Exodus, Lesson 24: The Bronze Altar, Courtyard, and Oil for the Lamp

Tabernacle and Courtyard (610x351)Moses is still getting instructions from God on the specifics of what is and around the Tabernacle.  God now give Moses instructions on the Bronze altar.

The Bronze Altar

Read Exodus 27:1-8

The bronze altar, also known as the altar of burnt offering, was the large altar that stood in the center court.  It was hollow, made of acacia wood that was overlaid with bronze.  Because it needed to be portable, the altar was made with rings and poles that could be inserted through the rings on each corner, allowing for the priests to carry it.  On the upper four corners were built projections called horns.

Psalm 18:2: The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.  My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

–          From this psalm (Hebrew poetry), what is the idea that “horn” conveys?


1 Samuel 2:1: [After Hanna gave birth to Samuel and brought him to live in the Temple, she prayed:] “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high.  My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I rejoice in your salvation.”

–          What ideas about “horn” does Hanna convey in her prayer?


Luke 1:69: [After John the Baptizer was born, his father, Zechariah, sang:] “He [God] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.”

–          What idea does Zechariah convey by his use of “horn”?


–          So, although not explicitly stated, what do the horns on the altar represent?


Cool Factoid: In the Mishnah (the compilation of Jewish oral tradition in the early 200s from the time of the Temple) tells us that the loaves of the Bread of the Presence had “horns” on their corners.  Those horns consisted of small pieces of dough that were rounded upward like the horns of a bull (Mishnah, Menahoth 11: 4).  These horns made the bread look like the bronze altar of sacrifice that was in the outer court of the Temple.

–          Remembering earlier lessons, if the Mishnah is accurate, when then would the horns be testifying about the bread of the presence?


The dimensions of the altar were 5 cubits square by 3 cubits in height (about 7.5 feet square by 4.5 feet high).  It contained a bronze grate midway up the entire assembly.  This grating not only supported the ledge but also allowed air to enter from below and provided a draft for the fire on the altar.  Its hollow center may have been filled with earth or unhewn stones (Exodus 20:24-25).

The altar was placed in front of the gate of the Tabernacle so that the altar was the first thing seen upon entering the court.

 Bronze altar


Leviticus 6: 12 tells us that the fire was kept burning on the altar continuously.  It never went out while Israel was in an encampment and the tabernacle was set up.


Sacrifices offered on the Altar

The altar was used for burnt sacrifices, both animal (cattle, sheep, goats, and doves) and meal.  Several types of sacrifices were offered:

OT Sacrifices (Lesson 24)



Excursus: “Unauthorized Fire”

God was not only meticulous that the Bronze Altar was built according to His specifications but also how sacrificial offerings were made.  We learn in Leviticus and Numbers how God viewed His people participating in worship based on what they wanted to do instead of what God had directed.

Leviticus 10:1-2: [After the Lord accepted Aaron’s sin offering, burnt offering, and peace offerings on the Bronze Altar, we read:] Now Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put fire in them and added incense.  They then offered an unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them to do.  Then fire came from the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Numbers 26:61: Nadab and Abihu died when they made an offering before the Lord with unauthorized fire.

–          Discuss: How does God’s command to Moses to do everything according to the pattern God had given him apply to us today?


The Courtyard

Read Exodus 27:9-11

God now commands an outer courtyard to be created for the Tabernacle.  It was 150 feet long x 75 feet wide x 7.5 feet high.  For purposes of comparison, it was about half as long as an American football field.

To us, the reading from Exodus sound repetitive, as it repeats information for the north and south sides.  In the Hebrew way that expressed the idea of sameness: The north and south sides were identical. 


Read Exodus 27:12-16

Here, we find the east side is different from the west side.  Instead of one, continuous side, the east side will have to sides (“shoulders” in the Hebrew), each about 22-½ feet long.  In the middle of the eastern side was a gate about 30 feet wide with tapestry of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen.  So the entrance to the courtyard was made with the same materials as the entrance of the Tabernacle.


Read Exodus 27:17-19

The pillars that make up the “fence posts” were all the same height: 7-½ feet.  There were 20 pillars each for the north and south sides and 10 for the east and west sides.  The pillars were made of bronze and set into bronze sockets.  Silver hooks, cords, and bronze pins fastened the hangings securely.

All Israelites had access to this outer area, priests and layperson alike.

Diagram of Tabernacle and Courtyard (Lesson 23)

–          Discuss the implications of the tapestries for the courtyard’s entrance and Tabernacle’s entrance being the same.


Oil for the Lamp

Read Exodus 27:20-21

The oil for the lampstand in the Tabernacle was made from olive oil.  By beating the olives, instead of crushing them in a mortar, that produced an oil that was purer and finer.  It made a relatively clean and smokeless fuel for the lampstand (mentioned earlier in 25:31-39), leaving no soot or residue on the curtains of the Tabernacle.

The priests tended to the lampstand twice a day, morning and evening, which means that the lampstand was to stay perpetually lit throughout the night.  However, from what can tell elsewhere in Scripture, the lampstand was extinguished or allowed to burn out each morning (1 Samuel 3:3).