The Altars of Abraham

15 Sep

God called Abraham first out of the land of Ur (Acts 7:3) and then out of Haran to come into the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-4). I don’t believe Abraham made a firm decision to embrace the Lord until he reached Shechem, where he built his first altar. Later, Joshua would lead Israel here, to Shechem; it was a place of memorial where Israel made a firm commitment to receive the Lord as their God and consecrate themselves to him alone. Similarly, this was where Abraham consecrated himself to the Lord by putting away the gods he once served (cp. Joshua 24:1-2) and received the Lord as his God (Genesis 12:6-7). Moreover, after Jacob returned from Haran where he served his father-in-law, Laban, for 20 years, he came to this very place, where he caused his family to give him their foreign gods, and he buried them here, at Shechem (Genesis 35:4). The altar at Shechem stands as a memorial for Abraham’s repudiation of the gods he once served and his receiving, as his God, the Lord who took him out of the land of Ur.

Almost immediately Abraham built a second altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8) just south of Shechem. It was here that Abraham “called upon the name of the Lord.” Immediately afterward he journeyed south and eventually went into the land of Egypt, because of a sever famine in the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:9-10). I believe Abraham feared he would lose his flocks to the famine and his life in going to Egypt (Genesis 12:11-13). Similarly, when Jacob fled from Esau, his brother, he was afraid not only for his life, but also for his livelihood (cp. Genesis 27:41 and 28:16-21). Both Abraham and Jacob embraced the Lord, their God, as their Protector (Savior) and Provider. Bethel means house of God. When we come into the household of God, we can depend upon him to both provide for needs and protect us from all harm.

After they returned from Egypt, Lot separated himself from Abraham, taking the best land for himself. Abraham took the leftovers and journeyed to Mamre, which is Hebron, where he built a third altar to the Lord (Genesis 13:18). Hebron means league or confederacy, and the Moslems call it El Khalil or “the friend” (of God). Although he had made a league with Mamre, in whose land Abraham sojourned, it was here that he became known as the friend of God, as the Arabic tradition implies. Abraham made a league with God before attacking the kings of the east to rescue Lot (cp. Genesis 14:18-23). It was also here that Abraham believed God who promised him a son. In trusting God Abraham made God his friend, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-6; cp. James 2:23). Thus, this third altar represents an ever deepening relationship between Abraham and God. God was not merely Abraham’s Lord, but his close Associate, his Friend. Abraham found he couldn’t depend upon others, not even Lot, his family, who showed him no respect or love. Nevertheless, Abraham could always count on God to be with him in every circumstance.

Abraham’s fourth altar was built at Beersheba (Genesis 21:33; cp. Genesis 26:23-33). It is believed by many that the text refers to a tamarisk tree that Abraham planted. This tree was a thickly clustered evergreen found throughout the land of Canaan, but planted here in the Negev witnesses to Abraham’s trust in God’s faithfulness to supply him with water. Being evergreen, the tamarisk also pointed to God’s everlasting and unchanging commitment to Abraham and his descendents, even causing his enemies (e.g. Abimelech) to seek peace with him. It points to Abraham’s expectation of an eternal covenant. Therefore, with this tree or trees Abraham built an altar and began calling out to the Everlasting God—the God who is sure and able to do all he promises to do. Abraham found his rest in him.

The fifth and final altar Abraham built was at Moriah (Genesis 22:2). The word of God tells us that Moriah is that same place where David commanded that the Temple of God should be built (2Chronicles 3:1). All the sacrifices upon the altar in the Temple pointed to Jesus’ crucifixion—the Ultimate Sacrifice that was accepted by God to save mankind (Hebrews 10:1-10). Jesus told the Jewish authorities that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day (John 8:56). Abraham, in worshiping the Everlasting God—the God of the Ages—at Beersheba was able to see that God would provide a Lamb (Genesis 22:8; cp. John 1:29, 36). Therefore, he was able to receive his son, Isaac, back in resurrection (cp. Hebrews 11:19).


Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Abraham, Walking with God


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