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The Ninth Hour

With accomplished skill, the neck is cut, the blood spilled, and the life drained. Speedily, the body of the young animal is dressed and placed on the altar, its fat burning a dark smoke that rises toward the heavens—a pleasing aroma.

Soon, the High Priest turns and utters the familiar words, “It is finished.” Israel’s sins have been atoned.

The final sacrifice has been made, but the day is not yet over. This is the time everyone has been waiting for.

The courtyard fills with more Levites as the High Priest now moves toward the Holy Place. He carries with him, a pan of coals from the brazen altar and steps quickly through the gold-plated double-doors that lead into the holy place. These doors are so heavy it takes ten men on each to push them closed.

The final sacrifice has been made, but the day is not yet over. This is the time everyone has been waiting for. Peering back through doors into the outer court, the men have stopped moving, and stare up over the wall, in the direction of the Holy Place. They too, wait.

You cast your eyes to the Holy Place, lifting a hand over your eyes to shield them from the glare. Any minute now the incense will be burned.

Then suddenly, at the first sign of smoke from the Holy Place, the multitudes fall to their knees with their faces on the floor. The choir has stopped. The ram’s horns have grown silent. The smoke rises from the Holy Place and a scent fills the air—the sacred incense is been burned. As frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, and the smell of other herbs and spices fill your nostrils you once again become aware of your surroundings. All is still. There is no noise, no talking. It is the ninth hour and all of Israel is in prayerful communion with the Creator.

The words of King David come into your mind as you face the floor and direct your heart toward God; “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”3

For the next half-hour, no one will stir from their prone positions. No one will speak. The priest and the commoner, the rich and the poor, all are equal before God in prayer.

* * *

Our friends, Peter and John would have been outside the Court of the Priests with the other Israelites. They wouldn’t have witnessed the grandeur and majesty of the High Priest entering the Holy Place. But if going to the temple for afternoon prayer was their habit, they would have experienced the same daily expectation at the ninth hour. They would have joined all their brethren in looking over the wall, and waiting for the column of smoke—the burning incense—and they would have knelt in solemn prayer.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2000

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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