Altar on the East

The Hebrew word for “east” is mizrach. The Hebrew word for “altar” is mizbeach.

A pun? Perhaps.

The bronze altars in the tabernacle and temple were in the court to the east of the front doorway (the eastern) doorway of the sanctuary. The mizbeach was on the mizrach.

A few associations suggest themselves. East is the direction of sunrise, the beginning of a new day. And each sunrise in the mizrach was greeted with a morning ascension offering on the mizbeach. As the sun ascended from the eastern horizon to heaven, smoke ascended from the altar.

Smoke from the eastern altar tracks the sun, or vice versa. Sunrise is an ascent, an offering in fire; sacrifice is a sunrise.

East is also the direction of exile from Yahweh’s presence. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, and cherubim were placed at the eastern gate to prevent their re-entry. Cain was expelled to a land “east of Eden.” West to east is movement away from Yahweh’s presence; east to west is a procession into His presence.

The sun makes a daily recapitulation of the history of humanity, from the furthest east to the western horizon, from the place of exile into the inner sanctuary. Sacrifice moves in the same direction, as the smoke goes from the eastern altar to the Lord who receives it as a soothing aroma.

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  • scott a

    I wonder if there is something too about the fact that those physically in the church building are liturgically west of east, or, to tie it in with what you have said, back in Eden. If “East of Eden” moving from west to east is fleeing from the Lord, then being in a place where you are on the other side places you back in the Garden.