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THE FIRST COMMANDMENT. The words which Jesus cited, and distinguished as the first commandment, are found in Deut. 6: 4, 5. This was one of the passages which were recited at morning and at evening prayer in the temple. It was also written on parchment and inclosed in the little box attached to the Jew's doorpost, called the Mezzuzah. In the same form it was inclosed also in the phylacteries—the little leathern boxes worn by the Jew upon his left arm and on his forehead. From the initial word of the passage, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord,” it came to be called the Shema.
PHYLACTERIES. The phylactery is a square leather box made by stretching a piece of wet leather over a block of wood, cut to the right size, and sewing it while it is wet. When it is dry the block is removed and the leather holds the shape. The phylactery for the hand is made in four compartments, and is marked side with the Hebrew letter shin. On the other side is a four pronged shin. The four pronged letter is a reminder of God, whose name in Hebrew is in four letters Y H W H. The three pronged letter is a reminder of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Beginning on the side with the four pronged letter, the box contains these four passages of scripture:
1. Exodus 13: 1-10. 3. Deut. 6:4-9. 2. Exodus 13:11-16.
4. Deut. 11:13–21. These passages are written on white parchment. Each is tied with the clean white hair of a cow. Then the box is sewed up, and just twelve stitches must be used, for the twelve tribes of Israel. This box is placed upon the forehead, with the straps hanging down behind. This must be worn daily at family worship, excepting on the Sabbath and on feast days. On, these days were other reminders of the Word of God but on ordinary days these phylacteries must serve to remind the family of Divine truth recorded within them.
The other box was worn on the left arm, next the skin, and next to the body, so that it would come next the heart. The strap must go around about the elbow three times, and below seven times, once in a three pronged shin and once in a our pronged shin, then thrice around the middle finger, then round the wrist and then round the palm of the hand. It took some practice to do it just as the Jews thought it ought to be done, and they were very particular about the length of the strap and the size of the box, and the words they uttered when adjusting them. The phylactery for the arm contained the same four passages on a single sheet of parchment.
THE TITHE. The Law required tithes of all agricultural products, such as grain, wine and oil (Deut. 14:23). The Pharisees, overstraining their zeal for the letter of the law, made it apply to the smallest herbs. Such zeal would not be blameworthy had it not joined to itself a disregard of the spirit of the law as applied to matters far more weighty.
THE STRAINING AT THE GNAT. The meaning of the phrase "straining at a gnat" is to strain the wine on account of a gnat which might possibly be in the liquid.
The Widow's MITE. There is no known coin, current in the
E time of Christ, and officially · known Mite. It was doubt
COIN OF ALEXANDER JANNÆUS. less a popular name
THE WIDOW'S MITE. for the smallest of the Maccabæan coins, bearing on one side
A a double cornucopia with a poppy head in the center, and on the obverse the words
COIN OF PONTIUS PILATE. in ancient Hebrew,
QUADRANS, OR FARTHING. “John, the High Priest, and the Commonwealth of the Jews," surrounded by a wreath of olive leaves. They were struck in the reign of John Hyrcanus and his immediate successors in the latter part of the second century B. C. The “farthing” to which two mites equal, and which was the price of two sparrows, was probably the quadrans, a small bronze coin of the Roman procurators.
The illustrations show a "mite" of the reign of Alexander Jannæus, and a quadrans of Pontius Pilate.
The GREEKS AT THE FEAST. These Greeks were doubtless proselytes of the Gate. (Ex. 20:10.) Nothing is known about them except what is recorded here. An ancient legend says that
they were an embassy from Abgarus, king of Edessa, who, hearing that Jesus was in danger in his own country, offered him safety if he would journey thither. The legend further tells how Luke visited this king and painted for him a portrait of Jesus.
THE END OF THE WORLD. It is unfortunate that the word aion, sometimes translated world, is not uniformly translated age. The word, according to Thayer, is used—(1) Of time in general. An unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity. Hence, forever (Jo. 6:51, 58), or with a negation never (Jo. 4:14).
(2) Of Time as Related to the Messiah's Advent. The Jews distinguished “the present world,” the time before the Messiah, from “the coming world," the time after his advent. In a similar manner most of the New Testament writers designate by this world (Mt. 12:32; 13:22, etc.), the time before the appointed return or truly Messianic advent of Christ, the period of instability, weakness, impiety, wickedness, calamity, and misery. By that world or the world to come (Mt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30; Lu. 18:30) they denote the age after the return of Christ in majesty, the period of the consummate establishment of the kingdom and all its blessings. The expression “the end of the world" which occurs only in Matthew, denotes the end, or rather consummation, of the age preceding Christ's return, with which will be connected the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the demolition of this world, and its restoration to a more excellent condition.
THE ORIENTAL LAMP.
The Oriental lamp was a small clay vessel holding very little oil and requiring frequent replenishing
THE BRIDEGROOM's Delay. Punctuality is not an Oriental virtue. All the scenes in the parable of the Virgins, as in all of Christ's parables, are profoundly true to the life of his country.
TALENTS. The talent was not a coin, but a measure of weight.
A talent of silver was about 125 pounds in weight, Troy. Its value is variously estimated, as the purchasing power of such a sum would vary greatly. The Attic talent was in common use in Palestine at this time, and was worth about $960. The real value, in purchasing power, of course, was very much greater. At any possible reckoning its modern equivalent in real value would be several thousand dollars. Reckoning the denarius as the day's wage, it would be approximately correct to say that the purchasing power of a talent was not far from that of $6,000 at the present time.
THE THIRTY PIECES. The thirty pieces of silver were doubtless shekels. The amount paid was the legal price of a slave. Out of the very coin for which their zeal for the law caused them to permit the desecration of the temple, the coin devised and used for the purchase of the temple sacrifice, the priests paid the traitor this price for him who became the world's sacrifice for sin.