grave with the wicked’, Isa. 53. 9 JND, and they would have cast that holy body in the common dump, but God would not allow it. Once men had put His Son on the cross God makes sure wicked men would not touch Him again. God was saying, ‘No more shame’. So when the cross is all over, a man comes to that altar, the Sacrifice has been accepted, but is he wearing the linen garments? The testimony of Scripture is that he was 'a good man, and a just’, Luke 23. 50. So, Joseph of Arimathaea, accompanied by Nicodemus, took those ‘ashes’, that precious body, carefully taking the spikes from His hands and feet, gently removing the crown of thorns from His head, tenderly wiping away the foul spittle from His face and washing the body, and reverently covered it up. From there they take the ‘ashes’ to a clean place, ‘wherein was never man yet laid’, John 19. 41.
Joseph the carpenter was present at the Saviour’s birth, but it wasn’t his place to handle the body then, that was the responsibility of Mary. Another Mary was in attendance at the Lord’s burial, but here it was not her place to handle the body, that was the role of Joseph of Arimathea. So it is today, certain ministries are ideally suited for women that would be inappropriate for men. Each has the high honour and precious privilege of handling the Person of Christ in their divinely appointed place and sphere. With what care and reverence they would treat His form, and surely that same care and reverence must mark us as we seek to handle the Person of Christ, whether it be in prayer, ministry or the presentation of the gospel.
And so there are 'ashes'. All has been given, but thank God the sacrifice has been accepted, and He has come from the tomb. They took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre, but God raised Him from the dead, Acts 13. 29, 30.
In a more practical way, the ashes can be looked upon as God’s remembrance of His people’s worship. Those ashes were the result of a sacrificial, worshipping heart, and God will never forget that. It may not be much in the estimation of men as the natural man would look at a fine animal being burned to ashes and see only waste. When God looks at it He can see only worship. When Mary of Bethany broke that alabaster box of ointment and anointed the Lord, carnal disciples joined Judas in criticizing her, but the Lord made sure they knew that He appreciated it. The house was filled with the odour of her devotion. The results are to be seen in John 12. 9, ‘much people therefore knew that he was there’. Perhaps if the worship in our lives and in the assembly was more fragrant, then we too would have more of an impact in the locality.
As we consider this event at Bethany, is it not the case that the ashes were put in a clean place? In Mark 14. 9 the Lord said, ‘Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her’. According to John 4. 23, the Father is seeking worshippers; He treasures the appreciation they have of His Son. Let us be sure to give Him the desire of His heart.
TO BE CONTINUED
AUTHOR PROFILE: Paul McCauley is in fellowship in the assembly at Cregagh St. Gospel Hall, Belfast, N. Ireland, and has a special interest in the tabernacle and its teaching. He is married and employed as a civil engineer.