The Altar at Mt. Sinai and the Ark of the Covenant

by Mary Nell Wyatt Lee

"I AM" was the voice in the burning bush. The knowledge of a coming Redeemer was known from the time Adam fell, and the blood sacrifices were instituted which pointed to the His death. Abraham knew and understood what had to occur, as Christ later said to the Jews:

JOH 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

The events of the Exodus were part of the plan that was decided in Heaven- the plan of salvation for downfallen man. And at the mountain, more details of that plan emerged. God was personally intervening to prepare the people who were given the privilege of taking the knowledge of Him to the world.

Soon after arriving, before the Lord came down upon the mountain in the sight of the people, Moses was instructed:

EXO 19:12 ...thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

Once the bounds were erected, the people gathered at the foot of the mount,

EXO 19:16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. 18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

No man could see God and live. His Presence veiled in the clouds and smoke, He descended to the earth, upon the mountain of Sinai.

And then, the great "I Am" spoke the 10 precepts of His Law with His Own mouth , and it was to be the last time He personally spoke to the multitude.

EXO 20:18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
The Alter at Mt.Sinai and the Ark of the Covenant

Judgments and Statutes

God then called Moses up into the mountain, and gave him "judgements", which Moses carefully wrote down. His great Law, the Ten Commandments, was the constitution of God's government-unchangeable and universal. The "judgments" and "statutes" given to Moses were specific policies to uphold equal justice in the community. Today, statutes are framed to deal with individual situations where it may not be clear as to how to deal with a particular law. But these statutes always fall within the confines of the constitution. For example, in George Washington's day there were no laws dealing with speed limits for we had no automobiles. Later, laws dealing with speed limits were made. Then, when it was seen that the legal speeds were causing accidents, these laws were changed to protect the community.

This is an example of the statutes God gave to Moses:

EXO 21:33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; 34 The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.

After giving Moses the statues, God ended His conversation with His promise to deliver the people into Canaan and all the blessings of prosperity, IF they obeyed His commands. He had proposed a contract, or covenant, with the children of Israel. Moses, as the liason between God and the people, would present the terms of the contract to the people. Then they would decide if they accepted or declined.

The Altar at Mt. Sinai

EXO 20:24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. 25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. 26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

Beside the altar, Moses erected (EXO 24:4) "twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel."


EXO 24:5 And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

Covenant Now Ratified

When the sacrificies were made, the terms of the contract, or covenant, were presented to the people. Moses:

EXO 24:7 ...took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

The contract between God and the children of Israel was now ratified. God had presented His absolute demands and what He offered in return. The people signified their acceptance and agreement to the terms. The 12 pillars, one for each of the 12 tribes, commemorated the agreement.
From Abraham, then Jacob, down through the ages- this practice continued. In 1886, the Apache warrior Geronimo surrendered himself and his band of warriors to the United States Army after reaching an agreement that they would be allowed to live with their families. When the agreement was concluded with General Miles, Geronimo set up a large stone on a blanket as a witness to their treaty. When the treaty was broken by General Miles, Geronimo stated that their treaty was to have been in effect until the stone crumbled.

After the golden calf incident, all those who had taken part in the idolatry, about 3,000, were slain by those who had not taken any part in it- the Levites. God then had Moses remove the tent, which had served as a temporary place of worship, "afar off from the camp", signifying to the people that God truly had removed His presence from them. There, Moses met with God and was told to again meet with Him in the mountain:

EXO 34:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. 2 And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.

For 40 days and nights, Moses again stayed atop the mountain and the Lord again wrote the Ten Commandments, this time on the stones Moses had prepared and brought with him. When he returned to the camp with those Tables of Stone, His face glowed with supernatural light, and the people were afraid to come near him. So he veiled his face, and gathered the congregation to tell them all that God had told him, during both times he was in the mountain.

EXO 25:8 ... let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. 9 According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.

The ordinance of the sacrificial system, or ceremonial law, was made up of symbols pointing to the future Messiah, to His sacrifice and His Priesthood. The solemn service of the sanctuary typified the grand truths that were to be revealed down through the ages of the future Messiah. The cloud of incense ascending with prayers of Israel represented His righteousness that alone can make the sinner's prayer acceptable to God; the bleeding victim on the altar of sacrifice testified of a Redeemer to come; and from the Holy of Holies, the visible token of the Divine Presence shone forth.

The sanctuary was patterned after "things in the heavens": holy places which were "figures of the true" as Paul explained. (Heb. 9:24). The room that contained His earthly Throne, the Mercy Seat, was called the "Most Holy Place", and represented the Throne of God in Heaven:

EXO 25:22 ...there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.

Beneath the Mercy Seat, within the Ark of the Testimony, were the Tables of Stone, written by His own finger, and spoken by His Own lips in the hearing of all of Israel. Thus, was signified that God's government rested upon these laws, the complete standard of righteousness, and that they would be in force throughout eternity:

PSA 89:34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

After the fall of man, Satan corrupted the truth of God's government and induced man to worship idols and false gods. But in these pagan religions, were incorporated many elements of God's truth.

In the ancient Babylonian Epic of Creation, the god, Marduk, states:

"If I am to be your champion, vanquish Tiamat, and save you, then assemble and proclaim my lot supreme.... let word of mouth determine destiny. So that whatever I decide shall not be altered, and may spoken command shall come back, shall not be changed."

The ancient kings would make laws, and claim that they received them from their god, and proclaim that they could never be changed. Many even wrote them in stone.

Satan also induced man to pervert the sacrificial system among the heathen nations, who offered sacrifices to "appease" their god and win his favor.

But the offerings commanded by God after the fall were not to appease Him; they were to represent the future Messiah's death for sins of fallen man.

The more detailed ritual law, given through Moses at Mt. Sinai, with its ordinances and sacrifices, was to be performed by the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of the Messiah, "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world". Then, all the sacrificial offerings were to cease. This was the law, that Christ "took out of the way,... nailing it to his cross." (Col 2:14)

The "old covenant", the contract God made with Israel which was ratified at the altar at the foot of Mt. Sinai, would have remained in effect throughout eternity had all the condition been met by both parties. But Israel failed to live up to her part of the agreement. Thus was shown that man cannot keep God's law by his own strength. Paul explained this:

HEB 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. 8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

The Lord knew from the beginning that man was helpless against the wiles of Satan, who tempted Adam and caused him to fall. God deemed it necessary that all mankind fully comprehend its need for a Redeemer. The penalty for sin is death. Therefore, all were doomed to eternal destruction, unless that penalty could be paid by another. And the only One Who could pay that penalty of death was One Whose life was His to give. Every man and angel was created by God and their life belonged to Him. But when God came in the flesh, lived without sin, and gave His life as the eternal sacrifice for sin, the payment was made.

Through the ordinances of the old covenant, these great truths were revealed, while at the same time, showing man how futile it was to try to keep God's law by man's own strength. Not only would the Messiah pay the penalty for the sins of mankind from the time of Adam until His 2nd return, He would make it possible for man to live as He lived- without sin, through the indwelling of His Spirit.

God could not change His law to save mankind. He couldn't even change His Law to save His Son from the terrible suffering He endured for us. We've seen the result of the disobeying of that law in the history of this planet from the fall of man until this very moment. And God allowed it to happen for a reason- that all will see and know the necessity and fairness of His Law.

But because the great battle between God's government and Satan and his fallen hosts took place on our tiny planet, the Lord made the ultimate sacrifice to allow fallen man to reinstate his citizenship in Heaven and become heir to the promised land, the New Jerusalem and the new earth for eternity. God, the Son gave His Life. Those under the old covenant partook in the promise through their faith in the coming Redeemer. We, today live under the "new covenant", which was reaveled to us through the "old".

Paul tried to explain this to the Jews with an allegory:

GAL 4:24 ...these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

The everlasting covenant, was first made with man in the Garden of Eden when, after the fall, there was given a Divine promise that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent's head.

But this covenant could not be fulfilled until the death of the Messiah. Prior to this, it had existed only by God's promise, and had been accepted by Adam and Abraham only by faith.

Christ said to the Jews:

JOH 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

Paul later wrote about the faith of Abraham and the early patriarchs:

HEB 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. ...16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.