The tent and the altar - Symbols of our faith

By Lawrence Hirsch, LCJE Coordinator for Australia/New Zealand

The LORD said to Abram, "lech lecha" - "get thee out" of thy country and go to the land I will show you." Our Father Avram was obedient to the voice of the Lord and left his familiar surrounding on a journey of faith - trusting in the Lord his God.

This simple act of obedience is a watershed of human history. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and had been cast out of the Garden of Eden. Now, one man, Avram, later to be called Avraham, obeys God's command and human destiny is changed forever.

As Abraham begins his walk of obedience through the land of promise, he employs two seemingly opposite structures, the tent and the altar, to embody his faith in God.

The Tent
Firstly we must note that a tent is pitched and not built. A tent is temporary, portable and unimpressive, but the tent is essential to Abraham's story and faith. The book of Hebrews says about Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:9-10

Abraham possessed the promises of God but he never saw its fulfilment. He possessed the title deed to the land, but he never gained the inheritance himself. It was only hundreds of years later, under the leadership of Joshua, that Abraham's descendants finally possessed the Land of Promise.

The Altar
In contrast to the tent, which is only pitched, Abraham does build something in the Promised Land. He built an altar as a symbol of worship. The tent is directed earthward, but the altar points to God. The tent is for this temporary age, but the altar for the age to come.

In Jewish evangelism we often don't see the fruit of our labours. We often don't experience the fullness of what we know God has promised. Yet, we are to keep our eyes on the Lord and as visionaries, continue to look to God to fulfil all his good promises his has made to the people of Israel. The tent also reminds us not to hang onto the things of this world too tightly.

The altar, on the other hand, reminds us that the only things that we do on this earth that are eternal has to do with our worship of God. As we continue to share the Gospel with Jewish people worldwide, let us remember these two symbols of faith - the tent and the altar. Let us persevere in our callings and know that each person we lead to the Lord is another stone laid upon the eternal altar of God. Let us continue to look "forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."