Hebrews 9:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Hebrews 9:4, NIV: which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

Hebrews 9:4, ESV: having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.

Hebrews 9:4, KJV: Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

Hebrews 9:4, NASB: having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s staff which budded, and the tablets of the covenant;

Hebrews 9:4, NLT: In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron's staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

Hebrews 9:4, CSB: It had the gold altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, covered with gold on all sides, in which was a gold jar containing the manna, Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.

What does Hebrews 9:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

The purpose of this set of verses is to explain the symbolism of the old covenant's ritual objects. The description here is purposefully brief (Hebrews 9:5). This explains why the writer's language seems vague, even to the point of blurring which objects go where within the temple. The writer's familiarity with Judaism, as well as the overt remark about a lack of detail, make it clear that such concerns are beside the point. Listing the major pieces is the only goal in mind, for now.

This verse refers to the "golden altar of incense," in a reference that is often confused. Commentators often wonder about whether the author of Hebrews intends this to mean that this altar is in the Holy Place, or the Most Holy Place, behind the second curtain. First, Scripture suggests that more than one type of incense altar could be used for various purposes (2 Chronicles 26:19; Ezekiel 8:11). Second, this verse uses the Greek term echousa, which normally refers to ownership, not location.

The combined information given in verses 1 through 5 is clearly meant to be brief, general, and not intended for deep analysis. The point is to reference the various objects used in the old covenant, in order to contrast these with the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The altar of incense was the staging area for coals used to burn incense specially crafted for use in the temple (Exodus 30:34–35). This material was taken behind the veil by the high priest yearly as part of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:12–14).

The ark of the covenant was the ornate box used to hold the written Law on stone tablets inside (Exodus 25:10–22). Those are the "tablets of the covenant" mentioned here. The top of this chest included statues of two cherubim—angels—whose wings were swept forward over the top. This was the "mercy seat" where blood would be sprinkled as part of Israel's ongoing sacrifices.

Also within the ark was a container of manna, the strange food which God had provided for Israel during their time in the wilderness (Exodus 16:32).

Aaron's staff was also kept there (Numbers 17:10). This was a relic of God's response to a rebellion within Israel. When the people challenged Aaron's family right to the priesthood, each tribe was instructed to provide a staff with their leader's name written on it. Aaron's staff, and only his, miraculously sprouted leaves, flowers, and almonds, confirming God's arrangement for the priesthood (Numbers 17:1–9).