An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Contrasted Priests
At the commencement of our last article we stated that, 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 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 be deplored, it was to their unspeakable advantage. In prosecuting this design, the Holy Spirit through Paul does, as it were, remove the veil from off the face of Moses. In 2 Corinthians 3:13 we read, "And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." These words direct attention to a profound spiritual truth which God (in keeping with His dispensational ways) caused to be mystically adumbrated or shadowed forth by a material and visible object.
In 2 Corinthians 3:7 the apostle had spoken of the brightness of Moses’ face as a symbol of his ministry: the revelation which he received was a divine and glorious one. But because the truth communicated through Moses was in an obscure form (by types and emblems) he veiled himself. Paul, as a minister of the "new covenant" used "great plainness of speech" (2 Cor. 3:12), i.e., employing no "dark parables" or enigmatic prophecies, still less mysterious ceremonies. Moses wore a veil "that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished" (Heb. 3:7), i.e., to prevent their seeing the termination or fading away of the celestial brightness of his countenance. The mystical meaning of this was, God would not allow Israel to know at that time that the dispensation of the Levitical or legal ministry would ultimately cease. The publication of that fact was reserved for a much later date.
"But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old covenant; which veil is done away in Christ" (2 Cor. 3:14). Yes, that "veil" which lay so heavily over the Mosaic types is now "done away in Christ," for He is that Antitype, the key which unlocks them, the sun which illuminates them. This, it is the great purpose of the Hebrews’ epistle to demonstrate. Here is doctrinally removed the "veil" from off the Mosaic institutions. Here the Spirit makes known the nature and purpose of the "old covenant." Here He declares the significance and temporal efficacy of all institutions and ordinances of Israel’s worship. Here He announces that the Levitical rites and ceremonies made a representation of heavenly things, but insists that those heavenly things could not themselves be introduced and established without the removal of what had adumbrated them. Here He shows that the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ.
Three things there were which constituted the glory of the old covenant, and which the Jews so rested in they refused the Gospel out of an adherence unto them: the priestly office; the tabernacle with all its furniture, wherein that office was exercised; the duties and worship of the priests in that tabernacle by sacrifices, especially those wherein there was a solemn expiation of the sins of the whole congregation. In reference to them, the apostle proves: first, that none of them could make perfect the state of the Church, nor really effect assured peace and confidence between God and the worshippers. Second, that they were but typical, ordained to represent that which was far more sublime and excellent than themselves. Third, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His person and mediation, was really and substantially, all that they did but prefigure, and that He was and did what they could only direct unto an expectation of.
In Hebrews 7 the apostle has fully evidenced this in connection with the priestly office. In the 8th chapter he has done the same in general unto the tabernacle, confirming this by that great collateral argument taken from the nature and excellency of that covenant whereby the incarnate Son was the Surety and Mediator. Here in the 9th chapter, he takes up the services and sacrifices which belonged unto the priestly office in the tabernacle. It was in them that the Jews placed their greatest confidence for reconciliation with God, and concerning which they boasted of the excellency of their Church-state and worship. Because this was the chief point of difference between the Gospel-proclamation and those who repudiated it, and because it was that whereon the whole doctrine of the justification of sinners before God did depend, the apostle enters into minute detail, declaring the nature, use and efficacy of the sacrifices of the law, and manifesting the nature, glory and efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, whereby those others had been put an end to (condensed from John Owen).
"Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God" (verse 6). Having made a brief reference to the structure of the tabernacle in its two compartments, and the furniture belonging to each of them respectively, the apostle now turns to consider the uses for which they were designed unto in the service of God. First, he says "these things were thus ordained," or as the Revised Version more correctly renders it, "thus prepared," for the Greek word (translated "made" in verse 2), signifies to dispose and arrange. When the things mentioned in verses 2-5 had been made and duly ordered, they stood not for a magnificent show, but were designed for constant use in the service of God. Hereby we are taught that, for any service to be acceptable to God, it must be in strict accord with the pattern He has given us in His Word: carefully ponder (1 Chron. 15:12, 13). Everything was duly prepared for Divine service before that service was performed. So in public service or Divine worship today there must be fit persons who, under the Spirit, are to lead it ‘‘able ministers of the new testament" (2 Cor. 3:6); fit arrangements and order (1 Cor. 14:40), not mere human tradition (Matthew 15:9); a fit message unto edification (1 Cor. 14:26).
"The priests went always into the first tabernacle." They only were allowed in the holy place that were the sons of Aaron; but even these were suffered to penetrate no farther, being barred from entrance into the holy of holies. This was in contrast from the high priest who entered the inner sanctuary, yet only on one day in the year. The word "always" is translated "continually" in Hebrews 13:15. It signifies constantly, at all times as occasion did require. Christians have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6), and they are bidden to "give thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20); to "rejoice evermore" and "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:16, 17).
"Accomplishing the service of God." The translators have rightly added the last two words, for the "service" here is a Divine one. "Accomplishing the service of God" means that they officiated in the ministry of the sacred ceremonies. The daily services of the priests were two: the dressing of the lamps of the candlestick: supplying them with the holy oil, trimming their wicks, etc.; this was done every evening and morning. Second, the service of the golden altar, whereon they burned incense every day, with fire taken from off the brazen altar, and this immediately after the offering of the evening and morning sacrifices. Whilst this service was being performed, the people without gave themselves unto prayer (Luke 1:10). Their weekly service was to change the shewbread on the table, which was done every Sabbath, in the morning. All of this was typical of the continual application of the benefits of the sacrifice and mediation of Christ unto His people here in the world.
The practical application to Christians now of what has just been before us, should be obvious. There ought to be family worship, both in the morning and in the evening. The replenishing of the oil in the lamps for continuous light, should find its counterpart in the daily looking to God for needed light from His Word, to direct our steps in the ordering of home and business life to His acceptance and praise. God has declared, "Them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Sam. 2:30). If God be not honored in the home by the family "altar," then we cannot count upon Him blessing our homes! The burning of the incense should receive its antitype in morning and evening praise and prayer unto God: owning Him as the Giver of every good and every perfect gift, thanking Him for spiritual and temporal mercies, casting all our care upon Him, pleading His promises, and trusting Him for a continuance of His favors. The Greek word here for "accomplishing" is a compound, which signifies to "completely finish"—rendered "perfecting" in 2 Corinthians 7:1—denoting their service was not done by halves. May we too serve God wholeheartedly.
"But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and the errors of the people" (verse 7). That to which the apostle here refers is the great anniversary- sacrifice of expiation, whose institution and solemnities are described at length in Leviticus 16. On the tenth day of the seventh month (which corresponds to our September) Israel’s high priest, unattended and unassisted by his subordinates, entered within the holy of holies, there to present propitiating sacrifices before Jehovah. Divested of his garments of "glory and beauty" (Ex. 28:2, etc.) and clad only in "the holy linen" (Lev. 16:4), he first entered the sacred precincts bearing a censer full of burning coals and his hands full of incense, which was to be placed upon the coals, so that a cloud of incense should cover the mercy-seat (Lev. 16:12, 13); which spoke of the fragrant excellency of Christ’s person unto God, when He offered Himself an atoning sacrifice. Second, he took of the blood of the bullock, which had been killed for a sin-offering for himself and his house (Lev. 16:11), and sprinkled its blood upon and before the mercy-seat (Heb. 16:14). Third, he went out and killed the goat which was a sin-offering for the people, and did with its blood as he had with that of the bullocks (Heb. 16:15).
When the high priest’s work within the veil had been completed, he came forth and laid both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confessed over him "all of the iniquities of the children of Israel and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat," which was then sent away "unto a land not inhabited" (Lev. 16:21, 22); all of which was typical of the Atonement made by the Lord Jesus, and of the plenary remission of sins through His blood. In the shedding of the victims’ blood and offering it by fire on the altar, there was a representation made of the vicarious imputation of guilt to the sacrifice, and the expiation of it through death. In the carrying of the blood into the presence of Jehovah and the sprinkling of it upon His throne, witness was borne to His acceptance of the atonement which had been made. In the placing of the sins of Israel upon the live goat and its carrying of them away into a land uninhabited, there was a foreshadowing of the blessed truth that, as far as the east is from the west so far hath God removed the transgressions of His people from before Him.
"Into the second veil went the high priest alone: There shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement" (Lev. 16:17). This denoted that Christ alone was qualified to appear before God on behalf of His people: none other was fit to mediate for them. "Once every year," to foreshadow the fact that Christ entered heaven for His people once for all: Hebrews 9:12. "Which he offered for himself," for he too was a sinner, and therefore incompetent to make real, efficacious and acceptable atonement for others; thereby intimating that he must yet give place to Another. "And for the errors of the people," which is to be interpreted in the light of the Old Testament expression "sins of ignorance" (Lev. 4:2; 5:15; Numbers 15:22-29), which are contrasted from deliberate or presumptuous sins (see Numbers 15:30, 31). Under the dispensation of law God graciously made provision for the infirmities of His people, granting them sacrifices for sins committed unwillingly and unwittingly. But for determined and open rebellion against His laws, no atoning sacrifice was available: see Hebrews 10:26.
The distinction pointed out above is the key to Psalm 51:16, "For Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it." There is no room for doubt that David knew full well the terrible character of the sins which he committed against Uriah and his wife. Later, when he was convicted of this, he realized that the law made no provision for forgiveness. What, then, did he do? Psalm 51:1-3 tells us: he laid hold on God Himself and said, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (verse 17). It was faith, penitently, appropriating the mercy of God in Christ.
"The Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing" (verse 8). The apostle now makes known the use which he intended to make of the description which had been given of the tabernacle and its furniture in verses 2-5: from the structure and order of its services he would prove the pre-eminency of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ above those which had belonged to the tabernacle. He points out that the Holy Spirit had provided instruction for Israel in the very disposal of their ancient institutions. Inasmuch as none but the high priest was permitted to pass within the veil, it was plainly intimated that under the Mosaic dispensation the people were barred from the very presence of God. Such a state of affairs could not be the ultimate and ideal, and therefore must be set aside before that which was perfect could be introduced.
"The Holy Spirit this signifying:" the reference is to the arrangements which obtained in the tabernacle, as specified in the preceding verses. Here we learn that the third person of the blessed Trinity was immediately concerned in the original instructions given to Israel. This intimates in a most striking way the perfect union, unison and cooperation of the persons of the Godhead in all that They do. 2 Peter 1:21 declares that, "holy men of old spake, moved by the Holy Spirit," prominent among whom was Moses. In Exodus 35:1 we read, "Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded"—the Holy Spirit moving Him to give an accurate record of all that he had heard from the Lord.
"The Holy Spirit this signifying," or making evident, that "the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." How did He thus "signify" this fact? By the very framework of the tabernacle: that is, by allowing the people to go no farther than the outer court, and the priests themselves only into the first compartment. "For things in His wisdom were thus disposed, that there should be the first tabernacle whereinto the priests did enter every day, accomplishing the Divine services that God required. Howbeit in that tabernacle there were not the pledges of the gracious presence of God. It was not the especial residence of His glory. But the peculiar habitation of God was separated from it by a veil, and no person living might so much as look into it on pain of death. But yet, lest the church should apprehend, that indeed there was no approach, here, nor hereafter, for any person into the gracious presence of God; He ordained that once a year the high priest, and he alone, should enter into that holy place with blood. Hereby he plainly signified, that an entrance there was to be, and that with boldness, thereinto. For unto what end else did He allow and appoint, that once a year there should be an entrance into it by the high priest, in the name of and for the service of the church? But this entrance being only once a year, by the high priest only, and that with the blood of the covenant, which was always to be observed whilst that tabernacle continued, he did manifest that the access represented was not to be obtained during that season; for all believers in their own persons were utterly excluded from it" (John Owen).
"The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." The apostle is not now speaking of the second compartment in the tabernacle (as in verse 3), but of that which was typified by it. "Now, in that most holy place, were all the signs and pledges of the gracious presence of God; the testimonies of our reconciliation by the blood of the atonement, and of our peace with Him thereby. Wherefore, to enter into these holies is nothing but to have an access with liberty, freedom and boldness, into the gracious presence of God on the account of reconciliation and peace made with Him. This the apostle doth so plainly and positively declare in Hebrews 10:19-22 that I somewhat wonder so many learned expositors could utterly miss of his meaning in this place. The holies then is the gracious presence of God, whereunto believers draw nigh, in the confidence of the atonement made for them, and acceptance thereon: see Romans 5:1-3, Ephesians 2:14-18, Hebrews 4:14, 15’ (John Owen).
But let us observe more closely this expression "the way into the holiest of all." This way is no other but the sacrifice of Christ, the true High Priest of the Church: as He Himself declared, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). Thus the ultimate reference here in "the holiest of all" is to Heaven itself, yet having a present and spiritual application unto access to and communion with God. The "way" into this is through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Marvelously was this adumbrated here on earth at the moment of His death, for then the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom (Matthew 27:51), thereby opening a way into the holy of holies.
But this access to God, or way into the holiest of all, "was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing." It is to be very carefully noted that the apostle did not say that there was then no way "provided" or "made use of," but only that it was not, during Old Testament times, "made manifest." There was an entrance into the presence of God, both unto grace and glory, for His elect, from the days of Abel and onwards, but that "way" was not openly and publicly displayed. By virtue of the everlasting covenant (the agreement between the Father and the Son), and in view of Christ’s satisfaction in the fullness of time, salvation was applied to saints then, and they were saved by faith as we are now, for the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. But the open manifestation of these things waited for the actual exhibition of Christ in the flesh, the full declaration of His person and mediation by the Gospel, and the introduction and establishment of all the privileges of Gospel worship.
"While as the first tabernacle was yet standing." The reference here is not to the first compartment or holy place, into which the priests entered and where they served, but is used synecdochially (a part put for the whole) for the entire legal system, which included the temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel. The "first tabernacle" is here spoken of in contrast from the "true tabernacle" of Hebrews 8:2, namely, the humanity of Christ, which was the antitype and succeeded in the room of the type—cf. Revelation 13:6! The apostle is here treating of what had its standing before God whilst the "first covenant" and Aaronic priesthood remained valid. He cannot be here referring to the "first tabernacle" as a building, for that had become a thing of the past, long centuries before he wrote this epistle. Yet the temples that succeeded it had their standing on the basis of the old covenant. This had now been annulled, and with it the whole system of worship which had so long obtained in Judaism.
"Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience" (verse 9). Having briefly pointed out the emblematic significance of the two compartments of the tabernacle, the apostle now approaches his leading object in this paragraph, namely, to demonstrate that Christ had "obtained a more excellent ministry" than that which had belonged to the Levitical priesthood. This he does by giving a brief summary of the imperfections of the tabernacle and all its services, wherein the administration of the old covenant did consist. By calling attention to the defects of inadequacy of the Judaic system, the apostle adopted the most effective method of exposing the unreasonableness of the rejection of the more glorious Gospel by the majority of the Jews, and at the same time showed what folly and wickedness it would be for the believing Hebrews to return to that system.
The apostle’s design in verses 9, 10 is to show that, notwithstanding the outward excellency and glory of the tabernacle-system (through Divine appointment), yet, in the will and wisdom of God, that system was only designed to continue for a season, and that the time of its expiation had now arrived. That the Levitical priesthood and their services were never intended by God to occupy a perpetual place in the worship of His church, was evident from the fact that they were utterly unable to effect for His saints that which He had purposed and promised. Not only did the presence of the veil, which excluded all save Aaron from the presence-chamber of Jehovah, intimate that the ideal state had not yet come; not only did the annual repetition of the great atoning-sacrifice indicate that, as yet, the all-efficacious Sacrifice had not yet been offered; but all the gifts and sacrifices combined failed to "perfect as pertaining to the conscience." They were only "a figure for the time then present," an institution and provision of God "until the time of reformation."
"Which was a figure for the time then present." The "which was" includes the tabernacle in both its parts, with all its vessels and services. The Greek word for "figure" here is not the same as the one rendered "type" in Romans 5:14 and "examples" in 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, but is the term commonly translated "parable," as in Matthew 13:3, 10 etc. It is used here for one thing representing another. It signifies "figurative instruction." By means of obscure mystical signs and symbols God taught the ancient church. The great mystery of our redemption by Christ was principally made known by a parable, which was addressed to the eyes rather than to the ears. That was the method which God was pleased to employ, the means He used under the law, of making known things to come. "Which was a figure," is the Holy Spirit’s affirmation that the structure, fabric, furniture and rites of the tabernacle were all vested with a Divine and spiritual significance. That the truly regenerate among Israel were acquainted with this fact is illustrated by the prayer of David, "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Ps. 119:18).
"Which was a figure for the time then present." The verb here is of the preter-imperfect tense, signifying a time that was then present, but is now past. The reference is to what had preceded the establishment of the new covenant, before the full Gospel revelation had been made. The figurative instruction which God gave to the early Church was not designed to be of permanent duration. Nevertheless, a sovereign God saw fit to continue that obscure and figurative representation of spiritual mysteries for no less than fifteen hundred years. His ways are ever the opposite of man’s. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing" (Prov. 25:2)! But how thankful we should be that "the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth" (1 John 2:8). Still, let it not be overlooked that the revelation God made through the tabernacle was sufficient for the faith and obedience of Israel had it been diligently attended unto.
"In which were offered both gifts and sacrifices." The Greek word for "sacrifices" is derived from a verb which means to kill, thus the reference here is to those oblations which were slaughtered. As distinguished from these, "gifts" were without life and sense, such as the meal-offering, oil, frankincense and salt which were mingled therewith (Lev. 2), the first-fruits, tithes, and all free-will offerings, which were presented by the priests. These were "offered" unto God, and that in the tabernacle, for there alone was it meet to offer them. So also was the "tabernacle" (Heb. 8:2) of Christ alone suited for its designed end. And what is the particular message this should have for the Christian heart? Surely to remind him of that word, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).
"That could not make him perfect as pertaining to the conscience." These words are not to be understood as restricted to the officiating priest, rather do they look more directly to the person in whose stead he presented the offering to God. Here the apostle points out the imperfection of the whole tabernacle-order of things, and its impotency unto the great end that might be expected from it. To "perfect" a worshipper is to fit him, legally and experimentally, for communion with God, and for this there must be both justification and sanctification, and neither of these could the Levitical priests procure. They could neither remit guilt from before God, nor remove the stains of it from the soul. Where those are lacking, there can be no peace or assurance in the heart, and then the real spirit of worship is absent. As this (D.V.) comes before us again in Hebrews 10:2, we will not here further enlarge.
Ere passing on to the next verse, it may be enquired, If then the Levitical sacrifices failed at this vital point, why were they ever appointed by God at all? To this question two answers may be returned. First, those sacrifices availed to remove the temporal governmental consequence of Israel’s sins; when rightly offered, they freed from political and external punishment, so that continuance in the land of Canaan was preserved; but they cancelled not the wages of sin, removed not the eternal punishment which was due unto every sin by the law. Second, they directed the faith of the regenerate forward to the perfect sacrifice of Christ (which the Levitical offerings typically represented), the virtue and value of which was available to faith’s appropriation from the beginning.
"Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of reformation" (verse 10). To convince those to whom he was writing that the Levitical ceremonies were incapable of perfecting the conscience, the apostle here demonstrates the truth of this by pointing out their inadequate nature and character. The ordinances of Judaism corresponded closely with the old covenant, which was made with man in the flesh: its sanctuary and furniture were material—things of sight and sense; its ministry was not spiritual, but had to do only with external rites; its ablutions effected nothing more than a ceremonial cleansing, and entirely failed to purify the heart, as faith does (Acts 15:9).
The "service" of the tabernacle-system "stood only in meats and drinks." This expression refers to the sacrifices and libations, which consisted of flesh and bread, oil and wine. "And divers washings": first, that of the priests themselves (Ex. 29:4, etc.), for whose use the "laver" was chiefly intended (Ex. 30:18, 31:9, etc.); second, of the various parts of the burnt-offering sacrifice (Lev. 1:9, 13); third, of the people themselves when they had contracted defilement (Lev. 15:8,16, etc.). "And carnal ordinances" which refers, most probably, to the whole system of laws pertaining to diet and manner of life. "Which stood only in," this is emphatic; the rites of Judaism were solely external and fleshly, there being nothing spiritual joined with them. Thus their insufficiency to procure spiritual and eternal blessings was evident: legal meats and drinks could not nourish the soul; ceremonial washings could not purify the heart.
"Imposed until the time of reformation." "The word for ‘imposed’ is properly ‘lying on them,’ that is, as a burden. There was a weight in all these legal rites and ceremonies, which is called a yoke, and too heavy for the people to bear (Acts 15:10). And if the imposition of them be principally intended, as we render the word ‘impose,’ it respects the bondage they were brought into by them. Men may have a weight lying on them, and yet not be brought into bondage thereby. But these things were so ‘imposed’ on them, as that they might feel their weight and groan under the burden of it. Of this bondage the apostle treats at large in the epistle to the Galatians. And it was impossible that those things should perfect a church-state, which in themselves were such a burden, and effective of such a bondage" (John Owen).
The institutions of the Levitical service possessed a general character of externality and materialty: as verse 13 of our chapter says, they sanctified "to the purifying of the flesh," but they reached not the dire needs of the soul. Therefore they were not designed to continue forever, but for a determined and limited season, namely, "unto the time of reformation," which expression respected the appearing of the promised Messiah to inaugurate the new and better covenant: see Luke 1:68-74. "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law; to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4, 5).