During the time of the patriarchs, altar building happens as a commemorative habit whenever the patriarchs are confronted or comforted by God, regardless of circumstances and place. Noah builds an altar after the flood waters recede (8:20). Abram builds altars to mark God’s faithfulness as he enters Canaan and it marks a place in the land promised to him to which he returns (12:7-8:13:3). Abram builds yet another altar in Hebron (13:18) and one in Moriah (22:9). Abraham’s son Isaac builds an altar in what will become Beersheba (26:23-25). Isaac’s son Jacob builds an altar as he flees his homeland (28:16-22) and another in Shechem upon his return (33:18-20).
Most Old Testament scholars acknowledge that these were altars compiled of rocks upon which an animal would be sacrificed in a way similar to that of neighboring Canaanites. However, what is noteworthy and counter to the surrounding culture is that many patriarchal altars were erected not to evoke a divine encounter but to commemorate such an encounter when God had met someone in a surprising way. The importance of this distinction cannot be overstated. These altars were not erected to get a god’s attention or to try to gain a god’s favor but to mark the site of an encounter with the God who had revealed Himself to humans. To serve or to worship (In Hebrew the work translated either “to worship” or “to serve” is a single word: abad) this God who proved Himself faithful is a foundational idea for the practices of God’s people. Christians do not worship or serve God to either merit or encourage divine faithfulness. Worship, mission, witness and all Christian service is a response to the God who has demonstrated His faithfulness already. The basic pattern of biblical worship evident in these texts is that it is God who initiates the encounter, not the worshiper. This leads to a foundational pattern for biblical worship in which a “call to worship” using God’s Word signals that it is God, not the worship leader, who invites His people to worship. Worship is a response to the call of God. Worship happens at the initiative of God’s grace and is only made possible by His mediating presence on the worshiper’s behalf. Throughout Scripture, biblical worship is increasingly marked by the need for God to provide the efficacious grace that makes worship acceptable and pleasing to Him.
—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship, Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 37