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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old TestamentGirdlestone's OT Synonyms


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The Hebrew name for an altar, מזבח (Mizbeach), is derived from zavach, and is literally a place of slaughter. It is rendered θυσιαστήριον in the LXX, except where a heathen altar is referred to, and then the Greek word βωμός is adopted. [The word ariel (Isaiah 29:1-2; Ezekiel 43:15; Ezekiel 43:26) is supposed by some to mean 'altar of God,' an Arabic root ak in to the Latin arabeing produced in support of the translation; but this is doubtful.] The primary idea which a Hebrew would attach to an altar would depend up on his view of the word zavach; according to Levitical usage, it would be the appointed place on which the blood of slain beasts was to be sprinkled and their fat burnt in a short but interesting essay on the Jewish altar by David Mill, [David Mill was Reland's success or as Oriental Professor at Utrecht, where his Dissertationes Selectae were published.] it is noticed that the Rabbinical writers used to regard it not only as God's table [The table was not provided in the Levitical law, but is referred to in Ezekiel 40:39. It served a different purpose from the altar. The animal was slain and cut up on the table, but its blood was sprinkled, its fat burnt, and, in the case of the olah, all the pieces were burnt on the altar.] (see Malachi 1:7), but also as a symbol of mediation; accordingly, they called it a Paraclete, (פרקלט , Παράκλητος), i.e. an intercessor; it was regarded as a centre for mediation, peace-making, expiation, and sanctification. Whatever was burnt up on the altar was considered to be consumed by God, a guarantee that the offerer was accepted by Him.

It seems probable from the general use of Mizbeach for an altar, that in the Patriarchal age the animals which were offered to the Lord as burnt-offerings were laid on the altar and sacrificed (i.e. slain) there. The account of the burnt-offering in Genesis 22:1-24. exactly falls in with this supposition in this matter, however, as in many others, the law of Moses departed from the earlier practice, while retaining the principal features of the system.

Altar and Sacrifice in the NT

The word θύω is used in the N.T. both with respect to the slaying of the Passover Lamb and to the killing of animals for the purpose of food, i.e. Luke 15:23; Acts 10:13. The noun θυσία occurs several times in the N.T. with reference to Levitical rites, i.e. 1 Corinthians 10:18; to the Christian life of self-sacrifice (Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16; and 1 Peter 2:5); and to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:12).

The altar, θυσιαστήριον, is mentioned in about twenty passages, in most of which the Jewish altar is referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:18, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that in the case of Israel those who eat the sacrifices become in so doing partakers of (or with) the altar. by this he means that while the altar (which represented God) had part of the victim, the sacrificer had another part; thus the sacrificial victim being consumed partly by God and partly by man, forms a bond of union between the one and the other.

In Hebrews 13:10, the writer points out that there were certain offerings of which neither priest nor offerer might eat. They were not burnt, i.e. turned to vapour on the altar, but were entirely consumed, [It is important to notice that throughout the Levitical ritual two distinct words are used to represent burning. Kathar (קטר ), which properly means to turn into smoke or vapour, is used of the burning of the olah, of the memorial portion of the minchah, and of the fat of the zevach, all of which were intended as offerings for God's good pleasure, and not for sin. this burning took place on the altar at the do or of the tabernacle. Saraph (שׂרף , Assyrian sarapu), to consume or burn up, is used of the burning of the bodies of certain sin offerings. Nothing is said of their smoke ascending as a sweet savour to God, because they represent 'the body of sin,' an object which is by no means pleasing in his sight. this is the aspect of the matter presented by the sin-offering which the priest offered for himself, and still more emphatically by the offering of the goat for the sins of the people on the Great Day of Atonement. Ordinary sin-offerings were eaten by the priest.] so that there was no communion with the altar or with God in these cases. 'We Jews,' the writer seems to say, 'have an altar with which neither the offerer nor the priests who minister in the tabernacle have a right to share. Where part of the blood of the victim was brought into the Holy Place as a sin-offering by the High Priest on the Great Day of Atonement, it was sprinkled on and before the mercy-seat or place of propitiation in this case none of the body was eaten, the whole being utterly consumed in a clean place outside the camp.' He then applies this feature in the Levitical law to the Christian dispensation, and shows that we are in an analogous position. Christ's blood is presented in the Holy Place now as an atonement for us. his body, therefore, is to be devoted to consumption outside the camp. But what is his body? 'We Christians,' he implies, 'are the body of Christ; and as his crucifixion literally happened outside the city walls, so we are to go forth to Him bearing his reproach, sharing the ill-treatment He received, being mocked and jeered at by the world as it passes by, having no continuing city here, but seeking that city which is to come.'

Bibilography Information
Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Altar'. Synonyms of the Old Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​lexicons/​eng/​girdlestone/​altar.html.
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