Bible Question:

In the Old Testament times when a priest entered the Holy of Holies, was a rope tied to him in case he died so that he could be pulled out?

Bible Answer:

The Holy of Holies is also called the Holy Place in Exodus 28:35. It was the most sacred room within the Tabernacle or the Temple. The High Priest was allowed to enter this room only once a year on the Day of Atonement. When He entered, he had to wear the clothes that God specified in Exodus 28:1-43. On the Day of Atonement the clothes were very basic or plain as explained in Leviticus 16:1-4.

High Priest’s Clothes

The clothes were exquisite in design and, most likely, in appearance. The High Priest normally wore a breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic and a turban. (Exodus 28:4-5).

High Priest's Clothes

The robe had bells, blue and purple pomegranates, and scarlet material attached to the bottom of the High Priest’s garment.

You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around . . . Exodus 28:33 (NASB)

They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. Exodus 39:25-26 (NASB)

While the bells were heard, others would know that he was still alive and that he had been accepted by God.

High Priest’s Clothes On Day of Atonement

On the Day of Atonement the High Priest could enter the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:1-3). But he had to, in essence, “dress-down.” He could only put on the linen tunic (Exodus 28:39), linen underwear (Leviticus 16:4) and the turban (Exodus 28:36-38). Leviticus 16:4 does not refer to any sandals or anything else at the foot level. It should be noted that the priests did not wear sandals. They were apparently barefoot  according to Joshua 3:13 4:18. He did not wear his more spectacular clothing.

On the day of atonement the High Priest looked more like a slave. His outfit consisted of four simple garments in white linen, even plainer than the vestments of the ordinary priest (Exodus 39:27-29). The symbolic significance of these special vestments is nowhere clearly explained.[1]

Rope Around the Ankle

It is important to note that nothing is stated in the Old Testament about a priest having a rope tied around his ankle or waist when he entered the Holy Place on the Day or Atonement. A reference to a rope being attached to the ankle or leg of a priest has not been found in the Bible, Josephus, Philo, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha or in the writings of the church fathers.

But our Jewish friends state that this was the ancient practice. Here is a quote from a Jewish rabbi,

According to the account of our rabbis preserved in the Talmud, the High Priest wore a rope around his waist as he made his way – absolutely alone – into the holy of holies. The rope he wore served a very practical purpose. Because, in the event that the High Priest said or did something wrong, it was generally believed that he would be struck dead for his offense. Yes, right then and there. As only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the rope enabled his assistants to safely pull the corpse of the High priest out of the inner-sanctum in the event of mishap.[2]

It would appear the rope tied to the ankle has its origins in Jewish literature.[3] The absence of a reference in the scriptures is not proof that the High Priest did not have a rope tied around his ankle in Jewish practice.

Violation of God’s Law Is Too Common 

After King Solomon, Israel strayed from God and did what they wanted. They turned the temple into a place of worship of Baal and other foreign gods. At some point the Law was even forgotten until King Josiah (2 Kings 22:8-13). King Josiah removed the worship of Baal, Asherah, Topheth and other gods (2 Kings 23:4-20) from the temple and killed the Baal priests. Therefore, is it possible that at some point the priests of Israel may have tied a rope around the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and disobeyed Leviticus 16:1-4 in this way? Everything that has happened is not recorded in the passages of scripture. However, there are no instructions in the Bible requiring a rope to be tied to the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies and Leviticus 16:1-4 indicates that this should not have occurred.

Conclusion:

The High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement to make an animal sacrifice for the sins of the Jewish nation. He had to do this year after year because the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away a person’s sins forever (Hebrews 10:2-4). But Jesus, who is our great High Priest, made it possible for our sins to be taken away forever when He died on the cross. Now our sins can be forgiven when we believe in Him.

 

References:

1. Gordon J. Wenham. The Book of Leviticus. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979. p. 230.
2.  Temple Beth Shalom of Orange County (tbsoc.com/sermons/donnellyk5763.html).
3. Zohar Vol. 16 Emor, Section 34. Yom Kippur, Par. 251. states, “Rabbi Yitzchak said, A chain was tied to the feet of the High Priest, when he entered THE HOLY OF HOLIES, so that if he dies there they will take him out, SINCE IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THERE… Then there is joy among the higher and lower beings. If not, they were all in sorrow and all knew that their prayer was not accepted.”

Reference Links:

Was Melchizedek a man or a type of Christ?
Jesus Qualifies As a High Priest