The word “altar” in Hebrew is the word “mizbeach” and the Temple had three altars. You had the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Azarah, you had the Altar of Incense in the Ha Kodesh (Holy Place), and you had a third altar called the Miphkad altar on the Mount of Olives. This altar was seen as an extension of the Temple. This was where the red heifer was slain and burned. In this study we are going to look at the Altar of Burnt Offering in the upper Azarah of the Temple.
The altar is a microcosm of the Temple complex overall. It was a three-tiered structure and had three fires on it. The largest fire was where the Olah, or burnt offering was placed. Another fire was for coals for the Altar of Incense, and a third fire was kept going all the time, and nothing was put on it. In Ezek 43.10-12 there is a prophecy and it was given in a Yovel (Jubilee) year, according to Artscroll “Ezekiel” commentary, based on Ezek 40.1. The “beginning of the year” is Tishri, and the tenth of the month is Yom Kippur, when a Yovel began.
Now, there were three deportations to Babylon and three returns. The first group to return was led by Zerubbabel and Yeshua the High Priest. The second return was led by Ezra and the third group was led by Nehemiah. Ezekiel is not mentioned in any of these groups and he was either too old to travel back or he was already dead. From the last deportation to Babylon to the first returning group there was only 39 years that had elapsed. In Ezek 43.11 he tells the people, many of whom saw the first Temple, to “write down” what was being said about the coming Temple. The word for “write” is “katov” and it is where we get the word “ketuvim” (writings) from. This instruction was given so that the people (House of Israel-v 10) could understand. Then in Ezek 43.13-17 we have the instruction concerning the altar, so that is why we are going to deal with it first in our study of the Temple.
This is one of the most interesting passages in the Scriptures. Rabbi David Forhman has talked about the “lullaby effect.” That is when we pass right over verses and we don’t really understand what is being said, just like we do when we sing the song “Rockabye Baby.” If you really stopped and looked at the words of that song, it would shock you as to why we would sing that to a baby. In like manner, when we get to passages that have dimensions, we do the same thing. We gloss over or skip right over them. There is a “map” included in these verses on the altar concerning the Temple. The altar is described in Exo 27 and it has three main parts. The base is called the “yesod” which means “foundation.” There is a surround called the “saviv” and the roof is called the “gag” with horns where the korbanot went. To get what we are going to describe, it would be good for you to go get a picture of the altar. You can go to the Temple Institute website for good pictures, or you can go to Jerusalem Temple Study, click on “all teachings” and go to “photo gallery” for free pictures. People are visual learners.
But in Ezek 43.13-17, we have different words used here than are used in any other place about the altar. The word for “courtyard” is azarah, and it is used for the upper and lower courtyard of the Temple. In Ezekiel, the word for the base is “chaiyik.” The lower is called the “azarah katanah” in Ezekiel and it means the “smaller courtyard” and this corresponds to the lower courtyard of the Temple. The next section of the altar is called the “azarah gedolah” or “larger courtyard” and that corresponds to the upper Azarah of the Temple. The upper four cubits of the altar is called the “Har El” which means “mountain of God.” This is where the fires and smoke come from, just like Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. The top was called “ariel” which means the “lion of God.” The Temple itself is called the “Ariel” (Isa 29.1) and it was called this because it was narrow behind, and it widened out in the front like a lion (Middot 4.7).
On top of the Har El you had the three fires and a spot for the ashes in the middle called the “Tapuach” which means “apple.” On the corners (kanaf) you had horns. These horns corresponded to the four buildings in the upper Azarah. The altar described in Exo 27 is a different size than the one in Ezekiel. In the Mishnah Middot 3.1, it describes a red line that will separate where the blood will be sprinkled. If the blood is sprinkled above the red line, it was for sins against heaven, like breaking the Sabbath, etc. If the blood was sprinkled below the red line it was for sins against people, like gossip, etc. Now, a cubit was a five handbreadths and six handbreadths, both are used (Ezek 43.13). In the Mishnah, Kelim 17.10, it says, “R. Meir says all measurements in the Temple were according to the cubit of middle size except those of the Golden Altar and the horns and the circuit of and the base of the Altar. R. Judah says the standard of the cubit used for the Temple building was six handbreadths and that for the vessels five handbreadths.”
So, the cubit used in the upper, or inner, Azarah was six handbreadths except for the Altar. The base of the altar uses six handbreadths horizontally, and vertically it was five handbreadths. This is the only place in the Temple this was done. Six handbreadths is 23.04 inches, and five handbreadths is 19.2 inches. How important is it to understand God’s altar? It is the first thing he mentions and tells you after he says to “measure the pattern” and “write it down.” Another interesting fact is, the “ariel” (top of the altar) is at the same level as the Ark and the “kipporet”, or Mercy seat, in the Kodesh ha Kodeshim (Holy of Holies).
Now, lets talk about the ramp leading up to the altar. Besides the main ramp, there were two other smaller ramps. Only a kohan (priest) can go up the altar ramp. Only a kohan who has been selected by lot can participate in the services. To ascend the altar was a particular honor. This alluded to in the words of Yeshua in John 20.17. He has just resurrected, but before he goes to heaven to present the blood on the altar in heaven, he waits for Mary and he says to her after a brief conversation, “Stop clinging to me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” This is right out of the Temple services. Id a priest received the blood from a korbanot, you were not to stop and engage him in a conversation until after he has presented the blood. This expediency was because a priest was not to let the blood coagulate in the mizrak, or the korban would be invalid and would need to be redone.
Beside the large ramp, there was a smaller ramp that led to the walkway (saviv is a walkway) around the altar on the east side of the ramp. Korbanot were not killed on the altar, except for the Olah of the bird. That is when he goes to the ramp to the saviv. The kohan goes to the southeast corner with his head even with the horn of the altar there. He will kill the bird with his finger nail and skin the bird there. He takes the crop, feathers and the head and throws it to a receptacle on the floor next to the altar, about 50 feet away. This receptacle is about 2 feet square on the east side of the altar. Ashes from the altar were also put there after they were brought down from the altar in what was called the “Psachter.” Ashes were also taken outside the north gate of Jerusalem, very near where they crucified Yeshua. The bodies of the bull and the goat on Yom Kippur were burned there (See The Temple Institute illustration on the “Burning of the bull and the goat”).
He then takes the blood and smears it on the horn in front of him, then the bird is burned on the altar fire as an Olah.
We have another ramp to the yesod (base) on west side of the ramp. Extra blood was poured out at the base in two holes because the blood belonged to God. These two holes were like nostrils on the southwest corner of the altar (Middot 3.2 of the Mishnah). This blood enters a conduit called the “Amah” because it was one cubit wide and deep. This “amah” went through the Azarah to the Water Gate, around the altar from south to north. It then proceed out of the Temple, to the Kidron and continued down to where the Kidron intersected with the Hinnom Valley, south of the city. The area where it emptied out is called “Akeldama” which means “field of blood.” The ground was sold for fertilizer. Now, Yoma 5.6 says that it cannot be used without payment, and the proceeds went back to the Temple (Meilah 3.3). Judas hung himself at Akeldama (Acts 1.19), and as you can see, everything is going to be connected to the Temple and that is why it needs to be studied and understood. What we are going to study will be basic and foundational, but it is needed for later teachings as we move on. The next section will be centered on why we need to study the Temple.
Sources used in this study include;
The Temple by Alfred Edersheim
Jerusalem Temple Study-“Mizbe’ach”
The Temple Institute
Life-Study of Exodus by Witness Lee
Rabbi David Forhman