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5 And there shalt thou build an altar [mizbe'ach] unto the Yahweh thy elohim, an altar [mizbe'ach] of stones [avanim]: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool [barzel] upon them.

Once for all God would have it known at the very outset of Israel's national life how great a fallacy it was to imagine that "the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Acts 17 : 29). He would remind them that God is not the creation of man, but man the creation of God. On the basis of the recognition of that fact alone would God accept man's worship; and it was in brazen defiance of it that Jeroboam the son of Nebat made Israel to sin.

Not even the worship of the heavenly bodies offered specifically in recognition that it was He that made and moved them all would be acceptable to Him (Deut. 4: 19). One representation only would He allow of Himself, one that was necessary for the solemn ritual of the Covenant ratification (Exod. 24 : 4) or other ceremonial occasions such as that when the Law was engraved on stones on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27 : 1-8). This unique object was to be an altar. But even then it was emphatically to be only an adjunct of worship and in no sense an object of worship - "thou shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thine oxen".

And to stress once again with the utmost emphasis that even such a representation of Himself should not be graven in any way by art or man's device, it was specified, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me ... and if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it" (Exod. 20 : 24-25).

That is, its constituent parts were to be God-made not man-made. Finally and even more emphatically, "Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" (verse 26). Those organs which enable man to procreate might be regarded as endowing him with the same creative power as God Himself, a notion akin to the perverted one which formed the basis of the revolting fertility cults of those and later days.

Such cults were abhorrent to the Creator, and no altar of His was to be, even in the most incidental way, profaned by those who ministered at it, as were the altars at which pagan priesthoods ministered (often in the nude) to the fiendish gods of their own devising.

God thus desired both the exclusive worship of His People, and the offering of it in the spiritual way appointed, "for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" - jealous not from pique or petty vindictiveness, as in the case of man; but only in vindication of His absolute Holiness.

Hatred of Him is hatred of His Holiness: since He is Holy, out of consistency He must meet the challenge - which He does by "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me". Jesus himself warned the false teachers of his day of the inexorable character of this law (Matt. 23 : 32-35). But love of Him calls forth in turn His transcendent mercy and willingness to forgive, for He is gracious (Exod. 20: 6; 34: 6-7)ยท

Law and Grace Ch 6

26 Cursed [Arur] be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them [divrei haTorah hazot by doing them]. And all the people [kol HaAm] shall say, Amen [Omein. Gal 3:10].

James's application of this curse is so stringent as to make a man who transgressed one of the commandments an offender against all. His argument is :

"Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all: for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law" (James 2: 10).

Because, therefore, the Mosaic law condemned to death those who should disobey any of the ten commandments, or their engrafted corollaries, and because no man was capable of a spotless obedience (save Christ), they were in their totality a "ministration of death, written and engraven in stones"; and had they continued in force against men, their condemnation would have been inevitable and their salvation impossible.

Law of Moses Ch 3.