The Old System of Worship

Hebrews 9:1-10

New Living Translation

Old Rules about Worship

That first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth. There were two rooms in that Tabernacle.[a] In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place. Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was the second room[b] called the Most Holy Place. In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement. But we cannot explain these things in detail now.

When these things were all in place, the priests regularly entered the first room[c] as they performed their religious duties. But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle[d] and the system it represented were still in use.

This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. 10 For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies—physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established.

My thoughts and observations:

Only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year.

The gifts and sacrifices that the priests offered are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them.

The old system was only in place until a better system could be established.

Teaching Points

  1. One of the key purposes of the tabernacle was to be a reminder to people about the need to worship God. Many of the objects inside were related to worship. God created us to worship Him from the beginning. In Revelation 7:9-12 we can see that God’s “end vision” for the world is to make worshipers of Himself of every tribe and tongue. As His creation, this is one of our top duties. Many times we stress the eternal importance of sharing the gospel or building the church. Yet sometimes we forget the even more basic daily duty we have of worshiping and praising God. This is not a “once-a-week” activity we do during church. The Psalms are full of instances of David and the other writers worshiping God privately. Worship can be public. But our worship in public will likely not be real or heartfelt unless we also worship God in our homes during our own personal time with the Lord. Do you incorporate worship into your daily quiet times? Should we? How can we?
  2. The priests serve continually in the holy place. Part of their tasks includes replacing the bread daily, lighting the lamps, and keeping the incense going. It is a continuous service before the Lord.
  3. Yet they could only enter into the holy of holies once per year. Then only the high priest could enter. This was the Day of Atonement. The priest would take blood to sprinkle onto the Ark of the Covenant. This was offered to cover all of the sins which had been committed unknowingly by the Israelite congregation in the past year.
  4. A contrast is made in verse 8. On verse 8 MacArthur says, “The Levitical system did not provide any direct access into God’s presence for His people. Rather, it kept them away. Nearness had to be provided by another way. This is the primary lesson which the Holy Spirit taught concerning the tabernacle. It teaches how inaccessible God is apart from the death of Jesus Christ. By the Spirit-inspired instruction given for the Holiest of All, He was indicating that there was no way to God in the ceremonial system. Only Christ could open the way (John 14:6).” The priests were limited in their access to God. Only one could go once per year. Now through Christ we can all come to God directly at any time. You have every opportunity and resource you need to have a close walk with the Lord. Don’t waste the privileges that you have.
  5. The gifts and sacrifices offered in the tabernacle could not truly make people perfect in conscience. Their sins were covered, but not really taken away or replaced. These sacrifices could not take away a guilty conscience. They merely foreshadowed what would one day, Christ.
  6. Why can they not take away a guilty conscience? They couldn’t because they were external, not internal (see chapter 8). People’s hearts needed to be changed. No amount of sacrifices, washings, food, or rules for our cleanliness could change a person’s heart. This is clearly seen in the case of the Pharisees, who did all of these rituals, but whose hearts were like a tomb. (Matthew 23:13-27)
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