Verses 1–4

Here is, I. The date of this law concerning the day of atonement: it was after the death of the two sons of Aaron (Lev. 16:1), which we read, Lev. 10:1. 1. Lest Aaron should fear that any remaining guilt of that sin should cleave to his family, or (seeing the priests were so apt to offend) that some after-sin of his other sons should be the ruin of his family, he is directed how to make atonement for his house, that it might keep in with God; for the atonement for it would be the establishment of it, and preserve the entail of the blessing upon it. 2. The priests being warned by the death of Nadab and Abihu to approach to God with reverence and godly fear (without which they came at their peril), directions are here given how the nearest approach might be made, not only without peril, but to unspeakable advantage and comfort, if the directions were observed. When they were cut off for an undue approach, the rest must not say, “Then we will not draw near at all,” but, “Then we will do it by rule.” They died for their sin, therefore God graciously provides for the rest, that they die not. Thus God’s judgments on some should be instructions to others.

II. The design of this law. One intention of it was to preserve a veneration for the most holy place, within the veil, where the Shechinah, or divine glory, was pleased to dwell between the cherubim: Speak unto Aaron, that he come not at all times into the holy place, Lev. 16:2. Before the veil some of the priests came every day to burn incense upon the golden altar, but within the veil none must ever come but the high priest only, and he but on one day in the year, and with great ceremony and caution. That place where God manifested his special presence must not be made common. If none must come into the presence-chamber of an earthly king uncalled, no, not the queen herself, upon pain of death (Est. 4:11), was it not requisite that the same sacred respect should be paid to the Kings of kings? But see what a blessed change is made by the gospel of Christ; all good Christians have now boldness to enter into the holiest, through the veil, every day (Heb. 10:19, 20); and we come boldly (not as Aaron must, with fear and trembling) to the throne of grace, or mercy-seat, Heb. 4:16. While the manifestations of God’s presence and grace were sensible, it was requisite that they should thus be confined and upon reserve, because the objects of sense the more familiar they are made the less awful or delightful they become; but now that they are purely spiritual it is otherwise, for the objects of faith the more they are conversed with the more do they manifest of their greatness and goodness: now therefore we are welcome to come at all times into the holy place not made with hands, for we are made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places by faith, Eph. 2:6. Then Aaron must not come near at all times, lest he die; we now must come near at all times that we may live: it is distance only that is our death. Then God appeared in the cloud upon the mercy-seat, but now with open face we behold, not in a dark cloud, but in a clear glass, the glory of the Lord, 2 Cor. 3:18.

III. The person to whom the work of this day was committed, and that was the high priest only: Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place, Lev. 16:3. He was to do all himself upon the day of atonement: only there was a second provided to be his substitute or supporter, in case any thing should befal him, either of sickness or ceremonial uncleanness, that he could not perform the service of the day. All Christians are spiritual priests, but Christ only is the high priest, and he alone it is that makes atonement, nor needed he either assistant or substitute.

IV. The attire of the high priest in this service. He was not to be dressed up in his rich garments that were peculiar to himself: he was not to put on the ephod, with the precious stones in it, but only the linen clothes which he wore in common with the inferior priests, Lev. 16:4. That meaner dress did best become him on this day of humiliation; and, being thinner and lighter, he would in it be more expedite for the work or service of the day, which was all to go through his hands. Christ, our high priest, made atonement for sin in our nature; not in the robes of his own peculiar glory, but the linen garments of our mortality, clean indeed, but mean.