Idols and altars – both of these can become objects of worship in place of worshipping God alone. At first, the Lord reminds His people that they are to be completely dedicated to God alone. No images, no carvings, nothing deemed precious or valuable is to take his place. As Jesus says,
Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only. (Matthew 4:10)
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Luke 16:13)
I believe God made this prohibition against all forms of image worship because there is only one image of the invisible God and his name is Christ. He alone represents God for he alone is God. Any image is less than adequate when compared with the power of the risen Christ.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
But God then moves on to describe the kind of altar where the people are to worship. It must be an altar of earth, not dressed stone. It must be flat and not raised or exalted in the air lest the nakedness of the people be exposed. And it must be an altar where sacrifices of sheep and goat and cattle are offered. What do these regulations have to do with Christ?
The altar was the place where blood was spilled and as the sacrifices were made to God the stones would become covered in blood. The rocks would collect the blood and it would spill over running into every nook and cranny. I write this in order to give you some images to associate with Paul’s question.
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? (1Corinthians 10:18)
The people not only participated in the offering, they participated in the altar where the blood was shed and atonement was made. Similarly, as Christians, we are the stones of the altar, we are being built into a holy temple and the blood of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice runs upon, in and over our lives and he is the one who covers our nakedness and shame. He is the one who makes us holy. We do not have to come well dressed and in order, we do not even have to come to worship by lifting ourselves up high in the air. On the contrary, a broken and contrite spirit is the desire of God. As simple people we come and the Lord stacks us into an altar where we can become an integral part of the worship and adoration of the Christ.
That is why, God says,
Wherever I cause my name to be honored, i will come to you and bless you. (Exodus 20:24)
In seeing the altar as a paradigm for worshipping God where Christ is the one who covers our sin, we can also see the presence of his people across the earth as the recipients of blessing. From them, worship is offering and performed. From them, Christ is exalted. And over them, the blood of Christ runs washing away every impurity and unclean way.