And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…
cf. chapter 16; Hebrews 9:12. Into the ritual of the Day of Atonement we need not here enter, after what has been said on the subject under chapter 16. But the reference here is to the spirit of repentance which was to characterize the people on that day. It was, in fact, a call to the whole congregation to repent and be reconciled to God. As the Day of Atonement is in all respects the climax of the sacrificial worship, it may be useful here to notice the spirit which belonged to that worship and the corresponding spirit in man which it demanded.
I. THE SPIRIT OF JUDAISM IS THAT OF EXCLUSION FROM THE DIVINE PRESENCE. Ever since man's fall until the vail was rent at the death of Jesus, man was deservedly kept at a distance from God. Sin is a separating power; as long as it is harboured it prevents near access to him. And even when, in the Exodus, God delivered a chosen people to bring them to himself (Exodus 19:4), they were only permitted to come up to certain barriers round about the holy mount. When, moreover, the Lord transferred his dwelling-place from the top of Sinai to the tent or tabernacle provided by his pilgrim people, he insisted on having a private apartment, railed off from vulgar gaze, and only allowed one representative man, the high priest, to draw nigh unto him once a year. He certainly sent this honoured individual forth with his blessing, to encourage the people waiting without. But the whole arrangement of the Day of Atonement was on the principle of excluding the people until such times as they might profitably have closer access. "God sent his people," says an able writer, "his blessing, to show them that he had not forgotten them. But he would not see them. Even the high priest saw but a very little of him at this annual solemn time. The cloud of fragrant incense filled the most holy place, and barred the view."
II. THERE IS NOTHING SO HUMILIATING AS THIS DENIAL OF ACCESS. On the Day of Atonement the people came to the tabernacle, and saw their select representative enjoy the privilege of drawing nigh to God all alone. Not a man of them dare venture beyond the vail. Nadab and Abihu, who seem to have done so, intoxicated by their elevation to the priesthood and perhaps also by wine, perished before the Lord. The Israelites felt at the tabernacle that they were an excluded people. This would lead to self-examination, and to repentance for the sin which excluded them. Doubtless the ritual of the great Day of Atonement would have a soothing effect upon their spirits. The blessing would fall upon their souls like balm. At the same time, they could not but feel that access to God was for them through a mediator, and that they were kept at a very humiliating distance.
III. OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST HAS GIVEN US THE REALITY OF ACCESS IN THAT HE HAS BECOME OUR FORERUNNER. This is the beautiful idea suggested by the apostle in the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:20). Christ has not entered the holiest to enjoy a privilege in solitude. He has entered it as our Forerunner, to announce our approach. This applies, not only to the everlasting felicity of heaven, but also to present devotional access to God. Through him we are permitted to draw nigh. The vail is rent; therefore we draw near with holy boldness. We are no longer an excluded people, but in the enjoyment of close communion. When the vail was rent at the death of Jesus, the ordinary priests were thereby raised to the privilege of the high priest. All had alike access to God. Hence we are to live up to our privilege as believers; for we are priests unto God, and access is our right through the rending of the vail of our Redeemer's flesh. Thus do we see the secret of penitence on the Day of Atonement, and how it is the preliminary arranged by the All-wise to communion with himself close and eternal. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,