STUDIES IN THE BOOK OF HEBREWS
Biblical Research Monthly, December, 1943
Dr. David L. Cooper
Installment 17

The lesson for our study this month, in this series, is Hebrews 9:1-10. In the last verse of the preceding chapter the apostle showed that the first covenant was waxing old and was near the vanishing point. Strictly and accurately speaking, one knows that the law with all of its ceremonials was nailed to the cross and taken out of the way--(Col. 2:14). Nevertheless the Lord in His graciousness and mercy allowed the Temple with its ritualistic services to continue until the year 70 A.D., the year when the Romans overthrew the Jewish nation and destroyed the city with the Temple. The forty years from 30 A.D., when Christ was crucified to 70 A.D. constituted a transitional period in the history of Israel, during which time God was endeavoring to wean her from the law with all the services and to lead her to an acceptance of the Lord Jesus as her Messiah. These forty years, were a period of testings for her nationally, given to her to make the choice between accepting God's plans and provisions for her on the one hand and rejection His will on the other. As has been stated often before, the letter to the Hebrews was God's final call to the nation urging her to accept Him or be cut off from mercy as a nation and be scattered among the peoples of the world.

The apostle followed the prediction just discussed with some brief remarks regarding the Tabernacle, its furniture, and its symbolic meaning. In Hebrews 9:1-5 he presented the data relative to the Tabernacle; but in verses 6-10 he explained the inadequacy and the temporary nature of this sanctuary and its services.

In verse 1 he called attention to the fact that the ordinances observed at the sanctuary under the first covenant were of divine origin although the Tabernacle itself had been constructed of physical materials. This sanctuary was divided into the holy place and the most holy. From the account given in Exodus we know that the former was twice the size of the latter. In conducting the services the priests first entered the holy place. This thing they did continually, but they could not go farther. On the Day of Atonement, however, the high priest, with the blood of the bullock and the he-goat, went behind the second veil into the most holy place and there consummated the service which had been begun at the altar of burnt offerings to the east of the sanctuary.

In the holy place were the candlestick, the shewbread, and the golden altar. The candlestick, as is quite evident, served the purpose of giving light. The twelve loaves of shewbread were placed upon the table opposite the candlestick; the golden altar of incense was located immediately in front of the second veil of the Temple, which separated the holy place from the most holy.

The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the most holy place. It was the only piece of furniture in this room.

According to the instructions given by the Lord to Moses, the golden altar of incense was located in the holy place; but according to Hebrews 9:4 it was behind the veil and in the most holy place; There is therefore at least a seeming contradiction between the Exodus account and that in Hebrews. All scholars admit the difficulty. When, however, there is a seeming contradiction, we may be certain that the difficulty lies in our lack of knowledge or in a failure to comprehend the facts and interpret them aright.

Two explanations are given in an effort to harmonize the seeming contradiction. Those holding one view suggest that originally the golden altar was situated in the holy place as God had instructed Moses. This was true both in the Tabernacle and also in the Temple built by Solomon. But, according to these expositions, the altar of incense was put behind the veil in the most holy place in the second Temple--the one erected by Zerubbabel, which was standing at the time the Hebrew letter was written, although it had been reconstructed and beautified, piecemeal, by Herod.

The other explanation offered by certain scholars is that, since the altar of incense was so very closely connected with the most holy place, the writer was not speaking in literal terms of its exact location but was thinking of it in terms of its spiritual significance in relation to the most holy place. Either of these explanations may be the correct one; or there may still be another if only we knew all the facts. Although we are unable to unravel the mystery connected with this point, we still have an unshaken faith in the infallibility of the record and await further light.

Although the Tabernacle and also the Temple were patterned after the Temple of God in heaven, they signified spiritual realities which exist between the earth and heaven itself. The most holy place, as we shall later see, viewed from one angle, represented the heaven of heavens, the very presence of God, which during the Mosaic Economy was coterminous with the kingdom of Israel. That this statement is correct is evident from I Chronicles 28:4,5, in which passage the throne of David, upon which Solomon sat was called "The throne of the kingdom of Jehovah over Israel." This fact is again seen in II Chronicles 13:8 "And now ye think to withstand the kingdom of Jehovah in the hand of the sons of David"

The twelve loaves of shewbread represented the twelve tribes of Israel whom God accepted as His portion: "For Jehovah's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:9). The candlestick quite obviously represented the revelation which God gave to Israel and which shed its light throughout the kingdom of His people. The altar of incense symbolized the worship: "Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee; The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice; (Ps. 141:2).

In the ark of the covenant--the only piece of furniture in the holy of holies--the two tables of stone delivered by the Lord to Moses were deposited. A pot of manna and Aaron's rod which budded were likewise placed in the ark. On the tables of stone were written the Ten Commandments, which express the basic principles of life. These might be called a transcript--engraven in cold stone--of the very nature of God's holy being and of His relation to man, His creature. The pot of manna was a memorial of the fact that during her wilderness wanderings, Israel was fed miraculously by the Lord. Aaron's rod, with which he performed his miracles, the symbol of his power, constantly budded. It is quite probable that this phenomenon signified the coming forth of life after death-death being a separation of spirit from body.

Upon the mercy seat there stood two cherubim with their wings outstretched. Upon the top of the ark, which was in reality the mercy seat, the Shekinah of glory rested--during the existence of the first Temple. According to Jewish tradition it never returned to the restored Temple built by Zerubbabel. A study of Ezekiel chapter 1, shows that the cherubim are closely connected with the presence of God. It is therefore quite appropriate that they should be connected with the mercy seat where God met symbolically with His people when the high priest sprinkled the blood of atonement thereupon.

As stated above, the holy place represented the kingdom of God as it was during the Mosaic Economy. But after the Jews rejected Christ, this kingdom, symbolized by the holy place, was taken from the Jews and given to a nation that would bring forth fruit: "Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). The nation here mentioned is none other than the spiritual kingdom of our Lord known in the New Testament as the church. That this position is correct is evident from the following quotation: "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9,10). This body of people consists of both believing Jews and Gentiles who are brought into spiritual communion through the Lord Jesus. This fact is set forth by Paul in the following statement: "But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree" (Rom. 11:17,18). The olive tree in this comparison represents the Jewish race, with all the blessings of God, which sprang from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The branches which were broken off represented the faithless among the Jews who were broken off by their unbelief in Christ as Messiah and Saviour. The Gentiles who believe the gospel and receive Christ are the wild olive branches which are grafted in among the natural branches of the tree. Eventually Israel, who does not now see the light, will receive it and accept the Messiah. She will then be placed in her proper position in the kingdom of God as was symbolized by the loaves of the shewbread. Then will be fulfilled completely the symbolism of the holy place.

The priests, as has been stated above, could enter only the holy place in their daily ministrations. The high priest on the Day of Atonement--once a year--entered into the most holy place to make provisional atonement for the nation. The fact that the veil separated the holy place from the most holy signified the fact that the way into heaven itself had not been opened up so long as the first Temple stood. This fact showed that the Tabernacle was only of a temporary, provisional, and typical nature. The conscience and the soul of the people were not by those services quickened into spiritual life and power. The worshippers were always conscious of the fact that the services did not present them perfectly acceptable in the sight of God. This fact was accentuated by the annual atonement.

The Temple with all its ceremonies was only provisional, having been imposed upon Israel "until the time of reformation." This time of reformation was the period ushered in by Christ's coming and suffering for us.