Every time I read about the Patriarchs in Genesis (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), I marvel how these men built altars with which to worship God. These altars were typically built at key moments when God appeared to them or when He provided in a mighty way.
The altars didn’t just provide a platform to worship. They also served as visual reminders to what God had done in the past. In a time of doubt or hardship, these men and those who were of their household need only gaze upon the nearest altar and remember that God had shown up, providing for His people.
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at first. – Genesis 28:18-19, ESV
There are several passages I could have picked, but this one is significant because of what happens later. We see in these verses that Jacob made a makeshift altar. He had seen the angels coming and going to heaven. He was on the run from Esau and hadn’t yet been cheated by Laban. It is where God spoke to Jacob and gave him the same promise given to Jacob’s father and grandfather. It would also be where God would call Jacob to again after he had escaped Laban, reunited with Esau, but then saw personal tragedy and trouble with Dinah’s rape and his boys’ subsequent revenge.
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” – Genesis 35:1, ESV
God called Jacob back to Bethel and commanded him to make an altar, a more lasting one this time. Jacob obeyed. Once again God spoke to Jacob of the promise. And Jacob remembered about the first pillar and set up a more lasting one, a pillar of stone.
In our lives, we need to set up pillars and altars, too. We don’t need physical altars, but certainly some sort of representation or remembrance of what God has done for us. Life isn’t fair and times will be hard, even if they are going well now. After Bethel Rachel would give birth to Benjamin, but would die in childbirth. It would be a hard time for Jacob. We experience similar hard times, often unexpectedly. Altars to God Almighty help us through those times.
What kind of holy altars to Jesus can you set up? What has He done in your life that you should remember and look back upon? When has God revealed Himself to you, showering you with His love? Take the time and effort to remember, just as the Patriarchs did.