The law about altars (Ex 20:22-20:26)

“Yahweh said to Moses.  ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites.  You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven.  You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.  You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well being, your sheep and your oxen.  In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.  But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones.  For if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.   You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’”

Having the Ten Commandments with its generic prescriptions, it now became necessary to be more specific.  Thus these laws presume a settled life style.  The first area is about the worship cultic laws.  Others will include civic and penal laws.  One can find the influence of Babylonian laws also.  These laws or codes, probably from the Elohist tradition, come from God via Moses, and are therefore important.  God is proud and is clearly in heaven, the above.  Therefore, there will be no more gods of silver or gold.  However, there can be altars of earth for sacrifices. There are restrictions about this simple altar. You cannot build a stone altar of hewn stones because a chisel would profane it.  Then there is the strange comment about no steps to the altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed.  The assumption was that no underwear was worn under the priestly garments.

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