In our journey to the Holy Place itself, the most prominent object in the Court of the Priests was the immense altar of unhewn stones. It was a square of 48 feet and at its highest point was 15 feet high. A ‘circuit’ ran around all around the sides of it so the priests could work. They usually went around from right to left. The ‘circuit’ was 9 feet off the ground and 1 1/2 feet high. From here the priests would only have to reach 3 feet to the top of the altar, and 4 1/2 feet to the top of each ‘horn’, each being 1 1/2 feet tall. An inclined plane 48 feet long by 24 wide led up to the ‘circuit’ from the south. Close by them was a great heap of salt for them to use on each of the sacrifices. As they had to do their work barefoot, they kept salt on the inclined plane leading to the altar so they wouldn’t slip easily.
The top of the altar was only 36 feet wide. Three fires burned on top of it: one of the east side for the offerings, the second on the south side for the incense, and the third on the north side to supply the means for kindling the other two fires.
The four ‘horns’ of the altar were straight, square, and hollow. They each had two openings to the southwest, and using silver funnels, the priests funneled the drink-offerings and at the Feast of Tabernacles, the water from the Pool of Siloam was poured into them. A red line all round the middle of the altar marked that above the line were the sacrifices that were intended to be eaten and meant that they should be sprinkled, and below the line were the sacrifices that were to be totally consumed.
The system of drainage that was built into this immense altar was perfect. The blood and other refuse drained into chambers below and then into canals, all which could be flushed at will. When flushed, this was swept down into the Kedron Valley and towards the royal gardens.
On the north side of the altar were the requisites for the sacrifices. There were six rows with four rings each of mechanisms to fasten to the sacrifices. There were eight marble tables for the flesh, fat, and cleaned ‘inwards’, and eight low columns with three hooks each for hanging up the pieces. Also there was a marble table for laying them out, and a table of silver for the gold and silver vessels of service that would be used to carry out the sacrifices.
Back on the south side of the altar beside the ramp was the immense laver of brass, supported by twelve colossal lions. It was drained every evening, and filled every morning by machinery, and was made where twelve priests could wash at the same time. The water supply to the Sanctuary was a wonderful design. There were two different water supplies to the city. The high-level aqueduct collected the water in a rock-hewn tunnel four miles long and then wound along so as to deliver water to the upper portion of the city. The low-level aqueduct was the one that supplied the Temple. It derived its waters from three sources: the hills about Hebron, from Etham, and from the three pools of Solomon. Its total length was over forty miles. It was said to have been an area of nearly four acres of water. If this wasn’t sufficient for an abundant supply to the Temple, the ground itself was perfect for catching water because of all the rock. There were many cisterns that were already natural elements of the rock to catch water in and to store it.
The natural cisterns were then connected by a system of channels cut out of the rock, so that when one was full, the surplus of water ran into the next one, and so on until the overflow was carried off by a channel into the Kedron Valley. They considered the Great Sea a huge cistern that would contain two million gallons of water, with the storage capacity being ten million gallons.
The drainage system of Jerusalem was just as well managed as was the water supply. They even used the sewage that drained from the city as manure for their gardens.
THE GREAT STONES FOR THE HOLY PLACE ITSELF
The Holy Place itself was build on immense foundations of solid blocks of white marble covered with gold, each block measuring, according to Josephus the Historian, 67 1/2 feet by 9 feet. A flight of twelve steps led to the ‘Porch’, which projected 30 feet on each side beyond the Temple itself. Including all the projections, the Temple was 150 feet long and 150 feet wide. 60 feet x 30 feet belonged to the Holy Place; while the Most Holy was 30 feet x 30 feet. On either side there was 30 feet to spare, and this was occupied by side buildings that were three stories high each.
The entrance to the ‘Porch’ was covered by a splendid veil. Sacrificial knives were stored in depositories to the right and left. Within this veil were kept a number of gifts that royalty had given when they had visited the Temple. There were also two tables here – one of marble on which they deposited the new shewbread; and the other of gold, on which they laid the old shewbread as it was removed from the Holy Place. Two-leaved doors with gold plating and covered by a rich Babylonian curtain of the four colors of the Temple, formed the entrance into the Holy Place. Above this hung Israel’s personal symbol, a gigantic vine of pure gold, and made of votive offerings – each cluster the height of a man.
In the Holy Place were, to the south the golden candlestick, to the north the table of shewbread, and beyond them the altar of incense near the entrance to the Most Holy. The altar of incense now was a large stone that was empty on which the high-priest sprinkled the blood on the Day of Atonement, occupying the place where the ark with mercy-seat had stood. A wooden partition separated the Most Holy from the Holy Place; and over the door hung the veil which was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died.
All the restorations that Herod did to the Temple took 46 years to complete. He made it much bigger than it was before, and much more beautiful. It must have been so hard for the disciples to believe Jesus when he told them that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. It looked so glorious in the evening part of the day with the sun shining off the gold dome. At this time Jerusalem was like living in a dream world as far as the Jews were concerned. It must have really pained them when the destruction came that Jesus had foretold.
The picture below is a model that was built of the Altar and the place beside it that held the animals for sacrifice. Even though this may not be exactly the way it looked, it helps you to get a word picture in your mind of its general idea. It is a wonderful picture and covered the whole 2 pages of the book I got it from. I had to put it in the web page in two sections. Please either print it off and put it together or just envision it as the lower picture being on the right side of the upper picture. Together they make the Altar on the left side and the place where they prepared the sacrifices on the right sight. The Temple itself is in the background and you can see the huge stones that it talks about in this text. The laver is also next to the incline that walks up to the sacrifice area.
The following pictures are reproduced by kind permission of Angus Hudson Ltd/Kregel Pictorial Guide to the Temple.