Leviticus 16:2

And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.

And the Lord said unto Moses, speak unto Aaron thy brother,.... Who was the high priest; and what is here said to him was binding on all high priests in succession from him:

that he come not at all times into the holy place; or "holiness" {p}, which was holiness itself, or the most holy place, as distinguished from that which was sometimes called the holy place, where stood the incense altar, the showbread table, and the candlestick, into which Aaron went every day, morning and evening, to do the service there enjoined him; but into the holy of holies here described, as appears by the after description of it, he might not go at all times, or every day, or when he pleased, only once a year, on the day of atonement; though, according to the Jewish writers, he went in four times on that day, first to offer incense, a second time to sprinkle the blood of the bullock, a third time to sprinkle the blood of the goat, and a fourth time to fetch out the censer; and if he entered a fifth time, he was worthy of death {q}. Some have observed {r}, that this respected Aaron only, and not Moses; that though Aaron might not go in when he pleased, and only at a time fixed, yet Moses might at any time, and consult the Lord upon the mercy seat, see Exodus 25:22. Pausanias makes mention of several Heathen temples which were opened but once a year, as the temples of Hades Dindymene, and Eurymone {s}, and particularly the temple of Minerva, into which only a priest entered once a year {t}; which perhaps was in imitation of the Jewish high priest:

within the vail, before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; this is a description of the holy place, into which the high priest might not go at any time, or at pleasure; it was within the vail that divided between the holy place, and the most holy, where stood the mercy seat, which was a lid or covering to the ark, at the two ends of which were the cherubim, the seat of the divine Majesty; which was a type of heaven for its holiness, being the habitation of the holy God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and of holy angels, and holy men, and where only holy services are performed; and for its invisibility, where dwells the invisible God, where Christ in our nature is at present unseen by us, and the glories of which are not as yet to be beheld; only faith, hope, and love, enter within the vail, and have to do with unseen objects there; and also for what are in it, as the ark and mercy seat, types of Christ, through whom mercy is communicated in a way of justice, he being the propitiation and the fulfilling end of the law for righteousness. And this caution was given to Aaron,

that he die not; by appearing in the presence of God without his leave and order:

for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat; this one would think should be a reason why he should not die, when he came into the most holy place, because there was the mercy seat, and Jehovah on it: and besides the cloud of incense on it, he went in with, for so many understand by the cloud, the cloud of incense: thus Aben Ezra says, the sense is, that he should not enter but with incense, which would make a cloud, and so the glory not be seen, lest he should die: and Jarchi observes, that the Midrash, or the more mystical and subtle sense is, he shall not go in but with the cloud of incense on the day of atonement; but the more simple meaning, or plain sense of the words is, as the same writer notes, that whereas he did continually appear there in the pillar of cloud; and because his Shechinah or glorious Majesty is revealed there, he is cautioned not to use himself to go in, i.e. at any time; with which agrees the Targum of Jonathan,

"for in my cloud the glory of my Shechinah, or divine Majesty, shall be revealed upon the mercy seat.''

And this being the case, such a glory being there, though wrapped up in a cloud and thick darkness, it was dangerous to enter but by divine order.

{p} vdqh la "ad sanctitatem", Pagninus, Montanus.
{q} Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Celim, c. 1. sect. 9.
{r} Maimon. in Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. sect. 1. So Tikkune Zohar, correct. 18. fol. 28. 1.
{s} Eliac 2. sive, l. 6. p. 392. Boeotica, sive, l. 9. p. 578. Arcadica, sive, l. 8. p. 522.
{t} Ib. Arcadica, p. 531.