Ezekiel dated the vision that comprises the final portion of the book as coming to him on April19, 573 B.C, more than12years after his immediately preceding messages (cf. Ezekiel 33:21-22). [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p28.] This is the final dated prophecy in the book but not the last one that Ezekiel received chronologically (cf. Ezekiel 29:17 to Ezekiel 30:19). Ezekiel located this prophecy in time using two points of reference, in relation to the beginning of the Exile and in relation to the fall of Jerusalem. Perhaps he dated it so precisely since what this vision describes has been hard for many readers to accept at face value. Nevertheless the prophet affirmed that the Lord did indeed give it to him at this specific time.
If this vision came to Ezekiel on the tenth day of the first month of Israel"s religious calendar, their month Nisan, as seems likely, it arrived just before the Jews began preparing for Passover. The Jews had a religious calendar that began with Nisan (March-April; Exodus 12:2) and a civil calendar, introduced later in Israel"s history, that began six months later with Tishri (September-October). We do not know if the exiles observed the Passover, but they certainly would have been thinking about it. If the vision came to Ezekiel in the first month of their civil calendar, on October22, it would have come on the day of Atonement and the day the year of jubilee was proclaimed. [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, pp229, 235.] That day too would have been a fitting time for the reception of this vision. The subject of this vision would have encouraged the exiles that Yahweh would fulfill His purposes for their nation as they contemplated its history and His promises.
1. The setting of the vision of the return of God"s glory40:1-4
The Lord took Ezekiel in his vision to the land of Israel and set him on a high mountain there (cf. Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 8:3). Today Mount Scopus, on the north end of the Mt. Olivet ridge, rises slightly higher than the temple mount, as was true also in biblical times. Looking south Ezekiel saw a structure that resembled a city. As the vision unfolds, what he saw proved to be a temple complex with walls, courtyards, and various structures, probably on the site of Solomon"s temple.
Ezekiel"s transportation in a vision back to Israel amounted to a kind of homecoming for him. He had previously been in Babylon in his visions ( Ezekiel 3:14-15; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:24), but now the Lord took him, as He would later take all the Israelites, back to the Promised Land. [Note: Parunak, pp61-62.]
Ezekiel also saw a man who appeared to be made out of bronze standing in the main gateway to this temple structure. Bronze in Scripture often represents what is strong (cf. 1 Kings 4:13; Job 40:18). The man had in his hand a length of flax (linen cord) and a rod (reed) used to measure things. He would use the rod to measure shorter distances and the cord to measure longer ones.
The man told Ezekiel to pay close attention to what he would see and hear because he needed to declare the content of his vision to the Israelites. Its details were important.
"If all God wanted to do was impress Ezekiel with "spiritual worship," the angel would have told him so." [Note: Wiersbe, p239.]
The man first measured the thickness and the height of the wall around the temple complex. Measuring not only provides data but implies ownership (cf. Zechariah 2:1; Revelation 11:1; Revelation 21:15); the man measured as God"s representative. He used the six-cubit reed that was in his hand. The wall was six cubits (one rod) thick and six cubits high. Walls, of course, provided a barrier and guarded the holiness of God in Israel"s earlier tabernacle and temple complexes.
A normal cubit was the distance between the tip of a person"s middle finger and the end of his elbow, about18 inches ( Deuteronomy 3:11). A handbreadth was about three inches. A long cubit was about21inches long, the length of a normal cubit plus a handbreadth. Since each of the cubits of the man"s measuring rod was a cubit and a handbreadth, it seems that the cubits in view in these dimensions were long cubits (cf. Ezekiel 43:13). Six long cubits (one rod) equals about10 feet.
2. The millennial temple40:5-42:20
Earlier Ezekiel hinted that there would be a future temple in the restored Promised Land ( Ezekiel 20:40; Ezekiel 37:24-28). Now he described it in considerable detail. [Note: See also the drawings in Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, pp231, 233, 234, 258, 282, and283; and in Block, The Book ... 48, pp508, 509, 520, 541, 550, 565, 572, 573, 598, 603, 711, and733.] Some of the detail is here to help the reader understand what the writer recorded later about what would happen in this complex (chs43-46): stage setting. This is also true of the descriptions of the tabernacle and Solomon"s temple described earlier in the Old Testament. Some of the detail is here to help the reader realize that the temple being described is not one that has stood in the past; it is a future temple. This section has a basic chiastic structure centering on the description of the inner court and the things associated with it. Ezekiel"s guide led him from outside the temple enclosure, into its inner court, and then back out of the complex.
The ancient Israelites always worshipped God outdoors, in the courtyards that surrounded the temple itself. Only the priests entered the temple building. In this temple too the people had access to the outer courtyard only; the priests alone used the inner courtyard.
"The restored temple represents God"s desire to be in the midst of his people and suggests his accessibility to them and desire to bless them (see, e.g, Ezekiel 48:35; Revelation 21:3-4; Revelation 22:1-4)." [Note: L. Cooper, p357.]
Ezekiel"s guide next measured the gate of the city that faced east, that Isaiah, the gate complex. He probably measured the east gate first because it was in a direct line with the entrance to the temple building proper. Temple gates provided access but restricted that access in relation to God"s presence. The threshold, the area of the gate at the top of the stairs within the wall ( Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26), was one rod (six cubits) deep (10 feet), the thickness of the wall around the whole temple compound.
The outer east gate complex40:6-16
The amount of detail devoted to the descriptions of the gate complexes, both outer and inner, suggests that access into the temple will be strictly controlled.
Each guardroom in the gate complex was a square one rod long and one rod wide (or six cubits by six cubits, 10 feet by10 feet, Ezekiel 40:12). There were six guardrooms, three on each side of the hallway through the gate complex ( Ezekiel 40:10). A wall five cubits thick separated the guardrooms on the same sides of the hallway from each other. Beyond these guardrooms there was another threshold that led to a large vestibule room. This threshold was the same size as the one at the other end of the passage, six cubits (10 feet) deep and10 cubits (about16 feet8 inches) wide.
The vestibule stood at the far end of the gate complex and faced the courtyard. It was eight cubits (13feet4inches) deep and25 cubits (41feet8 inches) wide. Evidently the opening from this vestibule into the courtyard was10 cubits (16 feet8 inches) wide, but the "side pillars" supporting the doorframes around the opening were one cubit (1foot8 inches) wide on each side leaving an opening of eight cubits (13feet4inches).
There was a total of six guardrooms in the gate complex, three on each side of the main hallway, and they were all the same size.
The gateway into the gate complex from the east, the main entrance, was10 cubits (16 feet8 inches) wide. The main hallway ("gate") was13cubits (21feet8 inches) wide.
Each guardroom was six cubits (10 feet) square. Evidently each one had a one-cubit-thick (1foot8 inch) low wall that defined each of these rooms as separate from the hallway. This low wall or ledge ran on each side of the hallway in front of the guardrooms. These rooms sometimes also served as meeting places for the city elders.
The interior width of the gate complex, measuring the ceiling above one guardroom, the hallway, and another guardroom, was25 cubits (41feet8 inches; cf. Ezekiel 40:21). Evidently there were doors in the walls of the guardrooms that covered windows or niches in those walls (cf. Ezekiel 40:16; Ezekiel 41:16).
The height of the doorframes surrounding the main gate was60 cubits (100 feet). This may seem extraordinarily tall to modern readers, but imposing gates were common in the great cities of antiquity. The gate system"s walls wrapped around from the main wall of the temple enclosure to the doorjambs that framed the doorway into the courtyard ( Ezekiel 40:9). The total length of the passageway from the front gate to the doorway into the courtyard was50 cubits (83feet4inches).
There were shuttered windows or alcoves in the exterior walls of the guardrooms and vestibule, perhaps creating cupboards for storing the utensils. [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, p523.] Representations of palm trees decorated the doorframes, one on each side of each door ( Ezekiel 40:26). Palm trees were symbols of beauty, fruitfulness, salvation, glory, and the millennial age (cf. Leviticus 23:40; 1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 6:32; 1 Kings 6:35; 1 Kings 7:36; 2 Chronicles 3:5; Song of Solomon 7:7; Psalm 92:12-14; Nehemiah 8:15; Zechariah 14:16-21).
"The entire gate system resembled the multiple entry gates archaeologists discovered from the Solomonic period. There were several guard rooms (cf1Kings24 [sic 14]:28; 2 Chronicles 12:11), or alcoves, on either side of the inner part of the Solomonic gate." [Note: Alexander, " Ezekiel," p956.]
The passageway in the eastern gate complex led into a courtyard. This was the outer court that contained an inner court within it. Around the perimeter of this outer court were30 rooms. It is not clear if they were on three sides of the courtyard or four, and it is not clear what function they served. Perhaps they were meeting or storage rooms. A pavement, probably mosaic (cf. 2 Chronicles 7:3; Esther 1:6), known as the lower pavement, formed a50-cubit-wide (83feet4inch) border around the outer edge of the outer courtyard (cf. Ezekiel 40:15). Ezekiel"s guide measured the outer courtyard between the outer and inner gates, and this space was100 cubits wide (about166 feet8 inches) on the east and north sides (and evidently on the south side too).
The outer court40:17-27
There was a gate complex on the north side of the wall that was identical to the one on the east ( Ezekiel 40:6-16). It too was50 cubits (83feet4inches) long and25 cubits (41feet8 inches) wide, excluding its stairway. Seven steps led into the gate complex from the outside up to its threshold ( Ezekiel 40:6). Looking straight through the north gate or through the east gate one could see, 100 cubits (166 feet8 inches) beyond (cf. Ezekiel 40:19), another inner gate complex. Ezekiel saw two of these inner gate complexes, one on the north side of the inner courtyard and one on the east side.
The measuring man took Ezekiel to the south side of the wall where he discovered the same arrangement that he had seen on the east and north sides.
Ezekiel discovered that the south inner gate complex was the same as the outer gate complexes. All the vestibules of the three gate complexes totaled25 cubits (41feet8 inches) across and each of them was five cubits deep (rather than eight, 8 feet4inches rather than13feet4inches, Ezekiel 40:9). Also there were windows or niches on all four sides and eight steps leading up to it from the outer court (cf. Ezekiel 40:22). However the vestibule of this gate complex, as well as the other inner gate complexes, was facing the outer court.
The inner gate complexes40:28-37
The inner court40:28-47
This section includes descriptions of the three inner gate complexes, the rooms and implements used for preparing sacrifices, the rooms for the singers and priests, and the inner court itself.
The eastern inner gate complex was exactly like the southern inner gate complex. Palm tree representations adorned its doorframes too.
There was also an identical inner gate complex on the north side.
Ezekiel also saw a room outside each of the three inner gate complexes close to its doorway. There priests would rinse animals brought as burnt offerings. Discussion of these offerings will follow in the section dealing with worship ( Ezekiel 43:13 to Ezekiel 46:24). Within each inner gate complex, in the vestibules, there were four tables where priests slaughtered animals brought as burnt, sin, and guilt offerings. Two tables stood on one side of each vestibule and two on the other side. There were also four tables on the outside of the northern inner gate complex, two on each side of the entrance. The north gate then had eight tables, four in the vestibule and four just outside the gate. Since Ezekiel was describing what he saw at the northern inner gate complex ( Ezekiel 40:35-37), it may be safe to assume that the east and south gates also had the same number of tables.
The presence of animal sacrifices in the millennial system of worship has troubled many readers. The Book of Hebrews teaches that Jesus Christ was the superior sacrifice who replaced the sacrifices of the Old Covenant ( Hebrews 7-10). The best explanation seems to be that in the Millennium there will be animal sacrifices, but they will look back to Christ"s sacrifice even as the sacrifices of the Old Covenant looked forward to His sacrifice. They will be like the Lord"s Supper is for Christians, a memorial of Christ"s death. The Lord"s Supper, of course, will cease to be observed when the Lord comes for His church at the Rapture ( 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 11:26). The millennial system of worship will follow the restoration of Israel to her land and the resumption of her prominence in God"s plan ( Romans 11:25-27). These sacrifices will appropriately reflect Israelite worship (cf. Ezekiel 45:18-25), though there will not be a reinstitution of the Old Covenant (cf. Romans 10:4).
Alexander believed that in the Millennium the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant will be operating side by side. [Note: Alexander, " Ezekiel," p986.] The Book of Hebrews, however, argues for the replacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New Covenant. Apparently Alexander concluded that the replacement in view applies to the present dispensation only and that in the Millennium God will reinstitute the Mosaic Covenant for the Jews.
Sacrifices under the Old Covenant never took away sin permanently; they only covered sin temporarily and anticipated the ultimate sacrifice to come ( Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 10:10). The purpose of sacrifices under the Old Covenant was to restore the Israelites to fellowship with God, not to provide salvation. Salvation was always by faith. Even after the church began, Jewish believers did not hesitate to participate in the sacrifices of Israel (cf. Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1; Acts 21:26). They viewed these sacrifices as memorials of Christ"s sacrifice. There could be other reasons for animal sacrifices in the Millennium besides serving as memorials, namely, cleansing from the defilement of sin and demonstrating obedience to Christ. [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, "Why Sacrifices in the Millennium?" The Emmaus Journal11 (Winter2002):309.] Another reason will probably be to bring people together for fellowship and feasting to the glory of God. [Note: Wiersbe, p241.] There are several other passages that refer to sacrifices in the Millennium (cf. Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 66:20-23; Jeremiah 33:18; Zechariah 14:16-21; Malachi 3:3-4).
The rooms and implements used for preparing sacrifices40:38-43
In addition to these four tables outside the inner gate complex, Ezekiel saw four tables of dressed stone, each one and a half cubits (2feet6 inches) long, one and a half cubits (2feet6 inches) wide, and one cubit (1foot8 inches) high. Archaeologists discovered two dressed stone slaughter tables of almost the same size and design at Ebla. [Note: See P. Matthiae, Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered, photos between pp160,161.] The ones Ezekiel saw were evidently near the other tables outside the entrance to the northern gate complex and held the utensils used for slaughtering the sacrificial animals. He also saw double hooks about three inches long hanging on the walls of the vestibule. Animal flesh was on the tables, animals that were being offered in sacrifice. Probably the hooks would hold the sacrificial meat.
The rooms for the singers and priests40:44-46
There were two rooms for singers in the inner court. One of them stood beside the north inner gate, and its door faced south. It also accommodated the needs of the priests who were responsible for the care of the temple. The other room stood beside the south inner gate, and its door faced north. The Septuagint translators assumed that this room stood beside the south inner gate because this gives a more symmetrical arrangement. This is probably correct even though the Hebrew text locates it beside the east inner gate (cf. Ezekiel 42:10). This room was for the use of singers and the priests in charge of the altar (cf. Ezekiel 43:13-17). These priests were descendants of Zadok, the faithful high priest who served during David and Solomon"s reigns (cf. Ezekiel 44:15; 1 Samuel 2:31-33; 2 Samuel 15:24-29; 1 Kings 1:5-26; 1 Kings 1:32-35; 1 Kings 2:26-27; 1 Kings 2:35; 1 Chronicles 6:3-8; 1 Chronicles 24:3).
The inner court itself40:47
The inner court, bounded by the three inner gates and the temple itself, was a square100 cubits (166 feet8 inches) on each side. An altar stood in this square in front of the entrance to the temple proper.
The temple and its outbuilding40:48-41:26
It is interesting to compare this temple with the one that Solomon built ( 1 Kings 6-7). There are similarities but also significant differences.
The temple entrance40:48-49
The walls that supported the doorframes leading into the vestibule of the temple were five cubits (8 feet4inches) deep on each side of the opening. Some medieval cathedrals in Europe also have massive, ornate entryways. These walls protruded three cubits (5 feet) from the side walls of the temple on each side. The vestibule itself was20 cubits (33feet4inches) wide and11cubits (18 feet4inches) deep. The Hebrew text always calls the longer measurement the length, regardless of its orientation. Two columns (pillars) stood at the top of the stairs on either side of the entrance to the vestibule (cf. 1 Kings 7:16-20).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 40". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany