Prior to delivering Israel from the menacing Midianites, the Lord instructed Gideon to tear down his father's pagan altar.
In its stead, the prophet was told to build an altar to the Lord God. This was to be done "in the proper arrangement" (Judges 6.26 — "in the orderly manner," ASV). What does this expression mean?
Hebrew altars belonged to two classes:
(1) priestly altars, on which only those of the priestly order were permitted to sacrifice;
(2) common altars, on which non-priests could worship Jehovah (cf. Deut. 16.21; 27.1-7), which were generally permitted at least until the building of the temple (cf. Deut. 12.5-7, 12-14; Lev. 17.2-4).
Priestly altars were built according to the most exacting manner. God had given specifications for the materials to be used, the dimensions of the altar itself, the location of each altar, as well as their aesthetic design (cf. Ex. 27.1-8; 30.1-10; 38.1-7). They were thus constructed according to a rigid "pattern" which could not be modified (Ex. 25.9; Josh. 22.28-29). Their external appearance was accordingly fixed.
But since Gideon was not of the priestly tribe (i.e., Levi, cf. Num. 3.5-13; Heb. 7.11, 14), but of Manasseh (Judges 6.11; Josh. 17.1-2), he was not authorized to sacrifice on a priestly altar.
Hence, the altar the Lord had commissioned him to build was of the common variety. Several others sacrificed on such altars with divine approval, including the men of Beth-Shemesh (1 Sam. 6.14-15), David (2 Sam. 6.13, 17), and Elijah (1 Kngs. 18.30ff).
Common altars were not as exacting as their priestly counterparts. Nevertheless, there were a few requirements surrounding their construction. It is to these requirements that Judges 6.26 refers (viz., the proper arrangement).
If the common people of Israel were of a mind to erect an altar to Jehovah, they were required to build it as follows:
(1) the common altar may be made of earth (Ex. 20.24) or stones; if stones, they were to be uncut, untouched by human craftsmanship (v. 25), unlike priestly altars, which often were fashioned with horns and other God-designed carvings;
(2) the common altar may not have steps to avoid exposing the common man's nakedness (Ex. 20.26; see also Deut. 27.1-7), a provision not necessary for the priests, whose sacerdotal garments concealed their nakedness from every vantage-point (Ex. 28.42-43; cf. Eze. 43.17);
(3) no idolatrous structure was permitted nearby (Deut. 16.21-22).
As these altars were to be left uncut, they could take any external form. Some were made of a single rock (Jgs. 13.19), or a large stone (1 Sam. 14.33-35); Elijah's altar consisted of twelve stones (1 Kgs. 18.31f).
Unfortunately, the design of Gideon's altar is not disclosed, though, as the text mentions, he made it according to "the proper arrangement" indicated above.
This passage reminds us that God alone defines "the proper arrangement" of worship.
The building of these altars with sacred specifications taught God's people to honor him on his terms; that true worship humbly conforms to divine directives. Had Gideon not built the altar "in the proper arrangement," he would not have honored God, despite good intentions, for those who worship God in a manner devised of their own hearts engage in spiritual "harlotry" against him (Num. 15.39-40).
In short, the manner of one's worship is as important as the motive of one's heart.
Like Gideon, God has instructed us to tear down altars dedicated to falsehood and sin (Col. 3.5-8; 1 Thess. 1.9, etc.) and, instead, to build an altar to "worship God" (Rev. 22.9) and "him only" (Lk. 4.8).
However, when Christians worship God, we do not use altars made of earth or stone, for our altar is spiritual in nature (Heb. 13.10-16). Yet, also like Gideon, our worship too must be performed "in the proper arrangement."
Jesus informs us that God is seeking "true worshippers" who will "worship him in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4.24). Generally speaking, the "proper arrangement" of Christian worship thus requires the right attitude (in spirit) and the right activity (truth). Inasmuch as God's word is truth (Jn. 17.17), Jesus therefore requires that our worship must comply with his divine commandments — his sacred word (cf. Jn. 14.15).
The "proper arrangement" of Christian worship involves: praying (Phil. 4.6); singing (Col. 3.16); preaching (Acts 20.7); giving to the collection of the church (1 Cor. 16.1-2); and the communion (Mt. 26.26-29), the last two of which occurred on the first day of every week (i.e., Sunday).
Unfortunately, many who worship God today are not content to conform to his plan. To them, New Testament worship is "outdated" or "boring;" instead, they prefer to amplify their worship with more sensational endeavors. Additions must be made to God-given practices lacking entertainment value (e.g., the music), and subtractions to things they regard as stale or uninteresting (e.g., weekly communion, sound Bible preaching, etc.). God's plan for Christian worship must be updated and enhanced to be more palatable to modern sensibilities.
In short, God is no longer to be pleased; rather, modern man has now become the object of his own worship and pleasure (cf. Gal. 1.10).
How can such worship-innovators be pleasing to God? Is that really a proper attitude to have when worshipping the Almighty? Hardly.
No one shows respect for God by changing his God's own plan for acceptable Christian worship (cf. Mt. 15.8-9; Col. 2.23).
Those who fabricate their own acts of worship are acting self-righteously and are expressing their contempt for the righteous will of God (cf. Rm. 10.3; Lev. 26.15; 1 Thess. 4.1-2, 8).
Conversely, by worshipping exactly as the Lord has directed — "in the proper arrangement" — we demonstrate not only a sincere heart, molded by humility and love, but a recognition that God, not man, is the sovereign ruler of all, who alone possesses the prerogative to determine what form of worship is pleasing to him.
"...keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (1 Jn. 3.22)
"May the God of peace...make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well pleasing in his sight..." (Heb. 13.20-21).
Let us worship according to God's plan, in the proper arrangement, and we, like Gideon, will then — and only then — find ourselves pleasing the Lord indeed.