Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 44

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Chap. 44

In ch. Ezekiel 44 the prophet turns from the holy places to the holy persons in the new order of things—from the temple to the priests, from the altar to those who attend the altar. He has here a twofold object. First, he wishes to draw away the view from the dreary present, the ruins of the priesthood, the priests without office or prospect of office, which now alone were exhibited to the eye. He presents, on the contrary, priests in office and honour before the eye, in whom the Mosaic ordinances are again in full exercise and authority, which in the natural view of things had become purposeless for all time. Secondly, he wishes to labour for the regeneration of the priesthood, the removal of the deep calamities into which the priesthood, involved in the apostasy of the people, had fallen in the period before the exile. The latter of these two objects meets us especially in Ezekiel 44:1-16; the former in Ezekiel 44:17-31. Yet the former section also serves this purpose. For the restoration of the priesthood is here the foundation and presupposition.

Verses 1-14

Ezekiel 44:1-5 are so far preparatory, as they exhibit the glory of the impending revelation of God, the immediate consequence of which is, first the restoration of the priesthood, and next its reformation. In the latter respect is to be compared Psalms 24, where, on the occasion of bringing in the ark, David expresses the high demands arising from the coming of the Lord of glory, the necessity to prepare worthily for His coming. Then also Isaiah 40:3-5, where the theme is handled: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The glory of the coming Lord is exhibited in this, that the prophet finds the gate by which he entered shut ( Ezekiel 44:1-3), and that he sees the house filled with the glory of the Lord ( Ezekiel 44:4), which had been recorded in ch. Ezekiel 43:5, and to which new reference can here only be made, in so far as it affords the ground for that which immediately follows. Into the house of such a God access may only be permitted to the worthy ( Ezekiel 44:5), the old degeneracy of the priests with heathen hearts, of the Canaanites in the house of the Lord, must wholly cease in the new sanctuary ( Ezekiel 44:6-9); the unfaithful must be removed from office ( Ezekiel 44:10-14); only the faithful shall officiate in the new sanctuary ( Ezekiel 44:15-16). The decisions of the law of God regarding the priesthood shall, in consequence of the new revelation of God, come again into living use: if He show Himself in His dignity, the dignity of His servants must also revive ( Ezekiel 44:17-31).

Ezekiel 44:1-14. And he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, that looketh toward the east; and it was shut. 2. And the Lord said unto me, This gate shall be shut; [295] it shall not be opened, and no man shall go through it, because the Lord, the God of Israel, went through it, and it shall be shut. 3. As to the prince, the prince shall sit in it to eat food before the Lord; from the porch of the gate he will come in, and from it he will go out. 4. And he brought me through the north gate before the house: and I looked, and behold the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: and I fell upon my face. 5. And the Lord said unto me. Son of man, set thy heart, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, all that I say unto thee, all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all its law: [296] and set thy heart to the entrance of the house, with all the outgoings of the sanctuary. 6. And say to the rebellion, to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, There is enough of all your abominations, O house of Israel. 7. When ye brought sons of the outland, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to profane it, even my house: when ye offered my food, the fat and the blood, and they broke my covenant, for all your abominations. 8. And ye have not kept the charge of my holy things, and ye set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for you. 9. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, No son of the outland, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall come into my sanctuary, (say I) to every son of the outland that is among the children of Israel. 10. But the Levites who went far from me, when Israel went astray, who went astray from me after their detestable things, they shall take their iniquity on them. 11. And they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, keepers at the doors of my house, and ministering 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. 12. Because they ministered to them before their detestable idols, and became to the house of Israel a stumbling-block of iniquity; therefore I lifted up my hand upon them, saith the Lord Jehovah, and they shall take their iniquity upon them. 13. And they shall not draw near me, to be priests to me, and to draw near for all my holy things to the most holy place; and they shall take on them their shame and their abominations which they have done. 14. And I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all its service, and for all that is to be done in it.

[295] Luther, “shall remain locked.” But it is here said what shall take place, if once the gate, here only foreshadowed, be made (ch. 43:18), and the Lord have made His entrance by it.

[296] Luther, “laws,” according to the marginal reading, which is here conformed to the foregoing חקות , without observing the difference between them.

The prophet was last found in the inner court for the consideration of the altar of burnt-offering (ch. Ezekiel 43:5): thence he is brought back ( Ezekiel 44:1) through the north or south gate, to the place where he had been in ch. Ezekiel 43:1, before the east gate. The object is no other than to see that the gate was shut. We are not to suppose that the prophet, in Ezekiel 44:1-2, wishes to give a direction which is to be carried out in the new temple. This did not belong to his office; and in such things are found, along with the ideal, material causes which often decide the question. Here it depends simply and solely on the thought of the glory of the impending revelation of the Lord, which, in conformity with the nature of the vision, embodies itself in the door being shut through which the entrance had been made. It is also decisive against the realistic view, that the visible entrance of the glory of the Lord through the east gate belongs itself only to the vision, not to the reality. The thought is, that the Lord will again be among His people with His help and grace. This appears also from this, that the entrance forms the counterpart to the egress of the glory of the Lord at the Chaldean destruction, in ch. Ezekiel 11. If this egress did not take place visibly, the visibility in the entrance only belongs to the form of the contemplation. But if in the cause the visibility belong only to the region of the spirit, the consequence also will belong to the same. If the Lord did not actually enter by the east gate, this gate is not to be actually shut. The prophet himself is not slow to declare that he speaks in figure and enigma, to demand that we distinguish between form and matter. Ezekiel 44:3 forms no exception to what is said in Ezekiel 44:2. For the prince comes, as is expressly said, from the porch to the gate, and goes back through the porch. [297] He does not pass the gate-door, which was at the end of the guard-rooms, but comes from the outer court, into which he had entered by the north or south gate, and takes his seat in the east gate, on this side of the door which remains shut. The prophet here lets the agreeable state of the prince pass in splendour before the people, with which he will afterwards occupy himself more fully. The ceasing of the magistracy, of which only a feeble remnant was to be found in the exile, was a chief cause of trouble. The mention of it here must have been the more striking, as it was incidental. The prince is not announced, but his presence presupposed. The prince is here an ideal person, which enters into life in a multiplicity of historical appearances. It is quite intentional in the description of the new temple, to speak of the prince in general, and not of the king, that all these forms may be included. The prince finds his closing appearance in the Messiah, according to ch. Ezekiel 34:24, Ezekiel 37:25; but in the centuries which lay between him and the prophet, the prince appeared in various forms as well as in the kingly. First he appeared in the prefiguration of the last fulfilment, in the person of Zerubbabel, the descendant of David. The prophecy of Zechariah in ch. Zechariah 4:14 is related to this. The two sons of oil, who stand before the Lord of the whole earth, are the bearers of the priestly and kingly office, which the Lord maintains through centuries in His restored community, till both find their full truth in Christ. Along with the spiritual authority shall, according to this announcement, the civil also be the medium by which the Lord, as in the time before the exile, so in the time after it, impart His grace to His people. The sons of oil are there, as the prince here, ideal persons, who are represented at the time by Zerubbabel and Joshua. Then is to be compared also Zechariah 10:4, “Out of him a corner, out of him a nail, out of him the battle-bow, out of him will go forth every ruler,” where rulers and officers of themselves, and an independent military, are promised to the people,—an announcement which received its verification before Christ, especially in the times of the Maccabees. In Zechariah 11, the sovereign power, the prince, is one of the three shepherds. The prefixed words, “As to the prince,” fasten the attention on this remarkable person. To “eat food (not bread) before the Lord” refers to the partaking of the festivals, at the communion which was connected with the peace-offerings. The place here assigned to the prince for his sacrificial meal is not honourable in itself. The people kept these festivals in the court itself, in chambers built for the purpose. The gates cannot be in themselves more prominent than the court to which they admit: the outer east gate is here spoken of. The character of the place of honour, in connection with Ezekiel 44:1-2, lies simply and solely in this, that by this gate the Lord entered; and to place the glory of the Lord who enters before the eyes, this is, in harmony with Ezekiel 44:1-2, not less, nay, we say much more the object, than to indicate the high position of the prince. How glorious must the Lord be, when the prince cannot be more highly honoured than by a place in the gate by which He entered! It needs no further proof that men have without any ground sought, in eating before the Lord, a pre-eminence of the future prince over the former rulers. To eat before the Lord was common to all Israelites, as it is now common to all Christians ( Luke 13:26).

[297] The assertion, that “the shut gate lay directly in the door of the porch adjacent to the outer court,” is refuted even by our passage, according to which the porch, and a farther part of the gate-building, in which the king took his meal, lay out in the court, on this side of the shut gate. Our former investigation, according to which the gate lay directly at the end of the guard-rooms, is hereby confirmed. The inner threshold immediately adjoining the porch is specially fitted to be the place for the prince’s meal.

That the prophet, in Ezekiel 44:4, is brought through the outer and inner north gates into the immediate neighbourhood of the temple, appears not only from the phrase “before the house,” but still more distinctly from ch. Ezekiel 43:5, to which our verse stands as the brief repetition to the fundamental passage: “And he brought me to the inner court, and behold the glory of the Lord filled the house.” It is also quite natural that the prophet, if he was to behold the glory of the Lord, should be brought to the door of the sanctuary, where he had it immediately before him. “The Lord said unto me” ( Ezekiel 44:5): to this is to be added, from ch. Ezekiel 43:6, that the Lord spake to the prophet by His angel. The threefold demand for attention, which points back to the like demand by the man of brass in ch. Ezekiel 40:4, has its ground in the glory of the Lord, just seen by the prophet. Who should not attend to that which such a God commanded? The entrance of the house, with all the outgoings of the sanctuary, is designated as the most direct object of the carefully to be observed “ordinances of the Lord’s house.” It is first to be settled who may go in and out of the house of the Lord, be present and have his being therein. As the house here can only be the house in the strict sense, the proper temple-building, this being the inference from Ezekiel 44:4, according to which “the house” is filled with the glory of the Lord, those who are here referred to can only be the priests, the only persons who have access to the house. The question is, whether mere priestly descent is entitled to be present in the new sanctuary, or whether other qualifications are requisite? This question is answered in the following passage. The rebellion in Ezekiel 44:6 is the house of Israel, as the embodied rebellion (comp. ch. Ezekiel 2:8). “There is enough:” on this is to be compared 1 Peter 4:3. [298] The reproach in Ezekiel 44:6 f. falls justly on the people, who should not have tolerated the degeneracy of heathenishly inclined priests, and indeed would not have tolerated them, had they not been themselves under the sway of a heathenish will. It is objected to them in Ezekiel 44:7, that going beyond their own abominations, and as it were putting the crown upon them, they had proceeded to admit men of uncircumcised heart and flesh to the priesthood. This cannot refer to the externally uncircumcised, the heathen. The prophet himself declares in Ezekiel 44:9, that he means not ordinary foreigners, but foreigners who are “among the children of Israel;” that is, Jewish heathen. The discourse here is not of the courts, but of the house and the sanctuary, the priestly places; indeed, the reproach refers still more definitely to this, that they have by such men presented to God His food, the fat and the blood; which cannot be said of the heathen in the ordinary sense. In Ezekiel 44:8 also it is said, that they have entrusted to these men the ministry in the sanctuary. Not the slightest trace in the documents before the exiles implies that they had admitted actual heathens to the priesthood. Of decisive significance is the but in Ezekiel 44:10, which is only explained if the Levites, who have there removed far from the Lord, are identical with the uncircumcised foreigners in Ezekiel 44:9. In Ezekiel 44:9 it was said that the delinquents shall not come into my sanctuary, that is, in fact, shall not discharge the priestly office; for the priests only had access to the sanctuary. In Ezekiel 44:10 it is added: But they shall take their iniquity upon them. The thing stands thus. In the time of the apostasy, and of the giddy spirit poured out on the whole people, some of the priests also had taken part in idolatry—had indeed been leaders in it ( Ezekiel 44:12). They had thereby put themselves on a level with foreigners, as surely as the service of Jehovah is the proper Israelitish principle: the worldly wisdom, of which it is characteristic not to take its starting-point from Jehovah, appears in Proverbs as the stranger, the foreigner. They had also proved themselves to be uncircumcised in heart; for the essence of the circumcision of the heart, according to Deuteronomy 30:6, consists in loving the Lord their God with all their heart and soul. But where circumcision of the heart fails, circumcision of the flesh also loses its import ( Romans 2:25); for if that which remains is to be called circumcision, then it might be communicated even to a brute. It was from the beginning proper to circumcision not to be a mere corporeal quality. It had the import of a covenant seal; and this import it retained only so long as the state signified by the outward act was really present. Ishmael ceased to be circumcised in the flesh when he departed from communion with the house of Abraham, and ran wild. The Egyptian priests had externally that which was called circumcision; but the men of the Old Testament would never have acknowledged that they had circumcision. There is the less reason to carry out the realistic, more correctly the literal interpretation, by force in our section, inasmuch as in a whole series of other passages of the Old Testament rebellious Israelites are at once designated as heathen or uncircumcised. Isaiah, in ch. Isaiah 1:10, addresses the princes of Israel as princes of Sodom, the people as the people of Gomorrah. Jeremiah, in ch. Jeremiah 9:25, designates the rebellions Jews of his time as uncircumcised in heart. Zechariah proclaims, in ch. Zechariah 14:21, “And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord;” and thus presupposes that in his time Canaanites were in the house of the Lord; and in particular, a Canaanite was hidden under many a priestly gown. In the apocryphal history of Susanna, a worthless Jew is thus addressed: “Thou seed of Canaan, and not Juda.” Ezekiel himself says, in ch. Ezekiel 16:3, to his degenerate people: “Thy descent and thy birth is of the land of the Canaanite: thy father the Amorite, and thy mother the Hittite.” A parallel for the abridged comparison, which is found in our passage as in that, is presented in Psalms 120, where those who hate peace are designated as Meshech and Kedar, the names of the wildest and most intractable nations. Similar forms of speech occur among ourselves. We call infidels Jews, heathens, Turks. In the ancient polemics, the designation of those who denied the faith by Mamelukes was endenizened. “To profane it, my house:” this is stronger than if it stood simply, to profane my house. The attention is fixed on this, what it is to profane God’s house. The fat and the blood are the parts of the sacrifice which serve God as it were for food. How impious it is to set God’s food before Him with defiled hands, that have been polluted with the “dirty!” ( Ezekiel 44:12) “They broke my covenant:” these men broke the covenant of God, whom they were not ashamed to employ as priests, by this participation in idolatry (comp. Leviticus 26:15), according to which the covenant is broken by the transgression of the commandments, at whose head the prohibition of idolatry stands. The people themselves have ignominiously neglected the service in the sanctuary [299] ( Ezekiel 44:8), because they admitted to it as their representatives these men, the uncircumcised circumcision, heathenish Israelites, After the accusation follows, in Ezekiel 44:9 f., the penal sentence. The godless priests shall lose their dignity, and be degraded to common Levites, the worst that can befall them; for they cannot go beyond the limits of the tribe. We are not to take the sentence in a judicial sense. The prophet is not appointed a judge over the priests. He wishes to awaken among the priests and the people a true abhorrence of the rebellious temper among the priests. In the spirit of Ezekiel, Nehemiah proceeds (ch. Nehemiah 13:28-29) against a priest thus heathenishly inclined. “They shall take their iniquity on them” ( Ezekiel 44:10): this shows in general that they shall not go unpunished, as would be the case if they might officiate after as before in the sanctuary. In what follows, the punishment is more precisely stated. The whole context shows, that by Levites are here meant those who had hitherto been Levitical priests. Such are evidently spoken of as come into the sanctuary, offer the food of God, and do the service in the house. What follows is unintelligible if we think of the Levites in general. Levites cannot be degraded to the rank of Levites. In view of this degradation, the Levitical priests are here by anticipation designated as Levites. The prophet, himself a priest, may not grant the honourable name of priest to these scandals of their order, as our lips will not permit us to call a rationalist a pastor. To “stand before them to minister to them:” this appears in Numbers 16:9, in accordance with Ezekiel 44:11 here, as the calling of the ordinary Levites. “Stumbling-block of iniquity” ( Ezekiel 44:12), for which Luther has “a scandal for sin.” “For all my holy things” ( Ezekiel 44:13): as for ex., the sacrifices. The reason why they may not enter is given in what is added, “to the most holy place,” or the holy of holies. What is consecrated to the Lord of hosts is not merely holy, but most holy, and must therefore be withdrawn from men uncircumcised and unrenewed in heart. If they formerly served the Lord ( Ezekiel 44:8), for their unfaithfulness in this service they are now ( Ezekiel 44:14) degraded to be mere domestics, who do service outside of the house. The mere Levites might not enter even the holy place. The several acts enumerated in Ezekiel 44:11 are only such as were performed in the courts. Menial servants with us also are not wont to enter into the inmost rooms. Mere sextons were made out of the bad priests, as were to be wished also of the bad pastors. That bad priests are of no use as Levites, the prophet knew; but how shall he dispose of them?

[298] Starck: En novum templum instauro, jam novam vitam inchoate, en noxa sacra doeco, nova corde praeparate.

[299] For שמר משמרת , comp. on ch. 40:45.

Verses 15-31

After the exclusion of the unworthy, follows in Ezekiel 44:15-16 the promise to the priests who remained true: they shall perform the priestly service in the new sanctuary; God rejects not the whole for the unworthiness of the part ( Isaiah 65:8). To this is subjoined, in Ezekiel 44:17-31, a series of regulations regarding the priesthood in the new era. These are taken collectively from the Mosaic law. The attempt to point out new elements not yet exhibited there, must be regarded as a failure. There is no ground for a progress to deeper views of the priesthood in the New Testament, than those to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament; for ex., in Zechariah 6:13, where the Messiah appears as the true High Priest; Isaiah 66:21, according to which Levitical priests are to be taken from the heathen also; Jeremiah 33:14-26, where the whole people of the Lord are invested with priestly dignity; and thus Exodus 19:6 attains to its verification. Of these high things nothing is found here. We remain quite on the ordinary priestly ground. The prospect of the New Testament relations remains completely closed. This must land those in helpless perplexity who ascribe a Messianic import to the whole prophecy of the new temple, or refer it altogether to the last time of the New Testament. But it will appear natural, if we reflect that it was the first problem of Ezekiel to announce the deliverance which the Lord was to accomplish in a brief period, according to the fundamental prophecy by Jeremiah of the seventy years of the Babylonish servitude. The recovery of that which was to human view for ever lost (our prophecy belongs to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the time of the power and bloom of the Chaldean monarchy), this it was which is primarily intended, which occupied all minds: the progress stood in a second line, with which the prophet occupies himself in ch. Ezekiel 47. How consolatory it must have been to the people, that the Mosaic regulations concerning the priesthood, which had apparently become antiquated, here once more enter into life! And in harmony with the announcement of the prophet, they actually entered again into life. They have been practised anew for half a millennium, and then, because the priesthood had again wholly degenerated, because the law must have been realized in it which Ezekiel had already proclaimed concerning the part then rebellious, they only perished as the seed-corn in the stalk, only perished to rise again in glory. How absurd it is to set aside this immediate fulfilment, which at the same time furnishes the security that God also in all later epochs will bring forth for His people life out of death, and by forced interpretations to introduce another thing, which could be neither intelligible nor edifying to the immediate hearers and readers! If we keep in view the object of the regulations here, we shall not expect them to be very complete. The only aim was by a few well-chosen strokes to bring out the thought of the restoration of the Mosaic priesthood in its customs and its rights. The rest is to be sought in Moses. Ezekiel is a prophet, not a lawgiver. His eye is not directed to the priests; he wishes only to uphold the desponding people, who in their officiating priests had lost the mediators of the grace of God.

Ezekiel 44:15-31. And the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok who kept the charge of my sanctuary, when the sons of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near me to minister unto me, and shall stand before me to offer unto me fat and blood, saith the Lord Jehovah: 16. They shall come into my sanctuary, and they shall draw nigh to my table to minister unto me, and shall keep my charge. 17. And it shall be, when they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall put on linen garments; and wool shall not come upon them when they minister in the gates of the inner court, and in the house. 18. Bonnets of linen shall be on their heads, and breeches of linen shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves in sweat. 19. And when they go forth to the outer court, to the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments wherein they minister, and lay them in the holy chambers, and put on other garments; and they shall not sanctify the people with their garments. 20. And their head they shall not shave, nor leave their locks to grow long; they shall poll their heads. 21. And no priest shall drink wine when they go into the inner court. 22. And they shall not take to them for wives a widow or a divorced woman; but they shall take maidens of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow who is a priest’s widow. 23. And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane, and make them discern between unclean and clean. 24. And in a strife they shall stand to judge according to my judgments, and shall judge him: and my laws and my statutes in all my festivals they shall keep; and they shall hallow my Sabbaths. 25. And to a dead man they shall not come to be defiled: but for father, and for mother, and for son, and for daughter, for brother, and for sister that hath no husband, they may defile themselves. 26. And after his cleansing, they shall count to him seven days. 27. And in the day of his coming into the sanctuary, to the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin-offering, saith the Lord Jehovah. 28. And it shall be unto them an inheritance; I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. 29. The meat-offering, the sin-offering, and the guilt-offering, they shall eat them; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. 30. And the first of all the firstlings of all, and every oblation of all, out of all your oblations, shall be to the priests: and the first of your dough ye shall give to the priest, to bring down a blessing on thy house. 31. The priests shall not eat of carrion, or that which is torn, of fowl or beast.

In Ezekiel 44:15 all is brought into confusion by the opinion that the prophet here assigns the priesthood in the new era to the sons of Zadok, exclusive of all who are not sons of Zadok. The truth is, all priests are sons of Zadok, even the unfaithful who were excluded in the foregoing passage. The priesthood is not here adjudged to the sons of Zadok in general, but to those of them who abode in the truth. These are in ch. Ezekiel 48:11 described as “the sanctified of the sons of Zadok,” the sanctified part of them as distinguished from the unsanctified. From the time of 1 Kings 2:35, where Solomon, setting aside Abiathar, placed Zadok in the high-priesthood, all priests are sons of Zadok who survived in his posterity. The fatherhood is the primeval relation of authority, whence father and mother appear in the decalogue as the representatives of all superiors. Hence the name father is often employed in the Old Testament to designate the superior. The leading personages among the prophets bore the name of fathers; the subordinate, that of sons. The high priest appears as the father of the whole people in Isaiah 43:27, in accordance with the names handed down even to the present day, abbuna among the Ethiopians, holy father, pope. Different from the sons of Zadok here and in ch. Ezekiel 40:40, as a designation of the priests as a body, are the priests who are of the seed of Zadok in ch. Ezekiel 43:10, who officiate at the consecration of the altar of burnt-offering, where the heads of the high-priesthood are meant, the high priests, and those who stand next them who are of the high priest’s kindred ( Acts 4:6). [300] That the apostasy here is limited only to a part of the priests, while the praise of fidelity is awarded to another and no inconsiderable part, shows that on ch. Ezekiel 8:16 we rightly protested against the view that the twenty-five apostates there are the presidents of the twenty-four classes, with the high priest at their head. The table of God is His altar; comp. what was remarked on ch. Ezekiel 41:22 and Ezekiel 44:7 here, where fat and blood, which were offered on the altar of burnt-offering, are designated as the food of God. The spiritual offering embodied in the outward offering is the spiritual nourishment, which the people are to present to their heavenly King. In Ezekiel 44:17-19, first the raiment of the priests. This is to consist ( Ezekiel 44:17-18) wholly of linen, not of wool, in accordance with Exodus 28:42, Leviticus 6:3, Leviticus 16:4. The reason is to be sought in cleanliness and the oriental sweat-producing climate. This appears distinctly in the words, “They shall not gird themselves in sweat,” so that they fall into a sweat; which refer first indeed only to the girdle (it is said, gird themselves, comp. Leviticus 8:7, Leviticus 8:13, Leviticus 13:6, Leviticus 16:4, not clothe themselves), but in fact apply also to the other pieces of raiment. The fundamental passage is Leviticus 16:4, “A coat of linen he shall put on, and breeches of linen shall be upon his flesh, and with a linen girdle shall he be girded, and a mitre of linen he shall bind on.” To the words there, “with a girdle of linen,” correspond here, “not in sweat.” The girdle of linen is that which does not produce sweat. “In the gates of the inner court” ( Ezekiel 44:17) means within it. The ministry at the altar of burnt-offering is intended; comp. Ezekiel 40:46. Even in the Pentateuch, “in the gates “stands often of the space which is bounded by the gates. In Ezekiel 44:19 the regulation that the priest’s garments are to be only the official dress, and are to be laid aside as soon as his ministry is accomplished ( Leviticus 6:3-4), here forms the foundation. Where the change of garments is to take place, is not determined in the Mosaic law. From Solomon’s time this took place no doubt in the priests’ courts, which the prophet in the foregoing passage only sees revived. The reason why the priests, before they mingle with the people, are to put on other garments, is stated in the words, “And they shall not sanctify the people with their garments.” In Leviticus 6:11, Leviticus 6:18, it is said, in reference to the portion of the meat-offering which was not consumed on the altar, “Every one that toucheth them is holy.” “The same effect,” Knobel remarks, “results from touching the sin-offering ( Ezekiel 44:20), the altar of burnt-offering, and the vessels of the tabernacle, which were also most holy “( Exodus 30:29). The priestly garments stand in quite the same relation with the holy vessels, so that here also the prophet gives nothing new. Only a holiness of the ceremonial law is here in question, that has nothing to do with holiness of heart and conversation, and was instituted to secure respect for the holy vessels, and for Him to whose services they were consecrated. This kind of holiness could not have clung to the ceremonially unclean persons who came into contact with it; it must have been separated from them. How this is to be done, has not been prescribed in the law, probably on the presumption that every one will keep himself from contact; and it is enough to pronounce the noli me tangere. The first thing is the presenting of a sin-offering, by which the guilt of the incautious approach to the holy thing was expiated. But if the priests in the holy garments had mingled in the throng of the courts, the guilt of profanation would have fallen upon themselves.

[300] The assertion is incorrect, that in the whole vision of the new temple the high priest does not meet us. The opposite is shown by the fact that all priests are designated as sons of Zadok, who survives in his high-priestly descendants. Ch. 43:11 speaks of a special activity reserved for the house of the high priest. Prophecy is here iii accordance with history. The high-priesthood of Zadok lasted centuries after the return from the exile till the time of the Maccabees.

In Ezekiel 44:20 it is arranged how the priests are to manage their hair: they are not to shave, according to a heathenish custom, already repudiated in Leviticus 19:27, Leviticus 21:5, because this would be to find fault with the Creator, and reject the ornament bestowed by Him; and they are not to let the hair grow long, which is the sign of a wild, disorderly man, who leaves nature to its free course. The Nazarite might in consequence of a vow, undertaken for a time, let the hair grow long ( Numbers 6:5), to signify his separation from the world; [301] but not the priests, whose duty it was to converse with the world, and adapt themselves to society, which even in Joseph’s time was wont to go with the hair polled. This regulation is, in fact, contained in Nehemiah 6:5. In the case of the Nazarite, separation is declared to be the reason for allowing the hair to grow. But the priest was not to be separate. In Ezekiel 44:21 is the prohibition to drink wine before entering upon duty, taken from Leviticus 10:9. The rules also concerning the marriage relations of the priests, in Ezekiel 44:22, do not go beyond the Mosaic law. The ordinary priest in Leviticus 21:5, no less than the high priest in Ezekiel 44:13-14, is forbidden to marry any but a virgin. No restrictions are in this respect laid on the high priest which did not apply to other priests. [302] The permission here to marry a priest’s widow is new. But this Ezekiel certainly did not fix of himself. It was a consequence drawn in current practice from the law. The priestly dignity of the deceased compensated, as it were, for the want of virginity. In Ezekiel 44:23-24, we have what the priests are to do. The vocation here assigned to them, to separate between the holy and the unholy, rests on Leviticus 10:10: comp. on Ezekiel 22:20, the share in the administration of justice which is assigned to the priests; on Deuteronomy 17:8-12 and Deuteronomy 21:5, according to which, in cases where the local court did not venture to decide, the right was granted to obtain the decision of the most esteemed priests as expositors of the law. The order of the festival and the Sabbath is maintained by the priests doing and teaching. In Ezekiel 44:25-27, where directions are given how the priest is to act in cases of death. Leviticus 21:1-3 is resumed. We have here the same six cases in which the priest is to take uncleanness on him. Those named are the nearest blood relations. The wife and her relatives are wanting here no less than there, where in Ezekiel 44:4 by the correct interpretation they are expressly excluded; in which it is to be observed that the question is not about the feeling of the heart, but about bodily contact. The “cleansing” in Ezekiel 44:21 begins with the beginning of the ceremony, lasting, according to Numbers 19, seven days. [303] We have only one heptade of days, not two, as it would be if we put having been cleansed instead of cleansing. Seven days are the longest period which any uncleanness lasts. In Ezekiel 44:28-30 we have the reward which the priest is to receive. The general proposition, that the Lord is the portion of the priests, that their sustenance is incumbent on Him, and is to be provided from that which is offered to the Lord, is taken from Numbers 18:20, Deuteronomy 10:9. That which is devoted ( Ezekiel 44:29) is awarded to the priests, on the ground of Leviticus 27:21, Leviticus 27:29; the offering of the firstlings of meal ( Ezekiel 44:30) was ordered in Numbers 15:20. It is indicated as an object of the gifts to the priests, and a motive to present them joyfully, “to bring down a blessing on thy house,” in accordance with the decalogue, where the divine blessing is made dependent on the honour to superiors, which is to be shown by a willing bestowment of all dues ( Matthew 15:4-5). To the statement of the means of sustenance for the priests is appended, in Ezekiel 44:31, the prohibition to eat of carrion, or that which is torn, according to Leviticus 22:8.

[301] Religiosum quendam squalorem prae se tulit.—LIGHTFOOT.

[302] This mistake could only be made by a false interpretation of the הללה , forming the counterpart to the virgin, perforata, in Leviticus 21:7, which includes under it the harlot, the divorced, and the widow.

[303] In Leviticus 14:7 also מהרה is used of cleansing, as distinguished from having been cleansed.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.