Altars In The Life of Abraham

The book of Genesis records that, at different times in his life and in different locations, Abraham used to build altars. There are four different altars in the Scriptures that are attributed to Abraham. Some of these are referred to twice, see Genesis 13. 4 and 22. 9. Doubtless there were other altars built by the patriarch that are not mentioned in the Bible. These four altars represent four different experiences in the life of this man of faith. They show how he behaved himself in a manner that not only commended him to the Lord, but that clearly demonstrated his commitment to a walk of faith with his God.

More interesting, however, is the fact that the Holy Spirit records in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, four statements about the life of Abraham, which accurately correspond to these four altars, referred to in the book of Genesis.

We will find in studying them and the statements in Hebrews chapter 11, a great many practical lessons for our daily lives.

What did the altar represent in patriarchal times?

  1. Primarily an altar was a place of worship; where God was adored for who He is and what He has done. Only burnt offerings were offered to Him in the days of the patriarchs, since the Law of Moses was not yet given.
  2. An altar was also a place of testimony to the only true God in the midst of widespread idolatry. We read that Abraham built his altars unto the Lord, and that there he called upon His Name, Gen. 12. 7-8. Thus recognizing no other god but Jehovah.
  3. An altar was also a place of communion between God and the worshipper, where instructions were often given by the Lord and received by His servant.

The first altar

Mentioned in Genesis 12. 7, ‘And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him’. This took place on the arrival of Abraham to the land of Canaan, in obedience to the call of the ‘God of glory’ who appeared to him while still in Mesopotamia, Acts 7. 2. The building of this altar therefore corresponds to Hebrews 11. 8, which states, ‘By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, OBEYED; and he went out, not knowing whither he went’. This altar could be called the Altar of Obedience. Having lingered for a long while in Haran, Abraham finally made it into the land to which the Lord had called him. It was totally unknown to him, yet it became the sphere of his obedience. He moved through the land guided only by his faith in God and his desire to obey Him. This ‘obedience of faith’ showed how he trusted God implicitly and without questioning, for he believed that God would give him the land for an inheritance. The altar he built was to the ‘Lord who appeared to him’. Unlike the Athenians who worshiped an ‘unknown’ god, Abraham, knew whom he had believed and was persuaded that He was able.

For the present application, we see in Abraham’s obedience the example of those who today respond in the obedience of faith to the call of the gospel for it is the preaching of Jesus Christ … according to the commandment of the Everlasting God , made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith’, see Rom. 16. 25-26. On the other hand those who refuse to trust Christ as Saviour now will have to face the judgement of God because, they ‘know not God and … obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’, 2 Thess.1. 8; see 1 Pet. 4. 17. The unbelievers in this age are described in the Scriptures as ‘the sons of disobedience’, Eph. 2. 2, whereas the believers in Christ are called upon to live lives as ‘the children of obedience’, 1 Pet. 1. 14 JND. So then from this altar we take the exhortation that, turning from the lives we lived in the times of our ignorance, we would please the Lord whom we have come to know, walking obediently and holily in all manner of life.


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