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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 40

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


The subject of the closing chapters of Ezekiel Ezek. 40–48 is the restitution of the kingdom of God. This is expressed by a vision, in which are displayed not only a rebuilt temple, but also a reformed priesthood, reorganized services, a restored monarchy, a reapportioned territory, a renewed people, and, as a consequence, the diffusion of fertility and plenty over the whole earth. The return from Babylon was indeed the beginning of this work, but only a beginning, introductory to the future kingdom of Christ, first upon earth, finally in heaven. The vision must therefore be viewed as strictly “symbolical;” the symbols employed being the Mosaic ordinances. These ordinances had indeed in themselves a hidden meaning. The tabernacle in the midst of the tents of the tribes, and afterward the temple in the capital of the land of inheritance, was intended to signify the dwelling of Yahweh among His people; the priesthood denoted the mediation between God and man, the monarchy the sovereignty of God, the people the saints of God, the territory their inheritance.

It was probably a jubilee year when this vision was seen (see the note at Ezekiel 40:1). The temple and city were in ruins, but God was pleased in this way to revive the hopes of His people.

An examination of the vision shows the insufficiency of the explanation, which conceives that Ezekiel was simply guided to leave behind patterns on the basis of which the temple should in after days be rebuilt, and its services restored. Not only was this plan never carried out, but it was incapable of execution. The physical features of the land would not admit of the separation of precincts a mile square, surrounded by a territory sixteen miles by forty-eight Ezekiel 48:10. The river, though connected with the stream brought by conduit pipes into the actual temple (see Ezekiel 47:0), soon passes into a condition wholly ideal, and the equal apportionment of the land to each of the twelve tribes is compatible neither with history nor geography.

The minuteness of the details is due to the fact that it is of the essence of a vision that the seer has before him every line, as in a carefully drawn picture. The numbers and figures employed are not without their meaning. The symbolic numbers of the Temple of Solomon were repeated in the vision of Ezekiel. Among the Hebrews the perfect figure was the square or the cube, and harmony was thought to be attained by exact equality, or by the repetition of like dimensions. Thus in the ideal temple, as in the real, we find the fundamental measure of 100 cubits square, which is maintained in the temple-court (A, Plan II) and in the court of sacrifice (B). By a repetition of this measurement are formed the other courts, the outer court (o) being a square of 500 cubits, the precincts (B, Plan IV) a square whose sides were exactly six times as long. Further, the “oblation” set apart for the priests and Levites and the city was to be “foursquare” (Ezekiel 48:20), 25,000 reeds, and the city itself 4,500 reeds square with twelve gates, three on each side. The courts commnnicate with each other and with the precincts by six gates (D and G, Plan II) equal to each other and similarly situated. The enclosing wall of the outer court has strange dimensions in order that height, width, and thickness, may all be equal. The minute details are after the same pattern. The guard-chambers, the bases of the columns, are all square. The series of chambers for the Levites and for the priests are in fixed numbers and symmetrically placed. The dimensions of the brasen altar are changed that one part may be the double of another throughout (see Ezekiel 43:13). The number of sacrifices is in certain instances increased and made more uniform.

Most readers, when they have come to Ezekiel 46:0, will have been struck with the small number of services described, and with the omission of one of the three great festivals (see Ezekiel 45:25) and even of the Day of Atonement. Now if we were to expect to find in the vision directions for the reenactment of the temple-ritual, this would be quite unaccountable. But if we view these selected rites in relation to the temple-building, and give to that building its true symbolic character, all is found to be just and harmonious. The vision is intended to depict the perpetual worship of the God of heaven in the Kingdom of Christ. To the mind of an Israelite the proper figure to represent this would be the temple and its services, with people, priest, and prince, each doing their fitting part. The most appropriate services to exhibit this worship would be those of continual recurrence, in which day by day, week by week, month by month, prayer and praise ascended to the throne of heaven; namely, the Morning Sacrifice, the Sabbath and the New moon festival. Here we have the Israelite symbol of perpetual public adoration.

This will also account for the absence of all mention of the high priest and his office. In the old dispensation the chief function of the high priest was the performance of the great Act, which typified the atonement worked by the sacrifice and death of Christ for the sins of the world. This atonement was effected once for all upon the Cross, and in the new dispensation Christ appears in the midst of His people as their Prince and Head, leading and presenting their prayers and praises day by day to His Father in heaven.

The vision represents the coming dispensation as a kingdom (compare Ezekiel 34:24). Solomon took a special part in the temple services as king, and here there are new and remarkable provisions for the prince. Special offerings are to be made by him; there is a particular order for the prince’s inheritance; and one of the gateways is reserved for him as that by which the Lord, the God of Israel, entered in Ezekiel 44:2; and thus is brought forth, as a leading feature in the vision, the figure of a king reigning in righteousness, the representative of Yahweh upon earth.

Verse 1

In the first and twentieth year - This was the fiftieth year from the 18th of Josiah, the year of his memorable Passover 2 Kings 23:22. See the Ezekiel 1:1 note. If that was a jubilee year, which is highly probable, this vision also falls in a jubilee year, which seems appropriate. The jubilee year began with the month of Tisri, a sufficient reason for speaking of the time as “the beginning of the year.” The tenth day of this month was the day of atonement Leviticus 16:29-30.

Verse 2

By which - Better as in the margin. (compare Ezekiel 43:12).

As the frame of a city - It is not “a city” which is seen, but a building (the temple and its courts) like a city in its construction, surrounded by massive walls.

On the south - southward, i. e., on the southern slope, just as the temple actually stood on Mount Moriah. The temple was at the northeast corner of the city - part of the western portion of the city being more to the north, but no part directly north of the temple.

Verse 3

The appearance of brass - Brightly shining.

A line of flax - For measuring the ground plan.

A measuring reed - For the walls (compare Jeremiah 31:38-39). To measure implied a separation for sacred purposes. The measurements are:

(1) exact, to show that the promise is certain;

(2) equal, to denote harmony;

(3) vast, to mark majesty and grandeur.

Verse 5

The boundary wall of the temple-courts. See Plan II.

A wall on the outside of the house - The wall enclosing the courts in which were the entrance gates.

By the cubit and an hand breadth - The Jews first used a cubit of fifteen inches, applying it principally to the vessels and furniture of the temple; next a cubit of eighteen inches (“a hand-breadth” longer than the former cubit); and lastly, after the captivity, the Babylonian cubit of twenty-one inches (a “hand-breadth” more). In the temple measurements they used only the cubit of eighteen inches; hence, the “cubit and hand-breadth” is the cubit of eighteen inches.

Verses 6-16

The east gate-building. See Plan III.

Ezekiel 40:6

Stairs - Seven in number Ezekiel 40:22. Each threshold of the gate (was) one reed broad (or 9 ft.). The measurements are being taken from East to west, i. e., in depth.

Ezekiel 40:7

Every little chamber - The guard-chambers (a) for the use of the Levites who kept watch in the temple.

The threshold of the gate by the porch - The second threshold in the easternmost gate-way (c).

Porch - Hebrew אולם 'ûlâm; the Septuagint: αἰλάμ ailam; Vulgate: vestibulum. The word probably means porch or portico, connected with “ail” post or pillar.

Ezekiel 40:9

The porch is now measured from north to south in “wide.” “The breadth of the entry of the gate” was “ten cubits,” made up of the “eight cubits,” with “a cubit” for “a post” or pillar on each side Ezekiel 40:11.

Posts - A projection like a ram’s horn; in architecture, a column projecting from the wall with its base, shaft, and capital, or it may be the “base” only Ezekiel 40:16, Ezekiel 40:49. Here “post” represents the lower part of the column. and the dimensions given are those of the section of the base.

Ezekiel 40:10

In front of each guard-chamber were columns, whose “posts” (bases) were each one cubit square.

Ezekiel 40:11

The length of the gate - The length of the gateway (including the porch, E.) from the court to the uncovered space. The threshold was “six cubits,” and the porch “six.” In addition one cubit was probably allowed in front of the porch, as before the porch of the temple itself Ezekiel 40:49.

Ezekiel 40:13

This measurement is across the gate-building from north to south. The breadth of the gate-building was exactly half its length Ezekiel 40:15.

Ezekiel 40:14

Posts of threescore cubits - Sixty cubits were the length of a series of columns. This gives us another feature of the gate-building. Between the porch (E) and the two most western guard-chambers was a space of five cubits (through which the road passed), forming a kind of hall with columns along the sides. This hall is called the “arches” Ezekiel 40:16. A hall of the same dimensions was between the boundary wall and eastern guard-chambers Ezekiel 40:31. It is probable that in one of these halls (that of the eastern gateway of the inner court) the prince “ate bread” on solemn festivals Ezekiel 44:3.

Unto the post of the court round about the gate - This hall or colonnade extended the whole breadth of the building to the pavement (Ezekiel 40:18, H, Plan II). Outside the building on the pavement was a series of pillars.

Ezekiel 40:15

The “narrow” (closed and (?)latticed “windows” lit up both the guard-chambers and the hall. On the square base of the “post” stood the shaft in the form of a palm-tree, as we see in ancient buildings in the east.

Verses 17-19

The “outward” or outer “court” (o, Plan II) corresponds to what was in Herod’s temple the court of Women, into which all Jews, but not Gentiles were admitted.

Ezekiel 40:17

Chambers - (I) See Jeremiah 35:2.

A pavement - (H) Of mosaic work 2 Chronicles 7:3; Esther 1:6 which formed a border of forty-four cubits. On each side of the court in which there were gates, i. e., on east, north, and south. It was called the “lower pavement” to distinguish it from the pavement of the inner court; the outer court being lower than the inner Ezekiel 40:31.

Ezekiel 40:19

There were eastern, northern, and southern gates of entrance from the outer to the inner court (B).

Without - Not as in the margin, but looking outward, i. e., the outward front of the inner gate toward the outer court.

Verses 20-23

The gates both of the outer and of the inner court. Compare Plan II.

Verse 31

Utter court - Translate outward court Ezekiel 40:37; Ezekiel 42:1, Ezekiel 42:7, Ezekiel 42:14; Ezekiel 44:19; Ezekiel 46:20-21.

Arches toward the outward court - See Ezekiel 40:14 note.

Eight steps - So for the east Ezekiel 40:34 and north gates Ezekiel 40:37. From the precincts to the outer court were “seven” steps, from the outer to the inner court “eight,” making together the number of the Psalms Ps. 120–134, supposed by some to have been called Psalms of Degrees, because they were sung by the choir of Levites upon the steps (“degrees”) of the temple-courts. In later times these Psalms were used as pilgrims’ songs by the Jews who went up from their abodes in foreign countries to Jerusalem on the solemn feasts.

Verse 38

The chambers - Render it: and chambers, not yet described. They were north of the altar, by the “posts” or pillars in front and along the sides of the gate-building. There were several gates in the gate-building.

Verse 39

In the porch - Not under the covered portico, which was only ten cubits broad Ezekiel 40:9, but in the angles formed by the porch and gate-front. If the gate-building projected with its porch forward on to the pavement of the inner court, the tables were fitly placed for carrying out the directions of the Law.

Verse 40

On either side of the entrance of the north gate (from the inner court), were two tables on the one side and two tables on the other side of the porch.

Verse 42

Omit “the” and “were.” These “four tables” are not the same as those mentioned before. The eight tables (T) were for slaying and preparing the victims, and were probably of wood, these (S) were of “hewn stone.” There may be in the number twelve a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Verse 43

Hooks - The alternative renderings given in the margin indicate the doubtfulness of the translation of the original word. The form is dual, and indicates that it is some object usually found in pairs. Some suggest that they were borders or ledges set, on either side of the tables, a handbreadth from the edges, to prevent the instruments placed on them from falling off. If the rendering “hooks” be adopted, it is to be explained thus: that these hooks were set on the wall “within,” that each hook was forked (hence, the “dual” form), and projected from the wall one span; and that on these hooks were hung the carcasses of the slain animals.

Verse 44

Without - Outside of the gate in the inner court. See N, Plan II.

Singers - These were Levites of particular families, those of Heman, Asaph, and Merari, whose genealogy is carefully traced up to Levi (see marginal reference). These chambers (N, Plan II) may have been for the “singers and priests” who were for the time being engaged in the services of the temple. Other chambers (Ezekiel 42:1 ff) were for the use of the “priests” at other times; and the Levites and singers, when “not” on duty, would find accommodation in the thirty chambers of the outer court. If there is a departure here from the symmetry elsewhere observed, it may be accounted for by the fact that as the sacrifices were to be made on the “north” side of the altar, and therefore the “tables” for the sacrifices were on that side only, so those who had charge of the house and its singers might have rooms near. Others correct the Hebrew text by the Septuagint, and read the passage thus: And without the “inner gate” two chambers (i. e., rows of chambers) “in the inner court, one at the side of the north gate, and their prospect toward the south, one at the side of the south gate, and the prospect toward the north.”

Verse 45

The priests, whose chambers (L) are here provided, were those whose business it was to exercise this oversight which had devolved upon them as descendants of Aaron Numbers 3:32.

Verse 46

The position of the “chamber” looking to the north commanded a view of the brasen altar and the sacrifices, which were prepared at the north side of the altar.

The sons of Zadok - The priests were all descended from one or other of the two sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar. David distributed the priestly offices between the families of Zadok, the representative of Eleazar, and Ahimelech, the representative of Ithamar 1 Chronicles 24:3. From the time of Solomon not only the high priesthood, but the priesthood itself, so far as concerned its service, that of offering upon the two altars, seems to have been confined to the descendants of Zadok (see 1 Chronicles 6:49-53). Perhaps the other offices, such as those mentioned in Ezekiel 40:45, were performed by the descendants of Abiathar and Ithamar. Compare 1 Samuel 2:36, and below, Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 48:11. The priests who had charge of the sacrifices were distinguished from the rest of the Levitical priests, “as they which come near to the Lord, and Ezekiel 42:13 the priests that approach unto the Lord.”

Verse 47

The court - The inner court (B) where was the brass altar Ezekiel 43:13.

The new chapter would begin better at Ezekiel 40:48.

Verses 48-49

The Porch of the House. The front of the temple-porch (see G, Plan I) consisted of a central opening with two columns on either side. Two columns with the space between them were called “a post of the gate.” “The breadth of the gate” on either side was a side opening, that is, the opening between two columns. The columns having bases of a cubit square, two columns and the “breadth of the gate,” which we are told was three cubits, made up the “five cubits” on either side the central entrance, which, like the entrance into the temple itself, was ten cubits. Thus we have twenty cubits for the porch-front.

Ezekiel 40:49

The porch of Solomon’s Temple was twenty cubits broad and ten deep 1 Kings 6:3. This corresponds nearly with the dimensions of Ezekiel’s porch; the difference in the breadth may be explained by supposing a space of one cubit in front of the porch (as Ezekiel 40:11-12). The circumstance of this porch being approached by stairs of probably ten steps makes this more probable, a small space in front of the porch being naturally required.

Pillars by the posts - literally, to “the posts,” meaning that upon the bases (posts) stood shafts (pillars). These shafts were probably in the form of palm-trees Ezekiel 40:16. The porch with its steps must have jutted into the inner court.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ezekiel 40". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/ezekiel-40.html. 1870.
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