The Tent And The Altar

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Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:6-8).

The terebinth tree of Moreh was a landmark that was probably used in some kind of pagan worship. The name “Moreh” means teacher or soothsayer. It is interesting to note that God promised Abraham the land of the Canaanites at the very place they worshiped a false god. As the following verses reveal, like Abraham, we are in this world but not of it. Despite this fact, we who are believers are blessed anyway:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10: 16).

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over (Psalm 23:5).

It is interesting to note that Abraham lived in a tent while the Canaanites lived in cities. To our way of thinking, this may seem odd. We have to remember- Abraham prospered regardless. His life shows us that two things are necessary for us to live as Christians in this world- the tent and the altar.

Hebrews 11:9 says, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.” Dwelling in a tent was- first of all- an expression of his faith. The tent also provided separation from the Canaanites. As God’s people we must also separate ourselves from the world. The Apostle Paul spoke to this reality in the following verses:

Therefore, Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you (II Corinthians 6:17).

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that we are to avoid unbelievers. We can’t be witnesses to them if we isolate ourselves from them. However, we are to separate from the ways of the world that are in direct conflict with how God wants us to live. Abraham’s tent symbolized separation from the ways of the world- the same separation that we need as Christians in this modern world. Now, we will look at the altar.

Abraham built altars where he could separate himself to God in the middle of the pagan society around him. Remember: the tent was for separation from the world and the altar was for separation to God. If we are to live holy lives in this world, the altar is necessary because we can do nothing without God’s help. Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” The more we stay in prayer and worship, the closer we are to God and the farther we are from the ways of the world.

Within the simple concepts of the “tent’ and the “altar” is the key to true fulfillment as Christians. However, these concepts need the correct balance.

Legalism concentrates on the “tent”. It stresses what we have to separate from, but there is no joy in it. A more liberal view of Christianity concentrates on the “altar”. This view tends to concentrate on prayer and Bible study without separating from sin and the world. In truth, we need the “tent” and the “altar” in order to live the balanced Christian life that God wants us to live.

Dave Snyder is an Ordained Bishop with the Church of God – Cleveland, Tennessee. Before entering the ministry on a full-time basis, he was a school teacher. He also coached middle school basketball for eight years.

Dave and his wife, Sara, have two children  — Craig and Karen. They also have one ten year old granddaughter  — Breanna. 

Dave and Sara pastored in West Virginia for thirty-six years. Sara is now retired from the banking industry, and Dave is retired from pastoring. However, Dave currently serves as prison Chaplain for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

Writing essays, articles, and devotionals is a real passion for Dave. He also enjoys playing musical instruments and singing.

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