WILDERNESS: Leaving a Trail of Altars


Exodus 17:14-16 (NIV)

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”


Moses built an altar. 

I have inquired before on the Daily Text, but when is the last time you built an altar?

Building an altar just may be the greatest act a leader could ever do. It says far more than words ever could.  

What is an altar? We all think we know until we are asked. Here’s the dictionary definition: “A table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.”

Because of the offering of his own body as a sacrifice on the Cross, the entire sacrificial system has been fulfilled, once and for all by Jesus Christ. It is why the altars in our churches are tables or “flat topped blocks” where the Bread and the Wine are offered as signs of the New Covenant made by the Body and Blood of Christ.

So does this obviate the need for us to make altars and sacrifices? I don’t think so. The New Testament seems to envision otherwise. Consider Romans 12:1:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

Our “spirituality” can be all too, well, spiritual. Altars have a way of landing our spirits in the earth. Altars ground us and make the whole concept of “living sacrifice” more than a nice sentiment. The deepest instinct in every human being ever born is the instinct to make an offering of themselves to God. The very essence of sin is anything which causes us to compromise or otherwise withhold the offering of ourselves to God. To make an offering of ourselves to God is what it means to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength—to offer our bodies to him without reserve. There is only one reason we would not do this: We do not trust God.

This is why it is so important to build altars to God on occasions where God has acted or moved mightily in our midst. We need to make immediate response. The combination of God’s intervention and our responsiveness seals trust. Our general sense of gratitude is good but wholly inadequate.

God’s significant work in our lives needs sufficient commemoration. This is the whole point of altars. 

And those altars need to be named. “Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.” The Hebrew words are Yahweh Nissi. Biblically speaking, altars tend to be given a particular name of God which corresponds with the occasion.

When we look back over our lives we need to see a trail of altars. Not only do they serve as the pillars of our autobiography, they become way-finders for those coming in our wake. When we build an altar we leave it behind, yet because we took the time to build it, it gets built in our hearts and we carry it with us forever. They don’t need to be elaborate structures; a pile of rocks will do. It’s the deliberation that counts. In times past I have planted a tree as an act of altar making.

Allow me to ask myself the question I am asking you. When is the last time I built an altar? Honestly, I can’t remember, and it bothers me. As I look back over my life, there are many occasions for which I wish I had built altars. I let myself feel grateful, maybe shared a testimony here and there and quietly moved on. I didn’t do the deeper work of reflecting significantly on how God revealed himself and how an altar might be named in the light of his name.

The Bible is filled with such “naming opportunities” ever in search of the altars of our life and times. The Lord is my provider. The Lord is my healer. The Lord is my peace. The Lord is my joy. The Lord is my light and my salvation. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my strong tower.

Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 

Can we check in with each other about this every so often? I’d like to hear your altar stories. I can see one coming in my life on the near horizon. I’ll let you know. 


Father, reveal to me the deeper wisdom of your will and ways in the wilderness. Would you show me the shape of the altar I might construct in my life at this time? I won’t lament altars missed in the past, but I will look to make up for lost opportunities going forward. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.


Do you have an altar story in your past? Consider sharing it over on our Facebook Group. Even better, share it with your family and friends. Can you begin to visualize the altar coming in your near future?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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