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The Ninth Hour

Many people are under the impression that the temple was all about sacrifices. Certainly the offerings were an important aspect of the daily ritual in that most auspicious of places, the place God chose to establish His name. The sacrifices were crucial in fact, but they were only steps in a process. The goal was to reach the ninth hour—the incense offering—the time of prayer.

Biblically, many events took place at the ninth hour:

Joshua 7:6-10 — And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, … And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?

I Kings 18:36, 38 — And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”

Daniel 9:21 — Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.

Ezra 9:5-6 — And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.

Acts 10:30, 31 — And Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter.”

The most relevant passage for those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah follows:

Matthew 27:45-51 — Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice … and yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

At the time of the ninth hour, is it merely a coincidence that Jesus mirrored the words of the High Priest who offered up the sin offering, “It is finished”? Is it merely a coincidence that, with the rending of the temple veil, He who became our sin offering4 opened the way for us into the Holy of Holies, into the presence of the Most High God? Is it a coincidence that—like our Hebrew brethren of old—we have the freedom to come before Him in prayer?

In the Talmud,5 in Tractate Tamid, it says that a person could smell the holy incense offered at the temple as far away as Jericho–about 50 miles. There are references in another set of commentaries called the Zohar, that the aroma from the holy incense was so strong, that women in Jerusalem didn’t bother wearing perfume.

Because we are so far removed culturally, and somewhat limited by our own experiences, we might miss another lesson. Living in Jerusalem, a person could not escape the smell of the incense offering. When the afternoon sacrifice was over, when the incense was burned, everyone knew it. If you wanted, you could refuse to see the Lord in your life and never visit the temple. If you were so inclined, you could refuse to listen to the Lord and His Word. But potentially as far away as Jericho, His sweet-smelling aroma was invasive. How like our God, to woo us to Him!

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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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