Hebrews 9:4 MEANING

Hebrews 9:4
(4) Having a golden censer.--Or, having a golden altar of incense. Hardly any passage in the Epistle has given rise to more controversy than this; and even now opinions are greatly divided. The question raised does not merely concern the interpretation of a single verse, but has been brought into prominence in all recent discussions as to the authorship of the Epistle. It will be possible to notice all important points in the controversy without entering into any discussion of the Greek, for it is allowed on both sides that the word here used--thumiaterion (which simply means an instrument or a place connected with the offering of incense)--will admit of either rendering. The usage of the LXX., in most cases peculiarly helpful in this Epistle, throws little light on the matter; for this word is entirely absent from the descriptions in the Pentateuch, and occurs twice only in later books (Ezekiel 8:11; 2 Chronicles 26:19--both times for "censer"). The Pentateuch, indeed, makes no mention of a special censer for the use of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:12); but, as we learn from the Mishna, the later law not only prescribed a censer of gold, but laid stress on the particular kind of gold. On the other hand, in Philo and Josephus the word here used is the regular designation of the altar of incense. That altar, it is true, was not of gold, only overlaid with gold; but as one of its names in common use was "the golden altar" (Exodus 40:5, et al.) this point is of no moment. If we look at internal probabilities, it is hard to decide which would be more surprising--the special mention of the censer (by the side of the ark and the cherubim) in this description of the Most Holy Place, or the absence of all notice of the incense-altar, which held so important a place in connection with the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Hence, though "censer" has (mainly through the influence of the Vulgate) been the more familiar rendering, the most eminent modern commentators have, with some marked exceptions, adopted the other view. Probably there would be little difference of opinion on the question, were it not that the words here used seem to assign to the altar of incense a place within the veil. As, however, there are the strongest reasons for believing that the golden censer was not kept in the Holiest Place, this difficulty applies almost equally to both interpretations. At first sight the difficulty is very great. The incense-altar and the ark are coupled together, and the word which describes their relation to the Holiest Place is that which, a little later in this verse, distinctly signifies "containing." So weighty is this consideration that many have been unable to avoid the conclusion that the writer has erred in this matter of detail; and various suppositions have been resorted to in explanation of his mistake. (See Introduction.) But, to take the lowest ground, surely ignorance on such a point is inconceivable. Not only are the notices in Exodus perfectly plain, but passages in Philo and Josephus show how customary in the writer's own age it was to speak of the three sacred objects in the Holy Place--the candlestick, the table, and the golden altar. There must exist some special reason for this connection of the altar with the Most Holy Place--a connection which (we may well believe) would have been otherwise expressed had the writer held it possible that readers, familiar with the facts, could regard his language as even ambiguous. Such a reason will be found to be suggested by the language of the Pentateuch, and by the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement. In Exodus 30:6, Moses receives special injunction to place the altar of incense "before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony;" similarly in Exodus 40:5. The purification of this altar is most expressly associated with the purification of the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement: this stands out in strong relief both in the Pentateuch (see Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:18) and in the Mishna. The typical significance of the altar of incense (comp. Revelation 8:3-4; Revelation 9:13) we might also show to be in full harmony with the thought here presented. There is, however, one passage in the Old Testament (1 Kings 6:22) which appears to give direct expression to what these other passages imply; for there the true translation must be, "also the whole altar that belongeth to the oracle he overlaid with gold."[10]

[10] Some interesting remarks on this passage will be found in a paper by Dr. Milligan in the Bible Educator (vol. iii., p. 230). His suggestion is that the writer, having in mind the Day of Atonement, sees the Tabernacle with its inner veil withdrawn.

Ark of the covenant (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 31:26, et al.), often called "the ark of the testimony," i.e., the ark containing the tables of the Ten Commandments, which were the symbol of the covenant of God with the people. (See Exodus 25:10-16.)

Wherein was . . .--Rather, wherein are (see Hebrews 9:2) a golden pot having the manna, &c. In Exodus 16:33-34, and Numbers 17:10-11, the pot containing "an omer of manna" and also Aaron's rod are said to have been laid up "before the testimony." This is often understood as meaning "before the ark of the testimony;" but it is as natural to suppose that these memorials were placed inside the ark, in front of the tables. 1 Kings 8:9 clearly suggests that the ark had at one time contained more than the tables of stone, and so it has been understood by Jewish commentators. There is no mention of a "golden" vessel in the Hebrew of Exodus 16:33; the word is added in the LXX. It will be observed that this epithet is mentioned three times in the verse: such splendour was natural in the sanctuary "of this world" (Hebrews 9:1).

9:1-5 The apostle shows to the Hebrews the typical reference of their ceremonies to Christ. The tabernacle was a movable temple, shadowing forth the unsettled state of the church upon earth, and the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. The typical meaning of these things has been shown in former remarks, and the ordinances and articles of the Mosaic covenant point out Christ as our Light, and as the Bread of life to our souls; and remind us of his Divine Person, his holy priesthood, perfect righteousness, and all-prevailing intercession. Thus was the Lord Jesus Christ, all and in all, from the beginning. And as interpreted by the gospel, these things are a glorious representation of the wisdom of God, and confirm faith in Him who was prefigured by them.Which had the golden censer,.... There were various censers used by the priests in the daily service, but this was a peculiar one, which was used by the high priest on the day of atonement; on other days he used a silver censer, but on that day a golden one, and with it he entered into the holy of holies (y); and though Moses does not call it a golden one, Leviticus 16:12 yet Josephus does (z); and so do the Jewish doctors in the place referred to, with whom the apostle agrees, and to this the allusion is in Revelation 8:3 but here a difficulty arises, how this can be said to have been in the holy of holies, and within the vail, when, according to Moses, it was without the vail, and was only carried within on the day of atonement; and so Philo the Jew (a) places it in the other part of the tabernacle; and it seems as if it was to avoid this difficulty, that the Ethiopic version has removed it from this verse to verse the second, and put it among the things that were in the holy place; but there is no need of this, nor to say that the altar of incense is intended, for that is never so called, and, besides, was without the vail too. It should be observed, that the apostle does not say, that the golden censer was laid up in the holy of holies, and kept there, but that it "had" it; as it had it on the day of atonement, when it was carried in there by the high priest, who there made use of it; and it was for the use of it in that place, that it was peculiarly designed. What was done by it was this, burning coals were with it taken off from the altar before the Lord, and were brought in within the vail, where incense was put upon them, which covered the mercy seat, that so the high priest died not. The burning coals signify the very great sufferings of Christ, not only the sufferings of his body, which were very painful, but those of his soul, when the wrath and hot displeasure of God was poured out upon him; and those coals being taken off from the altar before the Lord, show that the sufferings of Christ were according to the will of God, were grateful to him, and always before him; and their being brought within the vail, does not denote that Christ is now in a suffering state, though he is in the midst of the throne, as a lamb that had been slain; but the continued virtue and efficacy of his sufferings, and that our faith and hope, which enter within the vail, have to do with his blood and sacrifice thither carried. And the incense, which was carried in with those coals, typified the intercession of Christ in heaven, which is pure and holy, sweet, fragrant, and perpetual; and the priest having his hands full of it, expresses the fulness of Christ's intercession for all his elect, and for all things for them, and his fulness of merit to plead, which makes his intercession efficacious and prevalent; and hence, through his much incense, the prayers of his people become odorous and acceptable: and the incense being put upon the burning coals in the censer, shows that Christ's intercession proceeds upon the foot of his blood and sacrifice, his sufferings and death; and hence it becomes grateful, and has its influence; the smoke of it covers the mercy seat, or throne of grace, and makes that accessible; and as the priest, who offers it, never dies, so none of those for whom he intercedes.

And the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold; this is called the ark of the covenant, because the tables of the covenant, afterwards mentioned, were put into it; and that it was overlaid with gold round about, is certain from Exodus 25:11 where it is said to be overlaid with pure gold, within and without; and that the ark was within the vail, and in the most holy place, is manifest from Exodus 40:21 that this was wanting in the second temple, is generally agreed (b); but who took it away, where it was put, or what became of it various are the sentiments of the Jewish writers: some say (c), it was carried away by Nebuchadnezzar into Babylon, and is meant by the goodly vessels of the house of the Lord, 2 Chronicles 36:10 others say (d), that Jeremiah the prophet took it, and hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo; but the more generally received opinion is, that it was hid by King Josiah in some hidden and deep place, which Solomon had built for that purpose under ground, knowing, that the temple would be destroyed (e); and it is often said, that it was hid under the pavement of a room in the temple, called , "the wood room" (f). The ark is, by some, thought to be a type of the church, which is the ark of God, of his building, and where he dwells; the ark of the covenant, or testimony, where the oracles of God, his word and ordinances, are: its being made of Shittim wood may denote the incorruption and duration of it: and its being covered with gold within and without is expressive of its glory; and its being portable, and carried from place to place, shows that the church is not always in one place; its rings, staves, and priests that bore it, may point at the Gospel, and the ministers of it, the instruments of moving it; and its moving from place to place, and falling into the hands of enemies, were emblematical of the church's afflictions; as its rest at last, in Solomon's temple, may signify the church's rest here and hereafter: but the ark is rather to be considered as a type of Christ; its various names agree with Christ, as the ark of God, the ark of his strength, the glory of God, the face of God, the holy ark, the ark of the covenant, or testimony, yea, Jehovah, and God himself: the time of its making is observable, it was made before the tabernacle, and the tabernacle for the sake of it; Christ is before all creatures, and was set up as Mediator before anything existed, and all things are for his sake; it being made of Shittim wood, covered with gold, may denote both the incorruption and glory of Christ; and its several decorations, the graces with which he was adorned, as man and Mediator; its staves and rings may design the word, ordinances, and ministers, whereby he is carried into the several places of the world; here God granted his presence, and counsel was asked of him, and it was brought forth in time of war, as a security from enemies, all which is applicable to Christ; by it wonders were done, as the dividing of Jordan for the Israelites to pass into the land of Canaan, the falling of the walls of Jericho, and the fall of Dagon; so Christ has opened the way for his people to heaven, has spoiled principalities and powers, and his Gospel is powerful to the pulling down the strongholds of sin and Satan; the moving of the ark from place to place, and its rest in the temple, may signify the rest of Christ, after his many fatigues in this world.

Wherein was the golden pot that had manna; which Aaron filled with manna by the direction of Moses, who gave it at the appointment of God, that it might be preserved to future ages, as a memorial of the goodness, care, and power of God in feeding the Israelites with it in the wilderness, Exodus 16:33. This pot held an omer, which was more than three pints and a half; some say six pints: and though Moses does not call it a golden pot, yet it is so called, not only by the Septuagint in Exodus 16:33 but also by Philo the Jew (g); nor is it reasonable to think, with some Jewish writers (h), that it should be made of earth, which was to continue for ages to come: this also was wanting in the second temple (i); and this, with Aaron's rod, after mentioned, and other things, is said to be hid when the ark was, and along with it (k): but how this pot, as well as Aaron's rod, can be said to be in the ark, when it is asserted, at the bringing of the ark into the temple, at the dedication of it by Solomon, that there was nothing in it but two tables of stone, 1 Kings 8:9 and both the pot of "manna", and Aaron's rod, are said to be before the testimony, Exodus 16:34 and not in it, is a difficulty. Some, in order to remove it, observe, that the phrase, "wherein", refers not to the ark, but to the tabernacle; but since the tables of the covenant were in the ark, and these are mentioned with it, and the phrase, "over it", in the next verse, cannot be understood of the tabernacle, but of the ark, this solution is not satisfactory. Others have observed, that they might be in the ark in Moses's time and in Jeremiah's time, when they are said to be hid, though they were not in Solomon's: and others have taken notice, that the preposition sometimes signifies "at", or "with", as in Colossians 3:1 and so the sense is, that these were near unto it in the most holy place, and might be in the sides of it, though not within it; for there were places in the sides of the ark to put things into, Deuteronomy 31:26. And certain it is from the above account from Scripture, that they were near it; and so, by the Jewish writers, they are always mentioned along with it: when that was carried away, and hid, they were hid with it; but what a certain Jewish commentator (l) observes on 1 Kings 8:9 is so express, as if it was designed to vindicate our apostle: his remark is this:

"the intention of this is not to deny that there were not the things mentioned in the law, for they were , "left in it", as Aaron's "rod", and "the pot of manna", only to deny, hereby, that there was not anything of the law, save the decalogue.''

And it should be observed, that it is not said of these, that they were put before the ark, but "before the testimony"; that is, before the tables of the covenant, which were within the ark. The "manna", in this pot, was typical of Christ; in the signification of its name, whether it comes from "manah", which signifies to appoint, prepare, and distribute, Christ being appointed, prepared, and distributed, as food for his people; or from , "man hu", what is it? the words said by the Israelites, when they first saw it, not knowing what it was; so Christ is unknown to his people until revealed to them, and remains unknown to all natural and unregenerate men: the manna came from heaven, from God, and was a free gift of his, and so Christ: it was round in form, and may be expressive of Christ's perfection, and eternity: it was in colour white, which may signify his purity and innocence; it was sweet in taste, and so is Christ, his fruits, his word and ordinances: it was small in quantity, which may denote the meanness and despicableness of Christ in the eyes of the world: the people went out and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and baked it, and ate, which may be typical of the apprehension, sufferings, and death of Christ, in order to be fit food for the faith of believers. The persons that were fed by it were the Israelites, who were brought out of Egypt, and then in the wilderness, a large number, and men of all sorts, rich, and poor, and who had an equal portion, though very undeserving; so those who are fed by Christ, and nourished with him, the bread of life, are the spiritual Israel of God, whom Christ has redeemed from worse than Egyptian bondage and darkness, though they are yet in the wilderness of this world; and they are a large number, the whole family of God, who receive out of Christ's fulness grace for grace; and there is no difference of high and low, rich and poor, bond or free, male or female; they are all one in Christ, and Christ is all in all; and they have all a whole Christ, though they are very undeserving, being by nature children of wrath as others. And as the Israelites had the manna every day, and all the while they were in the wilderness, so Christ is the daily bread of believers; by him, in his word and ordinances, is his church nourished in the wilderness, to whom he gives to eat of the hidden manna, the food of the wilderness. The "pot", in which this manna was kept, was typical of the ordinances of the Gospel; in its matter, being made of gold, denoting the preciousness and duration of them; in the size of it, holding an "omer", showing that these contain plenty of good things to satisfaction; in the situation of it before the ark, signifying the presence of Christ with his ordinances; and in its use to hold manna, and be a memorial of it to ages to come, as the ordinances have in them food for souls, and are the means of remembering Christ in future generations, till his second coming.

And Aaron's rod that budded; and not only budded, but bloomed; blossomed, and yielded almonds, Numbers 17:8. This also was laid before the ark of the testimony, Hebrews 9:10, and may be said to be in it, or with it, in the same sense as the pot of manna was; it was likewise wanting in the second temple (m), and is said to be hid with the pot of manna, and other things, as before observed: it was a type of Christ: it is affirmed by the Jews, that in the days of the Messiah, the priesthood shall return, and the rod of Aaron shall flourish (n); it was, very probably, as some have thought (o), an almond tree stick, as that in Jeremiah 1:11. The almond tree has its name, in Hebrew, from a word which signifies haste and vigilance; it being, as Pliny says (p), the first of trees that buds and blossoms, and is very hasty in putting them forth. An almond tree rod may be a proper emblem of Christ's speedy incarnation in the fulness of time; and Aaron's almond tree rod, of his right to the priesthood, and his vigilance in it: this was first a dry rod or stick, and may design the mean descent and appearance of Christ, being born of mean parents, living a mean and obscure life; his entrance on his public ministry, and continuance in it, were without any pomp or grandeur; he was as a root out of a dry ground; and though he did many miracles, these were treated with contempt; and he was at last apprehended, arraigned, and condemned as a malefactor, and died a shameful and an accursed death: it looked very unlikely and unpromising, that he should be the King Messiah; that he should have all power in heaven and in earth; that he should have the wisdom he had, and do the miracles he did; and that he should be the author of eternal salvation; and that such fruits of grace, peace, pardon, and righteousness, should spring from him, as that Aaron's dry rod should bud, blossom, and bear almonds, in which it was a lively figure of Christ; that lying among other rods, and perhaps being like them, may denote Christ's assuming the common nature of men, or an individual of human nature in all things like to man: and this being cut off from the tree, and being a dry stick, may represent the death of Christ; and its budding and blossoming may point at the resurrection of Christ from the dead; and as Aaron's priesthood was confirmed by the budding and blossoming of his rod, so the deity and Messiahship of Christ are confirmed by his resurrection; and its bringing forth almonds may design the fruits of Christ's death and resurrection; and moreover, the almond tree being, as Philo the Jew says (q) the first of trees that buds and blossoms in the spring, and the last that casts its leaves, it may be, as he observes, a symbol of the priestly tribe; and it may be a figure of the perpetuity of Christ, and his priesthood:

and the tables of the covenant; the same with the testimony which was ordered to be put into the ark, and accordingly was, Exodus 25:16. About this there is no controversy; though it is a matter of dispute with the Jews, whether the book of the law was in the ark or not: some say it was in the side of it, and others within it (r); but Maimonides (s) says, that Moses wrote the whole law with his own hand before he died, and gave a book (or copy) to every tribe, and one copy he put "in the ark": so Jarchi says (t), that the book of the law of Moses was put into the midst of the ark, and the ark was glorious and beautiful by that which was "within it". These tables were made of stone, an emblem of the hardness of man's heart, which is destitute of spiritual life and motion, senseless and stupid, impenitent, stubborn, and inflexible, and on which no impressions can be made but by powerful and efficacious grace; and also of the stability and duration of the law, as moral, which is not antiquated by another, nor made void by the Gospel, nor altered in its nature and terms, but remains the same as to the matter of it; though it is now no covenant of works to believers, and they are freed from the curse and condemnation of it: the number of these tables is two; the whole law is reduced by our Lord to two grand precepts of it, Matthew 22:37 and the fleshly tables, on which it is reinscribed in regeneration, are the heart and mind, 2 Corinthians 3:3. The place where these tables were put is the ark, which was typical of the law being in Christ, not only in his hands, but in his heart, Psalm 40:8 and in his keeping of which he is the fulfilling end; for he being the surety of his people, and becoming man, answered every part of the law; in the holiness of his nature, in the perfect obedience of his life, and in his sufferings and death, in which he bore the penalty of it: and these tables are called the tables of the covenant, because the law on Mount Sinai was a covenant made with the people of Israel; and was typical of the covenant, of which Christ is the surety and Mediator, and which is ratified by his blood.

(y) Misn. Yoma, c. 4. sect. 4. Maimon. Yom Hacippurim, c. 2. sect. 5. (z) Antiqu. l. 3. c. 8. sect. 3.((a) De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 668. (b) T. Bab. Menachot, fol. 27. 2. & Yoma, fol. 21. 2. Menasseh ben Israel Concil. in Gen. qu. 41. Kimchi in Hagg. i. 8. (c) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 53. 2. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 25. T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 49. 3.((d) Joseph ben Gorion, l. 1. c. 17. 2 Maccab. ii. 4, 5. (e) T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 22. 3. T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 5. 2. Maimon. Beth Habbechira, c. 4. sect. 1.((f) Misn. Shekalim, c. 6. sect. 1, 2. T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 49. 3. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 54. 1.((g) De Cong. Quaer. Erud. Gratia, p. 438. (h) Mechilta, fol. 20. 1. & Tanchuma, fol. 29. 4. (i) Menasseh ben Israel Conciliat. in Gen. qu. 41. (k) T. Hieros. Shekalim, fol. 49. 3. & Sota, fol. 22. 3. T. Bab. Ceritot, fol. 5. 2. & Horayot, fol. 12. 1. Maimon. Beth Habbechira, c. 4. sect. 1.((l) R. Levi ben Gersom in 1 Kings 8.9. so others in Laniado Celi, Yekar in loc. (m) Menasseh ben Israel Conciliat. in Gen. qu. 41. (n) Baal Hatturim in Numbers 17.5. (o) Joseph. Antiqu. l. 4. c. 4. sect. 2. Aben Ezra in Numbers 17.8. (p) Nat. Hist. l. 16. c. 25. (q) De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 681. (r) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 14. 1, 2. Jarchi in Deuteronomy 31.26. (s) Praefat. in Yad Chazaka in principio. (t) Gloss. on T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 24. 2.

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