By Titus Chu
The Bronze Altar
When God unveiled the contents of the tabernacle to Moses, He began with the ark in the Holy of Holies (Exo. 25:10). The ark represented God Himself, and so all His work starts here.
The next item was the shewbread table (v. 23). God does His work in us by first becoming bread for our satisfaction. We know today that this bread is Christ (John 6:35). Only when we are fully satisfied by Him can God’s work on us bear its intended fruit. If we want to delay God’s discipline, we only need to avoid enjoying anything of Christ. The shewbread table was mentioned first after the ark because the Lord desires to work with those who are enjoying Christ as their satisfaction.
The third item was the golden lampstand (Exo. 25:31). This was made of pure gold, so it is all God. Nothing of our humanity is involved. God is the unique source of divine light in those who first enjoy Christ as their satisfying bread.
Then we come to the bronze altar in the outer court (27:1). This is the place of consecration. If we stay on this altar and live a life of consecration, God can complete His work with us.
The incense altar and laver were added later and are therefore secondary (30:1,18). The four items listed here are primary and give us a full picture of God’s work. He starts with the ark, showing us His desire for a matching counterpart to complete His two and a half cubits. Then He becomes bread to us for our satisfaction. Next He shines in us as the divine light from the golden lampstand so we can learn to live a consecrated life on the altar. This is from God’s view, starting at the Holy of Holies in the center of the Tabernacle looking out.
Our view, however, starts at the altar in the outer court and looks in toward the ark. In fact, our entire life should be spent on the altar looking at the ark. If we take our eyes off the ark, we will never stay on the altar. The ark is our unique goal. Be assured, if we find ourselves running after other things, even Christian things, we are off the altar.
It is too easy to take our eyes off the ark, to forget God’s desire for a counterpart, and to look at something else, such as Christian music or church love feasts and activities. This is to lose our consecration and to get down from the altar. There is nothing wrong with Christian music, but it cannot become our goal. It is good to eat with the saints and enjoy things we have in common, but this is not the purpose of our church life. We should not enjoy these things and forget the ark.
All Christian groups have their practices, including us. The Shakers got their name because they shake their chairs in their worship. I believe they based this on Acts 4:31, where the Spirit shook the place where the church prayed. We may think it strange, but if it helps the Shakers get out of their minds to touch the Lord, what is wrong?
I was in one group that passed out plastic spoons before the Lord’s table so we could each draw a little wine from the common cup. There are different ways to take the table, different ways to baptize, different ways to pray, different ways to sing, and different ways to do about everything. As long as these things are not sinful, nothing is wrong. But we must not hold on to any of these to the point they become our focus. God is not after proper practice. He is after His counterpart. If we remain consecrated on the altar with our eyes on the ark, this will be our goal also.
If we live a Christian life according to what we like, it will have very little value before God. Our Christian life only gains value if we live it with a view to the Lord as the ark. The ark is only two and a half cubits, indicating that He is only half, and we are to grow and matured to match Him. For this He provides us with Himself as the heavenly bread. He invites us to come to Him to eat and drink to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Then He wants to become the golden lampstand in us to be light to us and to shine out through us.
Gaining the Oil
This lampstand was produced by being beaten or hammered (Exo. 25:31). Sometimes Christians read the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 and pray that they will have adequate oil in their lamps. Yet their prayer is almost always for themselves, not for the bridegroom. They are not on the altar and their eye is not on the ark. We don’t get this oil just by wishing or even praying for it. If the Lord would answer such a prayer, we would have to be on the altar ready to experience His beating work. This produces the oil. I have never seen one person who passed through this workmanship of Christ who did not gain the oil.
It is so easy to come down from the altar and make our own choices with no view to the ark, to God, or His purpose. When we decide on a career, a house, or how to spend our vacation time, is it our own choice or the altar? When there is a church conference, do we decide to go or not based on our choice or the altar? When there is a new one to visit, do we choose to go or not based on our own desire or the altar? It all depends on what we are looking at.
We never graduate from the altar. Although we do have experiences of the shewbread table and the golden lampstand in the holy place, we must remain on the altar. We must remain in our consecration.
Elevated in Suffering
The real experience of the altar comes only when we have our eyes on the ark. Suffering for suffering’s sake is not the altar. One very spiritual sister in the past purposely scared her face to mar her beauty because she thought this was to experience the altar. The only one to really experience the altar through this was her husband. If our goal is suffering, then suffering is all we will get. Do not marry someone you do not like or take a job you hate thinking this is the way to experience the altar. If our focus is the ark, the altar will do its work even with the best spouse and the best job.
The Lord doesn’t burn us just to burn us. He doesn’t take things away just to watch us suffer. The process of the altar elevates us and makes us God’s. Yes, we are ashes, but what beautiful ashes, and how satisfying to Him. When we are so free to come down from the altar whenever it gets too hot, we will never get that far, and it will seem to us to be only suffering.
The story of Job is hard to understand. In the beginning God allowed all of Job’s children to be killed. This seems too cruel. At the end, God replaces these children with new ones. But every child is irreplaceable. The new ones were no doubt welcome, but they in no way made up for the ones lost. Job’s suffering here seems too much. However this understanding is too outward. The real story is that while God was consuming Job, He was also elevating him. In the end Job knew God and became a sweet smelling savor to Him. If we don’t see this, we only see suffering.
While we are consumed, we are built up; while we are being torn down, something is being constructed; while something is decreasing, something else is increasing. The altar becomes our life long experience. We don’t leave it behind as we experience the rest of the tabernacle. We can never escape. After 60 years I’m still on the altar because it is from here that I can see the ark of the testimony. Without seeing the ark of the testimony my offering is not real.
Staying On the Altar Viewing the Ark
Most zealous Christians want to be on the altar so they can serve God. They tell Him, “I’m consecrated now, Lord, so use me!” They may even be innocently encouraged in this direction by others who praise them for their love to the Lord and their obvious talent. Their eyes are not on the ark, but on their usefulness and their success in service. Their consecration is more to themselves than it is to God. The zealous Moses was told by God to spend forty years in the wilderness doing nothing but tend sheep. If the Lord tries to tell these Christians not do anything but to stay on the altar, they have no ear to hear. How quickly they climb down from the altar to begin their so-called Christian ministry. They are much bolder than me. There are many places I would like to go and much I would like to do, but the Lord stops me and tells me to stay on the altar and keep my eyes on the ark. This is my salvation.
It is so easy to say, “Lord I give my life to you.” But do we see the ark? If not we will climb up the altar and then come back down; we will consecrate ourselves and then retreat; we will do many things but always by our own decisions. We will be so much for Christ but we will also have so many excuses for ourselves. All those on the altar must have a view of the ark of the testimony. Then when we offer ourselves to God, we offer ourselves to live for God’s economy, to experience God, to express God, and to walk and work with God to do whatever he desires. That is real consecration!