Saturday, September 5, 2015

043. The Holy of Holies: The Tabernacle - Part XIII

With the Day of Atonement this month from sundown on the 22nd (T) through sundown on the 23rd (W), this post will conclude the running commentary of C.W. Slemming's 1938 text on the Tabernacle, entitled "Made According to Pattern", with a focus on the Holy of Holies. An upcoming post will cover some details of the conduct of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the presence of God.

The Veil

The last post about the Tabernacle concerned the veil, with a discussion of different types of veils as described in the scriptures. The word for veil in Hebrew, paroketh, means 'to separate'. Before entering the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place a final veil had to be passed through. The desert tabernacle actually had three veils or curtains, each made of fine-twined linen interwoven with threads of blue, purple, and scarlet; only the prepared and chosen were allowed to pass through one area of the Tabernacle to another:
  1. Gate of the Court (Ex. 27:16): This gate or curtain was 7.5ft high x 30ft wide supported by four pillars anchored into four bronze (not silver) sockets. This was the entrance to the Tabernacle, or a separation between the people and the Tabernacle. People brought their sacrifices to the gate as an offering to God. We can offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit as personal sacrifices as we approach the gate of salvation and exaltation. 
  2. Hanging for the Door of the Tent (Ex. 26:36-37): This curtain was supported by five pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold which were anchored into five bronze sockets and hung from gold hooks. This was the entrance to the Holy Place, or a separation between the priests in the Tabernacle court and the Holy Place. Only after cleansing at the brazen altar and the brazen laver could the priests enter the Holy Place to worship God. We can follow the pattern of our Savior by being baptized and then subsequently sanctified through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, thus preparing ourselves to allow Christ and the Father to enter our own personal Holy Place, where we can commune with them.
  3. The Veil: The veil was supported by four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold which were anchored into four silver sockets and hung from gold hooks. This was the entrance to the Holy of Holies, or a separation between the Holy Place and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. The veil was described as a "skillful work" (Ex. 26: 31) with images of Cherubim woven into its fabric, similar to those placed to guard the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were driven out to protect the Tree of Life. Through our faith as well as casting off all sin, unbelief, jealousy, and fear, we can prepare ourselves to pass through the final veil separating us from the presence of God, which is both our privilege and a promise to us: "And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I AM—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual" (Doctrine and Covenants 67:10).
The Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube covered in gold, 10 cubits in length, width and height (15ft). The Holy of Holies represented heaven itself, God’s dwelling place. In the Book of Revelation, John’s vision of heaven, or the New Jerusalem, was a perfect square (Rev. 21:16). During their desert journeyings, God appeared to the Israelites as a pillar of cloud or fire in and above the Holy of Holies. Moses was allowed to go the Holy of Holies at any time in order to enter into the presence of God (Ex. 25:22). However, after Moses, only the high priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies on one day each year, the Day of Atonement, to offer blood on the mercy seat for his sins and those of the people.

The Golden Ark of the Covenant

Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, with the Mercy Seat sitting on top of the ark. This represented God's throne, and was thus symbolic of His presence. It was the most sacred of all the articles in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle itself was built to house the Ark of the Covenant so that God could dwell among His people. It was the first item of furniture made after God instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:8-10). We usually build a house first, then pick out the furnishings later. But God starts with the heart of things and then works from within outward. The ark was the heart or the soul of the Tabernacle, for without it, there was no purpose in having a Tabernacle. It was to maintain God's presence and protection among the people. This can be contrasted with the Temple of Herod during Christ's time that had no ark. By then the temple and the religion that supported it had been transformed into a system of pedantic customs and empty rituals that rendered its adherents so blind that they crucified the very God they were attempting to worship and the Messiah they hoped would deliver them.

The ark had several other names in scripture, such as: 
  • Ark of the testimony (Ex. 25:22), because it contained the two tablets of the law;
  • Ark of the covenant (Num. 10:33), speaking of God's covenant relationship with His people;
  • Ark of God (1 Sam. 3:3);
  • Ark of the Lord God (1 Kings 2:26);
  • the Holy Ark (2 Chr. 35:3);
  • Ark of thy Strength (Ps. 132:8).
The ark was a rectangular shaped chest, 2.5 cubits long x 1.5 cubits high and wide (3ft9in long x 2ft3in high and wide). It was made of acacia wood covered with gold inside and out. A golden rim or crown followed around the edge of the top of the ark providing a setting for the Mercy Seat (see below), gold rings on the four corners, and staves of acacia wood covered in gold to go through the rings to carry it.

Hebrews 9:3-5 states that there were three objects in the ark:
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4 Which had the golden censer, 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;
5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
1 Kings 8:9 states that only the tablets were in the ark by this time (Solomon's Temple). 

The Golden Pot of Manna

Manna was the food provided by God for the children of Israel during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The word manna in Exodus 16:15 is a transliteration of two Hebrew words expressed in English as "what is it?". It is also known by several other names in the scriptures:
  • Bread from Heaven (Ex. 16:4);
  • Angel's food (Ps. 78:25);
  • Light bread (Num. 21:5);
  • Spiritual food (1 Cor. 10:3).
Manna appeared every morning around the camp when the dew fell on the ground, similar to hoar frost (Ex. 16:14). It looked like a small coriander seed, was round and white in color, and tasted like wafers made with honey (Ex. 16:31) or oil (Num. 11:7-8). The head of each household gathered "according to each one's need, an omer (about 2 quarts) for each person" in their family every morning (Ex. 16:16). Only one day's supply was collected, except on the sixth day, when they gathered enough for two days to keep the sabbath day holy (Ex. 16:22). God did not permit a storing up or a surplus, for that encouraged selfishness or a lack of trust. There was always enough for each Israelite (Ex. 16:18). If any manna remained on the ground after the gathering, it simply melted away (Ex. 16:21). Aaron was commanded to gather an omer of manna in a golden bowl and put it in the ark (Ex. 16:33).  This token represented God's gifts and blessings to His children.

Jesus Christ is of course "the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32), as He thus referred to Himself. The manna was available to all in continual abundance just as the light and sustaining power of Christ are available to all, giving us breath and life each day. The manna was small, representing humility, round, representing perfection, and white, representing purity. The manna was ground and baked, symbolic of Christ's suffering on our behalf. The manna was laid within the ark, representing the will and life of the Son being laid before His Father on our behalf. The resurrected Lord announced to those at Pergamum that He has "hidden manna" to give to all those who overcome (Rev. 2:17). One day the righteous shall feast on the hidden glories of the Lord in their fullness. In sum, Christ is the true manna and is all we need (He is sufficient) to meet all our needs, to satisfy our hungry souls, to strength our weakened spirits, and to sustain us in our righteous endeavors. 

Aaron's Rod that Budded 

An account is recorded in Numbers 16 and 17 where men named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had gathered 250 leaders from the 12 tribes to challenge Moses and Aaron's right to leadership. These men claimed that Moses had taken authority to himself, was full of pride, and had favored his brother Aaron in calling him to be the high priest. Moses took this concern to the Lord and God commanded that all these men should present themselves before Him the next day. Since they thought that they too should be priests, each man of the 250 was to come with a priestly censer containing live fire and incense (emblems that the High Priest would take into the Holy of Holies). After a tense exchange of accusations and reproof, God spoke. He declared that He would destroy the whole host, but Moses plead with God to spare them. God told the people to separate from the three ringleaders and then made His will known by opening the ground, which swallowed them up along with their families (Num. 16:28-30). The 250 followers were then immediately destroyed by a fire that broke out (Num. 16:35). The next day, instead of having a repentant attitude, the people were angry and accused Moses of killing their leaders. God's fury was further poured out with a plague that swept through the camp. All would have been killed if it had not been for Moses and Aaron standing between the living and the dead and making an atonement. Approximately 15,000 lives were lost, a very high cost for rebellion against the true servants of the Lord.

God then proceeded to give the people a further piece of evidence that He had chosen Aaron as the High Priest, vindicating the character of both His servants. The leaders of the 12 tribes were to each bring an almond branch or rod upon which Moses was to engrave the man's name. Aaron's name was engraved on the rod from the tribe of Levi. All 12 rods were put inside the Tabernacle. If God had chosen a man to be high priest his rod would blossom. The next morning, not only had Aaron's rod budded and blossomed, but it had produced almonds (Num. 17:8). Aaron's rod was placed inside of the ark as a testimony that it was God's will that he serve as High Priest and a sign against the rebels, a token representing God's chosen priesthood.

Jesus Christ is the great High Priest. He was selected by God the Father for His holy mission and purpose. No one is justified in questioning His authority or His fulfillment of His Father's will. He broke the bands of death and was resurrected from the grave. He alone is the "resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Just like Aaron's rod, which not only blossomed, but bore fruit, Christ is the first fruits of the dead. Christ wishes that we reproduce His fruits in our own lives. We must abide as branches in Him, the true vine, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). There are many fruits that can come from our devotion to Christ: 
  1. Our character and countenance changes as we become more like Him;
  2. The works we perform bring glory to His name;
  3. Any who are converted to Christ through our efforts.
The Tablets of the Law

These were the 10 commandments, the Moral Law. The Civil (Ex. 21-23; Lev. 11-15, 17-20) or the Ceremonial Law (Ex. 25-31; most of Lev.) were never included in the ark. The Moral Law was given to Moses three times:
  1. First, orally to Moses upon Mount Sinai: "And God answered him by voice..." (Ex. 19:19) or "And God spake all these words, saying..." (Ex. 20:1), followed by God speaking the 10 Commandments.
  2. Second, written on stones provided by God: The children of Israel were then invited to ascend the mountain and receive the law for themselves, but the children of Israel declined saying "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." So, God called Moses to the mountain again that he might receive the law in a written form to teach to the people (Ex. 24:12). This time God provided both the stones as well as the writing (Ex. 32:16; Ex. 31:18). As Moses and Joshua descended from the mount they heard the noise of singing and saw that the people were worshipping a golden calf. Imagine what went through Moses' mind as he contrasted what he saw his people doing with the first two commandments he had just received from God Himself!: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" and "Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image". The law was being broken even as it was being made. Moses "anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands and break them beneath the mount" (Ex. 32:19).
  3. Third, written on stones provided by Moses: God did not give up on His people and He instructed Moses to find two more stones. God cut the first pair, but He did not make the second. Moses had to make the stones similar to what God had provided the first time. Moses again ascended the mount with the stones and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before God wrote the words of the covenant, the 10 commandments, on the stones (Ex. 34:1,4,28). The commandments were written on both sides of the stones (Ex. 32:15). Deuteronomy 10:2-4 suggests the writing on of the first and second set of stone tablets was the same. God commanded Moses to put these stone tablets in an ark made of wood. 
Why two stones? Surely the commandments could have been written on one. Was it to divide them up? Five and five evenly? Perhaps the first four were on one stone, the latter six on the other -- the first four are focused on our duty to God, while the latter six focus on our duty to others. These tablets were deposited in the ark as a token of God's covenant with His children.

The Mercy Seat

The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was called the Mercy Seat. It was a slab of pure gold 2.5 x 1.5 cubits (3ft9in x 2ft3). Such a large amount of gold would have been beyond price in those days. Cherubim of gold stood on each end of the Mercy Seat facing each other. The figures were bowed, looking downward toward the mercy seat, where the blood of sacrifice was sprinkled and God's glory dwelt (Ps 80:1). The wings of the Cherubim touched each other as they were stretched out over its top (Ex. 25:10-20). Cherubim were guardians, with their wings offering protection over the entirety of the Mercy Seat and its contents. Together the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat were not an altar, there was no sacrifice made upon it.

The Mercy Seat was not really a seat at all. The work of a priest was never really finished and it was not a place where he sat; there was always more work to do. Only the Great High Priest Himself could say His work was "finished" and was then able to sit down: "And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" Hebrews 10:11-12.

The idea of sitting down on the right hand of God suggests the completion of a finished work that God has given a person to do. It is up to each person to find out from God what He purposes them to do.
  • "Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked— And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out" Helaman 3:29-30.
  • And then from Alma: "And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out" (Alma 7:25).
This wasn't just called a seat, it was a mercy seat. The concept of mercy is not always prevalent in Old Testament writing. Notice, however, that the Mercy Seat covered the entire ark and its contents. Mercy is in God's goodness to and care of His children, represented by the manna. Mercy is in God's priesthood, intended to be used for the blessing and service of others. Mercy covers God's laws, His covenant. Man could not keep the law perfectly, for even from the moment Moses came down from Mount Sinai the people were already engaged in idol worship under the supervision of Aaron. He is merciful to forgive all those who have trespassed His commandments and repent.

Journeyings of the Ark

The ark was built at Sinai by Bezaleel and his workmen who were skilled in all manner of workmanship because they were guided by the Spirit of God. The ark was carried first by the Kohathites (a clan of the tribe of Levi) whose special burden was the ark, the lamp stand, the table of showbread, and the two altars, with all their vessels. The ark was carried by priests on the Israelite journey through the wilderness, across the river Jordan, and into the promised land. When it was traveling, the ark was covered by the covering of the tabernacle so that no one else ever saw it. The ark was at the front of the 7-day march around the walls of the city of Jericho. During one period of Israel's apostasy, the ark was taken away by the Philistines, physically representing the removal of God's presence from among them. When the ark became a curse to the Philistines, suffering plagues and other afflictions, they returned it to the Israelites. The ark made its way to the house of Abinadab where it remained for 20 years. After David became king, he transported the ark on an ox-drawn cart (which mode of transportation was not allowed by God) to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). During this journey, the oxen became upset and the ark shifted. Uzziah reached out to steady the ark, but died immediately because he had violated God's commands by touching the ark. Only the Levite priests were permitted to carry the ark (Num. 4:15). David feared God's judgment and so put the ark in the house of Obed-edom, a gentile (2 Sam. 6:10-11), which was greatly blessed. After three months David sent priests to carry the ark to Jerusalem where it was placed in a tent (2 Sam. 6:17) until Solomon's Temple could be built. From there, the final destiny of the ark is a mystery. Some conjecture that the ark may have been destroyed by Babylonians seeking its gold or taken back to Babylon as a war trophy, or that it was buried in the ground on the Temple Mount by the priests before the Babylonian invasion. An account in the Maccabees (2 Mac. 2:4-5) suggests Jeremiah removed the ark and hid it in a cave that has been lost from memory. Some believe it was transported to heaven or that it simply disintegrated over time. Jeremiah alluded to the ark not being necessary to the future of Israel (Jer 3:16) and the description of the millennial temple by Ezekiel does not mention the ark at all (Ez 40-44), likely because the Lord Himself will be in the midst of those present. Revelations 11:19 says "Then the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple."

In Closing

At Christ's crucifixion the veil to the Temple of Herod was rent from top to bottom, exposing the Holy of Holies to all. Through His sacrifice and infinite atonement, Christ opened the way for all to have access individually to God's presence. By following the example of Jesus Christ, all may eventually be made partakers of His glory and become joint-heirs with Christ. Through Him was the law fulfilled and a second or a "better covenant" established between God and man. Instead of the covenant being written upon stone tablets, it was to be written upon the minds and hearts of the people, and through which all could come to know the Lord their God individually. This was God's original intent with the children of Israel when they were invited to ascend the mount and receive the covenant individually from God's own voice. Things came full circle with Christ:

Hebrews 8:
6 But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
 8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

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