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Jewish Division of Day Into Hours

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Archives / 1946 / April

 

 

Jewish Division of Day Into Hours

Robert L. Odom

By ROBERT L. ODOM, Editor, "Our Times," Nashville, Tennessee

 

In the time of Christ it was the custom of the Jews to divide the daylight portion of the day into twelve hours. Christ asked His disciples, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" John :9. This is understood to mean the working day, from sunrise to sunset. The householder went out "early in the morning" to hire laborers to work in his vineyard; and he also went out "about the third hour," "about the sixth and ninth hour," and "about the eleventh hour," to hire more workers. And "when even was come," he paid them their wages. (Matt. 20:1-12.)

Generally the writers of the Gospels employ this method of time reckoning when they specify the hour of the day when an event took place.

The pious, for example, had three special hours for prayer—morning, noon, and night. (Ps. 55 :17 ; Dan. 6:10.) Now it was at these three special hours of prayer—the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour—that three notable happenings took place in connection with the crucifixion of Christ. They will be noted in this study.

"The hours appointed for the morning and the evening sacrifice were regarded as sacred," says the Lord's messenger, "and they came to be observed as the set time for worship throughout the Jewish nation. And when in later times the Jews were scattered as captives in distant lands, they still at the appointed hour turned their faces toward Jeru salem, and offered up their petitions to the God of Israel."—Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 353, 354.

Josephus says that the priests performed the sacred ceremonies of the altar "twice a day, in the morning and about the ninth hour."—Jewish Antiquities, book 14, chap. 4, sec. 3.

When it was Zachariah's lot to burn incense in the temple, "the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense" (Luke 1:9, 10), which was the third hour. It was "the third hour of the day" (Acts 2:15), or about the time of the morning sacrifice, that the disciples prayed and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus was crucified at "the third hour" (Mark 15 :25), which was around nine o'clock in the morning.

John says that "it was about the sixth hour" ( John 4:6, 8) when Jesus stopped at the well of Samaria and sent His disciples to the city to buy food. Commenting on this experience, the Spirit of prophecy says : "On the way to Galilee Jesus passed through Samaria. It was noon when He reached the beautiful vale of Shechem. At the opening of this valley was Jacob's well. Wearied with His journey, He sat down here to rest while His disciples went to buy food."—The Desire of Ages, p. 183.

It was "about the sixth hour" (Acts io :9, io) that Peter went up on the housetop to pray, and was very hungry. This was the noon hour. At "the sixth hour" (Matt. 27:45; Mark is :33; Luke 23 :44) darkness covered the land on the occasion of Christ's crucifixion. The Spirit of prophecy says that this occurred "at midday."—Ibid., p. 753.

The nobleman's son was healed at "the seventh hour" (John 4:52, 53), which was about one o'clock in the afternoon.

It was "about the ninth hour of the day" (Acts 10:3, 30) that Cornelius was praying for light, when the angel visited him. "Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour." Acts 3. At "the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" (I Kings 18 :29, 36) Elijah called the people to the sacrifice and prayer to the true God. This was about three o'clock in the afternoon. It was also "about the time of the evening oblation" (Dan. 9:21) that Daniel was praying, and Gabriel came to him.

At "the ninth hour" (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:33, 34; Luke 23:44) the darkness was lifted, and Jesus expired 011 the cross. "When the loud cry, 'It is finished,' came from the lips of Christ, the priests were officiating in the temple. It was the hour of the evening sacrifice."—Ibid., p. 756.

And "it was about the tenth hour" (John i :39), or about four o'clock in the afternoon, that John and Andrew stayed to talk with Jesus at His place of abode.

The Jews appear anciently to have divided the night (from sunset to sunrise) into three watches. (Judges 7:19; Ex. 14:24; I Sam.:1 ; Lam. 2:19.) But in the time of Christ the night was divided into four watches. (Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48.) Hence Christ said that the master of the house might come "at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning." Mark 13:35.

It also appears that the Jews divided the night (from sunset to sunrise) into hours. Luke says that it was "at the third hour of the night" (Acts 23 :23) that Lysias sent Paul, escorted by soldiers, from Jerusalem to Caesarea. This was nine o'clock in the evening. The Lord's messenger comments thus : "At nine in the evening, the body of soldiers, with Paul in the midst, marched out of the fortress, and through the dark and silent streets of the city, and at a rapid pace pursued their journey toward Caesarea."—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 227. (Many Bible commentators concur in this opinion.)

(The concluding phase of this discussion will be presented in the next issue of THE MINISTRV under the title "The 'Sixth Hour' in John 19 :t4.."— EDITOR.)

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