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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 41

Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral EpistlesFairbairn's Commentaries


CHAPTER 40-48.


WE have now, with God’s help, reached the closing vision of Ezekiel’s prophecies; but so far from seeing all difficulties behind us, we find ourselves in front of the darkest, and in several respects the most singular and characteristic vision of the whole book. For all that is most peculiar, and much also that is most difficult in the manner of our prophet, concentrates itself here; and whatever need there may have been of the Spirit’s aid to guide our steps through the earlier visions, the same need exists, in yet greater force, with respect to this concluding revelation. May the aid so required not be withheld! May the Spirit of Truth himself direct our inquiries, and shine for our instruction on his own handwriting! May no blinding prejudice, or narrow purpose of our own, prevent us from following the path of enlightened research and honest interpretation; so that the views to be propounded may, at least in all that is essential, bear the impress of soberness and truth!

Leaving out of view some minor shades of opinion, which are too unimportant to deserve any special notice, the views that have been entertained upon the vision generally, and in particular the description contained in it respecting the temple, may be ranged under four classes.

1. The first is what may be called the historico-literal; which takes all as a prosaic description of what had existed in the times immediately before the captivity, in connection with that temple which is usually called Solomon’s. Ezekiel just delineated, it is thought by those who hold this view, what he had himself seen at Jerusalem, that the remembrance of the former state of things might be preserved, and that the people on their return might restore it as nearly as they could. Such is the opinion sought by a huge apparatus of learning to be maintained by Villalpandus; and he is substantially followed by Grotius, Calmet, Seeker, in part also by the elder Lowth, Adam Clarke, (It was, perhaps, unnecessary to mention the commentary of Dr. Clarke in this connection, as all his notes (so we are told in his Memoirs) on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, were written in about six weeks. He gives a specimen of the extreme haste with which he wrote, at the commencement of this 40th chapter, when he states, in respect to the view under consideration, that “every biblical critic is of the same opinion;” and tells us that “the Jesuits, Prada and Villalpandus, have given three folio vols. on this temple,” etc., though five minutes inspection would have shown him that of the three one entire vol. had nothing whatever to do with the temple.) Bottcher, Thenius, etc. Those, however, who adopt this view find it necessary, against the natural order and connection, to separate between what is written respecting the construction of the temple, and the distribution of the land, as well as some other things which are known to have been quite different in the times before the exile. And even in regard to the temple itself, and the things immediately connected with it, making due allowance for any changes that may have been introduced, there are many, and some of them most palpable contrarieties between what is known to have existed in the times before the exile, and the scheme of things delineated by the prophet. These will fall to be noticed in the sequel.

2. The straining required to maintain this view, and its utterly unsatisfactory nature, gave rise to another, which may be called the historico-ideal. According to it, the pattern exhibited to Ezekiel differed materially from anything that previously existed, and presented for the first time what should have been after the return from the captivity, though, from the remissness and corruption of the people, it never was properly realized. “The temple described by Ezekiel should have been built, by the new colonists; the customs and usages which he orders should have been observed by them; the division of the country should have been followed by them. That the temple did not arise out of its ruins according to his model, and that his orders were in no manner obeyed, was the fault of Israel. How far were they behind the orders of their first lawgiver, Moses! What wonder, therefore, that they as little regarded their second lawgiver, Ezekiel?” So wrote Eichhorn, and of the same mind were Dathe and Herder. But it is a view entirely at variance with the dimensions assigned to the temple, the mode of the distribution of the land and the description of the river, all of which were connected with physical impossibilities to the new colonists. Some, therefore, who hold substantially the same general view, so far modify it as to admit that there were things in the prophet’s delineation which could never have been intended to receive a literal accomplishment, yet conceive that the prophet did not the less design to present in it a perfect draught of what it was desirable and proper for the people to aim at. In so far as the actual state of things fell short of this, there was a failure but only in the realization, not in the idea; and it was simply this last, not the other, which was properly any concern of the prophet’s. So various of the older rationalists (among others, Doederlein), and in the present day, Hitzig. The view manifestly proceeds on an abandonment of the strictly prophetical character of the vision, and reduces its announcements to a sort of vague and well-meaning anticipation of some future good, such as a strong faith and lively hope might cherish, and thrown into any form the writer’s own fancy might suggest. It cannot therefore be concurred in by any one who believes that the prophet spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost, and uttered what, according to its genuine import, must be strictly fulfilled.

3. The Jewish-carnal view is the one we shall next advert to; in its main character the opposite extreme of the last mentioned. It is the opinion of some Jewish writers that the description of Ezekiel was actually followed by the children of the captivity as far as their circumstances would allow, and that Herod also, when he renovated and enlarged it, copied after the same pattern. (Lightfoot, Desc. Templi, c. x.). But they further hold, that as this was necessarily done in a very imperfect manner, it waits to he properly accomplished by the Messiah, who, when he appears, shall cause the temple to be reared precisely as here described, and carry out all the other subordinate arrangements. A considerable party has of late years been springing up in the Christian Church, especially in England, who entirely concur in these Jewish anticipations, with no further difference than that, believing Jesus to be the Messiah, they expect the vision to receive a complete and literal fulfilment at the period of his second coming. The whole seed of Israel, they believe, shall then be restored to possess anew the land of Canaan, where they shall become, with Christ at their head, the centre of the light and glory of the world; the temple shall be rebuilt after the magnificent pattern shown to Ezekiel, the rites and ordinances of worship set up, and the land apportioned to the tribes of Israel, all as described in the closing chapters of this book. (See Fry on the Unfulfilled Prophecies, as one of many.) This opinion has also found its advocates on the Continent; Hofmann, for example, (Weissagung und Erf. i. p. 359, where, however, it is only briefly indicated. Baumgarten also seems to incline to the same view in his Comm. on Pent.) and Hess in his letters on the Apocalypse, who says: “So then it shall come to pass that our Lord, who once was rejected and crucified by his own countrymen, shall by the same be publicly and formally acknowledged, and in the restored temple shall be honoured; and that as Israel of old was often made to do service to the nations for the rejection of his God and Messiah, so now the nations shall be subjected to him when acknowledging his Messiah and confiding in his God.” (Quoted by Delitzsch in his Biblisch-prophetische Theologie, p. 94, but without giving assent to it; and, at p. 308, he seems to mark the opinion as a false extreme in a few remarks on some passages of Baumgarten’s.)

4. The last view is the Christian-spiritual, or typical one, according to which the whole representation was not intended to find either in Jewish or Christian times an express and formal realization, but was a grand, complicated symbol of the good God had in reserve for his Church, especially under the coming dispensation of the Gospel. From the Fathers downwards this has been the prevailing view in the Christian Church. The greater part have held it to the exclusion of every other; in particular, among the Reformers, and their successors, Luther, Calvin, Capellus, Cocceius, Pfeiffer, followed by the majority of evangelical divines of our own country. But not a few also have combined it with one or more of the other opinions specified. Thus Diodati, joining it with the first, says: “Now the Lord showeth the prophet the frame of Solomon’s temple, which had been destroyed by the Chaldeans, that the memory of its incomparable magnificence might be preserved in the Church, for a figure and assistance of her spiritual temple in this world, but especially in the celestial glory.” To the same effect Lowth, in his Commentary and Lightfoot only differs in so far as he rather couples the second view with the last regards the vision as intended to “encourage the Jews with the prospect of having a temple again,” though the temple and its ordinances were neither formed after Solomon’s nor designed to be actually set up, but prefigured” the enlargement, spiritual beauty, and glory of the Church under the Gospel.” This is also the view adopted by Greenhill in his work on Ezekiel, who supposes, indeed, that the vision “represented the restitution of the Jewish Church, their temple, city, and worship, after the captivity; yet not simply, but as they were types of the Church under the Gospel; for as we must not exclude these, so we must know this is not the principal thing intended; that which the vision doth chiefly hold out to us is the building of the Christian temple, with the worship thereof, under Jewish expressions, which began to be accomplished in the apostles days” (Acts 15:16).

It is not to be denied that this last writer, as generally the writers of the class and period to which he belonged, failed in a correct appreciation of the nature of the vision, and of the distinctive principles which ought to be kept in view in its interpretation. Consequently much of an arbitrary and fanciful kind entered into the explanations they gave of particular parts. The basis must first be laid of the proper line to be pursued, by distinguishing correctly the character of this species of composition, and the relation in which the vision stands to other portions of Ezekiel’s writings. Let us now endeavour to prepare the way by a careful consideration of what bears on these points.

1. First of all. it is to be borne in mind that the description purports to be a vision a scheme of things exhibited to the mental eye of the prophet “in the visions of God.” This alone marks it to be of an ideal character, as contradistinguished from anything that ever had been, or ever was to be found in actual existence, after the precise form given to it in the description. Such we have uniformly seen to be the character of the earlier visions imparted to the prophet. The things described in chapters 1-3 and 8-11, which were seen by him “in the visions of God,” were all of this nature. They presented a vivid picture of what either then actually existed or was soon to take place, but in a form quite different from the external reality. Not the very image or the formal appearance of things was given, but rather a compressed delineation of their inward being and substance. And such, too, was found to be the case with other portions, which are of an entirely similar nature, though not expressly designated visions; such, for example, as chapters 4, 12, 21, all containing delineations and precepts, as if speaking of what was to be done and transacted in real life; and yet it is necessary to understand them as ideal representations, exhibiting the character, but not the precise form and lineaments of the coming transactions. Had this ideal nature of the description been rightly understood, it would have afforded for the vision before us an easy solution of what Dathe has thought inexplicable on any supposition but that of the literal character of the description, viz. the preceptive cast into which it is thrown. “He appears not to promise, but to command; not to show what sort of structure would be raised, and what arrangement made in connection with it, but to order what should be done.” This is precisely what appears also in the earlier visions referred to; and it is what might have been expected in the present vision, on the supposition of its being an ideal representation of things belonging to the kingdom of God, but not otherwise. Rightly understood, the preceptive form of the revelation is an evidence of the non-realistic character of what was communicated, especially when viewed in connection with the variations it presents to the handwriting of Moses. Never at any period of his Church has God given laws and ordinances to it simply by vision; and when Moses was commissioned to give such in the wilderness, his authority to do so was formally based on the ground of his office being different from the ordinarily prophetical, and of his instructions being communicated otherwise than by vision (Numbers 12:6). So that to speak by way of vision, and at the same time in the form of precept, as if enjoining laws and ordinances materially differing from those of Moses, was itself a palpable and incontrovertible proof of the ideal character of the revelation. It was a distinct testimony that Ezekiel was no new lawgiver coming to modify or supplant what had been written by him with whom God spake face to face upon the mount.

2. What has been said respecting the form of the prophet’s communication, is confirmed by the substance of it; as there is much in this that seems obviously designed to force on us the conviction of its ideal character. There are things in the description which, taken literally, are in the highest degree improbable, and even involve natural impossibilities. This was long ago marked by Lightfoot, in regard to the dimensions of the temple and city: “And now, if any one will take up the full circuit of the wall that encompassed the holy ground, according to our English measure, it will amount to half a mile and about 166 yards. And whosoever likewise will measure the square of Ezekiel 42:20, he will find it six times as large as this, the whole amounting to three miles and a half and about 140 yards a compass incomparably greater than Mount Moriah divers times over. And by this very thing is showed that that is spiritually and mystically to be understood. ... As for a literal respondency of that city and temple (viz. those which were to be built after the return from Babylon) to all the particulars of this description, it is so far from it, that Ezekiel’s temple is delineated larger than all the earthly Jerusalem, and his Jerusalem larger than all the land of Canaan. And thereby the scope of the Holy Spirit in that ichnography is clearly held out to be, to signify the great enlarging of the spiritual Jerusalem and temple, the Church under the Gospel, the spiritual beauty and glory of it, as well as to certify captived Israel of hopes of an earthly city and temple to be rebuilt; which came to pass upon the return under Cyrus.” (Description of Temple, pp. 5, 6. Ed. 1650.)

What in this passage is called the city, it must be borne in mind, includes the oblation of holy ground set apart for the prince, the priests, and the Levites, whose residence was to be in immediate connection with the city. Taken thus, the statement of Lightfoot is not far from the truth. Referring to the notes on the particular verses for the proof of what we say, we simply announce at present the general result; which is that, according to the most exact modes of computation, the prophet’s measurements give for the outer wall of the temple a square of an English mile, and about a seventh on each side, and for the whole city a space of between three and four thousand square miles. There is no reason to suppose that the boundaries of the ancient city exceeded two miles and a half in circumference (see Robinson’s Researches, vol. i.); while here the circumference of the wall of the temple is nearly twice as much. So that the first part of Lightfoot’s statement, that the bounds of Ezekiel’s temple exceed those of the whole city, is perfectly correct; but in regard to the other part, in which he asserts the bounds of the city to be greater than those of the whole land of Canaan, some exception must be taken, if by Canaan be meant the whole that Israel ever possessed on both sides of Jordan, which is computed at fully double of Ezekiel’s square somewhere between ten and eleven thousand square miles. If understood of Canaan Proper, the land lying between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, the portion here allotted for the city might in that case equal the whole land. But taking the land at the largest, the allotment of a portion nearly equal to one-half of the whole for the prince, the priests, and Levites, is a manifest proof of the ideal character of the representation; the more especially when we consider that that sacred portion is laid off in a regular square, with the temple on Mount Zion in the centre. For then the one-half of it, extending to nearly thirty miles in length, and lying to the south of Jerusalem, must have covered nearly the whole southern territory, which only reached as far as the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:19); while yet by another provision five of the twelve tribes were to have their inheritance on that side of Jerusalem beyond the sacred portion (chap. Ezekiel 48:23-28). Such manifest incongruities on the literal understanding of the passage have led to alterations in the text; some transcribers and ancient translators, as well as modern commentators, putting so many cubits instead of reeds for the boundaries of the temple and the city. But there is no foundation for the change; it is the easy, arbitrarily way of getting rid of a difficulty by removing the occasion of it; we might as well adjust other parts to suit our own fancies, or expunge the vision altogether. The measurements of the prophet were made to involve a literal incongruity, as did also the literal extravagances of the vision in chapters 38, 39, that men might be forced to look for something else than a literal accomplishment. And in utter misapprehension of the prophet’s design, the proposed alterations are resorted to for the purpose of bringing the plan within the bounds of probability, as a scheme of things that might one day be actually realized. (The same effect as here is aimed at in the measurements and proportions of St. John’s city, Revelation 21:0 the numbers employed being all symbolical of perfection and of immense greatness. The walls are represented as being a perfect square, and on each side 12,000 stadia, or 1200 ordinary miles. This as far surpasses the dimensions of Ezekiel’s city, as his did those of ancient Jerusalem.)

3. Some, perhaps, may be disposed to imagine that, as they expect certain physical changes to be effected upon the land before the prophecy can be carried into fulfilment, these may be adjusted in such a manner as to admit of the prophet’s measurements being literally applied. It is impossible, however, to admit such a supposition. For the boundaries of the land itself are given, not new boundaries of the prophet’s own, but those originally laid down by Moses. And as the measurements of the temple and city are out of all proportion to these, no alterations can be made on the physical condition of the country that could bring the one into proper agreement with the other. Then there are other things in the description which, if they could not of themselves so conclusively prove the impossibility of a literal sense as the consideration arising from the measurements, lend great force to this consideration, and on any other supposition than their being parts of an ideal representation, must wear an improbable and fanciful aspect. Of this kind is the distribution of the remainder of the land in equal portions among the twelve tribes in parallel sections, running straight across from east to west, without any respect to the particular circumstances of each, or their relative numbers; more especially the assignment of five of these parallel sections to the south of the city, which, after making allowance for the sacred portion, would leave at the farthest a breadth of only three or four miles a piece! Of the same kind also is the supposed separate existence of the twelve tribes, which now, at least, can scarcely be regarded otherwise than a natural impossibility, since it is an ascertained fact that such separate tribeships no longer exist; the course of providence has been ordered so as to destroy them, and once destroyed, they cannot possibly be reproduced. If a man is dead, he may be brought to life again; but if the once separate lines of his posterity have come to be fused together, no power in nature can resolve them again into their primary elements. Of the same kind, further, is “the very high mountain” on which the vision of the temple was presented to the eye of the prophet; for as this unquestionably refers to the old site of the temple, the little eminence on which it stood could only be designated thus in a moral or ideal and not in a literal sense. (I am aware some say that the hill of Zion is to be raised in the latter days to an enormous height, and so to become literally above the hills. But this is a groundless assertion; and we appeal in proof to Ezekiel 17:22-23, where the same Mount Zion is designated as the peculiarly high and eminent mountain; and that in a prophecy which must refer to the first appearing of Christ. For it speaks of him, not as the great and mighty king, but as the little slender twig, which was to be planted there by God; it speaks of him in his humiliation, not in his glory; and yet the place where he began to take root is called “the mountain of the height of Israel.”) Finally, of the same kind is the account given of the stream issuing from the eastern threshold of the temple and flowing into the Dead Sea, which, both for the rapidity of its increase and for the quality of its waters, is unlike anything that ever was known in Judea or in any other region of the world. Putting all together, it seems as if the prophet had taken every possible precaution, by the general character of the delineation, to debar the expectation of a literal fulfilment; and I should despair of being able in any case to draw the line of demarcation between the ideal and the literal, if the circumstances now mentioned did not warrant us in looking for something else than a fulfilment according to the letter of the vision.

4. Yet there is the further consideration to be mentioned which, however some minds of peculiar temperament or sophistical tendencies may contrive to evade it, will surely prevail with the great mass of Bible Christians that the vision of the prophet, as it must, if understood literally, imply the ultimate restoration of the ceremonials of Judaism, so it inevitably places the prophet in direct contradiction to the writers of the New Testament. The entire and total cessation of the peculiarities of Jewish worship is as plainly taught by our Lord and his apostles as language could do it, and on grounds which are not of temporary, but of permanent validity and force. The word of Christ to the woman of Samaria “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” is alone conclusive of the matter; for if it means anything worthy of so solemn an asseveration, it indicates that Jerusalem was presently to lose its distinctive character, and a mode of worship to be introduced capable of being celebrated in any other place as well as there. But when we find the apostles afterwards contending for the cessation of the Jewish ritual, because suited only to a Church “in bondage to the elements of the world,” and consisting of what were comparatively but “weak and beggarly elements, and when in the Epistle to the Hebrews we also find the disannulling of the old covenant with its Aaronic priesthood and carnal ordinances argued at length, and especially “because of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof,” that is, its own inherent imperfections, we must certainly hold either that the shadowy services of Judaism are finally and for ever gone, or that these sacred writers very much misrepresented their Master’s mind regarding them. No intelligent and sincere Christian can adopt the latter alternative; he ought therefore to rest in the former. And he will do so in the rational persuasion, that as in the wise administration of God there must ever be a conformity in the condition of men to the laws and ordinances under which they are placed, so the carnal institutions, which were adapted to the Church’s pupilage, can never, in the nature of things, be in proper correspondence with her state of manhood, perfection, and millennial glory. To regard the prophet here as exhibiting a prospect founded on such an unnatural conjunction, is to ascribe to him the foolish part of seeking to have the new wine of the kingdom put back into the old bottles again; and while occupying himself with the highest hopes of the Church, treating her only to a showy spectacle of carnal superficialities. We have far too high ideas of the spiritual insight and calling of an Old Testament prophet, to believe that it was possible for him to act so unseemly a part, or contemplate a state of things so utterly anomalous. And we are perfectly justified by the explicit statement of Scripture in saying, that “a temple with sacrifices now would be the most daring denial of the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, and of the efficacy of the blood of his atonement. He who sacrificed before, confessed the Messiah; he who should sacrifice now, would most solemnly and sacrilegiously deny him.” (Douglas’s Structure of Prophecy, p. 71.)

5. Holding the description, then, in this last vision to be conclusively of an ideal character, we advance a step farther, and affirm that the idealism here is precisely of the same kind as that which appeared in some of the earlier visions visions that must necessarily have already passed into fulfilment, and which therefore may justly be regarded as furnishing a key to the right understanding of the one before us. The leading characteristic of those earlier visions, which coincide in nature with this, we have found to be the historical cast of their idealism. The representation of things to come is thrown into the mould of something similar in the past, and presented as simply a reproduction of the old, or a returning back again of what is past, only with such diversities as might be necessary to adapt it to the altered circumstances contemplated; while still the thing meant was, not that the outward form, but that the essential nature of the past should revive. Thus, in the vision of the iniquity-bearing in Ezekiel 4:0, the judgments described as alighting or destined to alight on the houses of Israel and Judah, are represented under a return of the periods of time spent of old in Egypt and the wilderness; yet as certain things in the description not doubtfully indicated, and as the event itself clearly proved, it was the return, not of those precise periods of time, but of similar afflictive and disciplinary methods of dealing that were there predicted. So again in the description of Ezekiel 20:0, quite similar in its announcement of coming evils to the prediction just noticed, the prophet speaks of a repetition of the sojourn in the wilderness, with its severe and humbling dispensations, but calls it now “the wilderness of the peoples,” to distinguish it from “the wilderness of Egypt,” thereby intimating that something different from a literal renacting of the old scenes was intended. There was the same method of treatment to be pursued, the same and even higher spiritual results to be aimed at, but amid circumstances outwardly dissimilar. Again, in the ideal representation given of the king of Tyre (chap. Ezekiel 28:11-19), first as to his pre-eminent greatness, and then his appointed downfall, the whole is made to assume a historical aspect; as if it were humanity itself, first enjoying a paradisiacal honour and glory, then received into the inmost sanctuary of Jehovah’s presence, but only to be cast down as a polluted creature to shame and contempt and ruin; so that the Tyrian monarch’s history was to be like a renewal of man’s in its best and its worst experiences. Once more, in the prediction of Egypt’s humiliation (chap. Ezekiel 29:1-16), a humiliation that was to take its beginning from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the doom is represented as a passing over of the most afflictive and humbling part of Israel’s experience upon Egypt: she who had presumed to do the part of Israel’s God must have trial of Israel’s forty years wilderness sojourn, and scattering among the nations; in short, as to judgment and depression, she must become a second Israel herself.

Now in all these cases of an apparent, we should entirely err if we looked for an actual, repetition of the past. It is the nature of the transactions and events, not their precise form or external conditions, that is unfolded to our view. The representation is of an ideal kind, and the history of the past merely supplies the mould into which it is cast. The spiritual eye of the prophet discerned the old, as to its real character, becoming alive again in the new. He saw substantially the same procedure followed again, and the unchangeable Jehovah must display the uniformity of his character and dealings by visiting it with substantially the same treatment.

If now we bring the light furnished by those earlier revelations of the prophet, in respect to which we can compare the prediction with the fulfilment, so as to read by its help and according to its instruction the vision before us, we shall only be giving the prophet the benefit of the common rule, of interpreting a writer by a special respect to his own peculiar method, and explaining the more obscure by the more intelligible parts of his writings. In all the other cases referred to, where his representation takes the form of a revival of the past, we see it is the spirit and not the letter of the representation that is mainly to be regarded; and why should we expect it to be otherwise here? In this remarkable vision we have the old produced again, in respect to what was most excellent and glorious in Israel’s past condition its temple, with every necessary accompaniment of sacredness and attraction the symbol of the Divine presence within the ministrations and ordinances proceeding in due order without the prince and the priesthood: everything, in short, required to constitute the beau-ideal of a sacred commonwealth according to the ancient patterns of things. But at the same time there are such changes and alterations superinduced upon the old, as sufficiently indicate that something far greater and better than the past was concealed under this antiquated form. Not the coming realities, in their exact nature and glorious fullness not even the very image of these things could the prophet as yet distinctly unfold. While the old dispensation lasted, they must be thrown into the narrow and imperfect shell of its earthly relations. But those who lived under that dispensation might get the liveliest idea they were able to obtain of the brighter future, by simply letting their minds rest on the past, as here modified and shaped anew by the prophet, just as now the highest notions we can form to ourselves of the state of glory, is by conceiving the best of the Church’s present condition refined and elevated to heavenly perfection. Exhibited at the time the vision was, and constructed as it is, one should no more expect to see a visible temple realizing the conditions, and a reoccupied Canaan after the regular squares and parallelograms, of the prophet, than in the case of Tyre to find her monarch literally dwelling in Eden and as a cherub occupying the immediate presence of God, or to behold Israel sent back again to make trial of Egyptian bondage and the troubles of the desert. Whatever might be granted in providence of an outward conformity to the plan of the vision, it should only be regarded as a pledge of the far greater good really contemplated, and a help to faith in waiting for its proper accomplishment.

6. But still, looking to the manifold and minute particulars given in the description, some may be disposed to think it highly improbable that anything short of an exact and literal fulfilment should have been intended. Had it been only a general sketch of a city and temple, as in the 60th chapter of Isaiah, and other portions of prophecy, they could more easily enter into the ideal character of the description, and understand how it might chiefly point to the better things of the Gospel dispensation. But with so many exact measurements before them, and such an infinite variety of particulars of all sorts, they cannot conceive how there can be a proper fulfilment without corresponding objective realities. It is precisely here, however, that we are met by another very marked characteristic of our prophet. Above all the prophetical writers he is distinguished, as we have seen, for his numberless particularisms. What Isaiah depicts in a few bold and graphic strokes, as in the case of Tyre for example, Ezekiel spreads over a series of chapters, filling up the picture with all manner of details; not only telling us of her singular greatness, but also of every element, far and near, that contributed to produce it; and not only predicting her downfall, but coupling with it every conceivable circumstance that might add to its mortification and completeness. We have seen the same features strikingly exhibited in the prophecy on Egypt, in the description of Jerusalem’s condition and punishment under the images of the boiling caldron (Ezekiel 24:0.), and the exposed infant (Ezekiel 16:0.), in the vision of the iniquity-bearing (Ezekiel 4:0.), in the typical representation of going into exile (Ezekiel 13:0.), and indeed in all the more important delineations of the prophet, which, even when descriptive of ideal scenes, are characterised by such minute and varied details, as to give them the appearance of a most definitely shaped and lifelike reality.

Let this, then, be borne in mind respecting the distinctive character of our prophet’s delineations generally, and there will be no difficulty felt in regard to the number and variety of particulars in this concluding vision. Considering his peculiar manner, it was no more than might have been expected, that, when going to present a grand outline of the good in store for God’s Church and people, the picture should be drawn with the fullest detail. If he has done so on similar but less important occasions, he could not fail to do it here, when rising to the very top and climax of all his revelations. For it is pre-eminently by means of the minuteness and completeness of his descriptions that he seeks to impress our minds with a feeling of the Divine certainty of the truth disclosed in them, and to give, as it were, weight and body to our apprehensions.

7. In further support of the view we have given, it may also be asked, whether the feeling against a spiritual understanding of the vision, and a demand for outward scenes and objects literally corresponding to it, does not spring to a large extent from false notions regarding the ancient temple, and its ministrations and ordinances of worship, as if these possessed an independent value apart from the spiritual truths they symbolically expressed? On the contrary, the temple, with all that belonged to it, was an embodied representation of Divine realities. It presented to the eye of the worshippers a manifold and varied instruction respecting the things of God’s kingdom. And it was by what they saw embodied in those visible forms and external transactions, that the people were to learn how they should think of God, and act toward him in the different relations and scenes of life when they were absent from the temple, as well as when they were near and around it. It was an image and emblem of the kingdom of God itself, whether viewed in respect to the temporary dispensation then present, or to the grander development everything was to receive at the advent of Christ. And it was one of the capital errors of the Jews, in all periods of their history, to pay too exclusive a regard to the mere externals of the temple and its worship, without discerning the spiritual truths and principles that lay concealed under them.

But such being the case, the necessity for an outward and literal realization of Ezekiel’s plan obviously falls to the ground. For if all connected with it was ordered and arranged chiefly for its symbolical value at any rate, why might not the description itself be given forth for the edification and comfort of the Church on account of what it contained of symbolical instruction? Even if the plan had been fitted and designed for being actually reduced to practice, it would still have been principally with a view to its being a mirror, in which to see reflected the mind and purposes of God. But if so, why might not the delineation itself be made to serve for such a mirror? in other words, why might not God have spoken to his Church of good things to come by the wise adjustment of a symbolical plan? And when commentators like Hitzig, or writers of a more spiritual cast, incredulously ask what is the symbolical meaning of this small particular or that, we might reply by putting the like question regarding the temple of Solomon or the tabernacle of Moses; while yet nothing can be better established on grounds of Scripture, than that these sacred fabrics were constructed so as to embody and represent the leading truths of God’s character and kingdom. This, of course, does not preclude when rightly considered, it rather requires that the several parts should be viewed in subordination to the general design, and that many things must enter into the scheme, which, taken by themselves, could have no independent or satisfactory meaning. But let the same rules be applied to the interpretation of Ezekiel’s visionary temple which on the express warrant of Scripture we apply to Solomon’s literal one, and it will be impossible to show why, so far as the ends of instruction are concerned, the same great purposes might not be served by the simple delineation of the one, as by the actual construction of the other. (See the Typology of Scripture, vol. i., chapters i. and ii., for the establishment of the principles referred to regarding the tabernacle, and vol. ii., part iii., for the application of them to particular parts.)

It is also not to be overlooked, in support of this line of reflection, that in other and earlier communications Ezekiel makes much account of the symbolical character of the temple, and the things belonging to it. It is as a priest, he gives us to understand at the outset, and for the purpose of doing priest-like service for the covenant-people, that he received his prophetical calling, and had visions of God disclosed to him (see on chap. Ezekiel 1:1-3). In the series of visions contained in chapters 8-11, the guilt of the people was represented as concentrating itself there, and determining God’s procedure in regard to it. By the Divine glory being seen to leave the temple, was symbolized the withdrawing of God’s gracious presence from Jerusalem; and by his promising to become for a little a sanctuary to the pious remnant in Chaldea, it was virtually said that the temple, as to its spiritual reality,, was going to be transferred thither. This closing vision comes now as the happy counterpart of those earlier ones, giving promise of a complete rectification of preceding evils and disorders. It assured the Church that all should yet be set right again; nay, that greater and better things should be found in the future than had ever been known in the past; things too great and good to be presented merely under the old symbolical forms, these must be modelled and adjusted anew to adapt them to the higher objects in prospect.

Nor is Ezekiel at all singular in this. The other prophets represent the coming future with a reference to the symbolical places and ordinances of the past, adjusting and modifying these to suit their immediate design. Thus Jeremiah says, in chap. Jeremiah 31:39-40; “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the city shall be built to the Lord from the gate of Hananeel to the corner gate. And the measuring line shall go forth opposite to it still farther over the hill Gareb (the hill of the leprous), and shall compass about to Goah (the place of execution). And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields to the brook Kedron, unto the corner of the horse-gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord.” That is, there shall be a rebuilt Jerusalem in token of the revival of God’s cause, in consequence of which even the places formerly unclean shall become holiness to the Lord: not only shall the loss by recovered, but also the evil inherent in the past purged out, and the cause of righteousness made completely triumphant. The sublime passage in Isaiah 40:0 is entirely parallel as to its general import. And in the two last chapters of Revelation we have a quite similar vision to the one before us, employed to set forth the ultimate condition of the redeemed Church. There are differences in the one as compared with the other, precisely as in the vision of Ezekiel there are differences as compared with anything that existed under the old covenant. In particular, while the temple forms the very heart and centre of Ezekiel’s plan, in John’s no temple whatever was to be seen. But in the two descriptions the same truth is symbolized, though in the last it appears in a state of more perfect development than in the other. The temple in Ezekiel, with God’s glory returned to it, bespoke God’s presence among his people to sanctify and bless them; the no-temple in John indicated that such a select spot was no longer needed, that the gracious presence of God was everywhere seen and felt. It is the same truth in both, only in the latter represented, in accordance with the genius of the new dispensation, as less connected with the circumstantials of place and form.

8. It only remains to be stated that in the interpretation of the vision we must keep carefully in mind the circumstances in which it was given , and look at it, not as from a New, but as from an Old Testament point of view; we must throw ourselves back as far as possible into the position of. the prophet himself; we must think of him as having just seen the Divine fabric which had been reared in the sacred and civil constitution of Israel dashed in pieces, and apparently become a hopeless wreck. But in strong faith on Jehovah’s word, and with Divine insight into his future purposes, he sees that that never can perish which carries in its bosom the element of God’s unchangeableness; that the hand of the Spirit will assuredly be applied to raise up the old anew; and not only that, but also that it shall be inspired with fresh life and vigour, enabling it to burst the former limits, and rise into a greatness and perfection and majesty never known or conceived of in the past. He speaks, therefore, chiefly of Gospel times, but as one still dwelling under the veil and uttering the language of legal times. And of the substance of his communication, both as to its general correspondence with the past and its difference in particular parts, we submit the following summary as given by Hävernick: “1. In the Gospel times there is to be on the part of Jehovah a solemn occupation anew of his sanctuary, in which the entire fulness of the Divine glory shall dwell and manifest itself. At the last there is to rise a new temple, diverse from the old, to be made every way suitable to that grand and lofty intention, and worthy of it; in particular, of vast compass for the new community, and with a holiness stretching over the entire extent of the temple, so that in this respect there should no longer be any distinction between the different parts. Throughout everything is subjected to the most exact and particular appointments; individual parts, and especially such as had formerly remained indeterminate, obtain now an immediate Divine sanction; so that every idea of any kind of arbitrariness must be altogether excluded from this temple. Accordingly this sanctuary is the thoroughly sufficient, perfect manifestation of God for the salvation of his people (Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 43:12). 2. From this sanctuary, as from the new centre of all religious life, there gushes forth an unbounded fulness of blessings upon the people, who in consequence attain to a new condition. There come also into being a new glorious worship, a truly acceptable priesthood and theocratical ruler; and equity and righteousness reign among the entire community, who, being purified from all stains, rise indeed to possess the life that is in God (Ezekiel 43:13, Ezekiel 47:12). 3. To the people who have become renewed by such blessings, the Lord gives the land of promise; Canaan is a second time divided among them, where, in perfect harmony and blessed fellowship, they serve the living God, who abides and manifests himself among them” (Ezekiel 47:13; Ezekiel 48:0.). (Hävernick, Comm. p. 623.)

Verses 1-11

CHAPER 40:48-41:11.


Ezekiel 40:48 . And he brought me to the porch of the house, and he measured for the porch five cubits on the one side, and five cubits on the other; and the breadth of the gate three cubits on the one side, and three cubits on the other.

Ezekiel 40:49 . The length of the porch twenty cubits, and the breadth eleven cubits; and by the steps which they go up to it; and posts beside the pillar-work, one on this side, and another on that. (It is not to be denied that there are some peculiarities in this last verse, which look very like corruptions of the text. Thus the eleven cubits assigned for the breadth of the porch gate, which do not bear any exact proportion to the length, and which also differ from the dimensions given in 1 Kings 4:3, of Solomon’s temple, while the length agrees. Some would therefore altogether omit the two, and read ten; and others, with the LXX. (changing עַשְׁתֵּי into שְׁתֵּי ), would make the number twelve. Again in the clause about the steps, which certainly reads awkwardly as it stands, many substitute עֵשֶׂר for אֳשׁור , and render: and by ten steps they go up to it. If the present text is retained, we must supply, “And he measured,” or something like it: (he measured) by the steps which they go up to it the course merely being noticed, but not the exact measurement, as the description here is very brief. It seems intended to show that the porch was much the same as in the old temple of Solomon.) 41:

Ezekiel 40:1 . And he brought me to the temple, and he measured the pillars (or pillar-work), six cubits broad on the one side, and six cubits broad on the other side; the breadth of the tabernacle. (The introducing of the tabernacle has certainly a peculiar appearance in this connection; hence some would regard אֹחֶל as used in an unusual sense for temple, while the greater part suppose a corruption of the text, and render “porch,” or “projection-work.” Häv., however, defends the existing text, and conceives that the prophet, as in the dimensions of the outer porch he had pointed to Solomon’s temple, so here in the temple proper he points to the old tabernacle, which being composed in its breadth of eight boards, each one and a half cubit broad, would make in all twelve cubits, as here. This was the breadth externally of the tabernacle, though the interior was only ten cubits. The prophet would thus connect together the two most sacred erections of former times. Such was probably the reason, though the mention of the tabernacle even in such a way looks somewhat artificial.)

Ezekiel 40:2 . And the breadth of the entrance was ten cubits, and the sides of the entrance ten cubits, and the sides of the entrance five cubits on the one side, and five cubits on the other side; and he measured its length (viz. of the holy place) forty cubits, and its breadth twenty cubits.

Ezekiel 40:3 . And he went inward (toward the most holy place), and measured the post of the entrance, two cubits; and the entrance, six cubits; and the breadth of the entrance, seven cubits.

Ezekiel 40:4 . And he measured its length twenty cubits, and its breadth twenty cubits, before the temple; (This expression, “before (or in front of) the temple,” is used on account of the peculiar sacredness of the most holy place, which stood in a sense by itself and into which the prophet did not enter with the angel. Hence he had said, not that the angel brought him in thither, but that the angel went in himself, and measured it; so that the most holy place appeared like a separate apartment in front of the portion of the temple which alone was accessible to him (comp. 1 Kings 6:3, where temple is used in the same restricted sense). The dimensions of the two apartments are precisely those of Solomon’s temple, which having been fixed of old by Divine direction, are to be regarded as already finally determined.) and he said to me, This is the holy of holies.

Ezekiel 40:5 . And he measured the wall of the house, six cubits; and the breadth of the side-chambers (rib-like structures on the wall the singular again used collectively), four cubits, round about the house on every side.

Ezekiel 40:6 . And the side-chambers were three-storeyed (literally, chamber on chamber three), and thirty in succession; and joinings were to the wall of the house for the side-chambers round about; that they might be holden, yet were they not holden in the wall of the house. (The meaning of this rather obscure description, as we learn by turning to 1 Kings 6:6, is that there were rests made in the walls of the temple for supports to the side-chambers; but the temple walls did not thereby become part of this side building, they stood separate from it.)

Ezekiel 40:7 . And there was an enlarging and a winding still upwards to the chambers; for the house had a winding stair still upwards round about for the house; therefore there was an enlarging of the house upwards, and so one ascended from the lower to the higher, through the middle.

Ezekiel 40:8 . And I saw the house’s height round about; the foundations of the chambers were a full rod, six cubits to the joining (or corner). (The אַצִיל here must be regarded as an architectural term, denoting something about the foundations; and as it is used elsewhere in the sense of joints, the natural supposition is that it indicates the point where the foundation of one chamber ceased and another began. Yet, it must be confessed, there is no certainty.)

Ezekiel 40:9 . The thickness of the wall, which belonged to the chambers outside, was five cubits; and there was an unoccupied place (literally, what remained free) within chambers that belonged to the house.

Ezekiel 40:10 . And between the apartments (i.e., of the priests in the court, between these and the side-chambers) was the width of twenty cubits round about the house on every side.

Ezekiel 40:11 . And the entrance to the chambers was toward the unoccupied place; one entrance toward the north, and one entrance toward the south: and the breadth of the unoccupied place was five cubits round about.

THERE is considerable minuteness in the description of these side-chambers, as compared, at least, with the original description in 1 Kings 6:0, where the whole that is said of them is comprised in two verses. And yet with the advantage of the greater minuteness here, it would be impossible to construct an architectural plan without taking a good deal for granted that has no place in the prophet’s delineation. One can easily understand how there might be a winding stair within, leading up through the several storeys, but how should this have been accompanied with an enlarging or widening of the house itself? What is meant by the foundations being a full rod of six cubits, some underground buildings on which they rested, or the ground itself on which they were raised? (Both have their advocates.) What was the object of the unoccupied place of five cubits? and how did it differ from the space of twenty cubits lying between the side-chambers and the halls of the priests? Very different answers might be and have been given to these questions, and the greatest liberties taken with the text to lighten the difficulties connected with the account. But we deem it needless to enter into these, or to attempt fixing what the prophet himself has left vague and obscure. He never intended that a structure should be reared precisely according to the plan and measurements he furnishes; otherwise he would have been still more minute in his delineations. He has given enough, however, for his great object, which was chiefly to show that in the Divine purpose respecting the future there was to be a full and everyway complete reconstruction of the house of God if not in the outward and material sense, yet in the higher things, which that represented and symbolized; and with the effect of securing a far purer and more elevated condition for the covenant-people. It is this last point which throughout he seeks to render prominent by the nature of his descriptions. Hence, in marked contrast to the earlier delineations respecting the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, he passes rapidly over the things that more immediately respected God, and dwells upon those which bore on the state and condition of the people. The temple itself, in its two important divisions, is hastily sketched, and nothing scarcely said of its sacred furniture, not even the slightest notice taken of the ark of the covenant, the heart and centre of the whole in former times; while the most lengthened details are given of all that concerned the chambers of the priests, and the courts which were to be frequented by the worshippers. The prophet would thus teach that there was to be in the future a conformity to the Divine idea, where there had been but little before; that while Jehovah should remain the same in all his essential attributes and manifestations as formerly, he should be otherwise known and glorified by his people; their dwellings should all become true sanctuaries, and their services fragrant with the odour of living piety. In the excellent words of Hävernick, “Jehovah will dwell among a new people; and accordingly he must do so in a new manner, though one still analogous to the old. The most essential and indispensable condition of this new indwelling of Jehovah among his people is the due elevation of the Divine community; hence the importance and high significance attached by the prophet to the otherwise much inferior and outward parts of the temple buildings. The description now advances to the preparation of the proper centre of those external forms. No longer, as in the old sanctuary, will Jehovah manifest himself in an imperfect manner, but in the full spendour of his glory, as at chap. Ezekiel 43:1-12. The interior of the temple there stands empty, waiting for the entrance of the Lord, that he may come and fill it with his glory. It is the same temple, but the courts of it have become different, in order to accommodate a far more numerous people; and all the provisions and arrangements here bespeak the sincerity and the zeal with which they now seek and serve the Lord. The entire compass of the temple-mount has become a holy of holies (Ezekiel 42:12); consequently every thing now rises to a higher, to its true dignity and importance. On this account the ark of the covenant had no place in this temple; the full display of the Divine Shechinah has come into its room. And so Ezekiel treads very closely in the footsteps of his predecessor Jeremiah who, under the dark foreboding of the near loss of the sacred ark, consoles the people with the glorious promise, that what might seem in a natural point of view to be an irreparable loss, was going to be compensated by an unparalleled manifestation of the immediate glory of Jehovah: l In those days they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord, and it shall not come to mind; neither shall it be missed; and another shall not be made. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord (Jeremiah 3:16-17). This thought is merely carried out by Ezekiel after his own manner.”

Verses 12-26

Ezekiel 41:12 . And the building which was in front of the separate place on the west end was seventy cubits broad; and the wall of the building five cubits broad round about, and its length ninety cubits, lo. And he measured the house an hundred cubits long, and the separate place, and the building and its walls, an hundred cubits long.

Ezekiel 41:14 . And the breadth of the front of the house, and of the separate place on the east, an hundred cubits.

Ezekiel 41:15 . And he measured the length of the building in front of the separate place, which was upon its back part, and its galleries upon the one side and the other side, an hundred cubits; (By the אַתִּוֶקִים , galleries, are supposed to be meant some sort of terrace building, but the word, being only found in this description of Ezekiel, cannot be defined exactly. Indeed in the account contained in these four verses there is considerable obscurity, so that some have even held, and Böttcher still holds, that it is only the temple that is spoken of. But I think this impossible. The prophet seems plainly to mean, that on the west, or to the back of the temple, there was a separate place occupied as to its greater part by buildings, which were much about the same external dimensions with the temple; both being in their entire compass an hundred cubits square. But in neither case is the description so full as to enable us to make up the different items with anything like certainty.) and (he measured) the inner temple in the porches of the court,

Ezekiel 41:16 . The thresholds, and the fixed windows, and the galleries roundabout, with their three (storeys) over against the threshold; of fine wood (or wainscoated with wood) round about, and from the ground up to the carved windows (probably the highest, and as such covered from the view below, though the expression is still peculiar);

Ezekiel 41:17 . Above the entrance, even to the interior of the house, and the outside, and to all the wall round about, within and without; measurements (were taken).

Ezekiel 41:18 . And there were made cherubim and palm-trees; and a palm-tree was between each cherub; and the cherub had two faces.

Ezekiel 41:19 . And the face of a man was toward the palm-tree on the one side, and the face of a lion toward the palm-tree on the other; they were made over all the house round about.

Ezekiel 41:20 . From the ground to above the entrance were the cherubim and palm- trees made, and the wall of the temple.

Ezekiel 41:21 . The door-posts of the temple were squared, and the face of the sanctuary was of the well-known appearance (literally, of the appearance according to the appearance, the appearance it was wont to present).

Ezekiel 41:22 . The altar of wood was three cubits high, and its length two cubits, and its corners, and its length, and its walls were of wood; and he said to me, “This is the table which is before the Lord.”

Ezekiel 41:23 . And there were two doors to the temple and the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 41:24 . And the two doors had two leaves, turning-leaves; two leaves for one door, and two for the other.

Ezekiel 41:25 . And there were made for them, for the doors of the temple, cherubim and palm-trees, like those made on the walls; and a wooden sill-piece (or plank) upon the front of the porch from without.

Ezekiel 41:26 . And there were fixed windows, and palm-trees on each hand on the sides of the porch, and the side-chambers of the house, and the sill-pieces (or planks).

The latter part of the description has reference chiefly to the ornamental work which was done upon the walls of the temple, and which is also mentioned in 1 Kings 6:0. The account here is fuller, though it makes no mention of the flowers and the overlaying with gold, which are found there. What is meant by the עב in Ezekiel 41:25-26 is quite uncertain, but has been conjecturally understood to be some sort of sill-piece or plank about the threshold. Some later writers (Ewald, Hitzig) incline rather to understand it of some peculiar kind of carved work, or settings in the outer porch; but opinions may vary as much as the fancies of men. It will be observed, too, that the only article of sacred furniture mentioned, the altar of incense, is called the Lord’s table; and it is again also, at Ezekiel 44:16, referred to under this name: “They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me.” It was at the incense altar, and not at the table of show-bread, that the daily and regular ministrations of the priesthood in the sanctuary proceeded; and it was of this also, which stood in immediate front of the veil, that it could with special propriety be said that it was “before the Lord.” Its being called a table probably referred to the satisfaction and delight with which the Lord was to regard the services, which were henceforth to be offered to him by his renewed people. And possibly on this account, too, the dimensions are given larger than of old three cubits in height and two in breadth, instead of two and one. But the most peculiar part of the description is what relates to the buildings connected with the separate place, so closely adjoining to the temple, in the unoccupied ground on the west, and so much resembling it in size. Nothing is said of their exact intention, nor is there even any particular description of the internal construction. The account as to details is remarkably general and obscure; and why then given at all? To show, as it would seem, that there was now to be no place left, as of old, which might not be held to be sacred ground. It appears to have been there that in Manasseh’s time the horses were kept which were consecrated to the sun (2 Kings 23:11), called “the suburbs of the temple.” But all excuse was henceforth to be taken away for such abominations; the Lord laid claim to all for his peculiar service, and had this also filled up with sacred erections.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 41". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-41.html.
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