Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters. Darllenwch rhain yn Gymraeg.
After the terrifying display of God’s power and holiness that ends with the giving of the Ten Commandments, these last few verses of Exodus 20 are remarkably undramatic. An altar of earth seems nothing special. It is not ornate or valuable in itself. Is this really ‘good enough’ as a place to offer sacrifice to the God of fire, smoke and thunder? Similarly, if the Israelites decide to use stone to build an altar, it should not be specially cut or carved. A pile of rocks taken from the wayside will do well enough. This seems too casual a way to honour the Lord who ‘made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them’ (v. 11, NRSV).
Perhaps there is a clue in verse 24: ‘in every place where I cause my name to be remembered…’. The Israelites are a nation on the move. God expects to meet them in many different places on their journey to the promised land. When they build altars and offer sacrifices, it will be an important way for them to acknowledge him in each new place – but they will then leave the piles of earth and stones behind and continue in the way that he is leading them. To spend time and effort beautifying their altars will mean becoming too settled, too focused on permanence.
In our worship, are we sometimes tempted to get settled in one place, carving and decorating a permanent altar, when God is really calling us to leave the roadside altars behind and follow him on the journey? His promise is, ‘In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.’ Can we trust him, and keep moving?