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02/1998
The Recovery of the Altar
 

In the previous issue, God had brought Abraham to the House of God, Bethel to erect an altar but he did not stay there for long. Let us consider the three tests of Abraham concerning the land of Canaan. Abraham's altar in Gen 12:8 indicates his vital relationship with God. Simply, the altar is representative of our communion and fellowship with God. Do you have an altar? In your home, do you have a "family altar"?

When Abraham neglected his altar, he went farther to the South. Egypt is always spoken of as "down" and it is symbolic of the world. Isaiah 3 1:1 says, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots .... But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!" In the former days, God warned Israel that an alliance with Egypt was really a reliance on the arms of the flesh and would profit them nothing but only failure.

Interestingly, when Abraham left the altar, trouble in the form of famine came. 1 think it is not exaggerating to comment that possibly 70 percent of the failures and trials that Christians experienced in life could be traced back to the broken altar in their lives. Indeed when they moved away from fellowship with God, troubles soon arises.

Abraham's journey towards Egypt was a gradual process. Although he did not move immediately into Egypt, he was in the South (at the border of Egypt) even though he did not move immediately into Egypt. He only moved into Egypt the moment he encountered a famine. Likewise the process of backsliding is also a gradual one. And a backslider never backslides alone; he always takes others with him: Just as Lot was with Abraham when they were on their way to Egypt.

In Egypt, Abraham suffers much shame and humiliation for the Pharaoh had rebuke him openly and send him away. He didn't build any altar in Egypt ~ the place of disobedience. However, in the great mercy of God, He has made provision for every backslider. Eventually, Abraham returned to Bethel. The only remedy for backsliding is to come again to the place of the altar the place of fellowship with God.

The first test of Abraham was concerning the promise of the land. The first trial was to see whether Abraham really want His land. Abraham did not see the preciousness of this land. After his failure in Egypt, Abraham learned one vital lesson: the world has nothing promising to offer to the children of God. A worldly Christian does not have a desire for an altar. The land Canaan is representative of God's perfect will. Don't lay aside the altar for it is the will of God for us to maintain it daily.

Soon after Abraham returned to Canaan, he encountered the second test. Abraham had left Egypt, but Egypt had not left Abraham. Egypt's cattle went with him, and became the occasion for the strife between the brethren. Finally, Abraham and Lot have to go separate ways. Only then did Abraham fully realize the full significance of the call of separation issued in Gen 12: 1. The life in Canaan is a life of separation unto God, which is the pivotal sifting of this second trial.

The third test happened after the rescue of Lot from the four kings. The king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (14:17) Shaveh means "plain" which the king gave a clear-cut plain offer of earthly goods to him. He declined the plain offer. It was a test of worldly ambition to possess worldly riches. Now, Abraham knew that everything on this earth (including his victorious life) belong solely to El-Elyon, the Most High God, Possessor of heaven and the earth. In life, the permanency of our altars reflects the maturing phases of our affecting and devotions for the Lord.

 
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