AT THE HEART OF WORSHIP, GOD DEMANDS ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE FOR SIN
MacArthur: Exact offerings, in language just as definitive as the literal descriptions in Moses’ day, are also just as literal here. They are of a memorial nature; they are not efficacious any more than OT sacrifices were. As OT sacrifices pointed forward to Christ’s death, so these are tangible expressions, not competing with, but pointing back to the value of Christ’s completely effective sacrifice, once for all (Heb 9:28; 10:10). God at that time endorsed OT offerings as tokens of forgiving and cleansing worshipers on the basis and credit of the great Lamb the pointed to, who alone could take away sins (Jn 1:29). The tangible expressions of worship, which the Israelites for so long failed to offer validly (cf. Is 1:11-15), will at last be offered acceptably, then with full understanding about the Lamb of God to whom they point. The bread and the cup, which believers today find meaningful, do not compete with Christ’s cross but are tangible memorials of its glory. So will these sacrifices be.
I. (:13-17) CONSTRUCTION DIMENSIONS OF THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE
“And these are the measurements of the altar by cubits
(the cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth):”
Constable: Some scholars view this section as the central one in chapters 40—48. The altar was at the very center of the whole temple complex, and it was the centerpiece of the system of worship represented in the new temple complex.
A. (:13b) The Altar Base
“the base shall be a cubit,
and the width a cubit,
and its border on its edge round about one span;
and this shall be the height of the base of the altar.”
Leslie Allen: vv. 13-17 — The circular gutter, deepened by its raised edging, was a sump for sacrificial blood to drain into (cf. v 18bβ), so that the inner court was kept clean and dry. Above it rose the altar to a height of 10 cubits above the bottom of the gutter, and 9 above ground level. It apparently consisted of three square blocks of diminishing lateral size: a “lower plinth,” also called a “protruding base,” a vertically larger “upper plinth” and a “hearth.”
Ralph Alexander: The altar was described from the bottom to the top. The bottom portion of the altar was composed of a one-cubit-high base with a one-cubit-wide gutter around the altar (v. 13). The gutter had a rim of one span length (approx.. nine inches) (v. 13c). On top of this base were three sections of the altar (vv. 14-17a). Next to the base was a two-cubit-high section, sixteen cubits square, with a one-cubit ledge around it. This ledge formed a gutter one cubit wide with a one-half-cubit-high rim. The middle section was four cubits high, fourteen cubits square, including a one-cubit-wide ledge around it. The hearth, four cubits high and twelve cubits square, formed the altar’s top portion. One horn projected form each of the four corners. Steps led to the top on the east side, but the dimensions of the stairs were not given. These steps were in contrast to the altar of sacrifice under the Mosaic system, where it was forbidden to go up by steps on the altar (Exod 20:24-26). This millennial altar was very large: approximately thirty-one and one-half feet square at the base by approximately nineteen and one-quarter feet high!
B. (:14) The Altar Tiers
“And from the base on the ground to the lower ledge shall be two cubits,
and the width one cubit;
and from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge shall be four cubits,
and the width one cubit.”
Constable: The square altar rose above its foundation in three tiers, the largest one below, the next largest one above it, and the smallest one on top. The first, largest stage was two cubits (3 feet 4 inches) high and one cubit (20 inches) smaller than the foundation on each of its four sides. The second tier was four cubits (6 feet 8 inches) high and one cubit (20 inches) smaller than the first tier on each of its four sides.
C. (:15-16) The Altar Top Hearth with its Four Horns on the Corners
“And the altar hearth shall be four cubits;
and from the altar hearth shall extend upwards four horns.
Now the altar hearth shall be twelve cubits long by twelve wide,
square in its four sides.”
Constable: The third tier, which formed the altar hearth, the very top of the altar, was also four cubits (6 feet 8 inches) high. Four horns stood on the top of the altar, one at each corner undoubtedly, symbolizing strength. This tier, the hearth, was 12 cubits (20 feet) wide on each side.
D. (:17) The Altar Top Ledge with Border and Steps
“And the ledge shall be fourteen cubits long by fourteen wide in its four sides, the border around it shall be half a cubit,
and its base shall be a cubit round about;
and its steps shall face the east.”
Lamar Cooper: There were steps on the east side of the altar for access to the hearth. The altar was a visible sign of the consequences of sin that encouraged people to confess and repent of deliberate sins (43:18–19). . .
Anton Pearson: Steps on the east side enable the officiating priest to face the Temple rather than the sun (cf. 8:16; Ex 20:26).
II. (:18-27) CONSECRATION OF THE ALTAR AND DESCRIPTION OF THE ANIMALS TO SACRIFICE DURING SEVEN DAY CEREMONY
“And He said to me, ‘Son of man, thus says the Lord God,’”
Feinberg: A casual reading of the passage is sufficient to impress the mind with the importance with which the Holy Spirit has invested the altar of sacrifice.
Ralph Alexander: After the altar of sacrifice was constructed, it would be necessary to cleanse and dedicate it (v. 18). Cleansing was needed because everything associated with man partook of sin and therefore needed to be cleansed, especially if it was to be used in the worship of the Lord. A similar cleansing and dedication took place with the altar of sacrifice of the tabernacle (Exod 29:36-37; Lev 8:14-17) and the altar of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron 7:9).
A. (:18b-21) Sacrifice of Young Bull on First Day of the Ceremony
1. (:18b) Cleansing and Dedication of the Altar Required
“These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built,
to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it.”
2. (:19) Offering of a Young Bull by Zadokian Priests
“’And you shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’
declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering.’”
3. (:20) Sprinkling of the Blood
“And you shall take some of its blood, and put it on its four horns,
and on the four corners of the ledge, and on the border round about; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it.”
4. (:21) Burning of the Bull as a Sin Offering
“You shall also take the bull for the sin offering;
and it shall be burned in the appointed place of the house,
outside the sanctuary.”
Lamar Cooper: vv. 18-27 — The horns of the altar that Ezekiel saw were sprinkled with blood to purify the altar and make atonement for it (v. 20). Also a bull was offered as a sin offering and burned outside the inner court but inside the temple complex (v. 21). On the second day of the dedication of the altar a male goat was offered outside the inner court and the altar purified as in v. 20. Then a bull and a ram were offered as a whole burnt offering mixed with salt (vv. 23–24). The use of salt with an offering has specific overtones and association with the idea of covenant (Num 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). Salt was used as part of sacrificial communal meals and was a sign of purification and preservation. This procedure was repeated for seven days, meaning until seven days had ended rather than for an additional seven days. The seven days for these ceremonies were for the atonement, cleansing, and dedication of the altar (v. 26).
B. (:22-24) Sacrifice of Animals on the Second Day of the Ceremony
1. (:22) Sacrifice of a Male Goat without Blemish for a Sin Offering
“And on the second day you shall offer a male goat
without blemish for a sin offering;
and they shall cleanse the altar,
as they cleansed it with the bull.”
2. (:23-24) Sacrifice of Another Bull and Another Ram as a Burnt Offering
a. (:23) Sacrifice Commanded
“When you have finished cleansing it,
you shall present a young bull without blemish
and a ram without blemish from the flock.”
b. (:24) Significance of Use of Salt
“And you shall present them before the LORD,
and the priests shall throw salt on them,
and they shall offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD.”
Constable: vv. 22-24 — The next day Ezekiel was to offer a ram that was free of blemishes as a sin offering. This also was part of the seven day ritual necessary to cleanse the altar. Then he should present another bull and another ram, equally blemish free, in the inner court. The priest was to throw salt on them, slay them, and offer them as burnt offerings. Salt was an agent of purification and preservation that was often used symbolically (cf. Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; 2 Chron. 13:5; Mark 9:49).
C. (:25-26) Sacrifice of a Goat Daily for Seven Days
1. (:25) Sacrifice Commanded
“For seven days you shall prepare daily a goat for a sin offering; also a young bull and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be prepared.”
2. (:26) Significance of the Sacrifices
“For seven days they shall make atonement for the altar
and purify it; so shall they consecrate it.”
D. (:27) Commencement of Normal Sacrifices on Eighth Day
“’And when they have completed the days, it shall be that on the eighth day and onward, the priests shall offer your burnt offerings on the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,’ declares the Lord God.”
Feinberg: After the rites of consecration are completed on the eighth day, the regular sacrifices will begin.