The Course of Abijah

12 Apr
Course of Abijah

from google Images

Luke tells us in Luke 1:5 that the officiating priest, Zacharias was of the course of Abia. Once the Temple was built by Solomon, the duties of the priests and Levites would have to change, because the whole idea of building a Temple of God in a fixed location at Jerusalem meant the mobile Tabernacle, which was packed up and carried from one place to another, would be replaced. Duties concerning how one served God with respect to where his Presence dwelt would of necessity change as well. Therefore, David organized the priests (and the Levites) into 24 courses (1Chronicles 24:1-31). Notice that the course of Abijah was the eighth of the priestly divisions (1Chronicles 24:10). Abijah in 1Chronicles 24:10 is the same course as Abia of Luke 1:5. Zacharias was officiating in the Temple according to the time when the eighth division served out its responsibility.

Josephus tells us that each course served for one week from Sabbath to Sabbath, and changing at noon—8 calendar days, but actually serving seven full days.

He (David) divided them also into courses: …and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath. And thus were the courses distributed by lot, in the presence of David, and Zadok and Abiathar the high priests, and of all the rulers; and that course which came up first was written down as the first, and accordingly the second, and so on to the twenty-fourth; and this partition hath remained to this day. [Josephus: Antiquities 7.14.7; see also Against Apion 2:8 – parenthesis mine]

This means that the first course, Jehoiarib (1Chronicles 1:7) began its ministry on the first Sabbath of the first month (Nisan), not necessarily the first day of the month, unless the first day happened to be a Sabbath. Technically, this means that Zacharias would begin serving out his week on the 8th Sabbath of the year at noon and would continue to the 9th Sabbath at noon. However, all courses were to appear before the Lord three times a year: Passover, Firstfruits (Pentecost) and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). Therefore, Zacharias actually served two weeks at the Temple, back to back. Once for his course’s duties to accommodate the influx of the pilgrims coming to worship the Lord at Jerusalem during the festival of Pentecost and also one week immediately before or immediately after Pentecost (depending on what date the first Sabbath of the year fell). Afterward, he would have returned home to Elizabeth in the hill country, and Elizabeth would have become pregnant mid to late June.

Some have concluded that there would be no way of knowing when Zacharias ministered at the Temple, because the 24 courses served twice a year in their specified seasons with about 2 weeks remaining in the Jewish year, to which no specific courses were allotted. To make matters even more complicated, a 13th month was added every two or three years to keep the Passover in the spring season. Which of the divisions served during it? Nevertheless, conducting a lot hardly makes any sense, if the courses had no meaning except in name. If the first course, Jehoiarib, didn’t always serve on the first Sabbath of the year and Jedaiah on the second Sabbath and so on throughout the 24 courses, why number them at all? What was the lot for?

In every case when the Bible requires a lot to decide a matter, the matter never changed. If the lot for the Lord came up on the right hand, it was never changed to the left the next year, unless the lot came up for the left (Leviticus 16). The lot of land for one tribe was never given to another tribe, even if a woman holding an inheritance in one tribe married a man in another (cf. Numbers 36:2-10). The land stayed in the original tribe. The lot of the priest was never changed later to allow other Levites to be the first to serve at the Temple that year (cf. Numbers 16:1-3). If a position was determined by casting a lot or by the determination of God, that position was retained forever, throughout the generations of Israel.

The 24 courses of priests served for a week twice in the year. This means each division served one week, numbering 24 weeks in all, before repeating their service for a second 24 weeks. This procedure left about 2 weeks for the remainder of the year yet to be served in the normal Jewish lunar year (353 days). Why would this be a problem? If the children of Israel knew enough to add a 13th month to the year, without being specifically told in Scripture, in order to keep the Passover in its season, why would an additional 2 weeks or an additional month in the case of a leap year be a problem? Couldn’t each course send a specific number of representatives (decided by lot within each course) to serve out the remainder of the year?

If the above is reasonably true, then we can determine that Zacharias rejoined his wife in the hills of Judea immediately after the season of Pentecost. Thus, Elizabeth would have become pregnant about mid June (as we reckon time). There is good reason for assuming these events took place during Zacharias’ first week of ministry that year. In a later blog-post I hope to discuss why this is so.


Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


Tags: , , , , , , ,

13 responses to “The Course of Abijah

  1. Margaret Vaughan

    December 24, 2017 at 22:20

    So true Eddie, with thanks.. The Torah is the root of the New Covenant and very prevalent in the teachings of Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach) Jesus the Messiah. He fulfilled the law. He didn’t abolish it. One of the reasons for that misunderstanding has been an overall lack of awareness of the very Jewishness of Jesus and at least some knowledge of the Jewish records.that strongly parallel his teachings. That’s how I see it and much in the faith of a growing increase in Messianic Jews today who are seriously helping many Christians to unite with them.

    • Eddie

      December 25, 2017 at 06:53

      Greetings Margaret and thank you for reading my blog and for your word of encouragement and your comment. We agree that Jesus fulfilled the Law, but we differ on a number of other issues. Jesus, not the Law, is the Root of the New Testament, and the Law has been done away in Christ, because it was a shadow of better things (Colossians 2:16-17), and all things in the Law was formed after the pattern God showed Moses (Hebrews 8:5), because the Law was meant to be a kind of picture of better things to come (Hebrews 10:1).

      I hope this doesn’t offend you, Margaret, because it is not my intention to do so. We do agree on the “Jewishness of Jesus” and how that is misunderstood today, however, Jesus didn’t come to simply reestablish the Law. He fulfilled it, and once fulfilled it would pass away (cf. Matthew 5:17-18).

      Lord bless you, Margaret, as you study his word and seek to serve him, as we all do.

    • Mike Reed

      December 22, 2018 at 21:13

      Yo Do know, of course, that to fulfill means to bring about an expected end. For instance, when a prophecy was fulfilled, we didn’t continue to await the prophecy: it was finished. So when Jesus fulfilled the law, He brought it to its expected ending. And that is a far cry from destroying it, which is what He said He didn’t come to do.

      • Eddie

        December 22, 2018 at 22:23

        Greetings Mike, and thank you for your comment. I’m a bit confused, however, as to why you explained it as you did. I don’t remember ever saying that Jesus **destroyed** the law. My comment to “Margaret Vaughan” has me telling her that Jesus came to ‘fulfill the law’. It was, as you say above, “brought to its expected ending.” We, who follow the New Covenant scriptures, are not under the law. Does this put us on the same page?

  2. Return of Benjamin

    April 12, 2016 at 18:17

    Also, no I wasn’t aware of the identity of Theophilus. Did I miss that in your Acts commentary?

    • Eddie

      April 12, 2016 at 19:59

      Yes, I wrote about 4 or 5 blogs showing why I believe Theophilus is the Jewish high priest (cir. 36 AD to 41 AD). I have three blogs in my current study, and at least one in Acts. I was introduced to the idea by reading two other bloggers Lee Dahn’s “Most Excellent Theophilus” and Richard Anderson’s “dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos”. I was simply taken in by idea of Theophilus’ identity, and once I agreed to this, the context of Acts took on a new light. That idea has also spread to my understanding of what we call the “General Epistles” and the persecution they all address. There is so much there. I love to talk about it and write about it.

      Lord bless you Rabbi.

  3. Return of Benjamin

    April 12, 2016 at 08:37

    I know exactly where you’re going with this, and good work on figuring it out. Shalom!

    • Eddie

      April 12, 2016 at 12:48

      Greetings, Rabbi Mike, and thank you for your kind encouragement. I love the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. They are probably my favorite books in the New Testament.

      Lord bless you.

      • Return of Benjamin

        April 12, 2016 at 15:52

        Luke and Acts really intrigue me for how Luke has written them to also contain a primer on the relevant history and culture of the Jews for his mostly Greek audience, particularly in Acts 7 and 13. (I can’t remember if you were actually the one who first brought that to my attention.) When I’ve had missionary friends ask about what books to translate first, I always advise them to start with Luke and Acts, followed by Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

        • Eddie

          April 12, 2016 at 17:18

          If I did, it was probably a conclusion you drew from what I wrote, because I don’t ever remember our discussing his audience. Are you aware that I believe his immediate audience (Theophilus) was the high priest and son of Annas?

          I understand why Luke and Acts would be appreciated by folks Messianic missionaries would preach to, but I am not so familiar with Deuteronomy and Isaiah to understand your reasoning there. Why those books?

        • Return of Benjamin

          April 12, 2016 at 18:12

          Deuteronomy is the book of the Torah that Yeshua most often quotes from and in its role as the “second (giving of the) law” gives a good framework for understanding NT morality and Yeshua’s teachings and debates. If taught properly (e.g., with the understanding that 14:21 exempts non-Jews from kashrut) it doesn’t present the level of detail in the Law that the earlier books do and shouldn’t cause confusion. It also gives a lot of historical detail in its preamble that ties in neatly with that given in Acts. Finally, Romans makes absolutely no sense without it (how can you explain law, faith, and grace without at least a rudimentary understanding of the Law?), and Romans is usually fifth on my list.

          Isaiah is the first to actually give the Gospel (in chapters 40-54, especially), is one of the most quoted books in the NT, and contains numerous prophecies that are referenced in Matthew and Paul’s letters. In addition, the fact that most of it is poetry gives the translator the opportunity to introduce Scripture as song to primarily oral cultures. I recommend picking out various Psalms to translate early on for the same reason.

          The missionaries I grew up with in the Christian Missionary Alliance tended to focus on translating the whole NT before getting to any of the Old. This is a mistake in my mind, since it removes a lot of necessary context from the NT–hence my particular list. There are plenty of individual passages from the books that I might suggest translating early (like Genesis 12-15), but I was specifically asked by my friends about which whole books to focus on first.


        • Eddie

          April 12, 2016 at 19:48

          Thank you so much for that commentary on what is most important to reach others for Christ. I agree with you that shunning the Old Testament is a grave mistake. The Gospels are important to get a picture of God as seen in Jesus, and once that picture is firmly planted in one’s heart and mind, the books of the Old Testament can be understood in their proper context. Moreover, they were all the Bible the early believers had, so they shouldn’t be given a back seat to the NT in my opinion. The word of God is the word of God.

          Thanks so much for that picture of Isaiah. I should have known that, but I need to be reminded of thing now and then. Thanks for your rapid response and your understanding.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: