The Sanctuary Service

THE PRIESTS WHO OFFICIATED IN THE sanctuary were divided into twenty-four courses, or divisions, each of which served twice a year, one week at a time. The Levites were similarly divided, as were also the people. The lambs for the evening and morning sacrifices were provided by the people; and the section of the people who provided the lambs for any particular week would send their representatives to Jerusalem for that week to assist in the services, while the rest of the people remained at home conducting a special week of devotion and meditation. On occasion of a great feast, such as the Passover or the Day of Atonement, large numbers of priests would be called to the sanctuary at one time, and also a corresponding number of Levites.

The daily service included the offering of a lamb upon the altar of burnt offering each evening and morning, with the appropriate meal and drink offerings, the trimming and lighting of the lamps in the holy place, the offering of incense, with the accompanying work, the offering of the meal offering of Aaron and his sons, and the offering of individual sacrifices, such as sin, burnt, meal, and peace offerings. Besides these daily duties, there were many others, such as purification sacrifices, offerings for lepers, for Nazarite vows, for defilements. Men were also needed to take care of the ashes, to provide and examine the wood used on the altar, to serve as watchmen, to open and close gates, and to act as general caretakers. The temple enclosure was a busy place from the first streak of dawn until the gates were closed in the evening.

While it was yet dark in the morning, the gates were opened and the people were permitted to come in. Lots were cast among the priests to determine who was to present the sacrifice, who was to sprinkle the blood, who was to remove the ashes, who was to offer the incense, who was to trim the lamps, and who was to provide the wine for the drink offerings. The priests had spent the night within the temple precincts, though only the older priests were permitted to lie down to rest. The others were expected to keep awake and be ready whenever called. In the morning before daylight, they bathed, and when the time came for the casting of lots, they were all ready.

In determining who was to offer incense, it was not expected that any priest who had officiated before should take part. When the sanctuary was first erected, Aaron and his sons officiated daily. In later times there were so many priests that lots had to be cast to decide who was to offer incense. It was therefore unusual for any priest to officiate in the burning of incense more than once in his career. As this particular part of the daily service brought the priest nearer the divine Presence than any other, it was considered a great honour as well as a responsibility, and a much-coveted prize.

As the priest entered the sanctuary to offer the incense, the lamb for the morning sacrifice, which had previously been selected and presented to the Lord, stood tied to one of the rings in the floor on the north side of the altar. The wind-pipe and gullet of the lamb were slashed with a knife, and the blood was caught in a golden bowl and sprinkled round about upon the altar. What remained of the blood was poured out at the foot of the altar. After this the animal was flayed and cut into several pieces. The inwards were placed upon one of the marble tables supplied for that purpose, and washed. After this, six priests carried these pieces to the top of the altar, where they were placed in order and burned. Another priest carried the meal offering of flour; still another, the baked meal offering of the high priest; and yet another, the drink offering. The offerings were all salted with salt before being placed upon the altar.

While this was going on outside, the priest whose work it was to offer the incense entered the holy place. He was ordinarily assisted by another priest who brought live coals from the altar of burnt offering in a golden vessel and placed them upon the altar of incense and withdrew. The priest whose duty it was to offer the incense would then raise the lid of the censer containing the incense and pour it upon the coals on the altar. As the incense ascended in a cloud of smoke he would kneel before the altar in silent adoration.

It must have been a solemn experience for a priest to be alone in the holy place, near the awful presence of Jehovah, the Lord of hosts. As, in most cases, it was the first time he had ever so officiated, it was not a common experience. No priest ever forgot the moments he was alone with God. And if, as at times it happened, the Lord revealed Himself in the cloud above the mercy seat, the impression of God's holiness left upon the mind of the priest, was so profound that it never could be erased. He had seen the glory of the Lord and was not consumed.

The offering of incense was concluded about the same time that the priests finished their morning work at the altar of burnt offering. As the last act -- the pouring out of the drink offering -- was being finished, the Levites began singing the appointed psalm, which was interspersed with blasts from the silver trumpets blown by the priests. Whenever the trumpets sounded, the people fell down and prayed. The high priest proceeded to the steps of the temple and with out-stretched hands pronounced the priestly benediction upon the people. This concluded the morning service. The evening service, which took place about three o'clock in the afternoon, was similar to the morning service. The lamb was slain, the blood sprinkled, incense offered, and the priestly benediction again pronounced. At dark the gates were closed.

Thus the daily service was carried on every day in the year, including Sabbath and feast days. On the Sabbath two lambs were offered in the morning and two in the evening, instead of one as on week days. On certain feast days the number was increased to seven, but otherwise the service remained the same.

The lamb offered in the daily service was a burnt offering. It was representative of the whole nation, a kind of summary of all offerings. It contained in itself the vital characteristics of each of the sacrifices: it was a blood offering, signifying atonement; it was a substitutionary offering-"it shall be accepted for him" (Lev. 1:4); it was a dedicatory offering, wholly given to God and consumed on the altar; it was a sweet-savour offering, "an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord." Verse 13.

Though the morning and evening sacrifice was for the nation as a whole and did not avail for any specific person, it nevertheless served a definite purpose for the individual. When an Israelite had sinned, he was to bring an offering to the temple and there confess his sin. It was not always possible, however, to do this. An offender might live a day's journey, or even a week's, distant from Jerusalem. It was impossible for him to come to the temple every time he sinned. For such cases the morning and evening sacrifice constituted a temporary atonement. It provided a "covering" until such time as the sinner could personally appear at the tabernacle and offer his individual offering.

This is illustrated in the case of Job. His sons "went and feasted in their houses, every one his day." Job 1:4. At such feasts, happenings doubtless occurred which were not pleasing to God. Job himself feared that his sons might sin, and also that they might forget, or delay to bring, the necessary sacrifice. For this reason Job "rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually." Verse 5.

Job offered a burnt offering for each of his sons. "It may be that my sons have sinned," he said. He believed that this offering would provide a temporary atonement for them until such time as they recognised their fault and were ready to come to God themselves.

In like manner, the daily morning and evening sacrifice provided temporary atonement for Israel. It signified both consecration and acceptance by substitution. Of the individual burnt offering it is said: "It shall be accepted for him." Lev. 1:4. If the individual offering was thus "accepted for him," may we not believe that the national offering was accepted for the nation?

Christ died for all. Saint and sinner alike share in the sacrifice of Calvary. It was "while we were yet sinners" that He gave His life a ransom. Many will not make personal application of the sacrifice, but the fact remains that Christ died for them. His blood covers them. Full and ample provision has been made for their salvation. Christ "is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." 1Tim. 4:10. Every soul living today owes his life to Golgotha. Had it not been for "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," Adam would have been without hope. The words, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," would have sealed his fate for eternity. Rev. 13:8; Gen. 2:17. But Adam was spared. He did not die. The Lamb took his place.

So it is now. God has not changed. Sin and sinners have no right to exist. Sin is as offensive in God's sight now as in the Garden of Eden. Sinners are permitted to live and are granted a stay of execution only by virtue of the atoning blood of Christ. Because the Lamb died, they live. Probation is granted them. From day to day Christ gives them life, "if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him." Acts 17:27.

As the morning and evening sacrifices were for the nation, and covered provisionally all sin committed during the preceding night or the day, it is readily understood that some of the sins thus covered were not confessed, and perhaps never would be. Unless it is believed that every man in Israel was immediately made aware that he had transgressed, and confessed his sins, some time must intervene between the commission of the sin and its confession. This would, of course, be still more accentuated if some weeks or months elapsed before confession. In case of the impenitent or those who apostatised, their day of grace expired on the Day of Atonement. Whoever at that time did not afflict his soul was "cut off from among his people," that is, he was put outside the pale of the church, excommunicated. Lev. 23:29.

The question of whether all sins committed were transferred to the sanctuary, is sometimes raised. Our study thus far has led us to believe that sins were temporarily provided for in the morning and evening sacrifice, when the lamb was offered on the altar of burnt offering for the nation. The blood of the sacrifice used in burnt offerings was always sprinkled "round about upon the altar." Lev.1:5,11. In case a fowl was used, the blood was "wrung out at the side of the altar." Verse 15. We therefore accept the view that in the daily service through the blood sprinkled on the altar there was a transfer of sins made to the altar of burnt offering, and that the sins thus transferred included the sins of all the people. If it be admitted that the burnt offering provided atonement for sin, as stated in Leviticus 1:4; if it be admitted that the daily burnt offering was for the nation, and that it did the same work for Israel that Job's burnt offerings did for his sons (Job 1:5); if it be considered highly improbable that all sins were immediately known and confessed before the time of the next morning or evening sacrifice, the conclusion seems unavoidable that all sins were temporarily provided for when the lamb was offered in sacrifice on the altar.

It hardly needs to be repeated that this temporary provision became efficacious to salvation only as the offender made personal confession of sin and brought his individual sacrifice for sin, just as a sinner is now saved by Christ's sacrifice on Calvary only if he personally accepts Christ. The death of the Lamb of God on Golgotha was for all men, but only those who accept the sacrifice and make personal application of it will be saved. The death of the lamb on the Jewish altar was for the whole nation, but only those who repented and showed their faith by bringing a personal sacrifice were included in the reconciliation on the Day of Atonement. The others were "cut off."

It should be noted, however, that these unconfessed sins were not transferred to the sanctuary proper, but to the altar of burnt offering. The priests did not eat the flesh of the burnt offering -- it was all burnt on the altar; so the priests did not bear these sins. Lev. 1:13. The blood was not placed on the horns of the altar, as in the case of sin offerings, nor was it carried into the sanctuary, but was sprinkled "round about" upon the altar of burnt offering. Lev. 1:5,11; 4:25,30,34. It is therefore clear that these sins were transferred to the altar of burnt offering and not the sanctuary proper.

The morning and evening sacrifices were symbolic, not only of the atonement provided through the lamb, but also of the nation's consecration to Jehovah. The victim, wholly burned on the altar, was emblematic of those who daily dedicated themselves to God, whose all was on the altar, and who were willing to follow the Lamb wheresoever it might lead them. Morning and evening their prayers ascended to the God of Israel, mingled with the sweet incense of Christ's righteousness and perfection.

The shewbread was a perpetual offering to the Lord, and might therefore be considered a part of the daily service. It consisted of twelve cakes placed in two rows upon the table in the first apartment of the sanctuary. This bread was renewed every Sabbath at the time when the courses of the priests were changed. The bread which was always before the Lord, was called the "presence bread." Ex. 25:30, A.R.V. As the morning and evening sacrifice symbolised the daily consecration of the nation to God and also its dependence upon the atoning blood, as the offering of incense symbolised the merits and intercession of Christ, as the lamps in the candlesticks represented the light of God shining in the soul and enlightening the world, so the shewbread represented man's acknowledgement of his dependence upon God for both temporal and spiritual food, to be received only through the merits and intercession of Christ who is the bread which came down from heaven. John 6:48-51.

The daily service thus provided atonement through the blood of the lamb; intercession through the ascending cloud of incense; life, physical and spiritual, through the bread of the presence; and light through the lamp on the candlestick. Viewed from man's side, the daily service signified consecration, illustrated by the lamb on the altar; prayer, through the smoke of the incense; acknowledgement of complete dependence upon God for daily food; and realisation that only through the light which God sheds upon our pathway can our darkened minds and lives be illuminated. The daily service symbolised and signified man's need of God, and also God's complete provision for supplying that need.

The services so far described have been of a general nature, for the nation. There was another kind of equal importance, namely, the offering of sacrifices brought by individuals for specific purposes. These were divided into two classes; sweet-savour offerings and nonsweet-savour offerings. The sweet-savour offerings were such as denoted consecration, dedication, or thankfulness. They were burnt offerings, peace offerings, and meal offerings. The nonsweet offerings were sin and trespass offerings. With the exception of the meal offerings these were all blood offerings, and as such had atoning value, though they were not specifically offered for sin. The burnt sacrifice was an offering of consecration and dedication, yet it had atoning significance. Lev. 1:4. So also had the peace offering. The offerer placed his hand upon the head of the victim and killed it at the door of the tabernacle; after that the priest sprinkled the blood upon the altar round about. This procedure was the same as in the burnt offering, and signified atonement. Lev. 3:2.

The sin and trespass offerings were the most important. They atoned for individual sins and restored the offender to favour with God. As these offerings have been discussed elsewhere, it is not necessary to go into detail with regard to the ritual. Some observations, however, may be in order.

The blood of the sacrificial victim was not always carried into the holy place, there to be sprinkled before the veil. This, as has been noted before, was done only in the case of the anointed priest and of the whole congregation. Lev. 4:5,6,16,17. When an ordinary person or a ruler sinned, the blood was sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering outside the tabernacle, and the flesh was eaten by the priests. Lev. 4:25,34; 6:30.

When the anointed priest sinned, there was none higher in rank to bear his sin. In such a case the flesh was not eaten, but the blood was carried into the holy place and there sprinkled before the veil. The same was done in case the whole nation sinned as a nation. The flesh was not eaten, but the blood was carried into the holy place, and there sprinkled before the veil.

When one of the common people sinned or one of the rulers, the situation was different. For them the priesthood could bear sin. The flesh was therefore eaten, and the priest who ate it, by that act took upon himself the sin of the individual. Besides the priest's eating the flesh, the blood was put upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering. From this it will be seen that individual sins which were confessed were transferred to the sanctuary in two ways. When the anointed priest or the whole congregation sinned, the sin by means of the blood, was transferred to the sanctuary, to the holy place. When a ruler or one of the common people sinned, the sin, by means of the eating of the flesh, was transferred to the priesthood, and by means of the blood, to the altar of burnt offering.

When the sanctuary service was first instituted, Aaron, as well as his sons, ministered daily in the first apartment of the sanctuary. The high priest offered the meal offering, cared for the lamps, lighted them, and burned incense in the holy place. Lev. 6:19-23; 24:2-4; Num. 8:2,3; Ex. 30:7,8. At a later time, it became customary for the priests to officiate in the first apartment, and only occasionally did the high priest serve there, as on Sabbath or feast days, and especially on the Day of Atonement and the week preceding. It is significant that although in the daily service the high priest officiated clad in his official high-priestly garment, he wore the priestly white garments when he entered the most holy on the Day of Atonement. Lev. 16:4,23,24. In summing up the work of the daily service in the sanctuary, the following points stand out prominently:

1. A general, provisional atonement for the nation is provided in the morning and evening sacrifice of the lamb upon the altar of burnt offering. The blood of the lamb both registers the sins committed and provides the atonement for them until such time as the offender brings his individual sacrifice for sin, or, if he fails to do that, until the Day of Atonement. The body of the lamb signifies Israel's consecration to Jehovah, and is typical of Christ who "hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour." Eph. 5:2. The sins provided for temporarily and provisionally in the morning and evening sacrifices are, generally speaking, unconfessed sins. These, as well as other sins, defile the tabernacle of the Lord. Num. 19:13,20.

2. The individual sacrifices for sin constitute a record of sins forgiven. Each sin has already been recorded by the sprinkling of the blood of the morning and evening burnt offering. The bringing of an individual offering records forgiveness for these same sins. It is as though books were kept and a faithful record made of all sin. Then, as the offender repents of his sin and asks forgiveness, pardon is recorded against his name.

3. The unconfessed sins are recorded on the altar of burnt offering outside the tabernacle. The confessed sins are recorded in the holy place, or else on the horns of the altar of burnt offering. However, all confessed sins eventually find their way into the sanctuary. As the priests partake of the flesh of the offerings, the blood of which is sprinkled on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, the sins are, through the priests' offerings as well as by the daily offering of the high priest (Heb. 7:27), transferred to the holy place. We are therefore warranted in saying that all confessed -- and only confessed sins -- are in the sanctuary proper. When the Day of Atonement comes, only confessed sins come in review and only such sinners as have by repentance and confession already received forgiveness and have had their sins transferred to the sanctuary, receive the atonement, the blotting out of sins.

Thus day by day, throughout the year, sins were transferred to the sanctuary, defiling it. This, of course, could not continue indefinitely. A day of final reckoning must come, a day of cleansing. Such a day was the Day of Atonement. It was the day of judgement, the high day of the year. To this we shall now give our attention.