Online Bible Commentary
The Sacrificial System
Hebrews 9:6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 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. 8 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. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (NIV)
In the first section of the book of Hebrews, through 10:18, the writer is continually proclaiming the superiority of Christianity to Judaism, the New Covenant to the Old Covenant. He is encouraging the Hebrews to whom he is writing to holdfast to Christianity and not to return to Judaism. He is proclaiming that all things of Christ are superior to all things of Judaism.
In this chapter, the writer is proclaiming that the sacrifice of Christ is superior to the sacrifice of Judaism. First, in this passage, he describes the Old Covenant sacrifice system of Judaism. In the next passage he will contrast this with the sacrifice of Christ.
The phrase, “when everything had been arranged like this” (v. 6a), refers to the preparations of the tabernacle as described in the previous passage. Once the tabernacle is prepared the priests would enter the “outer room” to perform their religious services. The outer room refers to the first room of the tabernacle, where only priests could enter. The tabernacle was the ornate tent that was used for worship by the Israelites for about the first 480 years after the exodus from slavery in Egypt until the building of the temple by Solomon.
The priests “entered regularly” (v. 6b) this outer room, called the Holy Place, at least twice a day, to perform religious services. They would light and extinguish the lights of the seven stem menorah and light and extinguish the incense on the altar. Once a week, on the Sabbath, they would replace the showbread on the table.
But only the high priest was permitted by God to enter the “inner room” (v. 7), the back room of the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies. He would enter once a year with a basin of sacrificial animal blood which he would use to atone for the sins of himself and all the people. Only sins of “ignorance” (v. 7b) could be atoned for. Sins committed willfully, on purpose, could not be atoned for. This day was the most high Jewish day, the Day of Atonement.
In verse eight the writer begins with a figure of speech called a “gnome”. A gnome is a brief saying that expresses a universal maxim. In this case, the writer refers to the Holy Spirit as the one who controls the teachings of the tabernacle. The teaching of the tabernacle was that the “Most Holy Place”, the Holy of Holies, was not yet open to every worshiper. Only the high priest could enter. He, and only he, had direct access to God.
This “illustration for the present time” (v. 9a), the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, was imperfect. It was temporary, never designed to be a lasting, complete, sacrifice. The “gifts and sacrifices being offered” (v. 9b), could only make it possible for the worshiper to participate in worship. The animal sacrifice could not provide for forgiveness of sins. It could not “clear the conscience of the worshiper” (v. 9c). The sacrifice was temporary. It would have to be repeated. It was not complete. It would not clear the conscience from the guilt of sin.
Obeying the “food and drink and various ceremonial washings” (v. 10a) refers to the clean and unclean food regulations of the law. It would only rid the people of ritual impurity. It would not deal with moral impurity. It would allow the people to worship, but it would not provide for salvation. They were “external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (v. 10b), the New Covenant, the Covenant of Christ. They were a symbol of what was to come, the sacrifice of Christ. His sacrifice was perfect, once for all and providing for a clear conscience and salvation.
So this was the sacrificial system of Judaism, as expressed in the Old Testament. It served its purpose but was never intended to be the final answer. Christ was the final answer. He had the better solution. He always has the better solution. He is the solution to all of life’s problems. He is superior to anything we may encounter in life. When we put all of our faith and hope and trust in the Lord, He is always faithful to provide.