When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. – NIV Hebrew 9:6-8
The high priest could enter the Most Holy Place (9:3; or the “inner room”, 9:7), the innermost room of the tabernacle, one day each year to atone for the nation’s sins. The Most Holy Place was a small room that contained the ark of the covenant (a gold-covered chest containing the original stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff). The top of the chest served as the “atonement cover” (the altar) on which the blood would be sprinkled by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The Most Holy Place was the most sacred spot on earth for the Jews. Only the high priest could enter – the other priests and the common people were forbidden to come into the room. Their only access to God was through the high priest, who would offer a sacrifice and use the animal’s blood to atone first for his own sins and then for the people’s sins (see also 10:19).
Desecrated by Eli’s sons:
When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” – NIV 1 Samuel 4:3
The ark of the covenant contained the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. The ark was supposed to be kept in the Most Holy Place, a sacred part of the tabernacle that only the high priest could enter once a year. Hophni and Phinehas desecrated the room by unlawfully entering it and removing the ark.
The Israelites rightly recognised the great holiness of the ark, but they thought that the ark itself – the wood and metal box – was their source of power. They began to use it as a good luck charm, expecting it to protect them from their enemies. A symbol of God does not guarantee his presence and power. Their attitude towards the ark came perilously close to idol worship. When the ark was captured by their enemies, they thought that Israel’s glory was gone (4:19-22) and that God had deserted them (7:1, 2). God uses his power according to his own wisdom and will. He responds to the faith of those who seek him.
Curtain spilt at Jesus’ death:
for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. – NIV Luke 23:45
This significant event symbolised Christ’s work on the cross. The temple had three parts: the courts for all the people; the Holy Place, where only priests could enter; and the Most Holy Place, where the high priest alone could enter once a year to atone for the sins of the people. It was in the Most Holy Place that the ark of the covenant, and God’s presence with it, rested. The curtain that was torn was the one that closed off the Most Holy Place from view. At Christ’s death, the barrier between God and man was split in two. Now all people can approach God directly through Christ (Hebrews 9:1-14; 10:19-22).
©Kingsway “International” Church 1973.