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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
The book of Ezekiel began with a vision of the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly chariot throne of God in order to speak directly to His people through Ezekiel (chapter 1). He then recorded the departure of God's glory from Jerusalem and the Temple because of the sins of Israel (chapters 8 - 11). This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Now it ends with another vision, the return of God's glory to the land and to His people (chapters 40 -48) depicted in the form of a heavenly temple established on the mountains of Israel to which the glory of God returns, resulting in the final restoration of ‘the city’ as ‘Yahweh is there’. Thus this part of the book follows both chronologically and logically from what has gone before.
Furthermore at the commencement of the book Ezekiel received his divine commission as a prophet (chapters 1 - 3), then he pronounced oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for their sins, declaring that Jerusalem must be destroyed (chapters 4 - 24). He followed this up with oracles of judgment against the foreign nations who had opposed Israel (chapters 25 - 32). Then on hearing of Jerusalem's fall (33.21), the prophet proclaimed messages of hope for Israel, declaring that God would fulfil His promises to deliver and bless His people Israel, and would restore them to the land of their fathers and establish them in the land.
Yes, more, that they would be established there everlastingly under a new David, with an everlasting sanctuary set up in their midst (stressed twice - 37.26, 28) (chapters 34 - 39). And now he declares the presence of that new Temple, even now present in the land, invisible to all but him and yet nevertheless real in so much that it can be measured. It is ‘the icing on the cake’, the final touch to what has gone before (40-48). God is back in His land. For such an invisible presence, a glimpse of another world, present but unseen except by those with eyes to see, compare Genesis 28.12; 2 Kings 2.11-12; 6.17; Zechariah 1.7-11. Indeed without that heavenly temple the glory could not return, for it had to be guarded from the eyes of man.
The heavenly temple can be compared directly with the heavenly throne with its accompanying heavenly escort which Ezekiel saw earlier (chapter 1). That too was the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ark of the covenant, and huge in comparison. So Ezekiel was very much aware of the heavenly realm and its presence in different ways on earth, for he was a man of spiritual vision.
But there is one remarkable fact that we should notice here, and that is that having been made aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, and looking forward to the restoration of Israel and its cities and the Satanic opposition they will face, and even speaking of the building of a new Temple, Ezekiel never once refers directly by name to Jerusalem in any way (in 36.38 it is referred to in an illustration). This seems quite remarkable. It seems to me that this could only arise from a studied determination not to do so. He wants to take men’s eyes off Jerusalem.
Here was a man who was a priest, who had constantly revealed his awareness of the requirements of the cult, who had been almost totally absorbed with Jerusalem, who now looked forward to the restoration of the land and the people, and yet who ignored what was surely central in every Israelite’s thinking, the restoration of Jerusalem. Surely after his earlier prophecies against Jerusalem his ardent listeners must have asked him the question, again and again, what about Jerusalem? And yet he seemingly gave them no answer. Why?
It seems to me that there can only be two parallel answers to that question. The first is that Jerusalem had sinned so badly that as far as God and Ezekiel were concerned its restoration as the holy city was not in the long run to be desired or even considered. What was to be restored was the people and the land, which was his continual emphasis. Jerusalem was very secondary and not a vital part of that restoration. And secondly that in the final analysis the earthly Jerusalem was not important in the final purposes of God. Jerusalem had been superseded. His eternal sanctuary would be set up, but it would not be in the earthly Jerusalem (chapter 45 makes this clear). Rather it would be set up in such a way that it could more be compared to Jacob’s ladder, as providing access to and from the heavenlies (Genesis 28.12) and a way to God, and yet be invisible to man. It is a vision of another world in its relationships with man (compare 2 Kings 6.17). It was the beginnings of a more spiritual view of reality. And it would result in an eternal city, the city of ‘Yahweh is there’ (48.30-35).
Now that is not the view of Jerusalem and the temple of men like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1.4) and Daniel (Daniel 9.2, 16, 19), but they were God-inspired politicians thinking of the nearer political and religious future not the everlasting kingdom. (Daniel does of course deal with the everlasting kingdom, but he never relates Jerusalem to it. He relates the everlasting kingdom to Heaven). Nor do the other prophets avoid mentioning Jerusalem, and they do see in ‘Jerusalem’ a place for the forwarding of the purposes of God (e.g. Isaiah 2.3; 4.3-5; 24.23; 27.13; 30.19; 31.5; 33.20-21; 40.2, 9; 44.26-28; 52.1-2, 9; 62.1-7; 65.18-19; 66.10-20; Jeremiah 3.17-18; 33.11-18; Joel 2.32; 3.1, 16-20; Obadiah 1.17-21; Micah 4.2-8; Zephaniah 3.14-16; Zechariah 2.2-4, 12; 3.2; 8.3-8, 15, 22; 9.9-10; 12.6-13.1; 14.11-21; Malachi 3.4 ), although some of these verses too have the ‘new Jerusalem’ firmly in mind. And certainly God would in the short term encourage the building of a literal Temple in Jerusalem (Haggai and Zechariah). Thus all saw the literal Jerusalem as having at least a limited function in the forward going of God’s purposes, simply because it was central in the thinking of the people of Israel. Although how far is another question. However, Ezekiel’s vision went beyond that. It seems to be suggesting that in the major purposes of God the earthly Jerusalem was now of little significance. It was not even worthy of mention. It is now just ‘the city’.
Yet we find him here suddenly speaking of the presence of a new Temple in the land of Israel. But even here, although it is referred to under the anonymous phrase ‘the city’ (40.1), Jerusalem remains unmentioned by name. And the temple is not sited in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is simply a place called anonymously ‘the city’, whose future name, once it is redeemed and purified, is ‘Yahweh is there’ (48.35). What Ezekiel is far more concerned to demonstrate is that the glory of Yahweh, and His accessibility to His own, has returned to His people in a new heavenly Temple, which has replaced the old, and is established on a mysterious and anonymous mountain, rather than to stress His presence in an earthly Jerusalem. Indeed he will stress that this temple is outside the environs of Jerusalem (45.1-6).
This should then awaken us to the fact that Ezekiel is in fact here speaking of an everlasting sanctuary (37.26,28). This is no earthly Temple with earthly functions. There is no suggestion anywhere that it should be built, indeed it was already there and could be measured. It is an everlasting heavenly Temple of which the earthly was, and will be, but a shadow.
It is true that a physical temple would be built, and they are specifically told that the altar described (but pointedly not directly ‘measured’) is to be made (43.18), for physical sacrifices would require a physical altar, and that will be the point of contact with the heavenly temple, but the important thing would be, not the physical temple, but the invisible heavenly temple, present in the land, of which the physical was but a representation. The ancients regularly saw their physical religious artefacts as in some way representing an invisible reality, and so it is here. A fuller picture of the heavenly temple is given throughout the Book of Revelation. And this temple was now ‘seen’ to be established in the land even before a physical temple was built. God had again taken possession of His land, and awaited the return of His people for the ongoing of His purposes.
But a further point, putting these verses firmly in its context, is that this will make them realise that once they have come through the trials brought on them by Gog and his forces, fortified by the presence of God in their midst, they will be able to enter the eternal rest promised them by God, for His heavenly, everlasting temple was here so that He could dwell among them in an everlasting sanctuary. This was thus putting in terms that they could understand the heavenly future that awaited His people. It was a fuller and more perfect sanctuary (37.26-28; Hebrews 9.11). And it had relevance from the beginning as the sign that God had returned to His land.
This section about the ‘heavenly’ temple can be split into five parts. The first is a brief introduction in terms of the vision that Ezekiel experienced (40.1-4). This is followed by a detailed description of the new temple complex with the lessons that it conveyed (40.5-42.20), the return of Yahweh to His temple (43.1-9), the worship that would follow as a result of that temple (43.10-46.24), and the accompanying changes that would take place with regard to His people as they ‘repossessed the land’ with the final establishment of a heavenly city (chapters 47-48), all expressed in terms of what they themselves were expecting, but improved on. To them ‘the land’ was the ultimate of their aspirations, a land in which Yahweh had promised them that they would dwell in safety and blessing for ever. So the promises were put in terms of that land to meet with their aspirations. But there are clear indications that something even more splendid was in mind as we shall see. The land could never finally give them the fullness of what God was promising them, and once the temple moved into Heaven, ‘the land’ would move there too.
But we should perhaps here, in fairness to other commentators, pause to recognise that there are actually a number of main views (with variations) with regard to these chapters, which we ought to all too briefly consider for the sake of completeness, so as to present a full picture. As we consider them readers must judge for themselves which one best fits all the facts, remembering what we have already seen in Ezekiel the details of a vision that reaches beyond the confines of an earthly land. We must recognise too that accepting one does not necessarily mean that we have to fully reject the others, for prophecy is not limited to a single event, but to the ongoing action and purposes of God. Nevertheless we cannot avoid the fact that one view must be predominant
It is claimed by those who disagree with them that this view also overlooks the amount of detail given, so much detail, they would claim, that one could almost use these chapters as general blueprints to build the structures in view. To this the reply is partly that the detail is in fact not sufficient to prepare efficient blueprints, and partly that they bear their own message. Indeed they argue that all the many attempts to make a reliable blueprint have failed. If taken literally, they argue, there are problems with the detail that cannot be surmounted. They are therefore far better seen as depictions of the concern of God for perfection for His people.
Those who disagree with them point among other things to the impracticality of the plans for the temple, the impossibility of now establishing a genuine Zadokite priesthood, the contradiction of establishing a system of sacrifices when the New Testament points to a better sacrifice, made once for all, which has replaced all others, the discrepancies and difficulties with regard to the siting of the temple, and the unfeasability of dividing the land in the way described.
Whatever view we take we cannot deny that the New Testament does see God’s temple as being present on earth in His people (Ephesians 2.20-22; 1 Corinthians 3.16-17; 2 Corinthians 6.16; Revelation 11.1), and that John in Revelation refers throughout to a temple in Heaven, and to a new Jerusalem, clearly related to some of the things described in these chapters. Furthermore his description of the eternal state, of life in ‘the new earth’ after the destruction of the present earth, is partly based on chapter 47-48 (Revelation 21 - 22). And we might see that as suggesting that once the Messiah had been rejected God’s heavenly temple was thought of as having deserted Israel, and as having gone up into Heaven where it was seen by John, although still being represented on earth, no longer by a building, but by His new people.
Bearing all this in mind we will now consider the text.
The Vision of the New Temple (40.1-42.20).
The Man With the Measuring Reed (40.1-4).
40.1 ‘In the twenty fifth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was smitten, on the selfsame day, the hand of Yahweh was on me, and he brought me there. In the visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was as it were the frame of a city on the south.’
This incident is dated the tenth day, of the first month of the twenty fifth year of the captivity (573 BC), namely either the 10th of Abib (or Nisan) (March-April), compare Exodus 12.2-3, which was the day of separating the Passover lamb ready for the Passover, or the 10th day of Tishri (September/October) which was the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23.27; 25.9), depending on which calendar was being used. Thus it may be seen as the day of preparation for deliverance (the Passover), or the day of repentance and atonement, in preparation for the new age (the Day of Atonement).
It is also described as being on the fourteenth year ‘after the city was smitten’. This was twice times seven, an intensively perfect period, an indication of God’s specific timing. God was now ready to take up His people and land again. Note the reference to ‘the city’. The name of Jerusalem is deliberately not mentioned.
There are also other indications of vagueness. He is set down on ‘a very high mountain’. He saw ‘as it were’ a city. Contrast the very specific descriptions the previous time that Ezekiel was transported in this way to the land of Israel, ‘to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner temple’ (8.3), ‘the east gate of Yahweh’s house’ (11.1). This time he is in vision again but there is no exactness. The city and the mountain are nameless, and the city vaguely described. There is a deliberate intention not to tie this too closely to the earthly Jerusalem. Attempts to name the mountain would therefore defeat Ezekiel’s purpose (both Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives have been suggested, among others). He makes clear in 45.1-7 that this temple is not located in ‘the city’, and does not want us to tie it in with an earthly locality. He wants all concentration to be on this mysterious temple, present in the land, of which he is made aware, and to which all are to turn.
‘On a very high mountain.’ In Isaiah 2.2; Micah 4.1, the ‘mountain of Yahweh’s house’ in ‘the latter days’ was to be on the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. The same eschatological idea is in mind here. It is the house to which all nations will flow, and from which will go out the word of Yahweh and His Law, when He rules the nations righteously and brings peace. It suggests the going forth of God’s truth and the everlasting Kingly Rule of God, which was continued in the ministry of Jesus and the early church, and finalised in the bringing in of the everlasting kingdom. It was to be a witness to the nations.
‘On which was as it were the frame (or construction) of a city on the south.’ The temple was not in the city. Indeed the city is vague, a future dream, as indicated by the ‘as it were’, but the temple is real and can be measured.
40.3 ‘And he brought me there, and behold there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed, and he stood in the gate.’
The man’s appearance ‘like the appearance of brass’ depicts him as a heavenly visitor (compare 8.2). He was glorious in his appearance. The line of flax was for measuring distances, the measuring reed for more exact measurements. He was there to measure the temple that was already there and stood ready at the gate. The fact that the measurement began at the gate may be seen as stressing that it was the making available of the people’s access to God that was primarily in mind.
We should note again that there is nothing here to indicate that attempts were to be made to build such a temple, nor that it should be built. It was already there in vision, and the fact that it could be measured was to deliberately indicate its ‘real’ presence and the intention for it to be currently effective. It indicated heavenly activity taking place on earth in a form usually invisible, as with Jacob’s ladder which provided access to heavenly beings from some spiritual realm and was no doubt to be seen as continuing even when Jacob saw it no more (Genesis 28.12) and providing a similar way to God which was no doubt seen as equally invisibly permanent. Jacob saw Bethel as the house of God and the gate of Heaven (Genesis 28.17). And it was from then on looked on as a sacred sanctuary. How much more this new temple. It is a vision of that other world in its relationships with man (compare also 2 Kings 6.17. See also Daniel 10.13, 20; Zechariah 1.7-11).
40.4 ‘And the man said to me, “Son of man, behold with your eyes and hear with your ears, and set your heart on all that I show you, for it was with the intention that I show them to you that you were brought here. Declare all you see to the house of Israel.” ’
Ezekiel was to take careful note of all that he saw and heard. He was to carefully remember it, setting his mind and heart on it. For it was a message to the house of Israel.
The message was plain. A new temple, a heavenly temple, had been established in the land of Israel which made clear the awful holiness of God, and was now there. This had an important present message for Ezekiel’s hearers in that it suggested to them that God was taking them up again as His people, and was dwelling in the land, and that they would one day return there and be able to re-establish temple worship, but that they must ever remember His holiness and be wary of their sins. However, there was a mysteriousness and remoteness about this temple which pointed to it having a deeper significance. In its full manifestation it would portray the invisible presence of God with His people, the outflowing of the Spirit in the Messianic age (chapter 47), and the presence of the everlasting kingdom (48.35). It was both a near and a far ‘prophecy’. Thus it symbolised both present hopes and future expectations.
The Measuring of the Temple (40.5-42.20).
There follows now the measuring in detail of the temple and the temple area, and we may ask what is the purpose of these detailed measurements? In actual fact they were very important for they confirmed the reality of the invisible temple and its purpose. While a visionary temple, it was nevertheless firmly grounded in reality. The measuring made clear to the people a number of facts which they needed to learn.
Firstly it stressed that the tabernacle of God was now once more in the land awaiting them, although in visionary, not literal form. Secondly it pointed ahead to what was to come. And thirdly it stressed that He was a holy God and that approach to Him was not to be endeavoured lightly. Anything short of what appeared to be a detailed blueprint would not have achieved these aims. Those who heard Ezekiel speaking about it would naturally ask for details of what he had seen, and would indeed find their hearts dance within them at every little detail given, for it would remind them of the old temple which they thought they had lost for ever.
The Measurement of the Wall of the Outer Court.
40.5 ‘And behold there was a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed of six ‘long cubits’, being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the building, one reed, and the height one reed.”
The measuring reed was six ‘long cubits’ in length. A long cubit was about 50 centimetres (20.5 inches) per long cubit (a cubit and a handbreadth) compared with the normal cubit of (44 centimetres) 17.5 inches. Thus the wall around the temple was about 3.2 metres (10 foot 3 inches) thick and 3.2 metres (10 foot 3 inches) high, in perfect symmetry.
So the first thing we learn about the new temple is that it was protected from the outside world by a wall of perfect symmetry, which declared its perfection. Access was thus limited to those who had the right to enter. It was not open to anyone. Like the linen screen round the courtyard of the tabernacle, the wall separated the holy from the profane (42.20). Without was the world. Within was God’s holy provision for His true people, and a place of worship and prayer where they could meet with Him.
So the wall was to be seen as providing perfect protection, a perfection indicated by its symmetry, for the temple of God itself, protecting it from the profane. But it was also to be seen as providing a sanctified place within it, protected from the world, for the true worship of God. In New Testament terms it gave access into the heavenlies. None, however, could pass in except those granted privileged access, who could enter to meet with God, and entry would be only by those who sought His face and were obedient to His covenant, those of a humble and a contrite heart (Isaiah 57.15). The high and lofty One was in His heavenly temple, and only those whose hearts were right could approach Him.
Thus when Paul later likened the people of God to the temple it indicated not only the glorious fact that they were the dwellingplace of God by His Spirit, but also that they too enjoyed His full protection and were separate from the world in His eyes, a people set apart for Himself, walled off from the world and its degradation, and with open access to Him.
The Measurement of the East Gate.
40.6-7 ‘Then he went into the gateway which looked towards the east, and went up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed broad, and the other threshold, one reed broad. And the side-rooms (or ‘guard chambers’) were one reed long and one reed broad. And the space between the side-rooms was five cubits. And the threshold of the gate by the vestibule of the gate towards the house was one reed.’
The East Gate was the main approach to the temple and was thus seen as very important (compare 10.19; 11.1 and see 43.4; 44.2). It consisted of an inner and outer gate with an oblong passageway in between, at each end of which was a vestibule and with guard rooms up the sides, the whole being fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits wide.
The temple complex as a whole would be oriented east to west, (thus the importance of the east gate), and consisted of an outer court approached through the gate, and then, within that outer court, surrounded by it on three sides (north, south and east), an inner court leading into the sanctuary itself, which sanctuary was surrounded on three sides (north, south and west) by a small temple yard (a ‘separate place’) within the inner court area. The whole edifice was built on a platform raising it above the surrounding area, with the inner court also on a further platform rising above the outer court, and the sanctuary still higher.
Steps (probably seven - compare verses 22, 26) led up from outside the temple to the outer threshold of the gateway (which itself led to the outer court), which again was one reed broad. And passing through the initial gateway there were three side-rooms or guard chambers on each side of the open ‘corridor’ within the gateway, a corridor which led up to the threshold of the porch (or vestibule) at the far end, which was again one reed broad. The purpose of the measurements was to demonstrate the continual perfect symmetry of the whole.
‘Five cubits.’ Five and its multiples were a regular measure in the tabernacle and were indicative of the covenant relationship. Five is the number of covenant. It is thus prominent in this heavenly temple.
(There were five fingers to the hand with which covenants were confirmed, five commandments on each tablet of stone in the giving of the covenant, five books of the Law, and of the Psalms, five loaves in the covenant feeding of the five thousand of Israel, multiples of five were in common use in the tabernacle, and so on).
This gate, the east gate, along with the north and south gates, granted the only access to the temple precincts. Between the three they thus ensured that there was a ‘complete’ and sufficient way in to the dwelling-place of God provided for His people, as the fact of ‘three’ gates indicated. (Three was the number of completeness throughout the ancient Near East, often divine, as seven was the number of divine perfection).
But its construction also brings home that it was an access that was closely guarded (thus the guard chambers), giving ‘complete’ security (threefold on each side) and excluding the profane. Let no one dare to enter who was unfit. The raising of the temple on a platform, which explains the need for the steps, indicated that it was other-worldly, raised above the outside world, (compare Isaiah 2.2-3), in the world but not of it. It was not of this world.
So God was indicating to His people by this that they could once more approach Him with confidence if they were pure, and that a way was provided for them which none other could use unless they entered the covenant, for nothing profane could approach Him.
The construction of the gateway is very similar in design to a Solomonic gateway discovered at Megiddo, and has affinities with Syrian and Palestinian temples such as that at Carchemish. When God was designing for His people He did so in terms of their current environment, as He had done previously with the tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
40.8-11 ‘He also measured the vestibule of the gate towards the house which was one reed. So he measured the vestibule of the gate, eight cubits, and its posts, two cubits, and the vestibule of the gate was towards the house. And the side rooms of the gate eastward were three on this side and three on that side, the three were of the same size, and the posts were of the same size on this side and on that side. And he measured the breadth of the opening of the gateway, ten cubits, and the breadth of the gate, thirteen cubits.’
‘Towards the house’ indicated that this vestibule was at that end of the gateway nearer the sanctuary, rather than at the outer end. So the inner protecting gate was also measured by God’s representative. The six guard rooms are again described, emphasising their importance in relation to the protecting gate. The way to God had to be fully protected from profanity. There was a way in but it had to be guarded and kept for those for whom it was allowed. The measuring of them stresses that they were there and that they had to be taken into account.
The eight cubit vestibule plus the two one cubit posts, presumably make up the ten cubit opening of the gateway. Emphasis again is on multiples of five.
40.12 ‘And there was a barrier in front of the side rooms, one cubit on this side and one cubit on that side. And the guard rooms were six cubits on this side and six cubits on that side.’
Detail is given of the guard rooms in order to draw attention to their importance, and to demonstrate their symmetrical perfection. They would, without any question, fulfil their functions. They had to be six cubits so as to make up the twenty five cubits across (five squared) when taken with the thirteen cubit wide corridor.
40.13 ‘And he measured the gate from the top of one side room to the top of another, a breadth of twenty five cubits, door to door.’
The twenty five cubits is possibly represented by adding the six cubits of two opposite side rooms, to the thirteen cubits which is ‘the breadth of the gate’ (i.e. of the inner corridor). Thus the important multiple of five, the covenant number, is maintained (the sixes and the thirteen being required for this reason). ‘Door to door’ might suggest a back door in the wall of each guard room leading into the outer court, so that the rooms could be entered or left by means of the outer court without using the main gateway.
40.14-15 ‘He also made posts of sixty cubits, and the court to the post, the gate round about. And from the forefront of the gate at the entrance to the forefront of the inner porch of the gate were fifty cubits’
The sixty cubits would be the gateposts at the outer end of the gate, forming a deliberately imposing gateway, common in antiquity. It was what those who were without would see. The phrase ‘and the court to the post, the gate round about’ is a little obscure and may mean that the distance between where the court was entered (the inner gate), and the outer gate was filled by the whole gate construction, the distance being fifty cubits, or it may signify that the outer court came up to the gateposts, externally to the gate itself, at each side of the gate, but of course inside the walls, as the gate construction would protrude out into the outer court. Either way the length of the whole of the construction of the gate (from outer gate to inner gate) was fifty cubits.
The whole intention is to give the impression of a magnificent gateway protecting the way into the temple precincts (lest the temple be defiled), and manifesting the glory of God.
40.16 “And there were narrowing windows in the side rooms, and to their posts within the gate round about, and likewise to the colonnade. And windows were round about inward. And on each post were palm trees.’
Windows of the kind described (compare 1 Kings 6.4) were scattered all round the gateway, providing light and air, (the meaning of the word translated ‘colonnade’ is a technical architectural term and is uncertain), and palm trees were engraved on the posts. This latter was a common decoration in Solomon’s temple symbolising creation (1 Kings 6.29-35). Palm trees were also symbols of beauty and fruitfulness (see Leviticus 23.40; 1 Kings 6.29, 32, 35; 7.36; 2 Chronicles 3.5; Song of Solomon 7:7; Psalm 92.12-14; Nehemiah 8.15; Zechariah 14.16-21). The detail of the whole would confirm to any sceptics that Ezekiel was actually describing something that he had seen, and that what he claimed to have seen had thus at least some degree of reality and was not just an illusion.
The Measurement of the Outer Court (40.17-19).
The outer court surrounded the inner court and the sanctuary on three sides, (the inner court and the sanctuary being surrounded by another wall with three gates in it), the fourth side of the sanctuary along with the building behind it being against the west wall. The outer court was for the use of God’s people generally, the inner court being reserved for the priests.
40.17-18 “Then he brought me to the outer court, and lo there were chambers, fronted by a pavement, erected round about the court. Thirty chambers were fronted by the pavement. And the pavement was beside the gates, corresponding to the length of the gates, even the lower pavement.”
Chambers were built around the outer court. The purpose of the chambers, which were built on the wall, with the pavement in front, is not mentioned, but see Jeremiah 35.2. They were probably used as meeting places, and for the general convenience of worshippers. ‘Thirty’ (three intensified) demonstrates a completeness of provision for worshippers. All that was needed was here. They were built on a ‘lower pavement’ There was a ‘higher pavement’ in the inner court. An increase in height at each stage demonstrated the increasing holiness of the place in question.
40.19 “Then he measured the breadth from the forefront of the lower gate to the forefront of the outside of the inner court, a hundred cubits both on the east and on the north.”
Thus the outer court was one hundred cubits, from the inmost part of the gateway to the inner court, all round on three sides.
The Measurement of the North and South Gates (40.20-27).
These two gates were an identical reproduction of the east gate, the ‘three’ gates representing ‘complete’ access. This time the number of steps leading up to them is given. It is seven, the number of divine perfection. The temple was raised above the earth by a divinely perfect amount, and accessed in a divinely perfect way. The number seven had huge significance to the ancients throughout the Ancient Near East. It was the ‘perfect’ number and often indicated divine activity and perfection.
40.20-27 ‘And the gate of the outer court whose prospect is towards the north, he measured its length and breadth. And its side rooms were three on this side and three on that side. And its posts and its colonnades were of the same measurements as the first gate. Its length was fifty cubits and its breadth twenty five cubits. And its windows and colonnades, and its palm trees were of the same measurements as the gate whose prospect is towards the east. And they went up to it by seven steps. And its colonnades were before them. And there was a gate to the inner court over against the other gate, both on the north and on the east, and he measured from gate to gate one hundred cubits. And he led me towards the south, and behold, a gate towards the south. And he measured its posts and its colonnades, and there were windows in it and in its colonnades round about, like those windows. The length was fifty cubits and the breadth twenty five cubits. And there were seven steps to go up to it, and its colonnades were before them. And it had palm trees, one on this side and one on that side, on its posts. And there was a gate to the inner court towards the south, and he measured from gate to gate towards the south one hundred cubits.’
So all three gateways to the outer court were identical representing complete access and complete protection from profanity. Entry was available for those within the covenant, whose hearts were right, for this was a heavenly temple and entry was by seven steps. These can be compared with the seven gates leading into the underworld in Sumerian and Babylonian myths. The difference being that these led up to God. They were for His people. All others were excluded.
The Inner Court - the Court of the Priests .
It is extraordinary to me that given that the difference between priest and laity has been cancelled by the new covenant, so that all God’s people are royal priests (1 Peter 2.5, 9; Revelation 1.6; 5.10), some would argue on the basis of this vision (and belief in a millennium) that the difference is once again to be introduced by God in Israel. This is especially strange in the light of Isaiah 62.6.
For the truth is that this vision of the inner court spoke directly to Ezekiel’s time. Then the difference between priest and laity was still maintained, and the way to God was still shown to be difficult because He was substantially unapproachable by man because of His awful holiness. At the root of this vision of the heavenly temple established by God on earth is the fact that His people had to be made aware of this extreme holiness, for it was a lesson that they had still not learned. That was why they had become idolatrous. But the detail of the heavenly temple demonstrated quite clearly that He dwelt in unapproachable light and was so holy that the way into His presence was heavily restricted and protected from those who were unworthy. And all must come through the shedding of blood and through a carefully revealed ritual.
But once this temple was transferred to Heaven, and Jesus was made High Priest (Hebrews 9.24), and the one sacrifice for all had been offered (Hebrews 9.28), the way into His presence was opened up for all His people and they had direct access into His presence (Hebrews 10.19; Revelation 7.9). Christ’s priesthood would then replace the earthly priesthood, for He would take their place by entering into a more glorious and unchanging priesthood (Hebrews 7.11-12, 24), and His people too would become ‘royal priests’ (1 Peter 5.9) with access into the presence of God. Thus the significance of the temple was transformed and there was no way in which it could go backwards to the picture described here.
But this does not mean that we can enter the presence of God lightly. The blood has been shed, the price has been paid, and it is with reverence and awe that we must ensure that we are cleansed in that blood before we approach Him (1 John 1.5-10). We too must remember that God is holy.
Having recognised this principle let us go back to the lessons that this heavenly temple on earth has to teach us.
The Measurement of the South Gate of the Inner Court.
40.28-31 ‘Then he brought me to the inner court by the south gate, and he measured the south gate in accordance with this measurement, and its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades, in accordance with these measurements. It was fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits broad. And there were colonnades round about, twenty five cubits long and five cubits broad. And its colonnades were toward the outer court, and palm trees were on its posts, and the ascent to it had eight steps.’
The descriptions of the gates of the inner court are abbreviated because they were much like the East gate of the outer court. Note again that the measurements are in multiples of five. This is covenant territory. And the palm trees, symbols of creation and fruitfulness, are prominent. The fact that there are such gates indicates that the inner court was also surrounded by a wall. The vestibule faces outwards towards the outer court.
There were eight steps up to the inner court, one more than for the outer court. This is probably in order to stress that entry becomes more difficult, and the way harder, the nearer men approach to God. Having climbed the seven steps of divine perfection there is yet one more step to go. It reveals an increasing degree of holiness. The inner court was barred to all but priests, those especially set apart and prepared to deal with holy things. God was too holy to be approached lightly or by any not especially chosen and prepared.
The Measurements of the East and North Gates of the Inner Court.
40.32-37 ‘And he brought me to the inner court towards the east, and he measured the gate in accordance with these measurements, and its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades, in accordance with these measurements. And there were windows in it and in the colonnades round about. It was fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits broad. And its colonnades were towards the outer court, and palm trees were on its posts, on this side and on that side. And the ascent to it had eight steps. And he brought me to the north gate, and he measured it according to these measurements, its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades. And there were windows in it round about. The length was fifty cubits, and the breadth twenty five cubits. And its posts were towards the outer court, and the palm trees were on its posts, on this side and on that side. And the ascent to it had eight steps.’
All that has been said about the south gate applies in threefold measure (north, south and east).
The Equipment for Sacrifice (40.38-43).
Full provision was made for sacrificial activity, including whole (burnt) offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. Approach to God still required the full sacrificial rites, the same as before the exile. So there were eight or more tables for the slaying of sacrifices (probably at each gate) and four to carry the sacrificial instruments.
The emphasis is therefore laid on the fact that none could approach God without the shedding of blood for sin and guilt, together with worship and thanksgiving offerings. The whole (burnt) offering was an offering of total surrender to God, and in its different uses included worship, praise, thanksgiving and atonement. The sin and guilt offerings were on the other hand basic. They represented a sacrifice for the taking away of the guilt of sin (Leviticus 4.1-5.17). There is no way in which they can be seen as memorial offerings. Their meaning is clearly identified. A man sins. The sin or guilt offering is necessary in order to ‘bear’ the man’s sin (This once for all cancels the idea that they can just be dismissed as memorial offerings as is required by the millennium theory). Once the tabernacle was taken up into Heaven, however, these would be unnecessary, as the one offering for sin for ever would already have been made.
It is no argument against this to say that animal sacrifices did not really take away sins, but only did so as pointing forward to Christ. That is true, but at the time that they were instituted they were the only way known by which sin could be taken away, and the complexity of the sacrificial system was because of the complexity of the problem of sin. To reproduce this in a ‘memorial system’ replacing the simplicity of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) would be ludicrous in the extreme. Solemn ceremonies carried out and animals killed in large numbers in a complicated system were necessary before full enlightenment came. Once, however, it came, and the full price was paid at the cross, they were no longer necessary. And in a land noted for the fact that killing between man and beast had ceased it would be shameful (Isaiah 11.6-9).
40.38-41 ‘There was a chamber with its door by the posts at the gates. There they washed the burnt offering. And in the porch of the gate were two tables on this side and on that side, on which to slay the burnt offering, and the sin offering and the guilt offering. And on the side outside as one ascends to the entry of the gate toward the north, were two tables, and on the other side which belonged to the porch of the gate, were two tables. Four tables were on this side and four tables were on that side, by the side of the gate. Eight tables on which they slew the offerings.’
The tables for the slaying of the sacrifices were seemingly partly in the vestibule and partly outside. There were eight in all, four inside and four outside (that is one reading. There may have been more tables depending on whether we see repetition here). They are described here as being at the northern gate but the idea is probably that they were similarly at all three gates. The shedding of blood before approach to God was ever necessary
40.42-43 ‘And there were four tables for the burnt offering, of hewn stone, a cubit and a half long, and a cubit and a half broad, and a cubit in height. On these were laid the instruments with which they slew the burnt offering and sacrifice. And hooks a handbreadth long were fastened within round about. And on the tables was the flesh of the oblation.’
The tables for the tools required for sacrifice are described here, each foursquare to symbolise perfection. The hooks were probably intended for hanging animal flesh on. So in the heavenly tabernacle, while situated on earth after the exile, it is made clear that the old order as far as sacrifices were concerned was to continue. Atonement had to be made for sin if men were to meet with God. It would be different once full atonement had been made once and forever. Similar dressed slaughter stones were discovered in the excavations at Ebla.
But if this was a heavenly temple where priests could not literally enter, why was the detail necessary? It was, of course, to provide a basic pattern so that when the priests in the earthly temple carried out their duties it was recognised that in some way this was affecting the situation with regard to the heavenly temple. By their actions they were approaching Heaven.
The Chambers for the Priests (40.44-46).
40.44-46 ‘And outside the inner gate were chambers for the singers in the inner court, which were at the side of the north gate. And their prospect was towards the south, and one at the east gate having the prospect towards the north. And he said to me, “This chamber, whose prospect is towards the south, is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the house. And the chamber whose prospect is towards the north is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who, from among the sons of Levi, come near to Yahweh to minister to him.”
There were a number of chambers outside the inner gate, all but two of which were for the singers who sang in the inner court. The two were set aside for the priests, the one facing south (‘this chamber’ - being no doubt indicated by the hand of the speaker) for those who had charge of the house (see 44.10-14), the one facing north for those who had charge of the altar (see 44.15-21).
Singers are described elsewhere in 1 Chronicles 6.31-32 where they were Levites, but it may be that the point being made here is that the singers here were priests, (and therefore more holy and allowed into the inner court), the Levites being no longer worthy due to past failure, and that all the chambers facing south were thus for the priests who had the lesser privilege of ‘charge of the house’ and of ‘singing’. But only ‘the sons of Zadok’ (compare 44:15; 1 Samuel 2.31-33; 2 Samuel 15.24-29; 1 Kings 1.5-26, 32-35; 2.26-27, 35; 1 Chronicles 6.3-8; 24.3) were from now on to be allowed to enter the sanctuary and offer the fat and blood of the sacrifices before Yahweh (44.15). They were the keepers of ‘the charge of the altar’. Thus a distinction was now to be made between differing ‘families’ of priests with ‘the sons of Zadok’ now stated to be especially favoured because they had shown particular loyalty to Yahweh in the period of the kings (44.15). There was thus to be a limiting of the priestly function for the majority. See further on 44.10-21.
‘Sons of Zadok’ were seen as descended from Zadok of the house of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6.8, 53), who had loyally supported David, and had ensured the accession of Solomon thereby obtaining the high priesthood (1 Kings 2.35), which remained Zadokite (1 Chronicles 6.10; 6.15 with Haggai 1.1) into the future. But loyal Yahwist priests from other parts of the family who sided with their loyal stance may well have joined with them, and been adopted as ‘sons of Zadok’, while some of their own who chose the way of idolatry may well have united with others and distanced themselves from the sons of Zadok. For ‘sons of’ primarily came to mean ‘those who behaved like’ (compare ‘the sons of Belial’). And ‘the sons of Zadok’ were probably seen as a narrow-minded clique by other priests.
This enunciation of detail would have been particularly impressive to Ezekiel’s hearers, and have helped to convince them that he really had seen the invisible temple of Yahweh already established in the land. The fact that chambers had been so set aside confirmed that God would in the future restore Israel’s way of worship. The heavenly temple was conveying a message rather than being for practical utilisation.
The Vestibule for the Sanctuary.
40.47 ‘And he measured the court, one hundred cubits long and one hundred cubits broad, foursquare, and the altar was before the house.’
The inner court was foursquare and attention is drawn to the fact. This was regularly a symbol of perfection. Compare Exodus 26; 1 Kings 6.20 where the holiest of all was a perfect cube; and the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21.16 which ‘lay foursquare’. (See also the two altars and the breastplate in Exodus 27.1; 28.16; 30.2; 37.25; 38.1; 39.9). In the middle of the inner court was the altar, in front of ‘the house’, that is the sanctuary. But it is noteworthy that the altar is not measured. This fact is quite striking. It has a unique significance as denoted in 43.13-27.
40.48-49 ‘Then he brought me to the porch of the house and measured each post of the porch, five cubits on this side and five cubits on that side, and the breadth of the gate was three cubits on this side and three cubits on that side. The length of the porch was twenty cubits, and the breadth eleven cubits, even by the steps where they ascended to it. And there were pillars by the posts, one on this side and one on that side.’
We are now approaching the sanctuary, and the first thing we reach is the porch or vestibule of the sanctuary. The steps demonstrate that the sanctuary was on a further raised platform, denoting its increased holiness. LXX says that there were ten steps leading up to it. The increase in the number of steps would also tie in with the increasing holiness of the place.
The twenty cubits was what we would call the breadth, but the Israelites always called the longest measurement ‘the length’ (strictly in fact the translation is therefore inexact in our terms). The pillars probably had a similar purpose to the free-standing decorated bronze pillars of Solomon’s temple named Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7.15-22). There is considerable evidence for free-standing columns at the entrance to temple sanctuaries.
The Sanctuary (41.1-4).
We have now reached the central focus of the temple complex, the sanctuary itself. This was divided into three parts, the porch or vestibule (’ulam), the holy place (the nave - hekal - from the Sumerian e.gal ‘great house’) and the holiest of all (the holy of holies) (here depicted by ‘debir’ - from a root meaning ‘back’ or ‘rear’). Everything up to this point has indicated the increasing holiness, from the seven steps by which entry was first made into the complex, past the necessary guard rooms, to the eight steps to the foursquare inner court, to the (ten) steps into the sanctuary itself, this emphasis continues. As a priest Ezekiel is able to enter the holy place, but notice that even he cannot enter the holy of holies, even in vision. That is allowed to the supernatural visitor alone. It is most holy.
How different it would all be once the heavenly temple was seen as transferred to Heaven in Revelation. Then Yahweh will be seen by all, although it must be recognised that the actions of those in His presence will still convey the idea of His holiness and greatness (Revelation 4-5). And there it has clearly been made possible because of the sacrifice of the Lamb Himself (Jesus Christ - Revelation 5.6).
The general plan of the sanctuary is patterned on the tabernacle and is paralleled elsewhere, for example at Tell Tainat on the Orontes where there is a small shrine dated 9th century BC patterned similarly, and at Khorsabad and Hazor (late bronze age).
41.1-2 ‘And he brought me to the temple and measured the posts, six cubits broad on the one side and six cubits broad on the other side, which was the breadth of the tent. And the breadth of the entrance was ten cubits, and the sides (shoulders) of the entrance were five cubits on the one side and five cubits on the other side. And he measured its length, forty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits.’
Now we are entering the ‘nave’ of the sanctuary, the holy place. The posts are one cubit larger than for the entry to the vestibule, an indication of the increasing importance of the place being entered. Note the reference to ‘the tent’ or tabernacle, a deliberate but subtle linking of the heavenly temple with the tabernacle. But the size of the doorway decreases to ten cubits. The place is holy and entry restricted.
The size of the holy place is forty cubits by twenty cubits. The proportions all match the tabernacle. The holy place is twice the size of the holy of holies, the latter probably being a perfect cube (compare 1 Kings 6.20). The measurements indicate the gradual approach towards ultimate perfection.
41.3-4 ‘Then he went inward and measured each post of the entrance, two cubits, and the entrance six cubits, and the breadth of the entrance seven cubits. And he measured its length, twenty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits, before the temple. And he said to me, “This is the most holy place”.’
Notice ‘he went inward’. No longer ‘he brought me’ (40.28, 32, 35, 48; 41.1). For Ezekiel could not enter the most holy place. That could only be entered by man once a year, and only by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement after specific and detailed preparation (Leviticus 16.2, 15-16; Hebrews 9.7). The entrance is now only six cubits wide. Entry is even more restricted, indicating the increased holiness of the inner room.
And it is foursquare, twenty cubits by twenty cubits, the ultimate in perfection. The seven cubits measures from each side of the door to the wall, thus with the six cubit door making twenty cubits. The two sevens, representing divine perfection, explain why the door is six cubits, but there may also be the indication that this is 2 x 3 cubits, indicating double completeness (as the previous door was 2 x 5 cubits, indicating covenant related). The emphasis is on the perfection and extreme holiness of this inner room. Even the heavenly visitor has to say in awe, ‘this is the most holy place’. It was the place to which the glory of Yahweh would return.
And so we have at last reached the holiest of all. We have ascended increasing levels of steps three times, seven, eight and ten, (twenty five in all, which is significant - the covenant number squared), and we have come through narrower and narrower doors, three times, to enter this holiest of all. We now but await the return of Yahweh to His land.
The Side Chambers (41.5-12).
It is with a sense of anticlimax that we move to examine more detail of the sanctuary building. Here are described the side chambers (see I Kings 6.5-10) possibly intended for different purposes such as the storage of temple equipment and furniture, for tithes and offerings (compare Malachi 3.10) and for fellowship, discussion, and worship among the priests. It reminds us that God accepts the humble as well as the glorious, and it reminds us of the practicality of God. The heavenly temple provided general guidance for the coming building of the earthly temple by the exiles, and indicated that man was welcome into the temple of God as long as he was submissive to God and observed the required conditions. But there is no suggestion that it should be exactly copied, and indeed no attempt would be made to do so.
41.5-7 ‘Then he measured the wall of the house, six cubits. And the breadth of every side-chamber, four cubits, around the house on every side. And the side-chambers were in three storeys, one over another, and thirty in order. And they went into the wall which belonged to the house for the side-chambers round about, that they might have support in it, and not have support from the wall of the house.’
The wall enclosing the vestibule, holy place, and most holy place was six cubits thick. Rooms four cubits deep surrounded this wall on all sides except the east. There were three storeys of these chambers, thirty chambers on each level, again a complete provision (3x3x10). There was another wall on the outside of these chambers which bore their weight so that the inner wall of the temple did not have to carry it.
41.7 ‘And the side-chambers were broader as they went round the house level by level. For the surrounds of the house went up level by level around the house. So the breadth of the house continued upwards, and one went from the lowest level to the highest level via the middle level.
The rooms on the upper floor were the largest, , the rooms on the second floor were not as large, and the rooms on the first floor were the smallest. We are given no detail or explanation. What we do know is that it indicated that in God’s heavenly temple there was a place for man. He could enter and serve there.
41.8 ‘I saw also that the house had a raised platform round about. The foundations of the side-chambers were a full reed of six long cubits.’
The side rooms stood on the same platform as the rest of the temple, which was six long cubits above the level of the surrounding courtyard. The six probably represents twice three, expressing double divine completeness.
41.9 ‘The thickness of the wall which was on the outside, which was for the side-chambers, was five cubits, and what was left was the place for the side-chambers which belonged to the house.’
The outer wall supporting the chambers was five cubits thick. ‘What was left’ probably refers to a pavement round the sanctuary (compare verse 11). This was for the benefit of the side-chambers.
41.10 ‘And between the chambers was a breadth of twenty cubits round about the house on every side.’
The chambers belonging to the sanctuary proper, which have just been described, were separated from any other buildings by a ‘temple yard’ measuring twenty cubits all the way round on the north, south and west sides . This yard was called ‘the separate place’.
41.11 ‘And the doors of the side-chambers faced that which was left, one door towards the north and one door towards the south. And the breadth of the place that was left was five cubits round about.’
The external doors leading to the side-chambers were accessed from the pavement (‘that which was left’) round about the whole sanctuary on three sides (north, south and east), which measured five cubits, and was on the platform the sanctuary was built on. It had been deliberately left as a walkway. The west side of the sanctuary had no pavement. It was not permissible to walk directly behind the holy of holies.
41.12 ‘And the building that was before the separate place at the side towards the west was seventy cubits broad, and the wall of the building was five cubits thick round about, and its length was ninety cubits.’
To the rear of the sanctuary, instead of chambers there was a large building, separated from the sanctuary by the temple yard. Its perfection is revealed by its size. It is seventy cubits (7x10 - divine perfection intensified) by ninety cubits (3 squared x 10 - multiple completeness intensified), fully complete and divinely perfect. This could be for storage, including possibly remains of sacrifices which were for the priests. It was built against the outer wall, with the temple yard (the separate place) which surrounded the sanctuary on three sides (not the entrance side) coming between it and the sanctuary.
The Full Measurement of the Sanctuary (41.13-15a).
41.13-15a ‘So he measured the house, a hundred cubits long, and the separate place and the building, with its walls, one hundred cubits long. Also the breadth of the house, and of the separate place towards the east, a hundred cubits. And he measured the length of the building before the separate place, which was at the back of it, and its galleries on the one side and on the other side, a hundred cubits.’
The point is not so much the measurement as the perfect symmetry. This was the ideal temple, a suitable dwelling place for God. It was the heavenly temple and could not be built by man. All man’s feeble efforts would produce but a poor imitation. Yet as they worshipped in what they did build they were ever aware that what they worshipped in represented this glorious heavenly structure.
The hundred cubits long of the house is made up of the post (5 cubits - 40.48), the vestibule (11 cubits - 40.49), the post (six cubits - 41.1), the holy place (40 cubits - 41.2), the post (2 cubits - 41.3), the holiest of all (20 cubits - 41.4), the wall (6 cubits - (41.5), the side chamber (4 cubits - 41.5) and the outer wall - 5 cubits (41.9), making 99 cubits. The pillars at the front (40.49) were presumable one cubit in diameter.
The hundred cubits across is the measurement of the rear building (90 cubits + two 5 cubit walls). This is the equivalent of the width of the sanctuary and the temple yards, made up of the holy place ( 20 cubits - 41.2, 4), walls (two x 6 cubits - 41.5), side-chambers (two x 4 cubits - 41.5), walls (two x 5 cubits - 41.9), pavement (two x 5 cubits - 41.11), and separate place (temple yards - two x 20 cubits).
The Temple Decorations and Furnishings (41.15b-26).
The walls of the sanctuary were all panelled with wood and decorated with palm trees and cherubim, the latter having two faces, representing both man and beast. Thus the whole of creation was celebrated in the decorations.
41.15b-17 ‘And the inner temple and the vestibules of the court, the thresholds, and the narrowing windows, and the galleries round about on their three storeys over against the threshold, were panelled with wood round about, even from the ground up to the windows, (now the windows were covered), to the space above the door, even to the inner house and outside, and all the wall inside and outside, by measure.’
All the interiors of the sanctuary and the rooms connected with it were panelled with wood from the ground upwards, to a level above the doors. This probably means, as with Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6.18), that they were totally covered. No stonework must be observable within the sanctuary. Solomon’s temple also had gold overlay (1 Kings 6.22), but there is no gold in the heavenly temple. Gold is of insufficient value and too ornate. God’s ways are not man’s ways.
41.18-20 ‘And it was decorated with cherubim and palm trees, and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces, so that there was the face of a man towards the palm tree on one side, and the face of a young lion towards the palm tree on the other side. Thus was it decorated through all the house round about. From the ground to above the door were cherubim and palm trees used as decoration. Thus was the wall of the temple.’
The whole was decorated with cherubim and palm trees, which were spaced alternately. The two faces of the cherubim represented both man and the animal world (man is always distinguished from the animal world). In Revelation also they represent the whole of the animal creation (Revelation 4.7; 5.14 compare also Ezekiel 1.5-10; 10.14). All creation is celebrated within the sanctuary.
Ivory inlaid decorations have been discovered in a temple in Samaria, and in Solomon’s temple the decorations were overlaid with gold, but there is no suggestion of either here. Possibly the wood itself was also intended to represent the fruit of creation, that which grew. Outside was the stonework that represented the basis of creation, inside was that which God had made to finalise creation, a representation of His handywork.
41.21 ‘As for the temple, the door posts were squared. And as for the face of the sanctuary the appearance was as the appearance (i.e. as described above).’
The description is finalised by stressing that the door posts were squared, an indication of perfection (they were foursquare), and that the whole of the sanctuary appeared as previously described.
41.22 ‘The altar was of wood. It was three cubits high and its length was two cubits. And its corners, and its length, and its walls were of wood. And he said to me, “This is the table which is before Yahweh”.’
Once again we have the heavenly visitant speaking with awe as he describes something very special. It is ‘the table which is before Yahweh’. The object in question is ‘an altar of wood’ which stands before the entrance to the holy of holies, where the Zadokite priests will minister (44.16). This seemingly combines the table of the shewbread, the ‘table of the Presence’ (Exodus 25.23-30; Leviticus 24.5-9; 1 Kings 7.48) and the altar of incense (Exodus 30.1-7; 37.25-28; Leviticus 4.7; 1 Kings 6.22; 7.48; Revelation 8.3). Here the intercessions of the people of God are offered before Yahweh (Revelation 8.3), in terms of the incense (compare Psalm 141.2), and here is ‘offered’ the shewbread, the most holy of all the offerings ‘made by fire’, which represents God’s gifts to His people for their daily sustenance and their expression of gratitude towards God (Leviticus 24.9). The latter were eaten by the priests in ‘a holy place’ (Leviticus 24.9). This twofold aspect can be compared with ‘hallowed be your name -- give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6.9, 11).
Once again we note the absence of gold. The heavenly temple has no need or place for gold. It is above man’s vanities.
41.23-24 ‘And the temple and the sanctuary had two doors, and the doors had two leaves each, two turning leaves, two leaves for the one door and two leaves for the other.’
There were two doors in both the entrance to the holy place and the entrance to the holy of holies, and each of those doors divided in two so that they could be turned back on themselves. Thus it was possible to enter by just opening one half of a door leaving a small gap to pass through. This was to preserve the holiness of these places and to stress their inaccessibility except to those given access when the time was right, in the case of the holy of holies but once a year for the High Priest.
41.25-26 ‘And there was decorated on them, on the doors of the temple, cherubim and palm trees, in a similar way they were decorated on the walls, and there were thick beams of wood (or ‘a wooden canopy’) on the face of the vestibule outside, and there were narrowing windows and palm trees on the one side and on the other side, on the sides of the vestibule. Thus were the side-chambers of the house, and the thick beams.’
The doors were decorated similarly to the remainder of the sanctuary. The meaning of the word translated ‘thick beams’ (or ‘canopy’) is not known. It is a technical term and may represent a canopy over the outer entranceway, or some other form of architectural embellishment. It must be recognised in much of what has been said above that detailed translation and interpretation is sometimes difficult. Ancient architectural terms and descriptions are used which were no doubt clear at the time, but have long since been forgotten. The general idea and description is, however, clear. The final description of the vestibule may indicate that there there were no cherubim. The description of the sanctuary building itself is now concluded.
The descriptions of this heavenly temple would be listened to with awe by Ezekiel’s audiences. Most had never even entered the court of the priests in the old temple. To them these descriptions were fascinating and awe inspiring, and they reminded them in their detail of the perfection, holiness and unapproachability of God, and of their own unworthiness. They were also, with their measurements in multiples of five, a reminder of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. But more, they were also an indication of the fact that God once more awaited them in the land, and that there was a way open to Him through the shedding of blood. Most exhilarating of all was this fact that God’s invisible temple was once again situated in ‘the land’, His land, and awaited their homecoming, when they could themselves build a temple, the physical means by which they could enjoy and experience the heavenly temple.
Chapter 42 Further Information About the Temple.
In this chapter details are given of the priests’ quarters in the inner court (probably meaning here the temple yard, the separate place) and other buildings, and the external dimensions of the temple area. Again we have the problem that the Hebrew text is difficult for us to interpret because of the architectural terminology. But we can gain a general idea of the position. LXX makes it clearer, but not necessarily accurately. The problem from the point of view of the Hebrew text was that the translators were probably almost as much in the dark as we are, and interpreted as they saw it, amending the text when they felt it necessary. But the important thing is that this demonstrated to his listeners that Ezekiel had actually seen the heavenly temple, sufficient to describe all the detail. As a blueprint this is hopeless. As a general description of what was seen by a non-architect it was fine. Ezekiel knew exactly what he meant.
Further Buildings for the Use of the Priests (42.1-12).
42.1 ‘Then he brought me out to the outer court, the way towards the north, and he brought me to the chamber that was over against the separate place, and which was over against the building, to the north.’
The heavenly visitant now took Ezekiel outside the sanctuary and across the temple yard to buildings on the far side of the temple yard, northward from ‘the building’ (the sanctuary and its accompaniments). Compare here verse 10 where ‘the building’ is closely connected with the temple yard. This involves referring ‘to the north’ as connected with the direction of movement rather than as an indication of where the building was. These buildings were totally different from any yet described. The ‘outer court’ here probably actually means what he has previously called the inner court, looked on as ‘outer’ compared with the temple yard which seems to be called the ‘inner court’ in verse 3. He probably did not have technical names fixed in his mind as we do. (LXX agrees and thus translates ‘the inner court’). Compare the use of ‘inner’ in 42.15.
This is supported by verses 13-14 where they would seem to be for the retaining of the priestly garments because they were holy and could not leave the area of the sanctuary, and for the eating and disposal of the animal sacrifices because they too were holy.
However some argue that the building in mind was in the outer court. They interpret ‘the building towards the north’ as being the chambers on the outer wall. Much depends on the meaning of ‘over against’. Are we to see it as meaning ‘adjacent to’ or ‘opposite’ or ‘in the general direction of’? In this case the rooms in verses 13-14 must be other rooms, for example in the back building, or in the side chambers mentioned in 41.5-7.
42.2 ‘Before the length of a hundred cubits was the north door, and the breadth was fifty cubits.’
This seems to mean that this building for the priests was a hundred cubits in length and fifty cubits in breadth, with ‘the north door’ in its length, for access, probably looking northward towards the inner court. The ‘back’ of the building being along the boundary of the temple yard.
42.3 ‘Over against (‘adjoining’ or ‘opposite’) the twenty cubits which belonged to the inner court, and opposite the pavement which belonged to the outer court were gallery upon gallery to the third storey (in three storeys).’
Ezekiel now describes another building, three storeys high, which comes between the temple yard (the ‘inner court which is twenty cubits wide’) and the pavement of the ‘outer court’ (around the outer wall). We are possibly to see this one as definitely in the outer court proper, otherwise it could have been stated as being within the inner wall, and it being in the outer court would explain why the pavement is mentioned. But some see it as within the inner court proper, the phrase ‘over against’ simply meaning ‘in the general direction of’.
42.4 ‘And in front of the chambers was a walk of ten cubits breadth inward, a way of one cubit, and their doors were towards the north.’
This may mean that the walkway was one cubit high and a breadth of ten cubits, so that the doors had to be reached by the walkway. Compare the pavements in the inner and outer courts. Their doors seemingly looked away from the sanctuary.
42.5-6 ‘Now the upper chambers were smaller, for the galleries took away from these, more than from the lower and middlemost in the building. For they were in three storeys, and they did not have pillars like the pillars of the courts. Therefore the uppermost was set back more than the lowest and the middlemost from the ground.’
We do not know the meaning of the technical word translated ‘galleries’ which makes exactness difficult here, but the main point is clear, that there were three storeys and the top one was set back a little. Pillars are not mentioned elsewhere (the pillars in front of the sanctuary did not support anything) so this clearly refers to supporting pillars not yet mentioned. It possibly means the outer supporting walls of the side-chambers in the inner court (41.6).
42.7-8 ‘And the wall that was outside by the side of the chambers, towards the outer court before the chambers, its length was fifty cubits. For the length of the chambers which were in the outer court was fifty cubits. And lo those before the temple were a hundred cubits.’
This building was of fifty cubits length so that in order to match the hundred cubit building nearer to the sanctuary a further wall was built of fifty cubits.
42.9 ‘Below these chambers was the entry on the east side, as one goes into them from the outer court.’
This may mean that there was an entry into these chambers by a door facing east which was lower than the northern facing doors because not accessed by the one cubit high walkway. Or it may be giving a general orientation in terms of the East Gate.
The chambers towards the south (verse 12-13) are not mentioned in detail because they duplicate those towards the north.
42.10-11 ‘There were chambers in the thickness of the wall of the court towards the east, before the separate place and before the building. And the way before them was like the appearance of the way of the chambers towards the north. According to their length so was their breadth. And all their exits were both according to their fashions and according to their doors.’
In the wall of the inner court (it was ‘before the separate place’ and ‘before the building’ - compare verse 1) facing east there were also chambers, which were foursquare and built into the wall. They were in front of the temple yard and ‘the building’ (the sanctuary). They too had a walkway in front of them similar to that in front of the buildings towards the north. Their exits are dismissed briefly. Their look would depend on the particular pattern of workmanship adopted, and on the doors used. (Ezekiel is now hurrying on. He feels he has given sufficient detail. Again this confirms that this is not intended to be a blueprint, it is the description of an interested visitor to a ‘real’ building).
42.12 ‘And according to the entrances of the chambers that were towards the south was an entrance at the head of the way, the way before the wall towards the east as one enters them.’
The south chambers, which parallel the north chambers are now introduced as a matter of fact. They are simply assumed. It is pointed out that they too had an entrance towards the east (compare verse 9) similar to those that they had towards the south (compare verse 4). The latter were entered by the walkway, at the end of which was the entrance, which was used for access to the walkway and thus entry into entrances of the chambers, and looked towards the east wall.
The Use For The Many Chambers In The Inner Court (42.13-14).
42.13 ‘Then he said to me, “The north chambers and the south chambers which are before the separate place (the temple yard), they are the holy chambers, where the priests who are near to Yahweh will eat the most holy things. There will they lay the most holy things, even the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering. For the place is holy. When the priests enter in (i.e. where they enter into a building in such circumstances) then they will not go out of the holy place into the outer court, but there shall they lay their garments in which they minister, for they are holy. And they shall put on other garments when they approach (literally ‘and shall approach’) that which pertains to the people.”
The heavenly visitant only spoke to Ezekiel four times in the whole sight seeing operation, otherwise he was too busy measuring while Ezekiel observed. The first was when he exhorted him to take note of all he saw and heard (40.4), the second was when he designated apartments for the priests and had to explain the revolutionary differences which now applied (40.45-46), the third was when he left the holy of holies having measured it, and said, “This is the most holy place” (41.4), and this is the fourth. It is a warning about the treatment of holy things.
Two things were especially in his mind, the treatment of the holy sacrifices and the treatment of the holy garments of the priests in which they performed their holy tasks. This is strictly an Old Testament attitude. To my mind there is no way in which this could apply once Jesus Christ had broken down the barrier between priest and lay believer, and had by the offering of Himself made null and void all other sacrifices.
It is no answer to this to say that Christian Jews continued sacrificing in the temple after the resurrection. At that time the significance of the cross had not fully come home to them, and they did it in ignorance. I do not think for one moment that they actually saw those sacrifices in a new light. They saw them in the same old way, although approaching with a different attitude. They had been brought up to them from birth. It was only later that it would become clearly apparent that they no longer applied, a process aided by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and letters and teaching like the letter to the Hebrews.
The holy chambers by the temple yard were firstly for the eating of holy things. When the priests partook of that part of the sacrifices which were allocated to them, in the case of sin and guilt offerings, they had to do it in a holy place.
Under Mosaic law priests could partake of the meal offerings (Leviticus 2.3, 9-10, 16). But they were not allowed to eat of the major sin and guilt offerings (those for priests and for the people as a whole - Leviticus 4.1-21). In that case parts of the animals had to be wholly consumed on the altar and any remains burned outside the camp (Leviticus 4.12, 21). But they could eat of guilt and sin offerings for individuals, although these were ‘most holy’ and could only be eaten in ‘a holy place’. They could also eat of a meal offering made for the same purpose (Leviticus 5.11-13). That is why it is these offerings that are mentioned here. They can only be eaten in a holy place.
Other offerings were holy, but not ‘most holy’, and could therefore be consumed by the priests’ families, and in many cases by the people.
So it is quite clear that Ezekiel is here maintaining the distinctions laid down by the Law. But if all these had become mere ‘memorial’ offerings these distinctions would surely not have needed to be maintained. The significance of the sin and guilt offerings would have had to change completely. They would no longer be sin and guilt offerings in the sense described in Leviticus.
The second purpose of the chambers was in order that they might be used for storing holy things, such as the fleeces of the sacrificed animals, and the holy flesh and meal from the designated offerings yet to be eaten.
The third purpose was so that they could be used for storing the priestly garments in which the priests officiated. These were holy and must not leave the holy inner court (probably the temple yard - 42.3, but perhaps the actual inner court). When the priests wished to leave this inner court to deal with common things they must wear different clothing, although they could leave it while officiating and slaying sacrifices.
The External Dimensions of the Temple Area (42.15-20).
42.15-20a ‘Now when he had finished measuring the inner house he brought me out by way of the gate whose prospect is towards the east, and measured it round about. He measured on the east side with the measuring reed, five hundred reeds with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the north side, five hundred reeds, with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the south side, five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He turned about to the west side, and measured five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He measured it on the four sides.’
Finally the heavenly visitant measured outside the temple. Note here that ‘the inner house’ probably means the whole temple complex. The use of ‘inner’ can vary depending on where the person is starting from.
The whole is stated in the Hebrew to be 500 reeds by 500 reeds. The measuring reed was six long cubits (40.5) which would make this an excessive amount (3,000 cubits by 3,000 cubits) if it referred to the outer wall of the temple (500 cubits by 500 hundred cubits). But it may in fact be the measurement which includes a space of separation, the part of the surrounding area which had to be set apart to separate the common from the holy (compare 43.12 where it says, ‘the whole limit around it (the temple) will be most holy’). Such a space of separation is found in Joshua 3.4, where the people were not allowed to come within two thousand cubits of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh; in Exodus 19.12 where a bound was set away from the holy mount which people must not cross; and in Numbers 35.4-5 where such an area was set apart round Levitical cities. It is enlarged in this case to demonstrate the added holiness of this temple. Some have suggested a further wall built to enclose this area.
42.20b ‘He measured it on the four sides. It had a wall round about, the length five hundred and the breadth five hundred, to make a separation between that which was holy and that which was common.’
This is the grounds for arguing a further wall to enclose the area of separation. If we read ‘reeds’ all through this must be so. Compare the ‘separate place’ around the sanctuary. We must remember in these measurements that we are not talking about an earthly temple but a heavenly temple. Thus arguments about where it would be sited are irrelevant. The picture is one of unalloyed holiness which has to be preserved at all costs. The number five hundred also stresses the covenant nature of the temple area (5 x 10 x 10), five intensified.
But note that in 42.20b the unit of measurement is not specifically mentioned (neither reeds nor cubits). Thus it may be that the note about the wall here is a finally added comment, referring to the wall of the temple, and ‘cubits’ is to be read in. The idea would then be to draw attention to the parallel between the ‘500 reeds’ of the separation area and the ‘500 cubits’ of the wall, (cubits being understood from the previous measurements), with the stress on the separation of the holy from the common and the covenant significance of the numbers.
(Indeed it may be that a cryptic ‘500 x 500’ would always be read as cubits automatically where no unit of measurement was stated, as today tradesmen might automatically understand ‘metres’ (or ‘feet’).)
However, LXX specifically reads ‘cubits’ throughout (mostly understood) rather than ‘reeds’ and this would then be the measurement of the outer wall around the temple area itself, which fits in with the measurements described earlier. But LXX does have a tendency to remove difficulties in the numbers by making alterations.
Chapter 43 The Glory of Yahweh Returns to the Land.
Having completed his tour of the measurement of the heavenly temple, Ezekiel once again has a vision of the glory of God. This relates directly to the vision he saw when he was first called (chapter 1) and to the vision which he had when he witnessed in vision the destruction of Jerusalem (8.4; 9-10). In this vision Yahweh takes His throne in the heavenly sanctuary and takes up His dwelling there in glory. The measurement had been in preparation for this appearance, This again confirms that we are dealing with a temple that was current in the time of Ezekiel.
This is then to be followed by the depicting of the heavenly altar. But the altar is not measured, rather its measurements are declared and it is then stated that an earthly copy must be made. It is the earthly copy which is now central, as a means by which His people might reach up to Him in His heavenly temple. But the earthly altar will need to be thoroughly ‘de-sinned’ in order to be acceptable, and the method of doing it is described.
There were, however, two aspects of the heavenly temple that had not yet been finally dealt with. The first will come in 44.1-4 and the second in 46.19-47.12. Meanwhile various instructions have to be given, and both aspects not dealt with (no measurement is involved) relate directly to these practical instructions, firstly to the Princes and their duties, and secondly to the rituals that must be fulfilled.
The Return of Yahweh to the Land in His Heavenly Temple. His Throne Enters the Heavenly Holy of Holies (43.1-12).
43.1-3 ‘Afterwards he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looks towards the east, and behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east, and his voice was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And it was according to the appearance of the vision which I saw, even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city, and the visions were like the vision that I saw by the River Chebar, and I fell on my face.’
Ezekiel was now brought back to the East Gate, (having followed his visitant as he measured the externals), the temple and its environs having been fully measured in order to demonstrate that God was about to act again in relation to it. And there he saw again the vision of the glory of God. Especial stress is laid on the massive volume of sound (‘as the voice of many waters’ like the thunder of the mighty Niagara or Victoria falls - 1.24; Revelation 1.15) and the greatness of the glory (the earth shone with His glory, reflecting the glory of God - Isaiah 60.1-3; Habakkuk 3.3-4 see also Deuteronomy 33.2; Exodus 34.29-30, 35; Mark 9.3; 2 Corinthians 4.6; Revelation 1.16; 18.1). ). The heavenly temple now having been established, the heavenly chariot throne of Yahweh in all its majesty, the great reality behind the symbolic ark of the covenant, now comes to enter the ‘real’ holy of holies in the heavenly temple. God is here in earnest.
‘Came from the way of the east.’ Previously it was from the north (1.4). God can come from anywhere. We must not limit Him to one place, and it was towards the east that He had previously departed. See 11.23.
‘When I came to destroy the city.’ Ezekiel felt so involved with his visions that he saw himself as having had a part in the destruction of Jerusalem. His words of prophecy had, as it were, brought it about.
‘And I fell on my face.’ His reaction was the same as before. A response of awe and worship. Before the glory of Yahweh none could stand. All had to hide their eyes.
43.4 ‘And the glory of Yahweh came into the house by way of the gate whose prospect is towards the east.’
The glory of Yahweh now entered the heavenly temple situated ‘on a very high mountain somewhere in the land’ (40.2), through the East Gate. It was nineteen years since Ezekiel had seen Yahweh leave the land. Now He had returned (compare 10.4; 44.4; Exodus 40.34-35 1 Kings 8.10-11; Isaiah 6.1-3), but to His own temple, not one built by man. That made Israel’s future for the present secure. Again this demonstrates that this heavenly temple was an actuality at the time that Ezekiel was speaking.
Patterned on this the glory of Yahweh would also enter the second temple when it was built under Zerubbabel as a foretaste of the glory in the everlasting kingdom under the everlasting king (Haggai 2.7 with 21-23).
43.5 ‘And the Spirit took me up and brought me into the inner court, and behold the glory of Yahweh filled the house.’
Ezekiel was not allowed to enter by the gate through which Yahweh had entered (compare 44.2). Instead he was lifted up by the Spirit Who carried him to the inner court. And there he saw the glory of Yahweh filling the sanctuary. But the main glory was revealed in the holy of holies where none could go or see. That he could not look on.
43.6 ‘And I heard one speaking to me out of the house, and a man stood by me.’
As Ezekiel watched, with the heavenly visitant beside him, he heard from the sanctuary the voice of One Who was speaking to him. The main reason for mention of the man is so that we would not think it was he who spoke from the temple. The voice was that of God Himself, not of an intermediary
43.7-8 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever. And the house of Israel will no more defile my holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their whoredom and by the carcasses of their kings in their high places, in the setting of their threshold by my threshold, and their door post beside my door post, and there was but the wall between me and them. And they defiled my holy name by their abominations which they committed, which is why I have consumed them in my anger.”
Here Yahweh speaks to Ezekiel and confirms that the heavenly sanctuary is His throne room and is where He treads and is present. There may also be the thought that it is there that He places His feet on His footstool (Psalms 99.5; 132.7). It is the everlasting sanctuary promised in 37.24-28. The earthly sanctuary that Israel will subsequently build, while very important to them, would be but a shadow of this, as Solomon himself previously recognised, ‘Will God in very deed dwell on earth? Behold, Heaven and the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8.27). Compare also the words of Isaiah 66.1, ‘The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, what manner of house will you build for me?’ There was no temple that could hold Yahweh, only the heavenly temple.
He points out that they will not be able to defile this heavenly sanctuary, whatever they may do with their earthly copy, and indeed had done previously. Even Solomon, in all his supposed wisdom, had not had the wit to recognise the insult to God there was in his building his house next to God’s house so that there was no clear distinction. (There was no walled in outer court in his temple). He had put himself just at ‘the other side of the wall’ from God’s sanctuary, and had built his house ‘threshold to threshold and door to door’, as though he were somehow semi-divine, and his successors had done likewise. They had taken His adoption of them too literally. They had thus drawn to themselves some of the glory of God. But as mortal kings they had died, and death had thus contaminated His house, and then they had arranged for themselves to be buried in the vicinity of the temple. But there was to be no more of that. The ‘carcasses’ of their kings (the term is derisive) should be put far from Him.
There is a message too here for us. We too can overplay the wonderful gifts that God has given us and make of ourselves more than we are. Sons we may be, and joint heirs with Christ, but this must humble us, not exalt us. We must not presume on God as Solomon had done.
Furthermore they had defiled His house by their abominations; actual idolatry in the temple, sexual misbehaviour and sinfulness. All proved that men had dealt lightly with God. They would not be able to do this in His heavenly temple. Only what was holy could enter there. So let them also beware lest they do it in the earthly. They must put away idolatry, rebellion and sin. This was the condition of His dwelling in the midst of them for ever. Otherwise His heavenly temple would leave their land, (and their earthly temple would be destroyed).
And yet there would always be a remnant. God would continue to dwell with His true people, for He would be in them by His Spirit (39.29; 36.26) and they would be His temple, prepared for the temple that was in Heaven, and that even greater day when there would be no temple, because God Himself would be their temple (Revelation 21.22).
43.10 “You, son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities, and let them measure the pattern (or ‘the sum’).”
The details of the heavenly temple were to be explained to the exiles. The idea was that as they assessed the sum total of its significance (‘measure the sum’ - for the idea compare 28.12) and recognised the holiness and perfection of the One against Whom they had been rebelling as it was revealed there, they would be ashamed of all their evil behaviour and idolatry.
43.11 “And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make the form of the house known to them and its fashion, and its goings out and its comings in, and all its forms and all its ordinances, and all its forms and all its laws, and write it in their sight that they may keep all its forms and all its ordinances, and do them.”
If they were expected to build a temple like this, surely this would be the point at which it would have been expressed clearly as it was of the tabernacle (Exodus 25.9, 40; 26.30; 27.8). But there is no such thought. Rather they are to be given the details of the heavenly temple and recognise the lessons that they are to learn from them. And its main lesson is ‘holiness’ (verse 12).
The word translated ‘form’ occurs only in this verse (four times) and nowhere else, and in each case it is paralleled with another noun, ‘and its fashion’, ‘and all its ordinances’, ‘and all its laws’. Thus while referring to the make up of something it here indicated the make up of the fashion of the temple, and the way of entry and exit, the make up of its ordinances (mentioned twice) and the make up of its laws, because it had important lessons to teach. It was a command to understand, not a command to build or even a suggestion that it should be built. The next verse amplifies it.
43.12 “This is the law of the house on top of the mountain. Its whole limit around it shall be most holy. Behold this is the law of the house.”
Note the vague description, ‘the house on the top of the mountain’. The mountain was described in 40.2 as ‘a very high mountain’. It is a special place whose whereabouts is not revealed. Ezekiel does not want to connect it directly with any specific earthly site. And its law is the awful holiness of it, holy because the Holy One will be there, Whose holiness is revealed by every detail of the house. And its ordinances are holy. They must be scrupulously observed, very important words to exiles in a far country where detail may have tended to become blurred. And its laws are holy. Not one of God’s laws revealed in the covenants must be overlooked. They must be obeyed to the glory of God.
Sadly many in Israel took this in the wrong way. They made the laws an end in themselves rather than a means of showing their faith and trust in God. They overlooked the fact that in the end all was intended to bring them to God in love and trust, not to keep them away.
We shall see shortly in 45.1-5 how it was proposed that this heavenly temple would be preserved from ever again being contaminated by man, but first it was necessary that the way still open to God must be revealed. God was in His sanctuary, but how were they to reach Him? The key lies in the sacrificial altar.
The Altar Of Sacrifice Is To Be The Connection Between the Heavenly Temple and the Earthly Temple Yet To Be Built And Is To Be Copied For That Purpose (43.13-17).
The heavenly visitant had now finished his measuring. But note that he was not ever told, and is not now, to measure the altar. Although the altar was mentioned for completeness in 40.47, it was pointedly not measured. It was basically almost ignored as not being an important part of the heavenly temple from the point of view of its message. This was very significant. As demonstrated by its non-measurement the heavenly altar was not to be brought into use. For the brazen altar spoke of what man was, and of man’s approach to God, and not of what God was.
But the altar is now described as a pattern for an altar to be built by man (verse 18) and Ezekiel is told its details for this specific purpose. Then it is to be used as a means of approach to God and His heavenly temple. Any measuring is thus to be done by man, for man will bring it into use. It is in absolute contrast to what has gone before.
We can compare this with Jacob at Bethel. There too he had witnessed ‘the house of God, the gate of Heaven’, a heavenly conception. Then he too erected a means of worship, a pillar, an earthly symbol of what he had seen. And it was there that he offered his worship (Genesis 27.17-18). And like that pillar so with the altar here. It is to be the connection between the earthly and the heavenly.
43.13-14 “And these are the measures of the altar by cubits, the cubit is a cubit and a handbreadth. The bosom shall be a cubit, and the breadth a cubit, and its border by its edge round about, a span. And this shall be the back (platform) of the altar. And from the bosom on the ground (or of the earth) to the lower settle shall be two cubits, and the breadth one cubit, and from the lesser settle to the greater settle shall be four cubits, and the breadth a cubit. And the upper altar (the harel) shall be four cubits, and from the Ariel and upwards there shall be four horns.
That the brazen altar was ‘most holy’ we are told in Exodus 40.10, which again demonstrates that its pointed non-measurement by the man with the measuring reed (40.47) must have been significant. Now we are told the measurements of the altar by God Himself. Its importance is thus emphasised and it is the only part of the heavenly structure which was specifically to be built by man as a direct copy of the heavenly. It is to be the direct link between the earthly and the heavenly.
(There is a specific distinction between something being measured and measurements being given. The former was to indicate that it was there and being brought into use, the latter was to indicate that it should be built to these measurements).
It is interesting in this regard that in the description of the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6-7) the brazen altar was also ignored, although it was clearly assumed to be there (1 Kings 8.22, 54, 64; 9.25 - and compare 2 Chronicles 4.1). And indeed that was where Solomon knelt with his hands spread towards Heaven (1 Kings 8.54). This may well suggest that such an altar was seen generally, not as part of the heavenward side of the temple, but as part of its earthward side. When man wanted to approach God in worship the first thing he did was to erect an altar (Genesis 12.8 and often; Ezra 3.2). Where God ‘revealed His name’, that is His very nature, an altar was to be built (Exodus 20.24). It was the link between earth and Heaven. It brought man in touch with the heavenly.
The description in these verses is full of interesting problems due simply to problems as to the meaning of certain words. The word translated ‘bosom’ means ‘that which is enclosed’. Thus a woman enfolds her children to her bosom. It possibly here refers to the channel at the bottom of the altar going along its length into which any residue went and was there ‘grasped to its bosom’, (consider ‘the place of the ashes’ - Leviticus 1.16, and the place where the spare blood of sin and guilt offerings was thrown - Leviticus 4.18, 25, 30; 5.9) and thus it was the equivalent of the ‘length’. The measurement of a cubit refers to the exposed part of the platform after the next stage is built on it. The ‘back’ refers to the platform. The border by its edge probably refers to a rim or boundary going all round.
Some have read ‘the bosom of the earth’ (cheq ha arets) in 14a literally and have seen in ‘bosom’ a reference to the Akkadian irat ersiti (bosom of the earth), which was the name given to the foundation platform of the temple of Marduk in Babylon. This may well have become a regular technical description among some nations for the platform on which an altar was erected, and the parallel might seem to be more than a coincidence. As the platform was probably mainly buried in the ground it would be appropriate. But the use of ‘bosom’ to indicate length in verse 13 counts against stress on this meaning here. It may be that this is simply to be seen as the more prosaic, ‘the channel in the ground’, described by its technical term.
The next smaller stage of the altar was two cubits in height up to ‘the lower settle’, with a one cubit surround (the ‘breadth’ of the top surface left showing) revealed, and the next even smaller stage four cubits in height to the ‘greater settle’, again with the one cubit surround revealed. This was then followed by a further stage four cubits in height, all reaching to an impressive ten cubits.
(A ‘settle’ would appear to indicate an area on which something else would be ‘settled’).
The upper altar (har’el - which could mean ‘mountain of God’) and the altar hearth (’ari’el) have also been connected with Babylonian ideas. The Akkadian arallu means either the ‘underworld of the gods’ or ‘mountain of the gods’. Compare the use of Ariel in Isaiah to mean Mount Zion (Isaiah 29.1, 2, 7), which confirms that this idea was present in Israel. Thus the top of the altar might be seen as intended to be connected with the ‘mountain of God’, which Ezekiel seemingly saw as making this the link to the heavenly temple.
However, it is possible that by then these were simply technical names for the top part of the altar, or upper altar, which was called the harel (or ‘mountain of God’), with the Ariel, which was therefore probably the altar hearth, in the top of the altar.
On the other hand the whole altar here was clearly built like a Ziggurat (stepped temple). There the fact that it rose up and was stepped was to indicate ascent to the gods. It represented a mountain, indeed possibly being seen as almost a stairway up to Heaven (compare Genesis 11.4). So the idea here of the stepped altar may well be to reveal that by use of the altar Israel would be able to ‘reach’ the heavenly temple which had descended on the unknown high mountain, which thereby had become the mountain of God.
The ‘horns’ are protrusions from the four corners of the altar, which were a regular feature of altars elsewhere, the purpose for which is uncertain. They may have symbolised power (as ‘horns’ regularly do), or have been pointers up to Heaven. The horns were regarded as being an essential part of the altar and had to be ‘cleansed’ (43.20; Exodus 29.12).
A large sacrificial altar with protrusions at its four corners dated to the 8th century BC has been discovered at Beersheba (it had been used to repair the wall of a storehouse). 9th century altars discovered at Megiddo with such protrusions were small and probably incense altars, but they do demonstrate that the protrusions were not simply for securing the sacrifice but had deeper significance.
43.16 “And the altar hearth (’ari’el) shall be shall be twelve long by twelve broad, square in its four sides.”
The whole altar was to be foursquare indicating its perfection but it is only as regards the altar hearth that we are specifically told this. It is a large altar, twelve cubits by twelve cubits at the top (contrast Exodus 27.1 where the altar was five cubits by five cubits and 2 Chronicles 4.1 where Solomon’s altar was twenty cubits by twenty cubits but not said to be stepped.).
43.17 “And the settle shall be fourteen long by fourteen wide in its four sides. And the border about it shall be half a cubit, and its bosom shall be a cubit about, and its steps shall look towards the east.”
The next stage down, the ‘higher settle’, was to be fourteen cubits by fourteen. There would be a one cubit surround with a half cubit rim. Thus the next step down was sixteen cubits, but this is not mentioned. This draws attention to the measurements of the top two sections, twelve by twelve representing the official number of the tribes of Israel, fourteen by fourteen representing twice seven, intensified divine perfection. The main interest of the ancients in numbers was in their significance.
There were to be steps up to the altar. Previously steps had been forbidden (Exodus 20.24-26), but they were essential with an altar of this size. The stepped shape of the altar and the steps leading up to it were both an indication that the altar was the means by which they reached heavenward.
The Altar Is To Be Built and Sanctified (43.18-27).
Instructions were now given for the building and cleansing of the earthly altar. The very fact that an altar was to be built was indirect confirmation of God’s willingness for them to build a new temple for themselves, although actually, as long as they had an altar, worship could function without a temple, as Ezra 3.2-3 makes clear. Thus it was not the direct equivalent of a command to build the temple. The first essential was that man should have his approach to God made possible by the shedding of blood, and that required an altar. But by making it according to the pattern of the heavenly altar they ensured its spiritual connection with the heavenly temple. An earthly temple could follow.
The Building of the Altar (43.18).
43.18 ‘And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord Yahweh, These are the ordinances of the altar in the day that they shall make it, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it.” ’
The altar described had to be made as a means by which ‘burnt offerings’ could be offered to God (this in fact covers the whole range of sacrifices, the burnt offering being the oldest, the most general and the most important). It was also the means by which the blood could be applied before God. This would make possible access to Him.
The Sanctifying and Cleansing of the Altar and Reinstitution Of Sacrificial Worship (43.19-27).
This process would take seven days. This was unlike the case of the sanctifying of the tabernacle, accomplished through the anointing oil (Exodus 30.22-29; 40.10), but like the sanctifying of the temple of Solomon, although there the offerings were whole burnt offerings and peace-offerings (2 Chronicles 7.1-9), and therefore not having the same significance.
However, the consecration of the priesthood did take seven days (Leviticus 8.33) and required sin offerings. The idea here might be that the altar had been defiled by Israel’s previous behaviour and treatment of it. Or more likely it may have in mind its special function as the ‘entry’ to the heavenly temple, needing therefore to be totally purified, just as the priesthood who provided access to God had had to be totally purified.
43.19-20 “You will give to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who are near to me, to minister to me,” says the Lord Yahweh, “a young bullock for a sin offering, and you will take of its blood, and put it on the four horns of it, and on the four corners of the settle, and on the border round about. Thus you will cleanse it and make atonement for it. You will also take the bullock of the sin offering, and he will burn it in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.”
Once again we have confirmed the fact that the sons of Zadok now have a privileged position before God. This confirms that we are here dealing with a situation immediately after the exile when such ‘sons of Zadok’ could be identified. There would be no grounds for such special privilege in any supposed millennium, for the sons of Zadok were equally responsible for the crucifixion of Christ (see further on 44.15 onwards). The partial rejection of a large part of the priesthood from the central sacred tasks was a preparation for the time which would later result in the rejection of the whole of the priesthood when it was replaced by Jesus Christ, God’s own High Priest. After that there are no grounds for any restoration of a levitical priesthood. God’s people are His priests, and their offering is one of praise, thanksgiving, dedication and good lives, ‘spiritual sacrifices’ (1 Peter 2.5; Hebrews 13.15; Romans 12.1; Philippians 2.17; Hebrews 13.16)
Their responsibility here was to officiate in the overall sacrificial ordinances of Israel, which would begin here by offering a young bullock provided by Ezekiel (or his representative) as a sin offering. The fact that the offering was a sin offering stresses the defilement brought on the earth by the past failure of Israel. The first step to restoration of worship was admission of the depths of their sin, and the need for it to be atoned for.
The blood of the sin offering was then to be applied to the horns of the altar (with the finger) and the corners of the higher settle, together with its surround. The place in which future sacrifices were to be offered must be freed from all taint of sin. For the procedures see Leviticus 16.18-19 where the altar had to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement. Compare also procedures in Exodus 29.12; Leviticus 4.7, 18, 25, 30, 34; 8.15; 9.9.
‘Thus you will cleanse it and make atonement for it. You will also take the bullock of the sin offering, and he will burn it in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.’ Thus cleansing and atonement (the ‘covering’ of sin) was made. The altar was now pure. The burning of the remains outside the sanctuary was because the remains were now fully tainted with sin. Had it been because of their holiness they would have been burned in the sanctuary. This was done previously for major sin offerings which were for the whole people or for the priests and those offered on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 4.12, 21; 16.27 see also 8.17). This emphasis on this severe treatment militates against any suggestion of a memorial offering. The reference to ‘the house’ does not necessarily refer to a specific temple, but to whatever place housed the sanctuary and the altar (compare Genesis 28.22; Judges 20.18; 21.2; 1 Samuel 1.7; 3.15 and contrast 2 Samuel 7.6).
‘The seed of Zadok.’ This refers primarily to those descended from Zadok (1 Chronicles 6.8), and the high priesthood would in future be Zadokite. However, ‘seed of’ does not necessarily demand a blood relationship. It could include priests who had opted to be one with the Zadokites in their faithfulness to Yahweh, and exclude those who by their blatant misbehaviour had shown themselves not ‘true’ Zadokites. In the same way Israel were the ‘seed of Jacob’ (Psalm 22.23; Isaiah 45.19; Jeremiah 33.26) but the large proportion of them were not directly descended from Jacob, they were his ‘seed’ by opting in and by adoption.
43.22-23 “And on the second day you will offer a he-goat without blemish for a sin offering, and they will cleanse the altar as they cleansed it with the bullock. When you have made an end of cleansing it, you will offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish, and you will bring them near before Yahweh, and the priests shall cast salt on them, and they shall offer them up as a whole burnt offering to Yahweh.”
Note again the emphasis on cleansing (literally ‘de-sinning’). Until that was accomplished no whole burnt offering could be offered up, an offering wholly consumed in fire. But then a young bull and a ram, both without blemish, could be offered as a whole (burnt) offering, an act of total self-giving, of worship, love and gratitude. But it would require seven days, the period of divine perfection, to thoroughly cleanse the altar. This sounds like something very intense and necessary, not at all like a memorial offering.
‘And the priests shall cast salt on them.’ Compare Leviticus 2.13; Numbers 18.19; Mark 9.49. The idea seems to be of a preservative function and a countering of corruption. It was closely linked with the covenant and was continually required (Leviticus 2.13) as a sign of the preserving of the covenant relationship without corruption.
43.25-27 “For seven days you will prepare every day a goat for a sin offering, they will also prepare a young bullock and a ram out of the flock without blemish. For seven days they will make atonement for the altar and purify it. So will they consecrate it (fill its hands). And when they have accomplished the days it shall be that on the eighth day, and from then on, the priests will make your burnt offerings on the altar and your peace offerings, and I will accept you,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
The process was to go on for seven days, with a sin offering, followed by whole (burnt) offerings, every day. This would thoroughly purify the altar, and consecrate it. From then on it would be clean for the purpose of offering whole offerings and peace offerings to Yahweh. The peace offerings included parts that could be eaten by the priests, and in many cases by the people. This would not have been possible had the altar not been fully clean. This speaks strongly of Old Testament sacrifice.
Note that all the offerings are to be made by the priests. In earlier times the people themselves in many cases participated in the acts of sacrifice, but now it was limited to the priests. ‘And I will accept you.’ Once the proper rites had been gone through and the continuing sacrifices offered, the people could be confident of God’s acceptance of them through it.
Chapter 44 The Sacredness of the East Gate - God’s Glory Revealed in the Heavenly Sanctuary - Regulations With Regard to The People’s Own Future Temple.
The Permanent Closing of the East Gate of the Heavenly Temple (44.1-3).
44.1-2 ‘Then he brought me back the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary which looks towards the east, and it was shut. And Yahweh said to me, “This gate will be shut, it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter by it, for Yahweh the God of Israel has entered in by it. Therefore it shall be shut.” ’
Having heard the voice of the Lord Yahweh speaking to him from the sanctuary with instructions about the altar, Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant back to the east gate of the heavenly temple. And he found that it was permanently closed. For a similar abrupt reintroduction of the heavenly visitant see 46.19.
God then spoke to him again and told him the reason for the closure. It was because Yahweh, the God of Israel had Himself entered by it. Thus it was to remain shut up until it released the overflowing of blessing for which it was purposed (chapter 47).
This kind of ban was also known among earthly monarchs of great importance. When the great king had entered a city, the gate through which he entered would for a time be closed to common people because he had passed through it, in recognition of his status and greatness.
This was once again to remind God’s people of His holiness. Once His glory had been in contact with something it was ‘very holy’. It could not be touched by common man. This was now true of the gate of the heavenly temple by which Yahweh had entered. His glory remained in it (compare Exodus 34.29). As far as we know the restriction was never placed on an earthly temple. Even though the glory of Yahweh did enter the second temple (Haggai 2.4-9 with 21-23), there is no mention of His entering by any gate or of an east gate ever having been shut permanently (although nor do we know that it was not. We do not know the make up of the second temple).
But this gate was no ordinary gate. It was a supernatural gate. For one day from under its threshold would flow rivers of living water, and such abundant waters that they would transform the landscape, and the world, and this too was measured by the man with the measuring line (47.3). Thus the gate symbolised the unique presence of God waiting in heavenly power in His heavenly temple to burst forth on the world.
44.3 “As for the prince, he will sit in it as prince to eat bread before Yahweh. He will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will go out by way of the same.”
This gateway was henceforth to be so holy that only ‘the prince’ could enter it, although he could not use the gate itself. He had to enter the gateway from within (from the outer court) for sacred communion and a sacral feast with Yahweh. This is speaking of the Davidic prince, God’s shepherd and servant (37.24). It was a reminder that although he was not a sacrificing priest, he was recognised as having special sacred duties and responsibilities, and had a sacred place reserved for himself. He was a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, a royal priest (Psalm 110.4). It indicated the favoured place that a Davidic prince would have for ever in the eyes of God.
The lesson would seem to be that a special place, a very holy place, should be reserved for each Davidic prince to enable him to commune with God and plead for the people, having regard to his sacral status (see 2 Samuel 21.1; 24.17, 25), a place which would be seen as sacred because it represented that heavenly east gate which had been entered by the manifested presence of God. It was a way of glorifying the final Davidic prince who would one day come to mean so much to Israel and the world. And it confirmed his royal priesthood.
The first reference of this must be to the Spirit empowered Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4.6), who was responsible for the day of small things (Zechariah 4.10) which would eventually shake the world (Haggai 2.21-23). But it also certainly pointed higher to the coming of the Messianic prince Himself, of whom Zerubbabel was only a pale reflection. A place, a very holy place, was to be reserved, where he could eat bread before Yahweh, and this place would ever be a reminder of that glorious day when Yahweh had returned to the land in His glory, and it would contain a promise of the going forth of future blessing.
It may well be that when Jesus used to go aside into a quiet place to commune with His Father He saw Himself as entering the east gate of the heavenly temple on ‘the mountain’ (Matthew 5.1; 8.1; 14.23; 15.29; 17.1; Mark 3.13; 6.46; 9.2; Luke 6.12; John 6.3, 15). He alone had unique entry into God’s presence. For He knew more than any other that the earthly temple was rejected, because it had rejected Him, but that God still dwelt among His true people in the heavenly temple. The Kingly Rule of God was there. He had not totally deserted them. And He knew that from that temple, finally embodied in the lives of His people, His word would go forth into the world as Isaiah had promised (Isaiah 2.3). It was from the east gate that rivers of living water would flow out to the world (Ezekiel 47), and this represented the Holy Spirit Whom the Messianic prince would abundantly give (39.29; John 7.37-39; 15.26; 20.22).
Whether such a sacred private place was ever set aside for Zerubbabel we do not know, but it is very probable simply because of who he was, the potential Messianic prince, with a special and unique priesthood. This was thus symbolised here. It may not have been in the east gate, (or it may have been, we do not know), but the east gate of the earthly temple had not been entered by Yahweh. But the place would certainly represent the east gate of the heavenly temple. If it was not in the east gate then the fact that no attempt was made to make the east gate a forbidden and holy place would stress that the people in those days recognised that the sacred east gate spoken of by Ezekiel was in the heavenly temple of which the earthly was but a vague copy, and that no attempt needed to be made to copy it exactly.
After all we must remember that they did hope that what they were building would be the Messianic temple (Haggai 2), and they certainly hoped, and had every right to hope, that the glory of God would fill the holy of holies (Haggai 2.7), for that temple was built under God’s instructions. We may dismiss it as ‘the second temple’, a fact of history about which we know little, but to them it was the focus of all their hopes and beliefs, and the arbiter of their future. Thus we can be sure that they did all that they felt necessary to make it so.
We have no knowledge of what happened in the end to Zerubbabel, and the Davidic princeship seems to have quickly slipped into the background to await another day (whether immediately or not we do not know). His position would be taken by the High Priest. But certainly there were great expectations to begin with.
The Glory of God Fills the Sanctuary.
44.4 ‘Then he brought me the way of the north gate before the house, and I looked, and behold, the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh, and I fell on my face.’
Having been instructed about the future Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant to the north gate, facing the sanctuary, and there he saw the glory of Yahweh filling the sanctuary, as he had previously seen the glory of Yahweh at the River Chebar (chapter 1). And once again he prostrated himself before His glory, filled with joy that the eternal God was back in His land to bless it again.
Instructions Concerning the Future Running of the Temple.
44.5 ‘And Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, set your heart on, and behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears, all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of Yahweh, and all its laws. And set your heart on the entering in of the house, with every going forth from the sanctuary.” ’
He was now told by God Himself to lay down under God’s instruction all that was to be done in the sanctuary which God would cause to be built on earth which to some small extent would mirror the heavenly sanctuary, and who it should be done by. He would declare who could enter where, and who would proceed from where. He was to regulate the whole pattern of future worship in the sanctuary, as Moses had before him.
44.6-9 “And you shall say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, O you house of Israel, let all your abominations be sufficient for you, in that you have brought foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to profane it, even my house, when you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations. And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.’ ”
The house of Israel are still described as ‘rebellious’. They have not yet learned their lesson about the need to be obedient to God in every way.
God’s first complaint was that in the past they had treated His sanctuary lightly by leaving mundane tasks to ‘foreigners’ rather than themselves rejoicing in the privilege of serving God in a mundane way. They had got above themselves and had become proud, thus permitting people outside the covenant the privilege of performing ‘covenant’ tasks. Some were even people who were uncircumcised, and even more were of uncircumcised heart. Their hearts were not right towards God.
This had occurred in Solomon’s temple. Consider for example 2 Kings 11.4 where we read of Carite temple guards. It had probably become even more prevalent in the later days of the kings. It was always easier and more pleasant to pass on menial tasks to others. One of the early instances of this kind of attitude took place when the conquered Gibeonites were made menial servants of the tabernacle, although it may be in that case that they were already circumcised, and did submit to the covenant (Joshua 9.23, 27). But it does demonstrate a tendency. Compare also the Nethinim in Ezra 8:20, who were probably previously prisoners-of-war who had been pressed into temple service. The Mosaic Law did forbid any unauthorised person from serving in the tabernacle (or temple) as a priest (Numbers 3.10), but believing foreigners could offer sacrifices there, presumably after being circumcised where necessary, and submitting to the covenant (compare Numbers 15.14; Isaiah 56.3, 6; Zechariah 14.21).
‘When you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations.’ The bread possibly refers to the shewbread (Leviticus 24.5-6) which was a ‘most holy’ offering. The fat and the blood were the part of the sacrifices regularly given to God. ‘They have broken my covenant’, firstly by being in the sanctuary at all, and also by their behaviour and lack of reverence. These failures have added to the crimes of Israel.
‘And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ They had been given the privilege of being in charge of the routine of the sanctuary, and of the holy things of God, but in their laziness they had passed it on to others not ‘qualified’, to act in their place. They had appointed them ‘keepers of His charge’. Quite clearly this had stretched to the actual dealing with holy things such as the sacrifices.
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.” ’ This was not an exclusion of all not born Israelites. Any could become Israelites by submitting to the covenant and being circumcised as proselytes. But those whose hearts were not true to the covenant, and who were not physically circumcised, thus remaining ‘aliens’, were forbidden entry to the sanctuary. Later, in Herod’s temple, they would be allowed into the court of the Gentiles, but were forbidden under pain of death to venture further. We have actual examples of notices that were put up to warn of this.
Note the reference here to circumcision of the heart. Ezekiel recognised quite clearly that it was not enough to be circumcised. There had also to be a change of heart if men were to be acceptable.
The Non-Zadokite Priests Are to Be Excluded From the Inner Sanctuary Because of Their Previous Participation In Idolatry (44.10-14).
44.10-14 “But the Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray, who went astray from me after their idols, they will bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house. They will slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they will stand before them to minister to them. It is because they ministered to them before their idols, and became a stumblingblock of iniquity to the house of Israel, that I have therefore lifted up my hand against them,” says the Lord Yahweh, “And they will bear their iniquity. And they will not come near to me to execute the office of priest to me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, to the things which are most holy. But they will bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all its service, and for all that will be done in it.”
This was taking the Levites back to their original purpose. During the period of the Judges Levites had begun to act as priests, and in the period of the monarchy this had continued. Now they were to revert back to their original status because they had proved unworthy of their advancing claims.
But the term Levites is used here in its widest sense, and includes the Levitical priests other than the sons of Zadok. Apart from the sons of Zadok they had all been willing to cooperate in the idolatry rife in the temple and in the high places (2 Kings 23.4-7-9). Thus they had to bear their punishment, and that was that they should not minister in the sanctuary itself. They would have responsibility for guardianship of the temple, having oversight at the gates, they would perform temple duties, they would assist the people with the slaying of their offerings and sacrifices, and would be there to minister to them and assist them. But they would have no access to the holy place, nor be able to present the fat and the blood to Yahweh, or to partake of the bread of the Presence. They were banned from His nearer presence.
Their offence is repeated twice for emphasis. They had cooperated in the leading astray of the people, and in the course of it they had misused the holy place, and they would therefore be barred from it. But He did not wholly cast them off. They would still be allowed the privilege of temple service, and still have access to the altar, even though they were excluded from inner sanctuary service.
So the Levitical priests among them would lose their major priestly privileges. They would stand before the people to minister to them, but they would not be allowed to stand before Yahweh, nor to minister to Him. Once again we are conscious of Old Testament attitudes. In my view it is inconceivable that this could apply after the cross. Then all priests had sinned and done evil without distinction. There could be no favoured sons of Zadok. Either all would be made acceptable, or none. And the one sacrifice would offer mercy and restitution to all, conveying the privilege of access into His presence, once they had entered the new Israel (Hebrews 10.19-21).
The message behind this is clear. God observes all our actions, and although His judgment may proceed slowly, it proceeds at last. What a man sows, he reaps.
Only The Sons of Zadok May Perform the Full Priestly Functions (44.15-31).
44.15-6 “But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they will come near to me to minister to me. And they will stand before me to offer to me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord Yahweh. “And they will enter into my sanctuary, and they will come near to my table to minister to me, and they will keep my charge.”
One group of priests had clearly proved faithful to Yahweh through all the ups and downs of the history of the kings. Always there was a remnant who were faithful to Yahweh, that is one reason why Yahwism survived, humanly speaking. They were called ‘the sons of Zadok’. These had been faithful to the Davidic king from the first and in the time of the accession of the rightful heir had proved their loyalty and had been awarded the high priesthood (1 Kings 1.8, 32, 38-39; 2.35. Compare 1 Chronicles 6.10 with Haggai 1.1, 15; 2 Chronicles 31.10). Zadok was descended from the line of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6.50-53). Now the ‘sons of Zadok’ were to be rewarded by being awarded the sole right to ministry in the inner sanctuary. They alone would be able to offer the fat and the blood, they alone would minister at His table (compare 41.22).
‘The sons of Zadok’ are probably not to be seen as totally limited to literal descendants of Zadok (not all such would necessarily have been faithful). Rather they were probably a band of faithful priests who had gathered under the banner of the Zadokite high priestly descendant and were differentiated because of their faithfulness to Yahweh, thus becoming a recognised band named ‘the sons of Zadok’ (those who behave like Zadok - compare ‘the sons of Belial’). Many of them would no doubt be actual descendants, but not necessarily all.
But in the end the return of the exiles in the beginning was not as successful and triumphant as the prophets had hoped. It was one thing to look forward to a new beginning. It was another to hear the call ‘follow me’ and participate in it. The temple was built after many stops and starts, and the Zadokite priesthood was established in the form of Joshua the High Priest (Haggai 1.12, 14; Zechariah 3.1-10. See also Nehemiah 11.11; 1 Chronicles 9.11). But the times were hard and strict rules were probably not adhered to. Adoption into ‘the sons of Zadok’ of other priests would occur under the Zadokite leadership as long as they were ready to be true. The ancients did not stick to rigid differentiations like we do. They were more elastic, even when outwardly it appeared otherwise.
Further there was the problem of the returning exiles as against those who had remained in the land (who had not heard first hand the words of Ezekiel). Compromises would have to be reached in order for them to be able to worship together, and priests among them who proved worthy were no doubt also incorporated among ‘the sons of Zadok’. (We must remember again that ‘sons of’ did not necessarily mean genealogical purity. It meant more ‘belonging to’ or ‘behaving like’, although no doubt genealogical purity was required for the High Priest himself). Thus it was not a theoretical ideal that was to be achieved, any more than the Mosaic ideal had ever been achieved. It was a practical one. Nor was it necessary to be particular as long as those who became part of ‘the sons of Zadok’ were qualified as priests and faithful to their ministry. Soon any appointed by the high priest because of their faithfulness to Yahweh could be seen as being ‘sons of Zadok’, for he stood in the place of Zadok. But there can be no question that the final authority in the temple did lie with the sons of Zadok, and did so until 171 BC when their high priest was removed for political reasons in the time of great apostasy. The Qumran community looked for the restoration of the sons of Zadok.
Ritual Requirements For The Sons of Zadok.
44.17-18 “And it shall be that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they will be clothed with linen garments, and no wool shall come on them while they minister inside the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and shall have linen breeches on their loins. They shall not wear anything that causes sweat.”
These restrictions are similar to those placed on Aaron and his sons (Exodus 28.39; 39.27-29). Linen was the white of purity, but it also helped to prevent sweat. Yahweh’s sanctuary was not to be defiled by human earthliness. This statement about human sweat is interesting and helps to explain the ritual washings engaged in by Israelites when they came before God to be ‘made clean’. The water did not ‘cleanse’, for it is always followed by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. They then had to wait on God until the evening to be ‘cleansed’. The water simply removed the earthiness prior to waiting on God. (It was in fact only water that was sprinkled with the ashes of a heiffer that could ‘cleanse’).
44.19 “And when they go out into the outer court, even into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they minister, and lay them in the holy chambers, and they will put on other garments, lest they sanctify the people with their garments.”
The linen garments they wore were holy, for they came into contact with holy things. They could not therefore be allowed to come into contact with the mundane. They had to be kept in holy chambers. Nor must they come in contact with the people, or they could do them harm. Here being ‘sanctified’ was not something to be desired. It would bring them into an anomalous position, the mundane being made holy (see Exodus 19.21-24; 29.37; 30.29; Leviticus 6.27). Once being ‘made holy’ they may well have had to be put to death, or at least be required to serve permanently in the temple, so that God’s holiness would not be profaned.
The purpose behind all these distinctions was to bring home to the people the uniqueness and ‘otherness’ of God, and as a reminder of their own unworthiness and sinfulness.
44.20-22 “Nor shall they shave their heads, nor allow their locks to grow long. They shall only cut the hair of their heads. Nor shall any priest drink wine when they enter into the inner court. Nor shall they take for their wives a widow, nor one who has been divorced. But they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, or of a widow who is a widow of a priest.”
For some of these restrictions compare Leviticus 21.5-8, 14. The shaving of the head was probably referring to practises in relation to idolatrous religion, the restriction on long hair differentiated them from the Nazirites (Numbers 1.1-6). But the aim may well have been so as to ensure that the hair was fully covered (Leviticus 10.6; 21.10), so that when they went into the sanctuary no earthly defilement would drop from it. The restriction on wine was to ensure that none went to their sacred duties in a drunken or merry mood, unbefitting worship. The restriction on women was so that those dedicated to Yahweh and made holy might not share one, and be made one with one, who had previously been given to the mundane. The code for priests was now stricter than previously. All again stressed Yahweh’s distinctiveness and holiness.
44.23 “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the clean and the unclean. And in a controversy they shall stand to judge. In accordance with my judgments shall they judge it. And they will keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall hallow my sabbaths.”
The Zadokite priests would be responsible for trying cases in ‘courts’ of law. A proper judicial system with a recognised authority would be vital immediately on returning to the land. They would also be responsible for showing the people the difference between clean and unclean, which would have become blurred during the exile (compare 22.26; Leviticus 10.10-11; 11.47; Deuteronomy 33.10), and for the proper observance of the sacred feasts and of all sabbaths. Thus they had to regulate the religious life of the people in their new beginning.
44.25-27 “And they shall come into contact with no dead person to defile themselves. But for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother or for sister who has no husband they may defile themselves. And after he is cleansed they will reckon to him seven days. And in the day that he goes into the sanctuary he will offer his sin offering, says the Lord Yahweh.”
Contact with the dead always defiled and required seven days of cleansing (Numbers 19.11-13 compare 5.2; 31.19). (There are actually good medical reasons behind such a restriction, lest any disease has been contracted from the dead body). The priests were only to become involved with the dead in the case of close relatives, where there was no one else to take on the duties. Then they must got through the recognised period of cleansing. The sin offering was required because death was so closely related to sin.
44.28 “And they will have an inheritance (literally ‘it will be to them for an inheritance’). I am their inheritance. And you will give them no property holding in Israel. I am their property holding.”
The opening phrase would seem to mean that by their observance of all these things they would gain a special inheritance, an inheritance as the chosen of Yahweh and indeed the inheritance of Yahweh Himself. Yahweh would be all that they needed. Those who totally dedicate themselves to God will not lose their reward. The Lord will provide for them and they will gain a better one (compare Matthew 19.29). Therefore they look for no earthly possessions. Would that modern preachers all recognised the same principles. It would prevent many obscene displays of wealth. There is nothing more dishonouring to God than a preacher displaying excessive wealth.
44.29-30 “They will eat the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. And the first of all the firstfruits of everything, and every gift of everything, of all your gifts, shall be for the priests. You will also give to your priests the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on your house.”
God now makes provision for His dedicated priests. They may participate of meal offerings, and of the flesh of sin and guilt offerings (within the prescribed limits) - see Leviticus 2.3, 10; 5.13; 6.18, 26; 7.6, 9-10. Also anything dedicated to God by the people shall be theirs. These were "devoted" (Hebrew ‘herem’) things, things given that the offerer could not redeem (buy back - see Leviticus 27.21, 28; Numbers 18.14). And all gifts given to God would also be theirs. This would include the first of the dough. The result for the people who give will blessing on their houses.
44.31 “The priests shall not eat of anything which dies of itself, or is torn, whether it be beast or bird.”
This was in fact true for all Israelites (Leviticus 7.24), but it is emphatically stressed here that it is especially important for priests. Clearly such animals may have died of disease, or have become infected. But the main point ritually was that they had not been killed cleanly and the blood properly dealt with.
These renewed instructions to the priests were necessary so that when the return from exile took place they would immediately be aware of the need to return to the Law of Moses, and even to go beyond it in being holy before God. What had previously applied only to the High Priest now applied to all priests. For they served a holy God, and had to be a lesson and example to the people.
The assumption is that first a sanctuary would be set up, and then a temple built, which would mirror to some extent the heavenly temple. But only the former is commanded (43.18). And however mean and crude their temple might be they would be ever aware of the glory of the heavenly temple that it represented. For they were the people of Yahweh, and Yahweh was glorious and holy above all things. Thus they need never be ashamed of their temple however simple it was, because of what it represented.
Chapter 45 The New Land and The New Vision.
What is written here appears at first sight to be simply an idealistic arrangement for the division of the land by lot at the return from exile, in a similar way to the Mosaic idealistic arrangements carried into fruition by Joshua (Numbers 26.52-56), which never became a full reality because of the failure of the people of Israel. In a sense therefore it may seem to parallel those. But there is a remarkable distinction. The arrangements suggested by Moses, and carried out by Joshua, were clearly connected to the land as it was, even though they failed in fulfilment because of the disobedience and halfheartedness of the people. But Ezekiel is here portraying something that did not apply to the land as it was or to what he knew were the intentions of God’s people. He is in fact deliberately describing in vision something that he knows will never literally be, but the principles of which he is certain will one day be fulfilled.
Ezekiel was a visionary, but he was no fool. He knew that the vision of his fellow exiles, or at least those of them whose hearts were for Yahweh, was to return to the land, reoccupy it, and then rebuild Jerusalem and the temple on Mount Zion. (And that incidentally is also the view of those who believe in the establishing of a Millennium about what the Jews would do then).
But what Ezekiel describes here is nothing like that. His visions of the throne of God, and now his vision of the heavenly temple already established in the land, had made him recognise that what the house of Israel were planning to do was not satisfactory. He realised that they would once more become bogged down in the land and fall back into the old ritualism, if not the old idolatry. And when we read Ezra and Nehemiah we recognise that that really was the danger, and indeed what eventually happened.
So under God’s direction he lays out a plan for the future which points to something beyond that. He seeks to direct their hearts and minds to a more spiritual concept of the kingdom of God, a concept which would in fact in the end only find its fulfilment through the ministry of Jesus and in the everlasting kingdom.
What Ezekiel was seeking to convey, mainly passed the people by. For even God’s presence revealed among them in His heavenly temple did not finally move them to appreciate the heavenly nature of Ezekiel’s message. And that is why in the end they would even reject their Messiah because He proclaimed a heavenly kingship (Daniel 9.25-26 with 7.13-14; compare Isaiah 52.13-53.12). So careful consideration reveals a deeper meaning to his words than that which is apparent on the surface.
There is a clear suggestion in verses 1 to 5 that the twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand cubit area depicted is to be seen as a kind of enlarged ‘temple’, with the heavenly sanctuary as the most holy place, the ‘holy portion’ of the priests as an inner court, and the Levite and city areas as the outer court. This is the nearest that Ezekiel, given the conceptions of that time, could get to a heavenly kingdom.
In the first place it is clear that the measurements are not to be taken absolutely literally. No one allocating land would do so in such a stark mathematical manner, for it takes no account of landscape and landmarks, and it is in absolute contrast to the allocating of the land in the book of Joshua. It is thus far more likely that the numbers are to be seen as conveying a specific but not literal message, and this is confirmed by the covenant significance of the numbers. It describes an area which is ‘foursquare’ in multiples of five (25000 by 25000 cubits), which surely indicates a kind of perfection within a covenant relationship.
We are not here dealing with the same situation as pictured earlier. The temple area in 42.20 was surrounded by what was ‘common’ or ‘profane’. But here it is to be surrounded by ‘the holy portion’. Thus the situations are to be seen as very different. The two descriptions are clearly conveying different lessons at different times, the one the stark holiness of the heavenly sanctuary in contrast to the world to which it had come before the people returned, the other the special holiness of a far wider area required by God once the people of God have returned to the land and have been re-accepted by Him.
The first thing that Ezekiel is in fact trying to convey is that from now on all concentration should be placed on a recognition of the heavenly temple ‘among them’ which is not directly connected with Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s eyes Jerusalem was to be thrust aside as the special place where His people could meet with God. It was not totally condemned, but simply set aside. It was desanctified and made ‘ordinary’, and seen as to some extent peripheral. It was present there but seen only as the representative of ‘the whole house of Israel’ in the smallest section of the foursquare arrangement. And all the thoughts of the people were to be collected around the heavenly sanctuary situated on a mountain well away from Jerusalem, and not on ‘the city’ itself.
This is all evidenced by the fact that the heavenly temple, within its own wall, measuring five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits, is described as ‘most holy’ (verse 3), and an open space of fifty cubits broad is to be maintained around it, to maintain this extreme holiness. Then it is surrounded by ‘the holy portion’ in which the priests, the sons of Zadok, dwell, with their hearts and thoughts towards the heavenly temple in their midst, acting as a barrier between it and the outside world.
This holy portion is then to be seen as adjacent with the Levite portion, which is in turn adjacent with the city portion which represents the whole house of Israel, making up the outer court. Or it may be seen as surrounded by the remainder, 1) a Levitical portion, 2) ‘the city’ which is for the whole house of Israel, 3) the portions for the Prince, and 4) the allocations to the tribes (not mentioned in this chapter). The whole idea is of a kind of enlarged sanctuary, with the temple being seen as ‘the inner sanctuary’, that which is ‘most holy’ (verse 3), the holy portion of the priests, being the inner court, and the remainder being the outer court, all with their attention concentrated on the heavenly sanctuary, in the latter case with a special place for the Prince within the outer court.
Ezekiel is beginning the process of wooing their hearts from the earthly to the heavenly, and turning their attention away from Jerusalem to the living God on His heavenly throne. He wants concentration on the Kingly Rule of God. It is the beginning of the process whereby ‘the land’ will cease to be important in itself except as it is fulfilled in a world associated with, and responding to, the heavenly temple, before finally itself being absorbed into that temple.
There is an intricacy about this which we shall consider while we look at the text, but the important lesson we must first face up to is that we must not misjudge Ezekiel and the revelation he received. He was a man of extraordinary vision. The last thing we must see in him is someone who was just mechanically mapping out a theoretical blueprint for some far off millennial kingdom. He had a much more vital message to give, and one closer to the hearts and present experience of God’s true people. He saw well beyond his times.
As we go on then we will make suggestions as to some of the ideas which may have been in Ezekiel’s mind. Sometimes they will overlap. For what he is trying to get over are ideas of which he has a deep appreciation, but which, because of the limitation of the conceptions of the time, he had great difficulty in expressing. Whether this is so readers must judge for themselves.
The Allotment of the Sacred Portion.
45.1-4 “Moreover when you divide by lot the land for inheritance, you will offer a gift-offering to Yahweh, a holy portion of the land. The length shall be the length of twenty five thousand, and the breadth shall be ten thousand. It shall be holy in all its surrounding borders. Of this there shall be for the holy place five hundred by five hundred, square round about, and fifty cubits for its open space round about. And by this measure you will measure, a length of twenty five thousand, and a breadth of ten thousand. And in it will be the sanctuary which is most holy. It is a holy portion of land. It will be for the priests, the ministers of the sanctuary who come near to minister to Yahweh. And it will be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary.”
The commencement is simple enough. It is a reference to when the people eventually return to the land in a new Exodus and begin to parcel out the land. But then he moves on to his new conception.
On return to the land Israel were first to set aside as ‘a holy portion’ for Yahweh an area of land ‘twenty five thousand by ten thousand’ (this is totally outside the city). This was probably intended to be seen as the equivalent of the priestly tithe. But it is stressed that it is a ‘holy portion’, and it is to be sited where it will itself surround the heavenly temple. This would then be followed by an allotment to the Levites (verse 5) an allotment for ‘the city’ (verse 6), and allotments to the prince (verses 7-8), after which the remainder would be divided up by lots as depicted in 47.13 to 48.35.
As we suggested on 42.20, where no mention is made of a unit of measurement we are probably to see it as meaning cubits, and this may be seen as confirmed by the mention of ‘cubits’ for the ‘open space’ around the sanctuary. So the size of ‘the holy portion’ is to be twenty five thousand by ten thousand cubits. These measurements for the holy portion stress the covenant aspect of the whole. Twenty five is five times five, ten is five times two. Both are ways of expressing five intensified. Thus the holy portion itself strongly stresses the covenant relationship between Yahweh and His people.
‘Of this there shall be for the holy place.’ Of the holy portion a section five hundred by five hundred has already been set aside for ‘the holy place’, the heavenly sanctuary (42.20), in its midst, for the heavenly sanctuary is already there, as Ezekiel has witnessed. This is described in verse 3 as ‘most holy’. This section is then to be surrounded by an open space of fifty cubits wide all round (the priests are not to be limited by the larger distances mentioned in 42.16-19).
The five hundred by five hundred was the size of the heavenly tabernacle to its outer wall (42.20). So we are again in the realm of the heavenly. This is not describing the site of an earthly temple, but of the temple which is heavenly, depicting heavenly perfection, of which any earthly temple will be but a meagre copy. No one allocating actual land would do it on such a basis (when taken with what follows). This represents a God-given covenant ideal. In this regard we would point out once again that according to 42.15-20 measurements were made on a different basis, and that there the land outside the 500 by 500 was called ‘common’, for there the emphasis was on the holiness of the heavenly sanctuary, to distinguish it from the mundane world to which it had come. There was as yet no ‘holy portion’ for the priests.
But now the emphasis is on the holiness of the portion of land appointed to the priests, a portion of covenant proportions, which surrounds the heavenly sanctuary, and includes it. This is clearly later in point of time than the first arrival of the heavenly sanctuary, and does indeed await the return of the exiles. It is not strictly a temple which is in mind but a holy portion around the heavenly sanctuary on its mountain.
Furthermore the whole of this area, including the sanctuary in its midst, is specifically stated to be outside ‘the city’ (verse 6). This certainly cannot be fitted in directly with a temple built in Jerusalem. The city in this case is seen as not worthy of the sanctuary. It is not even a part of ‘the holy portion’. The Jews, whose hearts were still wedded to Jerusalem, would never even have thought in terms of reproducing this situation. Nor did they. They missed the opportunity altogether. As ever their hearts were on the mundane. But Ezekiel was trying to turn their thoughts away from the earthly city of Jerusalem to a deeper heavenly reality, which he had already stressed in the vision of the heavenly temple, a sphere of holiness which had nothing to do with Jerusalem. He was envisaging something heavenly when there was little conception of such ideas.
So we must surely see this idealistic picture as rather presenting the truth that those who have God as their inheritance are to receive a perfect inheritance, an inheritance connected with the heavenly temple and that in the end this could only be fulfilled in the heavenly sphere. For where were they to find the heavenly temple? Possibly Ezekiel himself half believed they would see it when they arrived back in the land. But God’s thoughts went deeper than that. This is the beginning of the transference of ‘the land’ which they are to inherit, from the earth to the heavens, and to the new earth (compare Isaiah 65.17; 66.22).
45.4 “It is a holy portion of the land. It shall be for the priests, for the ministers of the sanctuary, who come near to minister to Yahweh. And it shall be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary.”
Once again we have the stress on the fact that the holy sanctuary is surrounded by a ‘holy portion’ of land. It is ‘a holy place for the sanctuary’ (this is in such contrast to 42.20). And in this holy portion the priests are to build their houses, away from the city, totally separated to Yahweh. In other words the hearts of the priests are to be totally wedded to the heavenly sanctuary with their lives centred on it. This is to be man’s ideal. It is incipiently pointing to the Kingly Rule of God. ‘Seek first His Kingly Rule and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33).
45.5 “And twenty five thousand in length by ten thousand in breadth shall be to the Levites, the ministers of the house, for a possession to themselves, for twenty chambers.”
A further allocation of land is to be given to the Levites, of similar size to that given to the priests. This would seem to be seen by Ezekiel as south of the first holy portion (see 48.8), and would seem from 45.6 and 48.14 also to be a holy portion. The ‘twenty chambers’ presumably means twenty sets of living quarters and should therefore be thought of as twenty clusters of housing. Again there is a deliberate avoiding of the use of the term ‘city’ (as was also true with the priests). The usage is possibly also to tie this in with the idea of the outer ‘chambers’ in the heavenly temple, places for the use of temple servants. Thus another portion of land strongly expressing the covenant relationship is connected to the heavenly temple, although outside the holy portion.
45.6 “And you will appoint the possession of the city five thousand broad, and twenty five long, side by side with the gift-offering of the holy portion. It shall be for the whole house of Israel.”
‘The city’ is also deliberately and specifically established outside ‘the holy portion’. To a people who thought of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ this would come as a jolt. It was no longer the holy city. It was for the people, and could only be seen as representing ‘the whole house of Israel’. But it was not for the chosen of Yahweh, for the priests or Levites, who had their own portions, and were to live outside the city, and need never enter it. However we look at it Jerusalem had been de-sanctified and degraded, although still superior to territory outside the holy portion, something that has already been apparent elsewhere in Ezekiel.
It should be noted that for literalists this can only be in complete contradiction to the words of other prophets. However, once we recognise what Ezekiel is doing, turning thoughts from the earthly to the heavenly, it ceases to be so. What he is visualising is a holy portion of land connected with the heavenly temple, (which land can later be compared with the new Jerusalem), a land of holiness, away from any earthly city with its prospective earthly temple, a land where His own especially chosen ones will be with Him outside the camp.
The Old Testament constantly makes clear that cities are the source of a large part of the evil in the world, commencing with Cain’s encampment (Genesis 4.17), moving on to the tower of Babel (Genesis 11.1-9), and then on to Nineveh and Great Babylon, both of which are roundly condemned, along with other great cities. Now Ezekiel is attempting to cancel out the influence of ‘the city’. It is not condemned, but it is no longer central, nor is it seen as containing the heavenly temple. While it still symbolises the people as a whole, ‘the whole house of Israel’, it is as secondary to that which pertains to God. The people are being wooed away from concentrating on Jerusalem.
And yet the whole area now occupied in verses 1-5 is twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand, (five squared times a thousand by five squared times a thousand) also representing the perfect covenant relationship. As we have already seen, central to the area is the heavenly sanctuary, that which is most holy (verse 3), then there is ‘the holy portion’ of the priests, the sons of Zadok (verse 1), the equivalent of the inner court of the temple, which surround the heavenly temple; then there is the portion of the Levites; and then the portion of ‘the city’, this latter representing the whole lay house of Israel. These are all joined in unity in the covenant around the heavenly temple, turning the thoughts of all towards the heavenly temple at its centre. Israel is being wooed from earth to heaven. Given that Ezekiel did not appreciate fully the reality of a heavenly world available to redeemed man, or Jesus’ later conception of the Kingly Rule of God present among men, he was reaching to it as best he could. It was the nearest that he could get to such ideas, given the conceptual limitations of his time.
This area which lies foursquare and sums up the people of God at their various levels of commitment, with God at their centre, can then be compared with the city that lies foursquare in Revelation 21.16. That was a similar, although more advanced, conception. There it was described as the new heavenly Jerusalem, for the old Jerusalem was no longer a problem. But to Ezekiel Jerusalem was a problem. He wanted to get over the fact that it was no longer important except as representing the people of Israel and must not therefore be given prominence in any way. His thoughts were in the heavens, and especially on the heavenly temple. With our wider understanding of heavenly realities we recognise that he was feeling for the idea of the eternal kingdom.
So to repeat. Verses 1-6 depict a foursquare area of land which is seen as temple-like. In its centre is what is most holy, the sanctuary. This is surrounded by the holy portion, which is like the inner court. And then on the outside are the Levites, and ‘the city’ which represents the people, comprising the outer court. Its size in multiples of five emphasises its strong relationship with the new everlasting covenant mentioned by Ezekiel earlier (37.26) and central to it is its relationship with the heavenly temple of Yahweh, to which Ezekiel sees they must in some way become attached. It is the ideal kingdom of God, and it is of a heavenly nature.
45.7-8 “And what is to belong to the prince will be on one side and on the other side of the holy gift and of the possession of the city, in front of the holy gift and the possession of the city on the west side westward and on the east side eastward, and in length comparable to one of the portions from the west border to the east border. As far as the land is concerned it will be to him for a possession in Israel. And my princes will no more oppress my people. But they will give the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes.”
The reference to ‘the prince’ need not necessarily refer to the prince of the house of David. It is neutral. It is to whoever will have the highest lay authority over Israel. But the vision of Israel would be that it did refer to the future successive princes of the house of David who would be God’s servants and shepherds. That was part of their dream, even though it seemingly failed. These princes are to have their own allotted territory in the land. And it will be their permanent inheritance (46.16-18). But notice the stress on the fact that they are to have no other. While they will exercise some kind of secular authority in the land they are not depicted as overall despotic rulers. The aim is to guarantee security of tenure under God to all who possess land, so that no prince may appropriate it as Ahab did the land of Naboth (1 Kings 21.1-16).
The fact that this is placed here confirms that we are to see it as part of the overall picture being painted in verses 1-9. And yet it is not a part of the specific 25000 by 25000 cubit section. On the other hand we must recognise that it does conclude the passage, although also acting as a bridge to what follows. So the picture already presented, which was complete in itself, is now being augmented by the territory of the prince, which is specifically seen as attached to both sides of that portion. The prince too must have His eyes on God.
So, to summarise again. In the total picture the holy portion belongs to God for the residence of His priests. Similarly with the Levite land. The city belongs to the people under God, (and so later, do the tribal lands). Now we learn that whoever is prince over them will also have his own lands, but also under God. That does not mean that he does not have some kind of jurisdiction within the whole land as the leading lay authority, but it emphasises that he was not to consider it as his own possession to do with as he will (see Isaiah 5.8). He was a prince of the people, not of the land. The land was God’s, and God is supreme.
The principle enunciated here is of vital importance. God’s prince is not to see himself as supreme ruler and lord of all the land, with divine rights to do as he will. He is to have his own lands, but must otherwise recognise the rights of priest and people to their land, all under God’s sovereign control. At the commencement of the monarchy under Saul, David and at first under Solomon, the favoured title for the king was ‘prince/war-leader’ (nagid). Yahweh was king, they were His prince/war-leaders. These princes however are to be nasi’, princes and chiefs, with not quite such high authority, and certainly not kings.
It is especially interesting that these princes have no land within the foursquare land surrounding the sanctuary. Under God’s inspiration Ezekiel saw that as uniquely God’s, and the earthly princes had no part in it. This supports our view that the central portion is somehow to be seen as heavenly. It was directly under God. However, the prince’s land was east and west of it, and bordered on it. Even though not in it, it has the closest possible connection with it on both sides, east and west. This is made clear. Their hearts must be towards God.
But the dimensions of the prince’s land are not so clear. They depend on interpretation. The question is, what is the ‘length comparable to one of the portions, from the west border to the east border’. Chapter 48 makes clear that it in fact means from the Great Sea to the Jordan. So Ezekiel’s aim is to connect the prince with the foursquare section around the heavenly temple without him being an essential part of it, just as the prince is given an important though peripheral place in the temple (44.3). The latter was so as to honour the prince and exalt his status given that he was unable to enter where only priests could go. Thus a similar idea is in mind here. There was no desire to make him prince of the ‘ideal’ foursquare area that belonged to the heavenly temple. It was only future revelation that would make known that the Prince to come was also to be the Great High Priest (interestingly although unconsciously foreshadowed in future ‘history’ when the high priest became also the leader of the people).
It need hardly be stated that these things never came literally into actuality. But then it was not expected that they would. The heavenly temple was not visible to all men, only visible by faith, and the parlous state of the land and of men’s faith would not be conducive to their fulfilment. The people of Ezekiel’s time were on the whole too motivated by the world to seek to fulfil such ideals. It became rather a vision of what would be in the future. And not a practical vision if taken literally. Israel were too wedded to their own ideas and to Jerusalem. But as a vision of a future kingdom with its root in the heavenly temple it was remarkable. And one day Jesus would come proclaiming, ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’, both as a present invisible Kingly Rule on earth with its source in Heaven, and as an everlasting kingdom in a new Heaven and earth where God would be all. And Ezekiel’s vision would become a reality.
At the return from exile things might at first have seemed promising. Zerubbabel, grandson of King Jehoiachin (1 Chronicles 3.19; Matthew 1.12), became Israel’s Davidic prince, and there were certainly great expectations concerning him as we have already seen (Haggai 2.1-9; 3.20-23). But the people’ minds again became bogged down in Jerusalem, and after Zerubbabel, the history of the princes of the house of David, although not the names, is unknown. It is lost in the mist of the past possibly never to be known. Even when Israel was restored to independence for a while there appears to have been no serious intention of re-establishing the Davidic line, and certainly no princes thought in terms of fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision. To be fair it would have been difficult. They did not know where the heavenly temple was. All they had was a replica on earth. But nor was there the attitude of heart which the vision required. It is true that they did not have the vision which was required to recognise it as referring to a heavenly kingdom, but they did know basically what they had to do, and that was to be obedient to the God of the covenant. And that they were not. Had they been the vision of the heavenly kingdom might have been brought home to the.
‘As far as the land is concerned it will be to him for a possession in Israel. And my princes will no more oppress my people. But they will give the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes.’ This is the final summary of what is initially to be expected of Israel’s rulers on the return from exile. They are to have their own possession within the land, but they are not to oppress the people. Rather they are to ensure that they receive land in accordance with their tribal numbers. Oppression was to be a thing of the past, and they must rule wisely in combination with the sons of Zadok in order to see the better land.
God’s Word to the Princes of Israel (45.9-25).
The Need For The Prince To Ensure Justice and Fair Weights and Measures .
45.9-12 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Let it be enough for you, O princes of Israel. Remove violence and spoil, and execute judgment and justice. Take away your evictions from my people,” says the Lord Yahweh. “You shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of a homer, and the ephah the tenth part of a homer. Their measure shall be in terms of the homer. And the shekel shall be twenty gerars. Twenty shekels plus twenty five shekels plus fifteen shekels shall be your maneh.”
This kind of cry was common among the prophets, for Israelite society brought dishonour on Yahweh and his covenant by their social behaviour. The princes of the future are to ensure righteousness in the land. They are to be satisfied with their own land, and ensure proper justice throughout Israel. They are to prevent violence and looting, and to ensure that men receive true justice and right judgments, and that the poor are not evicted by the rich for no good reason (compare Leviticus 19.13-15; Isaiah 3.14-15; Amos 3.10; 6.3-6; James 5.1-6). They are to ensure true and correct weights and measures, and honesty in monetary exchange (compare Leviticus 19.35-36; Deuteronomy 25.13-16; Proverbs 11.1; Amos 8.5; Micah 6.10-12). These latter were a continual problem. Ancient balances had a wide margin of error and it is rare archaeologically to find two weights that agree. It was simple therefore to cheat the poor and helpless.
A homer meant originally a donkey load and came to mean approximately 220 litres (just over 48 gallons). An ephah was a vessel large enough to hold a person (Zechariah 5.6-10), and was used for measuring cereals. The bath was used for measuring liquids. The latter two were to be equivalent measures, one tenth of a homer.
The sixty shekels to a maneh was in accordance with usage in Babylonia. There is evidence of a fifty shekel maneh in pre-exilic times (compare Genesis 23.15; Exodus 30.24; 1 Samuel 17.5; Numbers 31.50, which all seem to point to the existence of a fifty shekel maneh) which explains the need for Ezekiel’s detailed explanation.
The Oblations to be Paid to the Prince To Enable Him To Make The Necessary Sacrificial Offerings For The People (45.13-16).
45.13-16 “This is the oblation that you shall offer, the sixth part of an ephah from a homer of wheat, and you shall give the sixth part of an ephah from a homer of barley, and the set portion of oil, of the bath of oil, shall be the tenth part of a bath out of the cor, which is ten baths, that is a homer, for ten baths are a homer. And one lamb of the flock out of two hundred, from the well watered pastures of Israel, for a meal offering, and for a whole (burnt) offering, and for peace offerings, to make atonement for them,” says the Lord Yahweh. “All the people of the land shall contribute to this oblation for the prince of Israel.”
In response to his activity in ensuring fair justice and trading the prince will receive a reasonable level of oblations. This will be composed of reasonable proportions of what is produced in the land. The purpose behind these will be to provide a set proportion of produce for the necessary sacrificial offerings, including meal offerings, whole (burnt) offerings and peace offerings for the purpose of making atonement for the people. For it will the prince’s responsibility to ensure the spiritual well-being of his people. Once again it is difficult to square this with ‘memorial’ offerings. These are required offerings in order to make atonement and cover the people’s sins before God.
The required oblation by the people to the prince was thus one-sixtieth of all grain produce, one hundredth of all oil produce, and one out of two hundred clean domestic animals.
The Prince’s Sacral Responsibilities (45.17-25).
Ezekiel was aware what the limited role of the Prince would initially be on their return to the land. The land would be ruled by governors appointed by Persia, and the Prince could only therefore have a limited local role. But with regard to the cult he had full freedom under God. There he could express his authority without stirring trouble or being seen as a revolutionary. And it was to be his central purpose. What mattered above all was the relationship His people had with God.
The Prince To Be Responsible To Ensure that the Offerings Are Offered.
45.17 “And it shall be the prince’s part to give the whole burnt offerings, and the meal offerings, and the libations (drink or oil offerings), in the feasts and in the new moons and in the sabbaths, in all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will prepare the sin offering, and the meal offering, and the whole burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make atonement for the house of Israel.”
The prince’s sacred duty is to ensure that the full basic sacrificial requirements for the people are carried out throughout the year at Israel’s wide-ranging feasts, including the new moons and sabbaths. This was probably ever seen as the Davidic kings’ duty, even though many of them did not fulfil it satisfactorily. This was why they were seen as priests after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4). This title had arisen because Jerusalem was the city of David and they had therefore inherited the royal priesthood of the city, named after its early priest king Melchizedek (Genesis 14.18). But as only the Levitical priests could actually offer these sacrifices and present them before Yahweh under the covenant, the duty of the prince/king was seemingly to ensure their provision, allocation and preparation ready for the sacrificial act. This is now dealt with in more detail.
The Prince’s Responsibility For Cleansing the Sanctuary and The People at the New Year.
45.18-20 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “In the first month, on the first day of the month, you will take a young bullock without blemish, and you will cleanse the sanctuary. And the priest will take of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the house, and on the four corners of the settle of the altar, and on the posts of the gate of the inner court. And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one who errs and for every one who is ignorant. So shall you make atonement for the house.” ’
The first responsibility of the prince is to ensure the fitness for worship of the earthly sanctuary. Each new year’s day, that is of the ancient religious new year commencing around March/April at the new moon, this had to be cleansed by the sin offering of a young bullock without blemish on the first and seventh day. The priest would then take the blood of the bullock and put it on the doorposts of the house, that is of the sanctuary where the offering was made, and on the four corners of the settle of the altar (compare 43.20) on which the offering was offered, and on the posts of the gate of the inner court. This would cleanse the sanctuary for another year. That there would be such a sanctuary was clear from the building of the altar under Yahweh’s instructions (43.18).
‘And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one who errs and for every one who is ignorant.’ As with the cleansing of the altar (43.26) this cleansing required a seven day period, although in this case not specifically daily. The sin offering, probably in both cases, was for sins of error (Leviticus 4.2, 13, 22, 27; Numbers 15.22-29) and sins of ignorance (Leviticus 5.17) for the whole people. Both are in contrast with ‘sins with a high hand’ (Numbers 15.30). This was seemingly an innovation, a further reminder of their continual need to be cleansed from sin. It would be a constant reminder in the future of how Israel had previously failed in their history to learn the lesson of the New Year sacrifice.
The Prince’s Responsibility for the Passover and The Feast of Tabernacles.
What is described clearly abbreviates ancient ceremonies already known, the full details of which did not need to be described. The point being made here is the Prince’s responsibility for them. The Passover lambs themselves would be eaten in their houses, but what is described here are the major sacrifices on behalf of the people.
45.21-24 “In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the passover, a feast of seven days. Unleavened bread shall be eaten. And on that day the prince will prepare for himself, and for all the people of the land, a bullock for a sin offering. And for the seven days he shall prepare a whole burnt offering to Yahweh, seven bullocks and seven rams without blemish daily the seven days. And a he-goat daily for a sin offering. And he shall prepare a meal offering, an ephah for a bullock and an ephah for a ram, and a hin of oil to an ephah.”
The Passover celebrated the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12-13). It was thus a suitable feast to emphasise once the New Exodus had taken place. Here again was deliverance from a far country. From now on Passover (including the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread) would celebrate two deliverances. Note how Passover and Unleavened Bread are seen as one feast. Compare 2 Chronicles 30.1-27; 35.1-19. The public celebration of Passover in style appears regularly to have been the sign of a new beginning, as the people were reminded of what their covenant God had done for them.
There was to be a daily sin offering throughout the feast to deal with the sins of the people, thus seven in all, and twice sevenfold whole burnt offerings offered in worship and praise and dedication daily, a sweet savour to Yahweh (Genesis 8.20-21; Leviticus 1.9, 13), although these also included an atoning factor. Whole burnt offerings (literally ‘that which goes up’) were a very ancient form of sacrifice, offered long before the deliverance from Egypt (Genesis 8.20-21; 22.2). The whole of the offering was consumed by fire. Along with the whole burnt offerings a meal offering was offered.
45.25 “In the seventh month, on the fifteenth day of the month, during the feast he will do the like for seven days, with regard to the sin offering, with regard to the whole burnt offering, with regard to the meal offering and with regard to the oil.”
In the seventh month, the agricultural new year, at the feast of tabernacles, the same process would be repeated.
Chapter 46. Prescriptions Concerning the Earthly Temple. A Final View of the Heavenly Temple.
In these final chapters of Ezekiel from 40 onwards we have had two parallel themes, the one was the heavenly temple ‘on top of the mountain’ in which Ezekiel was led from one aspect to another by a heavenly visitant as he measured each aspect of the temple, and the other was the earthly sanctuary with regard to which all that was to be done was explained by the specific command of Yahweh. This had to be so, for it was not yet built.
On this basis we are here in these first verses dealing with the earthly sanctuary yet to be built. However in verse 19 we move into the heavenly sanctuary, where once again Ezekiel is led around by his heavenly visitant preparatory to the great vision of the overflowing river. The two sanctuaries are closely connected, for the one is the visible and tangible, but faint, representation of the other, but it is to the other that the hopes are directed.
Activity In The Earthly Temple.
It is anticipated that the earthly temple will have at least one gate, and possibly only one, leading into the inner court, and two leading into the temple precincts. The fact that all attention is focused on the east gate of the inner court and its opening and shutting might suggest that there is in fact only expected to be one gateway to the inner court. Access for the priests would still be gainable, presumably by a small door in the gate ready for their use. The activity being described here is for the post-exilic community. The prince clearly represents the people as their prince. But he is a far cry from the Messianic Prince.
The Opening Of The East Gate to the Inner Court on New Moons and Sabbaths.
46.1-3 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “The gate of the inner court which looks towards the east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. And the prince will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will stand by the post of the gate, and the priests will prepare his whole (burnt) offering, and his peace offerings, and he will worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he will go out, but the gate will not be shut until the evening. And the people of the land will worship at the door of that gate before Yahweh on the sabbaths and on the new moons.” ’
This description appears to suggest only one gateway into the inner court. It would give access to the inner court to the priests through a door in the gate at all times, but the gate itself was to be shut except on new moons and sabbaths. In other words it would only be open at times of special worship. This would probably also include special feast days when the prince had to supervise special offerings (and note verse 12). If there were two other gates always open, the opening and the closing of the gate would not have been so impressive, and not have provided the same lesson. The impression given is that this is expected to be the only gate into the inner court.
On the other hand the point may be that the other two gates were seen as not looking straight onto the entrance to the sanctuary. But this appears to be unlikely. The fact that they were open and that worshippers could gather at them would largely nullify the impact of the closing of the east gate.
(The reason for the closure of this gate had nothing to do with the reason for the permanent closing of the east gate into the outer court of the heavenly temple. That was because Yahweh had entered by it and it was very holy. No such idea is expressed here. This was in order to stress that open access to God was limited to special occasions. This should not, however, hide from us the fact that the people knew that they could pray to God at any time. It was more the immediacy of His presence that was in question, not their ability to pray to Him).
The new moon marked the beginning of each month, which lasted for a cycle of the moon. It was the major measure among the ancients of the orderly passage of time, and its steady course was thus evidence of the continual fulfilment of God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 8.22). The non-appearance of the moon was a sign of catastrophe (32.7; Isaiah 13.10; Joel 3.15). The sabbath was specific to Israel and commemorated the deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the covenant (Deuteronomy 5.15) and was linked with the fact of creation (Exodus 20.11). Thus both were seen as of vital importance.
So on those days, when the prince and the people came to worship Yahweh, the east gate would be opened. The prince was given the special privilege of being able to go through the gateway and stand at the inner court end of the gateway, at ‘the post of the gate’, so that he could actually see into the inner court and the offering of his offerings on the altar. But even he could not set foot in the inner court. This was why a special place away from the inner court was allocated for him where he could eat a sacral meal before Yahweh (44.3). The ordinary people stood at the outer court end of the gateway. They could come no further.
The official opening of the gate confirmed that access to Yahweh was available to all His covenant people, for when the gate was open there was no physical barrier between them and the inner sanctuary, and they shared to a large extent the privilege granted continually to the levitical priests. But it also declared that this access was limited for them in order to stress His holiness. He was not available at their beck and call. And in no way could they enter the inner court.
‘And the prince will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will stand by the post of the gate, and the priests will prepare his whole (burnt) offering, and his peace offerings, and he will worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he will go out, but the gate will not be shut until the evening.’ As the supervisor of the offerings it was necessary for the prince to be able to see the offerings in order to ensure that all was properly carried out. Thus he could stand at the inner end of the gateway from where, having presented his prepared offerings, he could plainly see the altar and the activity going on there. As well as giving him a privileged position of worship, there may also have been here the idea of a check on the non-Zadokite priests to ensure that they were fulfilling their responsibilities in accordance with cultic requirements. They had not proved faithful in the past and had to serve under the watchful eye of the prince, acting for the people.
But the gate was not closed when the prince left. It remained open for worshippers to gaze through, and worship at, until the end of the sabbath. All this would not have been feasible if the number of worshippers were expected to be huge, but provision was made for fairly large numbers to participate by ensuring that they moved in orderly fashion (verse 9).
The temple would presumably be open for worship daily, it was only the gate into the inner court that was closed.
The Prince’s Offerings On Behalf Of The People (46.4-8).
46.4-7 “And on the sabbath the whole burnt offering that the prince shall offer to Yahweh shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish, and the meal offering shall be an ephah for the ram, and the meal offering for the sheep as he is able to give, and a hin of oil to an ephah. And on the day of the new moon it shall be a young bullock without blemish, and six lambs and a ram. They shall be without blemish. And he will prepare a meal offering, an ephah for the bullock, and an ephah for the ram, and for the lambs according as he is able, and a hin of oil to an ephah.”
The weekly offering is six lambs and a ram, but on the new moon a young bullock is also required. As ever they are to be without blemish, for what is blemished cannot be offered to Yahweh. He is worthy of the best, and what is offered to Him must be without fault. These are offerings of worship and praise. Included with them are meal offerings to a certain level, and then as the prince is able. This interesting proviso recognises that the wealth of princes and their people will fluctuate at different times. Not all harvests will be plentiful. The weekly offering may represent a lamb for each of the six working days of the week and a ram for the sabbath, or it may simply be with the intent of making the divinely perfect seven in all. The additional bullock celebrates the new moon. As described earlier these offerings are on behalf of the people as well as himself (45.17).
These provisions differ from those required by the Mosaic law (Numbers 28.9-15). It is the sign of a new beginning, even though based on the old.
46.8 “And when the prince enters he will go in by way of the porch of the gate, and he will go out by that way.”
The prince’s right of entry and exit to the east gateway is restricted. His access and exit is by the porch of the gate and that alone. That way he avoids treading in the inner court.
Provisions of Entry For The Prince and People On Feast Days (46.9-10).
46.9-10 “But when the people of the land shall come before Yahweh at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship will go out by way of the south gate, and he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. He shall not return by way of the gate that he came in, but shall go straight before him. And the prince when they go in shall go in in the midst of them, and when they go out they will go out together.”
This remarkable restriction is powerfully significant. Firstly it indicates that on feast days the prince enters the temple precincts in the midst of the people. He is one with them in their worship, for indeed he is their representative, not in the sense of being apart from them, but as being one among them. In a sense he is the people, and is on the same level. It also ensured that there would be no solitary regal entry for the prince. There was to be no princely splendour. At this time all attention must be on the King in His sanctuary. (We must learn this too in our churches). Secondly it indicates that when the inner east gate is to be opened the people enter and leave as guests of Yahweh. They ‘pass through’. They are not free to do their own thing.
It is true that it might also, of course, have ensured a smoother flow for the people but it is questionable whether that was the main point. The main point was symbolic. After all they would be standing within the temple outer court before the inner east gate for some considerable period as they observed and in their own way took part in the ceremonies by prayer and worship and acclamation. They were not just queuing past a fixed point. And thus leaving by the way that they came might have made things easier to organise. But that was not the question. The principle to be established here was that when the inner east gate was open they were guests of the Almighty. Things must be orderly. This was not home, and ‘court procedure’ must be followed..
The Meal Offerings At The Feasts and The Appointed Times (46.11).
46.11 “And at the feasts and at the appointed times the meal offering shall be an ephah for a bullock and an ephah for a ram and for the lambs as he is able to give, and a hin of oil to an ephah.
The importance of the meal offering comes out in its re-emphasis here. These were offerings of which the priests partook, it was a most holy offering (Leviticus 3.2). Once again mention is made of the prince’s ability to provide sometimes more, sometimes less. This would depend on what the harvests had been like (45.15). ‘The appointed times’ are presumably the new moons and sabbaths.
Freewill Offerings Offered by the Prince (46.12).
46.12 “And when the prince shall prepare a freewill offering, a whole burnt offering or peace offerings as a freewill offering to Yahweh, one shall open for him the gate that looks towards the east, and he shall prepare his whole burnt offering and his peace offerings, as he does on the sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out one shall shut the gate.”
Provision is here made for freewill offerings over and above the prescribed offerings and sacrifices, to be offered by the prince at any time. These were expressions of gratitude and love. They may sometimes be offered on behalf of the people or sometimes be personal, no differentiation is made. But to offer such offerings specific access can be obtained through the inner east gate. The gate will be opened specifically for the purpose, so that he can sufficiently prepare it, and then closed immediately after he leaves. It is a kind of private access arrangement. The gate is not then left open for the public to see through, and worship before, after he has left, although they may presumably attend for the offering itself.
The Daily Offerings (46.13-15).
The change to the second person singular suggests that these were not connected with the prince. These were offerings to be made by the priests on behalf of Israel.
46.13-15 “And you will prepare a lamb of the first year without blemish for a whole burnt offering to Yahweh daily. Morning by morning you will prepare it. And you will prepare a meal offering with it morning by morning, the sixth part of an ephah, and the thrid part of a hin of oil to mix with the fine flour, a meal offering to Yahweh continually by a perpetual ordinance. Thus shall they prepare the lamb and the meal offering and the oil morning by morning for a continual whole burnt offering.”
This is a daily offering made continually, a continual expression of worship, praise, and covenant loyalty and love. No mention is made of an evening offering (contrast Exodus 29.38-41; Numbers 28.3-8; 2 Kings 16.15).
The Prince’s Portion.
Four points are made here with respect to the prince’s portion mentioned in 45.7-8. Firstly that it is his inheritance, secondly that he may pass it on to his sons as a permanent inheritance, thirdly that while he may pass some of it on to servants it may not be as a permanent inheritance, and fourthly that his sons are not to receive any inheritance outside the portion. The rights of all Israelites are ever to be preserved.
46.16 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “If the prince give a gift to any of his sons, it is his inheritance. It shall belong to his sons. It is their possession by inheritance.”
The portion is God’s gift to the prince and his successors and is his permanently. If he passes any along to his sons, it is theirs permanently. It is his permanent inheritance, and theirs.
46.17 “But if he give to one of his servants a gift from his inheritance it shall be his to the year of liberty. Then it shall return to the prince. But as for his inheritance, that shall be for his sons.”
The prince could give a gift from his portion to a faithful servant, but it would be his only to the year of liberty. In that year the inheritance would revert back from the servant to the sons.
‘The year of liberty’. Compare Leviticus 25.10. This refers to the year of jubile which occurred every fiftieth year, when all land outside cities reverted back to its original owner.
46.18 “Moreover the prince shall not take of the people’s inheritance, to thrust them out of their possession. He shall give inheritance to his sons out of his own possession, so that my people be not scattered every man from his possession.”
If the prince wanted his sons to have possessions, it must be out of his own portion. He was forbidden to give them land belonging to another. There must be no dispossessing of people in the land. All Israelites had a right to security of tenure.
Thus the rights of the princely line were both protected and restricted. They could not be permanently squandered, nor could they be permanently extended. Their position was safeguarded, and so were the positions of others.
Like all of Ezekiel’s visions this had both short and long application. In the short term it was a pleasant dream which had little fulfilment, in the long term it described the equity and righteousness of the coming everlasting kingdom.
The Man With The Measuring Line Reveals More of the Heavenly Temple (46.19-24).
The account now suddenly picks up abruptly with the heavenly visitant continuing to reveal the heavenly temple as though nothing had come between. That this is so is clear from comparison with 47.3, and in fact this section could easily be picked up and fitted between 42.14 and 42.15, and it would not be out of place. (It has even been suggested that that should happen, but then we would lose the vital connection of chapter 47 with the heavenly tour).
But apart from the suddenness of the introduction as though we were continuing the tour of the temple without interruption, there is no reason for removing it. And that is not sufficient reason. To a man like Ezekiel, suddenly moving back into his earlier vision as though he had not left it was typical of his visionary state. He could suddenly pick up where he had left off, as though nothing had come between, because that was how his vision went. In a moment he was there. It needed no introduction. It was as though nothing had intervened.
On the other hand there is good reason for the section being here. It illustrates what has just been said about sacrifices and offerings and applies it to the heavenly temple, demonstrating that it is all consistent with it. These boiling houses would never be used, but they were a heavenly justification for their earthly equivalent. But even more importantly it brings us abruptly back into the tour of the heavenly temple so as to incorporate chapter 47 into the same heavenly vision, as though without interruption.
46.19-20 ‘Then he brought me through the entry which was at the side of the gate, into the holy chambers for the priests, which looked towards the north, and behold there was a place at their extreme western end. And he said to me, “This is the place where the priests shall boil the guilt offering and the sin offering, where they shall bake the meal offering, so that they do not bring them out into the outer court to communicate holiness to the people.”
‘He brought me--’ in a parallel use to here regularly elsewhere refers to the heavenly visitant. In 40.17-43.1 it is the constant refrain. Ezekiel had been handed over by God to the heavenly visitant. It was not God’s part to act as a tour host.
This time Ezekiel is brought to the boiling houses for the sin, guilt and meal sacrifices, which were at the western end of the holy chambers for the priests (42.13). All were ‘most holy’ and must be dealt with in the holy section exclusive to the priests, for parts of all personal sin and guilt offerings could be eaten by the priests, but only in a holy place. They must not in any way come in contact with the common people lest the people be harmfully ‘made holy’, putting them in a dreadful position, neither one thing nor the other. This demonstrated that the sacrifices required of the prince were consistent with the significance of the heavenly temple.
46.21-24 ‘Then he brought me out into the outer court and made me pass by the four corners of the court, and behold in every corner of the court here was a (smaller) court. In the four corners of the court there were enclosed courts, forty cubits long and thirty broad. These four in the four corners were of one measurement. And in them was a row of masonry around them, round about the four, and it was made with hearths at the bottom of the rows which were round about. Then he said to me, “these are the kitchens where the ministers of the house will boil the people’s sacrifices.” ’
Finally Ezekiel was led to four kitchens, one in each corner of the outer court and was told that these were for the boiling of the part of the sacrifices of which the people could eat. Thus the temple was to be a place of sacral feasting as well as of worship. And this idea was sanctioned by these being in the heavenly temple.
Chapter 47.1-12 The Rivers of Living Water.
The first twelve verses of this chapter deal with the vision of rivers of living water flowing from the temple, beginning as a small streamlet and multiplying as they flowed outwards. If anything proves that this is a heavenly temple it is this. Attempts have been made to literalise this but they can miss the point of the whole message and ignore the significance read into the incident in the New Testament (John 7.37-39; Revelation 22.1-5). This is no vision of an earthly cascade, but of heavenly action active in blessing. Such a huge earthly cascade issuing continually month by month (verse 12) from a real temple would soon sweep the temple away. Nor could such a cascade come from ‘the top of a very high mountain’ (40.2). But this is a heavenly river flowing from a heavenly sanctuary, which is an entirely different matter (see verse 12 where it is stressed that the unique quality of the water is because it comes from the sanctuary).
So firstly we must recognise the source of this flow. It is from the sanctuary via the closed east gate of the heavenly temple (verse 1). It has nothing therefore to do with Jerusalem, for this temple was specifically sited well away from Jerusalem (45.1-6). Its source is in God. Zechariah 14.8 tells us that ‘in that day living waters will go out from Jerusalem -- and Yahweh will be king over all the earth’. If we see this as spiritual waters flowing from God the two can be equated but no literalist can compare the two. Literally speaking they are from different sites. However as spiritual flows they are both from God. This confirms that Zechariah is actually thinking of Jerusalem in the same way as Ezekiel is thinking of the heavenly temple.
It should be recognised that Ezekiel was fond of the metaphorical picture of things abounding through water, and did not feel it necessary to explain that he did not mean it literally. He says of Pharaoh, ‘the waters nourished him, the deep made him to grow’, and he likened Egypt to rivers and canals causing growth wherever they went (31.4), a similar picture to here. Pharaoh’s punishment was that he would be taken out of the waters and the rivers and thrown into the wilderness (29.3-5) and the result would be that those who were like trees by the waters would sink to the nether parts of the earth (31.14). Both Babylon and Egypt are seen as planting men by rivers of water so that they might be like the willow tree or the goodly vine (17.5, 8). Israel too is said to have been like a vine, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters, until she was replanted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty land (19.10, 13). And especially in 36.25-26 Ezekiel pictures God as sprinkling His people with water so that they may be made clean and undergo spiritual transformation. Thus we have every reason to see these waters too as metaphorical and spiritual.
And secondly we must recognise its intention. It was to bring life wherever it went (verse 9). To the ancients the primary power of water was to give life. Those who lived in Canaan knew what it was to watch all nature die in a waterless and very hot summer. And then the rains came, and almost immediately, like magic, the bushes came to life, greenery sprang from the ground, and the world came alive again. That was the life-giving power of water. In Babylonia Israel had also witnessed the power of the great rivers. Along their banks life always flourished, and water was taken from them by irrigation to bring life to drier areas. The wilderness blossomed like a rose. They knew that the coveted Garden of Eden had been fruitful because of the great river flowing through it that became four rivers and watered the world. So that was their dream for their everlasting homeland, a great and everflowing river that would bring life everywhere, and especially in men’s hearts.
This prophecy is the answer to their dreams and parallel to those great prophetic pronouncements which spoke of the coming of the Spirit in terms of heavenly rain producing life and fruitfulness (Isaiah 32.15; 44.3-5; Joel 2.23-32), and is similar in thought to Psalm 46.4; 65.9; Isaiah 33.21.
47.1 ‘And he brought me back to the door of the house, and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward, for the forefront of the house was towards the east. And the waters came out from under, from the right side of the house, on the south of the altar.’
The heavenly visitant now brought Ezekiel to the door of the house. This was probably the door of the sanctuary itself. And from underneath its threshold issued out water moving towards the east gate, which was natural as the door faced east (thus not towards Jerusalem which was south). The water flowed from the right side of the threshold and past the south side of the altar as it made its way to the permanently closed east gate. It was at present but a streamlet, a day of small things. This was the path that Yahweh had taken in the reverse direction when His glory had returned to the house previously. It is clear that we are to see in this life from God as He now reaches out to His people with spiritual water, for to Israel waters spoke of life.
‘Waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward.’ Water is regularly a picture of spiritual life and growth, whether in terms of river or rain. ‘The righteous man’ is ‘like a tree planted by the streams of water,’ (Psalm 1.3). The man who trusts in Yahweh is like ‘a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river,’ (Jeremiah 17.8). The coming transforming and reviving work of the Spirit is likened to men being sprinkled with water and made clean (Ezekiel 36.25-27), and to water being poured out on those who are thirsty, and streams on the dry ground (Isaiah 44.3). A Man is coming who will be a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest, like rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32.2). A fountain is to be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13.1). Those who take refuge in God will drink of the river of His pleasures, for with Him is the fountain of life (Psalm 36.8-9). There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High (Psalm 46.4). The earth being filled with the knowledge of Yahweh is likened to the waters covering the sea (Isaiah 11.9).
‘From the right side of the house, on the south of the altar.’ Every Israelite knew that at the right side of the house had stood the seven branched golden lampstand (Exodus 26.35; 40.24). This primarily represented the presence of Yahweh as a light of divine perfection among His people, but it also represented the resulting witness of Israel and was later seen as a symbol of the witness and work of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 4). But as God’s anointed ones they were fed from the golden lampstand, as God worked through His Spirit in the day of small things (Zechariah 4.10). Possibly this was seen by Zechariah as the first initial fulfilment of the flowing water from the south side of the sanctuary, from He Who is the light of the world.
47.2 ‘Then he brought me out by the way of the north gate, and led me round by the outside route to the outer gate, that is, by the route of the gate that looks towards the east. And behold, there ran out waters on the south side.’
Ezekiel was now taken by way of the north gate to the outside of the east gate which was permanently closed because of its holiness, and the waters which were coming from the sanctuary were making their way under the gate on the south side. The flow was still not very large, but its source and passage was holy.
In a larger context we have here a combination of the lifegiving Spirit, proceeding from the place of the throne of God, and then through the holy place of the Prince, before flowing from the temple to the world.
47.3-6a ‘When the man went forth eastward with the line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand and caused me to pass through the waters, waters that were to the loins. Afterward he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be forded (‘be passed through’). And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen?” ’
The flow of water now grew in volume, gradually growing deeper and deeper, until at length it was too deep for a man to stand up in. That this multiplying of the water was intended to be miraculous cannot be doubted, and evoked the man’s question. This was no natural river. There were no streams flowing into the flow, so that its growth was unnatural and could only be by the mighty working of God. Notice its growth in stages, a fact deliberately drawn out by the measuring every thousand cubits. It was a symbol of the mighty working of the Spirit of God beginning in a gradual work that grew and grew until it achieved its fulfilment in waters that bore a man so that he could not resist it.
We note in passing that although Ezekiel was made to paddle in the river and walk through the river there is no suggestion that he was made to swim in it. No doubt he could not swim.
No Israelite would have doubted that this was the River of God that was full of water (Psalm 65.9), as had been that in Eden, sufficient to supply four great rivers (Genesis 2.10). Isaiah 33.21 spoke of God’s blessing as being like a place where Yahweh would be with His people in majesty, in a place of broad rivers and streams, but without rowing galley or gallant ship, in other words a heavenly river unaffected by man.
And we have been privileged to see the far end of the streamlet as it has flowed and expanded through the centuries, from the small beginnings of the work of Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest it grew through the centuries through many godly men until it became the work of John the Baptiser (Malachi 4.6), the ministry of Jesus (John 3.5-6; 4.10, 14), and the Gospel flowing out through His disciples, through the ages, to the world (John 7.37-39). All coming from the flow from the heavenly temple as it grew and grew. And one day we shall see its glorious final result in the river of water of life in the new earth, in Paradise (Revelation 22.1-5, which is largely based on this chapter).
47.6b-7 ‘Then he brought me and caused me to return to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.’
This verse is a death thrust to a literalist interpretation. It refers to Ezekiel being returned to the bank of the river, and then describes the trees that have miraculously and instantaneously grown along the bank of the river. It is quite clear that this is not intended just to be a picture of the scenery but the consequence of this now great and flowing river. The eastern side of the mountains was well known for its aridity. Here is the God of creation at work indeed.
47.8 ‘Then he said to me, “These waters issue forth towards the eastern region and will go down into the Arabah, and they will go towards the sea. Into the sea will the waters go which were made to issue forth, and the waters will be healed.” ’
The eastern region and the slopes down into the Arabah (the Jordan rift valley) rarely saw water. They were dry and arid and barren, apart from the occasional oasis. But even more arid was the area around the Dead Sea. Yet the point is that God can water the barren places, and instantaneously make them fruitful. And then follows the most wonderful illustration of all. The Dead Sea, that sea saturated with salt, in which nothing could live, would itself become a fresh water lake. Its waters would be healed. So God chose one of the deadest places on earth to illustrate how His waters would bring life to the world, and how He would prepare for His people a new Eden in a new earth out of the most impossible circumstances (Revelation 22.1-5).
47.9-10 “And it will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the two rivers come, will live, and there will be a very great quantity of fish. For these waters are come there, and the waters of the Sea will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river comes. And it will be that fishermen will stand by it. From Engedi even to Eneglaim will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be after their kinds, an extremely great quantity like the fish of the Great Sea.”
The river has now split into two rivers, so great is its flow, until it becomes a fresh water sea. It is continually growing. The picture is in direct contrast to that of Pharaoh (29.3-5). There he was transplanted from the waters along with his fish, and all were cast into the wilderness and died for lack of water, victims of the scavengers. But here the wilderness becomes a great twofold river, and the fish multiply. And the waters heal wherever they go. The result is an abundance of life. In neither case is it to be taken pedantically literally.
The illustration of the fishermen is in order to emphasise the quantity of the fish, and God’s provision for man. Whenever expert fishermen are found in quantities you can be sure that the fish are plentiful. We are not intended to apply the detail. The point is that abundant life has come where there was only aridity and death, and that what was once desert-like and ugly has become pleasant and beautiful, a new Paradise.
Engedi was an important oasis and fresh water spring west of the Dead Sea allotted to Judah at the conquest (Joshua 15.62), an oasis in a barren land. Now it would have become part of a large river-fed area where fish abounded, right up to Eneglaim (which would be another oasis, only mentioned here and otherwise unknown, possibly near Qumran).
47.11 “But its miry places and its marshes will not be healed. They will be given up to salt.”
At first sight this seems to be a sign of the failure of the river. But in fact the people would not have rejoiced at the idea of losing valuable salt resources, and this is rather evidence of the discrimination and continual provision of God. Salt is good (Mark 9.50; Luke 14.34). So the salt reserves will be preserved. In the new earth will be everything a man can need. Fish and salt together would provide man with abundant food.
47.12 “And by the river on its bank, on this side and on that side, will grow every tree for food, whose leaf will not wither, nor will its fruit fail. It will bring forth firstfruits every month because its waters issue out of the sanctuary. And its fruit will be for food and its leaf for healing.”
The final concluding picture emphasises that this is not to be taken totally literally. On both sides of the river will grow every tree for food. We are in a new Eden (Genesis 2.9). And the trees which grow will be such trees as man has never known. They will be renewed every month, producing, monthly, first firstfruits, and then a harvest, and yet their leaves will not wither. And this will be because they are fed by water from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaf for healing. They are God’s trees and God’s provision in a unique way.
Here we are clearly in a Paradise restored, with hugely abundant supplies. The idea of healing is not because men will continually need to be healed, but because having been initially healed their health will be continually maintained. It demonstrates their continual wellbeing in the only way that men of that day could understand.
So the whole glorious picture is of God from His heavenly sanctuary beginning a flow of blessing (water was always a sign of blessing) which will grow and grow, bringing life and fruitfulness wherever it goes and producing a new and better Eden with all that man can need, a picture that is taken up and expanded in Revelation which has these verses very much in mind.
Chapter 47.13-48.35 The Division of the Land and the Establishment of ‘The City’.
Presenting Paradise to the people of Israel at their lowest ebb could only be by giving them a picture of the sharing of the land among ‘the twelve tribes’ and the establishment of God’s City under the Davidic prince. That was the expanded Mosaic dream, with every man living under his own vine and his own fig tree ( 1 Kings 4.25). But it would depend on their true response and obedience, and as ever that was lacking. Thus the vineyard would be taken from them and given to others (Mark 12.9; Luke 20.16; Matthew 21.41).
They could not dream that, under God, one day the vision of the ‘twelve tribes’ would become fulfilled in the redeemed from all nations of the world who would become the twelve tribes (James 1.1; compare 1 Peter 1.1 and the idealistic picture of the sealed of God in Revelation 7.3-8 who became the great multitude whom no man could number). This would occur as men from all nations were grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11.13-24) and adopted into the new covenant, becoming fellow-citizens with the true remnant of the old Israel - ‘the saints’ (Romans 9.6; Ephesians 2.19), and becoming the new seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.7-9, 29), thus themselves becoming the new Israel, the true people of God (Galatians 6.16), made near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2.12-13).
That was God’s greater vision. It was regularly in one way or another portrayed by the prophets. In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world were to be blessed (Genesis 12.3; 18.18; 22.18; 26.4; 28.14), Israel were to be a kingdom of priests to the world in a world which all belonged to Yahweh (Exodus 19.5-6), His servant Israel (the inner Israel who were to seek to restore the whole) were to be the servant to the nations to bring them salvation and the true worship of God (Isaiah 49.3-7), all nations would finally flock to a new Jerusalem to worship in a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66.23; 65.17; Zechariah 14.16-17), and so on. But that would first depend on Israel in the person of their Prince coming before God to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7.13-14, 27).
Thus having depicted the new Paradise Ezekiel will now portray the new sharing of the land among the people of God, the establishment of their prince, and the founding of a new city named ‘Yahweh is there’ (48.35). This is his picture of the final fulfilment of God’s purposes and of His final triumph, presented to those who would be its earthly source (it was from them that the Gospel would go out to the world - Acts 1.8). It was given to them when they were at their lowest ebb, in order to lift them up and press them on towards full obedience. His people are to be redeemed and restored, in order to enter the everlasting kingdom. God’s triumph is put into words that may seem to us an anticlimax, but to the people of Israel it was their vision and their living hope. It would finally be fulfilled in a way better than he ever envisioned.
So as we look at these last two chapters from 47.13 onwards, we must not be tied down to the detail. We must see them rather as God’s promise, put in terms of the day, that all the dreams that He had given to His true people would come to fruition.
In fact even when they ‘returned to the land’ Israel did not seek to fulfil this vision literally. It was a vision from the past, a dream, not something that they wanted to carry into actuality. Instead of gathering together in twelve tribes, the divisions between the tribes became blurred and almost overlooked, although many did still proudly see themselves as of a particular important tribe (compare Philippians 3.5), but without trying to gather that tribe into a particular section of the land. (Jesus, Who was of Judah, happily lived in Nazareth and was ‘a Nazarene’).
Most of those who belonged to the tribes remained in foreign countries. Intermarriage blurred the distinctions. There were no longer literally ‘twelve’ tribes, and apart from in the earliest days never strictly were (the contents fluctuated, although not in a major way), and this is constantly recognised in that when the twelve tribes are listed the lists tend to differ slightly depending on their purpose (Genesis 29; 49.3-27; (the original twelve sons of Jacob) Numbers 1.5-15, 20-43 (here, and regularly, Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi omitted - note verse 47); 2; 7; 13; 26; Deuteronomy 27.12-13 (the original twelve); 33.6-25 (Simeon omitted); Joshua 15-21; 1 Chronicles 2.1 (the original twelve); 27.16 (Gad and Asher omitted); Revelation 7.5-8 (Dan omitted, Ephraim called Joseph) compare the part lists in Judges 1; 5.14-18). It is the ideal that matters, that the full tribal confederacy made up of ‘twelve tribes’ was sharing God’s inheritance, not the detail. The ‘twelve tribes’ simply represent all the people of God.
The Land Which Is Allotted Defined (47.13-23).
47.13-14 ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “This shall be the border by which you will divide the land for inheritance according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph shall have portions (i.e. two portions). And you will inherit it, one as well as another, concerning which I lifted up my hand to give it to your fathers, and this land will fall to you for an inheritance.”
God was here reiterating to the exiles that He would restore what they had lost, and He then outlined in the following verses the land that was to be theirs for the taking. The land was to be split equally between the tribes ‘one as well as another’. As often Joseph was to be split into Ephraim and Manasseh for this purpose, and Levi had no portion (44.28 - apart of course from the portion mentioned in 44.4-5). Thus the number twelve was maintained. Yahweh had sworn (lifted up His hand) that it would be theirs, and theirs it would be. It was their inheritance.
The fact that the land was to be split relatively equally, and to some extent without regard to previous tribal portions, or tribal numbers, is also an indication that it is not to be taken literally. Add to this that the tribes are split into a group of seven, indicating the divine perfection of the event, and a group of five, indicating conformance with the covenant, and the case is even more certain.
Many Israelites would in fact already be in the land having escaped the deportations. There were those in Galilee outside the range of the Samaritan importations; possibly those in Benjamin which was already in Babylonian hands prior to the final invasion, and may have escaped deportation; and some in areas to the south in the Negeb and the Shephelah which would possibly not been quite so affected (confirmed by Nehemiah 11.25-35). The King of Babylon was angry with those who had shown fierce resistance and probably finally saw the Judah and Jerusalem that he deported as a limited area. The idea is really that all twelve tribes will be represented in the land and be settled there, within the covenant, and within God’s divinely perfect plan. All with a fair share of the land.
47.15-17 “And this will be the border of the land. On the north side from the Great Sea by the way of Hethlon, to the entering in of Zedad. Hamath, Berothah, Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus and the border of Hamath, Hazer-hatticon, which is by the border of Hauran. And the border from the sea will be Hazar-enon at the border of Damascus, and on the north, northward, is the border of Hamath. This is the north side.”
The western boundary would naturally be the Mediterranean (the Great Sea), and the eastern boundary the Jordan (verse 18). The northern boundary was more complicated and with our lack of knowledge difficult to define in more than a general way.
Hethlon may be modern ‘Adlun, a coastal town some sixteen kilometres (ten miles) north of Tyre. The ‘entering in of Zedad’ is some point south of Zedad. Zedad may be either modern Sadad, 110 kilometres (seventy miles) east-north-east of Byblos, or Khirbet Sirada, a few miles north of Dan (reading Sarad with LXX and the Samaritan text - d and r were easily confused in the ancient Hebrew script). Hamath probably refers to the southern border of the district of Hamath often called ‘the entering in of Hamath’ (or Lebo-Hamath), Berothah may be modern Breitan, south of Baalbek (compare 2 Samuel 8.8). Sibraim is said to be between the border of Hamath and the border of Damascus. Hazer-hatticon (‘middle Hazer’) may be the same as Hazar-enon at the border of Damascus. Hauran is east of the sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) around the Bashan area in north Transjordan. ‘The sea’ may be the Sea of Chinnereth (Tiberias/Galilee). Note that the border of Hamath is to the north of the territory being described.
47.18 “And the east side between Hauran and Damascus, and Gilead and the land of Israel, will be Jordan. From the north border to the east sea you shall measure. This is the east side.”
The ‘east sea’ is probably the Dead Sea. Hauran/Damascus and Gilead/Israel represent the northern end of the border represented by the Jordan.
47.19 “And the south side southward shall be from Tamar as far as the waters of Meriboth-kadesh, to the wadi of Egypt, to the Great Sea. This is the south side southward.”
Tamar would be south of the Dead Sea, the oasis of Meriboth-kadesh is probably Kadesh-barnea, modern ‘Ain Qadeis, and the Wadi of Egypt is probably Wadi El-‘Arish 80 kilometres (fifty miles) west of Gaza, which separated usable land from the desert.
47.20 “And the west side shall be the Great Sea, from the south border as far as opposite the entering in of Hamath (or Lebo-hamath). This is the west side.”
The west boundary is simply the Great (Mediterranean) Sea between the north and south boundaries. For these boundaries compare Numbers 34.3-12 and 1 Kings 8.65.
47.21 ‘ “So shall you divide this land to you according to the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that you will divide it by lot for an inheritance to you, and to the strangers who live among you, who will beget children among you. And they will be to you as the home born among the children of Israel, they will have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it will be that in whatever tribe the stranger lives, there you will give him his inheritance”, says the Lord Yahweh.’
So the land would be divided up among the tribes of Israel, but there was now no need to evict strangers as long as they were willing to become a part of the covenant and worship Yahweh (there were now no Canaanites as such). This was in accordance with Leviticus 19.34; 24.22; Numbers 15.29; Isaiah 56.3-8. It is a clear indication that the land was now open to all who were willing to serve Yahweh. The new Israel was to be inclusive and not exclusive. ‘Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own who are gathered’ (Isaiah 56.8). Here we have the seeds of the worldwide expansion of the true Israel by the incorporation of the Gentiles. Gentiles who respond in faith to God and enter the covenant become one among the tribes of Israel.
The fact that it was to be divided by lot (compare 45.1; Joshua 14.1-2) does not fit well with specific allocation of the land. One is saying that the land became theirs in accordance with Yahweh’s will as in the days of Joshua, the other is saying that it was by divine fiat. But if the whole picture is idealistic and not literal then both can be true.
The Land Divided Among The ‘Northern’ Tribes (48.1-7).
The land to be divided up is the land west of Jordan so that Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who previously held land east of Jordan, have to be included. The whole scheme is artificial, very different from the previous division in the time of Joshua. Indeed considering the fact that there were already people living in the land, many of them Israelites who had been there for generations, and that the tribes were largely unidentifiable as entities, it is totally unrealistic. We must rather therefore see this as indicating a fair sharing of the land among the people of Israel and the resident aliens who would live among them, put in visionary terms. Ezekiel is expressing an idea rather than a practical event.
48.1-7 “Now these are the names of the tribes, from the north end towards the way of Hethlon to the entering in of Hamath (Lebo-hamath), Hazar-enan at the border of Damascus, northward beside Hamath, and they shall have their sides east and west. Dan one portion, and by the border of Dan from the east side to the west side, Asher one portion, and by the border of Asher from the east side even to the west side, Naphtali one portion, and by the border of Naphtali, from the east side to the west side, Manasseh one portion, and by the border of Manasseh, from the east side to the West side, Ephraim one portion, and by the border of Ephraim, from the east side even to the west side, Reuben one portion, and by the border of Reuben, from the east side to the west side, Judah one portion.”
This further confirms the idealistic picture. Seven tribes are dealt with, the number of divine perfection. It was to be seen as a divinely perfect dwelling in the land. The strips of land, ignoring the geography of the land, were to go from east to west across the land in strict portions, commencing with Dan who were to receive the northernmost section. Then the order of tribes from north to south, but north of the sacred district, was Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Judah, seven tribal allotments of equal size (47.14). Seven being the number of divine perfection adds to the artificial nature of the account. As the distance east to west would vary with the coastline this would theoretically have to be taken into account if they were to have equal portions. But this is not to intended literally. It is giving the impression of an equal position in the land.
This order does not conform to any other in the Old Testament. These tribal allotments are nothing like those given by Joshua nor are they as large (compare Joshua chapters 14-22). The general progression is possibly to be seen as from the most unfaithful tribe, Dan, who set up the original rival sanctuary (Judges 18.30-31), to the most faithful, Judah, who remained faithful to the Davidic prince and to the sanctuary of Yahweh (1 Kings 12.20). Judah, from which Prince would come, and who were faithful to the sanctuary of Yahweh, received the privilege of being adjacent to the sacred district to its north, while Benjamin, who were closely connected with them and supported them in the split, also remaining faithful to the sanctuary of Yahweh, were adjacent on the south (1 Kings 12.20-21). The seven included sons from each of Jacob’s wives and concubines. Indeed the tribes that were descended from Jacob's concubines (Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Gad) received land to the far north and far south, while those who were descended from Jacob's wives (four on each side) received land toward the centre of the land (see Genesis. 35.23-26). This may or may not be accidental.
The Holy Portion And The City (48.8-20). Compare 45.1-5.
48.8-9 “And by the border of Judah, from the east side to the west side, will be the Gift-offering that you will offer, twenty five thousand cubits in length and ten thousand in breadth, and in length as one of the portions, from the east side to the west side, and the sanctuary will be in the midst of it. The Gift-offering that you shall offer to Yahweh will be twenty five thousand in length and ten thousand in breadth.”
The holy portion, with the heavenly sanctuary in its midst, given to the priests, is adjacent to the portion of Judah. Thus the Levite portion must be below the priests’ portion. The portion is twice here stated to be twenty five thousand by ten thousand, (as in chapter 45), bringing out Ezekiel’s habit of repetition common to much ancient writing. ‘And in length as one of the portions’ must be seen as including with it the prince’s portion.
48.10-12 “And for these, even for the priests, will be the holy Gift-offering. Towards the north twenty five thousand in length, and towards the west ten thousand in breadth, and towards the east ten thousand in breadth, and towards the south twenty five thousand in length, and the sanctuary of Yahweh will be in its midst. It shall be for the priests who are sanctified of the sons of Zadok, who have kept my charge, who did not go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray, and it shall be to them for a Gift-offering from the gift-offering of the land, a thing most holy by the border of the Levites.”
The holy Gift-offering is for the priests. Again its dimensions are emphasised. They clearly have an important message to convey. It is covenant territory. The border looking to north and south is twenty five thousand cubits, that to east and west is ten thousand cubits, both intensive covenant numbers, five squared times a thousand, and five doubled times a thousand. And twice we have been told that the heavenly sanctuary was in the midst. The portion is said to be ‘most holy’. In 45.3 it was the heavenly sanctuary that was most holy. So this portion is now upgraded. It is made one with the heavenly sanctuary. Ezekiel is surely seeking as best he can to convey the idea of a heavenly portion for the pure in heart, the earthly becoming a part of the heavenly.
The ‘gift offering of the land’ recognises the fact that the whole of the land is a gift-offering to Yahweh, all is His, but that the holy portion is so specifically, a king of super gift-offering.
48.13 “And answerable to the border of the priests, the Levites will have twenty five thousand in length, and ten thousand in breadth. All the length shall be twenty five thousand, and the breadth ten thousand. And they will not sell in it, nor barter in it, nor will the firstfruits of the land be alienated, for it is holy to Yahweh.”
The portion for the Levites is also upgraded. It is now holy to Yahweh. As the land is being given to the people, so are the priests’ and Levites’ portions upgraded another stage to be closer in significance to the heavenly sanctuary. All earthly trade is forbidden in the Levites’ portion. The mention of the alienating of the firstfruits might suggest that the Levites had actually, under the kings, been selling the firstfruits, which were for them alone, to outsiders for profit. Now their minds are to be on heavenly things alone. They must seek God alone.
48.15-17 “And the five thousand that are left in the breadth, in front of the twenty five thousand, shall be for common use, for the city, for dwelling and for suburbs. And the city shall be in its midst. And these shall be its measurements. The north side four thousand five hundred, and the south side four thousand five hundred, and on the east side four thousand five hundred, and the west side four thousand five hundred. And the city shall have suburbs, towards the north two hundred and fifty, and towards the south two hundred and fifty, and towards the east two hundred and fifty, and towards the west two hundred and fifty.”
The city is to be built in the centre of the portion which is five thousand in breadth by twenty five thousand in length, the portion below and alongside the portion for the Levites. The city itself is to be foursquare, four thousand five hundred on each side. Thus there will be two hundred and fifty cubits of open space to the north and south of the city (to make up the five thousand). These, with the same measurements east and west are to be the suburbs. It will be an open space around the city.
So the city is foursquare, an indication of its perfection. But it is separated from the ‘holy’ Levites’ portion by the open space, and from the ‘most holy’ priests’ portion by the open space and the Levites’ portion, and from the heavenly sanctuary by the open space, the Levites’ holy portion and half the priests’ most holy portion. The city is for ‘common’ use, that is for the people to dwell in, and for arable land for the people to till, even though it is part of the holy Gift-offering (oblation). Ezekiel clearly wishes the city to be kept firmly in its place. Note that its portion is also only half the size of the others. It is of secondary importance
48.18-19 “And the residue in length answerable to the holy Gift-offering shall be ten thousand eastward and ten thousand westward. And it shall be answerable to the holy Gift-offering. And its increase shall be for food for those who labour in the city. And those who labour in the city from all the tribes of Israel will till it.”
The land, on each side east and west of the city and the open space, measuring ten thousand each (by five thousand), will make up the other twenty thousand, which with the five thousand for the city and open space is adjacent to the twenty five thousand of the Levites’ portion. This will be for the production of food for the city, which itself will be inhabited by members of all the tribes of Israel.
48.20 “All the Gift-offering shall be twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand. You shall offer the holy Gift-offering foursquare, including what is possessed by the city.”
The whole portion including the priests’ most holy portion, the Levites’ holy portion, and the city and its suburbs and lands, are now described as making up ‘the Gift-offering (oblation)’ which is thus foursquare and holy. The city too has now been upgraded to being to some extent holy, although notice how it is distinguished from the remainder as not quite so potently holy (see also verse 21). The whole has been offered to Yahweh as a gift and offering around His heavenly temple.
It is difficult in all this not to see it as an attempt to portray the equivalent of a ‘heavenly’ portion connected to the heavenly sanctuary, including a ‘heavenly’ city, and made up of priests, Levites and all the tribes of Israel, all slowly merging into the holiness of the heavenly temple. How else could Ezekiel do it given his limitations of concept? John saw the foursquare city in the Book of Revelation chapter 21 as the final fulfilment of the vision.
The Portion of the Prince (48.21-22).
48.21 “And the residue shall be for the prince, on the one side and on the other of the holy Gift-offering and of what is possessed by the city, in front of the twenty five thousand of the Gift-offering towards the east border, and westward in front of the twenty five thousand towards the west border answering to (connecting with and parallel to) the portions. And the holy Gift-offering and the sanctuary of the house will be in their midst.”
The prince’s portion is on either side of the Gift-offering, stretching from there to the coast and the Jordan, and twenty five thousand cubits deep. Note that this is specifically so that the holy Gift-offering and the sanctuary can be in the midst of his portions. The prince is to have close and favoured relationship with the holy Gift-offering and sanctuary, as he already had by having his own sanctified place in the east porch of the heavenly temple (44.1-3). He is to be the favoured of Yahweh.
48.22 “Moreover from what is possessed by the Levites and from what is possessed by the city, being in the midst of what is the prince’s, between the border of Judah and the border of Benjamin, shall be for the prince.”
We see here a slight ambivalence and recognition that while the Levite portion and the city portion have been described as part of the holy Gift-offering (verses 18, 20) they are only so secondarily. In verse 21 the Levite portion is included in the holy Gift-offering and the city excluded. Here both seem to be excluded from the idea of the holy Gift-offering, although being along with it territory to which the prince’s is adjacent. There are thus clear grades of holiness.
The Remainder of the Tribes (48.23-29).
48.23-29 ‘ “And for the remainder of the tribes, from the east side to the west side, Benjamin one portion, and by the order of Benjamin, from the east side to the west side, Simeon one portion, and by the border of Simeon from the east side to the west side, Issachar one portion, and by the border of Issachar, from the east side to the west side, Zebulun one portion, and by the border of Zebulun, from the east side to the west side, Gad one portion, and by the border of Gad at the south side southward, the border shall be even from Tamar to the oasis of Meribath-kadesh, to the Wadi of Egypt, to the Great Sea. This is the land which you will divide by lot to the tribes of Israel for an inheritance, and these are their several portions,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
To the south of the holy Gift-offering and the city are to be five tribes, the number of covenant relationship. Benjamin, who remained faithful to the Davidic house and to the Central Sanctuary in Jerusalem are adjacent to the city. On the outskirts is Gad who had previously had territory in Transjordan and who was the son of a concubine, not quite so important a tribe. The border described is as described earlier (47.19).
The land is to be divided by lot to the tribes of Israel, as the promised land had been previously under Joshua. There it signified which portion each tribe should take. This again emphasises that these placements of the tribes described here in chapter 48 are not to be taken literally (they are so specific that no division by lot would be necessary). Rather Ezekiel is conveying ideas. He is connecting with the past and reaching out to the future. He is stressing that God will fulfil His promises, but in ways beyond what man could conceive.
Coming from someone who had no real conception of man living everlastingly in a heavenly realm beyond the grave this was as close as he could get. All was connected with the heavenly sanctuary that had come down from God on ‘a high mountain’. Directly around His sanctuary was the most holy portion, which contained those who had constantly been truly faithful to Him, ministered to Him, and had their concentration solely on Him. Then came the Levites who had not been quite so faithful, although with a record of past faithfulness. But they too now served him only and sought first His glory, avoiding the secular (they did not buy or sell). Then came the city in which lived those from all the tribes who chose to do so, electing to be a part of the holy portion. On either side are the territories of the prince in his specially favoured position before Yahweh, but not as favoured as that of the priests. (Once the Prince also became High Priest He was the most favoured of all. He combined the highest of the secular with the highest of the sacred). Connected with all are the territories of the twelve tribes, divided into seven and five, the numbers of divine perfection and covenant, with Judah closest to the most holy portion because of past faithfulness, but also having a record of unfaithfulness, as had they all. And God was all in all, surrounded by His forgiven and restored people.
This is the earthly equivalent of the scene in Relation 4 & 5, and of the heavenly scenes that follow, with the throne of God in the midst, surrounded by grades of worshipping beings. It is a picture of Heaven and of ‘the new earth’, the land of Israel absorbed into the heavenly temple..
The City (48.30-35).
The city is finally described in more detail. It represents the whole of Israel, with a gate for each tribe. Interestingly Levi is included and Ephraim and Manasseh subsumed in Joseph. All Israel is there. These are the original patriarchs. It has in a sense returned to its beginnings. And above all Yahweh is there. His people share His glory and His presence.
This whole section from chapter 40 to chapter 48 may well once have stood on its own (Josephus testifies to the fact that there were two books of Ezekiel). It began with the heavenly temple, the throne of God, coming to earth, and finishes with the city of man, ‘from that day’ made the dwelling place of God, having been united with Heaven. It is the final seal on man’s redemption.
48.30-35a “And these are the exits of the city. On the north side. Four thousand five hundred in measurement. And the gates of the city will be in accordance with the names of the tribes of Israel. Three gates northward, the gate of Reuben, one, the gate of Judah, one, the gate of Levi, one. And at the east side. Four thousand five hundred in measurement, and three gates, even the gate of Joseph, one, the gate of Benjamin, one, the gate of Dan, one. And at the south side. Four thousand five hundred by measurement, and three gates, the gate of Simeon one, the gate of Issachar, one, the gate of Zebulun, one. At the west side. Four thousand five hundred, with their three gates, the gate of Gad, one, the gate of Asher, one, the gate of Naphtali, one. It shall be eighteen thousand round about.
The city is now described as containing all the original tribes of Israel, all on equality with each other, Levi one with the others. It summarises the whole people of God. Three to a side may represent foursquare completeness. The number of the elect is now complete. The numbers are multiples of three and five (3 times 3 times 5 times a hundred), a declaration of covenant completeness, and an intensified multiple of three (3 times 3 times 2 times a thousand) denoting total completeness.
48.35b. And the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘Yahweh is there.’ ”
This finalises the whole message of the book. It began with the arrival of the heavenly temple and finishes with the city, finally restored. It has become the place of the presence of Yahweh with His people. It is now the new earth. It is the end to which all was moving from the moment that the heavenly temple descended on the anonymous high mountain. All is due to the arrival of the heavenly temple well outside the city and its being filled with the glory of God. ‘Jerusalem’ could not be restored from within, it required the divine power acting continually upon it from without.
Did John have this picture in mind when he wrote, “and the word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14)?
It is John also who firmly places this city in the new heaven and earth, combining the gates of the city representing the elect of Israel (21-12-13), with the twelve foundation stones of the Apostles (21.14), the representatives of the elect Israel and the new Israel. The city had now been prepared by God and was ready for her marriage with her husband. She will be united with the heavenly Lamb, and God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and enthroned) will be its temple (21.22). And all the redeemed of all the nations will be there, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (21.24-27).
May God grant that many who read these words be among that number.
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