Temple 101-The Courses and Divisions

The people of Israel were divided into three groups: the Kohanim (priests), the Levi’im (Levites) and the Ma’amadot (Men of Israel). There are some Hebrew terms for this that we will go over quickly . King David began to organize the people for the work that needed to be done for the Temple service, so he began to make divisions among the these three groups from the twenty-four districts that made up the land of Israel. The Machlakot (2 Chr 35.10-12) is the biblical term for the divisions or courses of the priests and Levites that David set up for this work. Mishmarot is the post-biblical term used for the same thing and ma’amadot is used for “the standing men” and these terms were synonymous. These were all men, but in Hebrew the plural was in the feminine because they represented “all Israel”, the bride. Just as Israel was in three groups, they are represented in these terms to represent the bride in the Temple. Machlakot is the biblical term but “mishmar’ot” can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud. 1 Chr 23.1 through 26.32 the divisions and the duties of the Levites is given. A form of this went back to Mt Sinai with the courses expanding from eight to twenty-four. The concept associated with coming to the Temple was to draw near to God and to present yourself before him. The priests, the Levites and the men of Israel were all called the “ma’amad’ (standing men) but “ma’amad” also meant the men of Israel, appointed from the twenty-four districts to be at the Temple service, representing all the people (Luke 1.10). So, the priests on duty represented all the priests in Israel, the Levites on duty represented all the Levites in Israel and the standing men represented all the people in Israel at the Temple during their respective course. Therefore, everyone was represented everyday, at all the services before the Lord. The first course began in Nisan, the beginning of the religious calendar (Exo 12.1-2) and each course came to minister in the Temple for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, until all the courses had ministered, then it started again. All twenty-four courses were required to minister at the three pilgrim festivals (Mishnah, Sukkah 5.7-8). In the slaughter area north of the Altar there were twenty-four rings. An animal that was a korban (offering) had its head put into one of these rings before the slaughtering to make sure it didn’t move. These rings rotated every week, so by looking at the southeastern ring, you could tell what course was on duty. This also told you what time of year it was. For an example, we know from Luke 1.5 that Zacharias was from the division of Abijah. We know from 1 Chr 24.10 that Abijah was the eighth course, and factoring in the fact that all courses had to be there for the week of Passover (one of the three pilgrim festivals) we know that the time of year Gabriel appeared to Zacharias was about June. Six months after this Mary conceived in December, about the time of Chanukah. Yeshua was born nine months later (September), probably during the Sukkot festival. So, knowing these courses can help determine what time of year it was. Each machlakot had a compartment in the Chamber of Vestments to keep their priestly garments because they could not leave the Temple. The weekly machlakot were broken up into 4-9 subdivisions called the “betei avot” or “houses of the fathers” (2 Chr 35.12). The priests slept in the Chamber of the Hearth. Before the “rooster” (gever) gave his three-fold cry ( Matt 26.74-75; Mark 14.72; Luke 22.34; John 18.27 saying “Kohanim to your posts, Levi’im to your platforms and Ma’amad, stand up”), a supervisor came to the door and all the priests who wanted to participate in the Temple service (avodah) get up and go through a tevilah (immersion). If they were impure, they would immerse and go upstairs and wait till the door is unlocked. They would exit through a tunnel and out a northern gate called the Tadi Gate. Those eligible went to the Chamber of Hewn Stone and duties were assigned there. Not all the machlakot serve all week. Certain families serve on certain days of that week. This caused them to work very well together because they were related and they talked about what each was doing. So, the supervisor in the Chamber of Hewn Stone would pick a number, let’s say twelve. Everyone would hold out one or two fingers. The supervisor would start with a priest at random and then counted all the fingers once then kept counting till he got to twelve. That priest got the first job. This is called being chosen “by lot” and this is how Zacharias got to minister in the Holy Place in Luke 1.5-9. Each job that had to be done was chosen by lot this way. If there were fewer than seven “betei avot” to cover the seven days, some officiated two times. If there were more than seven, you doubled up. The eldest member eligible for service was called the “Beit Av” or “Father of the House.” The “rosh beit av” was the head of the division. Those that could not attend the services in the Temple stayed behind and read the daily prayers and Torah readings. They would assemble and say the same things that were said in the Temple. There were certain restrictions that were placed on the Beit Av and the machlakot during the week. They could not drink wine during the day, but at night they could. The Beit Av could not drink at all because he may be needed at anytime. Members of the machlakot and the ma’amad were forbidden to cut their hair or wash clothes during the week, except on Thursday (the fifth day) so they could get ready for the Sabbath. On communal fast days, the machlakot and Beit Av were permitted to eat, or partially fast, in order to have the strength to carry out their duties. Members of the machlakot not on duty prayed that the korbanot of their officiating brothers would be acceptable and the ma’amad who couldn’t go to Jerusalem prayed in their local synagogues. Remember, the Temple was seen as a miniature Eden. You see the reestablishment of Creation on a daily basis because Genesis 1 was read daily. The importance of the ma’amad cannot be overstated. The synagogue system began with them because the people gathered to pray when they could not go to the Temple. Daniel prayed during the time of the evening service while in Babylon in Dan 9.21. The idea of all these people praying together at the same time and the same thing gave us the concept of the Temple being the center of all this and spreading out over the land. At certain hours the volume of prayers “rising up to God” was immense. This had tremendous impact on the people at the time and it was sorely missed after the destruction of the Temple. As a result, Jewish prayer books called a “siddur” were written and it captures these same prayers and recalls the time when they were prayed in the Temple. Yeshua himself prayed some of these same prayers when he attended Temple services. If possible, obtain prayer books for all the festival days, Sabbath and weekday services and read the commentaries. You will be amazed at what you will learn and how it relates to your walk with the Lord.

Posted in Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanach, The Temple, Understanding the New Testament

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