Hebrewsby Robert M. Solomon
While the tabernacle (and later the temple) was in place, the regular worship of the people of Israel went on. Everything was constructed and used in an orderly fashion. The people were restricted to the courtyard. The priests who alone could enter the Holy Place went in there to perform their regular priestly duties (Hebrews 9:6)-to attend to the lampstand, the table, and the altar of incense. These were all symbolic of the work of God and His relationship with His people. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year (Leviticus 16; see also Hebrews 9:7)-to emphasise the holiness of God who is unapproachable (Exodus 19:21-24; see 1 Timothy 6:16), such that anyone who sees Him face to face would die (Exodus 33:20). It is for this reason that the high priest could only enter the Holy of Holies after blood had been shed in sacrifice-for his own sins and that of his people (Hebrews 9:7). For ″without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness″ (v. 22).
The Jews were familiar with the details of worship in the tabernacle. But it was clear, as Hebrews argues, that all this was not the ultimate reality-only a shadow that points to the reality. The Holy Spirit has shown that ″the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning″ (Hebrews 9:8). In the earthly temple, a curtain veiled the way to the Most Holy Place, and God. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn into two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), symbolising how His sacrifice had removed the separation between God and man. The earthly tabernacle and its sacrificial and liturgical system were only a shadow and model (″an illustration″ or a ″parable″)37 of the present reality found in Christ (Hebrews 9:9).
On their own, the gifts and sacrifices (this phrase is used also in Hebrews 5:1 and 8:8 to refer specifically to gifts and sacrifices which is offered for atonement of sins and to make peace with God; see Leviticus 1-7; 9:7, 15-22) were not able to ″clear the conscience of the worshipper (Hebrews 9:9). The guilt for sins still remained in the conscience (the inner awareness of objective guilt)38 of the sinner (Hebrews 10:11). Hebrews argues that no amount of temple sacrifices can take away the painful effects of the guilty conscience. What was done at the tabernacle had only an outward effect, ″a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings″ (Hebrews 9:10). The rituals and practices were confined to ″external regulations″ (v. 10). They cannot solve the inward needs of people: their guilty conscience and broken relationship with God. A ″new order″ (v. 10) was needed-which is found in Christ. Praise be to God!
37Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 324.
38Mary Healy, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 194.
Why were the sacrifices in the tabernacle unable to clear the guilty conscience of the sinner? Why is it that trying to save ourselves by living piously cannot improve the situation?
When can religious ritual become an empty act that does not touch the inner realities of the worshipper? How can you worship from the depths of your heart?