The sacred stones referenced in Leviticus are part of the commandments God gave to Moses regarding the altar of burnt offering. This altar was to be constructed of acacia wood overlaid with bronze and was meant for sacrificial offerings to the Lord (Leviticus 1:1-17).
Leviticus 20:25 states, “And if you make for me an altar of stones, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.” This indicates that the stones used to construct the altar were not to be shaped, carved, or polished by any iron tool. They were to be left in their natural state.
Why were naturally uncut stones required for the altar? It signified the holiness of the altar and that it was set apart and dedicated to God. Any human effort to shape the stones could be seen as trying to improve upon God’s provision. Allowing the stones to remain as God made them showed reverence for His design and authority.
In Exodus 20:25 a similar command was given regarding making an earthen altar, “If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.” This passage adds an extra detail, specifying “an altar of stone.” Again, the focus is on using whole, uncut stones.
Some key insights we can gain about the sacred stones include:
- They were to be natural, uncut stones, left in the state God provided them.
- Cutting or shaping the stones could profane their sacred purpose.
- The rough, unpolished stones symbolized the holiness of the altar.
- Using natural stones showed reverence for God’s design and authority.
- The altar stones specifically applied to the altar of burnt offerings.
The sacred stones used in the altar of burnt offering were simple, rugged, and uncrafted. Yet God honored them and considered them set apart for His divine purpose. This reminds us that God can use even common, ordinary things for His holy service when they are dedicated to Him.
The Significance of Sacred Stones in the Bible
The uncut, natural altar stones in Leviticus carried deep symbolic significance for the Israelites. Stones and altars were important in their worship of Yahweh, reminding them of God’s law and presence.
In the Old Testament, altars were frequently built with stones as places to offer sacrifices to God. Noah built an altar of stones after the flood (Genesis 8:20). Abraham constructed altars from stone in worship to God (Genesis 12:7). Altars made of stone were used by the Israelites to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord (Exodus 20:24-25).
The stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, representing God’s covenant with His people (Exodus 25:16). When Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he set up a stone altar on Mount Ebal to dedicate the people to obeying the law of Moses (Joshua 8:30-31).
Stones could serve as memorials, reminding the Israelites of significant events and God’s provision. After the crossing of the Jordan River into Canaan, Joshua had 12 men take stones from the riverbed to construct a memorial commemorating the miracle (Joshua 4:1-7). The stones were to be a sign to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness.
Places named Bethel (“House of God”) and Bethlehem (“House of Bread”) were considered sacred to the Israelites. Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the spot where he had a revelation from God at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-19).
Based on these examples, key truths about the significance of stones in the Bible include:
- Stones were used to construct altars for offerings and worship to God.
- Stone tablets of God’s law represented His covenant with Israel.
- Memorial stones served as visible reminders of God’s presence and faithfulness.
- Places connected to divine encounters were seen as sacred spaces.
- Humble stones were transformed into holy places by God’s presence.
For the ancient Israelites, simple stones had deep spiritual meaning, representing places where heaven and earth met in worship, revelation, and covenant relationship with Yahweh. The altar stones in Leviticus were part of this rich tradition.
Details of the Altar of Burnt Offering
The altar of burnt offering was a key part of the tabernacle worship God instructed Moses to implement. The details of its construction provide insight into the purpose and symbolism of the sacred stones.
Exodus 27:1-8 gives instructions for building the altar. It was to be made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze. The altar was square, 7 1/2 feet on each side and 4 1/2 feet high, with horns of one piece with the altar protruding from each of the four corners. Various pots, shovels, basins, forks, and firepans made of bronze were also crafted for sanctuary service.
The dimensions of the altar reveal it was not a small table but a substantial raised platform, creating space for the burnt offerings. The horns were likely used to tie the animal sacrifices. The bronze utensils aided in managing the sacrifices and fire.
In the holiness code of Leviticus 17-26, the altar is frequently mentioned in connection to the different types of sacrifices and offerings to be made only at the tent of meeting. This reinforced that worship practices were to be centralized around the altar as the people moved from a more decentralized religion.
Key details about the altar of burnt offering include:
- It was the main platform to offer sacrifices by fire to God.
- The altar was made of durable acacia wood overlaid in bronze.
- It was a raised square platform with horns for tying sacrifices.
- The altar was portable – able to be transported as the Israelites journeyed.
- Utensils were provided for managing the sacrifices and fire.
- Guidelines reinforced this altar as the place of acceptable worship.
The altar served as the centerpiece for the ritual worship system commanded by God in Leviticus. It provided a dedicated sacred space for the burnt offerings and fellowship with Yahweh.
Instructions for Proper Use of the Altar
Along with details for constructing the altar of burnt offering, God provided the Israelites with instructions for properly using it. Guidelines were given to maintain the holiness and reverence due the altar.
The daily regular burnt offering involved sacrificing a male lamb each morning and evening (Exodus 29:38-42). Priests were tasked with tending the fire on the altar and making sure it did not go out (Leviticus 6:8-13).
Only priests from the line of Aaron could go up on the altar and handle the sacrifices (Exodus 29:44). The priests had to consecrate themselves by washing before approaching the altar (Exodus 30:17-21). Sacrifices were to be offered at the entrance of the tent of meeting, not elsewhere.
The blood from the sacrifices was handled carefully. It was dashed on all sides of the altar (Leviticus 1:5). Leftover blood was poured out at the base of the altar (Leviticus 4:7). Blood from sin offerings was not allowed to remain on the altar past the morning (Leviticus 6:27, 30).
Key guidelines for proper use of the altar include:
- Regular offerings were commanded daily.
- Priests ensured the altar fire kept burning.
- Only consecrated priests could go up on the altar.
- Sacrifices were made at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
- Blood was dashed on the altar and poured at its base.
- No sacrifice blood remained past morning.
Following these instructions was an act of obedience and honor to God. His holiness required diligent care and right use of the sacred altar by consecrated priests.
The Purpose of the Altar of Burnt Offering
The bronze altar holding the sacred uncut stones served a vital purpose in God’s plan for Israel’s worship and relationship with Him. Understanding its function sheds light on the role of the sacred stones.
The primary use of the altar was as a place to offer burnt offerings and the fat of the peace offerings to Yahweh (Leviticus 3:3-5). The sacrifices were a pleasing aroma to the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). They demonstrated the costly nature of atonement for sin (Leviticus 1:4).
The altar provided a set place where the people could come near to God’s presence with their sacrifices, as He dwelled in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. God said, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory” (Exodus 29:43).
The fire on the altar was kept burning continuously, just as God’s presence was continuous with Israel through His covenant. God instructed, “Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out” (Leviticus 6:13).
Key purposes of the altar of burnt offering were:
- Providing a place to offer sacrifices to God.
- Allowing the people to draw near God’s presence.
- Representing the atoning nature of sacrifice.
- Symbolizing God’s constant presence with Israel.
In summary, the altar mediated the Israelites’ relationship with God, providing a sacred meeting point for sinful man and holy God.
The Changing Nature of Sacred Space
As the Israelites transitioned out of portable tabernacle worship and into a temple in the promised land, some changes occurred in their theology of sacred space.
The altar made of bronze and sacred stones was a temporary structure designed for portability during Israel’s wilderness journeys. Once in the land of Canaan, the altar adjusted to using uncut stones gathered from the new terrain (Joshua 8:31).
The construction of Solomon’s temple brought changes to the placement and orientation of sacred spaces. The ark was brought into the inner sanctuary of the temple (1 Kings 8:6). The altar was then placed in front of the temple before the presence of the Lord (2 Chronicles 4:1).
Now, instead of the altar occupying the sacred space at the center of the wilderness tabernacle, it was positioned outside and in front of the temple sanctuary where God’s presence dwelled. This elevated the temple as the sacred center.
We see several key transitions regarding sacred space:
- Stones were gathered from the promised land rather than the wilderness.
- The temple became the permanent sacred dwelling place.
- The altar moved from the center to the front of sacred space.
- Sacred practices became more centralized and organized.
As circumstances changed, the way sacred spaces were oriented adjusted – with God’s presence and law remaining central. This flexibility helped the Israelites adopt effective religious practices in new contexts while maintaining divine principles.
Parallels to Christ
There are some interesting parallels between the altar of burnt offering and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. These connections provide insight into how the sacred stones pointed towards Christ.
The altar provided the way of atonement for sins before God. Jesus became the atoning sacrifice to provide redemption and access to God (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:19-22).
Animals offered on the altar symbolized substitutionary death for sin (Leviticus 4:20). Christ bore our sins in His body on the cross as our substitution (1 Peter 2:24).
The altar sacrifices were accepted based on faith in God’s promise. Christ’s sacrifice is received by those choosing faith in Him (Romans 3:21-25).
The altar furnishings being overlaid in bronze pointed toward judgment on sin. Christ experienced divine judgment on the cross for our sins (Romans 8:3).
Key parallels between the altar and Jesus include:
- Providing atonement for sin before God
- Serving as substitutes bearing punishment
- Requiring faith to receive forgiveness
- Enduring divine judgment for sin
What was made of rough natural stones foreshadowed what would be accomplished in Christ. The sacred stones were not an end in themselves, but pointed ahead to the ultimate sacrifice.
Lessons for Today
There are some helpful applications we can draw from the sacred stones of Leviticus:
- God can use common things for holy purposes when dedicated to Him.
- Worship should be grounded in God’s commands more than our own innovations.
- Sacrifice for sin is necessary to be able to approach a holy God.
- God longs to meet and commune with His people.
- Set practices and places can aid worship and remembrance.
- What we do with physical spaces reflects our view of God.
- Christ fulfilled what the altar and its stones represented.
As we consider the significance of sacred stones in the Bible, we see key truths about God, worship, sacrifice for sin, and His presence with His people. While stones and altars are no longer required, these concepts still provide insight on how to approach God today with wonder, humility, and gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice.
The sacred uncut stones of Leviticus were central to a system of worship God commanded Israel to use during a specific time period. Though simple and ordinary, these stones were set apart as holy before the Lord when used as God intended for the altar of burnt offering.
The altar stones symbolized reverence for the presence of Yahweh, the need for atonement for sins, God’s covenant with Israel, and the process of approaching a holy God. The strict guidelines for the altar revealed the seriousness of sin and cost of forgiveness. Centuries later, Jesus Christ fulfilled through the cross what the altar stones pictured – providing direct access to God for all who put faith in His sacrifice.
Today the sacred stones act as a reminder that God can use the plain or mundane for His glory. They also point us to Christ as the once-for-all atonement needed to enter God’s presence. Though we no longer use altars of stone, understanding the sacred stones of Leviticus still offers lessons on worshiping God with thankfulness and awe.