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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 44

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 1-31



Ezekiel 44:1 . And he brought me again by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, that looks toward the east, and it was shut.

Ezekiel 44:2 . And Jehovah said to me, This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; for Jehovah the God of Israel entered by it, and it shall be shut.

Ezekiel 44:3 . For the prince he, the prince, shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter through the porch of the gate, and by that way also go out.

Ezekiel 44:4 . And he brought me by the way of the north gate to the front of the house; and I looked, and, behold, the glory of Jehovah filled the house, and I fell upon my face.

Ezekiel 44:5 . And Jehovah said to me, Son of man, set thine heart, and see with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, all that I am going to speak to thee, concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and concerning all its laws; and direct thy heart to the entrance of the house, in every approach to the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 44:6 . And thou shalt say to the rebellious, to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Let it suffice you of all your abominations, O house of Israel;

Ezekiel 44:7 . In that you brought strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, my house; in that you made them offer my bread, the fat and the blood: and they broke my covenant to (i.e. in addition to) all your abominations.

Ezekiel 44:8 . And ye did not keep my holy charge, and ye set for keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves (i.e. such as you yourselves thought good, persons after your mind and ways, not mine).

Ezekiel 44:9 . Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, and un circumcised in flesh, shall come into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is in the midst of the children of Israel.

Ezekiel 44:10 . But only the Levites that have gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, who went astray from me after their idols, and (for so doing) they bear their iniquity.

Ezekiel 44:11 . And they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, officers at the gates of the house, and ministers to the house: they shall slay the burnt-offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them.

Ezekiel 44:12 . Because they ministered for them before their idols, and were for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel; therefore have I lifted up my hand against them, saith the Lord Jehovah, and they bear their iniquity.

Ezekiel 44:13 . And they shall not draw near to me to do the priest’s office to me, and come near to any of my holy things, to the most holy place; and they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed.

Ezekiel 44:14 . But I appoint them keepers of the charge of the house, for all its service, and for all that is done in it.

Ezekiel 44:15 . And the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall draw near to me to minister to me; and they shall stand before me to offer to me the fat, and the blood, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 44:16 . They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall draw near to my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.

Ezekiel 44:17 . And it shall be, that when they enter into the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come upon them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within.

Ezekiel 44:18 . Linen turbans shall they have upon their heads, and linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves in sweat.

Ezekiel 44:19 . And when they go forth into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they ministered, and shall lay them in the holy chambers, and shall put on other garments: and they shall not sanctify the people in their garments (those viz. in which they ministered in the sanctuary their more peculiar priestly attire.

Ezekiel 44:20 . And they shall not shave their heads, nor let the hair grow long; they shall only poll their heads.

Ezekiel 44:21 . And no priest shall drink wine, when he enters into the inner court.

Ezekiel 44:22 . And they shall not take to wife a widow, or her that has been put away, but only virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, and a widow that may be the widow of a priest shall they take.

Ezekiel 44:28 . And they shall teach my people between holy and profane, and cause them to discern between impure and clean.

Ezekiel 44:24 . And in controversy they shall stand to judge according to my judgments; and they shall give judgment; and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all mine assemblies; and they shall hallow my sabbaths.

Ezekiel 44:25 . And they shall come at no dead person to defile themselves; but they may be defiled for father and for mother, and for son and for daughter, for brother and for sister who has not had an husband.

Ezekiel 44:26 . And after he is cleansed, they shall reckon to him seven days.

Ezekiel 44:27 . And on the day of his going into the sanctuary, into the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall bring his sin-offering, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Ezekiel 44:28 . And it shall be to them for an inheritance; I am their inheritance, and ye shall give them no possession in Israel, I am their possession.

Ezekiel 44:29 . The meat-offering, and the sin-offering, and the trespass-offering shall they eat; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs.

Ezekiel 44:30 . And the first of all the first fruits wholly, and all the oblations wholly, of all your oblations, shall belong to the priests; and the first of your dough shall ye give to the priest, that the blessing may be made to rest in your house.

Ezekiel 44:31 . Of no carcase, or what is torn, whether of fowl or of beast, shall the priests eat.

As the preceding chapter had disclosed the purpose of God to re-occupy, and that for ever, this new temple, and had described the necessary means and rites of consecration in order to its being a source of blessing to his people, so the present chapter lays down regulations for preventing any new desecration of the house, such as might again compel God to withdraw his gracious presence. These regulations refer successively to the prince and the priesthood the two classes through whom directly the former pollutions had been introduced into the house of God.

In regard to the former, who is simply called the prince (for the reason stated under last chapter), it is impossible for us to think of any one but the royal head, as he is throughout spoken of as an individual, and in the next chapter is directed “to prepare for himself, and for all the people of the land,” a sin-offering (Ezekiel 45:22). So that the idea of Hävernick, that the word is used collectively for the rulers and presidents generally of the people, is quite untenable. And not less so is the opinion, that by the expression is simply to be understood the Messiah; for this is utterly irreconcileable with all the prescriptions given, and in particular with those requiring the presentation of sacrifices and sin-offerings for the prince. It is to be explained precisely as the whole delineation here and in the preceding visions (chapters Ezekiel 34:1, Ezekiel 39:1), by viewing it as a part of an ideal description of coming realities under the form and aspect of the old relations. And no more than we expect other parts of the vision to find their accomplishment under the Gospel by a restoration of the carnal sacrifices and institutions of Judaism, should we look here for an actual prince to follow the regulations prescribed. Standing on the position he did, the prophet must speak of the future under the image of the past; and as it was by means of the earthly head of the Jewish state that many of the former corruptions had been introduced, he now shows how a repetition of such evils is to be guarded against in the future. Whether the kingly power should ever again be concentrated in one person, or should be shared by many, is of no moment as regards the substance of the truth here unfolded.

What is said in the present chapter on this subject is very little, and relates to but one point, the connection between the prince and the east gate (Ezekiel 44:1-3). Because the Lord had appeared in the vision returning by this gate, a peculiar stamp of sacredness was put upon it. It was therefore not to be open for ordinary worshippers, but only for the prince; he was to enter by it, and sit there and eat bread before the Lord. What could this import, but that the prince should feel he now occupied a place of peculiar nearness to God? As God’s vicegerent and deputy among the people, it became him to be the most distinguished representative in public life of God’s holiness, to tread the higher walks of spiritual communion and fellowship with Heaven, and stand pre-eminent in his zeal for the interests of truth and righteousness. Far now from usurping the authority that belonged to God, and abusing to selfish ends and purposes the power which was given by him for higher ends, all authority and power in Israel should be exercised if this Divine ideal were reduced to practice in a solemn feeling of subordination to God’s majesty, and with an unfeigned desire for his glory.

2. The prophet dwells at much greater length on the priesthood, as this class had more immediately to do with God’s sanctuary, and in their condition and behaviour were reflected those generally of the covenant-people. It is on account of this close connection, first between the priesthood and the sanctuary, and then between the priesthood and those whom they represented in Israel, that the prophet appears at the commencement of the passage to identify the apostacy of the nation at large with the desecrations of God’s house by the priesthood. He says (Ezekiel 44:6, etc.): “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Let it suffice you of all your abominations, O house of Israel; in that you brought strangers uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, my house; in that ye made them offer my bread, the fat and the blood: and they broke my covenant to (in addition to) all our abominations. And ye did not keep my holy charge, but set for keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.” The children of Israel are spoken of as doing all this because the corrupt priesthood was inseparably connected with the sins of the people the one continually acting and re-acting on the other. And the corruption .in the priesthood, it will be observed, is expressed as if persons had been put into the office who were not of the tribe of Levi, or even of the seed of Israel, but uncircumcised heathen. Not that literally persons of this description had been admitted into the priestly office; that did not take place, not even in the kingdom of Israel, where still the Israelites were employed, though not of the family of Aaron. But the prophet is viewing all in a spiritual light, he is reading forth the import of the outward transactions as they appeared to the eye of God; and as in that respect the officiating priesthood had been no better than uncircumcised strangers, so he speaks of them as having actually been such. And if thus in regard to the past the prophet expresses the reality in the language of symbol, and must be understood according to the spiritual import, not the mere letter, of the description, it cannot certainly be otherwise when he points to the future. In reference to this he says: Not any of these uncircumcised strangers of the children of Israel, not any of the Levites who took part in the idolatrous services which had formerly been practised in the house of God not these, but only the sons of Zadok, who had stood faithful, and kept the charge of the Lord when others fell into impurities, were henceforth to minister in the Lord’s house; the rest were at the most to be employed about the subordinate ministrations of the temple courts. The instruction points back to 1Sa 2:32 , 1 Samuel 2:35, where the priesthood of the line of Ithamar was discharged from the office of ministering in the Lord’s house, on account of its corruption, in order that another line might be chosen, who should perform the work after the Lord’s mind and heart. This new line was found in Zadok and his house (1 Kings 2:35, 1 Chronicles 24:3), whose name also (the righteous) was significant of what was expected at their hand. In later times they lost the distinction implied in this name, and took part in the general apostacy; but the prophet keeps his eye upon their original state, and speaks of them as they appeared when first chosen to the office. The promise, therefore, of a priesthood of the house of Zadok, entirely corresponded to the promise of a shepherd with the name of David. It simply indicated a race of faithful and devoted servants, in whom the outward and the inward, the name and the idea, should properly coincide a priesthood serving God in newness of spirit, not in the oldness of the letter; as the people whom they represented should also have become true Israelites, themselves a royal priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. In truth, it is the raising up of a people who should be such a priesthood that is meant by the description, and the sons of Zadok came into notice only because in connection with them there was an historical ground for taking them as representatives of a right-hearted spiritual community. So that it is the same truth, only under a different outward clothing, which is exhibited by Isaiah, when he speaks of the Lord’s people generally in the more glorious future being taken to be priests and Levites (Isaiah 61:6, Isaiah 66:21). All was to rise into a new and higher sphere; first the kingdom of God itself, and then the people who enjoyed its distinctive privileges and experienced its blessings.

Having given promise of such a true spiritual priesthood, under the old names and historical relations, the prophet proceeds to describe, after the same manner, how the sanctity of the priesthood was to be preserved and manifested. The true import of the symbolical regulations in the law was now to be reached; and he therefore describes what was to be done under the observance of these regulations: They should wear only linen garments (emblems of cleanliness and purity), they should neither shave their heads (as mourners did), nor let their hair grow uncut (as persons unfit for active service), nor drink wine when engaged in the service of the sanctuary, lest they should be unfit for the spiritual actions required of them; nor, in short, do any of the things which under the outward restrictions of a symbolical ritual betokened a want of inward purity. Holiness to the Lord should be expressed in their whole state and procedure, as well as in the ministrations of their public service; and one pervading characteristic be found in God’s house, and the servants who belonged to it.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 44". "Fairbairn's Commentary on Ezekiel, Jonah and Pastoral Epistles". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbn/ezekiel-44.html.
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