Significance of the Altar of Burnt-Offering
Exodus 27:1-8
And you shall make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare…

In other cases an altar was said to be built, or elevated; but the portable structure used as such in the Tabernacle is spoken of as made, or constructed, because it had a frame of wood overlaid with copper. This frame was probably filled with earth to answer the requirements of the general statute. There is no intimation of this, indeed, in the writings of Moses; but neither does he mention any other expedient for holding the fire in place. Copper as dug out of the ground, similar to it in colour, and inferior to that metal which among metals represented celestial glory, was appropriately associated with earth in an altar belonging to a permanent and yet portable institution. By the affinity of the copper with the earth, this frame of an altar, which could be carried from place to place, fulfilled the same end in the expression of thought, as an altar of earth. The wood being, in the first place, designed for a frame on which the copper might be fastened so as to give sufficient size and strength without too great weight, was of acacia for the same reason which required this particular species of timber in the planks of the house, and the pillars of the court. The Tabernacle being a place of life, acacia wood, on account of its superiority to decay, was sought for every purpose which was to be answered with wood, whether in the edifice or its furniture. Not only the frame, or wall of the altar, was of acacia covered with copper, but also the horns; and this fact may help to determine the significance of these projections. The horn is, in cornute animals, the instrument of power, and thence becomes an emblem of strength, and as such is congruous with all the other elements combined in the altar as a symbol. It has, accordingly, been commonly understood that the horns of the altar represented the power of its ministrations. But recently it has been suggested that among the metaphorical significations of the horn, height was no less appropriate than strength as an attribute of an altar. The horn is the highest part of the animal, carried aloft as a badge of power and the honour consequent on power, and therefore used as a sign of elevation. To lift up the horn is to exalt, either in the physical or in a figurative sense. The horns of an altar may be intended, therefore, to symbolize still more emphatically the elevation of the earth on which the sacrifice is offered toward heaven, the residence of the Being to whom it is presented. The copper with which the horns were overlaid seems to countenance this interpretation. May not both shades of meaning be comprehended in one and the same emblem? The horns elevating the place of sacrifice nearer to heaven, the efficacy of the altar was especially conspicuous in these symbols of elevation.

(E. E. Atwater.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.

WEB: "You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and its height shall be three cubits.

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