free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
PRELIMINARY NOTE ON CHAPTERS 40-48.
These closing chapters of Ezekiel form one continuous prophecy of a distinctly marked character. They present a vision of the Temple in minute detail, with careful measurements of its parts; various ordinances for the Temple, for the Levites, and the priests, and for the prince; a new and remarkable division of the land; and the vision of the life-giving waters issuing from the sanctuary. The whole passage differs too much from anything in the past to allow for a moment the supposition that it is historical in character; and uttered, as it was, at a time when the Temple lay in ashes, and the land desolate, it is equally clear that it cannot describe the present. It must, therefore, have been prophetic; but this fact alone will not decide whether it looked to a literal fulfilment, or was ideal in its character; although the à priori presumption must be in favour of the latter, since all was seen “in the visions of God” (Ezekiel 40:2)—an expression which Ezekiel always applies to a symbolic representation rather than to an actual image of things. Certainly the Temple was afterwards rebuilt, and the nation re-established in Palestine; but the second Temple was quite unlike the one described by Ezekiel, and no attempt was ever made to carry out his division of the land. The few interpreters who have supposed that he meant to foretell literally the sanctuary and the state of the restoration have been compelled to suppose that the returning exiles found themselves too feeble to carry out their designs, and hence that this prophecy remains as a monument of magnificent purposes which were never accomplished. If this were the correct view, it is inconceivable that there should be no allusion to the language of Ezekiel in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the prophecies of Haggai, which all relate to this period, and describe the return and settlement in the land, and the rebuilding of the Temple, with no reference to this prophecy, nor any trace of a desire to conform their work to its directions. Other objections to this view will be mentioned presently.
At the same time, it is to be remembered that a remnant of the people were restored to their land, and their Temple was rebuilt upon Mount Zion; it is but reasonable to suppose that these events, so often foretold, were present to the prophet’s mind, and that he looked out from them upon a more distant future, in the same way that near and typical events often with the other prophets form the basis of their foreshadowing of the future.
The only other way in which this prophecy can be literally understood is by supposing that its fulfilment is still in the future. In general, it is difficult to say that any state of things may not be realised in the future; but in this case there are features of the prophecy, and those not of a secondary or incidental character, but forming a part of its main delineations, which enable us to say unhesitatingly that their literal fulfilment would be in plain contradiction to the Divine revelation. For it is impossible to conceive, in view of the whole relations between the old and the new dispensations, as set forth in Scripture, that animal sacrifices can ever again be restored by Divine command, and find acceptance with God. And it may be added that it is equally impossible to conceive that the Church of the future, progressing in the liberty wherewith Christ has made it free, should ever return again to “the weak and beggarly elements” of Jewish bondage here set forth. But besides these obvious reasons, there are several indications in the detail of the prophecy that show it was never intended to be literally understood. These cannot all be seen without a careful examination of the details, but a few points may be presented which will make the fact sufficiently clear.
In the first place, the connection between the Temple and the city of Jerusalem is so deeply laid in all the sacred literature of the subject, as well as in the thought of every pious Israelite, that a prophecy incidentally separating them, without any distinct statement of the fact, or assignment of a reason for so doing, is scarcely conceivable. Yet in this portion of Ezekiel the Temple is described as at a distance of nearly nine and a half miles from the utmost bound of the city, or about fourteen and a quarter miles from its centre. This holds true, however the tribe portions of the land and the “oblation” be located (see the map in the Notes to Ezekiel 48:0); for the priests’ portion of the “oblation” (Ezekiel 48:10), in the midst of which the sanctuary is placed, is 10,000 reeds, or about nineteen miles broad; to the south of this (Ezekiel 48:15-17) is a strip of land of half the width, in which the city with its “suburbs” is situated. occupying its whole width.
A Temple in any other locality than Mount Moriah would hardly be the Temple of Jewish hope and association; but Ezekiel’s Temple, with its precincts, is a mile square, larger than the whole ancient city of Jerusalem. It is hardly possible that the precincts of any actual Temple could be intended to embrace such a variety of hill and valley as the country presents. However this may be, the prophet describes it as situated many miles north of the city, and the city itself as several miles north of the site of Jerusalem. This would place the Temple well on the road to Samaria.
But, still further, the description of the oblation itself is physically impossible. The boundaries of the land are the Jordan on the one side and the Mediterranean on the other (Ezekiel 47:15-21). The “oblation” could not have reached so far south as the mouth of the Jordan; but even at that point the whole breadth of the country is but fifty-five miles. Now measuring forty-seven and one-third miles north (the width of the oblation) a point is reached where the distance between the river and the sea is barely forty miles. It is impossible, therefore, that the oblation itself should be included between them, and the description requires that there should also be room left for the prince’s portion at either end.
Again, while the city of the vision is nowhere expressly said to be Jerusalem, it is yet described as the great city of the restored theocracy. It cannot, as already said, be placed geographically upon the site of Jerusalem. Either, then, this city must be understood ideally, or else a multitude of other prophecies, and notably many in Ezekiel which speak of the future of Zion and of Jerusalem, must be so interpreted. There is no good reason why both should not be interpreted figuratively, but it is impossible to understand both literally; for some of these prophecies make statements in regard to the future quite as literal in form as these of Ezekiel, and yet in direct conflict with them. To select a single instance from a prophecy not much noticed: Obadiah, who was probably a contemporary of Ezekiel, foretells (Ezekiel 39:19-20) that at the restoration “Benjamin shall possess Gilead;” but, according to Ezekiel, Gilead is not in the land of the restoration at all, and Benjamin’s territory is to be immediately south of the “oblation.” Again, Obadiah says, “The captivity of Jerusalem” (which, in distinction from “the captivity of the host of the children of Israel,” must refer to the two tribes) “shall possess the cities of the south;” but, according to Ezekiel, Judah and Benjamin are to adjoin the central “oblation,” and on the south four of the other tribes are to have their portion. Such instances might be multiplied if necessary.
The division of the land among the twelve tribes; the entire change in assigning to the priests and to the Levites large landed estates, and to the former as much as to the latter; the enormous size of the Temple precincts and of the city, with the comparatively small allotment of land for its support, are all so singular, and so entirely without historical precedent, that only the clearest evidence would justify the assumption that these things were intended to be literally carried out. No regard is paid to the differing numbers of the various tribes, but an equal strip of land is assigned to each of them; and, the trans-Jordanic territory being excluded and about one-fifth of the whole land set apart as an “oblation,” the portion remaining allows to each of the tribes but about two-thirds as much territory as, on the average, they had formerly possessed. The geographical order of the tribes is extremely singular: Judah and Benjamin are, indeed, placed on the two sides of the consecrated land, and the two eldest, Reuben and Simeon, are placed next to them, and Dan is put at the extreme north, where a part of the tribe had formerly lived; but the classification extends no further, and the remaining tribes are arranged neither in order of seniority nor of maternity, nor yet of ancient position. Moreover, nearly the whole territory assigned to Zebulon and Gad is habitable only by nomads, except on the supposition of physical changes in the land.
Another consequence of this division of the land is important: the Levites, being now provided for in the “oblation,” no longer have their cities among the tribes. But it had been expressly provided that the “cities of refuge” (which must be distributed through the land in order to fulfil their purpose) should be Levitical cities (Numbers 35:9-15). With this change, therefore, the provision for cities of refuge ceases, and a profound alteration is made in the whole Mosaic law in regard to manslaughter and murder.
The ordinances for the sacrifices and feasts, as given in Ezekiel 45, 46, differ greatly from those of the Mosaic law, as will be pointed out in the commentary. For the variation in the amount of the “meat offering,” and of the number and character of the victims on various occasions, it is difficult to assign any other reason than that they were intended as indications that the prophet’s scheme was not to be taken literally; it is certain that no attempt was made at the restoration thus to modify the Mosaic ritual, although this could have been done without difficulty if it had been understood that it was intended. The ample provision for the prince, and the regulations for his conduct, were politically wise and useful additions to the Mosaic economy, if literally understood, but which no attempt was ever made to carry out in practice. But in the ordering of the great cycle of feasts and fasts, the modification of the Mosaic system is so profound as quite to change its symbolic value. The “feast of weeks” and the great day of atonement are altogether omitted; and also the “new moons,” except that of the first month, which is enhanced in value. The fact that the men who received these teachings from Ezekiel’s own lips and had charge of the ordering of the services in the restored Temple, paid no attention to these changes, is strong evidence that they did not consider them as meant to be literally carried out.
 This prophecy was given in the twenty-fifth year of the captivity, and was, therefore, forty-five years before the restoration. The elderly men of the restoration must have been of full age to appreciate this prophecy at the time it was uttered, and in the immediately subsequent years of its perusal and discussion. There can be no reasonable doubt, also, that the prophecies of Ezekiel were carried back to Judæa by the returning exiles, and from their very nature they must have been made generally known to those who were in the captivity.
In connection with the omission of the day of atonement, all mention of the high priest is carefully left out. That this is not accidental is shown by the fact that the laws of marriage and of mourning for all the priests are made more strict than in the legislation of Moses (Ezekiel 44:22-27), evidently as a sort of compensation for the omitted legislation in regard to the high priest. But the Levitical system without a high priest becomes a different institution in itself, and is also greatly changed in its symbolism.
It may be remarked in passing that the system here set forth is not at all of the nature of an intermediate or transitional ritual between that which we know existed under the monarchy, and that which is set forth in the Levitical law, and therefore affords no basis for the theory that the Levitical system was the outgrowth of the captivity. The absence of the high priest, so prominent both in the law and in the history, is alone a sufficient proof of this; and to this may be added the full regulations for the prince in Ezekiel, of which there is no trace in either the earlier or the subsequent history.
A further difficulty with the literal interpretation may be found in the description of the waters which issued from under the eastern threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12). These waters run to the “east country,” and go down “to the sea,” which can only be the Dead Sea; but such a course would be physically impossible without changes in the surface of the earth, since the location of the Temple of the vision is on the west of the watershed of the country. They had, moreover, the effect of “healing” the waters of the sea, an effect which could not be produced naturally without providing an outlet from the sea; no supply of fresh water could remove the saltness while this water was all disposed of by evaporation, and Ezekiel (in Ezekiel 47:11) excludes the idea of an outlet. But, above all, the character of the waters themselves is impossible without a perpetual miracle. Setting aside the difficulty of a spring of this magnitude upon the top of “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2) in this locality, at the distance of 1,000 cubits from their source, the waters have greatly increased in volume; and so with each successive 1,000 cubits, until at the end of 4,000 cubits (about a mile and a half) they have become a river no longer fordable, or, in other words, comparable to the Jordan. Such an increase, without accessory streams, is clearly not natural. But, beyond all this, the description of the waters themselves clearly marks them as ideal. They are life-giving and healing; trees of perennial foliage and fruit grow upon their banks, the leaves being for “medicine,” and the fruit, although for food, never wasting. The reader cannot fail to be reminded of “the pure river of water of life” in Revelation 22:1-2, “on either side” of which was “the tree of life” with “its twelve manner of fruits,” and its leaves “for the healing of the nations.” The author of the Apocalypse evidently had this passage in mind; and just as he has adopted the description of Gog and Magog as an ideal description, and applied it to the events of the future, so he has treated this as an ideal prophecy, and applied it to the Church triumphant.
It is to be remembered that this whole vision is essentially one, and that it would be unreasonable to give a literal interpretation to one part of it and a figurative to another. All the objections, therefore, which lie against the supposition of the restoration of animal sacrifices hold also against the supposition of the general restoration of the Jewish Temple and polity. This was felt at an early day, and such Christian commentators as Ephrem Syrus, Theodoret, and Jerome adopted throughout a symbolic or typical explanation. The changes in the Mosaic law are indeed great, but still are only of detail, and leave it open to the Apostolic description as a “bondage” to which we cannot suppose the providence of God would ever lead back the Church Christ has redeemed at the cost of the sacrifice of Himself. Either the whole argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a mistake, not to speak of those to the Romans and Galatians, nor of our Lord’s own discourses (as with the woman of Samaria), or else the Holy Spirit could not have intended a literal realisation in the future of this vision of Ezekiel.
We thus come to regard this prophecy as an ideal one on every ground, not looking for any literal and material fulfilment. If it should be asked, Why then is it given with such a wealth of minute material detail? the answer is obvious, that this is thoroughly characteristic of Ezekiel. The tendency, strongly marked in every part of his book, merely culminates in this closing vision. The two previous chapters, especially, have abounded in concrete and definite details of the attack of a great host upon the land of Israel, while yet these very details have given evidence upon examination that they could not have been meant to be literally understood, and that the whole prophecy was intended to shadow forth the great and final spiritual conflict, prolonged through ages, between the power of the world and the kingdom of God. So here, the prophet, wishing to set forth the glory, the purity, and the beneficent influence of the Church of the future, clothes his description in those terms of the past with which his hearers were familiar. The use of such terms was a necessity in making himself intelligible to his contemporaries, just as to the very close of the inspired volume it is still necessary to set forth the glory and joy of the Church triumphant under the figures of earthly and familiar things, while no one is misled thereby to imagine that the heavenly Jerusalem will be surrounded with a literal wall of jasper, “twelve thousand furlongs” = 1,500 miles (Revelation 21:16; Revelation 21:18), or that its twelve gates shall be each of an actual pearl. It is remarkable that in two instances, that of Gog and that of the river of life, the imagery is the same in Ezekiel and in Revelation. At the same time Ezekiel is careful to introduce among his details so many points that were impossible, or, at least, the literal fulfilment of which would have been strangely inconsistent with his main teaching, as to show that his description must be ideal, and that its realisation is to be sought for beneath the types and shadows in which it was clothed. It may be as impossible to find the symbolical meaning of each separate detail as it is to tell the typical meaning of the sockets for the boards of the tabernacle, although the tabernacle as a whole is expressly said to have been a type. This is the case with every vision, and parable, and type, and every form of setting forth truth by imagery; there must necessarily be much which has no independent signification, but is merely subsidiary to the main point. It is characteristic of Ezekiel that these subsidiary details should be elaborated with the utmost minuteness. His purpose was understood by his contemporaries, and by the generation immediately succeeding, so that they never made any attempt to carry out his descriptions in the rebuilding of the Temple and reconstitution of the State. The idea of a literal interpretation of his words was reserved for generations long distant from his time, from the forms of the Church under which he lived, and from the circumstances and habits of expression with which he was familiar, and under the influence of which he wrote.
The new Temple had now been shown to the prophet with all its arrangements and measurements; it remained that the structure should be divinely accepted by the manifestation of the glory of the Lord, as in the case of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), and of the former Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). The description of this and the accompanying message occupy Ezekiel 43:1-12. With Ezekiel 43:13 the account of the ordinances of Divine worship to be celebrated in the Temple begins, and is continued to the close of Ezekiel 46:0.
(2) From the way of the east.—The prophet had been brought (Ezekiel 43:1) to the east gate, from which he had formerly seen the glory of the Lord depart (Ezekiel 10:18-19; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:23) on account of the pollution of His house. By the same way the glory of the Lord was now to return to the sanctuary prepared for it.
(3) When I came to destroy the city.—That is, to announce its destruction. (Comp. Ezekiel 32:18; Genesis 49:7; Isaiah 6:10; Jeremiah 1:10.)
Like the vision that I saw.—Comp. Ezekiel 1:4, &c.; Ezekiel 3:23; Ezekiel 10:15; Ezekiel 10:22. The manifestation of Divine glory to the prophet was the same throughout.
(5) Brought me into the inner court.—Having seen the Divine glory enter by the eastern gate, the prophet, himself a priest, is brought into the court of the priests, and there sees the glory of the Lord fill the house as of old.
(6) I heard him speaking.—Although the pronoun is not expressed in the original, there can be no question that God Himself spoke directly to the prophet, as in Ezekiel 44:2; Ezekiel 44:5; Ezekiel 44:9, &c. “The man” is without the article in the Hebrew, which leaves it uncertain whether the same being is meant who had hitherto guided the prophet; but as measurements were also made by this guide (Ezekiel 47:3-5), he was probably the same.
(7) The place of the soles of my feet.—Comp. 1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 132:7.
I will dwell . . . for ever.—This should be the peculiar distinction of the Temple seen in the vision. The Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple had both been accepted as the peculiar dwelling-place of God, but both had passed away. So also it would be with the material Temple of the restoration. But in this Temple of the vision God promises that He would dwell for ever.
By the carcases of their kings.—The “shall defile” with which the later clauses of this verse are connected is not an imperative, but a simple future, and is in accordance with the generally ideal character of the vision. The word “carcases” is here a difficult one. Some commentators understand it literally of the burial of some of the kings in the Temple area; but there is no historical proof that any were so buried, the gardens of the royal palace being quite too distant for the language here used, nor is there anywhere any allusion to such defilement. The simplest explanation is that the language is founded upon Leviticus 26:30, and means idols. Manasseh and others had introduced their idols into the very courts of the Temple (2 Kings 21:4-7; sec also 2 Kings 16:11).
(8) And the wall between.—The sense is given in the margin: there was only a wall between me and them.
(9) Now let them.—This is not an imperative, but a simple future, as in Ezekiel 43:7. The house of Israel will now put away their abominations, and God will dwell in their midst for ever. Carcases = idols, as in Ezekiel 43:7.
(10) Shew the house.—This is still in vision; “make known to the people the new Temple and its appointments,” that, seeing God’s gracious purposes, they may repent of their evil doings.
Let them measure the pattern.—That is, let them carefully consider and follow out the provisions God had made for their worship. (Comp. Hebrews 8:5.) Exactness in the observance of all positive enactments is a necessary result of a desire to serve God.
(11) If they be ashamed.—The same thing which had already been declared positively is now expressed contingently, showing that the sanctification of the people and God’s dwelling among them were correlative facts; the one could not be without the other. Many expressions of nearly the same meaning are heaped up, as it were, in the latter part of this verse, to emphasise the significance of the arrangements of the new Temple, and to secure for them the thought and consideration of the people.
(12) Upon the top of the mountain.—Comp. Ezekiel 40:2. The command to keep and observe everything is closed, as often in similar cases, by a summary statement of the reason: for the whole surroundings of the dwelling-place of the Most High are holy.
With Ezekiel 43:13 a new part of the vision begins, extending to the close of Ezekiel 46:0, describing the new ordinances of the sanctuary. This is fitly opened with a description of the altar for the sacrifices, the central act of the ancient worship.
(13) A cubit and an hand breadth.—The measurement of the altar begins with the statement that the cubit used was of the same length as before (see Ezekiel 40:5). The description that follows (Ezekiel 43:13-17) will be made clearer by a simple diagram, with references to the parts described. The size of the base of the altar, it will be seen, was 16 cubits square, and its entire height was either 11 or 12 cubits. The altar in Solomon’s Temple was of brass, 20 cubits square, and 10 cubits high (2 Chronicles 4:1), while that in the Tabernacle (of shittim-wood overlaid with brass) had been 5 cubits square, and 3 cubits high (Exodus 27:1). That in Herod’s Temple is said to have been 32 cubits square, and 10 cubits high, and was of hewn stone. The dimensions of Ezekiel’s altar seem to have been selected for the symmetry of the numbers in the several parts. In height it exceeded any of the others.
Base or “bottom,” 1 cubit high, and 1 broad. This was 16 cubits square.
“The border thereof,” a span or ½ cubit. It is uncertain whether this projected, forming a moulding as at b, and in this case was under c, and so increased the height of the altar; or whether it was as at b′, a ledge around 100. In Ezekiel 43:13 “higher place” should be base. The word means, primarily, arched, then a back, and then a support.
The “lower settle,” 2 cubits high, and 1 broad.
The “greater (or higher) settle,” 4 cubits high.
The “altar” (Harel)—literally, the mountain of God—4 cubits high, and 12 cubits square.
The “altar” (Ariel)—literally, the lion of God—the hearth of the same size, but the height not given, but probably not more than ½ cubit.
(gg) The “horns.” The whole height was eleven cubits or more, according to whether the height of f is included in that of e, and whether b passed under c, or was merely a ledge.
Ezekiel 43:18-27 make careful provision for the consecration of the altar just described. This is to be compared with Exodus 40:0 and Leviticus 8:0, although in that case the consecration of the altar and of the priests were joined together, while here that of the altar alone is described.
(18) In the day when they shall make it.—This looks to the future, and implies that the whole structure of the Temple, and its acceptance by the manifestation of the Divine glory, though necessarily represented in the vision as already done, were yet in the future. The phrase, “in the day when they shall make it,” is intended only to require the consecration of the altar before it is used. The actual time occupied by the consecration (Ezekiel 43:25-26) was to be seven days, as in Exodus 29:37.
(19) Thou shalt give.—Ezekiel is not actually to do this, like Moses, as the appointed consecrator; but, as frequently in prophecy, he is told to do that which he foretells is to be done.
Of the seed of Zadok.—See Note on Ezekiel 40:46. (Comp. also Ezekiel 44:15.)
A young bullock.—In the case of the altar of the Tabernacle, the consecration began with anointing with oil (Leviticus 8:11), and this was a prominent feature of the service; but is here wholly omitted. The service began with the offering of a sin offering, which was always, according to the law, to be first offered when several kinds of sacrifice were to occur together. The propriety of this is manifest, since the first act of man’s approach to God must always consist of the confession of his sin.
(20) Take of the blood thereof.—Comp. Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 8:15; Hebrews 9:18; Hebrews 9:22. Nothing is here said of the pouring the rest of the blood at the foot of the altar, as required in the law, and nothing of the burning of the fat upon the altar, because the prophet throughout supposes the ritual of the sacrifices to be well known, and only mentions a few particulars to indicate the whole, and also a few others now introduced, peculiar to the new ceremonial.
(21) Burn it in the appointed place.—The flesh of the ordinary sin offerings was to be eaten by the priests; but when the victim was a bullock, as in case of a sin offering for the high priest (Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:11-12), or for the whole congregation (Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:20), it was to be burned without the camp. Here it is to be burned “in the appointed place of the house,” and yet “without the sanctuary,” or Temple building itself; it must, therefore, have been in the building described in 41:12
(22) A kid of the goats.—More exactly, a buck of the goats. This was the sin offering prescribed for a ruler (Leviticus 4:22-23). The expression “as they did with the bullock,” implies that the ritual was the same, and the flesh burned in the same way. At the consecration of the altar in Exodus 29:36, a bullock was required for the sin offering on each of the seven days for the consecration of both the altar and the priests.
(23) Hast made an end of cleansing it.—Not an end of the entire service of consecration, but of the sin offering for the day, for Ezekiel 43:25 says distinctly that both a sin offering and a burnt offering were to be offered on each day of the seven. The reason that the burnt offering is not mentioned on the first day is, that the sin offering being changed on the second day, the prophet first describes that for both days, and then goes to the other, which remained the same throughout. Here the burnt offering is a bullock and a ram; in Exodus 29:0 two rams.
(24) Cast salt.—The word means throw or pour, indicating a more copious use of salt than the seasoning ordained by the law (Leviticus 2:13).
(26) Shall consecrate themselves.—Our version has here followed the Masoretic emendation of the text; the literal translation of the text itself is, shall fill its hand, referring to the altar. To “fill the hand” is a synonym for consecration, commonly applied to the priests, who were consecrated by placing in their hands the gifts they were to offer to God. Here it is better to keep to the text as it stands, “filling the hand of the altar” being a strong figurative expression to denote that it shall always be supplied with sacrificial gifts. Nothing is said throughout the passage of the consecration of the priests, the whole family of Aaron having been consecrated once for all by the ceremonies of Leviticus 8:0.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 43". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany