IBL02: Second Commandment (Craig Press)

The Altar and Capital Punishment


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:01 Exodus 27 verses 1 through 8, the altar. “And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits. And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass. And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:43 And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brasen rings in the four corners thereof. And thou shalt put it under the compass of the altar beneath, that the net may be even to the midst of the altar. And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with brass. And the staves shall be put into the rings, and the staves shall be upon the two sides of the altar, to bear it. Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it was shewed thee in the mount, so shall they make it.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:26 We have in this passage the directions for the construction of the altar. And then in passage after passage, we have prescriptions, laws, with respect to the sacrifices of the altar. Obviously, the altar and sacrifice are of central importance in Scripture because there are whole segments of the law given, chapter after chapter, to an analysis of the details of the regulations governing the altar and sacrifice. It is important for us therefore, in study Biblical law, to understand the meaning of the altar.

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:17 First of all, the altar clearly sets forth the fact of atonement. Of the God-provided sacrifice. The animals that were offered on the altar typified Christ, whom Saint John declared to be, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” And Revelation declares that, “Jesus Christ is He who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” Those who came to the altar came believing that God’s word was true, that God had provided in the altar a place of sacrifice so that they who are under sentence of death for their sins found atonement and new life. Found salvation from their sins.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:14 And as Saint Paul, in writing to Timothy, summarized the significance of it. He declared, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man. The man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Jesus Christ Himself spoke of His life in these terms: that He had come to give His life a ransom for many. And the cross was His altar, and He was the great high priest as well as the sacrificial lamb. The altar, therefore, signifies Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Thus far we are speaking in terms of all evangelical believers affirm and understand. But unfortunately, too often the church stops at this point in its interpretation of the altar. But the altar has a tremendous significance, not only in terms of the church, but in terms of the state and all of life. So that we must say second, with respect to the meaning of the altar, the altar sets forth the law and the justice of the law.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:55 Why was the altar necessary? Why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to die upon the cross, as the fulfillment of all the types which the animal sacrifices on the altar typified? The reason clearly, in terms of Scripture, was this: “That man, having sinned, being guilty of treason against God, is under sentence of death.” And there is no escape for him from this sentence. That God has provided the vicarious sacrifice, the substitute, Jesus Christ, who came and both kept the law perfectly, and also as our substitute, our representative, went to the cross and there gave His life as a ransom for His elect people so that very clearly the altar signifies the law of God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:12 The absolute claim of the law, the absolute requirements of justice are upheld by the altar and the cross. If we deny the fact of the absolute and continuing claim of the law, we are denying the cross. The blood of the altar, therefore, through the centuries, was a grim and sustained reminder of the inflexible and demanding nature of the law that the justice of God must be fulfilled. So the second meaning of the altar is that it sets forth the demand of the law. The unwavering, the inflexible justice of the law.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:20 The third meaning of the altar is a very obvious one once we recognize it. The altar sets forth the fact that basic to the law is capital punishment. If God considers the law so important that He could not set it aside for us, but had to fulfill the requirement of the law, capital punishment against all sinners, by the death of His only begotten Son, how then can any man dare to set aside capital punishment.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:08 Now, very commonly, people do not, when they study the 10 Commandments, discuss capital punishment until they come to the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Certainly it is involved in that commandment, but it is wrong to limit it to that commandment because its foundation is in the second. Thou shalt no make unto thee any graven image. Man cannot provide his own way of approach to God, which is a graven image, which is a man-made way of salvation. The God-ordained way is the altar, the second commandment tells us, and the altar declares capital punishment against man for his treason, for his rebellion against God. That everything violation of God’s law must be atoned for.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:06 And if we deny capital punishment, we are saying that Christ died in vain. That there was an easy way of dealing with capital offenses, and that God didn’t know better and Christ didn’t know better, when the penalty of capital punishment upon us was assumed by Jesus Christ. Capital punishment is either basic to the law or else the altar was a horrible and bloody mistake and Christ’s cross was indeed then foolishness. But the altar cannot be bypassed, and the death penalty cannot be bypassed.

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:03 Indeed, we are told in the law in Numbers 35:31: “Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death,” that is first-degree murder, “or any capital offense. But he shall surely be put to death.” In other words, in any capital offense, the law declared there can be no pardon. Now what does the law say about capital punishment? Because the altar affirms it. Now what are the capital offenses according to the law?

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:52 It must be inflicted, the law declares, for murder. Not accidental killings, which are classified as manslaughter, but for murder. Again, we are told that it must be inflicted for incest, for bestiality, for sodomy or homosexuality, for the rape of a betrothed virgin, for bearing false witness in a trial where the offense was a capital offense. At this point, it is important to point out that the law provided that in any case, whatever the penalty was against the accused person, the person who bore false witness had to assume that penalty, so that if, let us say, restitution of a thousand dollars were at stake and a man gave false testimony, then he was fined a thousand dollars. If the penalty would’ve been death, the man who gave false witness died.

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:15 Again, capital punishment is required by the law for kidnapping, for witchcraft, for offering human sacrifice, for striking or cursing father or mother, for incorrigible juvenile delinquents, which meant of course, habitual criminals also. For blasphemy, for prophesying falsely or propagating false doctrine, for sacrificing to false gods and a few other grounds, but most significantly of the others, the provision or the death penalty for those who’ve created conditions of lawlessness and a breakdown of law and order. In other words, student rioters today and civil rights revolutionists would, in terms of the law, be guilty of death. It constitutes revolutionary activity against law and order. An attempt to destroy it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:40 This then, is the law in respect to capital punishment. This law is very clearly grounded in the fact of the altar, in the fact of the death penalty, which was required by God against us and assumed by Jesus Christ. Sin is treason to God. There can be no remission of the penalty and Jesus Christ assumed it. And He did not come to set the law aside, He declared, but to fulfill it. To establish it. Not one jot nor tittle was to pass away.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:28 Thus, the third meaning of the altar is very clearly that it affirms the death penalty. Capital punishment.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:42 But the fourth meaning of the altar is equally significant. The altar is a decoration of life because it witnesses to death. Our life rests in the death of Jesus Christ. By His atoning sacrifice we are new creatures, we have been saved from the penalty of death and we have been given new life. Moreover, the altar, because it witnesses not only to the sacrifice of Christ, but to the death penalty, is a witness to life because it declares that our life’s safety is hedged in and walled about by the fact of capital punishment.

R.J. Rushdoony: 15:46 By the fact that evildoers must be punished, must perish. So that it guarantees life to us. By decreeing death to those who strike against God’s law and our safety. If God’s law is despised, if capital punishment is set aside, this Scripture declares, “Then the land is defiled. Therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” The Godly exercise of capital punishment, therefore, cleanses the land of evil and protects the righteous.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:40 How fearful, therefore, the judgment overtaking the world now. When we realize how extensively God’s law is set aside. Recently, some murderers were on sentence of death in Rhodesia. They were vicious and degenerate murderers. They called themselves Freedom Fighters, but they indulged in unspeakable crimes and torture and murder of innocents, not only those who were fighting against them. They were sentenced to death. And what happened? Virtually every Protestant religious leader, the Pope, heads of nations, including Queen Elizabeth, sent letters to Rhodesia beseeching that the lives of these men be spared.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:47 “The land is defiled,” God says. “Therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” To deny the death penalty is to insist on life for the evil. It means that the evil man is given the right to kill, to kidnap, to rape, to violate law and order. And his life is guaranteed against death, but the life of his victims past, present and future, are not guaranteed against death.

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:38 Many people speak about the fact that we should believe, as Christians, in unconditional love. This past week I had a letter from a Lutheran minister who felt that I was apparently misleading people because I denied the doctrine of unconditional love. And so his thesis was I was leading people astray. But of course, he is deluding himself if he believes that unconditional love is possible, or he is a liar, because unconditional love and mercy are impossible. If I am loving and merciful to a murderer, I am merciless and unloving towards his victims. If I am loving and merciful to a criminal who should be condemned, then I am merciless to those whom he robs, rapes and and defrauds.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:54 Every act of love immediately creates a difference. There is no such thing as unconditional love. These people are saying not that they believe in unconditional love, but that they believe very definitely in a love for the evil. God declares, as He enforces the law of the altar, ” Death, ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are. For blood, it defileth the land and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit wherein I dwell. For I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.” This comes from Deuteronomy 35 versus 33 and 34.

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:11 All of Leviticus 26 and many another chapter declares the consequences when the fact of the altar, atonement and the death penalty are set aside. It is especially fearful when Christians deny the altar in its full meaning. As leaders today in church and state are denying it, for as Saint Paul declared: “For if we sin willfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:11 This then, is the meaning of the altar. It sets forth the fact that God’s judgment against evil is death. And men find either refuge in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice and then, in that new life, uphold the law or they despise the law and incur upon themselves the full weight of the judgment of God. Let us pray.

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:58 Our Lord and our God, we give thanks unto thee that through Jesus Christ we have atonement, newness of life, and the blessed assurance of Thy protecting care in time and eternity. We pray, our Father, that in terms of this, Thy work, we may stand fast, rejoicing in Thy law, rejoicing, oh Lord, that thine altar provides for death against all iniquity and that Thou wilt purge this land and the world of its iniquity and Thou wilt establish Thy righteousness in and through Jesus Christ, Thy Son. Our Savior. And so, our Father, teach us day by day to walk in the confidence of the altar of Jesus Christ, is our pledge and security of life and the certainty of law and the certainty of judgment and death upon evildoers. Our God, we thank thee. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder