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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 43

Introduction

Restoration—Chapters 40-48

FOURTEEN years after the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the desolation of the land, the deportation of its inhabitants, Ezekiel describes in this section the restoration of all that was lost, and gives at the same time, in ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, a glance into the distant future, in which from the restored Israel salvation for the whole world goes forth in fulfilment of the ancient prediction, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

After the introduction (ch. Ezekiel 40:1-4) follows the description of the temple of the future, its enclosing walls and its gates, ch. Ezekiel 40:5-16; the outer court, Ezekiel 40:17-27; the inner, Ezekiel 40:28-47; the proper temple, chEze 40:48-4:4. In ch. Ezekiel 41:5-11, the proportion of the lateral buildings to the temple; in Ezekiel 41:12-14, that of the rear buildings; in Ezekiel 41:15-26, whatever else is to be said of these structures. In ch. Ezekiel 42:1-14, the offices for the priests. In Ezekiel 42:15-20, after the description of the several parts of the sanctuary, the proportions of the whole. In ch. Ezekiel 43:1-9, the entrance of the Lord into the finished temple. In Ezekiel 43:10-12, why the revelation of the second temple is given. In Ezekiel 43:13-17, the proportions of the altar of burnt-offering; in Ezekiel 43:18-27, its consecration. In ch. Ezekiel 44 the prophet turns from the temple to the priests of the future, to whom the description of the place leads, which formed the central point of their ministry, the altar of burnt-offering. In ch. Ezekiel 45:1-17, the environs of the temple, the glebe land for the priests, the Levites, and the princes of the future. In ch. Ezekiel 45:18 to Ezekiel 46:15, the sacred seasons and the sacred actions of the future. In ch. Ezekiel 46:16-24, supplements to the foregoing. In ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, an entirely new subject: the waters of the Dead Sea are made wholesome, and filled with life by the stream from the sanctuary. At the close the prophet returns from the distant to the nearer future. After the temple here follow the land and the city of the future. The prophet describes, in ch. Ezekiel 47:13-23, the borders of the land; then in ch. Ezekiel 48 the distribution among the several tribes, and how they are grouped around the temple, and the city adjoining it. Thus all that was lost is restored, and a broad foundation for the hopes of the future is given to the people languishing in misery, to the worm Jacob creeping on the ground.

This great picture of the future belongs to the end of the literary activity of the prophet. The only prediction of a later date to be found in the collection, that in ch. Ezekiel 29:17 to Ezekiel 30:19, which belongs to the twenty-seventh year of Jehoiachin, while the present belongs to the twenty-fifth, bears no independent character, but is only the resumption of an earlier one at a time when its fulfilment was approaching. It was probably inserted in the collection of prophecies occasioned by the circumstances of those times. Our prophecy simply forms the conclusion of the second consolatory part of ch. Ezekiel 33:21. But, at the same time, it forms the counterpart to the first great description of the destruction in ch. Ezekiel 1:1 to Ezekiel 7:27, as it is introduced by the majestic vision of the cherubim in ch. Ezekiel 1. The cherubim and the new temple, the introduction and conclusion,—this is what every one thinks of when the name of Ezekiel is mentioned.

When our prophecy is usually designated as Ezekiel’s vision of the second temple, there is nothing to find fault with, if it is only understood that the designation refers to its most prominent part. Along with the temple, Ezekiel is concerned in everything else that seemed to be for ever lost in the Chaldean catastrophe.

With the exception of the Messianic section in ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, the fulfilment of all the rest of the prophecy belongs to the times immediately after the return from the Chaldean exile. So must every one of its first hearers and readers have understood it. Jeremiah the prophet, whom Ezekiel follows throughout, with whom the very and with which he begins the collection of his prophecies connects him, had prophesied that the city and temple should be restored seventy years after the date of the Chaldean servitude, falling in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Of these seventy years, thirty-two had already elapsed at the time when our prophecy was delivered. Ezekiel himself had announced, in ch. Ezekiel 29:13, that forty years after the desolation of Egypt, the nations visited by the Chaldeans would return to their former state. And what is more obvious, according to Ezekiel 11:16, the restoration is to follow in a brief space after the destruction of the temple. Accordingly the first hearers and readers could not but expect that, with respect to the restoration of the temple and city, the word holds good which Habakkuk once uttered (ch. Ezekiel 1:5) with regard to the destruction, “I do a deed in your days;” and we enter upon the interpretation with the presupposition that here also the word of the Lord applies, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.”

What can be maintained against this assumption rests on mere appearance. We have before us not a foreboding, which represents the future in its accidental and indifferent circumstances, but a prophecy, for which it is essential to give truth and poetry, which contains a kernel of real thoughts, but does not present them naked—how would the holy Scripture shrivel up if we should reduce it to its matter of thought!—but clothed with flesh and blood, that they may be a counterpoise to the sad reality, because they fill the fancy, that fruitful workshop of despair, with bright images, and thus by the word alleviate life at a time when all that is visible cries aloud, Where is now thy God? If we mistake this characteristic of the prophecy, that comes out more strikingly in Ezekiel than in any other prophet; if we ascribe a real import to everything without discrimination, an incongruity will certainly appear between the prophecy and the state of things after the exile. But it vanishes at once, if we can distinguish between the thought and its clothing; and this distinction will be easy, if we place before our eyes the first hearers and readers of Ezekiel, figure to ourselves the wounds for which the remedy is here proposed, and at the same time the mental world of Ezekiel the priest, the circumstances in which he grew up, and the materials within him for clothing the divine verities which he had to announce to the people of God. But we must regard this distinction as the chief problem of the expositor in the present section. Exactly in proportion to the fitness of the solution will be the value of the exegetical result. A double danger here lies before us,—to ascribe to forms what belongs to thought, and to thought that which belongs to mere form.

Let us take a glance at the views deviating from that now given. According to some, we have here “a model, according to which, on the return of the people, the temple should have been rebuilt,”—a building specification by divine authority. But this opinion forgets that we have here to do not with an architect, but with a prophet—with one whose department is not the hands, but the hearts, which he has to awaken to faith and hope, and walking in the ways of God. It cannot produce a single analogy from the prophetic region: nowhere have the prophets intruded into the department of legislation, for which under the old covenant other organs were provided. Especially all the other prophecies of Ezekiel of the time after the destruction bear not a legislative, but a hortatory character. In particular, the adjoining prophecy concerning Gog and Magog leads us to expect that here also much will belong to mere pictorial description, which is excluded if we ascribe a legislative import to the section. To this is added the obvious impossibility of erecting a building according to the specifications given. These suffice only to give play to the imagination. For a practical end, the most necessary things are wanting. We have in particular almost nothing of materials, to which so much space is devoted in the description of Solomon’s temple. As a rule, the specifications are confined to the mere measures and distances; whence those who, like Villalpandus, have undertaken to give literal plans of Ezekiel’s temple, have been obliged to draw much from their own fancy. Lastly, in the building of the second temple, it is manifest that no reference is made to Ezekiel’s temple. As the reason of this cannot be sought in any doubt of the divine mission of Ezekiel, whose prophecies were admitted into the canon, it can only be found in this, that men saw in this prophecy something else than a building specification.

In the older theology, it was customary to regard not merely ch. Ezekiel 47:1-12, but the whole section (ch. Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35), as a prophecy of the Christian church. [245] There is truth at the foundation of this view. Although the restoration of the city and the temple is first predicted, as it took place on the return from the Chaldean exile, yet this special announcement rests on the general ground of the firm conviction of the living power and indestructibility of the kingdom of God, the symbol of which was the temple, according to a view pervading the whole of the Old and New Testament. And as the prophecy reaches beyond its first fulfilment, it guarantees that within the kingdom of God life shall arise out of every death,—that the old covenant cannot go down without rising again gloriously in the new. But the fault in the older exposition, as it has been lately revived by Dr. Kliefoth, with the addition that the prophecy here describes not merely the development and operation of the Christian church in this world, but its consummation in the next, was this, that it referred the prophecy directly and exclusively to the Christian church, and excluded the fulfilment in the time of Zerubbabel. It is against this opinion so stated, that it is unnatural to suppose that the prophet has left out all consideration of the nearer deliverance; that, with the exception of ch. Ezekiel 47, there is not the slightest reference to the peculiarities of the church of the New Testament, and all that is advanced as such is only imported; that the statement, “The new theocracy which he depicts is more intellectual and spiritual than the old,” is nowhere verified; and that in this way we lose the whole substance of the prophecy, and are compelled to fill up the vacuum thus occasioned with our own thoughts. It is, for ex., obviously to import and not to expound, if we are to find in the close of the prophecy, from, Ezekiel 47:13 onwards, “the introduction of the people of God, gathered by Christ from Jew and Gentile, as a new manhood, into the perpetual Canaan of the new earth at the consummation.” None of the first readers of Ezekiel could find this in it. They must have understood by the Jordan simply the Jordan, by the sea the Mediterranean, by the tribes themselves those who still bore the yoke of banishment. The return of the people to the old home, the restoration of the temple, of the priestly service to be performed by the sons of Zadok, of the sacrifices in the Old Testament form,—these are obvious realities; and nothing leads us to suppose that they are to be regarded as figures belonging to the action of the prophetic scene of the future. If so interpreted, the prophecy would be altogether vain. The people might then reject the former threatenings of the prophet also, because they referred them to a people of the future, and explained all that cried aloud, “Thou art the man,” as mere figures. Had the prophet wished all these things to be regarded as mere figures, he must have explained this in the clearest manner. The apagogical argument for this view, drawn from the fact that there is much that is not found in the times soon after the exile, so that we must be perplexed about the divine mission of the prophet if we cling to these times, loses its force as soon as it is admitted that a distinction must be made between the thought and its clothing. But we do not see how this argument can be maintained by those who themselves extend the domain of form much further, and in fact draw upon themselves the charge of arbitrary spiritualizing unjustly brought against others.

[245] But the older theologians were not without a sense of the difficulties which pressed upon the view, and awaited fuller light in the future. Starck, for ex., says, Precor Deum, ut aliis Ezechielis revelationem meditantibus majorem affandat lucem, majora dicendi et nodos solvendi.

Finally, most unfortunate is the interpretation, according to which that “national order” is here described, “in which at the end of the times converted Israel, with the church engrafted into it from the heathen, shall live in the millennial kingdom.” There is not the least ground to refer to the last time a prophecy which, rightly understood, has found its fulfilment a few decenniums after it was delivered. It is manifest on the clearest grounds, that the delineations of the prophet have something intentionally Utopian, and much belongs only to the pictorial. If we neglect this, and are led by a literal interpretation to overstep the bounds of the Old Testament, we arrive at very doubtful dogmatic results. The restoration of the temple, the Old Testament festivals, the bloody sacrifices, the priesthood of the sons of Zadok, can only be expected within the bounds of the New Testament by a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ and His church. But if we shrink from these consequences, if at this point we distinguish between the thought and its form, if we cease to cling to the literal interpretation, we do not see why the fulfilment is to be sought in so cloudy a distance. Dr. v. Hofmann says justly in the Scriptural Proof: “In the face of the fall of the Israelitish community, the desolation of the holy land, the destruction of God’s house, the people needed a promise which assured them of the restoration of all that seemed lost.” All this is actually bestowed again upon the people through God’s grace under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah; and with what gratitude this grace is acknowledged, Psalms 107 for ex., shows. It would be unreasonable to ignore this restoration, rather than be led by so manifest a fulfilment of the promise contradicting all natural reason, to the hope of the deliverance of the church from all the troubles and sorrows which it now suffers.

Verses 1-9

In Ezekiel 43:1-9, the entrance of the Lord into the completed temple. We have here the parallel to the description of the entrance of the Lord into the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34 f., and into the temple of Solomon, 1 Kings 8:10-11, and the counterpart to ch. Ezekiel 11, where the Lord in the face of the Chaldean catastrophe leaves the temple, and indeed by the very gate by which He here again makes His entrance. The peculiarities by which this appearance of the Lord is to be distinguished from all others, have been only dwelt upon by the expositors, who wish to limit the temple of Ezekiel to the Messianic times, or even to the final completion of the Messianic salvation. The prophet himself describes in Ezekiel 43:3 this appearance of God as essentially similar to the former one which he had himself seen. On the assertion that the glory of the Lord, when entering the temple of Solomon, appears in a veil of cloud, while here it beams forth in clear light, it is to be remarked that the cloud in 1 Kings 8:10-11 is also to be regarded as shining (νεφέλη φωτεινὴ? , Matthew 17:5): it conceals in itself the brightness of flaming fire ( Exodus 40:38; Isaiah 4:5). All that is here related is implied in this, that the glory of the Lord appeared; nothing serves to set off this appearance against the others. The Lord is again present in His mercy and grace. “They shall see eye to eye when the Lord returns to Zion” ( Isaiah 52:8): this is that which must have been said to comfort the minds that were vexed with the thought. Where is now thy God? We have nothing which surpasses the divine appearance in Psalms 1 or in Isaiah 6; nothing which would not be a simple carrying out of the words, “The glory of the God of Israel came,” and is included in them. If God appears, He can only present Himself in His glory, which is His eternal essence.

Ezekiel 43:1. And he brought me to the gate, the gate that looketh towards the east: 2. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and his voice was like the voice of many waters: and the earth shone with his glory. 3. And it was as the sight of the appearance which I saw, as the appearance which I saw when I came to destroy the city: and sights like the appearance which I saw by the river Chebar; [283] and I fell upon my face. 4. And the glory of the Lord came to the house, by the way of the gate whose face was toward the east. 5. And the spirit took me up, and brought me to the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house. 6. And I heard one speaking to me from the house; and a man stood by me. 7. And he said unto me. Son of man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever. and the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, they and their kings, by their whoredom, and by the corpses of their kings in their high places. 8. When they set their threshold by my threshold, and their post by my post, and the wall (only) was between me and them, and they defiled my holy name by their abominations which they did: and I consumed them in my anger. 9. Now they shall put away their whoredom, and the corpses of their kings, from me, and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever.

[283] Luther, “And it was like the vision which I had seen at the water of Chebar, whither I came, that the city might be destroyed.” He combines into two the two former visions with which Ezekiel compares this.

To behold the entrance of the Lord, the prophet is brought ( Ezekiel 43:1) to the outer east gate of the temple, at which the angel, according to ch. Ezekiel 40:5, had begun, in order to introduce him to the relations of the new temple. By the east gate the Lord behoved to enter, because it was the chief gate: from the east also He behoved to come as the rising Sun of righteousness, under whose wings His people should have salvation ( Malachi 4:2), the day-spring from on high ( Luke 1:78). It is first said, “He brought me to the gate,” the gate merely, the chief gate; then this gate is more exactly defined. The voice of God was ( Ezekiel 43:2) like the voice of many waters. In ch. Ezekiel 1:24 the voice of the wings of the cherubim is compared with the voice of many waters. The relation of our passage to this is clear to us from Psalms 93:3-4: “The floods lift up, O Lord, the floods lift up their voice; the floods lift up their roar. The Lord on high is mightier than the voices of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea.” The creature has its voice only from the Creator, and therefore must His voice sound above its voice, loud though it be. What is here said of Jehovah is in Daniel 10:6, “And the voice of his words like the voice of a tumult,” said of Michael, the uncreated angel and revealer of God; in Revelation 1:15, “And His voice as the sound of many waters,” of Christ, the brightness of His Father’s glory. How the prophet had occasion to hear the voice of the God of Israel, we learn from ch. Ezekiel 1:25, “There was a voice from the vault,” which gave command to the cherubim. Here also the voice determines the direction which the procession is to take. With the words, “The earth shone with His glory,” is to be compared Psalms 50:2, “Out of Zion, the perfect in beauty, God shineth,” and also Deuteronomy 33:2. He who said, “Let there be light,” shines forth when He appears in the clearest light, as He who dwells in inaccessible light ( 1 Timothy 6:16), the Father of lights ( James 1:17). As here of Jehovah, so it is said in Revelation 18:1 of Christ, “And the earth was lightened with His glory.” In Ezekiel 43:3 the prophet describes this appearance as corresponding to that which was imparted to him before, when the destruction of the city was to be foreshadowed, in ch. Ezekiel 10, and still earlier, at the Chebar in ch. Ezekiel 1, which first appearance was already in ch. Ezekiel 10:20 compared with that later one. The comparison naturally refers only to that which belongs in that first appearance to the unchangeable essence of God, not to that which bears specially on the then existing relations to the work of wrath, which was then to be executed on the corrupt people (comp. App. p. 537); as indeed in the recurrence of the description of the cherubim in the Apocalypse all is set aside which refers to anger and destruction. This would here, as there, produce an utterly confusing impression, because the appearance is a gracious one. Instead of “When I came to destroy the city,” we might expect “When He came.” But the prophet speaks thus on good grounds; for the Lord came not first of all in outward reality, but in the spirit of the prophet, in visions of which he was the bearer. Parallel is Jeremiah 1:10, where the prophet is sent to destroy and to throw down, and to build and to plant; because the ideal world is contemplated in which he moves, and in which is foreshadowed what is afterwards to come into reality. So long as the matter is confined to the region of the internal, there is an interchange of the prophet, and of God who works in him, which meets us already in Genesis 49:7, where Jacob says of Simeon and Levi, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” The prophet here, no less than in ch. Ezekiel 1:28, falls down on his face, there before the majesty of the angry God, here before that of God appearing in His grace; comp. Revelation 1:17. At the east gate the prophet had seen the entrance of the Lord. When the Lord entered into the house, the prophet is brought so near to Him, that this is possible from his position. He is removed to the inner court, which was accessible to him as priest ( Ezekiel 43:5), and beholds there through the opened door of the house which was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. That we must render, “The spirit (not wind) lifted me up,” appears from that which was remarked on ch. Ezekiel 3:12; comp. Ezekiel 11:1 and Ezekiel 11:24. The prophet might have made the short passage on foot, as he had already done in company with the angel. But the reason why the spirit lifts him up we learn from Ezekiel 43:3. Overcome by the impression of the vision, he lies powerless on the ground. The prophet hears one who spoke to him from the house; and aroused by the voice, and looking toward it, he beholds a man standing by him. He stands in the inner court, as near to the vision to be observed as is requisite for verification, hard by the door of the sanctuary; and the man has entered the door to speak to him. What he said to him follows in Ezekiel 43:7. Between the statement that one spake, and the speech which was made, stands the account concerning the person of the speaker, to which the prophet is first turned by the speech. The seeing was first occasioned by the hearing. The relations here only indicated are more fully unfolded in Revelation 1:10-13. There the prophet hears first behind him a voice as of a great trumpet. Looking after the voice, he beholds Christ. The speaker is designated as a man, and yet in Ezekiel 43:8 he speaks as God, and applies to himself that which can belong only to Jehovah. We have thus without doubt the angel of God before us, the only one in whom the opposition of God and man is mediated and removed. The man here is no other than the man whose appearance was like brass in ch. Ezekiel 40:3. The prophet intentionally perhaps does not expressly set forth the identity, because the reader should find it out by his own judgment. The angel of the Lord in Ezekiel 43:7 designates the temple as His throne, and the place of His feet. The ark of the covenant, with which the presence of the Lord is elsewhere usually connected, is not here referred to. It perished in the Chaldean destruction; and that it was not to be restored after this downfall, Jeremiah had already announced before it was accomplished (ch. Jeremiah 3:16). A more essential loss was not therewith connected. It was a mere symbol of the presence of God, which was not inseparable from it. “For ever:” this might also have been said of the temple of Solomon, with the same right with which in Exodus 32:13 and elsewhere Canaan is promised to the Jews for a perpetual possession. Such promises are conditional, and terminate when the condition ceases. They secure only that the blessing will never be withdrawn on the part of God. This condition is expressly made, for ex., in Deuteronomy 5:29: “Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments: always then would it be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Isaiah 48:18: “Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as the river. and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Even here there is a reference to this condition in the words, “And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name.” These words certainly imply as much as the words of Christ ( John 10:28), “No man shall pluck them out of my hand.” They have essentially the force of a promise. They present before the children of Israel a help against themselves, whereby they may succeed in conquering the enemy, that makes the dwelling of God among them impossible. They go hand in hand with the promise elsewhere expressed of a new spirit and a heart of flesh (ch. Ezekiel 11:19). But this is here clearly expressed, that if they go on as before, they will also come to an end “for ever.” And it is the uniform doctrine of Scripture, that all internal helps from God are free from compulsion, that the not willing ( Matthew 23:37) is not thereby excluded, and that to this not willing there is in human nature, and especially in the character of the man Judah, a desperately strong inclination ( Deuteronomy 29:3, Deuteronomy 31:29). That the Roman destruction of the temple is not at variance with the term “for ever” here, is shown by John 2:19, where Jesus declares the Jews to be the destroyers of the temple. That Jesus aimed at the preservation of the temple, is shown by the cleansing of the temple, undertaken by Him, according to John, in the beginning of His ministry, whereby He evinced His design to accomplish a salutary reformation. Only after this reformation was decidedly rejected. He effected at the end of His ministry a second cleansing of the temple, which is the symbolic announcement of its destruction: The reformation ye have refused, the revolution must come upon you. The sentence, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate,” immediately follows the exclamation, “How often would I have gathered thy children together,” etc. Had they been gathered together, their house would not have been destroyed; it would have become “a house of prayer for all people” ( Isaiah 56:7). The words, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” ( Matthew 24:2), Jesus utters immediately before His passion, when the stiff-necked obstinacy of the people was fully revealed to Him. Had the Jews hearkened to Jesus and His disciples, had they not reduced them to silence, the stones of the temple would not have cried out ( Luke 19:40; comp. Habakkuk 2:11). Only after they stopped the mouth of the true witnesses did the stone sermon sound forth. But while the abolition of the form was occasioned by the conduct of the mass of the people, who once more in the most culpable manner thrust from them their Creator, and despised the rock of their salvation ( Deuteronomy 32:15), the elect, far from being robbed of the blessing due to them, found a glorious recompense for the loss of the temple in the church of Christ, which He Himself in John 2:19 declared to be the legitimate continuation of the temple. It is cast as a reproach on the children of Israel, that they formerly defiled the holy name of God. This defilement coincides with the defilement of the sanctuary, reproved in ch. Ezekiel 5:11, Ezekiel 23:28, by idolatry both within and without it. Whosoever placed these doleful forms, these miserable nothings, beside God, whosoever by an accommodation theology bridged over the gulf between the God of revelation and the gods of the world, insulted the sublime name of the God who revealed Himself by His deeds among His people. They have committed such impiety “by their whoredom, and by the corpses of their kings, their high places;” that is, while they commit idolatry, whoredom in a spiritual sense, and transgress in the corpses of their kings and their high places. The enigmatical expression, “and by the corpses of their kings,” which, in its connection with the preceding whoredom and the following high places, can only be referred to idolatry, points by its very mystery to the existence of a fundamental passage, which serves the purpose of a key. From the whole relation in which Ezekiel stands to the books of Moses, we must seek the passage first in these. And there is in fact such a passage in Leviticus 26:30, where we recover not merely the corpses, but also the high places: “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your sun-pillars, and cast your corpses upon the corpses of your idols.” In this expression, to which the prophet had already referred in ch. Ezekiel 6:3-4, the idols are figuratively designated as corpses, because they have no life and no power, as they are on like grounds called carcases by Jeremiah (ch. Jeremiah 16:18), and the dead by Isaiah (ch. Isaiah 8:19), “Shall one ask the dead for the living?” The fundamental passage speaks of the corpses of the idols, this of the corpses of the kings. The kings here can only so far come into account as they have to do with the corpses, which were to be avoided, according to the law, as unclean and defiling. The ungodly kings, as Manasseh and Amon, were the proper patrons of idolatry. The high places, corresponding to the corpses, include in themselves the idols there worshipped, and forming their essence. The eighth verse [284] refers to the idols in connection with the corpses and the high places. In this we have to think not merely of the idolatry that was practised externally in the temple, where places of idolatry were erected in the outer court, in the immediate neighbourhood of the sanctuary, and wall to wall with it. Every form of idolatry which was practised in Israel was in fact a desecration of the temple, in which ideally it was performed; comp. ch. Ezekiel 5:11 and ch. Ezekiel 8. “And I consumed them in my anger:” this points to Exodus 32:10, where, in the first beginnings of the people, this consuming activity of God is immediately visible.

[284] The suffix in תתם refers to the kings, that in ספם to the idols.

Verses 10-12

In Ezekiel 43:10-12 is stated to the prophet the point of view from which the revelation concerning the second temple is to be regarded—the purpose which it serves. It is to lead the people to repentance; and when this is accomplished, to give them comfort and warning.

Ezekiel 43:10. Thou son of man, show to the house of Israel the house, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. [285] 11. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house, and its fashion, [286] and its out-goings, and its in-comings, and all its form, and all its ordinances, and all its form, and all its law: and write it in their sight, that they may keep all its form and all its ordinances, and do them. 12. This is the law of the house; On the top of the mountain all its border round about is most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.

[285] Luther, “And let them take a clean copy of it.” תכנית is, according to ch. 28:12, plan, model.

[286] תכונה is here, as in Job 23:3, Nehemiah 2:10 (comp. 1 Chronicles 22:14; 1 Chronicles 29:3), derived from |13, and signifies arrangement, establishment. There is no proof of a תכונה derived from &#תכן תכונה has thus nothing to do with תכנית , etc.

The announcement concerning the new temple is, according to Ezekiel 43:10, to lead the house of Israel to “be ashamed of their iniquities” in the presence of the mercy of God, which will hereafter reveal itself to them, when they will be seized with a deeper shame on account of their former sins against this loving God, who, notwithstanding their sins, is not wearied of doing them good, and restores to them the pledge of His presence. Through the goodness of God they are led to repentance ( Romans 2:4). When this fruit of repentance has been matured in them, and they have thus gained the authority in the house of the future, they “shall measure the plan,” not as architects, but as Abraham went through the length and breadth of the promised land ( Genesis 13:17), with the interest of the family in the house to be inhabited. Meditating, and loving, and thanking, they shall follow the measures announced in the preceding passage, and by this process receive a foretaste of that which is to be realized by them in no distant time ( Ezekiel 11:16), immediately after the lapse of the seventy years of Jeremiah, the half of which has already run. When they are brought to repentance, the prophet ( Ezekiel 43:11) is to introduce them still further to the nature of the new building, which is the more important, as with the building relations there, quite otherwise than in ordinary buildings, precepts and laws go hand in hand; so that all here has a practical import, and implies what the apostle in 2 Timothy 3:16 says in general of the holy Scripture. The high mountain, for ex., on which the house rests, proclaims “the hearts in the high places.” The wall, which surrounds the whole (ch. Ezekiel 42:20), to separate between the holy and the profane, was the law presented in stone, “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy.” In the guard-rooms of the gates is embodied the word, “Without are dogs, and adulterers, and murderers, and idolaters.” The chambers for the people in the outer court preached, “Rejoice in the Lord alway,” and, “Be ye thankful.” The arrangements for the priests reminded of sin, and demanded that each should consecrate himself to God in the burnt-offering, present to Him always the thank-offering and the meat-offering of good works. The altar of incense proclaimed to all, “Pray without ceasing.” The inner connection in which the architectural stands with the moral, is expressed by the words, “All its form, [287] and all its ordinances,” and the emphatic repetition, “And all its form, and all its law.” On account of this connection, this intertwining of the architectural and the moral in the last words of the verse, the former are also taken into the circle of that which is to be kept and to be done. Architectural arrangement and law do not lie parallel, but are only different sides of the same thing. The words “Write in their sight” are not to be referred to a draught traced by the prophet, but to this, that he shall not merely represent orally the description of the new temple, but also commit the same to writing. In Ezekiel 43:12 is given the sum of the precepts indirectly contained in the building proportions of the temple, as it were the first and best of the commands expressed in the new building, of which, as even now, every church worthy of the name is to be a sermon in stone. The whole, as far as it is enclosed by the outer wall, is a holy of holies, or most holy. This was figured by the situation of the whole. “On the top of the mountain,” and also by the wall, which formed a sharp boundary between it and the profane world (ch. Ezekiel 42:20). The law here laid down has its import not in the future only. The new temple was already extant ideally; and all behoved, in view of it, to strive to be holy in all their conversation ( 1 Peter 1:15), as we have to regard ourselves even now as citizens of the new Jerusalem, and in this character to walk. If they did not do this, their part would be taken away from the holy city. Quite perversely has a preference been here discovered of the new sanctuary above the old; and the sense has been thus defined: the holiness which formerly belonged only to the most holy place, is now to be transferred to the whole sanctuary, including the court. The same words might much rather be spoken of the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon. The most holy is most widely used of all that is eminently holy. It stands in general for a most holy place also in Numbers 18:10. The question here is not concerning the relation of the parts of the sanctuary to one another (only where this is the case does the most holy stand in the stricter sense), but concerning the relation of the sanctuary to the surrounding world. The point of view is thoroughly practical. The sentence serves as the foundation for the confident expectation expressed in Ezekiel 43:7-9, that the people will hereafter lay aside all unholy dispositions. The prophet has already said that within the house the old degrees of holiness shall continue. How could the most holy continue to subsist in a building, if degrees of holiness no longer existed?

[287] The vowels in צוּ רֹ תָ ו belong in both cases to Masoretic conjecture, and also the vowels in תּ וֹ רֹ תו . We must read צוּ רָ תוֹ? and תּ וֹ רָ תוֹ? , etc.

Verses 13-17

In Ezekiel 43:13-17, the measurements of the altar of burnt-offering. This was already mentioned by the way in ch. Ezekiel 40:47; but on account of its pre-eminent importance, the prophet has reserved the proper description for this place, where it does not lose itself in the multiplicity of details. Of what import the altar is, appears from Ezekiel 43:27, where the divine acceptance is made to depend on the service at the altar; further, from ch. Ezekiel 9:2, where the ministers of the divine vengeance stand by the altar; as also in Amos 9:1 the altar appears as the place where blessing and curse are earned. According to ch. Ezra 3 of the book of Ezra, the altar of burnt-offering was restored before all other things by those returned from the exile, because its existence was regarded as the condition of the success of the temple-building. The altar is decisive for the whole relation of the people to their God; but it was proper to give the description of the altar here only even for this reason, that the prescriptions concerning the service at the altar are properly connected with it. The description gives first the breadth, or thickness, of the outer wall of the altar ( Ezekiel 43:13), quite as the description of the sanctuary had begun with the wall and its thickness; then it turns, in Ezekiel 43:14-15, to the altitude; and lastly, in Ezekiel 43:16-17, is the statement of the breadth and length, which refers indeed only to the upper surface of the altar, but at the same time belongs to the whole, as it was equally broad and long from the ground up. If it had been otherwise, the measurements of the lower parts must also have been given.

Ezekiel 43:13. And these are the measures of the altar in cubits: The cubit is a cubit and a hand-breadth; and the bosom was a cubit, and a cubit the breadth, and its border in its edge around a span; and this is the ridge of the altar. 14. And from the bosom of the ground to the lower closing, two cubits, and the breadth one cubit; and from the smaller closing to the greater closing, four cubits, and the breadth one cubit. 15. And the mountain of God four cubits; and from the ram-lion and upward, the four horns. 16. And the ram-lion twelve long by twelve broad, square in all its four sides. 17. And the closing fourteen long by fourteen broad in its four sides; and the border about it half a cubit, and its bosom a cubit around; and its (the altar’s) steps towards the east.

In Ezekiel 43:13, the statement regarding the length of the cubit is repeated from ch. Ezekiel 40:5. We have in this verse the description of the bosom of the altar and its ridge, both of which denote only the same thing in different aspects. The inside of the altar, according to Exodus 20:24-25, should consist of earth or unhewn stone. Hence an enclosure was necessary to give support to the whole. This consisted, in the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon, of brass; and hence the altar received the name of the brazen altar. Now this enclosure is here called the bosom, because it embraced and grasped the heart. The bosom has its name in Hebrew from this grasping: it is properly grasp, and encloses the breast with the grasping arms. [288] This enclosure is called ridge, because it forms the outside, the periphery of the altar, as in ch. Ezekiel 1:18 the felloes of the wheels are called ridges. The bosom measures one cubit of the designated length, according to the old measure a cubit and a hand-breadth, [289] and measures it indeed in breadth; or the lining of the altar is throughout a cubit thick, which is afterwards repeated in the several parts, and from which the difference of the twelve cubits in Ezekiel 43:16, and the fourteen cubits in Ezekiel 43:17, is explained. The border or the rim at the end of this enclosure measures a span. [290] This border recurs in Ezekiel 43:17. Of the identity we cannot doubt, as, according to Ezekiel 43:20, the altar had only one span, and indeed quite above, next the horns. Both passages, Ezekiel 43:17 and Ezekiel 43:20, agree with the statement here, that the border was at the rim of the bosom, on its extreme end. The measure here also, a span, and in Ezekiel 43:20 half a cubit, agree. For the span contains three hand-breadths, each of four fingers, excluding the thumb; and these are reckoned equal to half a cubit. [291] As the statement “in the bosom” refers to the breadth, the statement “in the border” must go to the breadth, in accordance with which the half-cubit in Ezekiel 43:17 is found among the statements that refer to length and breadth. Thus the rim stood not in the height, but extended in breadth half a cubit beyond the enclosure. In Ezekiel 43:14, “the bosom of the ground” is the enclosure where it touches the ground. The earth denotes the ground also in ch. Ezekiel 41:16, “from the ground to the windows,” and Ezekiel 43:20. “Closing:” [292] this is the third designation for the wall of the altar, which held together the kernel of earth and stones, which is distinguished from the two others by this, that it specially denotes the external wall of the enclosure, which was two cubits thick, so that the bosom is its appurtenance ( Ezekiel 43:17); in another respect the whole, to which the closing belongs as a part. The under closing is that part of the external wall which is lower in respect of that presently to be mentioned, as indeed the designations of the smaller and the greater refer to the relation of these parts to one another. The under or smaller closing, and likewise in the following the greater, is to be regarded in its totality, and in reference to its end. The breadth in the under and in the upper closing applies only to the several parts, what in Ezekiel 43:13 was said of the thickness of the whole enclosure of the altar. That the first given measures in the under and the upper closing are measures of height, did not need to be expressly mentioned, because the statement of the breadth went before in Ezekiel 43:13, and is here once more repeated; but no one could think of the length. In Ezekiel 43:15 the height of the altar proper. This amounts to four cubits, which, with the six cubits of the substructure, make together ten cubits, in accordance with the height of Solomon’s altar of burnt-offering in 2 Chronicles 4:1. Those who explain Ezekiel 43:13 incorrectly adopt eleven cubits,—a number inconvenient in itself, of which it is sought to get rid in vain by forced assumptions. The substructure is not expressly named or described as such; but it appears as such from this, that here the proper altar is distinguished from the space mentioned in the foregoing. The whole altar bears the name of God’s mountain, to indicate that, small though its external height may be, an important ideal height belongs to it, in harmony with ch. Ezekiel 40:2, where the externally low temple mountain is, on account of its ideal height, represented as a very high mountain. The mountain of God is, in fact, God’s most holy altar. The “ram-lion” [293] is different from the mountain of God. The upper surface of the altar is so called, because it consumes the rams, which here represent all offerings: directly in the consecration of the altar prescribed in the following section, rams are presented. Beginning from the surface of the altar, and rising above it, the four horns of the altar appear, which form as it were its head, and in which its significance culminated. It is designedly not stated how high they are, lest their measure should be added to that before given. The altar was to be ten cubits high, as that of Solomon, in which also, without doubt, the horns are not included.

[288] The other explanations of the חיק are wrecked on Ezekiel 43:17, where the חיק of the altar extends from bottom to top.

[289] The article points to this definite cubit.

[290] אחד is treated as a noun, the one, the unity; a span of the unity stands for one span.

[291] Comp. Gousset, Lex. s. v.

[292] עזרח occurs of the court as the closing of the sanctuary, 2 Chronicles 4:9; 2 Chronicles 6:13. If we assume that it is weakened from עצרה , it denotes the locking or closing. If it be referred to אזר (Cocc.), it denotes a girdle.

[293] For the explanation of the ariel, we may refer to the passages in which the same word occurs in the sense “lion of God” ( 2 Samuel 23:20; Isaiah 29:1-2), at all events as far as they show that the first part of the compound is to be taken in the sense of lion. We have here, without doubt, an imitation of that word before us. Against the assumption that the second part here, as there, signifies God, is the Jod, which, removed by the Masoretes on the ground of mere conjecture, points to איל , ram. The vowels here and in Ezekiel 43:16, as always where a Keri is noted, belong directly to the marginal reading. It is possible, however, that the form originally sounded אראִ יל , not אראַ יִ ל . Then would the prophet have in view, as אֵ יל docs not elsewhere occur of the ram, a double sense—lion of God, and ram-lion, the lion that consumes the rams for God. The designation is, at all events, a purely priestly one, and was probably borrowed by Ezekiel from the priestly terminology.

Verses 18-27

After the height follow in Ezekiel 43:16-17 the length and breadth. These are taken only at the surface in which the altar terminates. But the statements apply to the whole, which was equally long and broad, from the bottom to the top. In Ezekiel 43:16 the measures of the proper sacrificial hearth are given, the altar surface without the enclosure. Here we have twelve cubits in length and breadth. In Ezekiel 43:17 the length and breadth of the enclosing wall are given, and thus at the same time of the whole altar. Then we have fourteen cubits, inasmuch as on both sides of the length and the breadth, a cubit the thickness of the enclosure is added. The one cubit added to the bosom here, as in Ezekiel 43:13, explains the difference of the measures here from those in Ezekiel 43:16. In the mention of the border and the bosom here, the end of the description of the altar reverts to its beginning in Ezekiel 43:13. Those who feel bound to understand by the border and the bosom here something else than in Ezekiel 43:13, thereby show that they have formed a false conception of Ezekiel 43:13. At the close is mentioned quite briefly the stair of the altar lying towards the east, [294] which from its height of ten cubits could not be wanting. This stair, which no doubt existed in the temple of Solomon, could only be brought into harmony with Exodus 20:26 by a special arrangement of the stair itself, or of the priest’s dress, which obviated the ground on which the Mosaic prohibition of the stair unnecessary for the law altar of the tabernacle is based.

[294] פנות is the infinitive, properly to turn toward, with omission of the preposition, for “if one turn.”

In Ezekiel 43:18-27, the consecration of the altar of burnt-offering. While the prophet enters into the details of this, he draws away the eye of the believer from the mournful circumstances of the present, and soothingly combats his despondent thoughts. This is the point from which we have to regard the description, which is still highly edifying for us, as it teaches us to hope where nothing is to be hoped, and to see the non-existent as if it already were. In a few years, that enters into external reality which the prophet here announces against all human probability, against sound reason, which declared to be foolish all hope of the restoration of the ruined sacred buildings. The endeavour to find traces which co beyond the Old Testament standpoint has here also not been fortunate. In a simple point of view, nothing occurs here which might not have occurred in consecrating the altar of burnt-offering under Joshua and Zerubbabel, although they could not have thought of arranging the details of the consecration according to our section, which aims at quite a different object. In all essentials we find agreement with that which is said in Leviticus 8 of the consecration of the Mosaic altar of burnt-offering. We must never forget that the prophet wrote for the present. To be or not to be, that was the question which then occupied the mind in reference to the altar. The prophet wishes to uphold and comfort troubled souls, not to afford satisfaction to a sickly eschatological curiosity by detailed explanations concerning the future.

Ezekiel 43:18. And he said unto me, Son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, These are the ordinances of the altar in the day when it is made, to offer a burnt-offering on it, and to sprinkle blood upon it. 19. And thou shalt give to the priests the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who are near unto me, saith the Lord Jehovah, a bullock of the herd for a sin-offering. 20. And thou shalt take of its blood, and put upon its four horns, and on the four corners of the closing, and on the border around, and thou shalt cleanse and purge it. 21. And thou shalt take the bullock of the sin-offering, and he shall burn it in the appointed place of the house, without the sanctuary. 22. And on the second day thou shalt offer a kid of the goats without blemish for a sin-offering, and they shall cleanse the altar as they cleansed with the bullock. 23. When thou hast made an end of cleansing it, thou shalt offer a bullock of the herd without blemish, and a ram of the flock without blemish. 24. And thou shalt offer them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and offer them for a burnt-offering unto the Lord. 25. Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin-offering; and they shall prepare a bullock of the herd and a ram of the flock without blemish. 26. Seven days shall they purge the altar, and purify it, and fill its hand. 27. And they shall complete the days; and it shall be on the eighth day and onward the priests shall make upon the altars your burnt-offerings and your peace-offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord Jehovah.

In Ezekiel 43:18 the ordinances of the altar receive their definite form in that which immediately follows. Accordingly it is treated of the rite of consecration, by which the altar is prepared for its purpose as the place of sacrifice and propitiation. The direction of the address in Ezekiel 43:19 to the prophet is a mere form, to give greater life to the recital, realize that which belongs to the future, and bring it home to the mind. The prophet represents those whom the matter concerns. “Thou shalt give” is, in fact, the same as “one shall give;” to which the prophet himself points, when in the sequel he exchanges for the address directed to himself the form, “One does this and that.” The particulars concerning the priests of the line of Zadok belong to Ezekiel 44:15 f. The bull is the most prominent among the animals used for the sin-offering; hence the series of sin-offerings is opened with it. From the second to the seventh day the smaller he-goat appears in its place. We have here a minus in regard to the consecration of this altar in the tabernacle. In Exodus 29:36 the sin-offering of the bullock continues through the whole seven days. It is a question whether this deviation is significant—whether it is not a variation of things in themselves indifferent. The minus may perhaps be explained by this, that that arrangement was the first—the ground and root of the later one. Sin and sin-offering properly fall only into the human department, and in fact the sin-offering here also belongs only to this, and likewise the burnt-offering mentioned in the sequel. The altar does not come down from heaven: it is made ( Ezekiel 43:18)—prepared—by sinful man, and presented for acceptance to God by a sinful people. That the sin goes back to the altar, is shown, for ex., by Exodus 20:22 and Leviticus 16:16. The sin, as it were, removes to the altar. The object here, as usual in sin-offerings, is to make remembrance of sins ( Hebrews 10:3), and point to the necessity of divine sin-forgiving mercy. The erection of the altar was in itself a good work; but even in works good in themselves it is especially necessary to show that they can never please God without the blood of atonement—that they also need forgiveness. As the sin-offering, so the burnt-offering, has its proper reference to man. The people atoned for on the altar present themselves in the burnt-offering to God for new obedience. The blood of the sin-offering ( Ezekiel 43:20) is sprinkled on all the prominent parts above, on the altar, on the horns terminating its height, the border limiting its breadth, and the corners. The appointed place of the house ( Ezekiel 43:21) can only be an appurtenance or dependence of the house outside, as the addition “without the sanctuary” shows: house and sanctuary coincide; a diversity between them must have been definitely stated. To this lead also the fundamental passages— Leviticus 8:16, according to which, in the consecration of the sacrificial altar in the tabernacle, the bullock of the sin-offering was burned without the camp; and Leviticus 4:11-12, where the flesh of the sin-offering is to be carried without the camp to a clean place—the same place to which the sacrificial ashes were taken ( Leviticus 6:4). We have here no complete account of what was to be done with the sin-offering, which indeed, from the design of the prophet, cannot antecedently be expected: he wishes not to prescribe what was to be done—for this the law provided—but only by a few striking traits to prepare a ground for faith in the future of the people. The burning of the fat is unnoticed, which took place in the sin-offering at the consecration of the altar in the tabernacle ( Leviticus 8:16), and in all other sin-offerings ( Leviticus 4:10). Without the burning of the fat a sin-offering could not be thought of; it is precisely that which makes it an offering at all. That here it is said of the whole bullock that it shall be burned, cannot serve to prove that the prophet did not think of the burning of the fat, because in Leviticus 4:11-12 the whole bullock is burnt, though, according to ver. Leviticus 4:10, the fat had been offered on the altar. From the sin-offering the ordinance turns in Ezekiel 43:23 to the burnt-offering. “We perceive from Ezekiel 43:25 that tins was to be presented on all the seven days of the consecration. Accordingly the words, “When thou hast made an end of cleansing it,” are to be understood thus: on each of these two days and onwards, when thou hast presented the sin-offering, and therewith laid the necessary foundation, thou shalt offer burnt-offerings. Sin-offerings and burnt-offerings are inseparably connected. By the sin-offering is obtained the forgiveness of sins, that whosoever receives it may, by the burnt-offering, dedicate himself anew to God. But the prophet wished, before he spoke of the burnt-offering, to place fully before the eyes the material of the sin-offering. The salt which the priests ( Ezekiel 43:24) are to add to the burnt-offering points, in harmony with Leviticus 2:13, according to which no meat-offering was to be presented without salt, to the unsalted quality of human nature, which may not enter into relation with God. Ezekiel 43:25 receives from Ezekiel 43:20 the supplement, that on the first of the seven days the sin-offering consists of a bullock. The words determine only the rule: every intelligent reader might add the exception. After the seven days’ duration of the Mosaic solemnity forming the basis, and especially after the express declaration in Ezekiel 43:26, that the whole ceremony lasted only seven days, the prophet certainly could not think that it would occur to any one that the seven days here were to be reckoned only from the second day in Ezekiel 43:22. The filling of the hand in Ezekiel 43:26 properly applies only to the conferring of office upon persons in whose hand is laid what they have forthwith to offer, and what they have to handle, but is here transferred to the altar, which henceforth enters, as it were, into office.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 43". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-43.html.