“Then Will I Go unto the Altar of God,” New Era, September 2015, 8–9
The Hebrew word for altar comes from a verb meaning “to slaughter for sacrifice.” Another word translated as “altar” in Ezekiel 43 literally means “mountain of God.”
Before Moses, altars were sometimes built on mountains (see Genesis 12:8). When the Israelites received the law of Moses, they were told there would be only one place where people could make acceptable offerings, though it appears there were also exceptions (see Judges 6:24; 1 Samuel 7:9).
Altars had to be made of unhewn stones—meaning stones not cut with human tools—or of earth (see Exodus 20:24–25).
An altar is:
Raised from the earth. As we draw near to God and kneel humbly before Him, He elevates us. And ancient sacrifices were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father” (Moses 5:7), who was “lifted up upon the cross, that [He] might draw all men unto [Him]” (3 Nephi 27:14).
Built in a high and holy place. Today, we go to holy places to make our offerings to the Lord. At the temple we participate in exalting ordinances, and at church we partake of the sacrament.
Built for sacrifice. Adam’s sacrifice pointed his mind to Jesus Christ (see Moses 5:5–8). By going to God’s altar, we forsake the world and “offer a sacrifice … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (D&C 59:8). We thus “observe [our] covenants” and can be “accepted of [the Lord]” (D&C 97:8).
Where offerings or incense were burned. The smoke from burnt offerings rose into the heavens, representing our dedication to God. The incense represented people’s prayers rising up to God (see Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; 8:3–4).