The Only Entry To The Presence Of God
9:6-10 Since these preparations have been made, the priests continually enter into the first tabernacle as they perform the various acts of worship. But into the second tabernacle the High Priest alone enters, and that once a year and not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. By this the Holy Spirit is showing that the way into the Holy Place was not yet opened up so long as the first tabernacle stood. Now the first tabernacle stands for this present age, and according to its services sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper but which, since they are based on food and drink and various kinds of washings, are human regulations, laid down until the time of the new order should come.
Only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies and that only on The Day of Atonement. It is of the ceremonies of that day that the writer to the Hebrews is here thinking. He did not need to describe them to his readers for they knew them. To them they were the most sacred religious ceremonies in all the world. If we are to understand the thought of the writer to the Hebrews we must have a picture of them in our minds. The main description is in Leviticus 16:1-34 .
First, we must ask, what was the idea behind The Day of Atonement? As we have seen, the relationship between Israel and God was a covenant relationship. Sin on Israel's part broke that relationship, and the whole system of sacrifice existed to make atonement for sin and to restore the broken relationship. But what if there were some sins still not atoned for? What if there were some sins of which a man was not conscious? What if by some chance the altar itself had become defiled? That is to say, what if the sacrificial system was not performing the function it should?
The summary of the Day of Atonement is given in Leviticus 16:33 :
And he shall make atonement for the sanctuary; and he shall
make atonement for the tent of meeting, and for the altar,
and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the
people of the assembly.
It was one great comprehensive act of atonement for all sin. It was one grand day in which all things and all people were cleansed, so that the relationship between Israel and God should continue unbroken. To that end it was a day of humiliation. "You shall afflict yourselves" ( Leviticus 16:29 ). It was not a feast but a fast. The whole nation fasted all day, even the boys and girls; and the really devout Jew prepared himself for it by fasting for the ten days which went before. The Day of Atonement comes ten days after the opening of the Jewish New Year, about the beginning of September in our calendar. It was the greatest of all days in the life of the High Priest.
Let us then see what happened. Very early in the morning the High Priest cleansed himself by washing. He donned his gorgeous robes of office, worn only on that day. There were the white linen breeches and the long white undergarment reaching down to the feet, woven in one piece. There was The Robe of the Ephod. It was dark blue and was a long robe with at the foot a fringe of blue, purple and scarlet tassels made in the form of pomegranates, interspersed with an equal number of little golden bells. Over this robe he put The Ephod itself The Ephod was probably a kind of linen tunic, embroidered in scarlet and purple and gold, with an elaborate girdle. On its shoulders were two onyx stones. The names of six of the tribes were engraved on one and six on the other. On the tunic was The Breastplate, a span square. On it were twelve precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes engraved upon them. So the High Priest carried the people to God on his shoulders and on his heart. In the breastplate there was the Urim and the Thummim, which means lights and perfections ( Exodus 28:30 ). What exactly the Urim and the Thummim was is not known. It is known that the High Priest consulted it when he wished to know the will of God. It may be that it was a precious diamond inscribed with the consonants Y-H-W-H which are the consonants of Yahweh ( Hebrew #3068 and Hebrew #3069 ), the name of God. On his head the High Priest put the tall mitre, of fine linen; and on the mitre there was a gold plate bound by a band of blue ribbon, and on the plate were the words: "Holiness unto the Lord." It is easy to imagine what a dazzling figure the High Priest must have presented on this his greatest day.
The High Priest began by doing the things that were done every day. He burned the morning incense, made the morning sacrifice, and attended to the trimming of the lamps on the seven-branched lampstand. Then came the first part of the special ritual of the day. Still dressed in his gorgeous robes, he sacrificed a bullock and seven lambs and one ram ( Numbers 29:7 ). Then he removed his gorgeous robes, cleansed himself again in water, and dressed himself in the simple purity of white linen. There was brought to him a bullock bought with his own resources. He placed his hands on its head and, standing there in the full sight of the people, confessed his own sin and the sin of his house:
"Ah, Lord God, I have committed iniquity: I have transgressed: I have sinned--I and my house. O Lord, I entreat thee, cover over (atone for) the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins, which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before thee, I and my house, even as it is written in the law of Moses, thy servant, 'For in that day, he will cover over (atone) for you to make you clean. From all your transgressions before the Lord you shall be cleansed.'"
For the moment the bullock was left before the altar. And then followed one of the unique ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Two goats were standing by, and beside the goats an urn with two lots in it. One lot was marked For Jehovah; the other was marked For Azazel, which is the phrase the King James Version translates The Scapegoat. The lots were drawn and laid one on the head of each goat. A tongue-shaped piece of scarlet was tied to the horn of the scapegoat. And for the moment the goats were left. Then the High Priest turned to the bullock which was beside the altar and killed it. its throat was slit and the blood caught by a priest in a basin. The basin was kept in motion so that the blood would not coagulate for soon it was to be used. Then came the first of the great moments. The High Priest took coals from the altar and put them in a censer; he took incense and put it in a special dish; and then he walked into the Holy of Holies to burn incense in the very presence of God. It was laid down that he must not stay too long "lest he put Israel in terror." The people literally watched with bated breath; and when he came out from the presence of God still alive, there went up a sigh of relief like a gust of wind.
When the High Priest came out from the Holy of Holies, he took the basin of the bullock's blood, went back into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it seven times up and seven times down. He came out, killed the goat that was marked For Jehovah, with its blood re-entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled again. Then he came out and mingled together the blood of the bullock and the goat and seven times sprinkled the horns of the altar of the incense and the altar itself. What remained of the blood was laid at the foot of the altar of the burnt offering. Thus the Holy of Holies and the altar were cleansed by blood from any defilement that might be on them.
Then came the most vivid ceremony. The scapegoat was brought forward. The High Priest laid his hands on it and confessed his own sin and the sin of the people; and the goat was led forth into the desert, "into a land not inhabited," laden with the sins of the people and there it was killed.
The priest turned to the slain bullock and goat and prepared them for sacrifice. Still in his linen garments he read scripture-- Leviticus 16:1-34 ; Leviticus 23:27-32 , and repeated by heart Numbers 29:7-11 . He then prayed for the priesthood and the people. Once again he cleansed himself in water and rearrayed himself in his gorgeous robes. He sacrificed, first, a kid of the goats for the sins of the people; then he made the normal evening sacrifice; then he sacrificed the already prepared parts of the bullock and the goat. Then once again he cleansed himself, took off his robes, and put on the white linen; and for the fourth and last time he entered the Holy of Holies to remove the censer of incense which still burned there. Once again he cleansed himself in water; once again he put on his vivid robes; then he burned the evening offering of incense, trimmed the lamps on the golden lampstand, and his work was done. In the evening he held a feast because he had been in the presence of God and had come out alive.
Such was the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the day designed to cleanse all things and all people from sin. That was the picture in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews and he was to make much of it. But there were certain things of which he was thinking at the moment.
Every year this ceremony had to be gone through again. Everyone but the High Priest was barred from the presence and even he entered in terror. The cleansing was a purely external one by baths of water. The sacrifice was that of bulls and goats and animal blood. The whole thing failed because such things cannot atone for sin. In it all the writer to the Hebrews sees a pale copy of the reality, a ghostly pattern of the one true sacrifice--the sacrifice of Christ. It was a noble ritual, a thing of dignity and beauty; but it was only an unavailing shadow. The only priest and the only sacrifice which can open the way to God for all men is Jesus Christ.
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