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with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Hebrews 9

The Jewish tabernacle and its utensils. (1-5) Their use and meaning. (6-10) These fulfilled in Christ. (11-22) The necessity, superior dignity, and power of his priesthood and sacrifice. (23-28)

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The Jewish tabernacle and its utensils

1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.

2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.

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.

Their use and meaning

6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.

7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;

10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.

These fulfilled in Christ

11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;

12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:

14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.

19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,

20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.

21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.

22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

The necessity, superior dignity, and power of his priesthood and sacrifice

23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. The former.[1] In the ordinary Greek copies is expressed the former tabernacle; but even the Prot. translators have abandoned that reading, and understand the former testament or covenant, which they have put in a different character. — Worldly sanctuary, or a temporal sanctuary, to last only for a time, like the things of this world. Wi. — The word ordinances (dikaiomata) is frequently used for the laws and ordinances of God, because the observance of the laws is the justification of man; see particularly in the 118th Ps. the legal rites justified in regard to the outward policy of the Jews.

Ver. 2. First tabernacle. By this word is signified, the sanctuary or place for worshipping God, ordained by Moses, which was an oratory to be moved from place to place with the Israelites, which they kept afterwards, and had a resemblance of it in the temple. This tabernacle consisted of two parts, which S. Paul here calls the first and second. The first part was called the holy, which was separated from the rest of the temple by a veil. In this first part were the candlesticks, i.e. one candlestick, as it is called, Exod. xxv. 37. having seven branches in which were placed lamps; and a table, on which were placed twelve loaves, according to the number of the Jewish tribes, to be changed every week. Wi.

Ver. 3. And after the second veil, or partition, was the second or inward part, or that part called the holy of holies. Wi. — The first veil was at the entrance of the holy place, and separated it from the outward court; the second veil separated the holy place from the holy of holies.

Ver. 4. Having the golden censer. What is meant by this is uncertain, no mention being made of a golden censer in either part of the tabernacle made by the order of Moses, which the apostle here speaks of. Some say that the high priest, when he entered once a year into the holy of holies, made use of a golden censer, which he left there: but this is merely a conjecture. Others think that by the golden censer is meant the altar of perfumes, or where perfumes were burnt, which was, as it were a large censer, and is called by the same Greek word by Josephus, the historian; but then there occurs this difficulty, that this altar was in that first part called the holy, not in the holy of holies, to which the same interpreters answer, that this altar was placed just at the entrance into the holy of holies, and so may be looked upon as belonging to the holy of holies: not does the text say it was in the holy of holies, but only having, &c. as a town may be said to have fortifications which are not within the town itself. — And the tables of the testament, or covenant. The ark was certainly in the holy of holies, in which[2] was the golden urn, with a measure of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the testament, or the tables of stone, on which were engraven the ten commandments. Nothing but these tables were within the ark: (see 3 K. viii. and 2 Par. v. 10.) so that when it is said, in which was the golden urn and the rod of Aaron, the meaning seems to be, that they were indeed in the holy of holies with the ark, but not within the ark. Wi. — In the Greek it is easy to confound the word thusiasterion, which signifies altar, with thumiaterion, which means censer. It was placed adjoining the inward veil, so that the clouds of the incense filled the holy of holies; and hence it is mentioned by S. Paul as contained therein. — The apostle describes these things as they were in the tabernacle which Moses constructed in the desert. V. — We see with what great and continued respect and veneration the manna and Aaron’s rod, &c. were kept by the Jews, and shall not Christians be allowed to preserve with equal respect the monuments of God’s mercies, and tokens of Christ’s passion? See S. Cyril, (l. iv. cont. Julianum) where he defends against the apostate, the keeping and honouring the cross on which Christ died. See also in S. Jer. (ep. xvii. c.. 5.) and in S. Paulinus, (ep. 11.) what reverence the faithful in those early periods of the Church paid to the sepulchres of Christ and his martyrs, as also to their relics. “We reverence and worship,” says the latter, “the sepulchres of the martyrs; and, if we can, we apply the holy ashes to our eyes and mouth.”

Ver. 5. And over it (the ark) were cherubims of glory or glorious cherubims, (in what shape they were represented, is not certain) overshadowing the propitiatory, or seat of mercy, which was all of gold, of the same size as the ark, and like a cover to it. Just over this propitiatory were placed the two cherubs, spreading their wings looking towards one another, and upon the propitiatory. See Exod. xxxvi. and xxxvii. From this place God made known his presence, and the effects of his mercy to the people. Here he was said to be seated on the cherubims, and that the ark was his footstool. Ps. xcviii. Adore his footstool; i.e. prostrate before his ark. These two images of cherubs, shew that God did not absolutely forbid images at that time, when the people were so addicted to idolatry, but only to adore them. Wi. — How futile is it to object from the commandment that it is forbidden to use holy images in the Church, when we here behold even amongst the people most prone to idolatry, most gross in their ideas of spiritual things, and to whom the precept was specially given not to make any graven idols, the same God commanding these images of angels to be made and set in the most holy place of the tabernacle or temple.

Ver. 6. The rites of the sacrifices. The priests, as he tells us, entered every day, that is, by turns, (see Luke i. 5.) to make the offering of incense morning and night, also to change the loaves, take care of the lamps, &c. But we must not think that they offered in that place victims or holocausts of sheep, lambs, oxen, &c. This was not done in any part of the sanctuary, neither before nor after the building of the temple, but in a place or court adjoining the tabernacle, upon a large altar of five cubits long and as many broad. See Exod. xxvii. and xxxviii. Wi.

Ver. 7. Into the second part of the sanctuary, (i.e. the holy of holies) no one entered but the high priest, and he but once a year, on the feast called of expiation, to make an aspersion of blood upon the ark and round about, which he offereth for his own and the people’s ignorance, or ignorances, as in the Greek; that is, for all his and their sins. See Lev. x. Wi. — He offered the blood of a calf for his own sins and those of his family, and the blood of a goat for the sins of the people. Lev. xvi.

Ver. 8. The Holy Ghost signifying this. Here the apostle begins to tell us in what manner the sanctuary was a figure of things in the new law of Christ. The holy of holies was a figure of heaven, and this prohibition of any one going into it, was to signify that the way to heaven was not to be made manifest, nor to be opened, as long as the former tabernacle and law subsisted; that it was not to be opened till Christ, the high priest of the new testament, first entered, by shedding his blood on the cross, and by his glorious ascension. Wi. — But when Christ expired, the veil of temple was rent asunder, to shew that the way to heaven was now laid open to mankind.

Ver. 9-10. Which is a parable of the time then present; or, unto the present time, as in the Greek. By the present time, according to the common exposition, is not meant the time of the new law, as some would have it, but the time of the former law; so that the sense is, which parable or type was a representation of things as they were to be performed, and to last during the time of the law, which was before present. — According to which. Some understand, according to which time; others, according to which parable, type, or typical worship of the former law, gifts and sacrifices are (i.e. were, and are) still offered by those who adhere to the Jewish law and ceremonies, which cannot of themselves make such worshippers perfect in conscience; i.e. can never give true interior sanctification, being only in meats, and drinks, and baptisms, &c. These words must not be referred to gifts and sacrifices, but to the worshipper; (lit. server) and the sense is, that to the priests, who worshipped and served God in the sanctuary and in offering sacrifices, was not prescribed an interior purity and sanctity, as in the new law, but only that legal sanctity which consisted in abstaining from such meats or drinks as were called unclean, or made them unclean. See Lev. x. 9. where the priests are forbidden to drink wine when they were to enter into the tabernacle of the testimony. — In divers washings, &c. These precepts and ceremonies were only to last till the time of their correction, by the coming of Christ under the new and better law and testament. Wi. — Of correction; viz. when Christ should correct and settle all things. Ch.

Ver. 11. Christ coming[3] is a high priest of the good things to come; of things which we hope for in heaven. — He has entered by a more perfect tabernacle; i.e. not passing, like the priests of the former law, into a tabernacle made by human art and hands, but by the tabernacle of his own body or flesh, says S. Chrys. framed by the Holy Ghost. Wi.

Ver. 12. By the blood of goats, &c. This is another difference and pre-eminence of Christ above the priests of the law of Moses, that they could only offer the blood of beasts; but Christ entered into heaven by the effusion of his own precious blood in his sufferings, and on the cross, by this having found an eternal redemption for mankind, having satisfied for the sins of all men in the sight of God, which the former priests, with all their sacrifices, could not do. Wi. — Eternal redemption. By that one sacrifice of his blood, once offered on the cross, Christ our Lord paid and exhibited, once for all, the general price and ransom of all mankind; which no other priest could do. Ch. — The force of the apostle’s reasoning is to convince the Jews of the inefficacy of the legal sacrifices, and of the virtue of the Christian sacrifice.

Ver. 13-14. For if the blood of goats, &c. Another main difference betwixt the sacrifices in the old, and that of Christ in the new law. Those imperfect carnal sacrifices could only make the priests and the people reputed clean, so that they were no longer to be treated as transgressors, and liable to punishments, prescribed and inflicted by the law: but the sacrifice of Christ has made our consciences interiorly clean, and sanctified them even in the sight of God. Having offered himself unspotted to God by the Holy Ghost, the divine Spirit of the Holy Ghost moving Christ as man to make this oblation of himself, though free from all sin, and incapable of sinning. And being this oblation, made by him, who was God as well as man, it was an oblation of infinite value, which repaired the injury done to God by sin, and redeemed mankind from the slavery of sin. Wi. — Here we have an abstract of the passion of Jesus Christ, or of the sacrifice of the cross. We see who is the priest, and who is the victim; we see the virtue and efficacy of this sacrifice, and why it was offered; also by what signs we may know whether we partake of it, viz. if dying to sin and to the world, we live to God, and serve him in spirit and truth. Calvin makes Jesus Christ a priest and mediator, according to his divinity; but in that case Christ would be inferior to his Father, not only as man, but according to his divinity: for the priest is inferior to the God to whom he offers sacrifice, which is an expression of supreme excellence. See Dr. Kellison’s survey of the Protestant religion.

Ver. 15. And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament.[4] The mediator, so as to be our Redeemer, which applies only to our Saviour, Christ. Moses is called a mediator betwixt God and his people. See Gal. iii. 19. and 1 Tim. ii. 5. &c. The saints in heaven, and men on earth, may be called mediators in an inferior and different sense: but Christ alone is the mediator who reconciled God to men, by satisfying for their sins, and by a redemption from the slavery of sin. This sense, in which Christ is the mediator of the New Testament is expressed in these following words: that by means of his death, for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance; that is, Christ by his death, redeemed all men. He names in particular the sins of those under the former testament, to shew them that the sacrifices of the Mosaical law could not of themselves obtain a remission of sins, so that all saved from Adam, or that shall be saved to the end of the world, have their sins forgiven, and obtain salvation by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. He paid the ransom of their sins, and is the Redeemer of all. Wi.

Ver. 16. For where there is a testament, the death of the testator, &c. The same Greek word, corresponding to the Hebrew word Berith, is often used both in the books of the old and new Scriptures. The ancient Latin interpreter puts for it testamentum, a testament: but others would rather have the Hebrew and Greek word to signify any agreement, bargain, alliance, or covenant, which last word is generally put in the English Prot. translations, followed also by Mr. N. We do not deny but the Hebrew and Greek word have this signification, but not exclusively: this place of S. Paul shews evidently that they also signify what both in Latin and English is called a testament or last will, which is only of force by the death of the testator. The Protestants, therefore, here find themselves obliged to translate testament, contrary to their custom, and to apply this word not only to the promises and blessings God made to Christians, of which Christ is the mediator, and which were confirmed by his blood and by his death, but also to the former alliance and promises or blessings God made to the Israelites, when he chose them to be his elect people, and gave them his law and his commandments under Moses. It is true God is immortal in his own nature, cannot die, and therefore cannot make a testament that shall be confirmed by his own death. But as for the new alliance, or New Testament, as here it must be called, it was confirmed by the death of the Son of God; that is, of God made man, by which it is true to say that God died for us, though he did not die, nor could die, as God. And as for the former alliance, or first testament, as it is called here, (v. 18.) that, says S. Paul, (which was only a figure of the second or new testament) was not made nor ratified without the blood of so many victims as used to be offered and sacrificed. Wi.

Ver. 20. This is the blood of the testament, which God hath enjoined unto you; (Exod. xxiv.) that is, this is to confirm that testament. Christ made use of the like words, when he bequeathed us the divine legacy of his Body and Blood, at his last supper, saying: (Mat. xxvi. 28.) This is my blood of the new testament. And as the words of Exodus were understood of the true blood of the victims offered, so the words of Christ signify the true blood of Christ, there really present in the sacrament, in a spiritual manner, and to be shed in a bloody manner upon the cross. Wi. — The correspondence of words, in dedicating both testaments, proveth the real presence of blood in the cup or chalice.

Ver. 22. S. Paul speaks here of legal purifications and remissions, which (v. 10.) he calls carnal justices and ordinances, (v. 13.) purifying the flesh. How then, it may be asked, were sins remitted under the law? I answer, by true repentance, joined with faith and hope in the promised Messias. As to the cleansings and expiations of the Mosaic law, they were generally effected by water and animal blood, and were typical of the real cleansing of the conscience by the water of baptism, and by the blood of Jesus Christ. The flowing, therefore, of the pure water and blood from the wound in Christ’s side, denoted that the real expiation was now complete, and the cleansing font set open; and on this account, they are appealed to by S. John, as two of the three terrestrial witnesses, whose testimony is so efficacious for the confirmation of our faith, that the crucified Jesus was the Christ foretold by the prophets. And thus “the old law confirms the new, and the new fulfils the old.” S. Paulinus.

Ver. 23. It is, or was necessary that the patterns of heavenly things (i.e. the former tabernacle and sanctuary) should be cleansed with these; that is, by the blood of such victims then offered. — But the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices. By the heavenly things, may be understood the faithful, who are the members of Christ’s Church, to whom heaven is prepared, and who must be cleansed by better sacrifices; that is, by the blood of Christ, and by his sacrifice on the cross. Wi.

Ver. 25. Should offer himself, &c. He takes notice that Christ, by virtue of his sacrifice, and his dying once on the cross, satisfied for the sins of all men that ever were from the beginning of the world. It was decreed from eternity that the Son of God should come to redeem mankind: the ransom that was not yet paid was accepted; and all might be saved who believed in their Redeemer, who was to come, and who, by the graces that God offered and gave them, lived well. Wi. — Christ shall never more offer himself in sacrifice, in that violent, painful, and bloody manner, nor can there be any occasion for it; since by that one sacrifice upon the cross, he has furnished the full ransom, redemption, and remedy for all the sins of the world. But this hinders not that he may offer himself in the sacred mysteries in an unbloody manner, for the daily application of that one sacrifice of redemption to our souls. Ch.

Ver. 26. He came at the end of the ages, as it were in the last age of the world, to the putting away or abrogating of sin. Wi. — Though less, viz. a single tear, might have satisfied the justice of God, nothing less than his own precious blood could satisfy the charity of Jesus Christ. By his death, as S. Austin observes, Christ has bound the devil in a chain, so that he can tempt us no further than we are able to resist: he may bark, he may tempt, he may solicit us; but he can bite none, except those that wilfully cast themselves within his reach. Serm. 1. post Trin.

Ver. 28. To exhaust the sins of many. That is, of all, according to the style of the Scriptures. When he came first, he took upon him the load of our sins; but at his second coming, at the end of the world, he will come in a quite different manner, not as laden with our sins, not after the similitude of a sinful man, not to redeem us, but with great power and majesty to judge all men. Wi. — To exhaust. That is, to empty or draw out to the very bottom, by a plentiful and perfect redemption. Ch.

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[1] V. 1. Habuit & prius, eiche e prote. Though almost all Greek copies have skene, tabernacle: yet even the Prot. translators add in a different print, covenant, as if diatheke was understood. Ibid. Sanctum sæculare, kosmikon. This Greek word is only found in one other place in the New Testament, Tit. ii. 12. sæcularia desideria.

[2] V. 4. Habens thuribulum aureum, chrusoun echousa thumiaterion. Josephus useth the same word for the altar of perfumes, lib. 6. de Bello. c. vi. and lib. 3. Antiq. c. vii. Ibid. In quâ, en e. It may signify the same as cum quâ.

[3] V. 11. Christus assistens, paragenomenos, which may signify being come, and present. Ibid. Tabernaculum, skenes, by which S. Chrys. expounds his body or flesh, ten sarka entautha legei log. ie. p. 513.

[4] V. 15. Novi Testamenti, diathekes kaines. The Prot. translators here found it necessary to put, not covenant, as in other places, but testament, even when the apostle speaks of the first, or old diatheke, (V. 18. and 20.) might they not then as well have translated Testament in the last chapter, especially when mention was there made of the New Testament in the prophecy of Jer.? might they not as well have translated, (Gal. iv. 24.) for these are two testaments, as these are two covenants? and so in other places, where there is the same Greek word diatheke. Mr. N. has followed the Prot. translation. The Sept. put diatheke for the Hebrew word Berith, which indeed is expounded to signify fœdus or pactum; that is, any agreement, alliance, or covenant, which in the Greek is rather suntheke than diatheke. See Scapula. We may, I believe, safely say that Berith also signifies testament, or a last will and testament, till they who are translating it by covenant, can shew us some other Hebrew word for testamentum, which I think they have not hitherto done. I find that Mr. Legh, in his Crit. Sac. on the primitive Hebrew words, writes thus: Berith signifieth both suntheken, a compact or covenant between parties, as Aquila translateth; and diatheke, a testament or disposition of one’s last will, as the Sept. translate. He cites in the Margin Drusius and Mercerus.