The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the Lord’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies—my appointed times: “ (Leviticus 23:1 NET)
Historical Background of the Sabbath
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the Lord’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies—my appointed times: “ ‘Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy assembly. You must not do any work; it is a Sabbath to the Lord in all the places where you live. (Leviticus 23:1–3 NET)
The English word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat (shə-ˈbät). The root meaning is “to desist,” “to cease,” “to rest.” As a name for the day of the week, it is unique in the Hebrew Old Testament in that it is the only day that is given a name. The English language gives names to all seven days of the week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. However, in the Hebrew language, both ancient and modern, the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, is the only day that has a name with all the other days numbered. For example, Sunday is “day one,” Monday is “day two,” Tuesday is “day three,” Wednesday is “day four,” Thursday is “day five,” and Friday is “day six.” However, Saturday is referred to as “day seven” in Genesis 2 and as the “Sabbath day” beginning with the Law of Moses. (2)
By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation. (Genesis 2:2–3 NET)
Seven things should be noted concerning the exegesis of this scripture: (Genesis 2:2–3 NET)
- God, at the end of the sixth day, finished His creative work,
- God then rested on the seventh day, not in the sense that He was tired (cf. Isaiah 40:28), but in the sense of “ceasing” from the work of creation. (Again, the Hebrew word Shabbat means not only “to rest,” but it also means “to cease.” God “sabbathed,” meaning He rested in the sense of ceasing from His labors for the work of creation (cf. John 5:17)),
- God did two things to the seventh day; He blessed it and hallowed or sanctified it,
- God blessed it because He rested on that day; He ceased from all His creative work,
- this is the only reference to the Sabbath in the whole Book of Genesis, and it is not called a “Sabbath,” but only the seventh day,
- there is no command to observe the Sabbath in Genesis, and
- the emphasis is on rest and cessation, not on observance. (2)
Realize marriage is a creation ordinance (Genesis 2:23-25), meaning it is obligatory for Jews and Gentiles since it was given before there was a distinction between the two people groups (cf. Genesis 12:1-9). Nevertheless, marriage does have one superior caveat (cf. Matthew 19:10-12. 1 Corinthians 7:1-7).
He said to them, “Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given. For there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:11–12 NET)
However, the Sabbath can be shown to NOT be a creation ordinance obligatory to Jews and Gentiles for the following reasons:
- the crucial term Shabbat or “Sabbath” is not even mentioned in the Genesis account of creation. At this point, there is no use of the word Shabbat; the day is only referred to as the seventh day,
- there is no mention of man’s being involved in the rest, only a mention of God resting,
- the seventh day does mark a climax. However, the climax is not the creation of man, but it is God’s own triumphal rest that makes this day unique,
- there is no command in the Book of Genesis to observe the seventh day; it only states what God did on the seventh day.
- the Sabbath rest law is not found in the: Edenic Covenant, the covenant God made with Adam in Eden; the Adamic Covenant, the covenant God made with Adam after his expulsion from the Garden; the Noahic Covenant, the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood; the Abrahamic Covenant, the covenant God made with Abraham with whom the Jewish people began;
- there is no record of anyone observing the Sabbath throughout the Book of Genesis, from Adam to Moses, including Job, a pre-Mosaic saint. Job does mention things in the Book of Genesis such as the Creation, the Flood, and many details concerning man’s obligation to God; however, there is no mention of the Sabbath,
- the Sabbath is never treated as a creation ordinance in the New Testament: Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NET) Some try to use this verse to prove that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance. However, the point of this verse is not to deal with the origin of the Sabbath but to deal with the purpose of the Sabbath: The sabbath was made for people. Furthermore, what Yeshua said was to contradict the Pharisaic teaching that Israel was created for the purpose of honoring the Sabbath. A second passage used to try to prove that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance is Hebrews 4:3,4, but this passage is simply teaching about salvation rest on the basis of the Old Testament. The Book of Hebrews treats Genesis eschatologically for salvation rest, not as a creation ordinance. It also treats the Genesis Sabbath typologically of the future, heavenly rest, and
- God did bless and sanctify the Sabbath, but the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day were to emphasize rest and cessation of work, not as an observance. (2)
Daily Temple Rituals and Priestly Duties
The Tabernacle was, as its Hebrew designation shows, the place “of meeting” between God and Israel; the sacrificial service, that which made such meeting possible; and the priest (as the root of the word implies), he who brought Israel near to God. Hence prayer could only follow after the sacrifice; and its appropriate symbol and time was the burning of incense.
This view is expressed in the words:
May you accept my prayer like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening offering! (Psalm 141:2 NET)
and authoritatively confirmed in:
and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints).’ (Revelation 5:8 NET)
Before discussing the Sabbath day rituals, an overview of the daily temple rituals and corresponding priestly duties will be presented to provide background context. Four lots were cast by the priests to determine those responsible for various duties in the temple. The first lot was for cleansing the altar and preparing it; the second was for those who were to offer the sacrifice and 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 morning incense. If possible, none was to participate 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 sacrifice pieces on the altar and perform the concluding portions of the service. The morning lot held good also for the same offices at the evening sacrifice, except for the lot was cast anew for the burning of the evening incense. (4)
First Lot: Preparing the Altar of Burnt Offerings and Filling the Bronze Laver
The first lot, which in reality had been cast before the actual break of day when only the earliest glow of morning light streaked the Eastern sky., was to designate the various priests who were to clean the Altar of Burnt Offerings and to prepare its fires. The first of the priests on whom this lot had fallen immediately went out as much had to be done before the lamb itself could be slain. His brethren reminded him where the silver chafing-dish was deposited and not to touch any sacred vessel until he had washed his hands and feet. Realize, whatever touched the Altar of Burnt Offerings, or, indeed, any sacred vessel, was regarded as “sanctified.” Still, no vessel could be dedicated to the use of the Temple, which had not been originally destined for it. He took no light for illumination as the fire of the altar was sufficient for this task. His hands and feet were washed by laying the right hand on the right foot and the left hand on the left.
This is likely what Jesus meant by “needs only to wash his feet,” which included the hands (John 13:10).
As it filled the laver with water, the sound of the machinery admonished the others to be in readiness. This machinery had been made by “Ben Catin,” who also altered the laver so that twelve priests could at the same time perform their washing. Otherwise, the laver resembled that in the Temple of Solomon and was made of brass. (4)
The first priest took the silver chafing-dish, scraped the fire on the altar, removed the burnt coals, and deposited them at a little distance north of the altar. As he descended, the other priests quickly washed their hands and feet, and took shovels and prongs, with which they moved aside the unconsumed pieces of the sacrifices that had been left unburned from the previous evening, then cleaned out the ashes, laying part on the great heap in the middle of the altar, and the rest in a place whence it was afterward carried out of the Temple. The next duty was to lay on the altar fresh wood, which could not come from the olive or the vine. The fire destined to supply good and sufficient charcoal for the Golden Altar of Incense was from the wood of the fig tree. The unconsumed pieces of the sacrifice were now again laid upon the fire. (4)
Second Lot: Offering (Slaying) the sacrifice, Cleansing the Golden Lampstand and the Golden Altar of Incense
These preliminaries finished, the priests gathered once more for the second lot. The priest on whom it fell was designated, along with the twelve who stood nearest to him, for offering the sacrifice and cleansing the Golden Lampstand and the Golden Altar of Incense. Immediately after casting this second lot, the president directed one to ascend some “pinnacle” and see whether it was time to slay the daily sacrifice. 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 to be brought during the day. (4)
Perhaps it was on this basis that, on the morning of the Passover, they who led Jesus from Caiaphas thronged very “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.” (4)
If the priest reported, “The morning shineth already,” he was again asked, “Is the sky lit up as far as Hebron?” If so, the president ordered the lamb to be brought from the chamber by the Beth-Moked, where it had been kept in readiness for four days. Others fetched the gold and silver vessels of service, of which the Rabbis enumerate ninety-three. The sacrificial lamb was now watered out of a golden bowl and anew examined by torchlight, although its Levitical fitness had been already ascertained the evening before. Then the sacrificing priest, surrounded by his assistants, fastened the lamb to the second of the rings on the north side of the altar—in the morning in the western, in the evening in the eastern corner. That is, the sacrifice was always offered against the sun. The sacrifice was held together by its feet, the fore and hind feet of each side being tied together; its head was laid towards the south and fastened through a ring, and its face turned to the west while the sacrificing priest stood on the east side. The elders who carried the keys now gave the order for opening the Temple gates. As the last great gate slowly moved on its hinges, the priests, on a signal given, blew three blasts on their silver trumpets, summoning the Levites and the “representatives” of the people (the so-called “stationary men”) to their duties, and announcing to the city that the morning sacrifice was about to be offered. Immediately upon this, the great gates that led into the Holy Place were opened to admit the priests who were to cleanse the Golden Lampstand and the Golden Altar of Incense. (4)
The slaying of the Lamb
The opening of these gates was the signal for actually slaying the morning sacrificial lamb. According to general agreement, the morning sacrifice was brought at the ‘third hour,’ corresponding to our nine o’clock. Again, the preparations for it commenced more than two hours earlier. Few, if any, worshippers could have witnessed the actual slaying of the lamb, which took place immediately on opening the great Temple-gate. Possibly they may have gathered chiefly to join in the prayer “at the time of incense.”
Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. (Luke 1:10 NET)
Understand from the term “morning sacrifice,” the whole service, including the “the time of incense,” coincided with the third hour of the day, or 9 a.m. (4)
This may explain how on the day of Pentecost, such a crowd could so readily gather, to hear in their various tongues ‘the wonderful works of God’ (Acts 2:7-14)
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem. When this sound occurred, a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. (Acts 2:5,6 NET)
In spite of what you think, these men are not drunk, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. (Acts 2:15 NET)
The sacrifice was offered in the following manner. One priest drew forward the windpipe and gullet of the sacrifice and quickly thrust the knife upwards, while another caught the blood in a golden bowl. Standing at the east side of the altar, he sprinkled it, first at the northeast, and then at the south-west corner, below the red line which ran around the middle of the altar, in each case in such manner as to cover two sides of the altar, or, as it is described, in the form of the Greek letter Γ (upper case gamma). The rest of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar. Ordinarily, the whole of this service would, of course, be performed by priests. But it was valid even if the sacrifice had been killed by a layman or with an ordinary knife. Not so if the blood were caught up in any but a consecrated vessel or sprinkled by other than the hands of a priest who at the time was Levitically clean for the service. (4)
The Golden Altar of Incense and the Golden Lampstand
The triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome bears a representation of the golden mortars in which the incense was crushed by pounding and of the Golden Lampstand, but not of the Golden Altar of Incense. Still, we can form a sufficiently accurate idea of its appearance. It was square, one cubit long and broad, and two cubits high, that is, half a cubit higher than the table of shewbread, but one cubit lower than the Golden Lampstand, and it had “horns” at each of its four corners. It was probably hollow, and the top covered with a golden plate, and like an Eastern roof, surrounded by what resembled a balustrade (i.e., a railing supported by short pillars), to prevent the coals and incense from falling off. Below this balustrade was a massive crown of gold. The incense burned upon this altar was prepared of the four ingredients mentioned in Exodus 30:34, with which, according to the Rabbis, seven others were mixed, besides a small quantity of “Ambra,” and of a herb which gave out a dense smoke. To these thirteen substances, salt was, of course, added. The mode of preparing the incense had been preserved in the family of Abtinas. The greatest care was taken to have the incense thoroughly pounded and mixed. Altogether 368 pounds were made for the year’s consumption, about half a pound being used every morning and evening in the service. The censer for the Day of Atonement was different in size and appearance from that for ordinary days. The Golden Lampstand was delineated in Exodus 25:31, etc., and is sufficiently known from its representation on the Arch of Titus. (4)
Now, while one set of priests were busy in the Court of the Priests offering the sacrifice, the two on whom it assigned to trim the lamps of the Golden Lampstand and to prepare the altar of incense had gone into the Holy Place. As nearly as possible while the lamb was being slain in the courtyard, the first of these priests took with his hands the burnt coals and ashes from the Golden Altar of Incense and put them into a golden vessel—called “teni”—and withdrew, leaving it in the sanctuary. Similarly, as the lamb’s blood was being sprinkled on the altar of burnt-offering, the second priest ascended the three steps, hewn in stone, which led up to the Golden Lampstand. He trimmed and refilled the lamps that were still burning, removed the wick and old oil from those which had become extinguished, supplied fresh olive oil (1), and re-lit them from one of the other lamps. But the large central lamp, towards which all the others bent, and which was called the western, because it inclined westward towards the Most Holy Place, might only be re-lit by fire from the Altar of Burnt Offering itself. Only five, however, of the lamps were then trimmed; the other two were reserved to a later period of the service. (4)
Salting the Sacrifice
You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13 ESV)(Cf. Numbers 18:19. Ezekiel 43:24)
Meantime in the Court of the Priests, the sacrifice had been butchered, cleaned, and handed to the six priests who were successively to carry up the pieces to the rise of the Altar of Burnt Offering, where they were salted and deposited. Everything laid on the altar, except the drink-offering, the blood of sprinkling, and the wood for the fire must be salted. At the same time, three other priests carried up to the rise of the altar the daily meal-offering, that of the high-priest, and the drink-offering. The skins or hides of the sacrifices were salted, and on the eve of each Sabbath, distributed among the “course” of priests that had been on ministry. (4)
Prayer before the Third Lot
And now, the most solemn part of the service was about to begin. For the third time, the priests assembled in the “Hall of Polished Stones” to draw the third and the fourth lots. But before doing so, the president called on them to join in the prescribed prayers. Tradition has preserved these to us. Subjecting them to the severest criticism, so as to eliminate all later details, the words used by the priests before the third and fourth lots were as follows: (4)
“With great love hast Thou loved us, O Lord our God, and with much-overflowing pity hast Thou pitied us. Our Father and our King, for the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee, and Thou taught them the statutes of life, have mercy upon us, and enlighten our eyes [in Thy law; cause our hearts to cleave to Thy commandments; unite our hearts to love and to fear Thy name, and we shall not be put to shame, world without end. For Thou art, a God who preparest salvation, and us hast Thou chosen from among all nations and tongues, and hast, in truth, brought us near to Thy great name, Selah, in order] that we in love may praise Thee and Thy Unity. Blessed be the Lord, who in love chose His people Israel.” (4)
After this prayer, the ten commandments were at one time repeated. However, this practice was discontinued lest the Sadducees declare them the only essential part of the law. Then all assembled said the “Shema” (Hb. “hear”):
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)
“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you. “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:13–21 ESV)
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:37–41 ESV)
Third Lot (First Casting): Burning of Morning Incense
After this, the lot was cast for burning the incense. No one who had ministered in that office before could participate unless all present had previously so officiated, which was rare. Consequently, while those chosen for the other three lots could repeat those duties in the evening service, the burning of incense required different priests for the evening service. The one chosen would choose from among his friends two assistants. The incensing priest and his assistants now approached first the Altar of Burnt Offering. One of them fills with incense a golden censor, held in a silver vessel, while another placed burning coals from the altar in a golden bowl. As they passed from the court into the Holy Place, they struck a large instrument (called the ‘Magrephah’), at the sound of which the priests hastened from all parts to worship. The Levites to occupy their places in the singing service while the chief of the “stationary men” arranged, at the Gate of Nicanor, the people that were to be purified that day. Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had previously dressed the Golden Altar of Incense and the Golden Lampstand. These two priests now remove the vessels they had left behind in the Holy Place and, while worshipping, withdraw. Next, one of the assistants reverently spreads the coals on the golden altar; the other arranges the incense, and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. (4)
It was likely during this time of waiting to burn the incense that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. This burning of incense in the Gospel is alluded to in connection with the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:1-25). Zacharias had come up from the hill country of Judæa, from the neighborhood of priestly Hebron to minister in the Temple. His course—that of Abia—was on duty for the week and the “house of his fathers” for that special day, and a third lot is cast. It falls upon Zacharias for the most honorable service in the daily ministry—that of burning the incense on the Golden Altar within the Holy Place! For the first time in his life, and for the last, this service is relegated to him. While the multitude was praying, the older priest entered the Holy Place alone and burned the incense. He saw with such distinctness that he could afterward describe the very spot that Gabriel stood. Appearing as if he had just come out from the Most Holy Place, between the altar and the table of shewbread, “on the right side of the altar.” This was the first and only angelic appearance in the Temple contained in the Bible. (4)
As the president gave the word of command, which marked that “the time of incense had come,” “the whole multitude of the people without” withdrew from the inner court and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer. It is this most solemn period, when throughout the vast Temple buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the priest laid the incense on the golden altar, and the cloud of “odors” from the Lamb on the Altar of Burnt Offerings and the incense on the Golden Altar of Incense the rose up before the Lord, which serves as the image of heavenly things in this description: (4)
Now when the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne. The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:1–4 NET)
Prayers with Incense
“Be graciously pleased, Jehovah our God, with Thy people Israel, and with their prayer. Restore the service to the oracle of Thy house, and the burnt-offerings of Israel and their prayer accept graciously and in love; and let the service of Thy people Israel be ever well-pleasing unto Thee.” (4)
“We praise Thee, who art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers, the God of all flesh, our Creator, and the Creator from the beginning! Blessing and praise be to Thy great and holy name that Thou hast preserved us in life and kept us. So preserve us and keep us, and gather the scattered ones into Thy holy courts, to keep Thy statutes, and to do Thy good pleasure, and to serve Thee with our whole heart, as this day we confess unto Thee. Blessed be the Lord, unto whom belongeth praise.” (4)
“Appoint peace, goodness, and blessing; grace, mercy, and compassion for us, and for all Israel Thy people. Bless us, O our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Thy countenance. For in the light of Thy countenance hast Thou, Jehovah, our God, given us the law of life, and loving mercy, and righteousness, and blessing, and compassion, and life, and peace. And may it please Thee to bless Thy people Israel at all times, and at every hour with Thy peace. [May we and all Thy people Israel be remembered and written before Thee in the book of life, with blessing and peace and support.] Blessed be Thou, Jehovah, who blessest Thy people Israel with peace.”
These prayers ended, he who had formerly trimmed the Golden Lampstand once more entered the Holy Place, to kindle the two lamps that had been left unlit; and then, in company with the incensing priest, took his stand on the top of the steps which led down to the Court of the Priests. The other three who had also ministered within the Holy Place gathered beside him, still carrying the vessels of their ministry, while the rest of the priests grouped themselves on the steps beneath.
Fourth Lot (Part 1): Laying the Sacrifice
Meanwhile, the one upon whom the fourth lot fell ascended the Altar of Sacrifice. Those assigned to transfer the sacrifice handed it to him piece by piece. Upon each, he pressed his hands, and next flung them randomly upon the fire that so the flesh of the sacrifice might be scattered as well as its blood sprinkled. After that, he arranged them to imitate as nearly as possible the natural shape of the animal. This part of the service was often performed by the high priest himself. (4)
The priests, who were arranged on the steps to the Holy Place, now lifted their hands above their heads, spreading and joining their fingers in a peculiar mystical manner. One of their number, probably the incensing priest, repeated audibly, followed by the others, the blessing in Numbers 6:24–26:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
To this, the people responded:
“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.”
If it had been the duty of Zacharias, as incensing priest for the day, to lead in the priestly blessing, we could understand the wonder of the people as “he kept making signs to them and remained mute” while they waited for his benediction. (4)
"And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute." (Luke 1:22 NET)
Fourth Lot (Part 2): Laying the Meal Offerings on the Altar, and pouring out the Drink offering
After the priestly blessing, the Meal Offering (1) was brought, and, as prescribed in the law, olive oil and frankincense were added to it (Leviticus 2:1,15;6:15). Having been salted (Leviticus 2:13), it was laid on the fire. Next, the high priest’s daily Meal Offering was presented (Leviticus 6:19-23), consisting of twelve cakes broken in halves—twelve half-cakes being presented in the morning, and the other twelve half-cakes in the evening. Finally, the appropriate drink offering was poured out upon the foundation of the altar.
The Temple Music
After this, the Temple music began. It was the duty of the priests, who stood on the right and the left of the marble table on which the fat of the sacrifices were laid, at the proper time to blow the blasts on their silver trumpets. There might not be less than two nor more than 120 in this service; the former per the original institution, the latter not to exceed the number at the dedication of the First Temple (2 Chronicles 5:12). The priests faced the people, looking eastwards, while the Levites, who crowded the fifteen steps from the Court of Israel to that of the Priests, turned westwards to the sanctuary. On a signal given by the president, the priests moved forward to each side of him who struck the cymbals. Immediately the choir of the Levites, accompanied by instrumental music, began the Psalm of the day. It was sustained by not less than twelve voices, mingling the delicious treble from selected voices of young sons of the Levites, who, standing by their fathers, might take part in this service alone. The number of instrumental performers was not limited nor yet confined to the Levites. Some of the distinguished families who had intermarried with the priests admitted to this service. The Psalm of the day was always sung in three sections. At the close of each, the priests drew three blasts from their silver trumpets, and the people bowed down and worshipped. This closed the morning service. It was immediately followed by the sacrifices and offerings that private Israelites might have to bring, which would occasionally continue until the evening service. (4)
The Order of Psalms
The following was the order of the Psalms in the daily service of the Temple:
- On the first day of the week, they sang Psalm 24, ‘The earth is the Lord’s,’ etc., in commemoration of the first day of creation, when ‘God possessed the world, and ruled in it.’
- On the second day, they sang Psalm 48, ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,’ etc., because on the second day of creation, ‘the Lord divided His works, and reigned over them.’
- On the third day, they sang Psalm 82, ‘God standeth in the congregation of the mighty,’ etc., ‘because on that day the earth appeared, on which are the Judge and the judged.’
- On the fourth day, Psalm 94. was sung, ‘O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth,’ etc., ‘because on the fourth day God made the sun, moon, and stars, and will be avenged on those that worship them.’
- On the fifth day, they sang Psalm 81, ‘Sing aloud unto God our strength,’ etc., ‘because of the variety of creatures made that day to praise His name.’
- On the sixth day, Psalm 93. was sung, ‘The Lord reigneth,’ etc., ‘because on that day God finished His works and made man, and the Lord ruled over all His works.’
- Lastly, on the Sabbath, they sang Psalm 92, ‘It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,’ etc., ‘because the Sabbath was symbolical of the millennial kingdom at the end of the six thousand years’ dispensation when the Lord would reign over all, and His glory and service fill the earth with thanksgiving.’ (4)
Psalm 92: A Song for the Sabbath Day
It is fitting to thank the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O sovereign One! It is fitting to proclaim your loyal love in the morning, and your faithfulness during the night, to the accompaniment of a ten-stringed instrument and a lyre, to the accompaniment of the meditative tone of the harp. For you, O Lord, have made me happy by your work. I will sing for joy because of what you have done. How great are your works, O Lord! Your plans are very intricate! The spiritually insensitive do not recognize this; the fool does not understand this. When the wicked sprout up like grass, and all the evildoers glisten, it is so that they may be annihilated. But you, O Lord, reign forever! Indeed, look at your enemies, O Lord! Indeed, look at how your enemies perish! All the evildoers are scattered! You exalt my horn like that of a wild ox. I am covered with fresh oil. I gloat in triumph over those who tried to ambush me; I hear the defeated cries of the evil foes who attacked me. The godly grow like a palm tree; they grow high like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the Lord’s house, they grow in the courts of our God. They bear fruit even when they are old; they are filled with vitality and have many leaves. So they proclaim that the Lord, my protector, is just and never unfair. (Psalm 92:1-15 NET)
Third Lot (Second Casting): Burning of Evening Incense
The evening service resembled in all respects that of the morning, except that the lot was only cast for the incense; that the incense was burned, not, as in the morning, before, but after the pieces of the sacrifice had been laid on the fire of the altar, and that the priestly blessing was generally omitted.
The evening sacrifice was fixed by the Law (Numbers 28:4,8) as “between the evenings”’ that is, between the darkness of the gloaming and that of the night. 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 the altar an hour later—about 3.30 p.m. (4)
Hence, when ‘Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour,’ 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. (4)
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time for prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. (Acts 3:1 NET)
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. (4)
Nightly Temple Rituals and Priestly Duties
The service of the officiating ministers was not only by day but also at night in the Temple.
Attention! Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who serve in the Lord’s temple during the night. Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and praise the Lord! May the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion! (Psalm 134:1–3 NET)
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 is 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 sandals, not shoes might be worn in the Temple, the priests being barefoot only during their actual ministry. They did not wear any distinctive dress, not even the high-priest himself, or those who performed in the Temple other than strictly sacrificial services. As for the Levites, they had no clerical dress at all, but only wore the white linen, till they obtained from Agrippa permission to wear priestly garments—as Josephus rightly remarks, “contrary to the laws of our country.” (4)
The Farewell on the Sabbath
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, “He that has caused His name to dwell in this house cause love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship to dwell among you”’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11) Each of the twenty-four “courses” into which not only the priests and Levites but also all Israel, through 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 weekdays (See 2 Kings 11:9; 2 Chronicles 23:8). As the “family” whose daily “ministration were 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. As the stars shone out on the deep blue Eastern sky, the priests would gather for conversation 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, they purchased large quantities of what each brought any sacrifice needed for the animal, grain, 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 totaled and checked every evening. (4)
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) 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 (Matthew 14:25). (4)
Hence, when the Lord said,
Even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night and finds them alert, blessed are those slaves! (Luke 12:38 NET)
He expressly refers to the second and third watches as those of deepest sleep. (4)
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.” (Revelation 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 (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.’) and the older priests might lie on the floor, having wrapped their priestly garments beside them, while the younger men kept watching. But then the preparations for the service of the morning required each to be early rising. The priest whose duty to superintend the arrangements might knock at the door and demand entrance any moment. 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 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.” For the customary bath required to have been taken before the super-intending priest came round, since it was a principle that none might go into the court to serve, even if 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 did not need to rewash all day, save their hands and feet, which they had to do each time they came for service into the Temple. It was, no doubt, to this that our Lord referred in His reply to Peter: (4)
Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” (John 13:10)
Casting Lots for the Services
Those who were prepared now followed the superintending priest through a wicket into the court. 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 meal offering was prepared (Leviticus 6:12-16), 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,’ (i.e., Gazith, where also the Sanhedrin met. The sittings were, in that part, built out on the Chel) to cast lots for the services of the day. 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 headgear of one of their attendees 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. (4)
Daily Temple Rituals and Priestly Duties are Repeated thus beginning another Daytime and Nighttime Cycle
There are seven unique features of the Sabbath:
- The only directions given in Scripture for the celebration of the Sabbath in the sanctuary are those which provide instructions for “a holy convocation,” or a sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:3); the weekly renewal of the shewbread (Leviticus 24:8. Numbers 4:7); and an additional burnt-offering of two lambs, with the appropriate meal and drink offerings. These, in addition to the “continual’ (that is, the ordinary daily) “burnt-offering and its drink-offering (Numbers 28:9,10).” (4)
- Formally, the Sabbath commenced at sunset on Friday, the day is reckoned by the Hebrews from sunset to sunset. As no special hour for this was fixed, it must, of course, have varied not only at different seasons but in different localities. If the sun were not visible, the sunset was reckoned from when the fowls went to roost. But long before that, the preparations for the Sabbath had commenced. Accordingly, Friday is called by the Rabbis “the eve of the Sabbath” and in the Gospels “the preparation.” On the Sabbath, no new business was started; no journey of any distance commenced, but everything purchased and made ready before the feast, the food is placed in a heated oven and surrounded by dry substances to keep them warm.
- Early on Friday afternoon, the new “course” of priests, Levites, and the “stationary men,” who were to be the representatives of all Israel, arrived in Jerusalem, prepared themselves for the festive season, and went up to the Temple. (4)
- The approach of the Sabbath, and then its actual commencement, was announced by threefold blasts from the priests’ trumpets. The first three blasts were drawn when “one-third of the evening sacrifice service was over,” about the ninth hour, that is, about three p.m. on Friday. When the priests for the first time sounded their trumpets, all business was to cease, and every kind of work to be stopped. A decree of Emperor Augustus set the Jews free from attendance in courts of law at this time as well. Next, the Sabbath lamp was lit, and the festive garments put on. Recall, this was the hour when Jesus gave up His spirit, and all the work to purchase our salvation was finished. (4)
- A second time the priests drew a threefold blast to indicate that the Sabbath had actually begun. However, the service of the new “course” of priests had commenced before that. After the Friday evening service, the altar of burnt-offering was cleansed from its stains of blood. Then the outgoing “course” handed over to the incoming the keys of the sanctuary, the holy vessels, and all else of which they had had charge. Next, the heads of the “houses” or families of the incoming “course” determined by lot which families were to serve on each special day of their week of ministry and who were to discharge the various priestly functions on the Sabbath. (4)
- The inspection of the Temple before the Sabbath morning service differed from that on ordinary days. The Temple itself was lit up to eliminate the necessity of the priests carrying torches on this holy day. The altar of burnt-offering was cleansed before the usual hour; however, the morning service commenced later to allow attending to as many as possible.
- All appeared in their festive garments, and each carried in his generous contribution for religious purposes. It is likely from this that the practice was derived of “laying by in-store upon the first day of the week,” which St. Paul recommended to the Corinthians. Similarly, the apostolic practice of partaking in the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s day may have been in imitation of the priests eating the shewbread every Sabbath. (4)
You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on my holy day. You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the Lord’s holy day with respect. You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals. Then you will find joy in your relationship to the Lord, and I will give you great prosperity, and cause crops to grow on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob.” Know for certain that the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13 NET)
“ ‘On the Sabbath day, you must offer two unblemished lambs a year old, and two-tenths of an ephah of finely ground flour as a grain offering, mixed with olive oil, along with its drink offering. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, besides the continual burnt offering and its drink offering. (Numbers 28:9–10 NET)
The animals to be sacrificed had to have the following four general characteristics. The animal had to be:
- ceremonially clean,
- utilitarian, meaning “usable for food” or sustenance,
- domesticated (i.e., those that obeyed their master’s will and more or less were endeared to the offerer), and
- types of animal sacrifices (see “Sacrifices and Offerings of the Old Covenant” table immediately below)
In addition, the animal to be sacrificed had to meet the following three criteria:
- Condition – perfect without spot, blemish, disease, or deformity (cf. Malachi 1:8 NET)
- Gender – Male, and
- Age – generally, the animal had to be one year old (e.g., a lamb at the peak of life and health).
Sabbath Temple Priestly Duties
The Sabbath service was in every respect the same as on other days, except that there was an additional offering of two lambs at the close of the ordinary morning sacrifice, with its appropriate meal and drink offerings (Numbers 28:9,10). When the drink-offering of the daily morning sacrifice was poured out, the Levites sang Psalm 92 in three sections, the priests drawing, at the close of each, three blasts from their trumpets and the people worshipping. (4)
The service of the incoming “course” of priests began with the renewal of the “shewbread,” but that of the outgoing “course” had not yet completely ceased. The outgoing “course” of priests offered the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath, and the incoming “course” the evening sacrifice, with both spending the Sabbath in the sanctuary. (4)
The Sabbath Showbread Ritual:
Some of the Kohathites, their relatives, were in charge of preparing the bread that is displayed each Sabbath. (1 Chronicles 9:32 NET)
Three observations can be made in this passage dealing with preparing the shewbread on the Sabbath day. First, the shewbread had to be changed every Sabbath according to the Law of Moses. Secondly, the division of the Tribe of Levi that was given this responsibility was the Kohathites. And thirdly, this was in keeping with the ceremonial facet of the Sabbath law. (2)
The first function of the new “course” immediately on the commencement of the Sabbath, was the renewal of the “shewbread.” It had been prepared by the incoming course before the Sabbath itself, and likely in one of the chambers of the Temple, although, in theory, it was lawful to prepare it also at Bethphage. For, although it was a principle that “there is no Sabbath in the sanctuary,” yet no work was allowed which might have been done on some other day. Even circumcision, which, like the Temple services, according to the Rabbis, superseded the Sabbath, was deferred by some to the close of the festive day. Hence, also, if Friday, on the afternoon of which the shewbread was ordinarily prepared, fell on a feast day that required Sabbatical rest, the shewbread was prepared on Thursday afternoon. The Rabbis took particular care with which it was made and baked, so that in appearance and color the lower should be exactly the same as the upper part of it. (4)
Our term “shewbread” is a translation of that used by Luther (Schaubrod), which, in turn, may have been taken from the Vulgate (panes prœpositionis). The Scriptural name is “Bread of the Face;” that is, “of the presence of God,” just as the similar expression, “Angel of the Face” (Isaiah 63:9) means the “Angel of His Presence.” From its constant presence and disposition in the sanctuary, it is also called “perpetual bread” (Numbers 4:7) and “bread of laying out”(M (set in order), which latter most nearly corresponds to the term used in the New Testament. (Matthew 12:4. Luke 6:4. Hebrews 9:2). The placing and weekly renewal of the ‘Bread of the Presence’ were evidently among the principal Temple services (2 Chronicles 13:10,11). The “table of shewbread“(1) stood along the northern, or most sacred side of the Holy Place, being ranged lengthways of the Temple, as all its furniture was, except the Ark of the Covenant, which stood broadways. (4)
“You must take choice wheat flour and bake twelve loaves; there must be two tenths of an ephah of flour in each loaf, and you must set them in two rows, six in a row, on the ceremonially pure table before the Lord. You must put pure frankincense on each row, and it will become a memorial portion for the bread, a gift to the Lord. Each Sabbath day Aaron must arrange it before the Lord continually; this portion is from the Israelites as a perpetual covenant. It will belong to Aaron and his sons, and they must eat it in a holy place because it is most holy to him, a perpetual allotted portion from the gifts of the Lord.” (Leviticus 24:5–9 NET)
The “shewbread” was made of the finest wheaten flour that had been passed through eleven sieves. According to the number of the tribes of Israel, there were twelve of these cakes, ranged in two piles, each of six cakes. Each cake was made of two omers of wheat (the omer = about five pints). Between the two rows, not upon them (according to the Rabbis), two bowls with pure incense were placed, and according to Egyptian tradition (i.e., the Greek version of the Old Covenant or LXX), salt. However, this is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. (4)
And ye shall put on each row pure frankincense and salt; and these things shall be for loaves for a memorial, set forth before the Lord. (Leviticus 24:7 LXX)
You must put pure frankincense on each row, and it will become a memorial portion for the bread, a gift to the Lord. (Leviticus 24:7 NET)
The cakes were anointed in the middle with oil in the form of a cross. As described by Jewish tradition, each was five handbreadths broad and ten handbreadths long, but turned up at either end, two handbreadths on each side, to resemble in outline the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, as each cake, after being “turned up,” reached six handbreadths and was placed lengthwise on the breadth of the table, it would exactly cover it (the one cubit of the table being reckoned at six handbreadths);. In comparison, the two rows of six cakes stood broadwise against each other (2 × 5 handbreadths), thus leaving between them two handbreadths vacant on the length of the table (2 cubits = 12 handbreadths), on which the two bowls with the incense were placed. The preparation of the shewbread seems to have been hereditarily preserved as a secret family tradition in ‘the house of Garmu,’ a family of the Kohathites (1 Chronicle 9:32). The fresh cakes of shewbread were deposited in a golden dish on the marble table in the porch of the sanctuary, where they remained till the Sabbath actually commenced. (4)
As described by the Rabbis and represented on the triumphal Arch of Titus at Rome, the table of shewbread was two cubits long (two cubits = three feet), one cubit broad, and one and a half high. It was made of pure gold, the feet being turned out and shaped to represent those of animals, and the legs connected, about the middle, by a golden plate, which was surrounded by a “crown,” or wreath, while another wreath ran round the top of the table. Thus far, its form was the same as that made at first for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:23), of shittim wood, overlaid with gold. The “table” originally provided for the second Temple had been taken away by Antiochus Epiphanes (about 170 B.C.), but another was supplied by the Maccabees. (4)
Considerable doubt exists as to the precise meaning of the terms used in Scripture to describe the golden vessels connected with the “table of shewbread” (Exodus 25:29). The “dishes” are generally regarded as those on which the “shewbread” was either carried or placed, the “spoons” as destined for the incense, and the “covers,” or rather “flagons,” and the “bowls” for the wine of the drink-offering. On the Arch of Titus, there are also two urns. But all this does not prove, in the silence of Scripture, and against the unanimous testimony of tradition, that either flagon, or bowls, or urns were placed on the table of shewbread, nor that drink-offerings were ever brought into the “Holy Place.” On the other hand, the Rabbis regard the Hebrew terms rendered “covers” and “bowls,” referring to solid gold hollow half-tubes placed between the shewbread to allow the air to circulate between them so they would not spoil. The half-tubes were like hollow reeds split in half lengthwise that extended beyond shewbread so that their ends would rest on the extensions of the supports. Three of these tubes being always put under each, except the highest, under which there were only two, while the lowest rested on the table itself, or, rather, on a golden dish upon it. Thus they calculate that there were, in all, twenty-eight of these tubes to support the twelve loaves. The “half-tubes” were drawn out each Friday and again inserted between the new shewbread each Sunday, since the task of removing and reinserting them was not among those labors which made “void the Sabbath.” Golden dishes, in which the shewbread was carried, and golden lateral plates, further to protect it on the stand, are also mentioned by the Rabbis. (4)
The mode of changing the shewbread is given in the Mishnah (5): “Four priests enter (the Holy Place), two carryings one of the piles of six shewbread, the other two the two dishes of frankincense (1). Four priests had preceded them—two to take off the two old piles of shewbread and two the two old dishes of frankincense. Those who brought in the bread and incense stood at the north side of the table, facing southwards, and those who took away at the south side, facing north. Those on the south side lifted off the containers of the shewbread, and those on the north side replaced it simultaneously to satisfy having the shewbread “continually” before the Lord. (4)
You are to set the Bread of the Presence on the table before me continually. (Exodus 25:30 NET)
The shewbread which had been taken off was then placed on the golden table on the porch of the sanctuary. The frankincense burned on the Altar by being placed upon the heap of sacrificial remains from the previous day. Recall the coals from the Altar are used for the altar of incense. Next, the shewbread was distributed among the outgoing and the incoming course of priests. The incoming priests stood at the north side, the outgoing at the south side, and each course gave to the high priest half of their portion. The shewbread was eaten during the Sabbath and in the Temple itself, but only by Levitically clean priests. (4)
At the close of the Sabbath sacrifice, when its drink-offering was brought, the Levites sang the ‘Song of Moses’ in Deuteronomy 32. This ‘hymn’ was divided into six portions, for six Sabbaths (Deuteronomy 32:1–6; Deuteronomy 32:7–12; Deuteronomy 32:13–18; Deuteronomy 32:19–28; Deuteronomy 32:29–39; Deuteronomy 32:40–43). Each portion was sung in three sections with threefold blasts of the priests’ trumpets, the people worshipping at each pause. If a Sabbath and a “new moon” fell on the same day, the Sabbath hymn was sung in preference to that for the new moon; if a feast day fell on the Sabbath, the Sabbath sacrifice was offered before that prescribed for the day. At the evening sacrifice on the Sabbath, the song of Moses in Exodus 15:11-19 was sung.
I also gave them my Sabbaths as a reminder of our relationship, so that they would know that I, the Lord, sanctify them. (Ezekiel 20:12 NET)
Typological Meaning of the Sabbath
The Symbolism of the Shewbread
Ancient symbolism, both Jewish and Christian, regarded “the bread of the Presence” as an emblem of the Messiah. This view is essentially correct, although not literally. The Lord who dwelt in the Most Holy Place (1) between the Cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant was the God who manifested Himself and was worshipped in the Holy Place. There the mediatorial ministry of the priests, in the name of and representing Israel, “laid before” Him the bread of the Presence on the Table of Shewbread (1), lit the seven-lamped Golden Lampstand (1), and burnt incense on the Golden Altar of Incense (1). The “bread” “laid before Him” in the northern or most sacred part of the Holy Place was that of His Presence and meant that the Covenant-people owned “His Presence” as their bread and their life. The Golden Lampstand, that He was their Light-giver and Light. Between the Table of Shewbread and the Golden Lampstand burned the incense on the Golden Altar of Incense to show that life and light are joined together and come to us in fellowship with God and prayer. For a similar reason, pure incense was placed in golden bowls between the shewbread—for the life which is in His Presence is one of praise. The incense was burned on the Altar of Burnt Offerings before the shewbread was eaten by the priests to indicate God’s acceptance and ratification of Israel’s dependence upon Him, as also to be a sign of praise to God while living upon His Presence. That this “Presence” meant the special manifestation of God, as later fully expressed in Christ. (4)
Application of the Sabbath
Some Christians to the Lord regard a day,
And others to the Lord regard it not;
Now, though these seem to choose a diff’rent way,
Yet both, at last, to one same point are brought.
He that regards the day will reason thus—
“This glorious day our Saviour and our King
Perform’d some mighty act of love for us;
Observe the time in mem’ry of the thing.”
Thus he to Jesus points his kind intent,
And offers prayers and praises in his name;
As to the Lord above his love is meant,
The Lord accepts it; and who dare to blame?
For, though the shell indeed is not the meat,
’Tis not rejected when the meat’s within;
Though superstition is a vain conceit,
Commemoration surely is no sin.
He also, that to days has no regard,
The shadows only for the substance quits;
Towards the Saviour’s presence presses hard,
And outward things through eagerness omits.
For warmly to himself he thus reflects—
“My Lord alone I count my chiefest good;
All empty forms my craving soul rejects,
And seeks the solid riches of his blood.
“All days and times I place my sole delight
In him, the only object of my care;
External shows for his dear sake I slight,
Lest ought but Jesus my respect should share.”
Let not th’ observer, therefore, entertain
Against his brother any secret grudge;
Nor let the non-observer call him vain;
But use his freedom, and forbear to judge.
Thus both may bring their motives to the test;
Our condescending Lord will both approve.
Let each pursue the way that likes him best;
He cannot walk amiss, that walks in love. (3)
Joseph Hart (1712–1768)
(Security, Wholeness, Success)
Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. (3 John 1:2 NET)
(1) Select the link to open another article in a new tab with additional information.
(2) Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (1983). The Messianic Bible Study Collection (Vol. 176, pp. 8–9). Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries.
(3) Carson, D. A. (1999). Introduction. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation (pp. 17–18). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
(4) Edersheim, A. (1959). The Temple, its ministry and services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ. (pp. 179–181). London: James Clarke & Co.
(5) Neusner, J. (1988). The Mishnah : A new translation (p. 758). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- 11:7 A Two tables were inside the porch, at the inside of the door of the house,
- B one of marble, and one of gold.
- C On the one of marble do they set the shewbread when it is brought in, and on the one of gold when it is taken out.
- D For they raise in matters of holiness, and they do not lower.
- E And one of gold is inside, on which [is arrayed] the shewbread continually.
- F Four priests enter in,
- G two in [whose] hands are two rows [of shewbread], and two in [whose] hands are two dishes [of frankincense].
- H And four go in before them,
- two to take out the two rows [of bread], and two to take out the two dishes [of frankincense].
- I Those who bring them in stand at the north [side of the table], with their faces to the south.
- J Those that bring them out stand at the south with their faces to the north.
- K These draw out [the old loaves] and these lay down [the new ones].
- L And a handbreadth of one [new row] [lies] up against a handbreadth of another,
- M as it is said, Before me perpetually (Ex. 25:30).
- N R. Yose says, “Even though these take away [the old loaves] and [then] the others put down [the new loaves], this too was [deemed to carry out the requirement that the bread be set forth] perpetually.”
- O They went forth and put them down on the golden table which was on the porch.
- P And they burned the dishes [of frankincense, which had been removed].
- Q And the loaves are divided among the priests.
- R [If] the Day of Atonement coincides with the Sabbath, the loaves are divided in the evening.
- S [If] it coincided with the eve of the Sabbath, the goat of the Day of Atonement is eaten in the evening.
- T The Babylonians would eat it raw,
- U because they are not squeamish