Abijahs Course

During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron.” (Luke 1:5 NET)

 

MULTIPLE PRIESTLY COURSEs

  • There were so many Levitical priests that a rotating structure was developed: “David, Zadok (a descendant of Eleazar), and Ahimelech (a descendant of Ithamar) divided them into groups to carry out their assigned responsibilities. The descendants of Eleazar had more leaders than the descendants of Ithamar, so they divided them up accordingly; the descendants of Eleazar had sixteen leaders, while the descendants of Ithamar had eight.” (1 Chronicles 24:3-4 NET)

  • During their rotation the priests would perform the many duties associated with the temple: “Their job was to help Aaron’s descendants in the service of the Lord’s temple. They were to take care of the courtyards, the rooms, ceremonial purification of all holy items, and other jobs related to the service of God’s temple.” (1 Chronicles 23:28 NET)

  • The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary states, “Of these twenty-four classes, each one had to perform the service during a week in order … from Sabbath to Sabbath[1].”

 

TWO COURSES A YEAR

The cycle for the 24 courses was repeated TWICE each year, with the first cycle beginning in the first month and the second cycle beginning in the seventh month.

  • The NET Bible Notes states, “Zechariah’s division would be on duty twice a year for a week at a time.”[2]

  • The Homan New Testament Commentary states, “During the three major Jewish festivals (Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles) all priestly divisions served at the temple as pilgrims swelled Jerusalem’s population. Each priestly order or division had two other weeks a year when they carried out the daily temple sacrifices and rituals.”[3]

  • The article “Christmas – Was Jesus really born December 25th?” states, “By means of this arrangement, after the 24th course was completed, the cycle of courses would repeat, so that in a given year each group of priests would serve in the Temple twice per year[4]

 

ABIJAH’S ROTATION

  • The course of Abijah was the EIGHTH course selected: “The first lot went to Jehoiarib … the eighth for Abijah … the twenty-fourth to Maaziah” (1 Chronicles 24:7-18 NASU)

  • The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary indicates that Abijah was “one of the descendants of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, and chief of one of the twenty-four divisions or orders into which the whole body of the priesthood was divided by David[5]

  • The courses were determined by lot: “They divided them impartially by drawing lots” (1 Chronicles 24:5 NIV) It may be that the lot first selected the order of the 16 descendants of Eleazar, followed by the descendants of Ithamar. If so, then the course of Abijah listed in the first 16 groups belongs to the descendants of Eleazar. The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on 1 Chronicles 24:6-18 states “These words would much rather suggest that a lot for Eleazar alternated with the drawing of one for Ithamar, until the eight heads of Ithamar's family had been drawn, when, of course, the remaining eight lots of Eleazar must be drawn one after the other. We cannot, however, come to any certain judgment on the matter, for the words are so obscure as to be unintelligible even to the old translators[6].”

  • However, some scholars believe that the sequence of the priestly courses alternated between the descendants of Eleazar and the descendants of Ithamar: Clark’s Peoples Commentary states, “Meyer suggests that the reckoning must be made backward from the destruction of the temple which took place on the tenth of Ab - that is, July 15th, A. D. 70 - when the first course, that of Jehoiarib, was in waiting. Thus reckoning on the supposition that the several classes had during all that time performed their service regularly and in succession, we arrive at the latter part of March, B. C. 6 of the common era, as the time of Zachariah’s service[7].”

  • G. R. Bliss wrote, “Abijah stood first in the eighth of them, and as the date of the destruction of the temple (A. D. 70) is known, and the course of the priests (that of Joarib) then officiating is known, it has been supposed that something definite could be concluded by reckoning backward from that date, as to the week here intended, then, as to the time of John’s birth, then, as to the year, the month, the week, and even the day, of the birth of Jesus[8].”


RELATION TO THE BIRTH OF JESUS

  • The interval between Zechariah completing his service during the course of Abijah and when Elizabeth became pregnant is not specifically stated: “After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant” (Luke 1:24 NET)

  • Although the exact interval is not expressly stated, it does appear that Elizabeth became pregnant IMMEDIATELY.

  • Mary had just become pregnant when she heard that Elizabeth was six months pregnant: “And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age - although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month!” (Luke 1:36 NET)

  • Mary’s pregnancy had just begun and would continue for approximately 9 months

An approximate time of year for the birth of Jesus could be determined:

  • IF it could be determined whether the time that Zechariah served in the course of Abijah occurred in the FIRST or SECOND HALF of the year

  • IF Elizabeth became pregnant IMMEDIATELY upon Zechariah’s return home

  • IF Mary’s pregnancy was exactly 9 months long

Zechariah served in the course of Abijah approximately 15 months before the birth of Christ.

 

TIME OF YEAR NOT SPECIFIED

  • The McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia states regarding the Jewish calendar: “The year begins in autumn as to the civil year, and in the spring as to the sacred year[9].”