Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
Comment: Most of we gentiles are not very au fait with the the set up of the Jewish worship centre. At the very centre was the Holiest of Holies which had a beautiful ark of the covenant with reminders of the trip out from Egypt in it. (The Ethiopians claim that they have the ark until this day in a Holy place in the city of Aksum. No one is allowed to see it and it is guarded by a priest who is for life fenced in the area until he dies.) It was to symbolise the presence of God, although people knew that He did not reside there. Next to this was the Holy place with a lamp stand which was continually kept burning with special oil. and where bread was placed. Here the priests carried out their daily duties. And outside that the people met and their sacrifices were made. The author could have talked long about this for it has very special meanings but he has more important things to tell us!
He does, however, remind us that: –
- The priests carried out their duties daily, both with sacrifices and in the Holy Place
- Only once a year with the blood of a goat killed with great ceremony the High Priest was permitted into the symbolic Presence of God, that is, into the Holiest of Holies. The goat was sacrificed for both his own and the people’s sins.
- It is all an outward demonstration but failed to clean the conscience of the worshipper.
- Without explanation the author says that for the common person the way into either place was not open while the physical structures stood. He states this on the authority of the Holy Spirit who somehow made it clear.
- This was, all along, to be only until an expected ‘reformation’ occurred. The point of the letter is that the reformation has come with Jesus.
This all clearly was meant to, and did, show both the Holiness of God and the seriousness of man’s sin.
Prayer: Help me to give You the Honour due to You, O Lord God.