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The Morning and the Evening Sacrifice *
In Hebrew, Tamid, the constant sacrifice, sacrificium juge.
'And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.'--Luke 1:8-10
Before proceeding to describe the 'morning sacrifice,' it is necessary to advert to a point of considerable interest and importance. There can be no doubt that, at the time of Christ, public prayer occupied a very prominent place in the ordinary daily services of the Temple. Yet the original institution in the law of Moses contains no mention of it; and such later instances as the prayer of Hannah, or that of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, afford neither indication nor precedent as regards the ordinary public services. The confession of the high-priest over the scape-goat (Lev 16:21) cannot be regarded as public prayer. Perhaps the nearest approach to it was on occasion of offering the firstfruits, especially in that concluding entreaty (Deut 26:15): 'Look down from Thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Thy people Israel, and the land which Thou hast given us, as Thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.' But, after all, this was again private, not public prayer, and offered on a private occasion, far different form the morning and evening sacrifices. The wording of King Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8) implies indeed an act of united and congregational worship, but strictly speaking, it conveys no more than that public supplication was wont to be offered in times of public necessity (1 Kings 8:30- 52). Nor can anything definite be inferred from the allusions of Isaiah to the hypocrisy of his contemporaries (Isa 1:15) in spreading forth their hands and making many prayers. *
Regulations of the Rabbis
It was otherwise after the return from Babylon. With the institution and spread of synagogues--designed for the twofold purpose, that in every place Moses should be read every Sabbath day, and to provide a place 'where prayer was wont to be made'-- the practice of public worship soon became general. In Nehemiah 11:17 we find already a special appointment 'to begin the thanksgiving in prayer.' Afterwards progress in this direction was rapid. The Apocrypha afford painful evidence how soon all degenerated into a mere form, and how prayer became a work of self-righteousness, by which merit might be obtained. This brings us to the Pharisees of the New Testament, with their ostentatious displays of devotion, and the hypocrisy of their endless prayers, full of needless repetitions and odious self-assertion. At the outset we here meet, as usual, at least seeming contradictions. On the one hand, the Rabbis define every attitude and gesture in prayer, fix the most rigid formulas, trace each of them up to one of the patriarchs, * and would have us believe that the pious have their nine hours of devotion, laying down this curious principle, suited to both worlds--'Prolix prayer prolongs life.'
* The Rabbis ascribe the origin of the morning prayers to Abraham, that of the afternoon prayers to Isaac, and of the evening prayers to Jacob. In each case supposed Scriptural evidence for it is dragged in by some artificial mode of interpretation.
On the other hand, they also tell us that prayer may be contracted within the narrowest limits, and that a mere summary of the prescribed formulas is sufficient; while some of their number go the length of strenuously contending for free prayer. In fact, free prayer, liturgical formulas, and special prayers taught by celebrated Rabbis, were alike in use. Free prayer would find its place in such private devotions as are described in the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. It also mingled with the prescribed liturgical formulas. It may be questioned whether, even in reference to the latter, the words were always rigidly adhered to, perhaps even accurately remembered. Hence the Talmud lays it down (in the treatise Berachoth), that in such cases it sufficed to say the substance of the prescribed prayers.
That liturgical formulas were used not only in the Temple, but in the daily private devotions, cannot be doubted. The first trace of them appears so early as in the arrangement of the Psalter, each of its first four books closing with a 'eulogy,' or benediction (Psa 41; 72; 89; 106), and the fifth book with a psalm which may be designated as one grand doxology (Psa 150). Although it is a task of no small difficulty to separate the ancient prayers of Temple- times from the later additions, which have gradually swelled into the present Jewish prayer-book, it has, in great measure, successfully been accomplished. Besides such liturgical formulas, some prayers taught by celebrated Rabbis have been preserved. It was in accordance with this practice that John the Baptist seems to have given forms of prayer to his followers, and that the disciples asked the Savior to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).
The Lord's Prayer
The prayer spoken by the Lord far transcended any that Jewish Rabbis ever conceived, even where its wording most nearly approaches theirs. *
* It must always be kept in mind that such expressions as 'Our Father,' 'Thy kingdom come,' and others like them, meant in the mouth of the Rabbis a predominance of the narrowest Judaism; in fact, the subjection of all the world to Rabbinical ordinances, and the carnal glory of Israel.
It is characteristic that two of its petitions find no real counterpart in the prayers of the Rabbis. These are: 'Forgive us our trespasses,' and 'Lead us not into temptation.' In the Temple the people never responded to the prayers by an Amen, but always with this benediction, 'Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever!' *
* Thus the words in our Authorised Version, Matthew 6:13, 'For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,' which are wanting in all the most ancient MSS, are only the common Temple-formula of response, and as such may have found their way into the text. The word 'Amen' was in reality a solemn asseveration or a mode of oath.
This formula was traced up to the patriarch Jacob, on his death- bed. In regard to 'the kingdom,' whatever the Rabbis understood by it, the feeling was so strong, that it was said: 'Any prayer which makes not mention of the kingdom, is not a prayer at all.'
Attitude in Prayer
The attitude to be observed during prayer is very accurately defined by the Rabbis. The worshipper was to stand, turning towards the Holy Place; he was to compose his body and his clothes, to draw his feet close together, to cast down his eyes, at least at the beginning of his prayer, to cross his hands over his breast, and to 'stand as a servant before his master, with all reverence and fear.' Even the priests, while pronouncing the priestly blessing, were to look to the ground. In regard to the special manner of bowing before the Lord, a distinction was made between bending the knees, bending the head, and falling prostrate on the ground. The latter was not deemed 'fit for every man, but only for such as knew themselves righteous men, like Joshua.
The Two Elements in Prayer
In general the Rabbis distinguish two elements in prayer, on the ground of the two terms used by Solomon (1 Kings 8:28),-- thanksgiving and petition. To these correspond the two kinds of early Jewish prayer: the Eulogies and the Tephillah. And thus far correctly, as the two Hebrew words for prayer indicate, the one adoration, the other supplication, or, rather, intercession. Both kinds of prayer found expression in the Temple services. But only after the manifestation of Him, who in His person united the Divine with the human nature, could adoration and supplication be fully called out. Nay, the idea of supplication would only be properly realised after the outpouring of the Spirit of adoption, whereby the people of God also became the children of God. Hence it is not correct to designate sacrifices as 'prayers without words.' The sacrifices were in no sense prayers, but rather the preparation for prayer. 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: 'Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense' (Psa 141:2), and authoritatively confirmed in Revelation 5:8, where we read of the 'golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints.'
Burning the Incense
It is this burning of incense which in the Gospel is alluded to in connection with the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:9). Zacharias had come up from the hill country of Judea, 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. More than that, the lot had fallen on 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, would this service devolve on him. As the pious old priest ministered within the Holy Place, he saw with such distinctness that he could afterwards describe the very spot, Gabriel standing, 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.' So far as we know, this was the first and only angelic appearance in the Temple. For we cannot attach serious importance to the tradition that, during the forty years of his pontificate, an angel always accompanied Simeon the Just, when on the Day of Atonement he entered and left the Most Holy Place, except the last year, when the angel left him in the Sanctuary, to show that this was to be the end of his ministry. What passed between Gabriel and Zacharias is beside our present purpose. Suffice it to notice several details incidentally mentioned in this narrative, such as that a special lot was cast for this ministry; that the priest was alone in the Holy Place while burning the incense; and that 'the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.'
Filling the Laver
The lot for burning the incense was, as we have seen, the third by which the order of the ministry for the day was determined. The first lot, which in reality had been cast before the actual break of day, was that to designate the various priests who were to cleanse the altar and to prepare its fires. The first of the priests on whom this lot had fallen immediately went out. His brethren reminded him where the silver chafing-dish was deposited, and not to touch any sacred vessel till he had washed his hands and feet. He took no light with him; the fire of the altar was sufficient for his office. Hands and feet were washed by laying the right hand on the right foot, and the left hand on the left. *
* Perhaps this might therefore be appropriately described as washing 'the feet only,' (John 13:10).
The sound of the machinery, as it filled the laver with water, 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 ablutions. Otherwise the laver resembled that in the Temple of Solomon. It was of brass. All the vessels in the Sanctuary were of metal, the only exception being the altar of burnt-offering, which was solid, and wholly of stones taken from virgin soil, that had not been defiled by any tool of iron. The stones were fastened together by mortar, pitch, and molten lead. The measurement of the altar is differently given by Josephus and the Rabbis. It seems to have consisted of three sections, each narrower than the former: the base being thirty-two cubits wide, the middle twenty-eight, and the top, where the fire was laid (of course, not including the horns of the altar nor the space where the priests moved), only twenty-four cubits. With the exception of some parts of the altar, in which the cubit was calculated at five hand-breadths, the sacred cubit of the Temple was always reckoned at six hand-breadths. Lastly, as readers of the New Testament know, whatever touched the altar, or, indeed, any sacred vessel, was regarded as 'sanctified' (Matt 23:19), but no vessel could be dedicated to the use of the Temple which had not been originally destined for it.