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Ezekiel’s guide next took him back to the east outer gate (cf. Ezekiel 40:6-16). The gate itself, on the east side of the gate complex, was shut and was to remain shut. The Lord told the prophet that this gate was shut because He had entered the temple complex through it (Ezekiel 43:1-3). Its sealed condition guaranteed God’s promise that He would never depart from the temple again (Ezekiel 37:24-28).
"As a mark of honor to an Eastern king, no person could enter the gate by which he entered . . ." [Note: Feinberg, p. 257.]
This is not the eastern gate of Zerubbabel’s or Herod’s temple (Israel’s second temple); there is no evidence that either of those gates was closed. Nor is it the gate on the east side of the temple enclosure in modern Jerusalem that has been sealed for centuries. The dimensions are different. It is the east gate of the millennial temple.
"The eastern gate that overlooks the Kidron Valley today is closed as it has been since the Crusades, nearly a thousand years ago. Crusaders walled up the gate because they believed that Jesus entered the temple mount by this gate on Palm Sunday and that it should be closed until he returns to reenter the temple mount. Zechariah 14:4-5 presents the Messiah coming to the valley on the eastern side of the temple in preparation for his entry into the temple area. This has been regarded as biblical evidence that the gate should remain closed until Jesus returns.
"Today the eastern gate, also called the Golden Gate, is a significant holy site for three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jews believe that when the Messiah comes he will open the east gate and enter the temple mount first and then enter the city of Jerusalem. Moslems believe that the gate is the site of final judgment and call it the gate of heaven and hell. They believe the final judgment of humanity will take place before the eastern gate and the redeemed are those who will be allowed to enter the temple mount; all others will be outcasts." [Note: L. Cooper, p, 388.]
The Romans destroyed the wall around Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The present Golden Gate dates back to the seventh century A.D. The Crusaders walled it up in the eleventh century. The Ottoman Turks partially destroyed it and then repaired it in the early sixteenth century. The Turkish governor then walled it up again in A.D. 1530, and it has remained closed ever since. [Note: Ibid., p. 389.]
The east gate 44:1-3
A prince (king) who would rule over the Israelites would sit in this gate complex and eat sacrifices to the Lord there (cf. Ezekiel 34:24; Ezekiel 37:25; Ezekiel 46:2; Ezekiel 46:8-10). Jesus Christ will be the King of Kings. He will rule over many kings including this king (prince). The city gate was a place of civil and judicial business in the ancient world (cf. Ruth 4:1-11). It was where the elders of the city assembled to discuss and transact important matters. Therefore sitting in this gate pictures the prince as an administrator of the temple area. He would go in and out of the gate complex by way of the vestibule at its west end, but no one would be able to enter or exit the outer court through the gate at the east end of this structure.
This prince (Heb. nasi) is not Messiah. This becomes clear later when the writer described him as presenting a sin offering for himself, something that it is impossible to imagine Jesus Christ doing (Ezekiel 45:22; cf. Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 9:22-28). Furthermore, this leader will produce natural children, another extremely unlikely action for Messiah (Ezekiel 46:16). Third, he is not a priest and exercises no priestly rights, whereas Jesus Christ is now and ever will be our great high priest. Ezekiel mentioned no high priest in his revelation of the millennial priests. Jesus Christ will fill that role (Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 7:17; Hebrews 8:1). Rather, this prince will function in an intermediate status between the priests and the people (cf. Ezekiel 45:13-22; Ezekiel 46:2; Ezekiel 46:10; Ezekiel 46:18; Ezekiel 48:21-22). The exact identity of this leader is presently unknown, but he will apparently function as Messiah’s administrative representative in charge of certain affairs in the Millennium. [Note: See E. A. Speiser, "Background and Function of the Biblical Nasi," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963):111-17; and J. D. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40-48, pp. 61, 67.] Some believe he will be King David resurrected. [Note: E.g., Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 696. See my comments on 34:24 and 37:24-25.] This person appears in every chapter in Ezekiel that follows except chapter 47.
The guide proceeded to take Ezekiel through the north inner gate into the inner court of the temple. There he saw again the glory of the Lord that filled the temple proper, and he prostrated himself before it out of fear and reverence (cf. Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 43:1-5).
"The new reference to the glory of God simply makes clear that it is the return of God to the temple that serves as a basis for the regulations to follow." [Note: McConville, p. 18.]
The ordinary priests and their service 44:4-14
The emphasis on the holiness of God that has marked this vision continues strong in this pericope and the next. God’s holiness will determine who serves as priests and how they serve.
The Lord spoke to Ezekiel and instructed him to pay close attention to all the instructions that he would receive concerning worship in the temple (cf. Ezekiel 40:4). He needed to give special attention to the entrances leading to the temple proper because it was there that the common life of the people interfaced with the holiness of the inner sanctum.
Ezekiel was to tell the rebellious Israelites that the Lord had had enough of all their abominations, particularly profaning His Jerusalem temple. They had brought unbelievers into the temple, and they had misused the food brought as sacrifices to Him. They had even appointed foreigners to take care of the temple instead of taking care of it themselves.
"The religions of the ancient Near East frequently used foreign captives as temple servants to aid the priests." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 975.]
The Israelites had done this, too. One of the early instances of it took place when they made the conquered Gibeonites temple servants (Joshua 9:23; Joshua 9:27; cf. Ezra 8:20), though there is no evidence that the Gibeonites served as priests. The Mosaic Law forbade any unauthorized person from serving in the tabernacle or temple as a priest (Numbers 3:10). Believing foreigners could offer sacrifices there and assist the priests, but they could not serve as priests (cf. Numbers 15:14; Isaiah 56:3; Isaiah 56:6-7; Zechariah 14:21). In the millennial temple, foreigners (uncircumcised in heart and flesh, i.e., unbelieving Gentiles) would not be allowed to enter the temple proper and probably not even the temple precincts (Ezekiel 44:9; cf. Ezra 4:1-3; Nehemiah 13:1-9; Acts 21:27-31).
Most of the Levitical priests, who had been responsible for profaning the temple in the past, would have to bear the punishment for their iniquity. They would be able to minister in the temple by overseeing the gates and serving in the temple precincts in other ways, perhaps as foreigners had done previously. They could also slaughter the sacrificial animals at the inner gate complexes (cf. Ezekiel 40:38-43). Under the Mosaic system of worship, the offerer, rather than the priest, killed the sacrificial victim. However, since the Levitical priests had led in the ritual worship of idols and so caused the other Israelites to stumble in their walk with God, the Lord would judge them by limiting their service in the millennial temple.
They would not be able to approach the Lord and serve Him; they could only serve the people. They would not be able to handle what was most holy, most closely associated with the Lord, in the temple. This would be a source of shame for them because of their former sins. Yet within this limitation the Lord promised to allow them to be in charge of the temple structure, its maintenance, and certain things that transpired there. The Levites in Solomon’s day had more responsibility (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Chronicles 23:28-31).
"They have their counterparts today in all aspects of church life and doubtless then, as now, many reckoned it a privilege to be attending on the people of God in the more mundane details of their religion. After all, they were doing their duties by divine appointment (14)." [Note: Taylor, p. 271.]
The Levites from Zadok’s branch of the priestly family, however, would have special privileges since Zadok and his sons had served the Lord faithfully in the past (cf. Ezekiel 40:46; 1 Samuel 2:35; 2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:24-29; 1 Kings 2:26-35; 1 Chronicles 6:7-8). They would be able to approach the Lord Himself and minister to Him by presenting the sacrifices of the people to Him. They had permission to enter the temple proper, to place sacrifices on the "table" (the altar, Ezekiel 40:46, and or the table in the holy place, Ezekiel 41:22), and to fulfill what God commanded concerning His worship.
"In every age the sovereign and gracious God has a remnant of those who cleave to Him in spite of adverse circumstances and the mounting pressures of the majority to conform. The Zadokite priests kept themselves from the idolatry of the nation, even though the other priests complied to the idolatrous desires of the disobedient people. For this faithfulness the reward from the Lord will be access to His presence, the privilege of ministering in any and all phases of priestly duty." [Note: Feinberg, p. 260.]
Allen believed God gave this revelation to settle disputes about the staffing of the post-exilic temple. [Note: Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 262.]
The Zadokite priests 44:15-31
The Zadokite priests would need to wear linen, not wool, garments when they served the Lord in the temple sanctuary and the inner gates and court (cf. Exodus 28:42; Leviticus 16:4; Revelation 19:8). This included linen turbans and undergarments. No fabric that caused them to sweat would be acceptable because perspiration would make them wet, and dry skin stays cleaner than sweaty skin. Wool may have been an unacceptable material too because it is a product of animals, whereas linen comes from plants. [Note: Wevers, p. 321.]
When the priests went into the outer court they would first have to change their clothes in the rooms designated for that purpose (Ezekiel 42:1-14) so they would not transmit what was holy to what was common (cf. Leviticus 6:11). Contact with holy things consecrated those things and brought them under the restrictions governing holy things (cf. Exodus 29:37; Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:27; Haggai 2:12). They were also to keep their hair trimmed, not let it grow long or shave it all off. Long hair signified mourning, and pagan, idolatrous priests used to shave all their hair off as a sign of mourning (cf. Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:5-6; Leviticus 21:10).
Moreover the priests were not to drink wine before they came into the inner court (cf. Leviticus 10:9), nor were they to marry a widow or a divorced woman. They could only marry virgin Israelite women or the widows of former priests. Under the Mosaic system these marrying restrictions bound only the high priest (cf. Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14), but under the millennial system they will apply to all Zadokite priests.
Part of the priests’ job would be to teach the people the difference between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean. The people would learn this difference as they observed the distinctions prescribed here and as the priests explained them to them (cf. Ezekiel 22:26; Leviticus 10:10-11; Leviticus 11:47; Deuteronomy 33:10).
"The priests were by their lives to be examples of separateness; their ritual holiness was intended to promote ethical holiness among the people they were called to serve. [Note: Taylor, p. 272.]
This is also the duty of believer priests today (1 Peter 1:13-16).
The Zadokite priests were also to serve as judges for the people and to make decisions in harmony with the Lord’s laws (cf. Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 19:17; Deuteronomy 21:5). Not only will the prince serve as an administrator under Messiah (Ezekiel 44:3), but the priests will also serve under His authority. [Note: See Douglas K. Stuart, "The Prophetic Ideal of Government in the Restoration Era," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 283-305.] They themselves would have to keep His laws and His rules concerning the appointed feasts, and they would have to observe the Sabbath Day. While observance of the Sabbath Day is not part of the New Covenant law of Christ, God will reinstitute it during the kingdom dispensation.
What God told people they could eat in various dispensations also differed. Before the Fall, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat any plants in the Garden of Eden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 1:29; Genesis 2:17-18). After the Fall, they and their descendants continued to be vegetarians. Then He told Noah that he and his descendants could eat animals as well as plants (Genesis 9:3). Under the Mosaic Law God proscribed certain foods as unclean. But later Christ declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19; cf. 1 Timothy 4:3). Even though the Sabbath Day was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13; Exodus 31:17), reinstatement of Sabbath observance does not necessarily involve reinstatement of the whole Mosaic Covenant.
The Zadokite priests would not be able to have any contact with a dead corpse except in the case of their own immediate families (cf. Leviticus 21:1-3). People will die during the Millennium (cf. Isaiah 65:20), but no one will die in the eternal state (Revelation 21:4). After his initial cleansing from the defilement caused by contact with a corpse, the priest would have to wait seven days before resuming his priestly duties (cf. Numbers 19:11-19). On his first day of service after his cleansing, he would have to go into the inner court and offer a sin offering for himself.
These priests would receive no other inheritance in the land but the privilege of serving the Lord in the special ways that He permitted. The Lord would designate a portion of the land in which they would live (Ezekiel 45:4; Ezekiel 48:10-11), but this was not their inheritance. The perquisites of this inheritance would include the privilege of eating parts of the best grains and animals that the people brought to the Lord as sacrifices (cf. Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Corinthians 9:9-12; 1 Timothy 5:18). Everything that the people would bring as offerings to the Lord would go to them. These were "devoted" (Heb. herem) things, things given that the offerer could not redeem (buy back; cf. Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:28; Numbers 18:14).
They would also receive the best parts of the firstfruits of every kind that the people brought to the Lord. The Lord would bless the people who were careful to provide the priests with their firstfruits (cf. Malachi 3:8-12; 2 Corinthians 9:10-11). Priests were not to eat any animals that died a natural death or had been slain in a way other than as a sacrifice to the Lord (cf. Leviticus 17:5; Leviticus 22:8; Deuteronomy 14:21). These animals might be inferior and might carry communicable diseases.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24