Altars of Earth and Stone


“Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones …” —Exodus 20:24-25a (NIV)

I’ve read the Bible quite a few times, but I still come across verses that surprise me. These verses with their instructions not to “fancy up” an altar … definitely one of those surprises. Had I ever read them before? I must have. However, these verses come at the tail end of a chapter that lists the very notable Ten Commandments upon which even our laws today are often fashioned. So, perhaps, I can be excused for usually focusing on the beginnings of Exodus 20 instead.

I have pondered these instructions for a week now, even checked commentaries to try and understand why God did not want “dressed” stones and why choose an “earth altar.” Why didn’t God want fancy? Elaborate? You can find several guesses on this, and if you are intrigued by it, enjoy looking them up. What grabbed my attention and what made the most sense to me was this explanation: the purpose of the altar was to come humbly before God in repentance or thanksgiving, acknowledging His supremacy in our lives. This coming to Him was the point. Not the fancy altar.

God alone forgives sin, and, therefore, we need to come to Him in repentance. God alone made the world, and, therefore, all thank offerings should be given to Him. He’s gone to great lengths in the commandments to emphasize His unique position as the one and only true God to whom all allegiance, thanks, and confession are owed. Perhaps if God’s people all competed in building fancy altars, they would become more enamored with the altars and tend to gloss over that actual repentance thing. Perhaps the structure of the altar would become the object of worship, and the repentance would be lost along the way. Perhaps we have a tendency to focus on outward, shiny things instead of the deceitfulness of our own hearts.

When we come to God in repentance, we are to come with humility and a full acknowledgement that we need His forgiveness. If we fancy it up too much, we might puff ourselves up too much. We might spend more time crafting a pretty altar than repenting of a prideful heart. Humans by nature want to deflect blame to others and run from acknowledgement of wrongdoing. We don’t like being wrong. We don’t want to say we messed up. We often go to great lengths to justify behaviors that are selfish or just plain bad.

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that failure is not fatal. When you want to get it right and you fail, it surely feels fatal at the time. We squirm. We hurt. We wiggle away from admitting that we have sinned. We waste time in trying to justify our actions or in hiding or in self-condemnation. That time would be much more wisely spent coming to the One who does not condemn, but forgives, cleanses, and helps us.

Let’s spend less time building elaborate defenses and ways to hide our sin and more time just confessing it, acknowledging our sinfulness, and getting a “do-over” from the Lord. It’s so freeing to just admit it. We mess up. We sin. We are selfish and defensive and tend to hold on to grudges and the list goes on. We need a Savior. We no longer bring animals and sacrifice them to symbolize our grief for our sinful actions. Our Savior was the perfect sacrifice. Thanks be to God. Now, we can simply come to Him with undressed humility and plain dirt repentance. Not fancied up. Just us in need of Jesus, who is truly all we need.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for the many times I try to justify and excuse my bad behavior. Help me to simply come, knowing that like the prodigal’s father, You wait with open arms to welcome me, hug me, and dress me in fine clothing again. I need You. I want to be swift at repenting so I don’t waste precious moments of service to You fashioning fancy excuses. How I thank You for making a way for me to be free from the shame and condemnation of sin. I love being washed and dressed for Your service as I come in repentance and trust. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

You are loved,




Sweet Selah Ministries

To inspire a movement away from the belief that “busy is better”
and toward the truth of God’s Word that stillness and knowing
Him matter most—and will be reflected in more effective work and service

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Donna Perkins
    March 28, 2022 5:05 pm

    I love this Sharon. I am reminded of God’s alter on with He laid His Son, a couple of rough pieces of wood set into the ground on top of a hill. It’s the ultimate “High Place” at which we a privileged to kneel. Thank you for inviting in souls Sharon. You are loved!

  • Margaret Fowler
    April 4, 2022 10:13 pm

    thanks, as always a heart-felt message, and so true and needed
    So thankful for the forgiveness given to us as His gift.


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