crumbling walls and untying ropes
by susan dayley in

Within the temple built by King Solomon, the division between the Holy Chamber and the Holy of Holies or the holy inner chamber, emphasized the idea of the separation between sinful man and the Lord as an almost insurmountable barrier. Only a penitent, righteous high priest would ever enter through the thick, layered veil into the Holy of Holies, and then only on one day of the year.

This came about after Aaron’s two sons approached the sacred chamber, to offer a sacred sacrifice inappropriately, and were killed by the Lord. The Lord then instructed that the high priest would only enter under certain conditions (Leviticus 16:1).

Through the centuries this directive and the fear of displeasing the Lord by entering unworthily led to a legend. “It has been said that because the high priest could be killed by God in the Holy of Holies if not properly prepared according to Divine instructions, a rope was routinely tied around his ankle. Then, if he dropped dead, his body could be dragged out.” (Now I don’t want to appear irreverent, but I actually laughed when I first read that.)

It seems this legend has actually grown from repetition through the ages though to where it is accepted by some as fact. The truth is that there is no record of a rope in ancient records. Dr. W.E. Nunnally, a professor of Hebrew and early Judaism, has reported: “The rope of the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.” (Dr. W.E. Nunnally is Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.)

Nevertheless, the imagery of a priest going before the Lord with a rope about his ankle so that he could be pulled back intrigued me. It was the idea that in my efforts to give my life to doing what the Lord would want me to do, is there some weakness, idleness, habit, or pet sin that I am tied to that is like a rope, ready to pull me back?

Is it reluctance or fear that prevents the surrender of all?

The idea of surrendering all, even to ‘giving away all my sins to know [him]’(Alma 22:18) reminded me of the words to a beautiful song by Gladys Knight, called Mercy’s Arms. Here it is in part:

The mighty fortress walls
I have built around my foolish heart
How they crumble and they fall
As I surrender all
To Mercy’s Arms

Bathed in holy rain
Cleansed from sinner’s bitter stains
Only love remains
And I’m forever changed
By Mercy’s Arms

Sweet the surrender
Sweet the embrace
Sweet the forgiveness
To one forever undeserving of His grace

Finally, is the thought by C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity, "Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self..."


Joseph I. Lauer said...

The source for the rope (or chain) is the medieval Zohar, Parashat Acharei Mot (67a) and Parashat Emor (102a).
See the article "What’s the Truth About ... the Kohen Gadol’s Rope?" by Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky at
See also Todd Bolen's Bible Places blog posting at
Joseph I. Lauer
Brooklyn, New York

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