34. Set the altar in its place.

The challenge was declared – do something different for 2016. It is a good thing to think again, reconsider our way of doing things. By that I do not mean every little action. Think on the core, the founding principle, the essence of your existence that defines who you are. It is one of the most profound mind exercises one can engage in and serves to change perspectives and shape vision.

I truly believe we cannot perform this exercise without the help of the Holy Spirit. We are only wise to the measure of our surrender to God’s Spirit. He promises us deep insight into the great and mighty things we do not know and the mystery of life that only He reveals. As Jesus said in Mark 4:11:

The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you [who have teachable hearts], but those who are outside [the unbelievers, the spiritually blind] get everything in parables,

I have no doubt that the greatest tragedy in my life would be to remain spiritually blind. My favourite prayer is the cry of the blind man – Lord, that I can see.

God is ready to reveal mystery. He will enlighten the hidden truth for us to see and live by. This is the life of excellence that He promised in John 10:10 so that we do not live in the futility of our minds, darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in us, due to our hardness of heart. [Ephesians 4:17,18]

Proverbs 7:4:

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend,

The first obstacle is our own complacency and the familiarity of the present, whether good or bad. We might realize that a situation is murdering all the joy and peace that we know we are promised, but are scared of change and terrified by unknown alternatives.

This is the time to put the altar in its place.

Ezra 3:3:

They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.

I think the journey of the first exiles into Judah, arriving in Jerusalem and observing the destruction, desolation and enormity of the task ahead of them, are the stuff of a spectacular dramatic narrative. Yet the Bible says nothing about it. The people are mentioned in the second chapter of Ezra – they are important. The priest (Jeshua) and the prince (Zerubbabel) – pointing to the ultimate Priest and Prince that will forever take His people out of exile into the new Jerusalem (the church of Jesus on earth) and the ultimate altar – worshipping in the Presence through the Holy Spirit.

Jeshua was the grandson of Seraiah, the high priest whose eyes Nebuchadnezzar put out after the fall of Jerusalem. His son Jozadak succeeded him, though there could be no sacrifices in Babylon. Jozadak’s son, Jeshua, joined the exiles on the journey back to Jerusalem. We do not know much about him but as the high priest, he was where he ought to have been: in the forefront of the returning exiles. His name reminds us of the other Joshua, also a leader from captivity and the desert. The name means: Yahweh is salvation, pointing to Jesus, the greater Joshua, who brings His people from bondage into the restored Tabernacle of David. [Acts 15:16]

The prince is Zerubbabel, which means: “sown in Babylon”. He belonged to a collateral branch of the royal line of David. The direct Davidic line through Solomon died with the wicked Zedekiah. [2 Kings 24 and 25] The descendants of another son of David’s, Nathan survived. Their representative was one Salathiel, who, on the failure of the direct line, was regarded as the ‘son of Jeconiah’ [1 Chronicles 3:17]. It seems that he had no son. Zerubbabel was his nephew [1 Chronicles 3:19] Zerubbabel served as a representative of the house of David to rule over the returning exiles. He is prominent in the books of the active prophets of that period: Haggai and Zechariah and is described as strong and bold.

Zechariah 4:7:

‘Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.

The reason given for such a speedy restoration of the altar is noteworthy. As it is written: fear was upon them because of the people of the countries. The state of the Holy Land at the return should be understood clearly. Samaria and the central district were in the hands of bitter enemies. Across Jordan in the east, down on the Philistine plain in the west, and in the south Edom were old, established enemies holding hostile watch over the small beginnings of a process of nation building, which they were determined to obstruct. Only the territory of Judah and Benjamin was free for the exiles. They had reason for their fears. They were surrounded by aggression that could be mobilized into violence and the ultimate derailing of restoration.

What was the defense against such foes which these frightened men thought most impregnable? The altar!

For the returning exiles the foundation of faith was their refuge. There is no doubt that their moral and spiritual disposition was not the purest and is addressed by the prophet Haggai. Years in exile without the clear and established guidance of their priests, took its toll on the confidence of the worshippers. But…

They diverted to the truth they learnt from their forefathers. The worship of Jehovah according to His commandment was their surest way of finding shelter from all their enemies.

The ruined Jerusalem was better guarded by the restored altar than if all the fallen walls had been rebuilt.

There cannot be a temple without an altar, but there may be an altar without a temple. God meets us at the place of sacrifice, even though there is no building or tent. The order of events here teaches us what is essential for communion with God. It is the altar. The sacrificial worship of God is our refuge, our strong tower and our hiding place. Personal prayer and submission to His Name is our altar. It is as true for us as ever it was for the exiles: our safety is in God at the altar of worship.

Let us go back to Ezra 3. They set the altar on its [old] foundation [Amplified] or on its bases [NKJV] and established the routine of constant worship at the altar as part of daily life: …burnt offerings morning and evening.

No need for new foundations or place settings. We do not need new doctrine. We need to get our altar in place on the original commandments and teaching of Jesus, the Author of our Salvation. The Word of God should test all our traditions and teaching. The Word is powerful to change and heal and redirect and renew.

Isaiah 55:11:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;

It shall not return to Me void,

But it shall accomplish what I please,

And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

The Word of God is powerful and can never be fruitless. If you need guidance and direction, experience fear and panic and live in uncertainty and doubt, take your Bible and make time with God. He will see your heart and meet you at the altar. This is a promise that prevails through centuries and cannot be diluted in any way. It is guaranteed. I have a lifetime of testimonies to support the truth of it, not only my own life, but so many around me.

Remember: faith is a decision. It is one you can make in this moment. You do not need to feel spiritual, trance-like or holy. You can decide: I trust God and will believe His word.

I have to remind you of the motto that we at Pebbles live by:

God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

If you doubt that God plans only the very best for you, read Hebrews 11:6 again:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

This is the cornerstone of the altar. Set it in its base. You do not have to convince God of the state of your heart. He knows your crisis; He knows how much you need Him. You only have to make the decision to submit to His Word and build you altar with time spent in reading and worship.

This is the guarantee: James 4:8:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

The altar was the central element of personal worship since the very beginning of man’s approach to God. The main players in all the great stories of faith built altars of worship, gratitude and reverence.

The altars of the faith heroes and the names given are worth a full study.

Noah celebrated the end of the flood. [Genesis 8:20]

Abraham built several altars to celebrate encounters with God and the promise about the land; also the altar on which he obediently tied his son to sacrifice him to God.

Isaac built altars; Jacob built altars – the well-known one at Bethel where he had a powerful encounter with the Lord that impacted his whole life.

Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner [Exodus 17:15] He built another at the foot of the mountain where he met and talked with God.

To Moses came the precise commandments about the altar in the courtyard of the Tabernacle that had to serve the people.

David often prays and sings about the altar.

Psalm 118:27:

God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

In this verse he mentions the horns of the altar and in Kings we read of Adonijah and Joab grabbing hold of the horns of the altar in fear of their lives when they fled from their killers. Literally the lifesaver!

1 Kings 1:50: Now Adonijah was afraid of Solomon; so he arose, and went and took hold of the horns of the altar.

1 Kings 2:28: So Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord, and took hold of the horns of the altar.

Your place of worship is your lifesaver. Grab hold of the promises. The kingdom of God is the invisible kingdom that Jesus came to affirm into which we immigrate with repentance. [John 3]

God is ready to reveal the deep mystery of His plan for your life. When you go before Him with your need, confessing your sin with a humble heart, see in your mind’s eye the altar of heaven – not far away, right here next to you in the unseen… Remember Ephesians 1. You are seated with Christ in heavenly places. [Pebbles nr. 26]

Revelation 9:13:

Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God.



Until next time Pebble pals: We continue our journey with the exiles of old – rebuilding the Temple.

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