We have been told that it was custom for priests to have a rope tied on to them before they entered the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, just in case something happened to them while they were in there so they could be pulled out. Is this true? What is the origin of this tradition?
Constable quotes Youngblood in this regard, here [Youngblood, Ronald F. Exodus. Everyman’s Bible Commentary series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, p.128]The "popular Jewish interpretation" regarding the rope may or may not have any validity--the thought being that if the priest were to stop moving about for a long time, the bells would be silent and the silence would indicate the priest fainted or even died as a punishment by the LORD for having done something impious. The Levites could then drag the priest out of the holy place.
Even the purpose of the bells which were attached to the priestly robes may not have been to signal the Levites that all was well with the priest who was in the holy place to minister before the LORD. As Youngblood suggests, however, the purpose of the bells could just as easily have been an aural reminder to the priest and his attendants that something sacred was being enacted in the holy place, and they should not minister carelessly or impiously. From Exodus 28:
[The bells] shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and his tinkling [sound] shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, so that he will not die (v.35).
One thing is certain: The protocols attached to the worship of the LORD came directly from God to Moses. The protocols were therefore God's, not man's. To take them lightly or to enact them carelessly was tantamount to holding God in contempt by impugning his character and his commands.
The LORD wanted and rightly expected his servants to hold him in the highest esteem. Anything less than that would be an insult to his matchlessly holy character. Frequent reminders of these concepts, such as the tinkling of bells attached to priestly vestments, served to keep the Levites and priests on their toes and in the right frame of mind as they ministered before the LORD God on behalf of Israel.
At first I thought definitely yes because I recalled hearing the same thing there were bells on the garment so that a priest In the holy compartment could hear that the high priest was moving about doing his duties on atonement day in the most holy part. If there was an extended time with no bells tinkling they would pull the rope around the high priest to remove his dead or incapacitated body out of the most holy.
However it seems that was not true. Nowhere in the Bible or any other Jewish or Christian writings is the rope mentioned at all. And the ephod and bells garment was taken off and the high priest bathed and put on different special garments with no bells before going into most holy once a year on atonement day. (Leviticus 16:4)
Edit: I asked about this on the Judaism site the answer there also debunks the rope theory.
A well referenced work on this is found here:Did the high priest enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his ankle?.
Spurgeon who wrote circa 1850 knew of the tradition, but not it's source. He said this about the tradition.
I cannot tell whether it is true, but I have read that there is a tradition among the Jews, that a rope was fastened to the high priest's foot that they might draw out his corpse in case he died before the Lord. -Spurgeon-