Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. —Genesis 12:6-9
… to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord. … Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord. —Genesis 13:4, 18
Altars Are a Memorial to the Place Where God Meets Us
Altars represent the occasion and place where we have had a personal encounter with God. We may not always be able to make a physical altar, but there can be one established in our hearts. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the grandest altar of all—the Cross of Calvary upon which the Son of God was laid forth as the sacrifice: to reconcile all humankind to God and to make possible the infusion of our lives with meaning, the forgiveness of all sins and the promise of eternal life.
Altars appear throughout the Bible in many different forms. They are:
A place of encounter—The Lord met Jacob in a crisis, and the next day he built an altar at that place (Genesis 28).
A place of forgiveness—The brazen altar of the tabernacle sacrifice was offered as an advance testimony that there would be a once-for-all sacrifice in God’s Son.
A place of worship—The most common altar built by people to acknowledge their praise to God was the altar of incense, the holy place where priests would offer worship to the Lord on behalf of the people and themselves.
A place of covenant—An altar was built where the covenant was made between the Lord and Abraham, and the land was sealed as a timeless promise to Abraham and his offspring (Genesis 15).
A place of intercession—The prophet Joel called for intercession by leaders* on behalf of the people and their devastated economy. (*If you know Jesus, you’re a leader!)
God Has a Place of “Altaring” for Us
There is a place of “altaring” and a price of altering. Altars have a price—God intends that something be “altered” in us when we come to altars. To receive the promise means we make way for the transformation.
Have you ever felt that the Lord put in your heart an expectation of promise? Such aspirations come from the Lord (Psalm 62:5). You sense anticipation of something God has put in your heart and underwritten by promises in His Word. You look at the promise and begin to picture in your mind what it’s going to be like. The fact is, we often visualize things that have nothing whatsoever to do with what God wants to do with us.