4 which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
The “which” refers to the Holy of Holies in verse 3.
had the golden censer
The author does not use the word “in” here but “had” because the golden censer was not in the Holy of Holies. The intention of the censer standing just outside the Holy of Holies was to penetrate God’s presence with incense. It was closely associated with worship within the Holy of Holies.
The golden censer stood next to the Holy of Holies. There were four items inside: (1) the ark of the covenant, (2) the golden pot containing manna, (3) Aaron’s rod and (4) the tablets of the covenant.
and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold,
The “ark of the covenant” mediated God’s presence (Ex 25:22). It represented the person and work of Christ. He is the assurance of God allowing us into His presence.
in which were the golden pot that had the manna,
The “golden pot” contained manna representing God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness. This was a memorial of God’s sustaining grace of Israel in the wilderness.
Aaron’s rod that budded,
Aaron was the first priest and the “rod” demonstrated his and his sons’ ministry (Nu 17:1–11). This rod confirmed the priesthood of Aaron. It remained as a sign of God’s power and presence.
and the tablets of the covenant;
The “tablets of the covenant” were the stone tablets where God’s law was written (Deut 9:9–10).
and above it were the cherubim of glory
“Cherubim” were two winged angels made of gold (Ex 25:18–22). They looked over the mercy seat. One represented God’s mercy and the other God’s righteousness.
overshadowing the mercy seat.
The “mercy seat” was the golden lid of the ark. God appeared over this lid on the Day of Atonement. (Ex 25:22; Lev 16:13–17). The mercy seat signified the concept of covering sin, the atonement. It symbolically covered sin from God’s eyes; thus, God was satisfied that the sin issue was dealt with.
Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Hebrews does not go into great explanation about vessels in the old tabernacle but keeps to the main features. The items in the tabernacle were described in brief because they only represented the reality. The reality is of much greater significance.
All the articles in the tabernacle depicted Christ in symbols.
Everything in the tabernacle represented Christ in some way. The central element in the Holy of Holies was the mercy seat. God ushers the believer into the presence of Himself by the shed blood sprinkled on the seat. There God was satisfied with the sacrifice; the word for mercy seat means propitiation or satisfaction (1 Jn 2:2). He was satisfied with the death of Christ to pay for our sins. The only way to access the presence of an absolutely holy God is through the blood of Christ.