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C. Ezekiel’s vision of the return of God’s glory chs. 40-48
The Book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of God’s glory (ch. 1), records the departure of God’s glory (chs. 8-11), and ends with another vision of God’s glory (chs. 40-48). This last one is the longest vision outside the Book of Revelation. This part of the book follows logically and chronologically from what has preceded. After receiving his divine commission as a prophet (chs. 1-3), Ezekiel pronounced oracles of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem for her sins (chs. 4-24). Before Jerusalem fell he also announced oracles of judgment against the foreign nations that had opposed Israel (chs. 25-32). Upon hearing of Jerusalem’s fall, the prophet then relayed messages of hope for Israel explaining how God would fulfill His promises to bless the nation (chs. 33-48). The first group of these messages concerned Israel’s restoration to the Promised Land (chs. 33-39). The second section in this part of the book concerns the Lord’s return to His people and the changes associated with it that Israel will experience in the future (chs. 40-48). Ezekiel had announced that God would set His sanctuary in the midst of His people in the future (Ezekiel 37:26-28). Now he revealed what it would look like and how it would function (chs. 40-46).
"Hope is the focus of these last nine chapters-hope in spite of the depressing realities of captivity in Ezekiel’s day, hope based upon the revealed plan of God to move His people into a new age of blessing and close relationship to Himself." [Note: Stuart, p. 367.]
". . . Ezekiel’s paradigm for the restored community put the rebuilt temple at the center of the new community." [Note: C. Hassell Bullock, "The Priestly Era in the Light of Prophetic Thought," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, p. 74.]
There are five parts to this revelation, all of which is bound together by the account of Ezekiel’s guided tour around the temple complex. The first part is a brief introduction of the vision that Ezekiel received (Ezekiel 40:1-4). Then he described a temple complex (Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 42:20), the return of God to His temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), worship that would follow in that temple (Ezekiel 43:10 to Ezekiel 46:24), and accompanying changes that would take place in the Promised Land (chs. 47-48). [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, charted the similarities between these chapters and Exodus 3 -Numbers 35 (p. 499), the contrasts between Moses’ Torah and Ezekiel’s Torah in these chapters (p. 501), and Ezekiel’s New Jerusalem and John’s New Jerusalem (p. 503).]
There have been several different conclusions about the interpretation of this section of the book that interpreters have reached as they have studied it. Four major views follow. Most of the commentators wrote extensive discussions of the interpretive options. [Note: See especially Alexander, "Ezekiel," pp. 942-52; L. Cooper, pp. 351-54; Feinberg, pp. 233-39, and Rooker, pp. 128-34.]
1. Some have felt that what Ezekiel predicted was fulfilled when the exiles returned and reestablished life in the land. However nothing that took place after the return from Babylon matches the details of these predictions. Neither the temple built under Zerubbabel’s supervision nor the temple as expanded by Herod the Great looked like what Ezekiel described here. In fact, there has been no fulfillment of these predictions in any literal sense so far in history.
2. Others have interpreted this section spiritually; they have explained these predictions as fulfilled in a spiritual sense by the church. [Note: E.g., Waltke, pp. 843-44.] This approach also fails to explain the multitude of details, such as the dimensions of various rooms in the temple complex. Ezekiel’s guide was careful to make sure that the prophet recorded these details exactly (Ezekiel 40:4). Also most interpreters who hold this view erroneously presuppose that the church replaces Israel in God’s program and that all God’s promises concerning a future for Israel find fulfillment in the church in a spiritual sense.
3. Still others believe these chapters describe a yet future, eschatological kingdom, but they do so only symbolically. These interpreters believe the measurements, for example, represent spiritual truth concerning the coming kingdom, but they do not look for a literal temple complex and worship. [Note: E.g., Longman and Dillard, p. 366.] This view also trivializes the amount of detail, so much detail that one could almost use these chapters as general blueprints to build the structures in view (cf. the biblical descriptions of what the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were to look like). This view also tends to blur the distinction between Israel and the church. One advocate of this view, for example, took these chapters as teaching only that Israel will experience cleansing and restoration in the future by the use of detailed rhetorical cartoons. [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48.]
4. Many take this passage as a prophecy, set in the apocalyptic literary genre, that anticipates a literal fulfillment in the future. Some of the descriptions have symbolic significance as well as literal reality, and some teach spiritual lessons. Nevertheless the revelation concerns a future temple, worship, and physical changes in the Promised Land when Israel, not the church, dwells there securely (i.e., during the Millennium). [Note: Cf. Kaiser, p. 244.] This is the reading of the text that seems most consistent with the rest of the book and the rest of Scripture.
The Apostle John referred to some of the things described in these chapters in connection with his description of the eternal state (life in the new earth after the destruction of the present earth; Revelation 21-22). Evidently some features of the millennial system of worship described here will carry over into the eternal state.
"Why did Ezekiel take so much space to describe the millennial temple? Here are two reasons: (1) The sanctuary was the visible symbol of God’s presence among His people. The prelude to Israel’s judgment began when God’s glory departed from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8-11). The climax to her restoration as a nation will come when God’s glory reenters the new temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 43:1-5). (2) The new temple will become the visible reminder of Israel’s relationship to God through His New Covenant. Since God gave detailed instructions for building the tabernacle to accompany His inauguration of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Exodus 25-40), it is not unusual that He would also supply detailed plans for His new center of worship to accompany the implementation of the New Covenant. This temple will be the focal point for the visible manifestation of Israel’s new relationship with her God." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1304. Italics mine.]
Ezekiel dated the vision that comprises the final portion of the book as coming to him on April 19, 573 B.C., more than 12 years after his immediately preceding messages (cf. Ezekiel 33:21-22). [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28.] 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 October 22, it would have come on the day of Atonement and the day the year of jubilee was proclaimed. [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, pp. 229, 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 glory 40:1-4
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, pp. 61-62.]
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, p. 239.]
The wall 40:5
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, about 18 inches (Deuteronomy 3:11). A handbreadth was about three inches. A long cubit was about 21 inches 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 about 10 feet.
2. The millennial temple 40:5-42:20
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, pp. 231, 233, 234, 258, 282, and 283; and in Block, The Book . . . 48, pp. 508, 509, 520, 541, 550, 565, 572, 573, 598, 603, 711, and 733.] Some of the detail is here to help the reader understand what the writer recorded later about what would happen in this complex (chs. 43-46): 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, p. 357.]
Ezekiel’s guide next measured the gate of the city that faced east, that is, 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 complex 40:6-16
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 by 10 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 and 10 cubits (about 16 feet 8 inches) wide.
The vestibule stood at the far end of the gate complex and faced the courtyard. It was eight cubits (13 feet 4 inches) deep and 25 cubits (41 feet 8 inches) wide. Evidently the opening from this vestibule into the courtyard was 10 cubits (16 feet 8 inches) wide, but the "side pillars" supporting the doorframes around the opening were one cubit (1 foot 8 inches) wide on each side leaving an opening of eight cubits (13 feet 4 inches).
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, was 10 cubits (16 feet 8 inches) wide. The main hallway ("gate") was 13 cubits (21 feet 8 inches) wide.
Each guardroom was six cubits (10 feet) square. Evidently each one had a one-cubit-thick (1 foot 8 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, was 25 cubits (41 feet 8 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 was 60 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 was 50 cubits (83 feet 4 inches).
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, p. 523.] 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; Psalms 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 (cf. 1 Kings 24 [sic 14]:28; 2 Chronicles 12:11), or alcoves, on either side of the inner part of the Solomonic gate." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 956.]
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 were 30 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 a 50-cubit-wide (83 feet 4 inch) 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 was 100 cubits wide (about 166 feet 8 inches) on the east and north sides (and evidently on the south side too).
The outer court 40:17-27
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 was 50 cubits (83 feet 4 inches) long and 25 cubits (41 feet 8 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 feet 8 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 totaled 25 cubits (41 feet 8 inches) across and each of them was five cubits deep (rather than eight, 8 feet 4 inches rather than 13 feet 4 inches, 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 complexes 40:28-37
The inner court 40:28-47
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," p. 986.] 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 Journal 11 (Winter 2002):309.] Another reason will probably be to bring people together for fellowship and feasting to the glory of God. [Note: Wiersbe, p. 241.] 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 sacrifices 40:38-43
In addition to these four tables outside the inner gate complex, Ezekiel saw four tables of dressed stone, each one and a half cubits (2 feet 6 inches) long, one and a half cubits (2 feet 6 inches) wide, and one cubit (1 foot 8 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 pp. 160 and 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 priests 40:44-46
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 itself 40:47
The inner court, bounded by the three inner gates and the temple itself, was a square 100 cubits (166 feet 8 inches) on each side. An altar stood in this square in front of the entrance to the temple proper.
The temple and its outbuilding 40:48-41:26
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 entrance 40:48-49
The walls that supported the doorframes leading into the vestibule of the temple were five cubits (8 feet 4 inches) 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 was 20 cubits (33 feet 4 inches) wide and 11 cubits (18 feet 4 inches) 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". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19