Biblical Word Sketches on Temple Service
INSPIRED Bible spokesmen and writers were master painters of word sketches. They conveyed powerful messages by means of colorful words that sketched in the minds of men unforgettable pictures. Many of these brilliant word sketches contained background scenes that added force to the original utterances. For example, Jesus and his disciples frequently referred to the activities conducted in the temple of Jerusalem as backdrop views for their many vivid word pictures.
Centuries before the day of Jesus, zealous King David had organized the hundreds of Aaronic priests and the thousands of their Levitical assistants into a vast efficient service organization. The entire staff was divided into twenty-four divisions, each taking turns to operate the detailed departments of the great temple service organization from sabbath to sabbath. Each division of more than a thousand expertly trained workers, proportionately of priests and Levites, served at least twice a year for one full week at a time. However, at the festival of booths all twenty-four divisions were required to be on hand for duty to undertake the rush of business.a Likewise, additional help was necessary at passover festivals. Josephus reports that at passover times the number of lambs slain was found to be about 256,500, which, at the lowest figure of ten persons to every sacrificial lamb, would mean that approximately 2,565,000 worshipers were required to be served at the temple.b—1 Chron. 24:1-18.
The priests of an assigned division were responsible to lead in uttering the congregational prayers, to offer the sacrifices of the day and to enter the temple itself to perform the sanctuary duties. The far greater number were Levites who, as assistant ministers, served as custodians of all the valuable utensils, as valets to the priests in making and keeping their official garments, as cooks and bakers of all the holy bread and cakes, as police guards of the courtyards, as treasurers of the money contributions, as keepers of the storehouses to contain the produce tithes, as gatekeepers, as supervisors of the dining rooms, as cleaners and as singers and musicians. After Ezra’s time each division also included non-Jewish temple workers known as Nethinim, who were assigned the menial duties.—1 Chron. 9:2; Ezra 7:24.
During the division’s week of assigned service, all were to be prepared to serve day and night in the temple. At night the workers could recline on the couches, but they had to remain fully dressed and ready at a moment’s call.c This gives background scenery to the statement in Revelation 7:15 concerning the “great crowd” of nonanointed temple ministers today in God’s service organization, of whom it says: “They are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple.”
Two hundred and forty of the Levites and thirty of the priests of the entire serving division had to stay awake all night long, keeping guard to prevent any unclean ones from entering the temple courtyards. There were twenty-four stations covering the complete temple area, where ten of the Levites stood guard at each station as night watchers.d There was no relief of guard during the night, as there seemed to be for the Roman soldier guards around the neighboring Castle of Antonia. As the “captain of the temple” (Acts 4:1) made his rounds during the night, any guard found asleep when on duty was immediately beaten and his garments were set on fire. This gives setting to the clear warning to the anointed ministers today of Jehovah’s service organization to remain spiritually awake, or otherwise they will lose out and become naked before the inspecting Captain, Christ Jesus, who makes his rounds in this day of judgment: “Look! I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments, that he may not walk naked and people look upon his parts of shame.”—Rev. 16:15.
Those of the priests who were not on guard duty but reclining on the couches during the night had to be ready at any moment for the knock at the door to rise and begin the preparations for the service of the morning.c Such a messenger came to the temple suddenly and unexpectedly, no one knew exactly when. “And the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire.”—Mal. 3:1, AS; Mark 13:33.
Upon the messenger’s sudden arrival, orders were given for the customary bath for the day of all the ministering priests. There were well-appointed bathrooms in adjoining chambers to the temple sanctuary where the priests immersed themselves. After this early morning bathing, they were not required to wash again that day except their hands and feet.e What a picturesque backdrop for Jesus’ remarks to his chosen twelve associate priests of the likeness of Melchizedek on the night of his last passover celebration. “‘He that has bathed does not need to have more than his feet washed, but is wholly clean. And you men are clean, but not all.’ He knew, indeed, the man betraying him. This is why he said: ‘Not all of you are clean.’”—John 13:10, 11.
So from these few Biblical word sketches, what additional powerful admonition we receive! Whether we are of the anointed or nonanointed ministers in Jehovah’s service organization today, we are his living representatives night and day, upholding his name and his worship. At all times let us keep spiritually awake that none lose their priceless ministerial privileges in any of the many departments of Jehovah’s global house of service. And in keeping awake, let us always keep spiritually clean in our standing before Jehovah.
a The Temple, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 66.
b Wars of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus Book VI, Chapter 9, par. 3.
c The Temple, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 120.
d Ibid., p. 119.
e Ibid., p. 121.