Holy of Holies
What was the Holy of Holies?
The Holy of Holies was the name given to the innermost shrine of the sanctuary of Yahweh.
1. In the Tabernacle
The most holy place of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 26:31-33 ) was a small cube of 10 cubits (15 ft.) every way. It was divided from the holy Ceiled by curtains which bore cherubic figures embroidered in blue and purple and scarlet (Exodus 26:1 ), it contained no furniture but the Ark of the Covenant, covered by a slab of gold called the MERCY-SEAT (which see), and having within it only the two stone tables of the Law (see TABERNACLE ; ARK OF COVENANT ). Only the high priest, and he but once a year, on the great @ in penitential garments, amid a cloud of incense, and with blood of sacrifice (Lev 16; compare Hebrews 9:7 ).
2. In the Temple of Solomon
The proportions of the most holy place in the first temple were the same as in the tabernacle, but the dimensions were doubled. The sacred chamber was enlarged to 20 cubits (30 ft.) each way. We now meet with the word debhir , "oracle" ( 1 Kings 6:16 , etc.), which with the exception of Psalm 28:2 , belonging perhaps to the same age, is met with in Scripture only in the period of Solomon's reign. This sanctum , like its predecessor, contained but one piece of furniture - the Ark of the Covenant. It had, however, one new conspicuous feature in the two large figures of cherubim of olive wood, covered with gold, with wings stretching from wall to wall, beneath which the ark was now placed (1 Kings 6:23-28 ; 2 Chronicles 3:10-13 ; see TEMPLE ).
3. In Later Times
In Ezekiel's temple plans, which in many things may have been those of the temple of Zerubbabel, the prophet gives 20 cubits as the length and breadth of the most holy place, showing that these figures were regarded as too sacred to undergo change (Ezekiel 41:4 ). There was then no Ark of the Covenant, but Jewish tradition relates that the blood of the great Day of Atonement was sprinkled on an unhewn stone that stood in its place. In Herod's temple, the dimensions of the two holy chambers remained the same - at least in length and breadth (see TEMPLE , HEROD 'S). The holiest place continued empty. In the spoils of the temple depicted on the Arch of Titus there is no representation of the Ark of the Covenant; only of the furniture of the outer chamber or holy place.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are taught that the true holy of holies is the heaven into which Jesus has now entered to appear in virtue of His own sacrifice in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:11 ). Restriction is now removed, and the way into the holiest is made open for all His people (Hebrews 10:19 , Hebrews 10:20 ).
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).