Ark of the Covenant - Bible History Online
Bible History

Schaff's Bible Dictionary

Definitions in Biblical History

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J    K    L    M    N    O    P    Q    R    S    T    U    V    W    X    Y    Z   

What is an Altar?
     Gen 8:20. A structure appropriated exclusively to the offering of sacrifices, under the Jewish law. See Sacrifices. Though sacrifices were offered before the Flood, the word altar does not occur until the time of Noah's departure from the ark. Altars were of various forms, and at first rude in their construction, being nothing more, probably, than a square heap of stones or mound of earth. The altar on which Jacob made an offering at Bethel was the single stone which had served him for a pillow during the night. Gen 28:18. Primarily for sacrifice, they seem at times to have been built for a witness merely, to mark the spot of God's appearance or other memorable event. Gen 12:7;Ex 17:15, Ex 17:16; Josh 22:10-29. The altar which Moses was commanded to build, Ex 20:24, was to be made of earth. If made of stone, it was expressly required to be rough, the use of a tool being regarded as polluting, Ex 20:25, but this refers only to the body of the altar and that part on which the victim was laid, as is evident from the directions given for making a casing of shittim-wood and overlaying it with brass for the altar of burnt-offering. It was also to be without steps. Ex 20:26. See also Deut 27:2-6 and Josh 8:31. The law of Moses forbade the erection of altars except in the tabernacle; yet even pious Israelites disobeyed the letter of this law, for Gideon, Samuel, David, and Solomon are mentioned as setting up altars. The temple altar was an asylum; e.g. 1 Kgs 1:50. Altars were used in idol-worship; and because they were often erected on high places they acquired the name of "high places." The structures are different, as well as the apparent ornaments and uses. On representations of them are projections upward at each corner, which represent the true figure of the horns. Ex 27:2; 1 Kgs 2:28; Rev 9:13. They were probably used to confine the victim. Ps 118:27. The altars required in the Jewish worship were: (1). "The altar of burnt-offering," or the "brazen altar," in the tabernacle in the wilderness. This altar stood directly in front of the principal entrance. It was made of shittim-wood (acacia), seven feet and six inches square, and four feet and six inches high. It was hollow and overlaid with plates of brass. The horns -- of which there was one on each corner -- were of wood, and overlaid in the same way. A grate or net-work of brass was also attached to it, either to hold the fire or to support a hearth of earth. The furniture of the altar was all of brass, and consisted of, 1. a shovel to remove the ashes from the altar; 2. a pan to receive them; 3. basins for receiving the blood of the victims and removing it; 4. hooks for turning the sacrifice; 5. fire-pans, or perhaps censers, for carrying coals from the fire or for burning incense. At each corner was a brass ring, and there were also two staves or rods overlaid with brass, which passed through these rings, and served for carrying Altar of Burnt-Offering in the Tabernacle. the altar from place to place. The altar is described in Ex 27. The "compass" referred to, v. 1 Chr 6:5, was a ledge running all around the altar about midway from the ground -- affording a convenient place for the priest to stand while offering sacrifice -- supported by a brass net-like grating. The fire used on this altar was kindled miraculously and was perpetually maintained. It was also a place of constant sacrifice. In the first temple, which in its general plan was constructed after the pattern of the tabernacle in the wilderness, the altar of burnt-offering stood in the same relative position as in the tabernacle. It was much larger, however, being thirty feet square and fifteen feet high, its particular plan being appointed Altar of Burnt-Offering; in the Temple. (From Surenhusius's Mishna.) expressly by divine authority. It was made entirely of bronze plates, which covered a structure of earth or stone. 2 Chr 4:1. In the second temple it occupied the same position, though it was still larger and more beautiful than in the first. An inclined plane led in each case up to the altar, since express command forbade the Jews using steps. Ex 20:26. (2). The "altar of incense," or the "golden altar," stood within the holy place and near to the inmost veil. Ex 30:1-6. It was made of the same wood with the brazen altar, and was eighteen inches square and three feet high. The top, as well as the sides and horns, was overlaid with pure gold, and it was finished around the upper surface Altar of Incense. with a crown or border of gold. Just below this border four golden rings were attached to each side of the altar, one near each corner. The staves or rods for bearing the altar passed through these rings, and were made of the same wood with the altar itself, and richly overlaid with the same precious metal. Upon this altar incense was burned every morning and every evening (see Incense), so that it was literally perpetual. Ex 30:8. The "altar of incense" in Solomon's temple was made of cedar overlaid with gold. Neither burnt-sacrifice, nor meat-offering, nor drink-offering, was permitted upon this altar, nor was it ever stained with blood, except once annually, when the priest made atonement. Lev 16:18, Acts 1:19. ALTAR TO THE [AN] UNKNOWN GOD, referred to by Paul. Acts 17:23. There were in Athens several altars with this inscription, which were erected during a plague, the Athenians believing they had unconsciously offended some divinity, but not knowing whom.

Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip, Dr. "Biblical Definition for 'altar' in Schaffs Bible Dictionary". - Schaff's

Copyright Information
© Schaff's Bible Dictionary

Schaff's Bible Dictionary Home
Bible History Online Home


Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
Online Bible (KJV)
Naves Topical Bible
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Schaff's Bible Dictionary
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Matthew Henry Bible Commentary
Hitchcock's Bible Dictionary