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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 first twelve verses of this chapter constitute what is generally known as “the vision of the living waters;” the latter part of the chapter, Ezekiel 47:13-23, more properly belongs with Ezekiel 48:0, and, with that, gives an account of the boundaries of the land, of its distribution among the tribes, and of the building of the holy city.
The ideal character of this vision of the waters is so plain upon its face that little need be said on this point. The stream is represented as issuing from the summit of “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2), and as constantly and rapidly increasing its volume, without the accession of tributaries, so that in a little more than a mile it becomes a river no longer fordable. The trees upon its banks, too, are evidently symbolical, and its effect upon the Dead Sea (as already said in the introductory note to Ezekiel 40-48) is such as could not naturally occur. Such imagery is common in prophecy. Joel (Joel 3:18) says, “All the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.” Zechariah (Zechariah 14:8), “Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea;” and finally, the description of the “pure river of water of life” in Revelation 22:1-3, is evidently founded upon this passage of Ezekiel. Passages in which water is used as the symbol of the influence of the Spirit are too numerous and familiar to need quotation. (Comp. Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 13:1, &c.)
Ezekiel, having in the previous chapters described the dwelling of the Lord among His people with characteristic minuteness of detail, now proceeds to set forth the blessings that flow from this presence.
(1) Door of the house.—This is the entrance of the Temple itself; the waters come out from under its threshold, just as in Revelation 22:1 they proceed “out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The prophet, who had just been in the outer court (Ezekiel 46:21, &c.), is brought in to the door of the house that he may see the waters.
From the right side of the house.—Although the waters issue directly from the threshold which was in the centre of the east front of the Temple, and their general course was due east, it was necessary that they should be deflected a little at the start to the south in order to pass the porch and the altar, as well as both the inner and outer gateways.
(2) Out of the way of the gate northward.—Rather, out by the way of the north gate. The east gate, the direct way, was shut (Ezekiel 44:2); the prophet was therefore carried round to the outside of it by the way of the north gate. There he saw the waters on the right, or south, side of the gateway.
(3) Brought me through the waters.—The point from which the measurement began is not distinctly mentioned, but is to be assumed as from their source, the threshold of the house. The prophet is “brought through the waters” to impress upon him a vivid sense of their size and depth, and this is repeated at each 1,000 cubits until the waters become impassable.
(5) A river that could not be passed over.—The whole distance measured is 4,000 cubits, or less than a mile and a half, during which the waters, without external addition, have swollen from a mere streamlet to an impassable river, in direct opposition to the ordinary fact in nature. A large part (1,500 cubits, or half of 3,000 cubits) of this distance must have been within the precincts described in Ezekiel 42:16-20, but the prophet takes no notice of this, as the whole is ideal, and the precincts were to set forth one truth, the river another. The point thus far brought out is plainly the increase of the kingdom of God—the same truth illustrated by our Lord in the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), and often declared by the prophets (see Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:27; &c.). All history, since the Christian era, has been occupied with the fulfilment of the prophecy.
(6) To return to the brink.—The angel, having called the prophet’s attention to this marvellous increase, now causes him to return along the bank to observe other things. The word brink in this verse and bank in the next are the same in the original. The prophet does not return to the brink, for he had not left it, but is told to pass along it.
(7) Very many trees.—In the corresponding vision of Revelation 22:2 the same thought is symbolised by the “tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits.”
(8) Go down into the desert.—The word for country is the same as is used in Joshua 22:10-11, for the borders of the Jordan, and undoubtedly has the same meaning here: the valley of the Jordan, called the Ghor. The word desert is better translated in the margin, plain, and refers to that expansion of the Jordan valley just north of the Dead Sea in which the city of Jericho was situated. So far the course of the river has been due east; now, without any allusion to the Jordan, it apparently takes its place and flows into the sea. Both the situation and the description show that the Dead Sea is intended. By its entrance “the waters of the sea shall be healed,” that is, they shall be so changed that, from being incapable of supporting life, they shall become the home of life in all abundance and variety (Ezekiel 47:9-10).
(9) The rivers.—According to the pointing of the Hebrew text this is the two rivers, as is expressed in the margin. This peculiar form has occasioned some perplexity, especially because in the vision of Zechariah (Zechariah 14:8) the waters are represented as divided, half of them flowing to the Dead Sea and half of them to the Mediterranean. It is plain, however, that but one river is intended here, flowing into the Dead Sea. Possibly there is an allusion in the dual form to the Jordan flowing with it into the sea; but this vision throughout pays so little regard to the natural features of the country that it seems more likely that the dual form is simply used to express the greatness of the river, “a double river.” By a division of the word and a slight change in the vowels the expression would become “river of the sea,” that is, flowing into the sea.
Shall live.—This is to be understood as a pregnant expression; all kinds of life shall spring into being whithersoever the waters come. The same thing is emphatically repeated at the close of the verse, and in the intermediate clause the same thought is expressed by the “very great multitude of fish.”
(10) From En-gedi even unto En-eglaim.—En-gedi, “the fountain of the goat,” is a well-known copious spring about midway on the western coast of the Dead Sea. En-eglaim occurs only here, and has not been certainly identified. St. Jerome speaks of “Engallim” as at the junction of the Jordan with the sea, and near this point there is a fountain now known as Ain-el-Feshkhah. Others consider that the dual form of the name indicates “one of the double cities of Moab,” thus placing it on the eastern side of the sea, and this seems more probable, since the expression would then be equivalent to “the whole breadth of the sea.” Everywhere they shall stretch their nets, and the variety and abundance of the fish shall be as great as in “the great sea,” that is, the Mediterranean. This whole verse in regard to the fishermen is a striking illustration of Ezekiel’s way of carrying out the most ideal description into detail.
(11) The marishes thereof shall not be healed.—The picture of the life-giving waters would be imperfect without this exception to their effects. The Dead Sea at the southern end is very shallow, and beyond there is an extensive tract of very low land. In the season of the flood of the Jordan this is overflowed to a considerable distance, and as the river subsides, is again left bare and encrusted with salt from the evaporation of the water. This allusion, therefore, shows plainly that the prophet did not have in mind a flowing on of the river through the Arabah, or valley leading from the Dead to the Red Sea, and that the effect of the life-giving waters should cease where the waters themselves ceased to flow; at the same time, in the thing symbolised, it shows that we are not to expect, as the effect of the Gospel, a perfect and universal obedience to its teachings. Man is still left free to hear or forbear, and the world must be expected always to contain its unhealed miry and marshy places.
(12) Be consumed.—Better, fail. The fruit is to be eaten, but shall not fail to grow as it is wanted. These trees with their supernatural virtues are represented as produced by the waters because “they issued out of the sanctuary,” thus presenting a most effective image of the life-giving power of those spiritual influences which come from God upon men.
It has been objected to the spiritual interpretation of this vision, that under it nothing can be made of the fishermen of Ezekiel 47:10, and that, therefore, the whole is to be considered as a glorification of nature in the future Palestine. But this is to forget that in every figure and parable there are, and must be, details necessary to the figure which have nothing answering to them in the thing signified, and that it is the habit of Ezekiel to carry out such details very far. In this case, the mention of the fishermen greatly heightens the imagery of the life-giving power of the waters; while, if the whole were to be literally understood, they would really have no place, because there would be no such fishermen in the supposed glorified condition of the land.
Ezekiel 47:13-23, which, as already said, properly belong to Ezekiel 48:0, give the boundaries of the land to be divided among the tribes, together with provision for the inheritance of strangers living among them. The tracing of the boundary itself is introduced by some general statements in Ezekiel 47:13-14, concerning the distribution.
(13) According to the twelve tribes of Israel.—In the ideal land of the restoration, not Judah and Benjamin only, but all the twelve tribes are to have their portions. Yet Levi is otherwise provided for in the “oblation,” and therefore Joseph, in accordance with Genesis 48:5; Genesis 48:22, and with the whole history of the nation, is to have two portions. The Hebrew is simply “Joseph portions” in the plural, but that these portions were to be two and no more was a matter of course, not needing to be specified.
(14) One as well as another.—This is the ordinary expression for equality. Unlike the former division of the laud, the territory is to be arranged in twelve equal portions. This is generally understood to mean that the strips of territory assigned to each tribe shall be of equal width, and such is undoubtedly the prophet’s meaning, since the vision throughout makes little account of the natural features of the country. It may be well to notice in passing, however, that the actual area of the territory given to the tribes is thus made very unequal. The country was nearly three times as broad at the south as at the north, and the southern tribes would thus have actually nearly three times as much land as the northern, although they were ideally equal. Were the portions to be made actually equal, the map given under Ezekiel 48:0 would be much changed. Such an arrangement would move the “oblation” farther south and give it ample room between east and west. Its north line would be a little north of Jerusalem, and its south within ten or twelve miles of Beersheba, and the Temple would be situated a few miles north-west of Hebron and still on the western watershed.
(15) This shall be the border of the land.—The boundaries are essentially the same as those given in Numbers 34:1-15, only that there the southern boundary is given first to the Israelites coming up from Egypt, while here the northern is first described for the people supposed to be returning from Babylon. There is also more detail given in Numbers, and as the points mentioned here are the same, it is fair to fill out this description from the earlier one. It is remarkable that in both cases the eastern boundary is the Jordan. The inheritance of the tribes on the east of that river having been a modification of the original allotment, and not being taken into consideration at all here, portions are assigned on the west of the river to the two and a half tribes who had lived all through Israel’s history on the east.
The way of Hethlon.—The boundary begins at the Mediterranean, but at what precise point cannot be determined; for although it is evident that the lines between the tribes were straight and parallel, yet it does not appear whether they were perpendicular to the Jordan, which would be substantially parallel to the lines of latitude, or perpendicular to the Mediterranean, which would make a small angle with them. Hethlon is mentioned only here and in Ezekiel 48:1, and has not been identified. It was probably a place of little importance, as its situation is described “as men go to Zedad.” The latter place is mentioned in Numbers 34:8 as one of the points in the original northern border of the land. It is clear from the passage in Numbers that it lay eastward of the “entrance to Hamath,” and has been identified by some writers with the modern village of Sadad, but this is thirty miles from “the entrance of Hamath,” which seems quite too far. Ezekiel may have passed through it when carried captive to Babylon.
(16) Hamath is not to be understood of the city of Hamath on the Orontes (which was much too far to the north), but of the boundary of the district of Hamath; this cannot be now precisely fixed, but certainly came as far south as the “entrance of Hamath” (Numbers 34:8), or the defile between the Lebanon and Antilebanon Mountains which leads to Hamath. This defile, however, is many miles in length, and the authorities differ as to whether its southern end or its northern (where the Lebanon and Antilebanon ranges end, and a rolling country several miles broad intervenes between them and the next ranges) should be called “the entrance to Hamath.’
Berothah is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 8:8, as one of the cities conquered by David from the king of Zobah, and it is evident from this passage that it was between “Hamath” and Damascus; but nothing further is known of its situation.
Sibraim may be the same with Ziphron of Numbers 34:9, and must have been on the confines of the two kingdoms of Hamath and Damascus; but nothing more is known of it, and it is not mentioned elsewhere.
Hazar-hatticon.—That is, as noted in the margin, the middle Hazar, to distinguish it from the Hazar-enan mentioned in the next verse. All that is known of it is from this passage, that it was on the border of the district of Hauran. Hauran, here and in Ezekiel 47:18, is used in a wider sense than the classic Auranitis, and includes also Gaulanitis (Golan), and Batanœa (Bashan), in fact the whole land between the territories of Damascus and Gilead (Ezekiel 47:18).
(17) The border from the sea shall be Hazarenan.—Comparing this with Numbers 34:9, it is plain that the sense is, “The (north) boundary which started from the sea shall terminate at Hazar-enan, where it meets the boundaries of Damascus.” Hazar-enan means “the village of springs,” and is mentioned in Ezekiel 48:1, and in Numbers 34:9-10, as the end of the north and beginning of the east boundary of the land. For “and the border of Hamath,” read even the border—i.e., the northern boundary is the (south) boundary of Hamath. While it is impossible to locate precisely this northern boundary, either as given in Numbers or by Ezekiel, it is evident that the two are identical, and that the line stretched from the Mediterranean to the territory of Damascus. The whole width of the country at this point would therefore be somewhat over thirty miles.
(18) From Hauran, and from Damascus.—The eastern boundary is also the same as that given in Numbers 34:10-12, although more particularly described there. In both cases it excludes the territory of the trans- Jordanic tribes, which was not included in Palestine proper, even after its conquest by Moses, and in which the two and a half tribes were allowed to settle with some reluctance (Numbers 32:0). The word “from,” occurring four times in this verse, is literally from between, as is noted in the margin; it means that the boundary was to run between the territories of Hauran, Damascus, and Gilead on the one side, and that of Israel on the other. The boundary is to be the Jordan; but as this does not extend so far north, it became necessary to mention the territory of Damascus as bounding the land of Israel, and in this connection Hauran and Gilead are also spoken of. The boundary extends, as of old, beyond the mouth of the Jordan to the southern end of the Dead Sea and thence to Kadesh. The extreme length of the land is somewhat uncertain, but must have fallen short of 250 miles.
(19) From Tamar even to the waters of strife.—The southern border, as given in Numbers 34:3-5, is identical with that described here, as far as the two can be compared. Tamar has been identified with Kurnub, a ruined village some twenty-five miles west of the southern end of the Dead Sea; but as the old boundary certainly went far to the south of this and as the next place mentioned is Kadesh, about thirty miles nearly south from the Dead Sea, the Tamar here meant is more probably some place not yet identified. Kadesh, known from the “waters of strife” as Meribah (Numbers 20:3-14), is called Kadesh-barnea in Numbers 34:4. It has been identified by Robinson with the Ain-el-Weibeh, about thirty miles slightly west of south from the Dead Sea. Its exact situation, however, is somewhat doubtful.
The river to the great sea.—Literally, riverward to the great sea. From Kadesh the boundary was to strike across the mountainous desert to what is often called in Scripture “the river of Egypt,” and was anciently known as the Rhinocolura, now called the Wady-el-Arish. It followed this to the Mediterranean. The length of the southern boundary, following the curve of the Rhinocolura, must have been nearly 100 miles, or about eighty-seven miles from east to west.
(20) Over against Hamath.—The western boundary, as in Numbers 34:6, is the Mediterranean, and continues to the starting-point, Hamath being here, as in Ezekiel 47:16-17, the district of Hamath.
(22) By lot.—See Note on Ezekiel 45:1.
To the strangers.—An entirely new feature is here added to the Mosaic law. According to Leviticus 19:34, strangers were to be treated with kindness, but the entire territory was to be divided among the Israelites, and strangers could therefore acquire no land except in so far as they might purchase a temporary right between the years of Jubilee. Now, however, such of them as “shall beget children among you,” thus showing a disposition to permanent residence, are to receive an inheritance along with the tribes and in the portion of that tribe where they may have chosen to fix their residence. This privilege is absolute, without any condition of receiving circumcision.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 47". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19