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But already the night-watches had been set in the Temple. By day and night it was the duty of the Levites to keep guard at the gates, to prevent, so far as possible, the unclean from entering. To them the duties of the Temple police were also entrusted, under the command of an official known to us in the New Testament as the 'captain of the Temple' (Acts 4:1, etc.), but in Jewish writings chiefly as 'the man of the Temple Mount.' The office must have been of considerable responsibility, considering the multitude on feast-days, their keen national susceptibilities, and the close proximity of the hated Romans in Fort Antonia. At night guards were placed in twenty-four stations about the gates and courts. Of these twenty-one were occupied by Levites alone; the other innermost three jointly by priests and Levites. *
Each guard consisted of ten men; so that in all two hundred and forty Levites and thirty priests were on duty every night. The Temple guards were relieved by day, but not during the night, which the Romans divided into four, but the Jews, properly, into three watches, the fourth being really the morning watch. *
* Compare Matthew 14:25. See, however, the discussion in Jer. Ber. i. 1.
The Rounds of the Captain
During the night the 'captain of the Temple' made his rounds. On his approach the guards had to rise and salute him in a particular manner. Any guard found asleep when on duty was beaten, or his garments were set on fire--a punishment, as we know, actually awarded. Hence the admonition to us who, as it were, are here on Temple guard, 'Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments' (Rev 16:15). But, indeed, there could have been little inclination to sleep within the Temple, even had the deep emotion natural in the circumstances allowed it. True, the chief of the course and 'the heads of families' reclined on couches along that part of the Beth-Moked in which it was lawful to sit down, * and the older priests might lie on the floor, having wrapped their priestly garments beside them, while the younger men kept watch.
* The part built out on the Chel; for it was not lawful for any but the king to sit down anywhere within the enclosure of the 'Priests' Court.'
But then the preparations for the service of the morning required each to be early astir. The priest whose duty it was to superintend the arrangements might any moment knock at the door and demand entrance. He came suddenly and unexpectedly, no one knew when. The Rabbis use almost the very words in which Scripture describes the unexpected coming of the Master (Mark 13:35), when they say, 'Sometimes he came at the cock-crowing, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. He came and knocked, and they opened to him. Then said he unto them, All ye who have washed, come and cast lots' (Mishnah, Tamid. i. 1, 2). For the customary bath required to have been taken before the superintending priest came round, since it was a principle that none might go into the court to serve, although he were clean, unless he had bathed. A subterranean passage, lit on both sides, led to the well-appointed bath-rooms where the priests immersed themselves. After that they needed not (except under one circumstance) all that day to wash again, save their hands and feet, which they had to do each time, however often, they came for service into the Temple. It was, no doubt, to this that our Lord referred in His reply to Peter: 'He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit' (John 13:10).
Casting Lots for the Services
Those who were prepared now followed the superintending priest through a wicket into the court. Here they divided into two companies, each carrying a torch, except on the Sabbaths, when the Temple itself was lit up. One company passed eastwards, the other westwards, till, having made their circuit of inspection, they met at the chamber where the high-priest's daily meat-offering was prepared (Lev 6:12-16, according to the Rabbinical interpretation of the law), and reported, 'It is well! All is well!' Thereupon those who were to prepare the high-priest's offering were set to their work, and the priests passed into the 'Hall of Polished Stones,' * to cast lots for the services of the day.
* Or Gazith, where also the Sanhedrim met. The sittings were, in that part, built out on the Chel.
This arrangement had been rendered necessary by certain painful scenes to which the eagerness of the priests for service had led. Altogether the lot was cast four times, though at different periods of the service. It was done in this manner. The priests stood in a circle around the president, who for a moment removed the head- gear of one of their number, to show that he would begin counting at him. Then all held up one, two, or more fingers--since it was not lawful in Israel to count persons--when the president named some number, say seventy, and began counting the fingers till he reached the number named, which marked that the lot had fallen on that priest. The first lot was for cleansing the altar and preparing it; the second, for those who were to offer the sacrifice, and for those who were to cleanse the candlestick and the altar of incense in the Holy Place. The third lot was the most important. It determined who was to offer the incense. If possible, none was to take part in it who had at any previous time officiated in the same capacity. The fourth lot, which followed close on the third, fixed those who were to burn the pieces of the sacrifice on the altar, and to perform the concluding portions of the service. The morning lot held good also for the same offices at the evening sacrifice, save that the lot was cast anew for the burning of the incense.
The First Lot
When the priests were gathered for 'the first lot' in the 'Hall of Polished Stones,' as yet only the earliest glow of morning light streaked the Eastern sky. Much had to be done before the lamb itself could be slain. It was a law that, as no sacrifice might be brought after that of the evening, nor after the sun had set, so, on the other hand, the morning sacrifice was only to be slain after the morning light had lit up 'the whole sky as far as Hebron,' yet before the sun had actually risen upon the horizon. The only exception was on the great festivals, when the altar was cleansed much earlier, * to afford time for examining before actual sunrise the very numerous sacrifices which were to be brought during the day.
Perhaps it was on this ground that, on the morning of the Passover, they who led Jesus from Caiaphas thronged so 'early' 'the judgment-hall of Pilate.' Thus, while some of them would be preparing in the Temple to offer the morning sacrifice, others were at the same moment unwittingly fulfilling the meaning of that very type, when He on whom was 'laid the iniquity of us all' was 'brought as a lamb to the slaughter' (Isa 53:7).