ALTERED AT THE ALTAR
Bro. Paul Thomas
Gen 8:20 ¶ And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and
of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
Gen 8:21 And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will
not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart [is]
evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
Gen 8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer
and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
I desire to draw our attention to the biblical practice of building altars and its significance today.
The first instance of such a pious act is that of the patriarch Noah but the Scriptures plainly record
that many prominent men of God such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon and Samuel to
name a few, built altars to the Lord. Altar-building is engaging in fervent prayer. When we build an
altar to the Lord, we engage in a process that pleases Jesus and ultimately alters our own lives.
There are many valuable spiritual lessons to glean from altar-building and I will highlight a few of
them as we go along. The first and fundamental feature of altar-building is that it is an act that
initiates with a singular individual and it is to his I turn.
Altar-building is an individual undertaking.
Every instance where altars where erected was an individual undertaking. Clearly, the underlying
message is that God expects each and every one of us to understand the need for building altars in
our lives and go about it without waiting for others to suggest it to us. We do not read that God
commanded Noah to build his altar, but rather, it appears that Noah determined that he should erect
an altar out of an overwhelming need to show gratitude for his great deliverance and petition the
Lord to continue to protect and bless him in this new world. Prayer, saints of God, must be
individually conceived, motivated and executed. Only then will it reap divine dividends. In the
book of the prophet Zephaniah, the Lord upbraids those who have not sought him:
Zep 1:2 ¶ I will utterly consume all [things] from off the land, saith the LORD.
Zep 1:6 And them that are turned back from the LORD; and [those] that have not sought
the LORD, nor enquired for him.
Although prayer is definitely a communal activity especially when the church of Jesus is
assembled together, it can only be powerful if every individual has been building altars at home.
The prayers of Cornelius were so powerful and pleasing to Jesus that He sent His angel to declare
Act 10:4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, what is it, Lord? And he
said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
In other words, Cornelius had erected an altar that is recognized in heaven. The second point
concerning altar-building is that it involves some labour.
Altar-building is a laborious process.
Exd 20:25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone:
for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
A person intending to build an altar must collect stones with which to construct the altar.
Obviously, this would necessitate some physical work where the stones must first be located,
collected and piled up - stone upon stone - up to a certain height.
Several noteworthy examples in the Bible serve to remind us of the fact that prayer is an act of
work – both physical and spiritual. Jacob laboured so greatly in prayer while wrestling with the
angel that his hip was out of joint when he emerged from his prayer encounter. Elijah had to go
down in an uncomfortable position with his head placed between his knees and labour in prayer for
the Lord to send rain from heaven after a three and a half year drought. Hannah was so earnest in
prayer in the Temple in Shiloh that she was in a trance, suspended between heaven and earth so
that her lips were moving but no words issued from her mouth. The greatest and most extreme
example of prayer affecting the physical is our Lord labouring so intensely for us that He began to
sweat great drops of blood:
Luke 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were
great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
An altar is a monument of thanksgiving and sanctifies us.
We often read that each altar constructed by the great leaders of God was given a name. Let us
quickly survey a few of these altars.
Gen 33:20 And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel.
Gen 35:7 And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God
appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.
Exd 17:15 And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
Jdg 6:24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom:
unto this day it [is] yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
In Gen 33:20, Jacob built his altar to commemorate the great blessing he had received after
wrestling with the angel at Peniel. Filled with gratitude, he called the altar, Elelohe-Israel meaning
“the Lord is the mighty God of Israel”. Later (Gen 35:7), he named another altar Elbethel because
the Lord had appeared to him at Bethel. Moses’ altar was called Jehovah-Nissi meaning the Lord
our victory or the Lord our banner. Gideon’s altar was named Jehovah is there.
Clearly, these examples demonstrate that altars were accompanied with a form of thanksgiving.
They commemorated blessings of God. They declared a message of a concrete need fulfilled.
When we understand that altar-building/prayer is an act of thanksgiving, then we will be reminded
of God’s provision when the next need comes knocking. Thanksgiving is one of the most effective
forms of prayer. No wonder the apostle Paul advises us to permeate our prayers with thanksgiving:
Phil 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Col 2:7 Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught,
abounding therein with thanksgiving.
Col 4:2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
Building an altar is also an act that sanctifies the builder and all that pertains to him or her.
Mat 23:19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth
An altar is a place of sacrifice that points to the cross and commemorates the cross.
Exd 20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt
offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name
I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
The altar was built as a holy enclosure to offer various kinds of burnt offerings. Bulls, sheep and
doves were sacrificially offered to God as a sin offering for instance. The altar, in this sense, was a
place where one acknowledged the debt one owed to God. It follows that those who do not pray are
declaring that they do not owe anything to God which is a great sin.
Finally, and thankfully, the word was made flesh to be placed upon the altar and end all animal
sacrifice once and for all. Abraham himself built an altar and placed his son Isaac upon the wood
on the altar as a sacrifice.
Gen 22:9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an
altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar
upon the wood.
However, what Abraham was unaware of was that his act foreshadowed the death of Jesus on the
ultimate altar of God – the cross of Golgotha. Just as Isaac was placed on an altar of wood, so too,
Jesus our Lord was fastened to a wooden cross and died for us. In this sense, every time we go on
our knees, we are building an altar that commemorates this most significant act in the history of the
redemption of humanity. The cross is an altar that can aptly be called “Jehovah-Yasha” (Jesus) –
the Lord our Saviour.
The altar cannot be built to an unknown God but to Jesus only.
Tragically, many pious people are building altars today that are reminiscent of the one Paul
mentions existed in Athens:
Act 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this
inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him
declare I unto you.
Prayers must be specifically addressed to Jesus alone or they will never reach Him. No one writes a
letter with an address that reads: TO THE UNKNOWN RECEIVER. God emphatically declared
that he can only be worshipped in the place and manner that He deems fit:
Exd 20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt
offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record
my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
An accepted altar can only be constructed with true knowledge of the One God – Jesus. We first
must understand that no one in the bible ever built more than one altar because God is numerically
one. Had there been a Trinity, they would have erected three altars.
Deut 6:4 ¶ Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD:
We are convinced that this one God is numerically one because that is how the scribe understood it
without being corrected by Jesus:
Mar 12:32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is
one God; and there is none other but he:
Next, it is imperative to believe that this same one God, who is word and Spirit, caused His word to
be manifested in flesh for our salvation.
John 1:1 ¶ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
John 1:14 ¶ And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Furthermore, the mystery of God in the NT now is that the Father, who is not distinct from the
Holy Spirit, is now permanently and inseparably dwelling or tabernacling in this flesh and His
name is now Jesus. Thus when we call on the name of Jesus, we are calling on the fullness of the
1Ti 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the
flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world,
received up into glory.
Col 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
In conclusion, we summarize by affirming that prayer is likened to the process of building an
altar. No one can build an altar for anyone else but just like Abraham, Cornelius and other biblical
luminaries our altars will speak for themselves in the sight of God and man. An altar is also a
laborious process that is not for the indolent or complacent. Charles Spurgeon called prayer knee-
work. An altar was also constructed in such a fashion that it was height enough to keep out
predators and scavengers like jackals etc. Our prayers will keep out Satan and his unclean forces.
Besides, an altar is evidence of our holy gratitude to the Lord. It points to Golgotha which is the
ultimate altar where the Son of God was sacrificed for our sins. Last but not least, an altar must be
erected with a profound understanding of how the one true God is one with His flesh and His name
is now Jesus. This one altar unequivocally declares that the Lord our God is one.