By Titus Chu
The Second Covering of the Altar
The altar in the outer court of the tabernacle is often called the bronze altar, but it’s first and most basic material is acacia wood. This was the base and strength of the altar. In the Bible, acacia wood alway represents fine, decent, high-quality humanity. This acacia wood was then covered with bronze, representing God’s judgement. This is significant. It makes no difference how good and qualified we think we are, when we offer ourselves to God, we must come under His judgement. There are no exceptions. We all need redemption and continual salvation. This is the life of the altar.
A Lifelong Process
We need another kind of constitution. We need God to build himself into us. When we offer ourselves to God, our realization should be that we are not qualified for anything but the judgement of the altar. It is by this judgement that God consumes us. There is nothing more beautiful than this kind of divine consuming because it is by this that He builds Himself into us. To consume an offering on the altar was relatively fast at Moses’ time, but for us it is a lifelong process.
I have been a Christian for around sixty years. That means I have had the experience of being consumed on the altar for around sixty years. At the same time that I was being consumed, God was building me up by building Himself into me. This process is both hard and glorious. When I was first saved, all I knew was that I was a sinner, that the blood of Jesus had cleansed me, and that I should go to the church meetings. After sixty years of learning to love the Lord and stay on the altar, I realize I have become somewhat different. Like the apostle Paul, I can testify, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).
God simultaneously consumes us and builds us up on the altar. The stronger our consecration, the greater the building work of God will be established in our lives. It seems we have been reduced to ashes, but in fact we are established. The interesting thing is this: when we begin to feel somewhat established, we unconsciously think we have something, and all kinds of views and opinions start to come out. We look at those serving in the church and think we can serve at least as good as they do, probably better. Our ideas are newer, fresher, and more attractive. Cannot God also use us? ThIs logic seems so right. Quickly we gather others around us to form a party.
Such a thing happened in the Old Testament, which tells us, “Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'” (Num. 16:1-3).
Korah was a descendent of Levi and was thus qualified to serve in the outer court of the tabernacle. No doubt he spent much time around the altar. Although he was a leader among the people, he was not to serve administratively as did Moses, nor as a priest as did Aaron and his sons. They were all Levites, but this difference in service was determined by God Himself.
Korah began to think, “We belong to the tribe of Levi just like Moses and Aaron. We are all holy and we all have the Lord. Why are they somebody and the rest of us are nobody? Who are they to lift themselves up like this?” He first drew Dathan, Abiram, and On to his cause, and eventually 250 leaders of the congregation. With these on his side, Korah grew bolder and approached Moses with his accusations.
Moses was very wise. He didn’t argue or debate. He just fell on his face before the Lord (v. 4). Hardly any are that spiritual today. We would all either defend ourselves or surrender our place to the stronger party. Moses had no confidence in himself or in his position of authority, but in the God who had spent 80 years turning him to ashes and establishing something solid in him.
Moses told them, “Take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the Lord tomorrow; and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!” (vv. 6-7). He went on to say, “If the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord” (v. 30).
We would think that this word would have put a holy fear into Korah and the others, and that they would have repented of their rebellious actions. But instead they showed up at the appointed time with their censers. The Bible records God’s judgement: “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions….Fire also came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense” (vv. 32, 35). Their censers fell to the ground.
The Two Coverings
This is a very negative story, but something so positive results from it. Under the Lord’s direction, Moses told Eleazar the priest to pick up the 250 censers, hammer the bronze from them into sheets of plating, and use them to cover the altar. This was in addition to the original covering of the altar.
The application of these two coverings for the altar is quite serious. The first covering is for us to consecrate ourselves to God to allow Him to work on us by consuming us and building Himself into us. The second covering is for us to consecrate our service to Him so He can have His government. Our service must be 100% one with God’s desire.
When we are new believers, it is so good to be on the first covering of the altar. We give ourselves to God and let God consume and build us. When we gain more experience, we should also have the second covering. We should realize we cannot just offer our sacrifice of service however we like. We really need the Lord’s mercy. Our service is much more serious than how we live. To live is unto ourselves. To serve effects so many.
If I am in the Lord’s presence praying and overcoming every day, that is my personal life. If I spend all day every day on my devilish little computer, reading and watching all kinds of things, that is also my personal life. If I fail 24 hours a day, that is me. If I am victorious 24 hours a day, it is also me. Such things are dealt with by the first covering of the altar.
We also have a serving life, and this requires the second covering of the altar, which was made from the censers of those who offered according to what they thought was right. Of course God is big and generous. There are many members in His body. No one can say they embody everything and there is no room for anyone else. But we must all serve according to God and His desire, and this requires the consecration of the second covering.
There are all kinds of Christian groups which serve in all kinds of ways. No one can say there is no value. If they preach the gospel and people get saved, there is value. Paul said he could rejoice even if the gospel was preached with impure motives (Phil. 1:18). But such service does not give full satisfaction to God. He is not happy when people stop at the entrance of the tabernacle with only their initial salvation. He wants to bring them all the way to the ark of testimony. He wants them to enjoy Him as the two tablets and as the golden pot that contains the heavenly food. He wants them to labor with Him as the budding rod in resurrection. He wants us to operate in resurrection with His supply, according to who He is, not according to what we think is right.
How valuable these two layers are! With the first layer, we give ourselves so that God can consume us. But as God is consuming us, He is also building us.
When we come to the second layer, we must be concerned about our serving life. Our serving life has to be properly judged by God. Can God say that our service is exactly what He wants? Or will He have to consume it? All our work will one day be tried by fire, but not all work will be consumed (1 Cor. 3:13-14). For our work to remain, we must know the second covering of the altar.
The Descendants of Korah
God does have mercy. Korah’s descendants became great musicians and poets, writing many of the psalms. Most of what are known as the Psalms of Ascent were composed by the sons of Korah. These psalms became a blessing to all the children of Israel, leading them to a proper praise, appreciation, and worship of God.
Because of their family history, the descendants of Korah had a lot of deep feeling toward God. Every time they looked at the altar with its second covering, they were reminded of their unworthiness and dependence on God. They looked unto Him, expecting His mercy and leading. All these feelings came out in their Psalms.
Tenderness usually comes out of much experience and suffering. Without this there can be no tears for the Lord. Every time the descendants of Korah saw the altar, they must have had a good deal of feeling. When they gave themselves to the Lord, they knew the price involved. They knew how godly and fearful they had to be, and how much they had to look unto the Lord for His mercy so they could go on.
Korah was judged by God, but God showed His mercy by allowing Korah’s descendants to write poems that would eventually help millions and millions of Christians grow in the Lord. I would encourage us all to read these psalms in the light of this history and seek to enter into their profound experience of repentance and dependence. May our service also be so affected by the second covering of the altar.