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THE FIRST PASSOVER-THE VISIT OF NICODEMUS-THE RETURN THROUGH SAMARIA TO GALILEE-THE WOMAN AT JACOB'S WELL.
THE Passover was the principal festival of the Jewish nation. It was appointed to commemorate the deliverance of the people from their bondage in Egypt, and received its name from the circumstance that the destroying angel, who was sent to slay the first-born of the Egyptians, passed over the houses of the Israelites. It was also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because no leavened bread might be eaten during its continuance. It lasted for seven days, and was observed with many appropriate ceremonies and sacrifices. The most remarkable, was the sacrificing and eating of the paschal lamb, which took place on the first night. Each family slew its lamb, which was roasted whole, and eaten with many significant forms. The next day was signalized by the solemn offering in the Temple of the first fruits of the barley-harvest. Sacrifices peculiar to the festival were offered every day, and the first and the last were especially holy.
This festival occurred in the spring, at the full moon of the vernal equinox. It was a festival for
the whole people; and all the male inhabitants of the land were obliged to go up and keep it at the temple. At this time, therefore, Jesus, with his disciples and friends, left Capernaum for Jerusalem. It was a journey of about ninety miles, undoubtedly performed on foot; but evidently it could not be lonely, for the roads must have been thronged with the inhabitants pouring forth on the same errand. No incidents which took place on the journey are recorded. Our Lord was as yet little known; he travelled humbly and without observation. There were a few who knew what he was, but to most persons he appeared in no way distinguished from the other young men of his company.
Immediately on his arrival at the holy city he went up to the Temple; that splendid structure, which was the delight and boast of every Jewish heart. It had been recently rebuilt with great magnificence by King Herod the Great; and was now glorious in all the freshness of its spacious porticos and marble pillars and costly ornaments. It stood on the summit of a lofty hill, overlooking the city, so that it was said, "Let us Go Up to the house of the Lord." The house itself was not larger than many of the ordinary churches of modern times. But it was surrounded by extensive
John ii. 13.
courts, which were also called the Temple, and are frequently meant when the temple is spoken of in the New Testament. These courts were one within the other, each surrounded by a wall, and paved with marble. The outer enclosure was called the court of the Gentiles, because it was open to them, but they might proceed no further. The next enclosure was called the court of the Israelites, because they might enter this, but could proceed no further. It was divided into two apartments, the outer of which was the court of the women. The third enclosure was called the court of the priests. Into this the priests only and Levites might enter. In this court stood THE TEMPLE with the altar of burnt-offerings before it. Here the sacrifices were offered. The people brought their offerings no further than the wall, of one cubit high, which separated this court from that of the Israelites. The Temple was divided into two parts; in the outermost of which stood the altar of incense, the table of shewbread, and the golden candlestick. Into this, only the priests could enter. The inner apartment of the temple, separated from the outer by a splendid veil, was called the Holy of holies. Here were the Cherubim, and the Ark of the covenant. No person could enter this, but the high priest, and he only once a year, on an occasion of special solemnity, called the day of atonement.
Thus the several enclosures and apartments of the temple grew more and more holy as you proceeded. The outermost court was open to all persons, while the innermost apartment was open only to the highest religious minister on one solemn day. It is the outer court which is meant, when we read of the conversations that took place in the temple, and of children crying Hosanna there. It was evidently a place of ordinary resort, where the people daily congregated for conversation and business, and where multitudes must have been daily passing and repassing at the times of the sacrifices and the hours of prayer. How commodious it must have been for all such purposes of concourse may be perceived by remembering, that it was a space of more than fourteen acres in extent. It was of a square form, each side a furlong in length, with a magnificent covered portico, or piazza, all around, like the cloisters of a monastery, supported by a hundred and sixty-two marble pillars of great size. No wonder that such a place was constantly frequented, and that it became a resort for purposes of business as well as religion. The offerings and sacrifices of the temple demanded a continual supply of cattle, lambs, and doves; and it was very convenient for the worshippers to find them ready at hand. Those who had these animals for sale were hence accustomed to sit with them in this
court, and offer them for sale to the people as they passed in to the sacrifice; and for the accommodation of this traffic, money-changers set up their tables by their side.
Such was the scene which met the view of Jesus on his arrival at the sacred place. The people were so accustomed to the sight, that they did not perceive any thing wrong in it. But he felt the profanation; and, as if the spirit of the old prophets had risen up within him, he took a whip of small cords, and drove the sheep and the oxen out of the court, and commanded the sellers of doves to take them away, and overset the tables of the money-changers. This bold act of religious zeal created, of course, no little excitement. His disciples, who were longing to see him take the character which belonged to him, were gratified at this spirited assumption of authority, and they applied to him the words used of the Psalmist, "The zeal of thy house hath consumed me.” The people were amazed at an act which implied such consciousness of right and authority, and thought it possible that he might be the expected prophet. They accordingly came to him, and asked him to show them some sign in proof of his authority. As he knew what was in man and did not choose to commit himself to them, he answered them in a figurative expression, which could be perfectly understood only after his resurrec