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.