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The Temple - its Ministry and Service #9

Sabbath in the Temple #1




'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath
therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath'--MARK ii.


     IT is a beautifully significant practice of the modern Jews,
that, before fulfilling any special observance directed in their
Law, they always first bless God for the giving of it. One might
almost compare the idea underlying this, and much else of a
similar character in the present religious life of Israel, to the
good fruits which the soil of Palestine bore even during the
Sabbatical years, when it lay untilled. For it is intended to
express that the Law is felt not a burden, but a gift of God in
which to rejoice. And this holds specially true of the Sabbath in
its Divine institution, of which it was distinctly said, 'I
gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that
they might know that I, Jehovah, sanctify them.' 1  In the same
sense, the Sabbath is called 'a delight, the holy of Jehovah,
honourable;' 2  and the great burden of the Sabbath-Psalms is
that of joyous thanksgiving unto God.

1 Ezek. xx.12. 
2 Isa. lviii.13.
3 Psa. xcii. The Talmud discusses the question whether Psa. xcii.
bears reference to the Sabbath of creation, or to that final
Messianic Sabbath of the Kingdom - according to Rabbi Akibah,
'the day which is wholly a Sabbath.' (See Delitzsch on the
Psalm.) It is a curiously uncritical remark of some Rabbis to
ascribe the authorship of this Psalm to Adam, and its composition
to the beginning of the first Sabbath - Adam having fallen just
before its commencement, and been driven from Paradise, but not
killed, because God would not execute the punishment of death on
the Sabbath.

     The term Sabbath, 'resting,' points to the origin and
meaning of the weekly festival. The Rabbis hold that it was not
intended for the Gentiles, and most of them trace the obligation
of its observance only to the legislation on Mount Sinai. Nor is
another Rabbinical saying, that 'circumcision and the Sabbath
preceded the law,' inconsistent with this. For even if the duty
of Sabbath-observance had only commenced with the promulgation of
the law on Mount Sinai, yet the Sabbath-law itself rested on the
original 'hallowing' of the seventh day, when God rested from all
His works? But this was not the only rest to which the Sabbath
pointed. There was also a rest of redemption, and the Sabbath was
expressly connected with the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.   
'Remember that thou vast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that
Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and
by a stretched out arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee
to keep the Sabbath-day.' 2  At the close of the work-a-day week,
holy rest in the Lord; at the end of the labour and sorrow of
Egypt, redemption and rest; and both pointing forward to the
better rest, 3  and ultimately to the eternal Sabbath of
completed work, of completed redemption, and completed
'hallowing' 4--such was the meaning of the weekly Sabbath.  It
was because this idea of festive rest and sanctification was so
closely connected with

1 Gen. ii.3.   
2 Deut. v.15.  
3 Heb. iv.9.   
4 Rev. xi.

the weekly festival that the term Sabbath was also applied to the
great festivals.1  For a similar reason, the number seven, which
was that of the weekly Sabbath (the first seven that had appeared
in time), became in Scripture-symbolism the sacred or covenant
number. 2


     It is necessary to bear all this in remembrance when
thinking of what the perverted ingenuity of the Rabbis made the
Sabbath at the time of Christ, and Later  probably even more in
the generations following. For there is evidence that the
Sabbath-law has become stricter than it had been, since, for
instance, the practice of taking an ox or an ass out of a pit, to
which our Saviour alludes 3  as uncontroverted, would now no
longer be lawful, unless, indeed, the animal were in actual
danger of life; otherwise, it is to receive food and water in the
pit. This 'actual danger to life,' whether to beast or to man (at
any rate, to Israelites), determined the only cases in which a
breach of the law of Sabbath-observance was allowed. At the
outset, indeed, it must be admitted that the whole social
Rabbinical legislation on the subject seems to rest on two sound
underlying principles: negatively, the avoidance of all that
might become work; and, positively, the doing of all which, in
the opinion of the Rabbis, might tend to make the Sabbath 'a
delight.' Hence, not only were fasting and mourning

1 As Lev. xxiii.15,24,32,39.
2 The term 'Sabbath' is also applied to 'a week,' as in Lev.
xxiii.15; xxv.8; and, for example, in Matt. xxviii. 1; Mark xvi.
2; Luke xxiv.1; John xx.1. This seems to indicate that the
Sabbath was not to be regarded as separate from, but as giving
its character to the rest of the week, and to its secular
engagements. So to speak, the week closes and is completed in the
3 Luke xiv.5.

strictly prohibited, but food, dress, and every manner of
enjoyment, not incompatible with abstinence from work, were
prescribed to render the day pleasurable. 'All the days of the
week,' the Rabbis say, 'has God paired, except the Sabbath, which
is alone, that it may be wedded to Israel. Israel was to welcome
the Sabbath as a bride; its advent as that of a king. But in
practice all this terribly degenerated. Readers of the New
Testament know how entirely, and even cruelly, the spirit and
object of the Sabbath were perverted by the traditions of 'the
elders.' But those only who have studied the Jewish law on the
subject can form any adequate conception of the state of matters.
Not to speak of the folly of attempting to produce joy by
prescribed means, nor of the incongruousness of those means,
considering the sacred character of the day, the almost
numberless directions about avoiding work must have made a due
observance of the Sabbath-rest the greatest labour of all. All
work was arranged under thirty-nine chief classes, or 'fathers,'
each of them having ever so many 'descendants,' or subordinate
divisions. Thus, 'reaping' was one of the 'fathers,' or chief
classes, and 'plucking ears of corn' one of its descendants. So
far did this punctiliousness go that it became necessary to
devise ingenious means to render the ordinary intercourse of life
possible, and to evade the inconvenient strictness of the law
which regulated a 'Sabbath-day's journey.' 1

1 By depositing a meal of meat at the end of a Sabbath-day's
journey to make it, by a legal fiction, a man's domicile, from
which he might start on a fresh Sabbath-day's journey. The
Mishnic tractate "Eruvin" treats of the connecting of houses,
courts, etc., to render lawful the carrying out of food, etc.    
On the other hand, such an isolated expression occurs (Mechilta,
ed. Weiss, p.110 a): 'The Sabbath is given to you, not you to the
Sabbath.' If we might regard this as a current theological
saying, it would give afresh meaning to the words of our Lord,
Mark ii.27.


     The school of Shammai, the sect of the Essenes, and strange
to say, the Samaritans, were the most stringent in their
Sabbath-observance. The school of Shammai held that the duty of
Sabbath-rest extended not only to men and to beasts, but even to
inanimate objects, so that no process might be commenced on the
Friday which would go on of itself during the Sabbath, such as
laying out flax to dry, or putting wool into dye. 1  The school
of Hillel excluded inanimate things from the Sabbath-rest, and
also allowed work to be given on a Friday to Gentiles,
irrespective of the question whether they could complete it
before the Sabbath began. Both schools allowed the preparation of
the passover-meal on the Sabbath, and also priests, while on
their ministry in the Temple, to keep up the fire in the 'Beth
Moked.' But this punctilious enforcement of the Sabbath-rest
became occasionally dangerous to the nation. For at one time the
Jews would not even defend themselves on the Sabbath against
hostile attacks of armies, till the Maccabees laid down the
principle, which ever afterwards continued in force, 2  that
defensive, though not offensive, warfare was lawful on the holy
day. Even as thus modified, the principle involved peril, and
during the last siege of Jerusalem it was not uniformly carried
out. 3  Nor was it, so far as we can judge from analogy, 4
sanctioned by Scripture precedent. But this is not the place
further to explain either the

1 Shabb. i.5,6, etc.     
2 Jos. "Ant." xii. 6,2; xiv. 4,2.
3 Compare "Jewish Wars," ii. 19,2, but, on the other hand,
"Antiq." xiv. 4,2.
4 Josh. vi.15, etc.

Scripture or the Rabbinical law of Sabbath-observance, 1  as it
affected the individual, the home, and the social life, nor yet
to describe the Sabbath-worship in the ancient synagogues of
Palestine. We confine our attention to what passed in the Temple


     The only directions given in Scripture for the celebration
of the Sabbath in the sanctuary are those which enjoin 'a holy
convocation, or a sacred assembly; 2  the weekly renewal of the  
Scripture shewbread; 3  and an additional burnt-offering of two
lambs, with the appropriate meat and drink-offerings, 'beside the
continual' (that is, the ordinary daily) 'burnt-offering and his
drink-offering.' 4  But the ancient records of tradition enable
us to form a very vivid conception of Sabbath-worship in the
Temple at the time of Christ. Formally, the Sabbath commenced at
sunset on Friday, the day being 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. Thus, the Rabbis mention that the
inhabitants of a low-lying city, like Tiberias, commenced the
observance of the Sabbath half an hour earlier, while those who
lived on an eminence, such as at Sepphoris, 5  continued it half
an hour later than their brethren. If the sun were not visible,
sunset was to be reckoned from when the fowls went to roost.     
But long before that the preparations for the Sabbath had
commenced. Accordingly, Friday 

1 There is a special Mishnic tractate on the subject.
2 Lev. xxiii.3.     
3 Lev. xxiv.8; Numb. iv.7. 
4 Numb. xxviii. 9,10.
5 Sepphoris, the Dio-Caesarea of the Romans, was near Nazareth.
It is often referred to by Josephus, and, after the destruction
of Jerusalem, became for a time the seat of the Sanhedrim. (See
Robinson's "Researches in Pal." voL ii. p.345.)

is called by the Rabbis 'the eve of the Sabbath,' and in the
Gospels the preparation.' 1  No fresh business was then
undertaken; no journey of any distance commenced; but everything
purchased and made ready against the feast, the victuals being
placed in a heated oven, and surrounded by dry substances to keep
them warm. 2  Early on Friday afternoon, the new 'course' of
priests, of Levites, and of the 'stationary men,' who were to be
the representatives of all Israel, arrived in Jerusalem, and
having prepared themselves for the festive season, went up to the
Temple. The approach of the Sabbath, and then its actual
commencement, were announced by threefold blasts from the
priests' trumpets. 3  The first three blasts were drawn when
'one-third of the evening sacrifice service was over;' or, as we
gather from the decree by which the Emperor Augustus set the Jews
free from attendance in courts of law, 4  about the ninth hour,
that is, about three p.m. on Friday. This, as we remember, was
the hour when Jesus gave up the ghost. 5  When the priests for
the first time sounded their trumpets, all business was to cease,
and every kind of work to be stopped. Next, the Sabbath-lamp, of
which even heathen writers knew, 6  was lit, and the festive

1 Mark xv.42; John xix.31. The expression, Luke vi.1, rendered in
our version 'the second Sabbath after the first,' really means, 
'the first Sabbath after the second' day of the Passover, on
which the first ripe sheaf was presented, the Jews calculating
the weeks from that day to Pentecost. 

(Edersheim is VERY WRONG here! He gives the "interpretation" of
the Pharisee Jews, who so calculated to Pentecost. That
calculation was different than the Sadducees. In this point it
was the Sadducees who were correct. I have devoted much space on
this Website to proving the correct way to count to Pentecost -
Keith Hunt)

2 See the disquisition in Mishnah, "Shab." iv., as to what
substances are lawful for the purpose, and what not.
3 Perhaps from the so-called 'tectum Sabbathi,' or 'Sabbath
roof,' which Rhenferdius (Op. Plait. p.770) identifies with the 
 Sabbath covert,' 2 Kings xvi.18. See Geodwin, "Moses et Aaron"
(ed. Hettinger), pp.518,519.
4 Jos. "Ant." xvi.6,2.
5 Matt. xxvii.45; Mark xv.34; Luke xxiii.44. 
6 Seneca, ep.95.

garments put on. A second time the priests drew a threefold
blast, to indicate that the Sabbath had actually begun. But 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. 1  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 of the families were to serve on each
special day of their week of ministry, and also who were to
discharge the various priestly functions on the Sabbath.


     The first of these functions, 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 - we might almost say, invariably - in one of the
chambers of the Temple, though, in theory, it was held lawful to
prepare it also at Bethphage. 2  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 any 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. 3  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
the Thursday

1 The altar was whitened twice a year, before the Passover and
the Feast of Tabernacles. But no tool of iron was used in this.
2 "Mish. Men." xi.2.
3 See Oehler in Herzog's "Real-Encycl." xiii. p.202.

afternoon. 1  The Rabbis are at pains to explain the particular
care with which it was made and baked, so that in appearance and
colour the lower should be exactly the same as the upper part of
     But this subject is too important to be thus briefly
treated. 2  Our term 'shewbread' is a translation of that used by
Luther (Schaubrod), which, in turn, may have been taken from the
Vulgate (panes praezpositionis). The Scriptural name is 'Bread of
the Face;' 3  that is, 'of the presence of God,' just as the
similar expression, 'Angel of the Face' 4  means the 'Angel of
His Presence.' 5  From its constant presence and disposition in
the sanctuary, it is also called 'perpetual bread' 6  and 'bread
of laying out' (set in order), which latter most nearly
corresponds to the term used in the New Testament. 7  The placing
and weekly renewal of the 'Bread of the Presence' was evidently
among the principal Temple services. 8  The 'table of shewbread'
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.
     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

1 This must have been the case on the Thursday of Christ's

(Jesus was NOT betrayed on a Thursday. See my in-depth study on
"Three Days and Three Night" - Keith Hunt)

2 The articles in Kitto's "Cycl." and in Smith's "Dict." are
meagre and unsatisfactory. Even Winer (Real-Worterb. ii. p.401,
etc.) is not so accurate as usual.
3 Ex. xxv.30; xxxv.13; xxxix.36.   
4 Isa. lxiii,9.
5 The curious explanation of the Rabbis (Mish. Men. xi.4) that it
was called 'Bread of the Faces' because it was equally baked all
round, as it were, all 'faces,' needs no refutation.
6 Numb. iv.7.  
7 Matt. xii.4; Luke vi.4; Heb. ix.2. 
8 2 Chron. xiii.10,11

feet), one cubit broad, and one and a half high. 1  


     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 the first
for the tabernacle, 2  which was 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. Josephus tells a story a
about the gift of yet another and most splendid one by Ptolemy
Philadelphus. But as its description does not tally with the
delineations on the Arch of Titus, we infer that at the time of
Christ the 'table' of the Maccabees stood in the Holy Place. 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.' 5  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.

1 The table on the Arch of Titus seems only one cubit high. We
know that it was placed by the victor in the Temple of Peace; was
carried about the middle of the fifth century to Africa, by the
Vandals under Genseric, and that Belisarius brought it back in
520 to Constantinople, whence it was sent to Jerusalem.
2 Ex. xxv.23, etc.  
3 "Ant." xii.2,8.
4 Winer has, on other grounds, thrown doubt on the account of
5 Ex. xxv.29.


To be continued

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