When Aaron was to enter into the holiest on the day of atonement, he had to follow a clearly defined procedure, Lev. 16. 11-19. He had to take the blood of the sin offering, fire from the altar of incense, and incense. The incense was placed on the fire to produce a cloud that covered the mercy seat while he was within the vail. The blood was then sprinkled upon and before the mercy seat, vv. 11-15.
In considering these verses, we need to appreciate the significance of the blood, the incense, the fire, the cloud and the sprinkling.
The blood is a symbol of a life laid down to pay the price for our sins. It speaks of the victim suffering in place of the sinner. Under the law, it could only be a symbol, which had no lasting value, Heb. 10. 4, but rather was needed ‘year by year’, Heb. 10. 1, and ‘daily’, Heb. 7. 27; 10. 11. The idea of a price is clearly seen in 1 Pet. 1. 18, 19 where, ‘the precious blood of Christ’ is set in contrast to ‘silver and gold’. It is also set in contrast to ‘the blood of goats and calves’, Heb. 9. 11, 12. This is the fulfilment of that to which the blood of beasts pointed. It has value to cleanse us from all sin, 1 John 1. 7, and it requires no repetition for, ‘By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified’, Heb 10. 14, promising ‘their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more’, Heb. 10. 17, and permitting us to enter with boldness into the holiest, Heb. 10. 19.
The incense, which was not to be used by any other, was made of stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, see Exod. 30. 34-38.
‘Stacte’ has the idea of ‘dropping’ or ‘distilling’. Here we are reminded of our Lord coming into the world. The thought of drops conveys the idea of lowliness, and we are therefore reminded of the humility of our Lord both as He came into the world and as He moved amongst men. The thought is also seen in speech, Ezekiel, for example, was told to ‘drop thy word’, Ezek. 20. 46. Job uses this expression of his counsel before his afflictions came upon him, Job 29. 22. How good to consider the One whose life was the perfect expression of His doctrine. Of Moses, it is recorded that he was, ‘mighty in words and in deeds’, Acts 7. 22, Paul could speak of his doctrine and manner of life, 2 Tim. 3. 10; this showed that their life was consistent with their doctrine, but our Lord was ‘mighty in deed and word’, Luke 24. 19; His word was the expression of His character, where others must be moulded by His word into His image 2 Cor. 3. 18.
‘Onycha’ has the idea of a ‘fierce lion’, or ‘the roar of a lion’. In our Lord, the gentle dropping and the fierce roar can both be seen. His words may be gracious, Luke 4. 22, yet with authority, Matt. 7. 29. There are two occasions when our Lord cried with a loud voice while upon the cross. The first, as the darkness passed, was, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, Matt. 27. 46. This was not a cry of despair in the midst of the dark hours, but rather, the forsaking is past and He comes through in triumph. Job speaks of the path which the fierce lion has not passed by, Job 28. 8, and this is the cry of One who has trodden a path that no other could tread nor even contemplate. The second cry is, ‘It is finished’, John 19. 30. Here is the final triumph, when all Scripture is fulfilled, no more remains to be done, and so He is to lay down His life.
‘Galbanum’ has the same root as ‘fat’. It speaks of the fulness which was to be set apart for the pleasure of the Father. Fat was not to be eaten by any Israelite. In the galbanum then we have a clear picture of all that our Lord is to the Father. As such, we may be reminded here of His resurrection and exaltation, whereby the Father declares His pleasure in His well beloved Son.
‘Frankincense’ speaks of purity. How precious to consider One who is absolutely pure. At His birth, He is spoken of as holy, Luke 1. 35; in His life He is marked by holiness in thought, 2 Cor. 5. 21, word and deed, 1 Pet. 2. 22. Truly, Tn him is no sin’, 1 John 3. 5; in death, too, He is undefiled, Psa. 16. 10; Acts 2. 27. As we consider this, it is surely the more amazing that He could bear ‘our sins in his own body on the tree’, 1 Pet. 2. 24. For us, His presence now in heaven not only declares His holiness, but our acceptance, too, because He could not be there if the penalty of our sins was not fully paid.
The fire from the altar would speak of the need for the Holy Spirit to lead us at all times as we approach the holiest. If this is to be true in our experience, He must lead us at all times. It is a fallacy to think that we can approach the Father in worship or prayer as led by the Spirit when we have not allowed Him to lead us in our life. We often limit His leading to public worship or prayer, but Scripture teaches that His leading is to be known in every aspect of life, preventing the flesh from asserting itself, but producing the fruit of the Spirit for all to see in our lives, Gal. 5. 16-25. Our worship is then that appreciation of our Lord which He has made good to us in our walk, not merely an academic understanding of some aspects of His Person or work. Prayer, too, will be that which He brings to our attention from the Word of God as it affects our circumstances.
As the incense was placed on the fire, a cloud was produced which covered the mercy seat. This shielded Aaron from death which would otherwise have been his portion. For us, it is the symbol of our Lord appearing in heaven. His merits are pictured in the incense, and we draw near because, by the Holy Spirit, we have learned to appreciate that His merits are our unfailing plea. We stand ‘accepted in the beloved’, Eph. 1. 6.
The blood had to be sprinkled upon the mercy seat once, and before it seven times.
The blood upon the mercy seat is the reminder that by one offering, the demands of God are fully met. As sinners, we were able to claim the merit of that blood, and know that we can never be lost.
The blood before the mercy seat reminds us that, though saved by the one offering of our Lord, sin will break the enjoyment of communion, but if this is so, by confessing our sins, we may claim the promise, ‘he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, 1 John 1. 9.
In this ceremony, we have a clear indication that our acceptance in the presence of God is entirely on the merits of the Person of our Lord and His finished work. Even as those redeemed by blood our approach can only be as led by the Holy Spirit. The prohibition upon all but Aaron, v. 17, would emphasize that nothing of the flesh is to be seen in the presence of God.