Hebrews 9:1-5 The Items In The Sanctuary And Holiest Of All.
Again, this passage is part of the larger covenant renewal section concerning the Stipulations. This is why our author focused on the central core here of the new covenant-living according to the law, from the heart. This is the moral and civil uses of the law, for he has already begun to show that the laws pertaining to the sacrificial and ceremonial system find their fulfillment in the once for all sacrifice of the finished work of the Son. It is these ordinances of the sanctuary which he now returns to, as he continues in this Stipulations section of the covenant renewal. The first covenant was involved with these “ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” (v. 1). We must not lose sight of the fact that he refers to the activities of this sanctuary, its contents, and the performance of its attending ordinances as still being in effect in their present. This was part of the temptation to these Hebrews who had heard the new covenant message-convincing them of the need to set these aside now that what they pointed to had come as the fulfillment.
He then continues on to list the items of this earthly tabernacle as one would encounter them the further that one entered culminating in the Holiest of all. However, he says at the end of this passage that, “these things we cannot now speak in detail” (v. 9b). One could wish that our author would have explored these matters from his perspective. However, God in His purposes and providence did not see fit, but He does expect us to take up our author’s challenge, because in the canon of Scripture we will find the materials to build on what he has written here. This tabernacle, and later the temple, was to be a sanctuary where the LORD would “dwell among them” (25:8). In the first part of the tabernacle there “was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary” (v. 2). The lampstand or candlestick (KJV), does find specific mention in several places in the law and the prophets.
In Zechariah, the angel of the LORD wakes up the prophet and asks him what he saw, and the first thing he notes is the “lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the lamps” (4:2). Beside this lampstand were two olive trees, one on the right and the other on the left (v. 3). When the prophet asks the angel what these meant, he was told the following. It is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit says the LORD of hosts” (v. 6). With the capstone laid on this temple shouts are heard of “Grace, grace to it” (v. 7)! Then after the affirmation that Zerubbabel built this temple, the angel asks the following. “For who has despised the day of small things” (v. 10a)? He then says that the seven, being the seven lamps, is symbolic of the “eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” (v. 10bc). He is then told that the two olive trees “are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth” (v. 14).
We are obligated then, to regard this prophetic word as being our infallible commentary on these items, since it was very clearly a question and answer conversation on this matter directly. The very general thing with regard to a lampstand with lamps is that by it one can see (Cf. Lk. 8:16; 11:33). This light is also associated with the revelation of truth ((Mk. 4:21). It also is symbolic of the church as being light in the world (Mt. 5:15). However, again as to this lampstand or candlestick in particular, in Daniel the hand that wrote on the wall was “opposite the lampstand,” the very thing that provided light to read what was written (5:5). It is surely in light of these words of Zechariah, that we are to understand the Son’s words to the seven churches (Rev. 1:12-13, 20; 2:1), and the two olive trees (11:4). Speaking of the lampstand in Ephesus, the Lord warns them that if they continue to neglect their first love, and do not repent of this, that He will remove their “lampstand from its place” (2:5).
From the very beginning these lamps with their stand, were given to provide light, with oil from olive trees, all according to the pattern shown to Moses on the mountain (Lev. 24:1-4 Cf. Ex. 25:31ff; 26:35; 30:27; 31:8; Ex. 37:17-24; 39:37; 40:4, 24-25; Nu. 8:1-4). It was “the lampstand for the light” (Ex. 35:14). This was one of the duties of the Levites, along with the care of the other items in the sanctuary (Nu. 3:31). It is also important to note that when the items of the lampstand were not in use they were to be specifically covered with a blue cloth, along with the ark of the Testimony. Blue, in the scriptures, represented the word of God, the revelation of his will (Nu. 4:6, 9).* “The table, and the showbread,” also have a coloured covering when not in use. On the table itself, as a foundation as it were, there was placed a blue cloth, but once “the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring,” were put on it, along with “the showbread,” then they were to spread over all these “a scarlet cloth,” which symbolized the blood of sacrifice (Nu. 4:8).
Passing on to the golden altar, it also was covered with a blue cloth (Nu. 4:11), along with all the other utensils of the sanctuary (v. 12). However, all items associated with the ashes of the sacrifices were covered with a purple cloth, the colour associated with kingly reign, and here with the completed offering of the sacrifice. Our author only highlighted the lampstand, along with the table and showbread in the sanctuary, he then moved on to going “behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All” (v. 3). We find the details and ordinances pertaining to this at Exodus 26:31-35. Again this veil was also made of the three colours which would symbolize the threefold office of the future Anointed One-blue, purple, and scarlet” (v. 31).This veil separated the holy place from the Most Holy (v. 34). Clearly we must understand that this symbolizes that veil that was torn when the Messiah said his work was finished, and it is through Him that this veil has been torn (Cf. Mt. 27:51; Jn. 19:30).**
In the Holiest of All there was, first of all, “the golden censor” (v. 4a). Moses in Leviticus gives us a clear summary of the significance of this censor, in this case as it pertained to the Day of Atonement, which figures so prominently in this letter. Speaking of Aaron, the LORD through Moses, commanded that “he shall take a censor full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die” (16:12-13). A sentence of immediate death came upon Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, because they took their censors, with fire in them and incense on them, and “offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded” (Lev. 10:1-2 Cf. Ex. 30:34-38). They had failed to regard the LORD as holy (v. 3 Cf. Nu. 16:46; II Chron.26:19; Ezek. 8). In Revelation, this censor and incense are accompanied by the prayers of the saints before it is thrown to the earth in judgment (8:1ff.).
The next item our author mentions is “the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (vv. 4b-5). The ark itself had details given in its construction, and the items placed in it, and upon it (Ex.25:10-22; 37:1-9). “The revelation of the pattern for the earthly sanctuary begins with the plans for the ark of the covenant, the most holy object in the tabernacle. This ornate chest contained the Ten commandments, the pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod (16:33; 25:16; Num. 17:10; Deut. 10:1-5; Heb. 9:4). The cover of the ark was perhaps viewed as a footstool or throne for the Lord (vv. 18, 22).” (NGSB p. 129) With regard to the tablets, the editors of the NGSB also added the following. “The stone tablets of the Sinai covenant. God’s written word is His witness to the terms of the covenant. Scripture is not a fallible human witness to God, but God’s infallible witness to man.” (Ibid. p. 130)
The golden pot with manna in it, was a reminder of the bread that the Father sent from heaven, with the Lord referring to Himself as the more permanent bread from heaven (Ex. 16 esp. v. 33; Jn. 6:35). John, in his message to the church in Pergamos, records the Lord promising some of this hidden manna to those who overcome (2:17). “Aaron’s rod that budded,” looks back to the miraculous event recorded at Numbers 17. A rod was received from each of the twelve tribes, and the LORD said that the rod which budded would signify the tribe that he had chosen for the priestly work. It was also “a sign against the rebels” (v. 10). This came after the people had complained to Moses and Aaron, saying that through bringing them out of Egypt they had killed the people of the LORD. The LORD them descended in the tabernacle of meeting in the cloud with His glory, in judgment (16:41-43). Moses and Aaron then fell on their faces pleading with the LORD (vv. 44-45) Only Aaron, with the censor of incense of their prayers, rescued the people from further deaths from the plague (vv. 46-50).
Therefore, Aaron’s rod that budded was a graphic symbol that the LORD had prescribed the house of Aaron alone to conduct the affairs of the tabernacle of meeting. Anyone else who dared to enter would die (17:10-13). This is also significant to our author, because the focus of the enclosed lawsuit was rebellion in the covenant community (Cf. Dt. 9:7, 24). The tablets of stone were of course the copies of the ten commandments, and it is obviously appropriate to include them in this Stipulations section of the covenant renewal document, being also the focus of that which is written on our hearts in the new, indeed the whole of His word, which is His will for us (Cf. Ex. 32:15-16). It is important to note that these items in the ark make it what it is called-the ark of the Testimony. Everything in it act as testimonials both to salvation history, the precepts of the sanctuary’s activities, who may perform them, and the all encompassing covenantal law.
Nevertheless, when Moses descended from the mountain, his face had to be veiled, not just for the brightness of the glory, but that the reflected glory on his face was fading away. It is now with the inauguration of the new covenant through renewal, that the LORD’s people are able to see that in fact it was an administration that had a fading glory. The Son’s glory, on the other hand, was the very same glory that caused Moses face to shine, but with the Son it will never fade (II Cor. 3:7). It was this glory that shone on Jesus face when he was transfigured with Moses and Elijah, who represented the Law and the Prophets, showing that He was the One whom they pointed to (Mt. 17:1-8). Above the ark there “were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (v. 5a). This also hearkens back to the scriptures concerning the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:2). From the barring of entry into the garden after the fall, these cherubim appear (Gen. 3:24). We should also note that this reference in Hebrews is the only N.T. reference to these cherubim.
These cherub were on each end of the mercy seat or covering of the ark, and were one with it, with their faces toward the mercy seat (Ex. 25:17ff. Cf. 37:7-9; Nu. 7:89; I Sam. 4:1-4; II Sam. 6:1ff.; I Kgs. 6:23-35; 7:29, 36; 8:6-7; II Kgs. 19:15; I Chron. 13:6; 28:18; II Chron. 3:7-14; 5:7-8; Pss. 80:1; 99:1; Is. 37:16; Ezek. 10:1-20; 11:22). It was above the mercy seat, between the two cherubim, that the LORD stated was the place where He would communicate with Moses to the people (v. 22). So significant are these cherubim that images of them were embroidered in the veil of the temple, made with blue, scarlet, and purple thread (Ex. 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35). They were also carved in the walls of the temple (II Chron. 3:7; Ezek. 41:18-25). It is also well to remember, especially with our author’s emphasis on the Day of Atonement, that Aaron was to sprinkle with the blood of the offering, the mercy seat among other things (Lev. 16:14).
It was this blood that our author speaks of as being that which was of another, which was necessary for the high priest for his sin and that of his house and the people (9:25 Cf. 9:7; Lev. 4). Furthermore, as his argument progresses, he will argue that having to be continually offered, as it still was in their day, showed that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (10:4). The mercy seat is literally “the “atonement covering,” a place at which estranged parties were reconciled. Propitiation (i.e., turning away divine wrath and satisfying the claims of divine justice) is effected by blood sacrifice in the Old Testament (Lev. 17:11). This shedding of blood dramatizes the cost of forgiveness, and points forward to the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, where the symbolism of the Day of Atonement was fulfilled. The “mercy seat” was the ark cover, which is sometimes mentioned in distinction from the ark as the place where God was propitiated. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), the Greek term for “mercy seat” (hilasterion) lit. means “place of propitiation” (also in Heb. 9:5).” (NGSB p. 130)
* Messiah Has Come Clothed In Blue, Scarlet, Purple, And Gold.
The significance of so much of what we find in the scriptures often escapes us, especially in the deep recesses of the Old Testament system. We also often forget that the pattern was always in heaven-from the very beginning (Heb. 8:5). Speaking of that earthly sanctuary the writer to the Hebrews had to say, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” (9:5) One has the sense that he really wanted to though. However, thankfully we have the same scriptures that he did, and there is indeed much profit and blessing in this search. One of those points of interest was the place of the colours of blue, scarlet, and purple. These were to be among the offerings of linen given by the people (Ex. 25:1, 35:5, 23, 25, 35, 36:8, 38:23). Together the three colours accompanied the Cherubim of the glory presence seen in the artistic curtains and veil of the tabernacle of meeting (Ex. 26:1, 31, 36:35; II Chron. 3:14), with the three colours found in the screen to the door of the tabernacle/temple (Ex. 26: 36, 36:37) Also in the court there was to be a screen “woven of blue, purple , and scarlet thread.” (27:16, 38:18)
They would be used to make the “garments of ministry, for ministering in the holy place.” (Ex. 39:1) We see them combined, along with gold, in the clothing of the high priest in the ephod and breastplate of judgment. (28:5-8, 15, 39:2-5, 8). Furthermore, hanging from the robe of the ephod were to be pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, interspersed with bells of gold (v.33, 39:24-26). This would come into play when Israel would enter the promised land, and lots would be cast at the door of the tabernacle in the glory presence of the LORD (Joshua 14:1, cf. Ex. 28:30; Nu. 34:16-29; Joshua 19:51). The priest had on his chest the representation of the twelve tribes of the people of God, with the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate of judgment.They also made for the high priest “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” (39:30), engraved with the words, “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (cf. Ex. 28:26), showing that to which the gold symbolized. If the holiness was gone the bells would not ring, and the people could assume the death of the high priest. For this cause he had to make atonement for his own sins, as much as for the people (Heb. 5:3; 7:27; 9:7; Lev. 9:7; 16:6). One day there would come a greater High Priest who would not need to offer for Himself, but would forever be “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Heb. 7:28; 9:8-10)!
Concerning the ephod, it was of particular significance that, the breastplate of judgment was bound to it by blue cord (Ex. 28:28, 39:21), and the robe of the ephod itself was all of blue. (v. 31, 39:22) The loops of the curtains were also made of blue yarn (Ex. 36:11), as was the covering of the ark for transport (Nu. 4:6), the covering of the table under the showbread (v. 7), the covering for “the lampstand of the light.” (Nu. 4:9), the golden altar (v. 11), and the utensils of service (v.12). Blue symbolized the word of the LORD. It was the colour that the people were to use for the tassels of their robes so that they might be reminded to remember the word of the LORD (Nu. 15:37-41). It is therefore significant that the robe undergirding all that the high priest wore was all of blue, that which attached the breastplate was blue, that which attached “the holy crown of pure gold” was blue, and that which covered the tabernacle items in transport was blue. The word was what undergirded, bound together, and overarched everything to do with the worship of God in the place of judgment, down to the loops of the curtains.
Then there is the scarlet, crimson, or red. A symbol of sin (Is. 1:18), and the need for cleansing (Lev. 14:4-7, 49-53), purification (Nu. 19:6 cf. Gen. 38:28-30), and remission (Heb. 9:18-22). It was the colour of bloodshed (Nah. 2:3; Rev. 17:3). Such was the colour of Rahab’s cord (Josh. 2:18-21), symbolizing, as it did, the passover blood. On the table of the showbread was the blue, and on top of this were the dishes and the showbread, but over all this was the red cloth (Nu. 4:8). So undergirding the ministry of the sacrament was the word-it is the foundation. But what these elements of the sacrament symbolized was the blood of cleansing and forgiveness. For others, red became a symbol of luxury and voluptuousness (II Sam. 1:24; Pr. 31:21; S of S. 4:3; Rev. 18:12, 16). But for some they would go from luxury to ashes (Lam. 4:5). Purple, on the other hand, was the colour of royalty (Judges 8:26; Esther 1:6; 8:15; S of S 3:10; 7:5; Dan. 5:7, 16, 29). Note how important was the business of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31-verse 22, and Lydia (Acts 16:14). It was thus also a status symbol of the rich (Ezek. 27:7, 16; Lk. 16:19; Rev. 18:12, 16). But it was also the colour of the cloth that covered the ashes from the altar (Nu. 4:13 cf. Heb. 9:13-14).
There is something to the combination of the red and the purple. The woman upon the beast rules through bloodshed, clothed in purple and crimson, with her leaders (Rev. 17:4; 18:12, 16). These represent those who aspire to humanistic messianic aspirations. However, there is One alone who is clothed in scarlet and purple. How fitting that our Lord was clothed in purple and scarlet to accompany His “twisted crown of thorns”, as the soldiers gave their mock salute, “Hail, King of the Jews.” (Mk. 15:17-20 cf. Mt. 27:28; John 19:2-5). He is the one who rules through His blood which He shed. There is only one person who could ever be clothed with the high priestly colours of blue, scarlet, and purple eternally-Jesus Christ. These colours symbolize the offices of prophet, priest, and king. It was forbidden for any one person to occupy all three, except as it would be a sign of the Messiah Himself. David was a prophet and a king, but he was no priest. Many were prophets and priests, but not also kings. This one, after the order of Melchizedek, is set apart to occupy all three offices in His own person and work.
Satan understood this stupendous truth, for he tempted our Lord, at the dawn of His earthly ministry, on all three-as Prophet (Luke 4:1-4; Mt. 4:1-4), King (vv. 5-8; Mt. 4:5-7), and Priest (vv. 9-13; Mt. 4:8-11). It was also understood by the writer to the Hebrews when he looked back upon the humiliation, exaltation, ascension, and enthronement of Messiah, as prophet (1:1-3), priest (v.3), and king (v.3), “having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (v. 4) Satan, that fallen angel, has been crushed under the feet of the seed, the promised One (Gen. 3:15), who tore that tri-color veil in two (Mt. 27:51). “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the Forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:17-20)
Here we are, guilty and running from the avenger of blood, when our Kinsmen Redeemer has run ahead of us into the city of refuge, to occupy the place of our High Priest, not for a time, but for all eternity. We need no other defence-our Kinsman Redeemer has become our High Priest (Heb. 2:14-18; 5:5-10). “What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer? Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” (WSC. Q & A 23) Amen! The soldiers stripped Jesus of the purple they first put on him, as a king (Mk. 15:17). However, when they approached the time of his execution they deliberately exchanged this with “a scarlet robe” (Mt. 27:28). Nevertheless, what they intended for evil was ultimately for our good, as He now reigns clothed in the beautiful tricolours of his finished work.
** “The veil of the temple was the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the rest of the sanctuary. It symbolized the unapproachability of God (Heb. 9:8). Jesus death was His sacrifice at the heavenly altar (Heb. 9:12, 24, 25), which opened the way to God (Heb. 10:19, 20), removing the veil. Heaven had been opened through the royal priesthood of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). “’From top to bottom,’ implying a divine action.” (NGSB p. 1555)