Bible Question:

I would like to know your opinion on Exodus 20:24. If you have any spiritual insight on this scripture.

Bible Answer:

Exodus 20:24 sits in the middle of a statement that Moses gives to Israel. In this section about the altar, God tells Moses to warn the Israelites to not make other “gods” – “gods” of silver or gold” – and worship them.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. And if you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. ‘And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.'” (NASB) Exodus 20:22-26

But what should the Israelites do if if they want to worship God? God explains that they are to worship Him by sacrificing burnt and peace offerings – sheep and oxen – to Him. God excludes the sacrifice of children and women – a custom that sometimes occurred among the pagans (Deut. 12:31, 2 Kings 17:31). God promises to bless them at the time and place they offer animal sacrifices. They do not gain favor from God by making images out of gold and silver and/or by human sacrifice. The altar they were to make for the animal sacrifices was to be made from dirt or uncut stone. This prevented them from trying to make an “attractive” or “spiritual” altar. God does not want any images, shapes or moldings made of Himself or placed on an altar.

Substitutes For Him

Why did God not permit them to decorate the altar with cut stone? The altar is as close to spiritual worship as you can get. Have you ever wondered why God did not permit an idol of Himself? What would be wrong with worshiping an image of Himself such as a picture of Jesus? I believe the answer is that they would have worshiped or “honored” the altar or the idol of metal just as Israel did with Moses’ bronze serpent hundreds of years later.

He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. (NASB) 2 Kings 18:4

Christians find it very easy to become totally committed to ministry and activities surrounding worship and not be totally devoted to Jesus. We miss Jesus and latch onto “spiritual things.” We find that ministry can often be very satisfying. It can replace God in life. The same would be true of altars and idols even of the true and living God. God wants a warm, heart relationship – not a cold one!

Surprising Statement

The final statement God makes is amazing. They were not to walk on the altar. Since they wore robes and not pants in those days, their nakedness would be visible from a ground view. Walking on the altar was prohibited. This tells us something about God’s view of public nudity, revealing dress, pornography, and sex in public, for example. There is a fine line between sexuality and holiness. I suspect that we often violate that boundary and miss His blessing on us.


We are very easily distracted by the things of this world. We substitute so much for God. Have you ever sung a worship song only to discover that you were really worshiping your worship? Or, maybe you discovered that you are worshiping the “sacred cows” of organization, the “correct form of prayer,” or the “funny, compassionate, gifted pastor,” for example? Maybe your ministry has become an attractive “altar.” Or maybe you worship your own voice? We so easily substitute “spiritual things” for God. God wants our everything! The dirt and the ugly stone are reminders that our ministry, our gifts, our worship are unimportant to Him unless He has our hearts. He was happy with dirt and ugly stone. It seems that we are not happy with dirt and ugly stone. We need to look at our hearts! Some would not go to church unless their friends were there or the church was “beautiful and comfortable.” Jesus does not care about our precious gems and metals. He wants your heart. He wants a loving friend – you!