Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE ALTAR OF NOAH”

Genesis 8.20-21

 

In God’s Word there are 429 different references to what is called an “altar.” The Hebrew word for “altar” is itself the derivation of another word that means “a place of slaughter,” usually in the context of slaughtering an animal for the purpose of religious sacrifice.[1] Also by my count, the 429 times the word “altar” is found are in reference to some 40 or so different kinds of altars. That is to say, 40 or so altars that are designated such as “Noah builded an altar” or “their children remember their altars.” Quite obviously, the great majority of the references to “altars” in the Old Testament have to do with the brazen altar of sacrifice or the golden altar of incense that played such central roles in the prescribed rituals and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law system before and after the construction of the Temple. But even with that understood it begins to stagger the mind how many different times in His Word God draws the reader’s attention to an “altar” of some kind, either one that He is pleased with and properly honors Him or one that is repugnant to Him.

Think about it folks. Other than the two “altars” used first in Tabernacle and then in Temple worship, there are 37 or 38 other “altars” that scripture makes reference to. As we turn to Genesis 8.20-21, we’re going to take a look at the activities and motives of the man who built the first “altar” that is recorded in God’s Word. Stand with me as we read those two verses and learn some things about “The Altar Of Noah”:

 

20    And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

21    And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

 

Keep in mind that there is a principle of Bible interpretation that is often referred to as “The First Mention Principle.” It is defined as “That principle by which God indicates in the first mention of a subject, the truth with which that subject stands connected in the mind of God.”[2] This being the first Biblical reference to the building and the use of an “altar” upon which animals would be sacrificed to God, there are therefore things in this passage that are important for us to know and apply to our understanding of God’s Word and also to our lives. Let’s take a few minutes to examine Noah’s purpose for building this “altar” and then using it in the way that he did:

 

First, REASONS WHY THIS ALTAR MIGHT BE BUILT AND USED, BUT WHICH ARE NOT THE REASONS WHY NOAH BUILT AND USED THIS ALTAR

 

That is, if you, or I, or anyone else, found ourselves in Noah’s shoes we might be tempted to build and use an “altar” of some kind (real or imagined) for the following reasons. Keep in mind, however, that these are not the reasons Noah built his altar.

First, we might be tempted to build an altar and offer sacrifices for the purpose of persuading God to withhold judgment. So many times people will endeavor to say things to God or do things for God, or even sometimes try to bargain with God, when they know that they are in line for and fully deserving of God’s judgment for some sin or offense. Consider that a certain someone had absolutely no fear of God when he initially sinned against Him. However, now that he has done the wrong, now that he has trespassed or overstepped God’s boundary, his guilt fills him with panic and dread. That is when such a fellow frequently begins to think about building an altar of some kind unto the Lord. But that was not Noah’s reason for building his altar. And how do we know that? Because in our text Noah has just been delivered through the judgment of the Flood. That’s why. These verses we’ve just read come right after Noah and his family and the animals have safely left the Ark. Therefore, Noah is not here thinking about avoiding or stopping God’s judgment. It’s too late for that, my friends. God’s judgment on lost mankind had already come in the form of a worldwide Flood. Millions had already perished.

Second, we might be tempted to build an altar and offer sacrifices for the purpose of securing God’s grace, somehow purchasing His favor. I mean, there comes a time in your life when you realize that you’re not going to live forever. Something has happened to you to let you know beyond any shadow of doubt that you will not escape an unpleasant consequence, or perhaps the sudden realization you will not escape death. Perhaps a friend passed. Maybe a coworker who you thought was in better shape than you had a heart attack and suddenly died. Or maybe you were nearly killed by a drunk driver on the freeway. Perhaps you are getting old and you realize that your vast resources, accumulated wealth, and strong constitution, will do you no good in eternity. So what do you do? You build an altar of some kind to God. Maybe it isn’t a pile of rocks to sacrifice animals on. Perhaps it’s more sophisticated than that. Maybe it’s a great foundation that you establish for the purpose of doing good and securing God’s favor, like the Ford Foundation, like the Carnegie Foundation, like the Beckman Foundation, like the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital Foundation. Or maybe you don’t have a great deal of money. So you start helping little old ladies across the street. You start attending church services in your old age. And all of these things are fine, so long as you are not doing such things to bribe God, to convince Him how deserving you are of heaven. Remember, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isaiah 64.6. Noah did not build his altar to secure God’s grace. How do I know that? Two reasons: First, Noah had already found grace in the eyes of the LORD, according to Genesis 6.8, before the Flood. And, second, the price of grace is far too high for any mortal to be able to afford. You can’t do anything to merit God’s salvation. Amen? “Not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2.9. It is true that grace does have to be paid for. But it cannot be paid for by anyone who needs it. Whatever grace God sends your way is grace that was paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, we might be tempted to build an altar of some kind and offer sacrifices of some type for the purpose of obeying God. Hey, I think that obeying God is wonderful. I am of the opinion that obeying God is one of the most wonderful ways possible of showing God that you love Him.[3] But there is nothing in God’s Word that would indicate that God ever told Noah to build an altar to demonstrate obedience. Remember that Noah’s great demonstration of obedience to God took place when he built the Ark.

Fourth, we might be tempted to build an altar and offer sacrifices for the purpose of obtaining blessings. Isn’t it amazing how many people begin to build their own self-styled “altar” to God when they want something? A guy wants a promotion, so he begins to build that “altar” and offer up those sacrifices. She wants to have a baby so she builds that “altar” and begins to offer up those sacrifices. A soldier in a fire fight wants to survive and make it home alive so he hurriedly fabricates his “altar” and rapidly offers up sacrifices. Shortly after my conversion I observed a fellow, a very infrequent church attender married to one of the church women, working to get someone’s car started while I looked on. It was a windy, chilly day. When the wrench slipped and he banged his knuckles, it had to really hurt. Interesting to me was his reaction, wherein he held up his fist with really skinned knuckles and said, “I give my knuckles to you, God.” He was actually offering up his busted knuckles beside that automotive “altar” to God. He wanted God to bless him for skinned knuckles. But notice what happens when someone who offers up his offering on whatever “altar” he has constructed or connived actually gets what he wants? She’s got her man, so she can stop with the “altar” stuff. He has his new job, or car, or house, or wife, or is safely home, so he doesn’t need God any more. He has put on his display in front of the new church member, but you won’t see him worshiping on Sundays for the next six months. Consider Noah. Is there any indication that Noah was building and using his altar for that kind of reason, to obtain blessings? Notice that there is no record of him here asking for anything. So, it doesn’t appear that obtaining blessing is what he had in mind.

Fifth, we might be tempted to build an “altar” and offer sacrifices for the purpose of demonstrating faith. Ever seen the gyrations that people will go through to demonstrate their so-called faith? It’s absolutely amazing what some folks will do to put on what they think is a show of faith. It’s as though some people are of the opinion that faith in God means to climb as far out on a limb as you possibly can and then saw it off behind you, trusting God to hold you up while the tree behind you falls down. Now, I’ll grant you that God has in the past intervened and held in abeyance His Own laws of nature in demonstration of great miracles, but you and I have no right to presume that of God. Noah did not build and use his altar to demonstrate his faith in God. I know this for two reasons: First, it isn’t faith unless and until God chooses the time and the place in which you are to trust Him, not you. Second, Hebrews 11.7 tells us what was Noah’s great demonstration of faith. It was the building of the Ark:

 

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”

 

 

Now, THE REASONS WHY NOAH BUILT THE ALTAR AND USED IT TO OFFER SACRIFICES TO GOD

 

Remember, we are not specifically told why Noah did what he did. So I will make several suggestions and then you can decide what reason or reasons you think is/are most likely the reason(s) Noah did build his altar:

First, I think Noah might have built and used that altar because he wanted to honor God.

 

Proverbs 3.9 advises us to “Honor the LORD with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase.”

 

Notice that Noah had just left the Ark a short while before. According to the Genesis record he had seven pairs of clean animals of every species and one pair of unclean animals.[4] Perhaps Noah recognized that these critters would have a difficult time adjusting to the new climatic conditions that existed after the Flood and the disappearance of the protective vapor canopy that had covered the earth since creation’s day. Nevertheless, he still took one each of his most prized animals, the ones that were clean, the ones that he would eat for food, and he slew the animals and sacrificed them an offering to God. With this act Noah honored God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the “altars” that we build are not merely to stay judgment, not merely to secure grace, not merely to do what we are told, not merely to obtain blessings, not merely to demonstrate faith for some reason . . . but so that we might simply honor God?

Second, I think Noah built that altar and used it because he wanted to glorify God. You already know, to glorify God is to lift Him up, to exalt Him, and to humble yourself. And when a man builds an “altar” and sacrifices, who he builds that “altar” to, and who he sacrifices to, is properly acknowledged to be bigger than he is, wiser than he is, more powerful than he is, and more worthy of adoration and praise than he is. The lesser gives to the greater. We might ask, could Noah have glorified God in another way? Sure he could have. But just think of the impact on his wife, and sons, and daughters-in-law, to glorify God in this way. Building his altar was hard work. It took time, time that he might have used to construct a home for shelter in a time of storm. But he built an altar and gave back to God a portion of the provision that God had given to him. This whole episode reminds me of King David’s purchase of Ornan’s threshing floor on Mount Moriah, the future site of the Temple. When David asked for the price of the threshing floor Ornan told him he would give it to him without charge. David refused, indicating that he would not give God offerings which cost him nothing.[5] This altar and the sacrifices he offered on it were costly to Noah. But in that cost of time, effort, and valuables, this man of God who had been through so much with God for so long honored his Lord, his Master, his God.

Finally, I think that Noah built and used that altar because he wanted to thank God. How many of us forget to thank God? How many of us are spared, or are healed, or are promoted, or whatever, and end up not thanking God? As well, how often do we thank God for blessings we do not notice? Noah had so much to be thankful for. Think about it. Of all the people who had been alive with him, including his friends, relatives, and loved ones, only he, his wife, his sons, and their wives were spared. The Flood was at one and the same time a great catastrophe for some and a great deliverance for others. With millions having good reason to scream and howl for the punishment of their sins that had come upon them, there was one man who was likewise a sinner but who had found grace in the eyes of the LORD who was delivered. Was Noah delivered because he was good? No. Was he delivered because he was a great man? No. Noah was delivered because God had saved his wretched soul prior to the Flood when he found grace in the eyes of the LORD.[6] Deliverance through the Flood was another blessing. But surely the greatest, of a long list of blessings and triumphs that God had brought about in his life, was the salvation of his soul. So Noah didn’t build his altar for what he might get, but for what he had already been given. This was not an altar that looked forward. This was an altar that looked back. And as that sweet savor of Noah’s sacrifice rose heavenward and found its way into the nostrils of God, what God smelled from Noah’s altar was “Thank you, Father.”

 

My friend, have you built a Noah altar? Can you build a Noah altar? Remembering that Noah was a child of God, that he had found grace in the eyes of the LORD, that he was a saved man, he could build such an altar as he did. And if you know Christ as your savior you, too, can build (so to speak) such an altar of thanksgiving to God, an altar of glory to God, and an altar of honor to God. But do you? That’s the question for believers. Do you? Do you build altars to stay judgment when you do wrong, but not when you are delivered to show your gratitude? You build to obtain blessings and demonstrate faith, but forget the altar of thanks when you have your blessings and faith’s reward? May God help us because we are such an ungrateful people at times. Ungrateful for our salvation. Ungrateful for our family. Ungrateful for this wonderful church. Ungrateful for God’s provision of our jobs. Ingratitude for the Savior is both common and appalling. Christian? Be a Noah. Build an altar of thanks to God. Not a physical altar, mind you. But a place in your heart where is reserved a place of thanksgiving to honor the LORD.

My unsaved friend, you can’t build an altar like Noah. You can build one, but it would be to stay judgment, it would be to secure grace, a means of earning your way to heaven. But those kinds of “altars” don’t work with God. You can’t buy salvation and you can’t stay judgment. No, if you want to build an altar like Noah then you have to be like Noah. You have to find grace in the eyes of the LORD. Such grace only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. I urge you to consider the claims of Jesus Christ in the Bible. He claims He can forgive sins. He claims He is life. He claims He is the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. He insists He is all you will ever need for the forgiveness of your sins and your soul’s preparation for eternity. He claims He is your access to God.

Will I give an invitation at this time? No. My entire sermon is an invitation to trust Christ, to come to Him for salvation full and free, and to come before Him to honor God the Father with gratitude and thanksgiving. Do I not urge folks to come to “an old fashioned altar”? My friends, there is no such thing in the Bible as an “old fashioned altar” in a church house. Are you concerned that you do not know how to build an altar? Not to worry. In Hebrews 13.10 it is declared, “We have an altar,” but it is not a physical one, either made of stone or steps leading to a platform. Our altar is the Lord Jesus Christ, and most particularly His sacrifice on our behalf on the cross of Calvary. He is actually the only altar any Christian needs, and He is a sufficient altar for anyone’s sins to be forgiven through faith in Christ.



[1] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), pages 258-259.

[2] J. Edwin Hartill, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1947), pages 70-72.

[3] 2 John 6

[4] Genesis 6.19; 7.2

[5] 1 Chronicles 21.24

[6] Genesis 6.8


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org