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A Day In The Temple by Rev. A.J. Maas S.J.

The evening sacrifice is usually slain midway between the eighth and the ninth hour and offered between the ninth and tenth. It resembles in all respects the morning sacrifice, except that the lot is cast only for the burning of incense, and that the latter takes place not before, but after the pieces of sacrifice have been laid on the fire. The daily burnt-offering is, therefore, girt round with the offering of incense.

When the time requires it, the two priests appointed by the morning lot, fetch the sacrificial lamb from the Beth-Moked, inspect it, water it out of the golden bowl, fasten it to the second ring, but not, as in the morning, on the western, but on the eastern end of the court, cut its wind-pipe and gullet, and catch up its blood which is sprinkled in the perscribed manner. Then the victim is flayed and divided up into portions similar to those we have considered in the morning.

At this juncture the proceedings are suddenly interrupted. Obed who according to appointment must carry the two sides of the victim, cannot be found anywhere. Some hasten to the Beth-Moked, others to the Hall of Polished Stones, others again pass through the different courts, but all are equally unsuccessful. Abiathar must, of course, be informed of Obed’s irregularity. Unwelcome as the news and its bearer will be to the chief priest, Obed’s friend and defender on all occasions, the head of the course must provide in this extremity a substitute for the absentee.

Abiathar has not dared to leave the furnace room in the Beth-Moked since Obed’s disappearance. The more he thinks of his present condition and his future prospects, the gloomier and more irritated he becomes. If Josiah’s family returns, his headship of Abijah’s house will surely be lost; even if he should retain his position in the Sanhedrin, his family after him will not be admitted to that dignity, having no longer any title to it. But these are bright and hopeful views; what of his injustice done to Zachary these many years? what of Josiah’s wealth which he has given into Obed’s hands to pay him for his services? what above all, if his complicity with Obed’s dark transactions should come to light? In that case, exclusion from the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, prison and death will probably be his lot. And where remains Obed all this time?

As if in answer to Abiathar’s last question Abdiah enters the furnace room with the words: “Obed is absent from his post in the Court of Priests.”

“I’ll have thee whipped, thou villain,” Abiathar shouts at Abdiah.

Imagining that the chief priest has not understood his report, Abdiah states again: “Some one must be appointed in Obed’s place; he is absent from his post at the evening sacrifice.”

Abiathar sees that above all, he must not betray himself to his colleagues; he quietly orders Abdiah to do Obed’s duty at the sacrificial service, and turning away, continues his melancholy reflections.

Meanwhile the victim is divided, and the priests walking in procession carry its parts to the ascent of the altar, where they salt their respective portions. Then going to the Gazith, they expect the high priest Matthiah to join them. For they have been told that no lot will be cast for the burning of the incense, the high priest intending to perform that ceremony. At their arrival they find Matthiah indeed, seated in the Hall of Polished Stones, but near by stands Ben Achiah the Temple physician with medicines and refreshments. A look at the high priest shows that his ministry cannot be thought of to-day. Word must be sent to Abiathar about this unexpected occurrence; not as if the chief priest could appoint anyone to burn the incense. But his knowledge must give full legal force to the casting of lots, now rendered necessary.

A few moments before the messenger reaches the Beth-Moked, Obed has hurriedly entered by the northern gate and passed into the furnace room. “The accursed son of Ananiah has won the victory,” he addresses Abiathar; “Salome, my last hope, has left the city, and Herod has resolved to deprive thee of thy headship of Abijah’s course.”

For a moment Abiathar stands upright, as if rooted to the ground; his eyes look vacant, his mental faculties seem extinct, and his bodily frame resembles an inanimate mass of brute matter rather than a living being. “Cursed be the day that gave me birth,” exclaims Abiathar, “and cursed be the womb that bare me and the man who begat me.”

“Thy words ill befit this occasion,” remarks Obed; “thou well knowest that Herod never removes an official from his position without assigning sufficient reason for his way of acting. Usually, the same reason suffices for the unhappy man’s imprisonment and death.”

“Why remind me of this, villain? Or rather, why not picture to me the honor of disgrace, the pleasure of pain, the delight of torture, the concentrated life in the hour of death?”

“Because I do not wish thee to undergo all this,” calmly replied Obed; “instant action on our part may prevent our final ruin. We must leave the city before the evening sacrifice is laid on the altar.”

At this point of time the messenger arrives in the furnace room, announcing the high priest’s sudden illness, and the consequent necessity of casting the lot for the burning of incense. Abiathar merely gives a sign that he has heard the message, but Obed’s eyes roll in wild excitement. With all his practical wisdom, he is really crazed on the point of not allowing the lot to fall on Zachary. So soon as the messenger leaves, he turns to Abiathar and declares his intention of taking part in the casting of the lot.

“What of our safety before the end of the evening sacrifice?” Abiathar inquires full of fear and misgivings.

“It will be well,” briefly answers Obed; “our enemy shall not burn the incense before we leave the city.”

Despite Abiathar’s earnest pleading not to leave him in this hour of distress, Obed hurriedly passes through the Court of Priests to the Hall of Polished Stones. He arrives at the very moment when the priests are forming the customary circle around Matthiah the prefect of lots. At Matthiah’s bidding Obed is taken prisoner by the Temple police on two distinct charges. First, he has been absent from his post at the evening sacrifice, a misdemeanor punishable by flogging; secondly, he has presented himself at the casting of the lot for the burning of incense, though he is already appointed for an office incompatible with the incense offering. While Obed is still haggling with the Temple guard and appealing to Abiathar’s decision at whose command he claims to have absented himself from his duty, Matthiah proceeds with the casting of the lot, and it falls on Zachary.

“O magnify the Lord with me,” exclaims Zachary, “and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all fears. I looked unto him, and was lightened; and my face hath not been confounded. The poor man cries out, and the Lord hears him, and saves him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encompasseth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”

Meanwhile, the messengers sent to inform Matthiah the chief priest of Obed’s detention and the charges brought against him, have hurried to the Beth-Moked, have passed through every room and apartment in the House of Stoves, but cannot find Abiathar anywhere. The latter, left alone by Obed, had considered it safer to leave the Temple Mount without delay. As to Obed, he might meet him in the city, or if they should not meet, it would be far easier to remain in safety without him than in his company. After the men had searched every corner and apartment of the Beth-Moked, they looked through its northern gate into the Chel where the chief priest was accustomed to walk at times. The Levite on guard informs them that Abiathar has left the Temple in great haste without speaking to any one in the courts.

When this news is delivered in the Gazith, Obed is at first fully overcome with the difficulty of his position. But his readiness to devise means and ways does not leave him even in this critical position. Though he himself is fully conversant with Abiathar’s reasons for leaving the Temple, no one else is acquainted with them. Consequently he may during the evening safely urge his appeal to the chief priest’s decision. As to the course of action to be followed later, new resources will present themselves as time wears on. Even if everything else fails, he always may appeal to Zachary’s intercession, whom he has so signally befriended on the morning of that very day.

Meanwhile Zachary has selected Matthiah and Samuel as his assistants, and all the ministering priests proceed to the altar of burnt-offering. This is the time of day alluded to in the Acts where we read: “Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” Though the evening service is somewhat shorter than that of the morning, it lasts, at any rate, about an hour and a half, say till about four o’clock of our time. The law: “The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even” is thus sufficiently complied with. After the evening sacrifice no other offering may be brought except on the eve of the Passover, when the evening sacrifice takes place two hours before the usual time.

What has been said, sufficiently defines the vague terms in which the time of the evening sacrifice is described in the Book of Numbers as falling “between the two evenings,” that is, between the darkness of gloaming and that of the night. Again, such admonitions as “to show forth faithfulness every night upon an instrument of ten strings and on the psaltery,” and the call to those who “by the night stand in the house of the Lord” to “lift up their hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord,” and the appointment of the Levite singers for the night service, point one and all to the sacrifice offered up between the two evenings.

After arriving in the Court of Priests, Zachary’s assistants take the censer filled with live coals from the proper fire of incense-offering, and the double incense boat, and preceded by the two ministers appointed to cleanse the altar of incense and fill the lamps on the candlestick, they walk in procession to the Holy Place. Zachary too, receives the triple admonition customary on this occasion, and then the Magrephah is sounded, calling priests, Levites and “stationary men” to their respective positions.

St. Luke relates this event in his usual simple and clear way: “There was in the days of Herod, king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. Now it came to pass while he executed the priest’s office his lot was to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense.”

The high priest Matthiah has in the meantime sufficiently recovered to enter the Priests’ Court; ascending the altar of burnt-offering he seats himself near the entrance to the priests’ circuit. Part after part of the victim is carried up to the altar the high priest laying his hands on every portion presented. The single pieces are first thrown promiscuously on the fire, and then arranged in their proper position. While this happens, the four assistants leave Zachary in the Holy Place, and stand on the stairs of the Temple porch. When finally the smoke of the burnt-offering curls up to the throne of the Most High, the presiding priest gives the loud command: “Burn the incense.” Zachary pours the precious material upon the live coals, distributing it in the perscribed manner.

“And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense,” lying prostrate on their faces before the Lord, with outspread hands. Throughout the vast Temple-buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the cloud of odors rose up before the Lord. St. John takes from this circumstance his description of the heavenly Jerusalem: “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”

Within the sanctuary Zachary lies on his face before the Lord, repeating in his innermost heart the longings of the prophet: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Amen.”

“Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holinesss and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy mighty acts? the yearning of thy bowels and thy compassions are restrained toward me. For thou art our father, though Abraham knoweth us not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us: thou, O Lord, art our father; our redeemer from everlasting is thy name. O Lord, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servant’s sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. Thy holy people possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. We are become as they over whom thou never bearest rule; as they that were called by thy name. Amen.”

In the ardor of his devotion Zachary adds a third prayer: “Oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence; as when fire kindleth the brushwood, and the fire causeth the waters to boil: to make thy name known to thy adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou earnest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God beside thee, which worketh for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth, and we sinned: in them have we been of long time, and shall we be saved? For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember inquity forever: behold, look, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? Wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?”

“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him:

“Fear not, Zacharias, because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife, Elizabeth, shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn unto the Lord their God. And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”

And Zacharias said unto the angel: “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.”

And the angel answering said unto him: “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”

Before Zachary had recovered sufficiently to realize the angel’s threat and promise fully, Gabriel has disappeared from sight. For he is

“One of the Seven,

Who in God’s presence, nearest to his throne,

Stand ready at command, and are his eyes

That run through all the heavens, and down to earth,

Bear his swift errands over moist and dry,

O’er sea and land.”

“And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled why he tarried in the Temple.” The Jews were fully persuaded that castastrophes sometimes occurred not only for intrusion into the Temple, but for any irregularity in it. Did they not read in the Book of Leviticus: “And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not?” According o the Talmud, they feared the displeasure of God, should they not discharge their duty in the Holy Place with all possible haste and earnestness.

And when he came out to join his assistants on the steps of the porch and to pronounce the threefold blessing over the vast congregation of Israel, “he could not speak unto them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple, and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb.” The blessing having been pronounced by Zachary’s companions, the people’s and the high priest’s meat-offering are laid on the fire, and; the drink-offering is poured out. Then the Temple music ends the sacrificial day.

The last notes of the music have now died out, and the ministering priests are once more gathered in the Hall or Polished Stones. Though the sacerdotal work is not yet ended, Matthiah and Samuel are without difficulty excused for a short time in order to attend to Zachary’s case. The latter appears to be changed into another being. A new light shines in his bright and joyful eye as he points up to heaven; his tall stature has lost its abject stoop, and filled with heaven-born courage he has assumed the bearing of the prophets of old.

At Matthiah’s and Samuel’s approach, Zachary grasps the roll of Isaiah’s prophecies; looking hurriedly over its columns, he points out to his companions the consoling passage: “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; spare not; lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded for thou shalt not be put to shame; for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is thy redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy redeemer.”

When Matthiah and Samuel had read the passage thus far, they looked at each other and understood Zachary’s secret. Samuel embraces the old priest, and blesses the everlasting mercies of God. Matthiah laying down the roll of Isaiah, applies to Zachary those other words of the prophet: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”

The worshippers have slowly retired, only a few lingering for private prayer, or tarrying in the marble porches. The short eastern day is fast ebbing away in the west, the sun sinking far over the mountains of Gibeon in that ocean across which the Light of the World is soon to send forth its undying rays. The ninety-three sacrificial implements which have served during the day, must be cleansed and deposited in their proper places. The accounts of the day have to be made up and checked. For the Levites in charge of collecting the tithes and of the other business details, purchase during the day in large quantities what every one who brings a sacrifice needs for meat and drink-offerings. This is a great accommodation for the pious worshipper, and an important source of revenue to the Temple. But the transactions need a careful and accurate supervision on the part of the higher priestly officials.

While the accounts are drawn up, the usual peace of the evening is considerably disturbed. All the money kept in an apartment of the Beth-Moked, together with the checks or counterfoil, has disappeared. No one but Abiathar has had access to the room during the day, and Abiathar has not yet returned from his mysterious errand into the city.

While the money question excites the priests in and near the Beth-Moked, another event disturbs the peace of those near the Gazith. Herod’s royal guard is standing in the Court of Gentiles, and loudly demands the surrender of Obed. The king has been informed of Obed’s deception, as well as of his forging a document sealed with his own royal ring. Despite the forger’s entreaties and pleadings, the Temple police gladly surrenders the prisoner. For Abiathar is sure to avenge all the wrongs, real or imaginary, done to Obed. Though Samuel, after his elevation to the headship of Abijah’s course, which will happen within the week, is not able to trace Abiathar’s whereabouts, his intercession with Herod is powerful enough to change Obed’s sentence of death into that of perpetual exile.

Meanwhile, the new company of priests and Levites who are to conduct the services of the morrow are coming up from Ophel under the leadership of their respective elders. Those who have officiated are preparing to leave by another gate. They have put off their sandals and their priestly dress, depositing all in the appointed chambers. For sandals may be worn in the Temple, the priests being barefoot only during their actual service. Abiathar, the chief priest, being absent, the oldest member of the departing division of priests takes leave of the entering division in words reminding one of St. Paul’s words at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians: “He that has caused his name to dwell in this house cause love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship to dwell among you.”

As the family whose daily “ministration is accomplished” leaves the Temple, its massive gates are closed by the priests or Levites appointed for this duty; the keys are hung up in the hollow square, under the marble slab in the House of Stoves. And when the stars are shining on the deep blue eastern sky, the priests gather for pious conversation and to take their evening meal; sacrificial meats and the prepared first fruits supply the necessary refreshments. The twenty-four night watches, consisting of ten men each, have already been set, and the captain of the Temple, or the “man of the Temple Mount” has begun his rounds of inspection.

“Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night?. The morning cometh, and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire! Return, come! How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of that him bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see, eye to eye, when the Lord returneth to Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his arm in the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

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