“If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use.”
I read this verse recently in Exodus and I wondered why God made that stipulation. Everything God asked of His people was for a reason. It meant something. I wondered if there was a connection to Daniel 2 where it describes a stone, “not cut by human hands,” that strikes the statue in Daniel’s vision. That was not it. I looked it up in another commentary and the answer that I found nearly knocked the wind out of me.
The commentator explained that the altar was to be made from simple stone and dirt for two reasons. The first reason was so that the people who built it could not take ownership of it, as in…”Look at what we have accomplished.” The second reason, and the one that convicted me, was that if they had been allowed to carve, chisel and make these stones ornate and beautiful, the people would have been tempted to worship the altar itself instead of God.
That is what hit me. This is us. God knows our hearts, so easily distracted from Him, so easily seduced into idolatry, even in the very act of worshipping God.
How often do we do this, not even realizing it? We visit a church and asses their music. We are turned off by the poor worship experience, or we are dazzled by the smoke and lights. What are we worshipping? God? Or an experience? God, or a well rehearsed program? God, or beautiful people with beautiful voices?
There is nothing wrong with offering our best worshipful efforts to God. He deserves nothing less than our best. There is nothing wrong with allowing beautiful music to move our hearts and minds toward God. That is what music was created for. But let us not for one second confuse the stones with the sacrifice. Let us never confuse the altar with the atonement. Jesus is infinitely beautiful and worthy to be worshipped whether there is concert quality music or absolute silence. He alone is worthy. He is the beauty, not the altar. The Sacrifice…not the stones.