“An altar of earth you shall make 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 record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it.” (Exodus 20:24-25)
In the construction of the altar — the place where offerings were presented unto the LORD that the people might draw near unto Him — only natural components were used. That it was an altar made of earth hints at the fact that mankind came from the dust of the earth and was destined to return to it. Only reconciliation with the Most High — represented by the altar — offered hope that man would live again. In turn, the earthen altar also hinted at the need for us to become, as Paul termed it, a living sacrifice upon the altar.
According to the text, stones could also be used if they are natural, meaning they could not be shaped or altered by human hands. Only un-hewn stones would suffice because they would bear the stamp of God’s handiwork, not man’s. Later when Solomon was overseeing the construction of the Temple, the Bible said that the stones were finished at the quarry, so that no hammer, chisel “or any iron tool was heard” while God’s House was being built (1 Kings 6:7). In this vein of thought, the Talmud explains the significance of why no tools could be used on the stones that would form the altar:
“Iron shortens life while the altar prolongs it. The sword, or weapon of war, is the symbol of strife; whereas the altar is the symbol of reconciliation between God and man and between man and his fellow.”
And so we are reminded that God’s House is to be a “house of prayer for all nations,” and as such, should not be filled with the sound of strife and warfare but of praise, prayer and adulation for our King. We, His people, are described as “living stones” (1 Peter 2) and are being built up into a spiritual house in which He desires to reside. So then, let us affirm that we will do our part to make sure that, in His House, there is no sound of clanging iron and tools of war but peace and unity of the faith. Let us be committed to performing our reasonable service by coming willfully unto the altar to be a living sacrifice.
Blessings and Shalom,