We are going to begin to talk about the Passover ceremony in the Temple. This is a very interesting ceremony but very few have really studied it to see what was exactly done. Sources for looking at this ceremony are many, but we will be using a Jerusalem Temple Study teaching on Passover and the Mishnah tractate Pesachim (meaning “Passover”). We will also be quoting from the Mishnah by Herbert Danby. 1 Chr 28.11-19 says that the services in the Temple and everything connected to it came from God and given to David. This was the “tavnit” or pattern that was to be followed. They were given to man by God. In v 19 it says that this tavnit was written down in a scroll, and this scroll was called “Middot” (measurements) in Jewish history, but we don’t have that scroll anymore. Many details were given, including directions, how to stand, where to look and what time to do and say things. Some of these details are found in the Mishnah but the Mishnah contains many man-made ceremonies also. The word Mishnah means “repetition” and “secondary” in the way a suburb is a secondary part of a city. In this sense, the Scriptures is the city and the Mishnah is the “suburbs” but we do not believe that what is contained in the Mishnah was given by God as the rabbis teach. Some of it was, but much of it is rabbinical tradition.
The command to do the first Passover can be found in Exo 12.1-6 and we are going to look at the phrase “between the evenings” in verse 6. This phrase is “bayn ha erevim” in Hebrew and this was a certain time of the day. The lamb was to be killed “bayn ha erevim” or “between the evenings.” This was the time of day when the sun began to decline after high noon and sunset, or “between the evenings.” There is another term called “bayn ha boker” which means “between the mornings.” That time period was from sunrise to high noon, or “morning.” The Tamid lamb was slain at “bayn ha boker” or “between the mornings” which went from sunrise to high noon, which was approximately 9 am. The afternoon Tamid was slain at “bayn ha erevim” or “between the evenings” which was between high noon and sunset, or approximately 3 pm. Now, how can the Passover lambs be slain at the same time as the afternoon Tamid? In the Mishnah, Pesachim 5.1 it says, “The Daily Whole-offering (the Tamid lamb) was slaughtered at a half after the eighth hour (2:30 pm), and offered up at a half after the ninth hour; but on the eve of Passover it was slaughtered at a half after the seventh hour (1:30 pm) and offered up at a half after the eighth hour (2:30 pm), whether it was a weekday or the Sabbath. If the eve of Passover fell on the eve of a Sabbath, it was slaughtered at a half past the sixth hour (12:30 pm) and offered up at a half after the seventh hour (1:30 pm). And, after this, the Passover offering was slaughtered.”
In other words, the time for the Tamid offering and the service (which we have already discussed in a previous teaching) was moved back one hour to make time for the Passover lambs. How many lambs were killed during this service? Josephus says in Jewish Wars 6.9.3 that somewhere between 66 and 70 AD that “256,500 lambs” were killed. So, these lambs were killed between the hours of 2:30 to 3:30 pm, the same time that Yeshua died on the cross just north of where these lambs were killed. This was considered “bayn ha erevim” or “between the evenings.” Here is how this ceremony went.
The Azarah, or inner court, was 187 cubits long by 135 cubits square. The cubit used in the Temple was 23.04 inches, that means the Azarah was 280 feet long and 202 feet wide. That is like a Wal-Mart in size. The Mizbeach was 32 cubits by 32 cubits, which is 62 feet by 62 feet. It was 15 feet high. Pesachim 5.5 says “The Passover offering was slaughtered by the people in three groups, for it is written, ‘And the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it”-“assembly”, “congregation” and “Israel.’ When the first group entered in and the Temple Court was filled, the gates of the Temple Court were closed. On the shofar a sustained (Tekiah), a quavering (Teruah) and again a sustained (Tekiah) blast were blown. The priests stood in rows and in their hands were basins called a Mizrak, which were cone shaped at the bottom so that the mizrak could not be set down, of silver and basins of gold. In the one row all the basins were of silver and in another row all the basins were of gold. They were not up mixed together. Nor had the basins bases, lest the priest should set them down and the blood congeal. These rows of priests went out from the Mizbeach like “spokes” to the east, south and north side. There was no room to do this on the west side. One group at a time would come in and slaughter their lambs.
Now, if a korban was kodshai kodashim (most holy) it would have to be killed on the north side of the Mizbeach. But the Passover lamb is a Korban Shelem, therefore, it is kodshai kelim (holy) so it could be slain anywhere in the Azarah. So, 40 or 50 lines of kohanim spread out from the Mizbeach, with one line handing the mizrak to the next kohen till it reached the Mizbeach, then the other line passed the Mizrak back and the whole thing started again. What they did was similar to a “fire bucket brigade” in their actions. The worshipper would bring his lamb in with it’s head to the west. The worshipper then cuts the throat in a humane way and the animal does not flinch. The kohen is right there to catch the blood in the mizrak as the lamb is slain. The mizrak for Passover was special. It had a handle on it, and as we have mentioned, it was gold or silver. One priestly “spoke” had silver mizrakim and another would have all gold. You did not mix the two in a particular line.
This scene was described in the Rabbinical writings like “streaks of lightning” going back and forth. So, a priest catches the blood and is holding the long handle. Once he has the blood he takes one step and passes the blood to the next kohen, all the way down the line. One step is taken because of the commandment for the kohen to “bear the blood.” The worshipper who killed the lamb cannot touch or delay the kohen because the worshipper may have contracted a ritual impurity. If he did, and he touched the kohen then the blood would be rendered unclean. You never interfered with a kohen who was bearing the blood. Yeshua alluded to this concept in John 20.1-17. He has resurrected and appears to Miriam (Mary) near the empty tomb. She is distressed because he is gone from the tomb. Yeshua calls her name and she realizes it is him. She apparently touched and grabbed on to him in her joy and Yeshua says, “stop clinging to me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (to present his blood in the Temple in heaven before the Father). He must have appeared to her right before he ascended to heaven to “bear the blood” before the Father. This terminology comes right out of the Temple services. Later on of course, people touch him and handle him because he wasn’t “bearing the blood” anymore.
The kohen nearest the Mizbeach would do one “toss” of the blood at the base of the Mizbeach, then hand the mizrak to the priest in the other line that returned the mizrak. The whole mizrak was tossed. While this is going on, the Levitical choir was singing the Hallel (Psa 113 through 118). After the first group was done, the second group entered and everything was repeated. After the second group was done, then the third group came in and everything was repeated again. These three groups had their lambs slain and the blood tossed before the Levitical choir sang the Hallel three times. These psalms were sung in the Temple only at the Shelosh Regalim, or the three pilgrim festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot (Exo 23.14-19) when all males had to appear before the Lord at the Temple. It was forbidden to sing the Hallel (Psa 113-118) in its entirety except at these times. Individual psalms could be sung, but not these together. As you can see, with all the priests, the worshippers and up to 256,500 lambs being slain in about an hour, the Temple was a busy place. Everyone had to know what they were doing.
The Letter of Aristeas is a work from the second century BC. In the letter, there is a detailed description of the Temple and the services. One of the things mentioned was that with all that was going on, nobody was giving directions during the Temple services. Everyone knew what they were doing, where they going and what they were saying and singing.
In Part 13, we will pick up here and begin by discussing what happened after the lamb was slain.