Hebrews 9:5 (5)
Continued Comparisons of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant
NAS Hebrews 9:1-10 Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. 2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. 3 And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, 4 having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant. 5 And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. 6 Now when these things have been thus prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, 7 but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
A FEW LAST PARAGRAPHS AND COMMENTS ON THE EARLY PART OF CHAPTER 9. I TRUST YOU WILL FORGIVE ME ONCE AGAIN FOR THE REPETITION THAT INEVITABLY RESULTS IN THE USE OF MULTIPLE COMMENTARIES. AS I RESPECTFULLY MAINTAIN, REPETITION IS OFTEN THE ONLY WAY TO GAIN CLARITY AND WITH EVEN MORE CERTAINTY, THE ONLY WAY TO RELIABLY APPROACH INTERPRETATIONAL CONFIDENCE.
”AFTER THE SECOND CURTAIN” (V. 3), CONTINUES THE PASTOR’S EMPHASIS ON THE DIVISION BETWEEN THE HOLY AND MOST HOLY PLACES. Verse 2 described the contents of the First Tent and then identified it as the “Holy Place.” Verses 3-4 call the Second Tent the “Most Holy Place” before describing its furnishings. Thus, “after the second curtain” comes at the central emphatic position created by the chiastic relationship between these two descriptions. This emphasis on the distinction between the Holy and Most Holy Places and the barrier separating them serves the immediate purpose of disclosing the lack of access to God under the old system. In the larger picture it highlights the magnitude of the barrier breached by Christ.
THE PASTOR HAS CRAFTED EVERY DETAIL OF HIS DESCRIPTION TO EXPRESS THE BEAUTY AND MAJESTY OF THE MOST HOLY PLACE IN THE ANTICIPATION OF ITS ROLE AS FORESHADOWING THE HIGH-PRIESTLY MINISTRY OF CHRIST. Verse 4a describes the two articles of furniture as “golden”: “having a golden Altar of Incense and the Ark of the Covenant covered all over with gold.” In Greek “golden” and “gold” are the first and last words of this statement. The pastor focuses our attention on the Ark. Verse 4b describes its contents, and v. 5 climaxes with the Cherubim over the Mercy Seat, the place of atonement above the Ark.
TWO INTERRELATED QUESTIONS SURROUND THE TERM TRANSLATED ‘ALTAR OF INCENSE.’ First, the underlying Greed word could be used for “censer” as well as for “Incense Altar.” Second, according to the OT text, the Altar of Incense was located in the Holy Place, not the Most Holy Place. Some would solve both questions by arguing the Hebrews is referring to the censer that the high priest took into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 15:12-13).
12 ‘However, an earthenware vessel which the person with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every wooden vessel shall be rinsed in water.
13 ‘Now when the man with the discharge becomes cleansed from his discharge, then he shall count off for himself seven days for his cleansing; he shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in running water and shall become clean.
14 ‘Then on the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and give them to the priest;
15 and the priest shall offer them, one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the LORD because of his discharge.
(Lev. 15:12-15 NAS)
Thus, by speaking of a censer in conjunction with the Ark the pastor draws his hearers’ attention to that great Day now fulfilled by Christ. Riggenbach, in particular, contends that the author was far too conversant with the OT to mistakenly locate the Altar of Incense in the Most Holy Place. He knew that the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on this altar (Ecid,30:10) and took coals of fire from it (Lev. 15:12-13) before entering the Most Holy Place.
Others argue that the Greek word refers to the Altar of Incense and that the author is following an exegetical tradition that located the Altar of Incense within the Most Holy Place. After all, the instructions for building this altar are given separately from the instructions for other furnishings. Furthermore, some OT passages associate the Altar of Incense closely with the Ark and the Most Hold Place. Several other writings roughly contemporary with Hebrews may bear witness to a tradition locating the Incense Altar within the inner sanctuary. Those who espouse this position argue that the author could not have omitted something so important as the Altar of Incense.
It seems clear that the pastor is referring to the Altar of Incense and not to a censer. Both Philo and Josephus bear witness to this meaning for the underlying Greek term. furthermore, the description would incomplete if the author omitted what was arguable the second most important article of furniture in the Mosaic sanctuary. We would expect him to make use of exegetical traditions available to him. He was not, however, the mee hapless victim of an exegetical tradition that located the incense altar within the Most Holy Place. Riegenbach is correct in his contention that one so schooled in the OT would not misplace this altar. Rather, the author draws on those OT passages cited above that connect this alter with the Most Holy Place. In making this connection he joins his contemporaries, also cited above, who made like association. Note the difference between the way he locates furniture “in” the Holy Place but speaks of the Most Holy Place “having” the Incense Altar and the Ark of the Covenant. He does not “relocate” this altar within the inner sanctuary but closely associates it with the Most Holy Place in accord with its function.
Westcott reminds us that just as the Altar of Sacrifice was important for entrance into the Holy Place, so the Incense Altar was crucial for entrance into the Most Holy Place. On the Day of Atonement the high priest could not enter that inner sanctum without filling his censor with coals of fire from this altar (Lev 16:12-13). He sprinkles the blood of the sin offering on the horns of the Incense Altar as well as on the Mercy Seat or Place of Atonement above the Ark (Exod.30:10; Lev. 16:1. Thus the pastor has associated the Incense Altar with the Most Holy Place in accord with its function and his own purposes. By making this connection he magnifies the Most Holy Place and anticipates its role as foreshadowing Christ’s entering “heaven itself” (9:24) in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. However, that fulfillment will denude its earthly type of all magnificence.
The pastor focuses his hearers’ attention on the Ark by enumerating its contents. Its most important objects were “the tables of the covenant” on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. According to Exod. 25:16 and Deut.10:1-5 these tablets had been deposited in the Ark by Moses. The presence of the “jar containing manna and Aaron’s rod that budded” is suggested by God’s command to put these objects in the Most Holy Place as recorded in Exod. 16:32=34 and Num 17:10-11. Some rabbinic sources agree that these items were in the Ark itself. Later reference to the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments as the only contents of the Ark may have suggested that something else had been located therein. If the Ten Commandments were the foundation of God’s covenant, manna was evidence of His provision, and the rod symbolized his choice of Aaron as priest. Only in the LXX of Exod.16:33 is the “jar of manna” described as “golden.” Philo picks up this description in Prelim Studies 100. Our author who has emphasized the gold covering of both Altar and Ark, would not miss the chance to call this jar “golden” and thus increase his emphasis on the majesty of the Most Holy Place.
VERSE 5 – THE PASTOR CLIMAXES HIS DESCRIPTION NOT WITH WHAT WAS WITHIN BUT WHAT WAS ‘ABOVE’ THE ARK – ‘THE CHERUBIM OF GLOEY OVERSHADOWING THE MERCY SEAT. The cherubim were two figures made of gold whose wings overshadowed the “Place of Atonement” or “Mercy Seat” covering the Ark (Exod. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). They were Cherubim of “Glory” because it was between them that the “Glory” of the divine presence dwelt among god’s people (cf. Exod 25:22). This was the earthy “throne” of God (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; Ps 80:2; 99:1). It was the place where the most-high priest came annually on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle sacrificial blood before the “Mercy Seat” in atonement for sin (Lev. 16:1-10). The pastor concludes his description of the “earthly sanctuary” by focusing his hearers’ eyes on this place of atonement in anticipation of fulfillment in Christ (vv. 11-14). As High Priest, the Son has made atonement sufficient for entrance into the true heavenly presence of God where he now sits with all authority on the right hand of the divine “throne.” Through his ministry this “throne” has now become a “throne of grace” (4:16) for God’s people a true “Mercy Seat.” His description mirrors the high priest’s annual from initial approach to crowning act of atonement. These foreshadowings anticipate their all-sufficient fulfillment in Christ.
THE PASTOR HAS ACCOMPLISHED HIS PURPOSE. HE HAS EMPHASIZED THE ‘EARTHLY’ AND THUS PRELIMINARY CHARACTER OF THE MOSAIC SANCTUARY. HE HAS DEMONSTRATED THE GREAT SEPARATION BETWEEN THE HOLY AND THE MOST HOLY PLACES. HE HAS SHOWN THE CORRESPONDING SPLENDOR OF THE LATTER IN ANTICIPATION OF THE WAY IT FORESHADOWS CHRIST’S ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN ITSELF.
THUS HE WOULD NOT SIDETRACK HIS HEARERS FROM THESE IMPORTANT ISSUES BY SPEAKING OF THESE THINGS ‘IN GREATER DETAIL.’ (V. 5). HE PROCEEDS IMMEDIATELY TO THE MINISTRIES APPROPRIATE TO THESE TWO PARTS OF THE ‘EARTHLY SANCTUARY’ (VV. 6-7 [NEXT WEEK]) AND TO THEIR SIGNIFICANCE (VV. 8-10. 11-14). – Cockerill
Professor Thomas A. Rohm