An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Typical Tabernacle
The principal design of the apostle in this epistle was to prove and make manifest that the "old covenant" which Jehovah made with Israel at Sinai, with all the ordinances of worship and the privileges connected therewith, had been Divinely annulled. This involved a complete change in the church-state of the Hebrews, but so far from this being a thing to deplore, it was to their unspeakable advantage. A "new covenant" had been inaugurated, and the blessings connected with it so far excelled those which had belonged to the old dispensation, that nothing but blind prejudice and perverse unbelief could refuse the true light which now shone, and prefer in its stead the dark shadows of a previous night. God never asks anybody to give up any thing without proffering something far better in return; and they who despise His offer are the losers. But prejudice is strong, and never harder to overcome than in connection with religious customs. Therefore does the Spirit labor so patiently in His argument throughout these chapters.
The chief obstacle in the way of the Hebrews’ faith was their failure to perceive that every thing connected with the ceremonial law—the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices—was typical in its significance and value. Because it was typical, it was only preparatory and transient, for once the Antitype materialized its purpose was served. The shadows were no longer needed when the Substance was manifested. The scaffolding is dispensed with, taken away, as soon as the finished building appears. The toys of the nursery become obsolete when manhood is reached. Everything is beautiful in its proper season. Heavy garments are needed when the cold of winter is upon us, but they would be troublesome in summer’s sunshine. Once we recognize that God Himself has acted on this principle in His dispensational dealings with His people, much becomes plain which otherwise would be quite obscure.
The apostle had closed the 8th chapter by pointing out, "Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." In those words the Spirit had intimated the unescapable inference which must be drawn from the oracle given through Jeremiah. He had predicted a "new covenant," which received its fulfillment in the establishing of Christianity. The ushering in of the new order of Divine worship necessarily denoted that the previous economy was "old," and if so, its end must be nigh. The force of Hebrews 8:13 is as follows: "In that He says a ‘new’": God would not have done so unless He had made the first "old." The "He hath made the first old" has an active significance and denotes an authoritative act of God upon the old economy, whereby the calling of the other "new" was the sign and evidence. God did not call the Christian dispensation "another covenant," or a "second covenant," but a "new" one, thereby declaring that the Judaic covenant was obsolete.
The connecting link between the closing verses of chapter 8 and the opening verses of Hebrews chapter 9 may perhaps be set forth thus: although the old covenant or Mosaic economy was "ready to vanish away," nevertheless, it yields, even for Christians, important and valuable teachings. It is full of most blessed typical import, the record of which has been preserved both for the glory of its Author and the edification and joy of His saints. Wonderful indeed were the pictorial fore-shadowings which the Lord gave in the days of Israel’s kindergarten. The importance of them was more than hinted at by God when, though He took but six days to make heaven and earth, He spent no less than forty days when instructing Moses concerning the making of the tabernacle. That clearly denoted that the work of redemptive grace, which was prefigured in Jehovah’s earthly dwelling place, was far more glorious than the work of creation. Thereby are we taught to look away from the things which are seen, and fix our minds and affections upon that sphere where the Son of God reigns in light and love.
"The general design of this chapter is the same as the two preceding, to show that Christ as High Priest is superior to the Jewish high priest. This the apostle had already shown to be true in regard to His rank, and to the dispensation of which He was the Mediator. He proceeds now to show that this was also true in reference to the efficacy of the sacrifice which He made: and in order to do this, he gives an account of the ancient Jewish sacrifices, and compares them with that made by the Redeemer. The essential point is, that the former dispensation was mere shadow, type, or figure, and that the latter was real and efficacious."—(A. Barnes).
"Then verily the first had also ordinances of the Divine service, and a worldly sanctuary" (verse 1). Having in the former chapter given further proof of the excellency of Christ’s sacerdotal office, by describing the superior covenant that was ratified thereby, the apostle now prepares the way to set forth the execution of that office, following the same method of procedure in so doing. Just as he had drawn a comparison between Aaron and Christ, so he now sets the ministrations of the one over against the Other, and this in order to prove that that of Christ’s was most certainly to be preferred. He first approaches the execution of the Levitical priests’ office by mentioning several rites and types which appertained thereto.
"Then verily the first had also ordinances of Divine service, and a worldly sanctuary." The apostle here begins the comparison which he draws between the old covenant and the new with respect to the services and sacrifices whereby the one and the other was established and confirmed. In so doing he is still dealing with what was to all pious Israelites a most tender consideration. It was in the services and sacrifices which belonged to the priestly office in the tabernacle that they had been taught to place all their confidence for reconciliation with God. If the apostle’s previous contention respecting the abolition of the legal priesthood was granted, then it necessarily followed that the sanctuary in which they served and all the offerings which Moses had so solemnly appointed, became useless too. It calls for our closest attention and deepest admiration to observe how the Spirit led the apostle to approach an issue so startling and momentous.
First, he is so far from denying that the ritual of Judaism was of human invention, that he declares, "verily (of truth) the first covenant had also ordinances of Divine service." Thus he follows the same method employed in the preceding chapters. In drawing his comparisons between Israel’s prophets and Christ, the angels and Christ, Moses and Christ, Joshua and Christ, Aaron and Christ, he had said nothing whatever in disparagement of the inferior. So far from reviling the first member in each comparison, he had dwelt upon that which was in its favor: the more they could be legitimately magnified, the greater the glory accruing to Christ when it was proved how far He excelled them. So here: the apostle granted the principal point which an objector would make—why should the first covenant be annulled if God Himself had made it? Before giving answer to this (seemingly) most difficult question, he allows and affirms that the service of Judaism was of Divine institution. Thus, in the earliest ages of human history God had graciously appointed means for His people to use.
The expression "ordinances of divine service" calls for a word or two by way of explanation. The word which is here rendered "ordinances’’ (margin "ceremonies") signifies rites, statutes, institutions. They were the appointments of God, which He alone had the right to prescribe, and which His people were under solemn bonds of observing, and that without any alteration or deviation. These "ordinances" were of "divine service" which is a single word in the original. In its verbal form it is found in Hebrews 8:5, "to serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things." In the New Testament it is always found in connection with religious or divine service: in Acts 24:14, Philippians 3:3 it is translated "worship." It signifies to serve in godly fear or trembling, thus implying an holy awe and reverence for the One served—cf. Hebrews 12:28. Thus, the complete clause means that under the Mosaic economy God gave His people authoritative enactments to direct their worship of Him. This law of worship was a hedge which Jehovah placed around Israel to keep them from the abominations of the heathen. It was concerning this very thing that God had so many controversies with His people under the old covenant.
Care needs to be duly paid to the tense which the apostle here used: he said not "verily the first covenant has also ordinances, of divine service," but "had". He is obviously referring to the past. The Mosaic economy had those ordinances from the time God covenanted with Israel at Sinai. But that covenant was no longer in force; it had been Divinely annulled. The "verily the first covenant had also ordinances of Divine worship," clearly intimates that the new covenant too has Divine "ordinances." We press this because there are some who now affirm that even Christian baptism and the Lord’s supper are "Jewish" ceremonies, which belong not to this present dispensation. But this error is sufficiently refuted by this word "also"—found in the very epistle which was written to prove that Judaism has given place to Christianity!
"And a worldly sanctuary." The reference is (as the next verse plainly shows) to the Tabernacle, which Moses made in all things according to the pattern shown him in the mount. Many have been sorely puzzled as to why the Holy Spirit should designate the holy sanctuary of Jehovah a "worldly" one. Yet this adjective should not present any difficulty. It is not used invidiously, still less as denoting anything which is evil. "Worldly" is not here opposed to "spiritual,’’ but as that which belongs to the earth rather than to the heavens. Thus the force of "worldly" here emphasizes the fact that the Mosaic economy was but a transient one, and not eternal. The tabernacle was made here in this world, out of perishing materials found in the world, and was but a portable tent, which might at pleasure be taken down and set up again; while the efficacy of its services extended only unto worldly things, and procured not that which was vital and eternal. Note how in Hebrews 9:24 the "holy places made with hands" are set in antithesis from "heaven itself."
We cannot but admire the wisdom given to the apostle in handling a matter so delicate and difficult. While his object was to show the immeasurable superiority of that which has been brought in by Christ over that which Judaism had enjoyed, at the same time he would own that which was of God in it. Thus, on the one hand, he acknowledges the service of the Levitical priests as "divine," yet, to pave the way for his further proof that Christ is a Minister of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1, 2), he points out that the tabernacle of Judaism was but a "worldly" one. "The antithesis to worldly is heavenly, uncreated, eternal. Thus in the epistle to the Galatians, the apostle, speaking of the legal parenthetical dispensation, says we were then in bondage under the ‘elements of the world’ (Heb. 4:3); and in the epistle to the Colossians he contrasts with the ‘rudiments of the world’ (Heb. 2:20) the heavenly position of the believer who has died with Christ, and ‘is no longer living in the world,’ but seeking the things above" (Adolph Saphir).
"For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, And the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary" (verse 2). "The subject spoken of is the tabernacle: that which is in general affirmed of it is that it was ‘made.’ There is a distribution of it into two parts in this and the following verse. These parts are described and distinguished by, first, their names; second, their situation with respect unto one another; third, their contents or sacred utensils. The one is described in this verse, by its situation: it was the ‘first,’ that which was first entered into; then by its utensils, which were three; then by its name; it was called the sanctuary" (John Owen).
"For there was a tabernacle made." A full description of it is to be found in the book of Exodus. The "tent" proper was thirty cubits, or forty-five feet in length, ten cubits, or fifteen feet in breadth, and the same in height. In shape it formed an oblong square. It was divided by a veil into two parts of unequal size. This continued to form God’s house of worship until the days of Solomon, when it was replaced by the more permanent and magnificent temple. It is pertinent to ask at this point, Why should the Holy Spirit here refer to the "tabernacle" rather than to the temple, which was still standing at the time the apostle was writing? The word "tabernacle" is found ten times in this epistle, but the "temple" is not mentioned once. This is the more remarkable because Paul, more than any of the apostles, emphasized the resurrection of Christ, and the temple particularly foreshadowed Him in His resurrection and eternal glory; whereas the tabernacle principally prefigured Christ in His humiliation and lowliness. Yet the difficulty is easily solved: the temple was not erected till after Israel were thoroughly settled in their inheritance, and the Holy Spirit is here addressing a people who were yet in the wilderness!
The Holy Spirit now makes a bare allusion to the holy vessels which occupied the two compartments of the tabernacle. But what rule has been given us to guide in and fix with certainty the interpretation of the mystical signification of these things? Certainly God has not left His people to the worthless devisings of their own imaginations. No, in this very epistle, He has graciously informed us that the tabernacle, and all contained in it, were typical of Christ, yet not as He may be considered absolutely, but as the Church is in mystical union with Him, for throughout Hebrews He is viewed in the discharge of His mediatory office. Thus the tabernacle, its holy vessels and services, supplied a representation of the person, work, offices and glories of Christ as the Head of His people. That it did so is clear from Hebrews 8:2—see our comments thereon. The "true tabernacle" there mentioned (our Lord’s humanity) is not opposed to what is false and erroneous (the shrines of the heathen), but to the tabernacle of Moses, which was but figurative and transitory. In the Lord Jesus we have the substance of what Israel had only the shadow.
"For there was a tabernacle made: the first (compartment) wherein was the candlestick." It is to be noted that no mention is here made of the outer court. In this omission, as in so many others, the anointed eye may clearly discern the absolute control of the Spirit over the sacred writers, moving and guiding them in every detail. In our articles upon Exodus (1926, etc.) we have attempted a much fuller exposition than can here be given. Suffice it now to say that everything connected with the outer court was fulfilled by Christ in the days of His flesh. The very fact that it was the "outer" court, accessible to all the people and unroofed, at once denotes to us Christ here in the world, openly manifested before men. Its brazen altar spoke of the cross, where God publicly dealt with the sins of His people. Its fine linen hangings spoke of Christ meeting the claims of God’s righteousness and holiness. Its sixty pillars tell of the strength and power of Christ, "mighty to save." Its laver foreshadowed Christ cleansing His Church with the washing of water by the Word (John 13).
Now as the outer court viewed Christ on earth, so the holy places pointed to Him in heaven. The holy place was a chamber which was entered by none save the priestly family, where those favored servants of Jehovah ministered before Him. It was therefore the place of communion. In perfect keeping with this, each of the three vessels that stood therein spoke of fellowship. The lampstand foreshadowed Christ as the power for fellowship, as supplying the light necessary to it. The table with its twelve loaves, prefigured Christ as the substance of our fellowship, the One on whom we feast. The incense altar typified Christ as the maintainer of fellowship, by His intercession securing our continued acceptance before the Father. The reason why the "incense altar" is not mentioned here in Hebrews 9 will be taken up when we come to verse 4.
"For there was a tabernacle made: the first (compartment) wherein was the candlestick," or better, "lampstand." There was no window in the tabernacle, for the light of nature cannot reveal spiritual things. It was therefore illuminated from this holy vessel, which was placed on the south side, near the veil which concealed the holy of holies. A full description of it is given in Exodus 25:31-36. It was made of beaten gold, all of one piece, with all its lamps and ornamentations, so that it was without either joints or screws. Pure olive oil was provided for it.
The very fact that the lampstand stood in the holy place, at once shows that it is not Christ as "the Light of the world" which is typified. It is strange that many of the commentators have erred here. The words of Christ on this point are clear enough: "as long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5 and cf. Hebrews 12:35, 36): only then was He manifested here as such. But men loved darkness rather than light. They rejected the Light, and so far as they were concerned, extinguished it. Since Christ was put to death by wicked hands, the world has never again gazed on the Light. He is now hidden from their eyes. But He who was slain by the world, rose again, and then ascended on high; it is there in the Holy Place in God’s presence, that the Light now dwells. And while there—O marvelous privilege—the saints have access to Him.
Black shadows rest upon the world which has cast out the Light of Life: "the way of the wicked is as darkness" (Prov. 4:19). It is now night-time, for the "Dayspring from on high" is absent. The lampstand tells of the gracious provision which God has made for His own beloved people during the interval of darkness, ere the Sun of righteousness shall rise once more, and usher in for this earth that morning without clouds. Its seven branches and lamps constantly fed by oil, represented the fullness of light that is in Christ Jesus, and which by Him is communicated to His whole Church. The "oil" was poured into its lamps and then shed forth light from them. Such was and is the economical relation of the Spirit unto the Mediator. First, Christ was "anointed" with the Spirit "above His fellows" (Ps. 45:7 and cf. John 3:34), and then He sent forth the Spirit (Acts 2:33). Objectively the Spirit conveys light to us through the Word; subjectively, by inward and supernatural illumination.
"And the table and shewbread" (verse 2). Though intimately connected, yet these two objects may be distinguished in their typical significance. The natural relation of the one to the other, helps us to perceive their spiritual meaning: the bread was placed upon and thus was supported by the table. The "table" speaks of communion. A beautiful picture of this is found in 2 Samuel 9. There David asks, "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?" (verse 1). A lovely illustration was this of the wondrous grace of God, showing kindness to those who belong to the house of His enemy, and that for the sake of His Beloved. There was one, even Mephibosheth, lame on his feet; him David "sent and fetched" unto himself. And then, to show he is fully reconciled to this grandson of his foe, David said, "but Mephibosheth thy master’s son shall eat bread always at my table" (verse 10)—evidencing that he had been brought into the place of most intimate fellowship. 1 Corinthians 10:20, 21 also shows the spiritual significance of the "table."
The "shewbread," or twelve loaves on the table, also spoke of Christ. "My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). The word "shewbread" is literally "bread of faces," faces being put by a figure for presence—pointing to the Divine presence in which the bread stood; "shewbread before Me always" (Ex. 25:30). The twelve loaves, like the twelve precious stones in the high priest’s breastplate, pictured the twelve tribes of Israel being represented before God. Thus, in type, it was the Lord Jesus identifying Himself with His covenant people.
"And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all" (verse 3). The first veil was the "hanging" over the entrance into the tabernacle, shutting off from view what was inside from those who were in the outer court. It is described in Exodus 26:36, 37. The second veil, described in Exodus 26:31-33 and explained in Hebrews 10:20, was a heavy curtain which concealed the contents of the holy of holies from those in the holy place. The Levitical family ministered in the holy place, but none save the holiest of all, and he only one day in the year. Three things have been mentioned as occupying a place in the first tabernacle; seven objects are now mentioned in connection with the holiest of all.
"Which had the golden censer" (verse 4). First, we would note the minute accuracy of the wording here. In verse 2 it was said "Wherein was the candlestick," etc., for the objects there mentioned belonged properly to the first compartment. But here it is, "which had the golden censer." Why? Because this utensil did not form part of the furniture of the holy of holies. To what then is the reference? Plainly to what is recorded in Leviticus 16:12, 13, "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the (brazen) altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring within the veil: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not."
For three hundred and fifty-nine days in the year Aaron ministered at the golden or incense altar, which stood in the holy place; but on the remaining day, the annual "Day of Atonement," he did not. Instead, he used the "golden censer" of incense, passing with it within the veil. It is this which explains why there is no mention of the "golden altar" in verse 2, for the Holy Spirit is here treating (see the later verses) of the Judaic ritual on the Day of Atonement, and the fulfillment of the type by the Lord Jesus. That which was represented by the "golden censer" was the acceptability of Christ’s person to God and the efficacy of His intercession. The beautiful type of Leviticus 16:12, 13 denotes that, in consequence of the satisfaction which Christ made unto God, completed at the cross, His mediatory intercession is a sweet savor unto the Father, and effective unto the salvation of His Church. The fact that the smoke of this perfume covered the ark and the mercy-seat, wherein was the law, and over which the symbol of the Divine presence abode, denoted that Christ has magnified the law, met its every requirement, and is the end of the law for righteousness unto everybody that believeth.
"And the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant" (verse 4). The ark, with the mercy-seat which formed its lid or cover, was the most glorious and mysterious vessel of the tabernacle. It was the first thing made (Ex. 25:10, 11), yea, the whole sanctuary was built for no other end but to be, as it were, a house and habitation for the ark (Ex. 26:33). The ark was the outstanding symbol that God Himself was present among His people and that His covenant-blessing was resting upon them. It was the coffer in which the tables of the law were preserved. Its pre-eminence above all the other vessels was shown in the days of Solomon, for the ark alone was transferred from the tabernacle to the temple.
The ark was an outstanding figure of the incarnate Son of God. The wood of which it was made, typified His sinless humanity. "Shittim" wood never rotted, and the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament renders it "incorruptible wood." The wood was overlaid, within and without, with gold, prefiguring Christ’s Divine glory. The two materials of which the ark was made symbolized the union of the two natures in the God-man—"God manifest in flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). The ark formed God’s throne in Israel: "Thou that dwellest between the cherubim" (Ps. 80:1). Christ is the only One who perfectly enthroned God, honoring His government in all things. Each of the seven names given to the ark in the Old Testament sets forth some excellency in the person of Christ. Everything connected with its most remarkable history, as in Numbers 10:33, 14:44, Joshua 3:5-17, 6:4-20, etc., received its antitypical fulfillment in the God-man.
"Wherein was the golden pot that had manna." Some have imagined a contradiction between this statement and what is said in 1 Kings 8:9, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone." But there is no conflict between the two passages, for they are not treating of the same point in time. Hebrews 9:4 is speaking of what was in the ark during the days when it was lodged in the tabernacle, whereas 1 Kings 8:9 tells of what comprised its contents after it came to rest in the temple. It is important to note this distinction, for it supplies the key to the spiritual interpretation of our verse: Hebrews 9:4 makes known God’s provisions in Christ for His people while they are journeying through the wilderness. Thus the "manna" was Israel’s food from Egypt to Canaan: type of Christ as the heavenly sustenance for our souls. The preservation of the manna in the golden pot, speaks of Christ in glory at God’s right hand.
"And Aaron’s rod that budded." The reference is to what is recorded in Numbers 17. In the preceding chapter we read of a revolt against Moses and Aaron, occasioned by jealousy at the authority which God had delegated to His two servants. The revolt of Korah and his company was visited by summary judgment from on high, and was followed by a manifest vindication of Aaron. The form that vindication took is most instructive. The Lord bade Moses take the twelve tribal rods, writing the name of Aaron on Levi’s, laying them up before the ark, and affirming that the one which should be made to blossom would indicate which had been chosen of God to the priestly tribe. Next morning it was found that Aaron’s rod had "brought forth buds, and blossomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." Afterwards God ordered Moses to place Aaron’s rod before the ark "to be kept for a token against the rebels." The lifeless rod being made to blossom was a figure of God’s vindication of His rejected Son by raising Him from the dead. Thus it speaks of the resurrection-power of our great High Priest.
"And the tables of the covenant." The reference is to Deuteronomy 10:1-5. The preservation of the two tables of stone (on which were inscribed the ten commandments) in the ark, foreshadowed Christ magnifying the law and making it honorable (Isa. 42:21). The fulfillment of this type is stated in Psalm 40:7, 8, where we hear the Mediator saying, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me: I delight to do Thy will, O My God; Yea, Thy law is within My heart." The Representative of God’s people was "made under the law" (Gal. 4:4), and perfectly did He "fulfill" it (Matthew 5:17). Therefore is it written, "by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). Thus may each believer exclaim, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength" (Isa. 45:24).
"And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy-seat: of which we cannot now speak particularly" (verse 5). At either end of the mercy-seat was the form of a cherub with outstretched wings, meeting in the center, thus overshadowing and as it were protecting God’s throne. That there is some profound significance connected with their figures is clear from the prominent place which they occupy in connection with the description of the mercy-seat given in Exodus 25:17-22: mention is there made of the cherubim, in either the singular or plural number, no less than seven times. The mention of them in Genesis 3:24 suggests that they are associated with the administration of God’s judicial authority. In Revelation 4:6-8 (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-10) they are related to God’s throne. Here in Hebrews 9 they are called the "cherubim of glory" because the Skekinah abode between them.
The mercy-seat, or better, "propitiatory," was the throne upon which the high priest placed the expiatory blood. It was not the place where propitiation was made—that was at the brazen altar—but where its abiding value was borne witness to before God. Romans 3:25 gives us the antitype: by the Gospel God now "sets forth" (Gal. 3:1) Christ as the One by whom He has been placated, as the One by whom His holy wrath against the sins of His people has been pacified, as the One by whom the righteous demands of His law were satisfied, as the One by whom every attribute of Deity was glorified. Christ Himself is God’s resting-place in whom He now meets poor sinners in all the fullness of His grace because of the propitiation made by Him on the cross.
The last clause of the verse is translated more literally in Bagster’s Interlinear thus: "concerning which it is not now (the time) to speak in detail"—the "concerning which" is not to be restricted to that which is found here in verse 5, but takes in all that has been mentioned in verses 2-5. It would have led the apostle too far away from his subject of the high priest’s service, to give an interpretation of the spiritual meaning of the tabernacle and everything in it. Nevertheless, he plainly intimates that every part of it had a specific significance as typical of the Lord Jesus and His ministry.