It is interesting to note the plan under which the ministers in the ancient sanctuary carried on their work. The following was the instruction that came to Israel in the wilderness:
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, This is it that belongeth unto the Levites : from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more: but shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their service." Num. 8:23-26.
These instructions bear the idea of a fairly long period—twenty-five years—of carrying heavy burdens in the ministry, work demanding full physical powers and energies ; and then a release to less exacting work, with no special time limit apparently laid down. On this passage thatthat good old Methodist Adam Clarke looked up authorities and wrote in his commentary:
"They shall no longer be obliged to perform any laborious service, but act as general counselors; therefore they were to be near the camp, sing praises to God, and see that no stranger or unclean person was permitted to enter. So the Jews and many other persons have understood this place."
In an ancient writing, by one Aristeus, of Alexandria, Egypt, we catch a glimpse of the heavy physical work involved in the full priestly service. According to Josephus (Antiquities, bk. 12, ch. 2) this man was one of a commission sent to Jerusalem by Ptolemy Philadelphus, ruler of Egypt (309-246 E.c.), to arrange for the translation of the Bible into Greek for the Alexandrian Library. Aristeus was greatly impressed with the heavy service of the priests in the Jerusalem temple. He wrote:
"92. The priests' ministration is in every respect unsurpassed in its display of bodily strength and in its orderly and silent character. For they all toil of their own accord at a cost of much arduous exertion, and each has his appointed task. And they serve without cessation, some bringing the wood, others oil, others fine wheaten flour, others the spices; while others bring the pieces of flesh as burnt offerings, exhibiting exceptional strength.
"93. For they grasp with both hands the legs of the calves, each of which is more than two talents in weight, and then with both hands and with wonderful skill they hurl the beast up to a considerable height, nor do they fail to place it on the altar. Similarly, the portions of the sheep and of the goats, too, are wonderful in their weight and fatness. . . .
"94. A place for resting is set apart for them where those sit who are relieved from duty. When this takes place, some of those who have had their interval of rest, rise up readily, although no one issues orders for the ministration.
"95. Complete silence reigns, so that one might suppose that not a single person was present in the place, although the officiating ministers present number some seven hundred (and a great company of those who bring the sacrifice).... Everything is performed with reverence and in a manner worthy of that Great Divinity."—"The Letter of Aristeus, pars. 92-95, H. G. Meecham's trans., in his Oldest Version. of the Bible, PP. 34-36. London: 1932.
It was the ministry of the altar of burnt offering that Aristeus describes. That altar stood at least four and a half feet high, with a grate beneath. (Ex. 38:1-4.) This suggests the physical exertion required to "hurl' the sacrifices upon it. And this observer says, "Many thousand beasts are offered on the feast days."
We may well note the evidence of thorough drilling which enabled the Levitical ministers to carry on so exacting a service without noise or confusion.