Previously we have witnessed one of the most epic scenes in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:1–20:17. The Lord displayed his awesome presence to the people at Mt Sinai. He also spoke to them from the mountain in what we know as the Ten Commandments. Israel’s reaction was to tremble! They told Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Verse 21 concludes, “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”
In our text in Exodus chapter 20 verses 18-26, the Lord continues to speak with Moses upon the mountain. First, the Lord essentially reiterates the first two commandments concerning having no others gods and making no idols. While we may just pass over this, we must realize that when the Lord repeats something, the people of Israel (and we today) need to pay close attention! Secondly, the Lord continues with instructions for altars, sacrifice, and worship in verses 24-26. The Lord sets guidelines for making altars. While we have seen sacrifice and worship throughout Genesis and Exodus, this is the first time we read a set of rules for making an altar. Back in that time, pagan altars were quite elaborate. But God is very clear that this altar was not to demonstrate the craft of man. Whether it was to be an altar of earth or stone, it was to be constructed simply, thus directing attention to God and not to the work of man’s hand. Also in these verses we find the Lord giving guidelines for sacrifice and worship. He directs Moses to two types of sacrifices upon the altar, burnt offerings and peace offerings. In His mercy, right after giving the Law, which the Lord knows they will break, God makes a way for the people to atone for their sins.
On Sunday we will look at altars, sacrifice, and worship in the Old Testament, but we will also look at these things from a New Testament perspective and see how they even apply to our corporate worship today. It is wonderful to see how revelation progresses in Scripture from the Old to the New Testaments. We have seen it before most strikingly in the Passover in Exodus 12, and we will see it again in our text and beyond as we move forward through Exodus.