Taken and adapted from, “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ”
Written by, Alfred Edersheim


“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”  –Mark 2: 27, 28.

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 especially 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.”—Ezekiel 20:12. In the same sense, the Sabbath is called “a delight, the holy of Jehovah, honorable;” –Isaiah 58:13, and the great burden of the Sabbath-Psalm is that of joyous thanksgiving unto God. 1

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. (Genesis 2:3) 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 was 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.”(Deut. 5:15) At the close of the work-a-day week, holy rest in the Lord; at the end of the labor and sorrow of Egypt, redemption and rest; and both pointing forward to the better rest, (Hebrews 4:9) and ultimately to the eternal Sabbath of completed work, of completed redemption, and completed “hallowing” (Revelation 11)  “such was the meaning of the weekly Sabbath. It was because this idea of festive rest and sanctification was so closely connected with the weekly festival that the term Sabbath was also applied to the great festivals (As Lev. 23: 15, 24, 32, 39).  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 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 Savior 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 the 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 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 labor 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.” 4

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. 5  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, 6 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. 7 Nor was it, so far as we can judge from analogy, 8 sanctioned by Scripture precedent. But this is not the place further to explain either the Scripture or the rabbinical law of Sabbath-observance, 9 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 itself.

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; 10 the weekly renewal of the showbread; 11 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.” 12 

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, must commence the observance of the Sabbath half an hour earlier, while those who lived on an eminence, such as at Sepphoris, 13 must continue 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 is called by the Rabbis “the eve of the Sabbath,” and in the Gospels “the preparation.” 14

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. 15

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. 16

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, 17 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. 18  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, 19 was lit, and the festive 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 sacrifice, the altar of burnt offerings was cleansed from its stains of blood. 20  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 “showbread.” 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. 21 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. 22 Hence, also, if Friday, on the afternoon of which the showbread was ordinarily prepared, fell on a feast day that required Sabbatical rest, the showbread was prepared on the Thursday afternoon (This must have been the case on the Thursday of Christ’s betrayal). The Rabbis are at pains to explain the 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.

But this subject is too important to be thus briefly treated. 23  Our term “showbread” is a translation of that used by Luther (Schaubrod), which, in turn, may have been taken from the Vulgate (panes praepositionis). The Scriptural name is “Bread of the Face;” 24 that is, “of the presence of God,” just as the similar expression, “Angel of the Face” 25 means the “Angel of His Presence.” 26  From its constant presence and disposition in the sanctuary, it is also called “perpetual bread” 27 and “bread of laying out” (set in order),which latter most nearly corresponds to the term used in the New Testament. 28  The placing and weekly renewal of the “Bread of the Presence” was evidently among the principal Temple services. 29 The “table of showbread” 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 showbread was two cubits long (two cubits = three feet), one cubit broad, and one and a half high. 30 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, 31 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 32 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. 33 

Considerable doubt exists as to the precise meaning of the terms used in Scripture to describe the golden vessels connected with the “table of showbread.” 34 The “dishes” are generally regarded as those on which the “showbread” 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 flagons, or bowls, or urns were placed on the table of showbread, nor that drink-offerings were ever brought into the “Holy Place.” 35  

On the other hand, the Rabbis regard the Hebrew terms, rendered “covers” and “bowls,” as referring to hollow golden tubes which were placed between the showbread so as to allow the air to circulate between them; 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 “tubes” were drawn out each Friday, and again inserted between the new showbread 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 showbread was carried, and golden lateral plates, further to protect it on the stand, are also mentioned by the Rabbis.

The “showbread” was made of the finest wheaten flour, that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve of these cakes, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, 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, 36 ‘two bowls with pure incense were placed, and, according to Egyptian tradition, 37 also salt. The cakes were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross. As described by Jewish tradition, they were each 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); while, as the two rows of six cakes stood broad wise against each other (2×5 hand-breadths), it would leave between them two handbreadths vacant on the length of the table (2 cubits = 12 hand-breadths), on which the two bowls with the incense were placed. 38 The preparation of the showbread seems to have been hereditarily preserved as a secret family tradition in “the house of Garmu,” a family of the Kohathites. 39 The fresh cakes of showbread were deposited in a golden dish on the marble table in the porch of the sanctuary, where they remained till the Sabbath actually commenced.

The mode of changing the showbread may be given in the words of the Mishnah 40 “Four priests enter (the Holy Place), two carrying, each, one of the piles (of six showbread), the other two the two dishes (of incense). Four priests had preceded them –two to take off the two (old) piles of showbread, and two the two (old) dishes of incense. Those who brought in (the bread and incense) stood at the north side (of the table), facing southwards; they who took away at the south side, facing north: these lifted off, and those replaced; the hands of these being right over against the hands of those (so as to lift off and put on exactly at the same moment), as it is written: ‘Thou shalt set upon the table bread of the Presence before Me always.’” The showbread which had been taken off was then deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, the incense burnt on that heap on the altar of burnt offering from which the coals were taken for the altar of incense, after which the showbread was distributed among the outgoing and the incoming course of priests. 41 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 showbread was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the Temple itself, but only by such priests as were in a state of Levitical purity.

The importance of the service which has just been described depended, of course, on its meaning. Ancient symbolism, both Jewish and Christian, regarded “the bread of the Presence” as an emblem of the Messiah. This view is substantially, though not literally, correct. Jehovah, who dwelt in the Most Holy Place between the Cherubim, was the God manifest and worshipped in the Holy Place. There the mediatorial ministry, in the name of, and representing Israel, “laid before” Him the bread of the Presence, kindled the seven-lamped candlestick, and burnt incense on the golden altar. 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 candlestick, that He was their Light giver and Light; while between the table of showbread and the candlestick burned the incense on the golden altar, 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 between the showbread –for, the life which is in His Presence is one of praise; while the incense was burned before the showbread was eaten by the priests, to indicate God’s acceptance and ratification of Israel’s dependence upon Him, as also to betoken praise to God while living upon His Presence. That this “Presence” meant the special manifestation of God, as afterwards fully vouchsafed in Christ, “the Angel of His Presence,” it is scarcely necessary to explain at length in this place.

But although the service of the incoming “course” of priests had begun with the renewal of the “showbread,” that of the outgoing had not yet completely ceased. In point of fact, the outgoing “course” of priests offered the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath, and the incoming the evening Sacrifice, both spending the Sabbath in the sanctuary. The inspection of the Temple before the Sabbath morning service differed from that on ordinary days, inasmuch as the Temple itself was lit up to obviate the necessity of the priests carrying torches on the holy day. The altar of burnt offering was cleansed before the usual hour; but the morning service commenced later, so as to give an opportunity of attending to as many as possible. All appeared in their festive garments, and each carried in his hand some contribution for religious purposes. It was no doubt 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. 42  Similarly, the apostolic practice of partaking the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s-day may have been in imitation of the priests eating the showbread every Sabbath. The Sabbath service was in every respect the same as on other days, except that at the close of the ordinary morning sacrifice the additional offering of two lambs, with its appropriate meat and drink-offerings, was brought. 43 ”When the drink-offering of the ordinary morning sacrifice was poured out, the Levites sang Psalms 92, in three sections, the priests drawing, at the close of each, three blasts from their trumpets, and the people worshipping. At the close of the additional Sabbath sacrifice, when its drink-offering was brought, the Levites sang the “Song of Moses” in Deut. 32. This “hymn” was divided into six portions, for as many Sabbaths. 44 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 was sung.

Though not strictly connected with the Temple services, it may be desirable briefly to refer to the observance of the Sabbatical year, as it was strictly enforced at the time of Christ. It was otherwise with the year of Jubilee. Strangely, there are traces of the latter during the period before the return from Babylon, 45 while the Sabbatical year seems to have been systematically neglected. Hence Jewish tradition explains, in accordance with 2 Chron. 36:21, that the seventy years’ captivity were intended to make up the neglected Sabbatical years “commencing the calculation, if it be taken literally, from about the accession of King Solomon. But while, after the return from Babylon, the year of Jubilee was no longer kept, at least, as a religious ordinance, the Sabbatical year was most strictly observed, not only by the Jews, 46 but also by the Samaritans. 47 Jewish tradition has it, that as it took seven years for the first conquest, and other seven for the proper division of the Holy Land, “tithes” were for the first time paid fourteen years after the entrance of Israel into Canaan; and the first Sabbatical year fell seven years later, or in the twenty-first year of their possession of Palestine. The Sabbatical law extended only to the soil of Palestine itself, which, however, included certain surrounding districts. The Rabbis add this curious proviso, that it was lawful to use (though not to store or sell) the spontaneous produce of the land throughout the extent originally possessed by Israel, but that even the use of these products was prohibited in such districts as having originally belonged to, were again occupied by Israel after their return from Babylon. But this, as other rules laid down by the Rabbis, had many exceptions. 48 

As Divinely enjoined, the soil was to be left uncultivated at the end of every period of six years, beginning, as the Jews argue, after the Passover for the barley, after Pentecost for the wheat, and after the Feast of Tabernacles for all fruit-trees. The Sabbatical year itself commenced, as most of them hold, on New Year’s Day, which fell on the new moon of the tenth month, or Tishri. 49 Whatever grew of itself during the year was to belong to the poor, (Ex. 23:10-11) which, however, as Lev. 25:6 shows, did not exclude its use as “meat,” only its storage and sale, by the family to which the land belonged. Yet a third Scriptural notice constitutes the Sabbatical year that of “the Lord’s release,” when no debt might be claimed from an Israelite; (Deut. 15: 1-6) while a fourth enjoins, that “in the solemnity of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles,” the law was to be read “before all Israel in their hearing.” (Deut. 31:10-11)

It has been strangely overlooked that these four ordinances, instead of being separate and distinct, are in reality closely connected. As the assignment of what grew of itself did not exclude the usufruct by the owners, so it also followed of necessity that, in a year when all agricultural labor ceased, debts should not be claimed from an agricultural population.

Similarly, it was quite in accordance with the idea of the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year that the law should be publicly read, to indicate that “the rest” was not to be one of idleness, but of meditation on the Word of God. (Idleness is quite as much contrary to the Sabbath law as labor: “not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words” –Isaiah 58:13) It will be gathered that in this view the Divine law had not intended the absolute remission of debts, but only their “release” during the Sabbatical year. 50 Jewish tradition, indeed, holds the opposite; but, by its ordinances, it rendered the law itself void. For, as explained by the Rabbis, the release from debt did not include debts for things purchased in a shop, nor judicial fines, nor yet money lent on a pledge. But, as the great Rabbi Hillel found that even these exceptions were not sufficient to insure the loan of money in view of the Sabbatical year, he devised a formula called “Prosbul,” 51 by which the rights of a creditor were fully secured. The “Prosbul” ran thus: “I, A. B., hand to you, the judges of C. D. (a declaration), to the effect that I may claim any debt due to me at whatever time I please.”

This “Prosbul,” signed by the judges or by witnesses, enabled a creditor to claim money lent even in the Sabbatical year; and though professedly applying only to debts on real property, was so worded as to cover every case. 52 But even this was not all, and the following legal fiction was suggested as highly meritorious to all concerned. The debtor was to offer payment, and the creditor to reply,” I remit;” upon which the debtor was to insist that “nevertheless” the creditor was to accept the repayment. In general, money owing to Jewish proselytes was to be repaid to them, but not to their heirs, even though they also had turned Jews, as by becoming a proselyte a man had separated himself from his kin, who therefore were no longer, strictly speaking, his natural heirs. Still, to make payment in such a case was deemed especially meritorious. The Rabbinical evasions of the law, which forbade the use of that which had grown spontaneously on the soil, are not so numerous nor so irrational. It was ruled that part of such products might be laid by in the house, provided sufficient of the same kind were left in the field for cattle and beasts to feed upon. Again, as much land might be tilled as was necessary to make payment of tribute or taxes. The omer (or “wave-sheaf”) at the Passover, and the two wave-loaves at Pentecost, were also to be made from the barley and wheat grown that year in the field. Lastly, Rabbinical ordinance fixed the following portions as being “the law” which was to be publicly read in the Temple by the king or the high-priest at the Feast of Tabernacles in the Sabbatical year, viz., Deut. 1:1-6; 4:4-8; 11:13-22; 14:22; 15: 23; 17:14; 26:12-19; chapters 27 28. 53 

This service concluded with a benediction, which resembled that of the high-priest on the Day of Atonement, except that it referred not to the remission of sins. 54

The account just given proves that there was scarcely any Divine ordinance, which the Rabbis, by their traditions, rendered more fully void, and converted into “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear,” than the Sabbath law. On the other hand, the Gospels bring before us Christ more frequently on the Sabbath than on any other festive occasion. It seemed to be His special day for working the work of His Father. On the Sabbath He preached in the synagogues; He taught in the Temple; He healed the sick; He came to the joyous meal with which the Jews were wont to close the day. (Luke 14:1) Yet their opposition broke out most fiercely in proportion as He exhibited the true meaning and object of the Sabbath. Never did the antagonism between the spirit and the letter more clearly appear. And if in their worship of the letter they crushed out the spirit of the Sabbath law, we can scarcely wonder that they so overlaid with their ordinances the appointment of the Sabbatical year as well-nigh to extinguish its meaning. 55 That evidently was, that the earth, and all that is upon it, belongs to the Lord; that the eyes of all wait upon Him, that He may “give them their meat in due season;” 56 that the land of Israel was His special possession; that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of the Lord and that He giveth us our daily bread, so that it is vain to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows. (Psalms 127:2) Beyond it all, it pointed to the fact of sin and redemption: the whole creation which “groans and travails in pain together until now,” waiting for and expecting that blessed Sabbath, when “creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21-22)   Thus, as the Sabbath itself, so the Sabbatical year pointed forward to the “rest which remains to the people of God,” when, contest and labor completed, they sing, “on the other side of the flood,” the song of Moses and of the Lamb: (Rev. 15:3, 4)

“Great and marvelous are Thy works. Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest.” 57 

Reference Table

1 Psalms 92 The Talmud discusses the question whether Psalms 92 bears refers 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).  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.

2 The term “Sabbath” is also applied to a “week,” as m Lev. 23:15; 25:8; and, for example, in Matt, 28:1 ; Mark 16:2 ; Luke 24:1, 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 Sabbath.

3 Luke 14:5

4 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 pg. 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 a fresh meaning to the words of our Lord, Mark 2:27.

5 Shabb. 1: 5, 6, etc.

6 Josephus. Antiquities. 7: 6, 2; 14:4, 2

7 Compare Jewish Wars, 2:19, 2, but, on the other hand, Antiq. 14: 4, 2

8 Joshua 6: 15, etc.

9 There is a special Mishnic tractate on the subject

10 Lev. 23: 3

11  Lev. 24:8

12 Numbers 4:7

13 Sepphoris, the Dio-Csesarea 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.

14 Mark 15:42; John 19:31. The expression, Luke 6:1, 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.

15 See the disquisition in Mishnah, Shab. iv., as to what substances are lawful for the purpose, and what not.

16 Perhaps from the so-called “tectum Sabbathi,” or “Sabbath roof,” which Rheuferdius (Op. Phil., p. 770) identifies with the “Sabbath covert,” 2 Kings 16:18. See Goodwin, Moses et Aaron (ed. Hottinger), pp. 518, 519.

17 Josephus Antiquities 16: 6, 2.

18 Matt, 27:45; Mark 15:34; Luke 18:44

19 Seneca, ep. 95

20 The altar was whitened twice a year, before the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. But no tool of iron was used in this.

21 Mishna Men. xi 2

22 See Oehler in Herzog’s Real-Encycl. xiii. p. 202.

23 The articles in Kitto’s Cyclopedia and in Smith’s Diet, are meagre and unsatisfactory. Even Winer’s Real-Worterb. ii. p. 401, etc.  is not so accurate as usual.

24 Ex. 25:30 ; 35:13 ; 39:36

25 Isaiah 63:9

26 The curious explanation of the Rabbis (Mishna. 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.

 27 Numbers 4:7

28 Matt. 12:4; Luke 6: 4; Heb. 9:2

29 2 Chron. 13: 10

30  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 Gensenc, and that Belisarius brought it back in 520 to Constantinople, whence it was sent to Jerusalem.

31 Ex. 25:23, etc.

32 Antiquities 12:2, 8.

33 Winer has, on other grounds, thrown doubt on the account of Josephus.

34 Ex. 25:29

35 We cannot here enter into the discussion, which the reader will find in Relardus, Antiq., pp. 39, 41.

36 as according to the Rabbis. Menach. xi. 5

37 LXX. Lev. 24:7 ; Philo ii. 151

38 We have been thus particular on account of the inaccuracies in so many articles

39 I Chron. 9:32 ; Mishna Shekal. v. i

40  Men. xi. 7.

41  According to other authorities, however, the incense of the showbread was burned along with the morning sacrifice on the Sabbath.

42 1 Cor. 16: 1, 2

43 Numbers, 28: 9, 10

44 ver.1-6; 7-12; 13-18; 19-28; 29-39; 40-end

45 I Kings 21:3 ; Isa. 5: 8 ; 37:30 ; 61:1-3 ; Ezek. 1:1; 7:12; Micah 2:2

46 Neh. 10:31 ; I Macc. 6:49, 53; Josephus, Antiquities 13: 8, I ; 14: 10, 6; 15:1, 2; Jewish Wars 1:2-4

47  Antiquities 11: 8, 6

48 Mishna Shev. 6:1

49  The year of Jubilee began on the 10th of Tishri, being the Day of Atonement

50 The manumission of Jewish slaves took place in the seventh year of their bondage, whenever that might be, and bears no reference to the Sabbatical year, with which, indeed, some of its provisions could not easily have been compatible. –Deut. 15:14.

51 probably “addition,” from a Greek word to the same effect.

52 Mishna Shev., sec x.

53  Mishna Sotah, 7:8, where a curious story is also told, to show how deeply King Agrippa was affected when performing this service.

54 Relandus, suggests that the expression (Matt. 24:20), “pray that your flight be not on the Sabbath,” may apply to the Sabbatical year, as one in which the fugitives would find it difficult to secure needful support.

55 Compare also the remarks by Oehler in Herzog’s Encycl. 12, pg. 211

56 Psalms 104:27; 145:16

57 For an account of the Sabbatical years, mentioned by tradition, see Wieseler Chron, Synops Cf p. 204.

Thoughts on the Forerunner of Christ: The Annunciation of John the Baptist. Part 2.


(St. Matthew 1; St. Luke 1:26-80.)

The Galilee of the time of Jesus was not only of the richest fertility, cultivated to the utmost, and thickly covered with populous towns and villages, but the center of every known industry, and was part of the busy road of the world’s commerce.

Nor was it otherwise in Nazareth.

The great caravan route which led from Acco on the sea to Damascus divided at its commencement into three roads, one of which passed through Nazareth. Men of all nations, busy with another life than that of Israel,would appear in its streets; and through them thoughts, associations, and hopes connected with the great outside world be stirred. But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great centers of Jewish Temple-life.

The Priesthood was divided into twenty-four ‘courses,’ each of which, in turn, ministered in the Temple. The Priests of the ‘course’ which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and prayer. Now Nazareth was one of these Priest-centers. Thus, to take the wider view, a double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple.

We may take it, that the people of Nazareth were like those of other little towns similarly circumstanced: with all the peculiarities of the impulsive, straight-spoken, hotblooded, brave, intensely national Galileans; with the deeper feelings and almost instinctive habits of thought and life, which were the outcome of long centuries of Old Testament training; but also with the petty interests and jealousies of such places, and with all the ceremonialism and punctilious self-assertion of Orientals. The cast of Judaism prevalent in Nazareth would, of course, be the same as in Galilee generally. We know, that there were marked divergences from the observances in that stronghold of Rabbinism, Judaea –indicating greater simplicity and freedom from the constant intrusion of traditional ordinances. The purity of betrothal in Galilee was less likely to be sullied, and weddings were more simple without the dubious institution of groomsmen, or ‘friends of the bridegroom. The bride was chosen, not as in Judea, where money was too often the motive, but as in Jerusalem, with chief regard to ‘a fair degree;’ and widows were (as in Jerusalem) more tenderly cared for.

Whatever view may be taken of the genealogies in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, there can be no question that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage of David.

Most probably the two were nearly related, while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being, no doubt on her mother’s side, a ‘blood-relative’ of Elisabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias. (Luke 1:36) Even this seems to imply that Mary’s family must shortly before have held higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of Priests. But at the time of their betrothal, both Joseph and Mary were extremely poor, as appears –not indeed from his being a carpenter, since a trade was regarded as almost a religious duty –but from the offering at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:24)

Accordingly, their betrothal must have been of the simplest, and the dowry settled the smallest possible. From that moment Mary was the betrothed wife of Joseph; their relationship as sacred as if they had already been wedded. Any breach of it would be treated as adultery; nor could the bond be dissolved except, as after marriage, by regular divorce. Yet months might intervene between the betrothal and marriage.

Five months of Elisabeth’s sacred retirement had passed, when a strange messenger brought its first tidings to her kinswoman in far-off Galilee. It was not in the solemn grandeur of the Temple, between the golden altar of incense and the seven-branched candlestick, that the Angel Gabriel now appeared, but in the privacy of a humble home at Nazareth. And, although the awe of the Supernatural must unconsciously have fallen upon her, it was not so much the sudden appearance of the mysterious stranger in her retirement that startled the maiden, as the words of his greeting,implying unthought blessing. The ‘Peace to thee’ was, indeed, the well-known salutation, while the words ‘The Lord is with thee’ might waken remembrance of the Angelic call to great deliverance in the past. (Judges 6:12) But this designation of ‘highly favored’ came upon her with bewildering surprise, perhaps not so much from its contrast to the humbleness of her estate, as from the self-unconscious humility of her heart.

Accordingly, it is this story of special ‘favor,’ or grace, which the Angel traces in rapid outline, from the conception of the Virgin-Mother to the distinctive, Divinely-given Name, symbolic of the meaning of His coming; His absolute greatness; His acknowledgment as the Son of God; and the fulfillment in Him of the great Davidic hope,with its never-ceasing royalty, and its boundless-Kingdom.

In all this, however marvelous, there could be nothing strange to those who cherished in their hearts Israel’s great hope. Nor was there anything strange even in the naming of the yet unconceived Child. It sounds like a saying current among the people of old, this of the Rabbis, concerning the six whose names were given before their birth: Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and ‘the Name of the Messiah, Whom may the Holy One, blessed be His Name, bring quickly, in our days!’

Thus, on the supposition of the readiness of her believing heart there would have been nothing that needed further light than the how of her own connection with the glorious announcement. And the words, which she spake, were not of trembling doubt, but rather those of inquiry, for the further guidance of a willing self-surrender. And now the Angel unfolded yet further promise of Divine favor, and so deepened her humility. For the idea of the activity of the Holy Ghost in all great events was quite familiar to Israel at the time, even though the individuation of the Holy Ghost may not have been fully apprehended. Only, they expected such influences to rest exclusively upon those who were either mighty, or rich, or wise. And of this twofold manifestation of miraculous ‘favor’ –that she, and as a Virgin, should be its subject –Gabriel, ‘the might of God,’ gave this unasked sign, in what had happened to her kinswoman Elisabeth.

The sign was at the same time a direction. The first, but also the ever-deepening desire in the heart of Mary, when the Angel left her, must have been to be away from Nazareth, and for the relief of opening her heart to a woman, in all things like-minded, who perhaps might speak blessed words to her. It is only what we would have expected, that ‘with haste’ she should have resorted to her kinswoman.

It could have been no ordinary welcome that would greet the Virgin-Mother. Elisabeth must have learned from her husband the destiny of their son, and hence the near Advent of the Messiah. But she could not have known either when, or of whom He would be born. When, by a sign not quite strange to Jewish expectancy, she recognized in her near kinswoman the Mother of her Lord, her salutation was that of a mother to a mother –the mother of the ‘preparer’ to the mother of Him for Whom he would prepare.

Three months had passed, and now the Virgin-Mother must return to Nazareth. Soon Elisabeth’s neighbors and kinsfolk would gather with sympathetic joy around a home which, as they thought, had experienced unexpected mercy. But Mary must not be exposed to the publicity of such meetings. However conscious of what had led to her condition, it must have been as the first sharp pang of the sword which was to pierce her soul,when she told it all to her betrothed. For only a direct Divine communication could have chased all questioning from his heart, and given him that assurance, which was needful in the future history of the Messiah.

Brief as the narrative is, we can read in the ‘thoughts’ of Joseph the anxious contending of feelings, the scarcely established, and yet delayed, resolve to ‘put her away,’ which could only be done by regular divorce; this one determination only standing out clearly, that, if it must be, her letter of divorce shall be handed to her privately, only in the presence of two witnesses. The humble Tsaddiq of Nazareth would not willingly make of her ‘a public exhibition of shame.’

The assurance, which Joseph could scarcely dare to hope for, was miraculously conveyed to him in a dream-vision.

All would now be clear; even the terms in which he was addressed (‘thou son of David’), so utterly unusual in ordinary circumstances, would prepare him for the Angel’s message. The naming of the unborn Messiah would accord with popular notions; the symbolism of such a name was deeply rooted in Jewish belief; while the explanation of Jehoshua or Jeshua (Jesus), as He Who would save His people (primarily,as he would understand it, Israel) from their sins, described at least one generally expected aspect of His Mission.

The fact that such an announcement came to him in a dream, would dispose Joseph all the more readily to receive it. ‘A good dream’ was one of the three things popularly regarded as marks of God’s favor. Thus Divinely set at rest, Joseph could no longer hesitate. The highest duty towards the Virgin-Mother and the unborn Jesus demanded an immediate marriage, which would afford not only outward, but moral protection to both.

Meanwhile the long-looked-for event had taken place in the home of Zacharias.

No domestic solemnity was so important or so joyous as that in which, by circumcision, the child had, as it were, laid upon it the yoke of the Law, with all of duty and privilege which this implied. It was, so tradition has it, as if the father had acted sacrificially as High-Priest, offering his child to God in gratitude and love; and it symbolized this deeper moral truth, that man must by his own act complete what God had first instituted.

We can scarcely be mistaken in supposing, that then, as now, a benediction was spoken before circumcision, and that the ceremony closed with the usual grace over the cup of wine, when the child received his name in a prayer, that probably did not much differ from this at present in use: ‘Our God, and the God of our fathers, raise up this child to his father and mother, and let his name be called in Israel Zacharias, the son of Zacharias.’ The prayer closed with the hope that the child might grow up, and successfully ‘attain to the Torah, the marriage, and good works.’

Of all this Zacharias was, though a deeply interested, yet a deaf and dumb witness. (From St. Luke 1:62 we gather that Zacharias was what the Rabbis understood by a Hebrew term signifying one deaf as well as dumb. Accordingly, he was communicated with by signs.) This only had he noticed, that, in the benediction in which the child’s name was inserted, the mother had interrupted the prayer. Without explaining her reason, she insisted that his name should not be that of his aged father, as in the peculiar circumstances might have been expected, but John (Jochanan).

A reference to the father only deepened the general astonishment, when he also gave the same name. But this was not the sole cause for marvel. For, forthwith the tongue of the dumb was loosed, and he, who could not utter the name of the child, now burst into praise of the name of the Lord. His last words had been those of unbelief, his first were those of praise; his last words had been a question of doubt, his first were a hymn of assurance. This hymn of the Priest closely follows, and, if the expression be allowable, spiritualizes a great part of the most ancient Jewish prayer: the so-called Eighteen Benedictions. Opening with the common form of blessing, his hymn struck, one by one, the deepest chords of that prayer.

But far and wide, as these marvelous tidings spread throughout the hill-country of Judea, fear fell on all –the fear also of a nameless hope:

‘What then shall this Child be? For the Hand of the Lord also was with Him!’


Taken from, Jesus the Messiah
Written by, Alfred Edersheim

Thoughts on the Forerunner of Christ: The Annunciation of John the Baptist. Part One.


(Thoughts on Luke 1:5-25.)

It was the time of the Morning Sacrifice…

As the massive Temple gates slowly swung on their hinges, a threefold blast from the silver trumpets of the Priests seemed to waken the City to the life of another day.

Already the dawn, for which the Priest on the highest pinnacle of the Temple had watched, to give the signal for beginning the services of the day, had shot its brightness far away to Hebron and beyond. Within the courts below all had long been busy. At some time previously, unknown to those who waited for the morning, the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had ‘washed,’ according to the ordinance.

levites-aaronic-blessingThere must have been each day about fifty priests on duty. Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of the Temple courts by torchlight. Presently they met, and trooped to the well-known Hall of Hewn Polished Stones. The ministry for the day was here apportioned. To prevent the disputes of carnal zeal, the ‘lot’ was to assign to each his function. Four times was it resorted to : twice before, and twice after the Temple gates were opened. The first act of their ministry had to be done in the grey dawn, by the fitful red light that glowed on the altar of burnt-offering,ere the priests had stirred it into fresh flame. It was scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the ‘ lot,’which designated those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the golden candlestick, and make ready the altar of incense within the Holy Place. And now nothing remained before the admission of worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure of its fitness for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic fashion “as tradition described the binding of Isaac” on the north side of the altar, with its face to the west.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_The_Sacrifice_of_the_Old_Covenant_detail_350All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed. While the sacrifice was prepared for the altar,the priests, whose lot it was, had made ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day’s service was to take place –that of offering the incense, which symbolized Israel’s accepted prayers. Again was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him, who was to be honored with this highest mediatorial act. Only once in a lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege. It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be preceded by prayer and confession of their faith on the part of the assembled priests.

It was the first week in October, in the sixth year before our present era, when ‘the course of Abia’ –the eighth in the original arrangement of the weekly service –was on duty in the Temple.

In the group ranged that autumn morning around the superintending Priest was one, on whom at least sixty winters had fallen. But never during these many years had he been honored with the office of incensing. Yet the venerable figure of Zacharias must have been well known in the Temple. For each course was twice a year on ministry, and, unlike the Levites, the priests were not disqualified by age, but only by infirmity. In many respects he seemed different from those around. His home was not in either of the 36618_all_001_01great priest-centres — the Ophel quarter in Jerusalem, nor in Jericho –but in some small town in those uplands, south of Jerusalem: the historic ‘ hill-country of Judaea.’ And yet he might have claimed distinction. To be a priest, and married to the daughter of a priest, was supposed to convey twofold honor. That he was surrounded by relatives and friends, and that he was well known and respected throughout his district, appears incidentally from the narrative. –Luke 1: 58,59,61,65, For Zacharias and Elisabeth, his wife, were truly ‘righteous,’ in the sense of walking ‘blamelessly,’ alike in those commandments which were specially binding on Israel, and in those statutes that were of universal bearing on mankind.

Yet Elisabeth was childless.

For many a year this must have been the burden of Zacharias’ prayer; the burden also of reproach, which Elisabeth seemed always to carry with her.

raphael37On that bright autumn morning in the Temple, however, no such thoughts would disturb Zacharias. The lot had marked him for incensing, and every thought must have centered on what was before him. First, he had to choose two of his special friends or relatives, to assist in his sacred service. Their duties were comparatively simple. One reverently removed what had been left on the altar from the previous evening’s service; then, worshiping, retired backwards. The second assistant now advanced, and, having spread to the utmost verge of the golden altar the live coals taken from that of burnt-offering, worshiped and retired. Meanwhile the sound of the ‘organ,’ heard to the most distant parts of the Temple, and, according to tradition, far beyond its precincts, had summoned priests, Levites, and people to prepare for whatever service or duty was before them. But the celebrant Priest, bearing the golden censer, stood alone within the Holy Place, lit by the sheen of the seven-branched candlestick. Before him, somewhat farther away, towards the heavy Veil that hung before the Holy of Holies, was the golden altar of incense, on which the red coals glowed. To his right (the left of the altar –that is,on the north side) was the table of shewbread ; to his left,on the right or south side of the altar, was the golden candlestick. And still he waited, as instructed to do, till a special signal indicated that the moment had come to spread the incense on the altar, as near as possible to the Holy of Holies. Priests and people had reverently withdrawn from the neighbourhood of the altar, and were prostrate before the Lord, offering unspoken worship.

Zacharias waited, until he saw the incense kindling. Then he also would have ‘bowed down in worship,’ and reverently withdrawn, had not a wondrous sight arrested his steps.

On the right (or south) side of the altar, between it and the golden candlestick, stood what he could not but recognise as an Angelic form. Never, indeed, had even tradition reported such a vision to an ordinary Priest in the act of incensing. The two supernatural apparitions recorded in Rabbinic tradition –one of an Angel each year of the Pontificate of Simon the Just; the other in that blasphemous account of the vision of the Almighty by Tshmael, the son of Elisha, and of the conversation which then ensued –had both been vouchsafed to High-Priests, and on the Day of Atonement.

Zechariah1Still, there was always uneasiness among the people as any mortal approached the immediate Presence of God, and every delay in his return seemed ominous. No wonder, then, that Zacharias was troubled, and fear fell on him. It was from this state of semi-consciousness that the Angel first wakened Zacharias with the remembrance of life-long prayers and hopes, which had now passed into the background of his being, and then suddenly startled him by the promise of their realization. But that Child of so many prayers, who was to bear the significant name of John (Jehochanan, or Jochanan), ‘the Lord is gracious,’ was to be the source of joy and gladness to a far wider circle than that of the family. The Child was to be great before the Lord; not only an ordinary, but a life-Nazarite, as Samson and Samuel of old had been. Like them, he was not to consecrate himself, but from the inception of life wholly to belong to God, for His work. And, greater than either of these representatives of the symbolical import of Nazarism, he would combine the twofold meaning of their mission –outward and inward might in God, only in a higher and more spiritual sense. For this lifework he would be filled with the Holy Ghost, from the moment life woke within him. Then, as another Samson, would he, in the strength of God, lift the axe to each tree to be felled, and, like another Samuel, turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Nay, combining these two missions, as did Elijah on Mount Carmel, he should, in accordance with prophecy (Malachi 3:1), precede the Messianic manifestation, and, not indeed in the person or form, but in the spirit and power of Elijah, accomplish the typical meaning of his mission. Thus would this new Elijah ‘make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’

If the apparition of the Angel, in that place, and at that time, had overwhelmed the aged priest, the words which he heard must have filled him with such bewilderment, that for the moment he scarcely realized their meaning. One idea alone, which had struck its roots so long in his consciousness, stood out: A son. And so it was the obvious doubt, that would suggest itself, which first fell from his lips, as he asked for some pledge or confirmation of what he had heard.

36618_all_003_04He that would not speak the praises of God, but asked a sign, and received it. His dumbness was a sign –though the sign, as it were the dumb child of the prayer of unbelief, was its punishment also. And yet a sign in another sense also –a sign to the waiting multitude in the Temple; a sign to Elisabeth; to all who knew Zacharias in the hill-country; and to the Priest himself, during those nine months of retirement and inward solitude; a sign also that would kindle into fiery flame in the day when God should loosen his tongue.

A period of unusual length had passed, since the signal for incensing had been given. The prayers of the people had been offered, and their anxious gaze was directed towards the Holy Place. At last Zacharias emerged to take his stand on the top of the steps which led from the Porch to the Court of the Priests, waiting to lead in the priestly Benediction (Numbers 4:24-26) that preceded the daily meat-offering and the chant of the psalms of praise, accompanied with joyous sound of music, as the drink offering was poured out. But already the sign of Zacharias was to be a sign to all the people. The pieces of the sacrifices had been ranged in due order on the altar of burnt-offering; the Priests stood on the steps to the porch, and the people were in waiting. Zacharias essayed to speak the words of benediction, unconscious that the stroke had fallen. But the people knew it by his silence, that he had seen a vision in the Temple. Yet as he stood helpless, trying by signs to indicate it to the awestruck assembly, he remained dumb.

Wondering, they dispersed, people and Priests some to Ophel, some to Jericho, some to their quiet dwellings in the country. But God fulfilled the word which He had spoken by His Angel.


Taken from, Jesus the Messiah
Written by, Alfred Edersheim

The Purification of the Virgin, and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Today’s passage Luke 2:21-38.
Taken from, Jesus the Messiah
Written by, Alfred Edersheim


Foremost amongst those who, wondering what it all meant, and who had heard what the shepherds had been told, was she whom most it concerned; the Mother of Jesus.

At the very outset of this history, and increasingly in its course, the question meets us, how, if the Angelic message to the Virgin was a reality, and her motherhood so supernatural, could she have been so apparently ignorant of what was to come –nay, so often have even misunderstood it? Might we not have expected, that the Virgin-Mother from the inception of this Child’s life would have realized that He was truly the Son of God? The question, like so many others, requires only to be clearly stated, to find its emphatic answer. For, had it been so, His history, His human life, of which every step is of such importance to mankind, would not have been possible.

mary_3Apart from all thoughts of the deeper necessity, both as regarding His mission and the salvation of the world, and of a true human development of gradual consciousness and personal life, Christ could not, in any real sense, have been subject to His Parents, if they had fully understood that He was Divine; nor could He, in that case, have been watched as a child, as He grew in wisdom and in favor with God and men.’

Such knowledge would have broken the bond of His Humanity to ours, by severing that which bound Him as a child to His mother. And we could not have become His brethren, had He not been truly the Virgin’s Son. The mystery of the Incarnation would have been needless and fruitless, had His Humanity not been subject to all its right and ordinary conditions. In short, one, and that the distinctive New Testament, element in our salvation would have been taken away at the beginning of His life He would have anticipated the lessons of its end –nay, not those of His Death only, but of His Resurrection and Ascension, and of the coming of the Holy Ghost.

In all this we have only considered the earthward, not the heavenward, aspect of His life. The latter, though very real, lies beyond our present horizon. Not so the question as to the development of the Virgin-Mother’s spiritual knowledge. Assuming her to have occupied the standpoint of Jewish Messianic expectancy, and remembering also that she was so ‘highly favored’ of God, still there was not as yet anything, nor could there be for many years, to lead her beyond what might be called the utmost height of Jewish belief. On the contrary, there was much connected with His true Humanity to keep her back.

marywithbabyThus it was, that every event connected with the Messianic manifestation of Jesus would come to the Virgin-Mother as a new surprise. Each event, as it took place, stood isolated in her mind, as something quite by itself. She knew the beginning, and she knew the end; but she knew not the path which led from the one to the other; and each step in it was a new revelation. And it was natural and well that it should be so. For, thus only could she truly, because self-unconsciously as, a Jewish woman and mother, fulfil all the requirements of the Law, alike as regarded herself and her Child.

The first of these was Circumcision, representing voluntary subjection to the conditions of the Law, and acceptance of the obligations, but also of the privileges, of the Covenant between God and Abraham and his seed. The ceremony took place, as in all ordinary circumstances, on the eighth day, when the Child received the Angel given name Yeshua (Jesus). Two other legal ordinances still remained to be observed. The firstborn son of every household was, according to the Law, to be ‘redeemed’ of the priest at the price of five shekels of the Sanctuary. (Numbers 18:16) The earliest period of presentation was thirty-one days after birth, so as to make the legal month quite complete. The child must have been the firstborn of his mother; neither father nor mother must be of Levitic descent; and the child must be free from all such bodily blemishes as would have disqualified him for the priesthood –or, as it was expressed: ‘the firstborn for the priesthood.’ It was a thing much dreaded, that the child should die before his redemption; but if his father died in the interval, the child had to redeem himself when of age. The value of the ‘redemption-money’ would amount to about ten or twelve shillings. The redemption could be made from any priest, and attendance in the Temple was not requisite. It was otherwise with ‘the purification’ of the mother. (Leviticus 12)

Joseph-and-Mary-Jesus-Temple-860x430The Rabbinic law fixed this at forty-one days after the birth of a son, and eighty-one after that of a daughter, so as to make the Biblical terms quite complete. But it might take place any time later –notably, when attendance on any of the great feasts brought a family to Jerusalem. Indeed, the woman was not required to be personally present at all, when her offering was provided for –say, by the representatives of the laity, who daily took part in the services for the various districts from which they came. But mothers who were within convenient distance of the Temple, and especially the more earnest among them, would naturally attend personally in the Temple; and in such cases, when practicable, the redemption of the firstborn, and the purification of his mother, would be combined. Such was undoubtedly the case with the Virgin-Mother and her Son.

300px-Bellini_maria1For this twofold purpose the Holy Family went up to the Temple, when the prescribed days were completed. The ceremony at the redemption of a firstborn son was, no doubt, more simple than that at present in use. It consisted of the formal presentation of the child to the priest, accompanied by two short ‘benedictions’ –the one for the law of redemption, the other for the gift of a firstborn son, after which the redemption-money was paid.

As regards to the rite at the purification of the mother, the scantiness of information has led to serious misstatements. Any comparison with our modern ‘churching’ of women is inapplicable, since the latter consists of thanksgiving, and the former primarily of a sin-offering for the Levitical defilement symbolically attaching to the beginning of life, and a burnt-offering, that marked the restoration of communion with God. Besides, as already stated, the sacrifice for purification might be brought in the absence of the mother. The service simply consisted of the statutory sacrifice. This was what, in ecclesiastical language, was termed an offering, ‘ascending and descending,’ that is: according to the means of the offerer.

temple-in-israelThe sin-offering was, in all cases, a turtle-dove or a young pigeon. But, while the more wealthy brought a lamb for a burnt-offering, the poor might substitute for it a turtle-dove, or a young pigeon. The Temple-price of the meat and drink-offerings was fixed once a month; and special officials instructed the intending offerers, and provided them with what was needed. There was also a special ‘superintendent of turtle-doves and pigeons,’ required for certain purifications. In the Court of the Women there were thirteen trumpet-shaped chests for pecuniary contributions, called ‘trumpets.’  Into the third of these they who brought the poor’s offering, like the Virgin-Mother, were to drop the price of the sacrifices which were needed for their purification. As we infer, the superintending priest must have been stationed here, probably to inform the offerer of the price of the turtle-doves, and to see that all was in order. For the offerer of the poor’s offering would not require to deal directly with the sacrificing priest.

Shofar chestAt a certain time in the day this third chest was opened, and half of its contents applied to burnt-offerings, the other half to sin-offerings. Thus sacrifices were provided for a corresponding number of those who were to be purified, without either shaming the poor, needlessly disclosing the character of impurity, or causing unnecessary bustle and work. Though this mode of procedure could, of course, not be obligatory, it would, no doubt, be that generally followed.

Reconstruction_Hs_TempleWe can now, in imagination, follow the Virgin-Mother in the Temple. Her Child had been given up to the Lord, and received back from Him. She had entered the Court of the Women, probably by the ‘Gate of the Women,’ on the north side, and deposited the price of her sacrifices in Trumpet No. 3, which was close to the raised dais or gallery where the women worshipped, apart from the men.

And now at the sound was heralded which announced throughout the vast Temple-buildings that the incense was about to be kindled on the Golden Altar, and which also summoned those who were to be purified. The chief of the ministrant lay-representatives of Israel on duty (these so-called ‘stationmen’) arranged those, who presented themselves before the Lord as offerers of special sacrifices, within the wickets on either side the great Nicanor Gate, at the top of the fifteen steps which led up from the Court of the Women to that of Israel. The purification-service, with such unspoken prayer and praise as would be the outcome of a grateful heart, was soon ended, and they who had shared in it were Levitically clean. Now all stain was removed, and, as the Law put it, they might again partake of sacred offerings.

madonaIt has been observed, that by the side of every humiliation connected with the Humanity of the Messiah, the glory of His Divinity was also made to shine forth.

The coincidences are manifestly undesigned on the part of the Evangelic writers, and hence all the more striking. And so, when now the Mother of Jesus in her humbleness could only bring the ‘poor’s offering,’ the witness to the greatness of Him Whom she had borne was not wanting.

Presentation_Lord_FamilyThe ‘parents’ of Jesus had brought Him into the Temple for presentation and redemption, when they were met by one, whose venerable figure must have been well-known in the city and the Sanctuary. Simeon combined the three characteristics of Old Testament piety: ‘justice,’ as regarded his relation and bearing to God and man; ‘fear of God,’ in opposition to the boastful self-righteousness of Pharisaism; and, above all, longing expectancy of the near fulfilment of the great promises, and that in their spiritual import as ‘the Consolation of Israel.’ And now it was as had been promised him. Coming ‘in the spirit’ into the Temple, just as His parents were bringing the Infant Jesus, he took Him into his arms, and burst into thanksgiving. God had fulfilled His word. He was not to see death, till he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Now did his Lord ‘dismiss’ him ‘in peace’ –release him from work and watch –since he had actually seen that salvation, so long preparing for a waiting weary world: a glorious light, Whose rising would light up heathen darkness, and be the outshining glory around Israel’s mission.

PurificationBut his unexpected appearance, the more unexpected deed and words, and that most unexpected and un-Judaic form in which what was said of the Infant Christ was presented to their minds, filled the hearts of His parents with wonderment. And it was as if their silent wonderment had been an unspoken question, to which the answer now came in words of blessing from the aged watcher. But now it was the personal, or rather the Judaic, aspect which, in broken utterances, was set before the Virgin-Mother –as if the whole history of the Christ upon earth were passing in rapid vision before Simeon. That Infant was to be a stone of decision; a foundation and corner-stone, (Is. 8:14) for fall or for uprising; a sign spoken against; the sword of deep personal sorrow would pierce the Mother’s heart; and so to the terrible end, when the veil of externalism which had so long covered the hearts of Israel’s leaders would be rent, and the deep evil of their thoughts laid bare.

Nor was Simeon’s the only hymn of praise on that day.

Rembrandt4123Present1628HamburgA special interest attaches to her who responded in praise to God for the pledge she saw of the near redemption. A kind of mystery seems to invest this Anna. A widow, whose early desolateness had been followed by a long life of solitary mourning: one of those in whose home the tribal genealogy had been preserved. We infer from this, and from the fact that it was that of a tribe which had not returned to Palestine, that hers was a family of some distinction. Curiously enough, the tribe of Asher alone is celebrated in tradition for the beauty of its women, and their fitness to be wedded to High-Priest or King.

jerry_bacik_annaThese many years had Anna spent in the Sanctuary, and spent in fasting and prayer –yet not of that self-righteous, self-satisfied kind which was of the essence of popular religion. Nor yet were the ‘fasting and prayer’ the all-in-all of religion, that some thought to be sufficient in themselves, and sufficient also before God. The seemingly hopeless exile of her own tribe, the political state of Judaea, the condition –social, moral, and religious –of her own Jerusalem, all kindled in her, as in those who were like-minded, deep, earnest longing for the time of promised ‘redemption.’

No place was so suited to such a one as the Temple, with its services; no occupation so befitting as ‘fasting and prayer.’ And there were others, perhaps many such, in Jerusalem. Though rabbinic tradition ignored them, they were the salt which preserved the mass from festering corruption. To her, as the representative of such, was it granted as prophetess to recognize Him, whose Advent had been the burden of Simeon’s praise.


ELIJAH: Murder, and the Doom of Ahab


So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and vexed, and came to Samaria.
–1 Kings 20: 43

IT is significant that the words describing Ahab’s state of mind on returning from Jezreel to Samaria after his unsuccessful negotiation with Naboth for his vineyard…

…are precisely the same as those formerly used in regard to the impression made on him by the prophet’s message (1 Kings 20: 43).

god-idolatry-discipleship-1-GoodSalt-stdas0022-254x300On both occasions he “was much [and rebelliously] excited and angry.” The identity of terms indicates identity of feelings. The same self-assertion, dependence of God, and want of submissiveness which had led to his release of, and covenant with, Ben-hadad, and inspired feelings of rebellion and anger on hearing the Divine message, now prompted his resentment Naboth’s conduct.

The summer palace of Jezreel was the favorite retreat of King Ahab and Jezebel. The present somewhat marshy plain of Esdraelon, the almost bare mountains of Gilboa, and the miserable village which now occupies the site of Jezreel, and overlooks the ruins of Bethshan, can afford no adequate idea of what the place was in the days of Ahab and Jezebel and of their immediate successors. Then the mountains of Gilboa were richly wooded, and sweet springs brought freshness to the air and luxurious beauty to the vegetation of Jezreel, even as they carried fertility into the great plain beneath, which in the summer light shimmered and trembled like a sea of golden corn. At the northern declivity of Gilboa, where it descends, steep and rocky, on a knoll about 500 feet high, stood Jezreel. Protected from the fierce southern sun by the delicious shade of Gilboa, that rises up behind, it looked “as a place suited to a summer-residence in the East” northwards, across the plain to the mountains of Galilee, to Tabor, and in the distance to snow-capped Hermon. The height descended into the valley of Jezreel, where a sweet spring rippled, and close by gathered into a pool. Eastwards, you would look down on Bethshan, and, across the deep depression of the Jordan valley, to the mountains on the other side on which rested the blue and purple light. To the west you might sweep those fifteen miles to Mount Carmel, and perchance the westerly breeze might carry up the plain the fresh scent of the sea. Such was the Jezreel of Ahab and Jezebel” the nearest, the safest, the sweetest summer- retreat from Samaria.

Naboth's VineyardOn the east and south-east, where the hot Limestone rock shelves into the valley beneath, are to this day wine-presses. They mark the neighborhood of where the vineyards of Jezreel must have been, among them that of Naboth. Right above was the royal palace, narrowed and cramped within the city walls, of which indeed it seems to have formed part. Manifestly it would be object of desire to acquire the land nearest to the palace, with the view of converting it into a garden. What such a garden might bear, and what sweet outlook on it could be enjoyed from the windows of the palace, may be judged from the lemon-groves still existing in the near neighborhood. But Naboth, the owner of the coveted piece of land, could not be tempted to part with it by the king’s offer of either a better vineyard or an equivalent in money. It was the ancestral possession of the family of Naboth, and piety towards God combined with reverence for the memory of his fathers to forbid the unholy bargain. It is a healthy sign to find such stern assertion of principle so fearlessly uttered. Israel could not be wholly sunken in corruption and idolatry so, long as it numbered among its peasant proprietors men like Naboth, nor could the service of Jehovah have left its households when even in Jezreel a burgher could appeal from the demands of an Ahab to the authority and law of his God. And it affords happy evidence of what the legislation of the Pentateuch had secured for Israel, that even in the worst times an Ahab dared not, like a heathen monarch, lay hands on Naboth, nor force him to surrender the inheritance of his fathers.

ahab_2It is another mark of that self-willed and uncontrolled frame of mind which had determined the bearing of Ahab towards Ben-hadad, and then towards the prophet sent to rebuke him, that he could not brook the refusal of Naboth. It was utter and childish petulance, as well as unbridled selfishness to, act as he did on his return to Samaria. He turned his face to the wall and refused to eat bread. In Samaria at least all was submissive to his will” thanks to the strong hand of Jezebel. But, outside her sway, he was always encountered and opposed by Jehovah: now by His prophets, then by His worshipers. Here was a power which he dared not resist, yet to which he would not submit. But Jezebel shared neither the feelings nor the scruples of her husband. She dared what she would, and she would what she dared. She now spoke to the king as a strong unscrupulous woman to a weak and unprincipled man. She must have known what had prompted the refusal of Naboth –although it deserves notice that, in his account of what had passed, the king had studiously omitted all reference to it (verse 6). Similarly, Ahab must have known that when Jezebel demanded the royal signet, with which official documents coming directly from the king were stamped, she must have had in view some scheme of violence. And often does it seem more convenient –certainly more easy –to remain in willful ignorance, than to learn what would call for our active resistance, or, in the absence of it, fill our conscience with uneasiness. And while remaining in willful ignorance, Ahab may have flattered himself that he had not incurred responsibility in the murder of Naboth.

JESEBEL PLOTS MURDER77The measures of Jezebel were at least plain and straightforward old Mosaic civil order still continued in Israel by which jurisdiction, even in matters of life and death, lay in the first instance with the “judges and officers” of a place (Deut. 16:18). This local “senate,” consisting partly of elected life-members, partly of what may be designated a hereditary aristocracy, might in times of corruption become subject to court influence, especially in a small royal borough such as Jezreel. Jezebel knew this only too well, and with a terrible frankness wrote to each member of that senate what would seem the king’s directions. By these each recipient of the letter would become a fellow-conspirator, and each feel bound to keep the horrible secret. As if some great sin rested upon the city (compare 1 Sam. 7: 6), and, in consequence of it, some heavy judgment were to be averted, (2Chron. 20: 2-4; Jer.36: 6, 9), the eldership of Israel gathered the people to a solemn fast. If it had been so, and some great sin had been committed or were even suspected, it would have been the duty of the city thus to purge itself of guilt or complicity. For according to the deep and true idea which underlay all the institutions of the Old Testament there is solidarity (as it is called in modern language) between those whom God has placed side by side. There is solidarity between all the members of the human family –solidarity of curse and of blessing, of judgment and of promise, because all have sprung from a common stock. There is solidarity also in a city, since ten righteous men might have preserved Sodom from destruction; solidarity in a nation, since the sins or the piety of its rulers were returned in blessing or in judgment on the people” a solidarity which as it pointed back to a common ancestry, also pointed forward to the full and final realization of its inmost meaning in that great brotherhood of believers which Christ came to found. And hence it was that, when blood had been shed and the doer of the crime remained 21: 1-9), and that, as here, when a great crime was supposed to have been committed, all would humble themselves in fasting before they put away the evil-doer from among them.

1 Kings 21 Naboth StonedIn the assembly thus called Naboth was to be ”set on high,” not in order to assign him an honorable place, so as the more effectually to rouse public indignation when one so honored was convicted of such crime, nor yet to give the appearance [of impartiality to the proceedings that were to follow. Evidently the fast had been appointed in humiliation for a sin as yet unknown to the people, and the assembly was called to set before them the nature of this crime. For this purpose Naboth was “set on high,” as one incriminated before the elders, against whom witnesses were to rise and on whom judgment was to be pronounced by the people of his own city. This explains (ver.10) how these “two sons of Belial” who were to bear false testimony against Naboth were “set before him.” The sacred text only informs us that the two witnesses (compare Deut. 27: 6, etc.; 19: 15; Numb. 35:30) testified that Naboth had “blasphemed” “uttered blasphemous language against” God and the king.” It is scarcely conceivable that Naboth should not have made some defense, nor that the people would have given so ready credence to such a charge against one so well known, if some colorable confirmation could not have been found for it. May it not have been that the refusal of the vineyard to Ahab had become known to the townsmen of Naboth, and that these two sons of Belial were suborned to say that Naboth had at the same time pronounced in their hearing a curse upon Ahab –perhaps also that he had uttered threats of resistance? Such a solemn curse would be regarded as an act of blasphemy, not only against the king but primarily against God, Whose authorized representative the king was (compare. Ex. 22: 28). But blasphemy against God was to be punished by stoning (Deut.13:10; 17:5).

As in all such cases, the punishment was immediately carried out, and apparently in Naboth’s own vineyard, where the witnesses would, according to our suggestion, have located the “blasphemy” spoken in reply to the request of the king. It is not necessary to suppose (as some commentators have done) that the property of a man stoned for such a crime was treated like that of one on whom the ban was pronounced, since in that case it would have been laid waste, not given to the king (Deut. 13: 16). But it was quite natural that the property of one who had been found guilty of high treason should be forfeited to the Crown. And so when the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was stoned, she could tell her royal husband to go and take possession of the vineyard that had been refused him for purchase by “the Jezreelite,” since Naboth was dead.

storyofahab_3There was bitter as well as haughty irony in the words of Jezebel, as if she had felt herself a queen whose wishes and commands were above all law, human or Divine, and could not be resisted by God or man (ver.15). The text gives no indication that she had informed Ahab of the manner of Naboth’s death; nor did the king make inquiry. But there was far more terrible irony of fact in what followed the words of Jezebel. On receiving the welcome tidings of Naboth’s death, Ahab “rose up” to go and take possession of the coveted vineyard, –perhaps the very day after the judicial murder (compare 2 Kings 9:26). But on that day Jehovah had bidden Elijah arise and meet Ahab with the Divine message, just as the king thought himself in secure possession of the fruit of his crime, as if there were no living God in Israel. We can picture to ourselves the scene. Ahab has come in his chariot from Samaria, apparently attended by his chief officers (2 Kings 9:25). Before entering his palace at Jezreel “on the way to it” he has reached the vineyard of Naboth. He is surveying with satisfaction his new possession, perhaps giving directions how it should be transformed into “a garden,” when of a sudden there stands before him not one of the sons of the prophets, nor an ordinary seer, but the terrible figure of the Gileadite, with his burning eyes, and clad in the rough cloak of black camel’s hair, girt about with a leathern girdle. It must have recalled to Ahab his first apparition in the midst of Samaria, when the prophet had announced to his startled hearers the three years’ drought, and then so suddenly and tracelessly vanished from sight. And the last time he met the prophet had been on Mount Carmel; the last glimpse had been when through the blinding rain he saw the dark figure running before his chariot to the very gate of Jezreel, as if he had come to herald the triumph of Jehovah, and to bring back a new God-devoted king. That had been a weird sight of the prophet, through the storm; and it had been a short dim dream of Ahab’s to make the scene on Mount Carmel a reality in Israel. With Jezebel came back to him the evil spirit of his “madness;” nay, it had even sought, or consented to, the destruction of him who but yesterday had visibly brought God’s fire on the broken altar, and God’s rain on the parched land.

images (6)And now Elijah stood once more before him and Ahab knew only too well why.

It was for briefest but unmistakable message. Its first sentence swept away all self-deception. It had not been Jezebel but Ahab who had killed. And now he had taken possession, as if there were not Jehovah in heaven, nor yet the eternal reflection of His Being, and the permanent echo of His speaking, in right and truth upon earth. Having thus not only wakened the conscience of Ahab, but vindicated the authority of Him in Whose Name he spoke, the next sentence of Elijah’s message announced stern, strict, even literal retribution.

The retort of Ahab we regard as a childish lament to the effect that Elijah, who had always been his personal enemy, had now at last “found him” in some actual sin, on which he might invoke Divine punishment. It was an admission, indeed, in that moment of surprise, of his guilt and apprehension of the Divine punishment announced. But it conjoined with it this –if not in excuse, yet as a counter charge –that Elijah was his personal enemy, and had lain in wait for the occasion to call down Divine judgment upon him. It was against this attempt to make it a merely personal controversy that Elijah’s answer was directed (ver.20). “I have found (not ‘thee’), because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of Jehovah.” What the prophet had spoken was not the outcome of personal enmity, nor was what had occurred the result of a sudden temptation or rash mood of the king, but of the whole direction of life which Ahab had deliberately chosen. And in this two elements were closely marked: that he had sold himself as a slave (Rom. 7: 14), so that he had no longer freedom of action, but had, as it were, images (4)to obey his master’s behests; and that he had so sold himself, consciously or unconsciously, “to do the evil in the sight of Jehovah.” Accordingly, the judgment which Elijah announced was not merely personal to Ahab, as what he said about the dogs licking his blood ; but it also struck his dynasty and doomed it to extermination for this twofold reason: “on account of the wrath which thou hast caused to go forth, and hast made Israel to sin.” On the other hand, this general judgment should not take the place of personal punishment upon the doers of such a crime as the judicial murder of Naboth. The dogs would “eat Jezebel at the wall of Jezreel,” while a similar fate would overtake all the posterity of Ahab in the city (as in regards, of Samaria) or in the field. These must be regarded as personal judgments denounced on personal sins. This is also indicated by the interpolated remarks of the writer of the narrative (in verses 25, 26). But the actual punishment might be averted or modified by personal repentance, although not as regarded that pronounced on the national guilt in which the rule of Ahab had involved Israel.

If evidence of the truth of this narrative –and, as connected with it, of this whole history –were required, what is told in conclusion would furnish it. For a legendary story would not have represented Ahab as repenting and yet not renouncing his former courses. But this also is true to life. As formerly what he witnessed on Carmel, so now the words of Elijah went straight to Ahab’s heart. He no longer disguised the truth from himself, nor sought to divert his mind by thoughts of personal animosity on the part of the prophet. It was against Jehovah that he had sinned, and before Jehovah he humbled himself. As a mourner he rent his clothes; as a penitent he wore sackcloth; as guilty he fasted; and as one staggering under a heavy load of grief and sin, he walked softly. And all this publicly –in the sight of all men. It was fitting, if we may venture on the expression, and in accordance with God’s previous declaration of judgment, that the living God Who had seen and avenged the crime done in secret should also acknowledge the repentance shown in public. Accordingly the word of Jehovah came once more to Elijah to declare that the personal repentance of the personal sin had brought remission of the personal punishment, though not of that denounced on the dynasty. The visible judgment, by which all were to perceive the retribution of God’s justice, was delayed to the time of his son, and would have been delayed still further had he shown like repentance. But only delayed “for retribution must follow such open sin. And so the remembrance of it was kept up; and even this, in merciful warning to Ahab’s son. But when the dogs licked up the blood of Ahab, as they washed the chariot stained with his gore, they recalled the yet unfulfilled judgment that hung like a dark cloud over the house of Ahab (1 Kings 22: 38). But this was in Samaria, not in Jezreel, nor in the portion of Naboth, for, as the prophet had foretold, God brought not “the evil” itself, only its warning remembrance, in the days of Ahab. But on Jezebel would it descend with the terrible reality of a literal fulfillment.



Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.

ELIJAH: When Ahab obeyed God

images (3)

The mission of Elijah must have had other more deep-reaching results in Israel than even those with which God had comforted His servant.

The “seven thousand” who had never bent the knee to Baal, must also have been greatly quickened and encouraged by what had taken place on Carmel. Nay, it could not but have made lasting impression on King Ahab himself. Too self-indulgent to decide for Jehovah, too weak to resist Jezebel, even when his conscience bothered him, or directed him to the better way, the impression of what he had witnessed could never have wholly passed from his mind. Even if, as in the case of Israel after the exile, it ultimately issued only in pride of nationality, yet this feeling must ever afterwards have been in his heart, that Jehovah He was God” “the God of Gods'” –and that Jehovah was in Israel, and the God of Israel.

It is this which explains the bearing of Ahab in the first wars with Ben-hadad of Syria. It need scarcely be said that this monarch was not the same, but the son of him who during the reigns of Baasha (1 Kings 15:20) and Omri had possessed himself of so many cities,both east and west of the Jordan, and whose sovereignty had, in a sense, been owned within the semi-independent Syrian bazaars and streets of Samaria itself (1 Kings 20:34). To judge from various notices, both Biblical and on Assyrian monuments, this Ben-hadad had inherited the restless ambition, although not the sterner qualities of his father. The motives of his warfare against Ahab are not difficult to understand. It was the settled policy of Syria to isolate and weaken the neighboring kingdom of Israel. With this object in view, Ben-hadad IV. (the father of this king of Syria) had readily broken his league with Baasha, and combined with Asa against Israel. But since the days of Omri the policy of both Israel and Judah had changed. Their former internecine wars had given place, first to peace, and then to actual alliance between the two kingdoms, cemented at last by the marriage of the son of Jehoshaphat with the daughter of Ahab (2 Chron. 18:1 ; 2 Kings 8:18).

Adding to the cause for this uneasiness of Syria must be affixed the close alliance between Israel and Tyre as indicated, if not brought about, by the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel. Thus the kingdom of Israel was secure both on its southern and western boundaries, and only threatened on that towards Syria. And the increasing prosperity and wealth of the land appear not only from the internal tranquility that obtained during the thirty-six years of the reign of Ahab and his two descendants, but also from the circumstance that Ahab built so many cities, and adorned his capital by a magnificent palace made of ivory (1 Kings 22:39). Lastly, the jealousy and enmity of Benhadad must have been increased by his own relations to the great neighboring power of Assyria, which (as we shall see)were such as to make a dangerous alliance between the latter and Israel an event of political probability.

In these circumstances, Ben-hadad resolved to strike such a blow at Samaria as would reduce it to permanent impotence. At the head of all his army, and followed by thirty-two vassal kings, or probably rather chieftains, who ruled over towns with adjoining districts within the territory between the Euphrates and the northern boundary of Israel he invaded Samaria. He met with no opposition, for, as Josephus notes {Ant. 8:14, 1), Ahab was not prepared for the attack. But even if it had been otherwise, sound policy would have dictated a retreat, and the concentration of the Israelitish forces behind the strong walls of the capital. This proved a serious check to the plans of Ben-hadad. The Syrian army laid, indeed, siege to Samaria, but the heat of the summer season, – the character and habits of his allies, and even the circumstance that his own country seems to have been divided among a number of semi-savage chiefs, must have proved unfavorable to a prolonged warfare. Ben-hadad might have succeeded if at the first onset he could have crushed the small, hastily-raised forces of Ahab by sheer weight of numbers. But the slow systematic siege of a well-defended city, into which Ahab had evidently gathered all the leading personages in his realm and all their wealth, must have appeared even to a boastful Oriental a doubtful undertaking, which might at any time be converted into a disaster by the sudden appearance of allies to Israel from Judah, Tyre, or perhaps even from Assyria.

It was probably shortly after the commencement of the siege of Samaria, that Ben-hadad sent envoys to demand in imperious terms the absolute submission of Ahab (1 Kings 20:2). At least so the latter seems to have understood it, when he declared his readiness to agree to his enemy’s terms. But whether Ben-hadad had from the first meant more, or his insolence had grown with what he regarded as the necessities and fears of Ahab, the next day other heralds came from Ben-hadad, requiring in terms of extreme and wanton insult, not only the surrender of Ahab, but that of Samaria; and especially of the palaces of its nobility, for the avowed purpose of plunder. It was evident that Ben-hadad intended, not the surrender of Ahab, but the destruction (“evil”) of the capital, and the ruin of the whole land (ver.7). Possibly the apparently strange demand of Ben-hadad (ver.6) may indicate a deeper scheme. To oblige Ahab formally to submit, would be of comparatively small, at most, of only temporary use. On the withdrawal of Ben-hadad the hostility of Israel would, as experience had shown, once more break forth under Ahab, or some new military leader, and threaten Syria with the same or even graver danger than before. But if the spirit of the leaders could be crushed by having their substance taken from them, then the chiefs of the people would not only be detached from their native monarchy, which had proved powerless to protect them, but in future rendered dependent on Syria, and hence led to seek the favor of Ben-hadad, instead of giving their allegiance to their own Israelitish rulers.

But the scheme was foiled by the clumsy frankness of its avowal. Ahab summoned to his council the elders of Israel. He told them how on the previous day he had expressed to Ben-hadad his willingness to make absolute personal submission and surrender of all that he possessed –as Josephus, no doubt, correctly puts into his mouth –for the sake of their preservation and peace. But the new terms which Ben-hadad proposed involved the leaders of the people as well as himself, and meant ruin equally to them all. In these circumstances, “the elders” counseled the absolute rejection of the terms demanded. Their advice was ratified by a popular assembly (ver.8). These measures of Ahab were wise. Besides, the bearing of Ben-hadad must have indicated even to a ruler less astute than Ahab, the weakness and folly of his opponent. And, instead of attacking the city, on the refusal of his terms, as he would have done had he been sure of his army, Ben-hadad now only sent a message of ridiculously boastful threatening, to which Ahab replied with calm dignity (vs. 10 -11).

Thus, for a time at least, Ahab seems in the school of adversity to have learned some of the lessons which his contact with Elijah might have taught him. Besides, it is only reasonable to suppose that both the composition of the force outside the city, and the utter demoralization of its leaders, were known in Samaria. A summer campaign in Palestine would have tried even the best disciplined troops. But the Syrian host contained a motley following of thirty-tow Eastern chiefs, who probably had little other interest in the campaign than the hope of plunder. It was an army incoherent in its composition, and unwieldy from its very numbers. Hitherto their advance had been unchecked, and its progress, no doubt, marked by the desolation of the country along their straggling line of march. Their easy success would make them not only more reckless, but also unwilling to engage in serious fighting, especially in those hot and enervating days, when their leaders lay in the cool shadow of their booths, indulging in drunken orgies. It was a dissipated rabble, rather than an army.

Ben-hadad and his allies were engaged in a midday bout when the reply of Ahab to the Syrian challenge arrived. Received under such circumstances, we scarcely wonder that it provoked the order of Ben-hadad to make immediate preparation for an assault on the city. But in whatever sense these preparations consisted, –whether in the advance of siege engines, or a massing of the troops, they could scarcely have been very effective, since all the Syrian chiefs continued at their orgies, so that the hour of battle surprised them while incapacitated by intoxication (ver. 16).

Matters were very different within Samaria. There a prophet appeared, to announce not only deliverance from the Lord, but to point its lesson in the contrast between the great multitude of the enemy, and the small number of Israel’s host, by which they were to be defeated. This, with the view of showing to Ahab and to Israel that He was Jehovah, the living Covenant-God, Who gave the victory.

Thus the teaching of Elijah on Mount Carmel was now to find its confirmation and application in national blessing. And that the influence of that scene had not been, as Elijah had feared, only temporary and transient, appears even from the presence of a prophet in Samaria, and from the whole bearing of Ahab. He is neither doubtful nor boastful, but, as having learned the prophetic lesson, anxious to receive plain Divine direction, and to follow it implicitly. Apparently the land was parceled out among “princes of the shires,” either hereditary chieftains of districts, or governors appointed by the king: an arrangement which throws further light on Ben-hadad’s previously expressed purpose; to permanently to break the power of these leaders of Israel. These ” princes of the shires ” seem to have been each resounded by a small armed retinue: ”the young men” (comp. 2 Sam. 18:15). By these, numbering in all only 232 men, the victory over the great Syrian host was to be achieved. It only remained for Ahab to inquire, “Who shall commence the warfare?” For in such a victory the main condition would be exact conformity to all Divine directions, in order to show that all was of God, and to give evidence of the principle of faith on the part of the combatants.

Having received the direction that he was to begin the battle, Ahab lost no time. At midday –probably of the following day –when, as no doubt was well-known in Samaria, Ben-hadad and his thirty-two confederates were “drinking” themselves ”drunk” in the booths, the 232 of the body-guard of the princes marched forth, followed by the 7000 men which formed the army of Israel. Although this number naturally reminds us of the 7000 who had not bent the knee to Baal, there is no need to regard it as referring to them, or (with the Rabbis) to “the true children of Israel.” The precise number (232) of the body-guard points to an exact numeration, nor need we perhaps wonder if in the wonder-working Providence of God there was a striking coincidence between the number of the faithful and that of Israel’s victorious host.

The same wonder-working Providence appears in the manner in which victory was granted. As so often, we mark the accomplishment of a result, miraculous when viewed by itself, yet, as regards the means, brought about in the order of natural causation. And thus we ever learn anew that although too frequently we do not perceive it, we are constantly surrounded by miracles, since Jehovah is the living God; and that hence ours should be the faith of a constant expectancy. It reads as we might have expected in the circumstances, that, when Ben-hadad was informed that men had come out from Samaria, he commanded in his drunken conceit and boastfulness, they should not be attacked, but made captives and brought to him. It may have been that those who were sent to execute this command went not fully armed. At any rate they seem to have been quite unprepared for resistance; and when these 232 Israelitish soldiers cut down each a man, no doubt following it up by further onslaught, the Syrians might naturally imagine that this was only an advanced guard, which was intended to precede a sortie of the whole garrison of Samaria.

A panic, not uncommon among Orientals, seized the unprepared and unmarshalled masses, whose officers the while lay drunken in the booths. The very number of the Syrians would make a formation or rally more difficult, while it would afterwards increase the confusion of what soon became an indiscriminate flight. At this moment King Ahab issued from Samaria with his whole army. Whether, as our present Hebrew text bears, the king struck at the war-horses and war-chariots of the enemy, with the view of capturing them, or, as the ancient Greek translators (the LXX.) seem to have read, he “took” them,” implying that there had not been time to harness the war-chariots when the Israelitish host was among them “the result ” would be the same. Ben-hadad, followed by a few horsemen, escaped by hasty flight as, the word used in the original conveys, on a “chariot-horse,” showing how sore was the stress when the king was obliged hastily to escape on the first horse to hand.

If it were necessary to demonstrate the compatibility of direct Divine help, and of reliance upon it, with the most diligent use of the best means, the narrative which follows would show it. After this great victory the king and people might have indulged in outward, or still worse, in professedly religious security to, the neglect of what was plain duty. But the same prophet who before had announced Divine deliverance, now warned Ahab to gather all his forces, and prepare, for that –“at the turn of the year,” that is, in the spring (comp.2 Sam. 11:1), he might expect another attack from Syria. And to make best preparation for the coming danger, in obedience to the Divine word, would not supersede but presuppose faith, even as we shall work best when we feel that we have the Divine direction in, and the Divine blessing on, our undertakings.

It was as the prophet had told. It seems quite natural that the courtiers of Ben-hadad should have ascribed the almost incredible defeat of such an army to supernatural causes, rather than to the dissipation and folly of their king. They suggested that the gods of Israel were mountain-deities, and that the rout of Syria around mountainous Samaria had been due to this cause. But the result would be far different if the battle were waged in the plains, man against man, and not gods against men, (“but, on the other hand, we shall fight with them in the plain [see, if] we shall not be stronger than they!”) The grounds of this strange suggestion must be sought partly in the notions of the heathen world, but also partly in the sin of Israel. The ancient heathen world worshiped not only gods on the heights, but gods of the heights, and the sin of Israel in rearing altars and chapels on “the high places” must have led to the inference that the national worship was that of mountain-deities. Thus did Israel’s disobedience bring also its temporal punishment.

But to their general advice the courtiers of Ben-hadad added certain practical suggestions, to avoid the secondary causes to which they attributed their late defeat. The tributary ” kings” were to be dismissed, and their places filled by governors. This would give not only unity to the army (comp. 1 Kings 22:31), but these officers, appointed by Ben-hadad himself, would naturally take a more personal interest in the cause of their king. And, instead of the former army, Ben-hadad was to raise one equal in numbers, but –as the text has it– “from those with thee ” (that is; thine own subjects).

In these well-conceived measures there was only one, but that a fatal, flaw. They proceeded on the supposition that the God of Israel was like one of the heathen deities. And this point was emphasized in the defeat of the Syrians, which was announced to Ahab by “a man of God,” probably another than “the prophet” who had formerly been commissioned to him. But it deserves special notice that this message only came after the invasion of the Syrian host. Thus would the temptation be avoided of neglecting all ordinary preparations: faith would be tried, and also called forth; while, by this prediction, and from the disparity between Israel and the host of Syria, Israel would once more learn to recognize in this deliverance that Jehovah He was God.

The winter rains had ceased, and the spring wind and sun had dried the land. There was a fresh crispness in the air, and a bright light over the scene, when the immense Syrian host swarmed down into that historic battlefield of Israel, the great plain of Jezreel. We are carried back in imagination to the scene of Saul’s last fatal defeat (1 Sam. 29:1), and beyond it to that of Gideon’s glorious victory. Once more the foe lay at Aphek, with his back against the hill on which probably the fortified city of that name stood, and facing the plain where it is broadest. As in imagination we travel southwards to the highlands, and to those mountains among which Samaria lies embosomed, we feel how literally Ben-hadad had acted on the suggestion of his servants to avoid a contest with the mountain-deities of Israel. It was the very time and place for Jehovah to show forth that great lesson which underlies and sums up all revelation. Of the Israelitish host we know not the numbers ” only that, as they camped in two divisions on the opposite side of the valley, perhaps beneath the two spurs of the ridge that juts into the plain from the south-east, they seemed like two little flocks of kids –so small and weak, as compared with their enemies. For seven days the two armies lay observing each other. From the circumstance specially mentioned in the text, that the Israelites had gone out “provisioned”(ver.27, margin), and even from their camping in two divisions, we infer that the object of Ahab was to remain on the defensive, which, indeed, the inferiority of numbers rendered imperative. Besides, the Jewish position was most happily chosen. It barred the advance of the enemy, who could not move forward without first giving battle to Israel.

The Syrians must have perceived the advantage of Ahab’s position, with his back to the base of his operations, while the division of Israel into two camps might enable them to envelop their enemies if they attempted an advance, in which case the very size of the Syrian army would, from its unwieldiness, prove a serious difficulty. But the danger of idle delay in a hostile country, and in an Eastern warfare, was nearly as great. And so on the seventh day the attack was made –as we judge, by the Syrians. Their defeat was crushing. The great Syrian host of 100,000 was destroyed, and the men who either made their way from the battle-field to Aphek, or who had been left there as a garrison, experienced another and even more terrible calamity. While crowding into the gates, or else while occupying the ramparts, which had probably been hastily thrown up or strengthened, a wall fell upon 27,000 of their number.

Further defense being thus rendered impossible, the previous confidence of Ben-hadad gave place to abject fear. He fled from room to room ” into the innermost chamber. His servants, who had formerly given such warlike counsel, now advised him to sue in most humble manner for his life, holding out the hope of the mercifulness of the kings of Israel of which they had heard. There is an ominous sound in this. The kings of Israel had never been distinguished for mercy. But they had only too often shown their sympathy with the heathen kingdoms around, and manifested a desire to make alliance with them, and to conform to their ways. Yet, even so, it is not easy to explain the conduct of Ahab when the Syrian envoys of Ben-hadad appeared before him, in true Eastern manner, with sackcloth on their loins and ropes round their necks, suing only for the life of him who now ostentatiously styled himself Ahab’s slave.” It could scarcely have been due to weakness of character when Ahab broke into the almost joyous exclamation,”Is he yet alive?” Nor could it have been merely from kindness of disposition that he ostentatiously substituted: “he is my brother” for the designation, “thy slave Ben-hadad,” used by the Syrian envoys.

They were not slow to perceive the altered tone of the king. They favorably interpreted and laid hold on that which had come from him; and they said: “Thy brother Ben-hadad.” Presently, at Ahab’s invitation, Ben-hadad himself was brought, and made to stand by the side of the king in his chariot ” both in token of companionship and for more private conversation. In truth, nothingness than a treaty of alliance was in hand between them. Ben-hadad undertook to restore the towns which his father had taken from Ahab’s father (in a warfare of which we have no other record) and to allow to Ahab the same rights and privileges as to having “streets,” or rather ” bazaars ” –what in modern language would be called an Israelitish “factory” –in the Syrian capital, which Ben-hadad’s father had possessed in Samaria; and with this covenant Ahab dismissed the Syrian king.

We have said that it is not easy to understand what motives could have prompted an act which, even politically, was a grave mistake. Was it flattered vanity on the part of Ahab, or sympathy with the heathen king, or part of his statecraft to secure, not only an ally, but a vassal on the northern flank of his kingdom, or all these combined ? In any case he must have looked upon the victory over the Syrians in a manner far different from that in which it had been announced to him by the God who had wrought it. Ahab no longer thought of Jehovah; he inquired not as to His purpose or will.

There was an ominous similarity between his conduct and that of Saul in regards to Agag (1 Sam. 15) Evidently, Ahab claimed to have himself gained the victory, and felt sure that in like circumstances “should Ben-hadad rebel” he would equally gain it once more. It was he, and not the Lord, who would shape and direct the destinies of Israel. Jehovah was only the national deity of that Israel of which Ahab was the king. And so the error of the Syrians was substantially repeated by Ahab, and the lesson which Jehovah would have taught by their defeat had to be learned anew by Israel and its king –this time in judgment.

This explains the commission with which God now charged one of “the sons of the prophets. –We mark that the expression here occurs for the first time. It referred to those associations under the leadership of some prophet (hence sons of the prophets)which, in the decay of religious life in Israel; served such important purposes, alike for the preservation of religion, and in the execution of the Divine behests. In fact, they would recall to Israel, what, as a nation, Israel had been destined to be, and ever keep it before them. Thus they represented, so to speak, ideal Israel in the midst of apostate Israel. To a member of this community it came “by the word of Jehovah” –that is, by direct command from Him –to confront Ahab with such a symbolic (or parabolic) presentation of his late conduct as would show it in its true light, and lead the king to pronounce sentence on himself. Thus only could a man like Ahab be convicted, if not convinced, of sin.

In the execution of this commission the “son of the prophet” went to one of his colleagues, and, telling him that it was “by the word of Jehovah,” bade him “smite” him. It was conduct not unlike that of Ahab when this behest was resisted by the prophet. Remembering these two things: that the person addressed was also a “son of the prophets,” and that he had been informed that it was “by the word of Jehovah,” we can understand the Divine judgment which so speedily overtook him when he was torn by a lion. For the fundamental idea, the very law, of the prophetic was absolute, unquestioning obedience to the command of God. This was the lesson to be taught by these associations and their leaders, and it explains how sometimes exceeding strange things were given them to do in public, that so in the absoluteness of their obedience they might exhibit the absoluteness of God’s authority. Hence not to have visited with signal judgment the disobedience of the prophet would have been not only to contravene the principle on which the whole prophetic institution rested, but also the very lesson and message which was to be conveyed to Ahab. But what one “son of the prophets” had refused, another soon afterwards did. Then the “son of the prophets,” now smitten till he was wounded,” disguised himself with a bandage upon his eyes,” and waited for the king by the way. The reason of his appearing as a wounded man was that he might appeal to the king with the more show of truth, and of claim upon his interference, as wounded in the fight. And a symbolism may also have been designed. For, as the prophet’s conduct was intended to represent that of the king, it might be wished to anticipate this possible excuse of Ahab that the difficulty of his circumstances had rendered it not easy to retain Ben-hadad by the analogous case of a wounded man, who might have fair ground of excuse if he allowed his prisoner to escape.

The story which the wounded prophet told the king was to the effect that, while in the battle” and this is an important point, as intended to indicate that Ahab was only like a soldier engaged in a warfare in which God, and not the king of Israel, was the commander “one had turned aside and bidden him have safe custody of a captive, with this injunction: “If he be missed [as when the prisoners are mustered], thy life shall be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver.” From the language we infer that the person who handed over the prisoner was represented as a superior officer; that the battle itself was ended, and that the captive was a very valuable prisoner, since such a price was set upon him. But while the pretended soldier “was busy here and there” –or, as it has been proposed to be read: “looked here and there” –the prisoner escaped. In these circumstances he appealed to the king that he might not be punished as threatened by his leader. The king had no hesitation how to decide. He told him that in recounting his story he had already pronounced sentence upon himself. Then the prophet, having removed the bandage from his eyes, so that the king recognized him, announced the application of the Divine parable. The war had been Jehovah’s, not Ahab’s, and Ben-hadad had been the “banned” of the Lord. “Because thou hast let go forth out of thine hand (custody) the man of my ban (compare Lev. 27:29), therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for his people.”

The judgment pronounced was not only righteous, but alike the necessary sequence of God’s dealings throughout this history, and of Ahab’s bearing in it. And in the judgment the people as a whole must also share. For even if theirs had not been the same spirit as that which had prompted the conduct of Ahab, yet the public acts of rulers are those of the nation, and national sins are followed by national judgments. Ahab had been on his triumphant return to Samaria, there to receive the popular applause for his achievements, when, in presence of all his retinue, he was thus publicly confronted by the prophet’s message. He now “went to his house much excited and angry.” And this also casts further light both on what Ahab had done, and on what he was about to do.


Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.

ELIJAH: A flight from Glory


AS UNSPEAKABLY grand as had been the scene on Mount Carmel, we instinctively feel that it was the outcome of the Old Testament.

But we cannot conceive it possible under the New Testament dispensation. In so saying we do not so much refer to the ironical taunts which Elijah had addressed to the priests of Baal, when compassion, gentleness, and meekness might have seemed befitting, since it was necessary effectually to expose the folly as well as the sin of idolatry, and this was best done in such manner (comp. Isa. 40:18, etc. ; 41:7 ; 44:8-22; 46:5-1 1 ; Jer. 10:7, etc.). Nor do we allude only or mainly to the destruction of the priests of Baal. This was simply in obedience to the Old Testament Law, and was grounded alike on its economy, and on the circumstances of the time. Taking the lowest view, it was an act of necessary self-preservation, since the two religions could not co-exist, as the conduct of Jezebel had recently proved. But there is a higher view than this of the event. For the fundamental object of Israel’s calling and existence –the whole typical import and preparatory purpose of the nation –was incompatible with even the existence of idolatry among them. Finally, there is this essential difference between the Old and the New Testament dispensation”that under the latter, religion is of personal choice, heart willingness being secured by the persuasion of the Holy Ghost; while under the Old Testament (from its nature) religion was of Law. Religious liberty is a principle which necessarily follows from a religion of free choice, where God no longer addresses Himself to man merely, or mainly, with the authority of a general Law, but appeals to the individual conscience with the persuasion of a special invitation.

Under the Old Testament, of which the fundamental principle was the sole Divine authority of Jehovah (Ex.20:2, 3), idolatry was not only a crime, but a revolt against the Majesty of heaven, Israel’s King, which involved the most fatal consequences to the nation. Yet even so, we repeat it, the scene on Mount Carmel could not have been enacted in New Testament times.

But while fully admitting this distinctive standpoint of the preparatory dispensation, it would be a most serious mistake to forget that the Old Testament itself points to a higher and fuller manifestation of God, and never more distinctly then in this history of Elijah. Attention has already been called to the analogy between Elijah and John the Baptist. At this stage we specially recall three points in the history of the latter. It seems as if the Baptist had expected that his warning denunciations would be immediately followed either by visible reform,or else by visible judgment. But instead of this he was cast, at the instigation of Herod’s wife, into a dungeon which he was never to leave; and yet judgment seemed to slumber, and the Christ made no movement either for the deliverance of His forerunner, or the vindication of his message.

And, lastly, in consequence of this disappointment, spiritual darkness appears to have gathered around the soul of the Baptist. One almost feels as if it had been needful for such a messenger of judgment to become consciously weak, that so in the depression of the human the Divine element might appear the more clearly. And it was also good that it should be so, since it led to the inquiring embassy to Christ, and thus to a fuller revelation of the Divine character of the Kingdom. The same expectation and the same disappointment are apparent in the history of Elijah on the morrow of the victory at Carmel. But they also led up to a fuller manifestation of the meaning and purpose of God. Thus we see how the Old Testament itself, even where its distinctive character most clearly appeared, pointed to that fuller and more glorious manifestation of God, symbolized, not by storm, earthquake, or fire, but by “the still small voice.”

If Elijah had lingered in Jezreel in the hope that the reformation proclaimed on Mount Carmel would be followed up by the king, he was soon to experience bitter disappointment. There is, however, good reason for inferring that the impression then made upon the mind of Ahab was never wholly effaced. This appears not only from the subsequent relations between the king and prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 20), but even from his tardy repentance after the commission of his great crime (i Kings 21:27-29). Indeed, it might almost seem as if, but for the influence of Jezebel upon the weak king, matters might at least temporarily have taken a different turn in Israel.

But if such was the effect produced upon Ahab by the scene on Mount Carmel, we can understand that Jezebel’s first wish must have been as soon as possible to remove Elijah from all contact with the king. For this purpose she sent a message, threatening the prophet with death within twenty-four hours. It need scarcely be said, that, if she had been so bold as really to purpose his murder, she would not have given him warning of it. and that the reference to twenty-four hours as the limit of his life must rather have been intended to induce Elijah to immediate flight. And she succeeded in her purpose “not, indeed, from just fear on the part of the prophet, but also from deep disappointment and depression, for which we may in some measure find even a physical cause in the reaction that must have followed on the day after Carmel.

Strange as it may seem, these felt weaknesses of men like Elijah come upon us with almost a sense of relief. It is not only that we realize that these giants of faith are men of like passions with ourselves, but that the Divine in their work is thereby the more prominently brought out. It deserves special notice that Elijah proceeded on his hasty journey without any Divine direction to that effect. Attended only by his faithful servant, he passed without pausing to the farthest boundary of the neighbouring kingdom of Judah. But even that was not his final destination, nor could he in his then mood brook any companionship. Leaving his servant behind, he went into the wilderness of Paran. In its awful solitude he felt himself for the first time free to rest. Utterly broken down in body and in spirit he, cast himself under one of those wide-spreading broom trees, which seemed as if they indicated that even in the vast, howling wilderness, the hand of the Great Creator had provided shelter for His poor, struggling wanderer.

There is something almost awful in the life-and-death conflicts of great souls. We witness them with a feeling akin to reverence. The deep despondency of Elijah’s soul found utterance in the entreaty to be released from work and suffering. He was not better than his fathers; like them he had vainly toiled; like them he had failed; why should his painful mission be prolonged? But not so must he pass away. Like Moses of old, he must at least gain distant view of the sweet land of beauty and rest. As so often, God in His tender mercy gave His beloved the precious relief of sleep. And more than that, he was to have evidence that even there he was not forsaken.

An angel awakened him to minister to his wants. God cares for the body; and precious in His sight is not only the death, but also the felt need of His people. The same great Jehovah, whose manifestation on Carmel had been so awful in its grandeur, condescended to His servant in the hour of his utmost need, and with unspeakable tenderness, like a mother, tended His weary child. Once more a season of sleep, and again the former heaven-given provision for the journey which he was to make –now in the guidance of God.


Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense


Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.