Let the priest, the minister of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? (Joel 2:17)
I remember Sunday afternoons growing up in North Carolina. Every Sunday after church my family would gather along with my aunts, uncles, and cousins at my grandparents’ home. The address was 903 Bickett Blvd. and we commonly referred to their home as simply “903”. Sunday afternoons at “903” would find the children playing in the yard and running down to the creek while the adults assembled on the porch to listen to my grandfather’s stories and reminisce about times past. The porch was the same length as the front of the house and was filled with lawn furniture ranging from gliders to rockers. We frequently brought additional chairs from the kitchen to accommodate the Sunday afternoon crowd. The porch was a gathering place filled with laughter and energy, always bustling with noise and activity.
When I think of an altar, I envision a quiet place of serious reflection and communion with God. A place where the world is closed out and intimate fellowship with God is; chosen rather than voluminous associations. A place where bright lights and loud voices are replaced with the type of lighting that rules out distractions and a hushed silence sets the atmosphere for two-way dialogue with the God of the universe Who is also the Lover of my soul. A place where others do not matter because it’s me and my Father…a special love affair in progress.
Now contrast the image of the porch with the altar scene and we find the preposition “between” connecting two seemingly opposite atmospheres. For our purposes, this sets up the contrast of THE PORCH and THE ALTAR. Let us examine a few aspects of the porch and the altar that make them different and create the need for this preposition “between”.
A Place of Gathering, A Place of Seclusion and Solitude
First, the porch is a place of gathering while the altar is a place of seclusion and solitude. In John 10:23-24 we find Jesus walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch and the Jews gather around him to pose a question about His identity. In Acts 3:11 the lame man that Peter and John ministered to found a crowd of people running to Solomon’s porch to behold the miraculous healing. Acts 5:12 notes the signs and wonders wrought among the people by the apostles came as a result of them being on one accord in Solomon’s porch. In these examples we see the porch as a “happening” place where activity and conversation generate an energy as people come together. Just as the Sunday gathering at “903”, the porch provides the place for people to come together. It’s the setting for things to take place, for God to move, for God’s people to be blessed in the company of others, for spirits to be lifted, for miracles to be witnessed by many.
The altar, on the other hand, is a place to draw away from the crowd. Yes there are large altars in many churches and Sunday after Sunday God’s people fill those altars seeking salvation, prayer, and deliverance. But for our purposes, we’re considering the image of an altar used for intimacy with God. This context is supported scripturally in several symbolic numeric references. Ezekiel 41:22 describes the altar as three cubits high, two cubits long, made of wood, and “before the Lord”. The altar… this quiet place, a secret place of communion with God. We see it right here in the scriptures through the dimensions given. Three cubits high reflects the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. It was two cubits long. The number two is known to represent fellowship or union. Throughout scripture wood is used to symbolize man. So here we see the altar as a place of seclusion and solitude, just you and God. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty – Psalm 91:1. The altar is a very special place because it’s where we share intimate time with the One who loves us unconditionally. No different than a man and woman growing in a special love relationship… there’s a time to enjoy fun with others, but there’s a cherished and protected time when the man and woman spend time alone because they desire and enjoy that intimate, uninterrupted bonding.
If the porch is designed for fellowship with others, then the altar is a place of communion with God… times of refreshing in the presence of God (Acts 3:19).
A Place of Preparation, A Place of Offering
The second contrast we will note is the porch is a place of preparation while the altar is a place of offering. In Ezekiel 40:39 we find tables in the porch of the gate. These tables were used to for slaying the offerings, whether burnt offering or sin offering or trespass offering. The area from the porch to the altar served as a place to prepare sacrifices. Another reference to the porch as a place of preparation is found in I Kings 7:7. Here we find a description of Solomon’s porch located outside the throne of judgment. As people gathered and waited for Solomon to judge the more weighty legal matters, this porch is where the people lingered until it was their turn to be judged. Just as the temple porch was use as a place or waiting and preparation to offer sacrifices, Solomon’s porch was a place of waiting and preparation.
While the porch was the place of preparation or waiting, we see the altar is where the place of offering. The sacrifices prepared on the porch were offered on the altar. Matthew 5:23 speaks of bringing our gifts to the altar, but making sure we have resolved any issues with our brothers and sisters before offering our gift. II Chronicles 35:16 refers to offering burnt offerings upon the altar of the Lord. The altar is the place of giving, the place of sacrifice. The porch is where we prepare the sacrifice. The altar is where we offer the sacrifice unto God.
A Place of Judgment, A Place of Mercy and Grace
The final example allows us to both compare and contrast the porch and altar. We find the porch is generally a place of judgment, but with the right elements present we can find mercy. The altar is generally a place of mercy, but certain factors can turn the place of mercy into a place of judgment. Solomon’s porch was a place where people waited for a determination or judgment…guilty or innocent, appropriate penalty to be applied. This is where human failures were judged. Ezekiel 40:48-49a gives us more insight about the porch. Here we find the porch posts to be five cubits on each side with a breadth of three cubits and the breadth of the porch is eleven cubits. We understand the spiritual significance of certain numbers. Five is the number of grace. Three, as we have already discovered, represents the Trinity. And the number eleven is used to represent human failure and judgment. Well, how do we see the numbers three and five in this equation? Wherever the Trinity (3) exits there is indeed grace (5). When God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Ghost come together they will turn your porch, the place intended for judgment into a place of grace. That which the devil designed to condemn you is met with grace and your place of judgment becomes the launching pad for God’s grace. What the devil brought to destroy you becomes the mechanism through which God elevates you. The devil wants to expose your sin and human failure so others will know and judge you not worthy, but our God says you are worthy through the Blood of Jesus Christ. What should have separated you from the love of God is used to draw you closer to God and you become more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37-39). You see we are conquerors when we don’t allow life’s challenges to cause us to move away from God. We are more than conquerors when we actually use life’s challenges to move us closer to God. It is a choice. Will you walk in judgment or God’s grace. The porch is a place of judgment, the place where the world looks on and waits to see if you will be condemned to damnation or convicted to victory. But God turns your place of judgment into a place or grace.
The altar is designed to be a place of mercy and grace for every person who has a sincere relationship with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 4:16 tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace when we are in need. The purpose of the altar is mercy and grace, not judgment. However, the altar can become a place of judgment. Once the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings were placed upon the altar, they would be consumed if determined to be acceptable to God or they would remain on the altar if it was determined the offering or sacrifice was not acceptable to God. This is the problem that resulted in the first murder. The first brothers on earth experienced jealousy when Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, but Cain’s offering did not please God. The difference in whether your porch is a place of judgment or a place of mercy all depends on the sacrifice you offer unto God on the altar. Is it acceptable? Psalm 51:16-17 tells us He doesn’t desire our physical sacrifices or delight in burnt offerings. What He really wants is our brokenness before Him with a remorseful heart. Now that’s a truly acceptable offering because He can work in that type of soil to produce much fruit for His kingdom.
What is the practical significance of the porch and the altar in our daily lives? We must find proper balance between the porch and the altar if we are going to experience the fullness of God’s power in our lives and the lives of others. We need sufficient time at the altar, time in God’s presence seeking His face and hearing His voice if we want to minister to the crowds waiting on the porch. If we are out of balance and spend too much time on the porch ministering to others, we will be like a person who does not eat enough because we are giving without replenishing what is needed to function effectively in the kingdom of God. We will feel spiritually and even physically depleted. This type of spiritual burnout causes many anointed men and women of God to slowly drift away from their purpose and calling in Christ. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time in private communion with God and never move into a place of serving and ministering to others, we risk spiritual obesity. If we spend all of our time reading God’s Word but fail to obey His Word that tells us to feed His sheep, we will be like a person who eats without exercising properly to use what they have taken into their body. Either condition is not healthy for our spirit man, just as obesity or malnutrition is not conducive for our physical bodies. There is an exchange of power as we flow in perfect rhythm and balance between the porch and the altar. At the altar we are filled with God’s anointing and power needed to see signs, wonders, and miracles as we minister to God’s people on the porch. As we give that anointing away through the porch ministry, God fills us with even more anointing when we meet with Him at our daily altar. It has been said that God give us His anointing when we are flowing in His purpose and calling for our lives and the best way to increase in anointing is to give it away in ministry.
Our prayer for you is that you find God’s perfect balance and walk in His anointing between the porch and the altar.