Let’s read the passage that you’re referring to and see what we can learn from it. “Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem…then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there HE BUILT AN ALTAR TO THE LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there HE BUILT AN ALTAR TO THE LORD AND CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD” (Genesis 12:6-8…NKJV). After the Lord blessed Abram with such a wonderful promise of his descendants inheriting the land, Abram’s heart was immediately moved to “build an altar to the LORD.” This took place at Shechem. Then Abram moved near Bethel and Ai and once again he “built an altar to the LORD.” But here it is added that Abram “called on the name of the LORD.” We see these words throughout scripture (see Genesis 4:26; Romans 10:13; 1st Corinthians 1:2 and 2nd Timothy 2:22) and they always speak of COMMUNION (with God) and WORSHIP (of God). Thus the ALTAR is the PLACE where believers pray to God and worship Him.

There is another very important thing about the altar that isn’t mentioned in what we just read. Whenever an altar was built (for worshiping God), there was always a SACRIFICE OFFERED up to God. We see this in the very first mention of an altar in Scripture: “Then Noah BUILT AN ALTAR TO THE LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and OFFERED BURNT OFFERINGS ON THE ALTAR” (Genesis 8:20). The next verse tells us that in this offering “the LORD smelled a soothing aroma,” which means that this sacrifice was not only “acceptable to God,” but it was very precious. Why was an animal sacrifice precious to God? Ah, because every animal that was sacrificed to God looked on to the ultimate sacrifice of His Son, who would be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). I personally believe that Abram also offered a sacrifice to God at both Shechem and Bethel, for in every other passage of Scripture where there is an ALTAR there is also a SACRIFICE OFFERED.

Perhaps the clearest picture we get of this truth is found in Abraham’s building another altar in Genesis chapter 22. We are told in verse 2 that God told Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and OFFER HIM THERE AS A BURNT OFFERING on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Abraham obeyed immediately by rising early the next day and taking Isaac and wood for the burnt offering (verse 3). And it is most instructive to see what Abraham told two young men that were with them once they reached Moriah, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and WORSHIP.” In Abraham’s mind he was not only obeying God’s command to offer his only son; he was going to WORSHIP GOD. And thus we read in verse 9, “Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham BUILT AN ALTAR THERE and placed the wood in order; and he BOUND HIS SON ISAAC AND LAID HIM ON THE ALTAR.” Oh, how great was Abraham’s love for God that he was willing to offer his only son in obedience to God and as an act of WORSHIP! We know that he even “stretched out his hand” with a knife to slay him but God then said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (verse 12). Abraham’s ALTAR and his OFFERING are clearly a foreshadowing of the CROSS and the SACRIFICE of God’s only begotten Son, for it was at Calvary’s cross that God “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”

I will end this short meditation by encouraging you to read Hebrews 13:10-16, where we read of the “Christian’s ALTAR” (verse 10) where we are privileged to “WORSHIP God” by offering “the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (verse 15). Our ALTAR is CHRIST and it would include the thought of the SACRIFICE He made on the cross. We gather to Him alone (verse 13 with Matthew 18:20) and when we are gathered to Christ we are there to WORSHIP GOD by offering up praise. And what does our praise consist of? We praise God for His Son; for who He is, and for what He has done for us on the cross. Just as animals were bound and sacrificed on an altar, Christ was nailed to the cross and offered Himself as a “sacrifice for sin” (Hebrew 9:26). We don’t offer up “animal sacrifices” like they did in the Old Testament; we offer up Christ to the Father by praising Him for the gift of His Son and the work He accomplished for us when He “loved us and gave Himself for us” (Eph. 5:2).  (403.3)  (DO)