THE OLD COVENANT WORSHIP SYSTEM WITH ITS EXTERNAL FOCUS ON THE EARTHLY SANCTUARY AND PRIESTLY SERVICE MUST BE VIEWED AS INADEQUATE AND TEMPORARY
Since the Old Covenant system had become obsolete and was now replaced with the New Covenant, how should the former system of worship be viewed in light of Christ? Certainly the author is by no means out to disparage the Levitical system despite its inadequacies and temporary role. God had designed it to serve a purpose. But that purpose was temporary and preparatory to the fulfillment in Christ when full access to God would be provided and a sacrifice that could deal with the inner effects of sin.
Richard Phillips: The Old Testament tabernacle contained items that symbolized great redemptive truths. It showed what must be done for sinners to approach God, and typified the blessings of our relationship with God.
F. F. Bruce: The inadequacy of the old order as compared with the new is now set forth with reference first to the arrangements of the sanctuary under the old covenant and then to the sacrificial ritual associated with that sanctuary.
Guthrie: In case any of the readers should think that the writer was underestimating the old, he now outlines some of the glories of the old tabernacle. He is impressed by the orderliness of the arrangements within the Levitical cultus, and aims to present this in order to demonstrate the greater glory of the new.
Deffinbaugh: In our text, the author is reminding his readers that it is not possible to “draw near” to God in intimate fellowship by means of the Old Covenant, the tabernacle, and the Levitical priesthood.
MacArthur: In the illustration of the old sanctuary and its services, the Holy Spirit is teaching at least three things.
– No Access (Limited Cleansing)
– Imperfect Cleansing
– Temporary Cleansing
The old sanctuary and services and significance were meaningful and purposeful, very purposeful. But they were limited, imperfect, and temporary, and therefore ultimately unsatisfactory. They pictured Christ, but they could not do the work of Christ. Part of their purpose, in fact, was to show Israel that they were only pictures of better things to come. They not only pictured Christ but also their own built-in inadequacies.
I. (:1-5) OVERVIEW OF THE SANCTUARY AND ITS CONTENTS –
POINTING TOWARDS FULFILLMENT IN CHRIST
A. (:1) Old Covenant Worship System
1. Regulations for Priestly Service
“Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship”
The details of how to approach God in worship under the Old Covenant were clearly revealed to God’s people. It was not a matter of individual preference where every person could set up their own approach to worship. Therefore, this system cannot be discarded lightly. It must be viewed as preparatory and typical of the new reality of worship based on the sacrifice provided by Christ.
Hewitt: the old had this in common with the new, viz. worship and a sanctuary (cf. Moffatt)
Constable: In this pericope the writer concentrated on the tabernacle and its provisions for cultic worship. “Cultic” refers to the rituals involved in religious service. The word “first” (Gr. prote) links this section with the former one (cf. Hebrews 8:13). The writer introduced two subjects in the first verse: regulations of divine worship, and the earthly sanctuary. He then proceeded to expound them in reverse order, as he often did in this homily (Hebrews 9:2-10).
“and the earthly sanctuary.”
Kent: “belonging to the world” – identifies the tabernacle as mundane, being part of this world’s scene and built by man (8:2; 9:11, 24). There is no implication of evil in the expression here.
Hewitt: belonging to the visible world, i.e. earthly, material, and thus indicating something imperfect and temporary.
Mohler: The tabernacle stood as the epicenter of old covenant worship. This is why the author refers to it with the phrase “earthly sanctuary.” The tabernacle was the place where Israel offered sacrifices and where the priests interceded on behalf of the people. Because the tabernacle was so central to the old covenant, Israel was intensely focused on what happened inside it. The new covenant, however, shift our focus away from the tabernacle. Under the new covenant, a central location of worship required by God no longer exists. Since the Spirit unites us to Christ by faith, Christians now worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth,” not in a tabernacle (John 4:24). Furthermore, Christ now dwells in the midst of his people (Matt 18:20). John even describes Christ’s incarnation in language similar to that applied to the tabernacle: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The epicenter of new covenant worship is not in a place, it’s in a person: Jesus Christ.
B. (:2) Outer Chamber = The Holy Place
1. Location of the Outer Tabernacle
“For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one,”
Kent: It should be noted that the tabernacle is in view here, not any of the succeeding temples.
2. Contents of the Outer Tabernacle
“in which were the lampstand”
“and the table”
Kent: The table was made of acacia wood covered with gold (Exod. 25:23-30; 37:10-16). On it were placed weekly the twelve cakes of bread (Lev. 24:5-9).
c. Sacred Bread
“and the sacred bread;”
3. Name of the Outer Tabernacle
“this is called the holy place.”
Mohler: The tent reflected the holiness of God. It communicated his transcendence, perfection, and righteousness.
C. (:3-5) Inner Chamber = Holy of Holies
1. (:3a) Location of the Inner Tabernacle
“And behind the second veil,
Hewitt: The veil typified and represented the barrier between the holy God and sinful man, and revealed that the ritualism of the old covenant could not provide for the people a permanent way into God’s presence. Matthew xxvii. 51 tells us that at Christ’s death the veil of the temple was rent “from the top to the bottom.”
2. (:3b) Name of the Inner Tabernacle
“there was a tabernacle
which is called the Holy of Holies,”
3. (:4-5a) Contents of the Inner Tabernacle
a. (:4a) Golden Altar of Incense
“having a golden altar of incense”
Richard Phillips: The golden altar of incense rested immediately in front of the veil separating the outer room from the inner sanctum (see Ex. 30:1-6). Every morning and evening, when the priests came into the holy place to keep the lampstand burning, they also refreshed the incense for this altar. The Old Testament makes it clear that this item was located in the outer room and not the holy of holies, as the writer of Hebrews must have known. In verse 4, however, he associates it with the inner sanctum because of the vital role the cloud of incense played in covering the high priest’s approach as he passed through the curtain on the day of atonement.
b. (:4b) Ark of the Covenant
1) Description of the Ark of the Covenant
“and the ark of the covenant
covered on all sides with gold,”
Mohler: the ark attested to God’s covenant love for Israel and his steadfast faithfulness toward them.
2) Contents of the Ark of the Covenant
a) “in which was a golden jar holding the manna,”
Mohler: The golden urn holding manna served as a constant testimony to God’s sustaining care of Israel for forty years in the wilderness (Exod 16:31-34).
b) “and Aaron’s rod which budded,”
Mohler: served as a reminder of how God kept his people alive in the wilderness and of how God chose Aaron for the priesthood (Num. 17:1-13).
c) “and the tables of the covenant.”
Mohler: The tablets reminded the people of God’s covenant with them and of their responsibility to uphold that covenant by obeying the law.
c. (:5a) Cherubim of Glory Over the Mercy Seat
“And above it were the cherubim of glory
overshadowing the mercy seat;”
“but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”
Kent: The author did not wish to discuss the above individual terms in greater detail because he desired to emphasize Christ’s superior ministry, not the types that foreshadowed Christ. Thus he proceeds after the briefest mention to the service which was carried on in the tabernacle.
II. (:6-10) OVERVIEW OF THE SERVICE BY THE PRIESTS –
POINTING TOWARDS FULFILLMENT IN CHRIST
A. (:6) Priestly Service in the Outer Tabernacle
1. Preparation for Worship
“Now when these things have been thus prepared,”
Deffinbaugh: So now the tabernacle has been set up, and the furnishings are in place so that worship can commence. Just how did worship work under the Old Covenant, implemented by means of the tabernacle? We are told how it worked in verses 6 and 7. Verse 6 describes the daily worship that took place in the holy place, the outer portion of the tabernacle. Verse 7 contrasts the daily workings of the priests in the outer chamber of the tabernacle with the once-a-year ministry of the high priest on the Day of Atonement which took place in the holy of holies.
2. Participation in Worship
“the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle,”
3. Performance of Worship
“performing the divine worship,”
Hewitt: In their daily service the priests would light the lamps every evening and trim them every morning (Ex. xxvii. 20, 21, xxx. 7 ff.). They would renew the twelve loaves of bread every sabbath (Lv. xxiv. 5 ff.) and burn incense on the golden altar at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice (Ex. xxx. 7, 8).
B. (:7) Priestly Service in the Inner Tabernacle
1. Access Restricted to the High Priest
“but into the second only the high priest enters,”
2. Access Restricted to Once Per Year
“once a year,”
3. Atonement for Sin by Blood Sacrifice Required
“not without taking blood, which he offers for himself
and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.”
R. Kent Hughes: The old system was inadequate for two encompassing reasons – its limited access and its limited efficacy. . . There was no provision in the Old Covenant’s sacrificial system for forgiveness of premeditated sins! Premeditated, willful sins were called sins of the “high hand,” and for such there was no remedy. Numbers 15:30, 31 is unequivocal: “But anyone who sins defiantly [literally, with a high hand], whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”
What could he do? Only one thing – come to God with a contrite heart and throw himself on God’s mercy (Psalm 51). . .
A clear conscience in the absolute sense of the word was beyond their reach. The old system was deficient. It was external and superficial.
C. (:8-10) Symbolic and Temporary Nature of This Worship
1. (:8-9a) Symbolic Nature of This Worship
a. Signified by the Holy Spirit
“The Holy Spirit is signifying this,”
Richard Phillips: On a first reading we might think that this simply refers to the Spirit’s role in inspiring Scripture. The writer of Hebrews speaks this way on two other occasions (3:7; 10:15). However, that is not what is being said in this case. For one thing, there is no citation form the Old Testament found here. For another, the verb is not past tense but present tense. We see, therefore, a deliberate contrast. On the one hand, the old tabernacle was showing that the way was barred, because the curtain kept the priests form the holy of holies. Now the Holy Spirit is showing the opposite, that the way to God is finally open. . .
The point of verse 8 is that the Holy Spirit’s work proves we have access to God in the new covenant. . . The Spirit’s work within us reminds us that we are now in fellowship with God and imparts to us the knowledge of his grace (Gal. 3:13-14; 1 John 1:3; Rom. 8:14-16).
“that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing,”
Kent: The Old Testament tabernacle was the visible demonstration by the Holy Spirit (viewed here as the Father’s agent in revealing these truths to men) that perfect access to God by all people did not yet exist.
F. F. Bruce: What he means is that unimpeded access to the presence of God was not granted until Christ came to accomplish His sacrificial ministry.
“which is a symbol for the present time.”
2. (:9b-10) Temporary Nature of This Worship
a. (:9b) Lack of Permanent Efficacy – Imperfect Offerings
“Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered
which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience,”
Mohler: The author of Hebrews shows that not even the highest of all sacrifices – the sacrifice made by the high priest on the Day of Atonement in the most holy place – could cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. Even it couldn’t bring about newness of life. This is why gifts and sacrifices continued to be offered in Israel. They had to be offered because there was never final purification from sin. As soon as an Israelite finished offering one sacrifice for sin, he needed to offer another.
The contrast could not be clearer. While the old covenant required incessant and imperfect offerings that could not purify the depths of the human heart, Christ accomplished final and full purification. Jesus is the hope of the new covenant. When he appeared as high priest (Heb 9:11), everything changed.
Constable: This comparison helps us keep externals in their proper perspective as secondary to inward reality with God. Relationship with God purifies the conscience. It is possible to fulfill all the outward obligations of religion and still have a conscience that is not right with God (Hebrews 9:9). This is one of the tragic inadequacies of religion that does not involve relationship with God.
b. (:10) Lack of Permanent Application – Temporary Regulations
“since they relate only to food and drink and various washings,
regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.”
Leon Morris: The externality of the old way is brought out from another viewpoint. It concerned only matters like “food and drink and various ceremonial washings.”
Deffinbaugh: We know that the source of our sin is not from outward contamination, but from a heart that is in rebellion against God. For sin to be dealt with there must be an adequate sacrifice, and it must cleanse the heart. This is precisely what was promised in the New Covenant, as we have read in chapter 8.24. The tabernacle system dealt with matters like food and drink and outward impurities. It could not solve man’s sin problem, and thus its worship would always be less than ideal. No wonder the Pharisees were always concerned about external matters: Matthew 23:25-28.
Kent: The Old Testament tabernacle and its ministry was intended only as a type. It was temporary, an external figure dealing with material matters to represent basic spiritual truths. The value lasted only until the time of a new order. That new order had its inauguration when Christ offered Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. He fulfilled the previous types and shadows, and in this new order the Spirit brings about an inward change, far more basic than ceremonial cleansing. This new order has as its basis the new covenant discussed in chapter 8. Now that Christ has die, there is no cause for anyone to be occupied with the ceremonial cleansing embodied in Judaism.