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Such admonitions as 'to show forth thy faithfulness every night upon an instrument of ten strings and on the psaltery' (Psa 92:2,3), and the call to those who 'by night stand in the house of the Lord,' to 'lift up their hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord' (Psa 134), seem indeed to imply an evening service--an impression confirmed by the appointment of Levite singers for night service in 1 Chronicles 9:33; 23:30. But at the time of our Lord the evening sacrifice certainly commenced much earlier. Josephus puts it down (Ant. xiv. 4, 3) as at the ninth hour. According to the Rabbis the lamb was slain at the eighth hour and a-half, or about 2:30 p.m., and the pieces laid on he altar an hour later--about 3:30 p.m. Hence, when 'Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour' (Acts 3:1) it must have been for the evening sacrifice, or rather half an hour later, and, as the words indicate, for the 'prayer' that accompanied the offering of incense. The evening service was somewhat shorter than that of the morning, and would last, at any rate, about an hour and a-half, say till about four o'clock, thus well meeting the original requirement in Numbers 28:4. After that no other offering might be brought except on the eve of the Passover, when the ordinary evening sacrifice took place two hours earlier, or at 12:30 p.m. *
* Accordingly the Rabbis laid down the principle that evening prayers (of course, out of the Temple) might be lawfully said at any time after 12:30 p.m. This explains how 'Peter went up upon the house-top to pray about the sixth hour,' or about 12 o'clock (Acts 10:9)--or to what was really 'evening prayer.' Comp. Kitto's Cycl. iii. p. 904.
Change of Priests
We can conceive the laborious work of the day over, and the rest and solemnity of 'night in the Temple' begun. The last notes of the Temple music have died out, and the worshippers slowly retired, some after lingering for private prayer, or else tarrying in one of the marble porches. Already the short Eastern day is fading out in the west. Far over the mountains of Gibeon the sun is sinking in that ocean across which the better light is so soon to shine. 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 heads of houses, their elders. Those who have officiated during the day are preparing to leave by another gate. They have put off their priestly dress, depositing it in the appointed chambers, and resumed that of ordinary laymen, and their sandals. For such, although not shoes, might be worn in the Temple, the priests being barefoot only during their actual ministry. Nor did they otherwise wear any distinctive dress, not even the high-priest himself, nor yet those who performed in the Temple other than strictly sacrificial services. *
* Those who, being declared physically unfit, discharged only menial functions, wore not the priestly dress. They on whom no lot had fallen for daily ministration put off their priestly garments--all save the linen breeches--and also performed subordinate functions. But, according to some, it was lawful for priests while in the Temple to wear their peculiar dress--all but the girdle, worn always and only on sacrificial duty.
As for the Levites, they had no clerical dress at all, but only wore the white linen (2 Chron 5:12), till they obtained from Agrippa II permission to wear priestly garments--as Josephus rightly remarks, 'contrary to the laws of our country' (Ant. xx. 9, 6).
We know that on Sabbaths at least, when one company gave place to another, or, rather, as the outgoing course left the Temple precincts, they parted from each other with a farewell, reminding us of St. Paul's to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:11), 'He that has caused His name to dwell in this house cause love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship to dwell among you.' Each of the twenty- four 'courses' into which not only the priests and Levites, but also all Israel, by means of representatives, were divided, served for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, distributing the daily service among their respective 'families' or 'houses.' For the Sabbath the new ministrants came earlier than on week-days. *
* Probably this had also been the arrangement in the first Temple. See 2 Kings 11:9; 2 Chronicles 23:8. Herzfeld, u.s. p. 185.
As the 'family' whose daily 'ministration was accomplished' left the Temple, the massive gates were closed by priests or Levites, some requiring the united strength of twenty men. Then the Temple keys were hung up in a hollow square, under a marble slab in the 'fire-room' (Beth-ha-Moked), which may also be designated as the chief guard-room of the priests. Now, as the stars were shining out on the deep blue Eastern sky, the priests would gather for converse or the evening meal. *
Pieces of the sacrifices and the 'prepared' first-fruits (the Therumoth) supplied the needful refreshments. *
Though the work of the day was over, certain arrangements had yet to be made. For the Levites in charge of collecting the tithes and other business details were wont to purchase in large quantities what each who brought any sacrifice needed for meat- and drink-offerings, and to sell it to the offerers. This was a great accommodation to the worshipper, and a source of daily profit to the Temple. On payment of a price, fixed by tariff every month, the offerer received his proper counterfoil, * in exchange for which a Temple official gave him what he needed for his sacrifice. Now, the accounts of these transactions had to be made up and checked every evening.