After this was set up, the priests went about their duties in the large tent. Only the high priest entered the smaller, inside tent, and then only once a year, offering a blood sacrifice for his own sins and the people’s accumulated sins. This was the Holy Spirit’s way of showing with a visible parable that as long as the large tent stands, people can’t just walk in on God. Under this system, the gifts and sacrifices can’t really get to the heart of the matter, can’t assuage the conscience of the people, but are limited to matters of ritual and behaviour. It’s essentially a temporary arrangement until a complete overhaul could be made. The Message.

Under the Old Covenant there was not only (as Raymond Brown says) restricted access to God’s presence, but also partial cleansing and limited pardon. This we see in today’s reading. The sacrificial system couldn’t really touch the inside of a person. Any cleansing was outward and ceremonial.

Also, as the ‘New International version renders verse 7, the sacrifices offered by the high priest were ”for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”

The Old Testament law could do nothing for people who are, in P.T. Forsyth’s words: ‘not even stray sheep, or wandering prodigals merely; we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands.’

Our problem is that we have what John Bunyan called ‘a wounded conscience.’ We need a sacrifice that can deal with this. Thank God that in Jesus we have ”a high priest” who ”truly meets our need” (Hebs.7:26a).

‘The sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant could not purify the heart or clear the conscience of the worshiper. Without a clear conscience no one can draw near to God. Only through Christ’s sacrifice and through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us can our consciences be cleared, cleansed.’ Tom Hale: ‘Applied New Testament Commentary’, p.866. (See 10:2, 9:14 and 10:22)