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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 48

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verse 1

Eze 48:1

Ezekiel 48:1-35

The apportionment of the Land of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes, following the setting apart of the land for Jerusalem is detailed here. The Twelve Tribes are named, with their allotments; but they are not named in the usual order. A land allotment is made for the king; the Twelve Tribes are honored by having the twelve gates of Jerusalem named for them, one gate for each tribe.

It is easy to see that very little of this section of Ezekiel can be seen as having very much importance to Christians. The kingdom of God reaches into all nations and kingdoms of the world; and that little acreage called Palestine is a tiny place indeed compared to the world-wide Empire of the Christ. It is true that countless millions do not serve or worship Christ; but countless millions do so in all of the most favored and blessed of earth’s nations, a fact that stands in evidence as Cause and Results upon the face of the whole earth. "The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

This eternal reign of Christ is not something for some faroff tomorrow. It is going on now. Christ has been reigning ever since Almighty God committed into his hands "All authority in heaven and upon earth"; and it will continue until the last enemy, death itself, has been destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Oh, but some do not allow Christ to reign over them. True indeed, but that makes no difference whatever. Jesus Christ is over all; and the people who refuse him have chosen for themselves eternal death.

Before leaving this section, we shall observe what some scholars have said about it:

"The water flowing out of the Temple teaches that all blessings material and spiritual emanate from the presence of the Lord and of his people." Did not Paul himself say the same thing? "All spiritual blessings in the heavenly places are in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

When the Jews who returned from Babylon finally got around to restoring the Temple, "Cyrus’ decree authorizing the building of the Temple specified a height of 60 cubits, which was twice the height of Solomon’s Temple." Since God controlled the actions of Cyrus, this indicates that, at first, God did really intend that the magnificent Temple such as Ezekiel saw in his vision should have actually been built. That it was not can be attributed only to the sins and hardening of the Chosen People.

"We cannot interpret these chapters as an allegory, because of the large number of directions and measurements."

We have discovered ten different diagrams of Ezekiel’s Temple, and no two of them are exactly alike. We have decided to spare the reader any effort of our own to submit another diagram! What possible difference could minor distinctions make in a Temple that was never built?

Yet it must be admitted that, "Nothing that Ezekiel could have written would have stirred up as much interest and excitement as this description of the New Temple to be constructed in Jerusalem would have stirred up among the exiles."

"To make these nine chapters a deliberately symbolical description of the worship of the Christian Church is out of the question, because Ezekiel expected this vision to be carried out to the letter; furthermore he envisioned it as taking place (in part miraculously) upon the coming of Messiah."

Nevertheless, Canon Cook affirmed that, "The vision must be viewed as symbolical, the symbols employed being the Mosaic ordinances." We believe Cook is correct, because the Temple itself was never intended as anything else except a symbol, as were the priests and their ordinances and the whole order of the Mosaic tabernacle. See our Commentary on Exodus for full elaboration of this. The Temple, from the first, symbolized God’s dwelling in the midst of his people; the priests were symbols of Christians; their sacrifices typefled the great atoning sacrifice of the blood of Christ and also, in a lesser sense, their ministrations typified the spiritual services which Christians offer up to God (1 Peter 2:5). We do not believe for a moment that Ezekiel fully understood the symbolical nature of the vision which he saw, no doubt thinking of it as the ultimate reality itself.

"The picture of the river flowing from under the threshold of the Temple is a clear instance of symbolism, expressive of the blessings that flow from God’s presence in his sanctuary (his Church)."

"These closing chapters present vast difficulties. The Rabbis of the Talmud remarked that only Elijah, who will herald the ultimate redemption, will elucidate the discrepancies with the Pentateuchal laws and the terms which are found only here." Many scholars have cited places in the text which they have designated as "hopelessly corrupt." Cooke noted that, "Much of the detail in Ezekiel 40-42 is difficult and obscure."

God at this time was drafting a new constitution, a New Covenant, for a New Israel of God, the first step being a return of Israel from Babylon and the reestablishing of them in Canaan; and this New Temple to come at the close of the Exile would never be able to meet the demands of that New Israel of God; and in this description of it, "There is a reaching out to something broader, larger, and more spiritual, even to that Israel of Messianic times, the Church of God in the Christian ages."

Eichrodt marveled that nothing was said here about the foreign nations, but the application of the great symbols of this passage to the New Israel in the times of Messiah makes any mention of "foreign nations" absolutely unnecessary. In the New order, there will be no such thing as Jews and foreign nations. All will be upon exactly the same level. Jews will have no special privileges in the New Israel. We believe that all the foreign nations (Gentiles) are symbolized by the Ten Tribes of lost Israel.

The Millennial view that the distant future will see the actual building of some literal Temple in Jerusalem and the bringing together of the alleged Tribes of Israel together to offer sacrifices in it appears to be the ultimate impossibility. The Tribes of Israel have long been lost as regards their identity, there not being a Jew on earth today who can possibly know what tribe he came from. Furthermore, regarding animal sacrifices, what earthly good could come of such things? Could they be a substitute for the `Blood of Jesus Christ’? "A Temple with such sacrifices now would be a denial of the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. Under Moses, he who sacrificed animals confessed Christ; whosoever would do so now would most solemnly deny him."

Alexander referred to Ezekiel’s Temple as "the Millennial Temple"; but it is our conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ is the only Millennial Temple known to God. The Church is the Temple which was indeed built, by the Son of God Himself; it is the Temple in which the Spirit of God and his indwelling presence may be found forever.

This literal thing that Ezekiel saw, what good could it possibly serve? Could one Temple in Jerusalem serve the millions of the servants of God? What earthly benefit could be won by animal sacrifices? Would the Jews still cheat the worshippers by overcharging for the sacrifices and then cheating on the Temple exchange like they did when they ran it of old? We are mystified indeed by the loyalty some seem to have in regard to theories of a literal Millennium.

Howie noted that the omission of the west gate in chapter 40 was due to the fact that, "It should be understood that there was no west gate; the Temple faced toward the East, and there was no rear entrance." We have already noted that it is very unlikely that Ezekiel had any adequate conception whatever of the true spiritual import of certain elements in his vision. As Skinner said, "Although Ezekiel himself does not distinguish between symbol and reality, it is nevertheless possible for us to see, in the essential ideas of this vision, a prophecy of that eternal union between God and man which is brought to pass by the work of Christ."

The literalists who think they can find the promise of fleshly Jews being glorified in a return to Canaan and the rebuilding of their Temple can find no support whatever for such views in the New Testament. As Keil said, "It is impossible to understand the Holy City of Revelation 11 as the literal Jerusalem, nor the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12 as the Jewish race converted to Christ. The Jerusalem of those passages is spiritually the same as Sodom and Egypt."

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that a great deal of the imagery used by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation strongly resembles the terminology here. The Twelve Gates of the eternal City coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:12), having the names of the Twelve Tribes engraved upon them, is an example of this.

"This whole section of Ezekiel forms an ideal picture which was never actually to be realized, but which strikingly embodies the conception of the abiding presence of God with his people, and of their perfect fellowship with him."

"The last two chapters of Revelation refer to this section of Ezekiel, as the previous chapter refers to that of Gog and Magog. and therefore these chapters of Ezekiel are to be the more regarded."

The Division of the Land Among the Tribes (Ezekiel 48:1-35)

The land is divided among the twelve tribes in Chapter 48. Again, we are faced with a now familiar question -- literal or figurative? If literal, remember that Ezekiel 37:25 tells us that these people will live in this divided land forever. Ezekiel 37:25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever.

After all we have seen, we must conclude that this division of the land is a symbolic division. God is showing us his wonderful plan for the church -- it will include all of his people and none will be left out. He uses the symbol 144,000 in Revelation 7 to say the same thing.

Judah and Benjamin are located right next to the Levites and the Temple area. Judah had the position of honor immediately north of the temple area because the royal Davidic line was from the tribe of Judah. (Genesis 49:8-12) Judah superseded Reuben (the oldest son), who received the next position on the north side. The other two northern places are held by the grandsons of Rachel, the children of Joseph.

The three tribes that are farthest north of the sanctuary (Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) were the sons of Jacob’s concubines. Dan and Naphtali were born to Rachel’s maid Bilhah, and Asher to Leah’s maid Zilpah. Only one Biblical character of note came from tribe of Asher -- and it was a New Testament character! It was Anna the prophetess in Luke 2:36. The positions farthest from the temple were the least honorable positions. Dan is the farthest away to the north, and interestingly as we have seen Dan is excluded from the list of tribes in Revelation 7. The fourth son by a concubine (Gad) is the farthest away from the sanctuary in the southern group of tribes.

To the Jewish mind, this orderly division is a clear message that under the New Covenant everything will be as it should be. God will be in charge, and there will be no confusion.

The central portion is described in Ezekiel 48:8-22.

Much of this description is an expansion of what we were told in Ezekiel 45:1-8. The central portion includes the temple area, the priestly area, the city proper, land belonging to the city, and land along each side belonging to the Prince. (See Lesson 23 for a discussion of the Prince.) The total area is 25,000 by 25,000 cubits, which would be between 50 and 70 square miles.

To the south of the city are the five remaining tribes. Benjamin, as his father’s youngest son by Rahel, has the privileged position immediately next to the sanctuary. Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun come next, all born of Leah. Finally, we have Gad, a son of the concubine Zilpah.

The city that stands south of the temple area has twelve gates, each of which is named after one of the tribes. In this list, Levi has a gate, and so Joseph gets one gate in place of his two sons to keep the total number at 12. On the north side (the side facing the sanctuary) the gates are named after Reuben (the eldest son), Judah (the Davidic ancestor), and Levi (the founder of the priesthood).

These verses can also be compared with Rev 21-22.

As we have seen, that chapter describes the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven. It too had twelve gates, named after the twelve tribes of Israel, but it was also inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Recall that Matthias was added to the apostles in Acts 1:26 to replace Judas, again to maintain the total number of 12. (But Paul was also an apostle, so yet again we seem to have 14 people for 12 positions.) The book closes with the name of that city: "Jehovah is there!"

1. McGuiggan: "A great ending for a great book."

2. Ezekiel’s closing words give the city its new name -- The Lord is There!

Jeremiah 3:17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.

Jeremiah 33:16 In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’

Again, compare Revelation 21:3 -- "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people."

God dwells with man now in the church! If you want to find God, then look in His church. The Lord is there! The church is where He placed the saved, as we see in Acts 2:47.

Zechariah 2:10-11 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst," says the LORD. 11 "Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

In his 25 years of exile and in the 48 chapters of his book: (1) Ezekiel had seen God withdraw from his temple because of the sin that was committed there. (2) He had seen God by the waters of Babylon in the vision of the chariot throne. (3) He had promised the exiles that that there would be a new covenant when God would be with his people forever. (4) Now at last, he saw the completion -- the time when God would be with his people forever under that new covenant.

(Jeremiah 33:14-18) Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ’that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: 15 ’In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ 17 "For thus says the LORD: ’David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18 ’nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.’ "

The Temple and the Land - Ezekiel 47:1 to Ezekiel 48:35

Open It

1. What sorts of conflicts have you seen, or would expect to see, surrounding the division of an inheritance?

2. What particular recollections, positive or negative, do you have regarding rivers?

Explore It

3. At the end of his tour of the restored temple of God, what did Ezekiel see coming out of the temple? (Ezekiel 47:1-2)

4. What happened to the stream of water as it got farther away from the temple? (Ezekiel 47:3-6)

5. What good effects did the river in Ezekiel’s vision have along its route? (Ezekiel 47:7-12)

6. What were God’s instructions for the division of the land among the tribes? (Ezekiel 47:13-21)

7. How did God instruct His people to regard aliens who had settled among them for legal purposes? (Ezekiel 47:22-23)

8. How specific were God’s instructions about which tribe was to receive which piece of land? (Ezekiel 48:1-7; Ezekiel 48:23-29)

9. For what purposes did God set aside the "special gift" of land at the center of the country? (Ezekiel 48:8-22)

10. What different groups were specifically provided for within the special sector of land? (Ezekiel 48:8-22)

11. How were the gates of the city of Jerusalem to be named? (Ezekiel 48:30-34)

12. How did the name of the city reflect its reason for being? (Ezekiel 48:35)

Get It

13. What do you think the river that flowed out of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision might represent?

14. How does this passage show us that God’s blessings are not for a single ethnic group only?

15. Why is it important for us to set aside portions of the blessings God gives to us?

16. What conclusions can we draw from the characterization of the new Israel about the fairness and holiness of God?

17. What do you think is the greatest privilege of any nation, city, or individual?

Apply It

18. How can you set aside something from the material blessings God has given you in order to honor and thank Him?

19. What source of help, inspiration, and power from God is available to prosper your daily life, and how can you take advantage of it?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezekiel 48". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ezekiel-48.html.
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