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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 44

Introduction

Chapter 44 The Sacredness of the East Gate - God’s Glory Revealed in the Heavenly Sanctuary - Regulations With Regard to The People’s Own Future Temple.

Verses 1-2

The Permanent Closing of the East Gate of the Heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-3 ).

‘Then he brought me back the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary which looks towards the east, and it was shut. And Yahweh said to me, “This gate will be shut, it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter by it, for Yahweh the God of Israel has entered in by it. Therefore it shall be shut.” ’

Having heard the voice of the Lord Yahweh speaking to him from the sanctuary with instructions about the altar, Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant back to the east gate of the heavenly temple. And he found that it was permanently closed. For a similar abrupt reintroduction of the heavenly visitant see Ezekiel 46:19.

God then spoke to him again and told him the reason for the closure. It was because Yahweh, the God of Israel had Himself entered by it. Thus it was to remain shut up until it released the overflowing of blessing for which it was purposed (chapter 47).

This kind of ban was also known among earthly monarchs of great importance. When the great king had entered a city, the gate through which he entered would for a time be closed to common people because he had passed through it, in recognition of his status and greatness.

This was once again to remind God’s people of His holiness. Once His glory had been in contact with something it was ‘very holy’. It could not be touched by common man. This was now true of the gate of the heavenly temple by which Yahweh had entered. His glory remained in it (compare Exodus 34:29). As far as we know the restriction was never placed on an earthly temple. Even though the glory of Yahweh did enter the second temple (Haggai 2:4-9 with 21-23), there is no mention of His entering by any gate or of an east gate ever having been shut permanently (although nor do we know that it was not. We do not know the make up of the second temple).

But this gate was no ordinary gate. It was a supernatural gate. For one day from under its threshold would flow rivers of living water, and such abundant waters that they would transform the landscape, and the world, and this too was measured by the man with the measuring line (Ezekiel 47:3). Thus the gate symbolised the unique presence of God waiting in heavenly power in His heavenly temple to burst forth on the world.

Verses 1-31

The New Temple (Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35 ).

The book of Ezekiel began with a vision of the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly chariot throne of God in order to speak directly to His people through Ezekiel (chapter 1). He then recorded the departure of God's glory from Jerusalem and the Temple because of the sins of Israel (chapters 8 - 11). This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Now it ends with another vision, the return of God's glory to the land and to His people (chapters 40 -48) depicted in the form of a heavenly temple established on the mountains of Israel to which the glory of God returns, resulting in the final restoration of ‘the city’ as ‘Yahweh is there’. Thus this part of the book follows both chronologically and logically from what has gone before.

Furthermore at the commencement of the book Ezekiel received his divine commission as a prophet (chapters 1 - 3), then he pronounced oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for their sins, declaring that Jerusalem must be destroyed (chapters 4 - 24). He followed this up with oracles of judgment against the foreign nations who had opposed Israel (chapters 25 - 32). Then on hearing of Jerusalem's fall (Ezekiel 33:21), the prophet proclaimed messages of hope for Israel, declaring that God would fulfil His promises to deliver and bless His people Israel, and would restore them to the land of their fathers and establish them in the land.

Yes, more, that they would be established there everlastingly under a new David, with an everlasting sanctuary set up in their midst (stressed twice - Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28) (chapters 34 - 39). And now he declares the presence of that new Temple, even now present in the land, invisible to all but him and yet nevertheless real in so much that it can be measured. It is ‘the icing on the cake’, the final touch to what has gone before (40-48). God is back in His land. For such an invisible presence, a glimpse of another world, present but unseen except by those with eyes to see, compare Genesis 28:12; 2 Kings 2:11-12; 2 Kings 6:17; Zechariah 1:7-11. Indeed without that heavenly temple the glory could not return, for it had to be guarded from the eyes of man.

The heavenly temple can be compared directly with the heavenly throne with its accompanying heavenly escort which Ezekiel saw earlier (chapter 1). That too was the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ark of the covenant, and huge in comparison. So Ezekiel was very much aware of the heavenly realm and its presence in different ways on earth, for he was a man of spiritual vision.

But there is one remarkable fact that we should notice here, and that is that having been made aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, and looking forward to the restoration of Israel and its cities and the Satanic opposition they will face, and even speaking of the building of a new Temple, Ezekiel never once refers directly by name to Jerusalem in any way (in Ezekiel 36:38 it is referred to in an illustration). This seems quite remarkable. It seems to me that this could only arise from a studied determination not to do so. He wants to take men’s eyes off Jerusalem.

Here was a man who was a priest, who had constantly revealed his awareness of the requirements of the cult, who had been almost totally absorbed with Jerusalem, who now looked forward to the restoration of the land and the people, and yet who ignored what was surely central in every Israelite’s thinking, the restoration of Jerusalem. Surely after his earlier prophecies against Jerusalem his ardent listeners must have asked him the question, again and again, what about Jerusalem? And yet he seemingly gave them no answer. Why?

It seems to me that there can only be two parallel answers to that question. The first is that Jerusalem had sinned so badly that as far as God and Ezekiel were concerned its restoration as the holy city was not in the long run to be desired or even considered. What was to be restored was the people and the land, which was his continual emphasis. Jerusalem was very secondary and not a vital part of that restoration. And secondly that in the final analysis the earthly Jerusalem was not important in the final purposes of God. Jerusalem had been superseded. His eternal sanctuary would be set up, but it would not be in the earthly Jerusalem (chapter 45 makes this clear). Rather it would be set up in such a way that it could more be compared to Jacob’s ladder, as providing access to and from the heavenlies (Genesis 28:12) and a way to God, and yet be invisible to man. It is a vision of another world in its relationships with man (compare 2 Kings 6:17). It was the beginnings of a more spiritual view of reality. And it would result in an eternal city, the city of ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:30-35).

Now that is not the view of Jerusalem and the temple of men like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) and Daniel (Daniel 9:2; Daniel 9:16; Daniel 9:19), but they were God-inspired politicians thinking of the nearer political and religious future not the everlasting kingdom. (Daniel does of course deal with the everlasting kingdom, but he never relates Jerusalem to it. He relates the everlasting kingdom to Heaven). Nor do the other prophets avoid mentioning Jerusalem, and they do see in ‘Jerusalem’ a place for the forwarding of the purposes of God (e.g. Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 4:3-5; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 31:5; Isaiah 33:20-21; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 44:26-28; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 62:1-7; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:10-20; Jeremiah 3:17-18; Jeremiah 33:11-18; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:1; Joel 3:16-20; Obadiah 1:17-21; Micah 4:2-8; Zephaniah 3:14-16; Zechariah 2:2-4; Zechariah 2:12; Zechariah 3:2; Zechariah 8:3-8; Zechariah 8:15; Zechariah 8:22; Zechariah 9:9-10; Zechariah 12:6 to Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:11-21; Malachi 3:4), although some of these verses too have the ‘new Jerusalem’ firmly in mind. And certainly God would in the short term encourage the building of a literal Temple in Jerusalem (Haggai and Zechariah). Thus all saw the literal Jerusalem as having at least a limited function in the forward going of God’s purposes, simply because it was central in the thinking of the people of Israel. Although how far is another question. However, Ezekiel’s vision went beyond that. It seems to be suggesting that in the major purposes of God the earthly Jerusalem was now of little significance. It was not even worthy of mention. It is now just ‘the city’.

Yet we find him here suddenly speaking of the presence of a new Temple in the land of Israel. But even here, although it is referred to under the anonymous phrase ‘the city’ (Ezekiel 40:1), Jerusalem remains unmentioned by name. And the temple is not sited in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is simply a place called anonymously ‘the city’, whose future name, once it is redeemed and purified, is ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35). What Ezekiel is far more concerned to demonstrate is that the glory of Yahweh, and His accessibility to His own, has returned to His people in a new heavenly Temple, which has replaced the old, and is established on a mysterious and anonymous mountain, rather than to stress His presence in an earthly Jerusalem. Indeed he will stress that this temple is outside the environs of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 45:1-6).

This should then awaken us to the fact that Ezekiel is in fact here speaking of an everlasting sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28). This is no earthly Temple with earthly functions. There is no suggestion anywhere that it should be built, indeed it was already there and could be measured. It is an everlasting heavenly Temple of which the earthly was, and will be, but a shadow.

It is true that a physical temple would be built, and they are specifically told that the altar described (but pointedly not directly ‘measured’) is to be made (Ezekiel 43:18), for physical sacrifices would require a physical altar, and that will be the point of contact with the heavenly temple, but the important thing would be, not the physical temple, but the invisible heavenly temple, present in the land, of which the physical was but a representation. The ancients regularly saw their physical religious artefacts as in some way representing an invisible reality, and so it is here. A fuller picture of the heavenly temple is given throughout the Book of Revelation. And this temple was now ‘seen’ to be established in the land even before a physical temple was built. God had again taken possession of His land, and awaited the return of His people for the ongoing of His purposes.

But a further point, putting these verses firmly in its context, is that this will make them realise that once they have come through the trials brought on them by Gog and his forces, fortified by the presence of God in their midst, they will be able to enter the eternal rest promised them by God, for His heavenly, everlasting temple was here so that He could dwell among them in an everlasting sanctuary. This was thus putting in terms that they could understand the heavenly future that awaited His people. It was a fuller and more perfect sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26-28; Hebrews 9:11). And it had relevance from the beginning as the sign that God had returned to His land.

This section about the ‘heavenly’ temple can be split into five parts. The first is a brief introduction in terms of the vision that Ezekiel experienced (Ezekiel 40:1-4). This is followed by a detailed description of the new temple complex with the lessons that it conveyed (Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 42:20), the return of Yahweh to His temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), the worship that would follow as a result of that temple (Ezekiel 43:10 to Ezekiel 46:24), and the accompanying changes that would take place with regard to His people as they ‘repossessed the land’ with the final establishment of a heavenly city (chapters 47-48), all expressed in terms of what they themselves were expecting, but improved on. To them ‘the land’ was the ultimate of their aspirations, a land in which Yahweh had promised them that they would dwell in safety and blessing for ever. So the promises were put in terms of that land to meet with their aspirations. But there are clear indications that something even more splendid was in mind as we shall see. The land could never finally give them the fullness of what God was promising them, and once the temple moved into Heaven, ‘the land’ would move there too.

But we should perhaps here, in fairness to other commentators, pause to recognise that there are actually a number of main views (with variations) with regard to these chapters, which we ought to all too briefly consider for the sake of completeness, so as to present a full picture. As we consider them readers must judge for themselves which one best fits all the facts, remembering what we have already seen in Ezekiel the details of a vision that reaches beyond the confines of an earthly land. We must recognise too that accepting one does not necessarily mean that we have to fully reject the others, for prophecy is not limited to a single event, but to the ongoing action and purposes of God. Nevertheless we cannot avoid the fact that one view must be predominant

1) Some have considered that what Ezekiel predicted was fulfilled when the exiles returned and re-established themselves in the land, rebuilding the physical temple and restoring the priesthood. However nothing that actually took place after the return from Babylon matches the full details of these predictions. Neither the temple built under Zerubbabel's supervision, nor the temple erected by Herod the Great, bore any resemblance to what Ezekiel describes here. In fact, there has been no literal fulfilment of these predictions. And there does not seem to have been a desire for it. Thus this view disregards many of the main facts outlined and dismisses them as unimportant. It sees them as mainly misguided optimism or permissible exaggeration.

2) Others have interpreted this section spiritually. They have seen these predictions as fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church, and certainly the New Testament to a certain extent confirms this view. Consider for example the use of the idea in chapter 47 in John 7:38. But many consider that this approach fails to explain the multitude of details given, such as the dimensions of the various rooms in the temple complex. They point out that Ezekiel's guide was careful to make sure that the prophet recorded these details exactly (Ezekiel 40:4). The reply would be that what they indicate symbolically is God’s detailed concern for His people. This view presupposes that the church supersedes the old Israel in God's programme (as many believe that the New Testament teaches) and that many of God's promises concerning a future for Israel find part of their actual fulfilment in the church as God’s temple and as the new Israel, symbolically rather than literally. There is certainly some truth in this position.

3) Still others believe that these chapters describe a yet future, eschatological temple and everlasting kingdom in line with Ezekiel 37:24-28, and following 38-39, but that they again do so only symbolically. These interpreters believe that the measurements, for example, represent symbolic truth concerning the coming everlasting kingdom, including the dwelling of God among His people, the establishing of true and pure worship, and the reception by His people of all that He has promised them in fuller measure than they can ever have expected, but they do not look for a literal temple complex and the establishment of temple worship. Indeed they consider that such would be a backward step in the progress of God’s purposes.

It is claimed by those who disagree with them that this view also overlooks the amount of detail given, so much detail, they would claim, that one could almost use these chapters as general blueprints to build the structures in view. To this the reply is partly that the detail is in fact not sufficient to prepare efficient blueprints, and partly that they bear their own message. Indeed they argue that all the many attempts to make a reliable blueprint have failed. If taken literally, they argue, there are problems with the detail that cannot be surmounted. They are therefore far better seen as depictions of the concern of God for perfection for His people.

4) Still others also take this passage as a an apocalyptic prophecy but anticipate a literal fulfilment in the future. While they accept that some of the descriptions have symbolic significance as well as literal reality, and that some teach important spiritual lessons, and can also be applied to the eternal state, nevertheless, they argue, the revelation finally concerns details of a literal future temple to be built to these specifications, details of a system of worship and priesthood which will be literally established, and actual physical changes in the promised land, which will occur when a people identifying themselves specifically as Israel, not the church, dwell there securely (i.e. during what they call the Millennium).

Those who disagree with them point among other things to the impracticality of the plans for the temple, the impossibility of now establishing a genuine Zadokite priesthood, the contradiction of establishing a system of sacrifices when the New Testament points to a better sacrifice, made once for all, which has replaced all others, the discrepancies and difficulties with regard to the siting of the temple, and the unfeasability of dividing the land in the way described.

5) And finally there is the view that we are proposing here, that the Temple of Ezekiel was never intended to be built by man, but was rather a genuine and real presence of the heavenly temple which was from this time present invisibly on earth (invisible to all but Ezekiel, as the armies of God were present but invisible to all but Elisha -2 Kings 6:17). It is saying that God has established Himself in His own invisible temple in the land ready to carry out His campaign into the future. This can then be seen as connected with the temple seen in Revelation in heaven, with the earthly temples to be built as but a shadow of the heavenly, and with the final temple in the everlasting kingdom. The strength of this position will appear throughout the commentary. Suffice to say at this point that there is nowhere in the chapters any suggestion that the temple should be built from the description presented (in complete contrast with the tabernacle - Exodus 25:40). And this is even more emphatically so because instructions are given to build an altar for worship. Given Ezekiel’s visionary insight this fact in itself should make us hesitate in seeing this as any but a visionary temple already present in Israel at the time of measuring.

Whatever view we take we cannot deny that the New Testament does see God’s temple as being present on earth in His people (Ephesians 2:20-22; 1Co 3:16-17 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 11:1), and that John in Revelation refers throughout to a temple in Heaven, and to a new Jerusalem, clearly related to some of the things described in these chapters. Furthermore his description of the eternal state, of life in ‘the new earth’ after the destruction of the present earth, is partly based on chapter 47-48 (Revelation 21-22). And we might see that as suggesting that once the Messiah had been rejected God’s heavenly temple was thought of as having deserted Israel, and as having gone up into Heaven where it was seen by John, although still being represented on earth, no longer by a building, but by His new people.

Bearing all this in mind we will now consider the text.

Verse 3

“As for the prince, he will sit in it as prince to eat bread before Yahweh. He will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will go out by way of the same.”

This gateway was henceforth to be so holy that only ‘the prince’ could enter it, although he could not use the gate itself. He had to enter the gateway from within (from the outer court) for sacred communion and a sacral feast with Yahweh. This is speaking of the Davidic prince, God’s shepherd and servant (Ezekiel 37:24). It was a reminder that although he was not a sacrificing priest, he was recognised as having special sacred duties and responsibilities, and had a sacred place reserved for himself. He was a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, a royal priest (Psalms 110:4). It indicated the favoured place that a Davidic prince would have for ever in the eyes of God.

The lesson would seem to be that a special place, a very holy place, should be reserved for each Davidic prince to enable him to commune with God and plead for the people, having regard to his sacral status (see 2Sa 21:1 ; 2 Samuel 24:17; 2 Samuel 24:25), a place which would be seen as sacred because it represented that heavenly east gate which had been entered by the manifested presence of God. It was a way of glorifying the final Davidic prince who would one day come to mean so much to Israel and the world. And it confirmed his royal priesthood.

The first reference of this must be to the Spirit empowered Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6), who was responsible for the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10) which would eventually shake the world (Haggai 2:21-23). But it also certainly pointed higher to the coming of the Messianic prince Himself, of whom Zerubbabel was only a pale reflection. A place, a very holy place, was to be reserved, where he could eat bread before Yahweh, and this place would ever be a reminder of that glorious day when Yahweh had returned to the land in His glory, and it would contain a promise of the going forth of future blessing.

It may well be that when Jesus used to go aside into a quiet place to commune with His Father He saw Himself as entering the east gate of the heavenly temple on ‘the mountain’ (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 8:1; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 15:29; Matthew 17:1; Mark 3:13; Mark 6:46; Mark 9:2; Luke 6:12; John 6:3; John 6:15). He alone had unique entry into God’s presence. For He knew more than any other that the earthly temple was rejected, because it had rejected Him, but that God still dwelt among His true people in the heavenly temple. The Kingly Rule of God was there. He had not totally deserted them. And He knew that from that temple, finally embodied in the lives of His people, His word would go forth into the world as Isaiah had promised (Isaiah 2:3). It was from the east gate that rivers of living water would flow out to the world (Ezekiel 47:0), and this represented the Holy Spirit Whom the Messianic prince would abundantly give (Ezekiel 39:29; John 7:37-39; John 15:26; John 20:22).

Whether such a sacred private place was ever set aside for Zerubbabel we do not know, but it is very probable simply because of who he was, the potential Messianic prince, with a special and unique priesthood. This was thus symbolised here. It may not have been in the east gate, (or it may have been, we do not know), but the east gate of the earthly temple had not been entered by Yahweh. But the place would certainly represent the east gate of the heavenly temple. If it was not in the east gate then the fact that no attempt was made to make the east gate a forbidden and holy place would stress that the people in those days recognised that the sacred east gate spoken of by Ezekiel was in the heavenly temple of which the earthly was but a vague copy, and that no attempt needed to be made to copy it exactly.

After all we must remember that they did hope that what they were building would be the Messianic temple (Haggai 2:0), and they certainly hoped, and had every right to hope, that the glory of God would fill the holy of holies (Haggai 2:7), for that temple was built under God’s instructions. We may dismiss it as ‘the second temple’, a fact of history about which we know little, but to them it was the focus of all their hopes and beliefs, and the arbiter of their future. Thus we can be sure that they did all that they felt necessary to make it so.

We have no knowledge of what happened in the end to Zerubbabel, and the Davidic princeship seems to have quickly slipped into the background to await another day (whether immediately or not we do not know). His position would be taken by the High Priest. But certainly there were great expectations to begin with.

Verse 4

The Glory of God Fills the Sanctuary.

‘Then he brought me the way of the north gate before the house, and I looked, and behold, the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh, and I fell on my face.’

Having been instructed about the future Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant to the north gate, facing the sanctuary, and there he saw the glory of Yahweh filling the sanctuary, as he had previously seen the glory of Yahweh at the River Chebar (chapter 1). And once again he prostrated himself before His glory, filled with joy that the eternal God was back in His land to bless it again.

Instructions Concerning the Future Running of the Temple.

Verse 5

‘And Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, set your heart on, and behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears, all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of Yahweh, and all its laws. And set your heart on the entering in of the house, with every going forth from the sanctuary.” ’

He was now told by God Himself to lay down under God’s instruction all that was to be done in the sanctuary which God would cause to be built on earth which to some small extent would mirror the heavenly sanctuary, and who it should be done by. He would declare who could enter where, and who would proceed from where. He was to regulate the whole pattern of future worship in the sanctuary, as Moses had before him.

Verses 6-9

“And you shall say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, O you house of Israel, let all your abominations be sufficient for you, in that you have brought foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to profane it, even my house, when you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations. And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.’ ”

The house of Israel are still described as ‘rebellious’. They have not yet learned their lesson about the need to be obedient to God in every way.

God’s first complaint was that in the past they had treated His sanctuary lightly by leaving mundane tasks to ‘foreigners’ rather than themselves rejoicing in the privilege of serving God in a mundane way. They had got above themselves and had become proud, thus permitting people outside the covenant the privilege of performing ‘covenant’ tasks. Some were even people who were uncircumcised, and even more were of uncircumcised heart. Their hearts were not right towards God.

This had occurred in Solomon’s temple. Consider for example 2 Kings 11:4 where we read of Carite temple guards. It had probably become even more prevalent in the later days of the kings. It was always easier and more pleasant to pass on menial tasks to others. One of the early instances of this kind of attitude took place when the conquered Gibeonites were made menial servants of the tabernacle, although it may be in that case that they were already circumcised, and did submit to the covenant (Joshua 9:23; Joshua 9:27). But it does demonstrate a tendency. Compare also the Nethinim in Ezra 8:20, who were probably previously prisoners-of-war who had been pressed into temple service. The Mosaic Law did forbid any unauthorised person from serving in the tabernacle (or temple) as a priest (Numbers 3:10), but believing foreigners could offer sacrifices there, presumably after being circumcised where necessary, and submitting to the covenant (compare Numbers 15:14; Isaiah 56:3; Isaiah 56:6; Zechariah 14:21).

‘When you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations.’ The bread possibly refers to the shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-6) which was a ‘most holy’ offering. The fat and the blood were the part of the sacrifices regularly given to God. ‘They have broken my covenant’, firstly by being in the sanctuary at all, and also by their behaviour and lack of reverence. These failures have added to the crimes of Israel.

‘And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ They had been given the privilege of being in charge of the routine of the sanctuary, and of the holy things of God, but in their laziness they had passed it on to others not ‘qualified’, to act in their place. They had appointed them ‘keepers of His charge’. Quite clearly this had stretched to the actual dealing with holy things such as the sacrifices.

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.” ’ This was not an exclusion of all not born Israelites. Any could become Israelites by submitting to the covenant and being circumcised as proselytes. But those whose hearts were not true to the covenant, and who were not physically circumcised, thus remaining ‘aliens’, were forbidden entry to the sanctuary. Later, in Herod’s temple, they would be allowed into the court of the Gentiles, but were forbidden under pain of death to venture further. We have actual examples of notices that were put up to warn of this.

Note the reference here to circumcision of the heart. Ezekiel recognised quite clearly that it was not enough to be circumcised. There had also to be a change of heart if men were to be acceptable.

Verses 10-14

The Non-Zadokite Priests Are to Be Excluded From the Inner Sanctuary Because of Their Previous Participation In Idolatry (Ezekiel 44:10-14 ).

“But the Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray, who went astray from me after their idols, they will bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house. They will slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they will stand before them to minister to them. It is because they ministered to them before their idols, and became a stumblingblock of iniquity to the house of Israel, that I have therefore lifted up my hand against them,” says the Lord Yahweh, “And they will bear their iniquity. And they will not come near to me to execute the office of priest to me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, to the things which are most holy. But they will bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all its service, and for all that will be done in it.”

This was taking the Levites back to their original purpose. During the period of the Judges Levites had begun to act as priests, and in the period of the monarchy this had continued. Now they were to revert back to their original status because they had proved unworthy of their advancing claims.

But the term Levites is used here in its widest sense, and includes the Levitical priests other than the sons of Zadok. Apart from the sons of Zadok they had all been willing to cooperate in the idolatry rife in the temple and in the high places (2 Kings 23:4-9). Thus they had to bear their punishment, and that was that they should not minister in the sanctuary itself. They would have responsibility for guardianship of the temple, having oversight at the gates, they would perform temple duties, they would assist the people with the slaying of their offerings and sacrifices, and would be there to minister to them and assist them. But they would have no access to the holy place, nor be able to present the fat and the blood to Yahweh, or to partake of the bread of the Presence. They were banned from His nearer presence.

Their offence is repeated twice for emphasis. They had cooperated in the leading astray of the people, and in the course of it they had misused the holy place, and they would therefore be barred from it. But He did not wholly cast them off. They would still be allowed the privilege of temple service, and still have access to the altar, even though they were excluded from inner sanctuary service.

So the Levitical priests among them would lose their major priestly privileges. They would stand before the people to minister to them, but they would not be allowed to stand before Yahweh, nor to minister to Him. Once again we are conscious of Old Testament attitudes. In my view it is inconceivable that this could apply after the cross. Then all priests had sinned and done evil without distinction. There could be no favoured sons of Zadok. Either all would be made acceptable, or none. And the one sacrifice would offer mercy and restitution to all, conveying the privilege of access into His presence, once they had entered the new Israel (Hebrews 10:19-21).

The message behind this is clear. God observes all our actions, and although His judgment may proceed slowly, it proceeds at last. What a man sows, he reaps.

Verses 15-31

Only The Sons of Zadok May Perform the Full Priestly Functions (Ezekiel 44:15-31 ).

“But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they will come near to me to minister to me. And they will stand before me to offer to me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord Yahweh. “And they will enter into my sanctuary, and they will come near to my table to minister to me, and they will keep my charge.”

One group of priests had clearly proved faithful to Yahweh through all the ups and downs of the history of the kings. Always there was a remnant who were faithful to Yahweh, that is one reason why Yahwism survived, humanly speaking. They were called ‘the sons of Zadok’. These had been faithful to the Davidic king from the first and in the time of the accession of the rightful heir had proved their loyalty and had been awarded the high priesthood (1 Kings 1:8; 1 Kings 1:32; 1Ki 1:38-39 ; 1 Kings 2:35. Compare 1 Chronicles 6:10 with Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:15; 2 Chronicles 31:10). Zadok was descended from the line of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6:50-53). Now the ‘sons of Zadok’ were to be rewarded by being awarded the sole right to ministry in the inner sanctuary. They alone would be able to offer the fat and the blood, they alone would minister at His table (compare Ezekiel 41:22).

‘The sons of Zadok’ are probably not to be seen as totally limited to literal descendants of Zadok (not all such would necessarily have been faithful). Rather they were probably a band of faithful priests who had gathered under the banner of the Zadokite high priestly descendant and were differentiated because of their faithfulness to Yahweh, thus becoming a recognised band named ‘the sons of Zadok’ (those who behave like Zadok - compare ‘the sons of Belial’). Many of them would no doubt be actual descendants, but not necessarily all.

But in the end the return of the exiles in the beginning was not as successful and triumphant as the prophets had hoped. It was one thing to look forward to a new beginning. It was another to hear the call ‘follow me’ and participate in it. The temple was built after many stops and starts, and the Zadokite priesthood was established in the form of Joshua the High Priest (Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14; Zechariah 3:1-10. See also Nehemiah 11:11; 1 Chronicles 9:11). But the times were hard and strict rules were probably not adhered to. Adoption into ‘the sons of Zadok’ of other priests would occur under the Zadokite leadership as long as they were ready to be true. The ancients did not stick to rigid differentiations like we do. They were more elastic, even when outwardly it appeared otherwise.

Further there was the problem of the returning exiles as against those who had remained in the land (who had not heard first hand the words of Ezekiel). Compromises would have to be reached in order for them to be able to worship together, and priests among them who proved worthy were no doubt also incorporated among ‘the sons of Zadok’. (We must remember again that ‘sons of’ did not necessarily mean genealogical purity. It meant more ‘belonging to’ or ‘behaving like’, although no doubt genealogical purity was required for the High Priest himself). Thus it was not a theoretical ideal that was to be achieved, any more than the Mosaic ideal had ever been achieved. It was a practical one. Nor was it necessary to be particular as long as those who became part of ‘the sons of Zadok’ were qualified as priests and faithful to their ministry. Soon any appointed by the high priest because of their faithfulness to Yahweh could be seen as being ‘sons of Zadok’, for he stood in the place of Zadok. But there can be no question that the final authority in the temple did lie with the sons of Zadok, and did so until 171 BC when their high priest was removed for political reasons in the time of great apostasy. The Qumran community looked for the restoration of the sons of Zadok.

Verses 17-18

Ritual Requirements For The Sons of Zadok.

“And it shall be that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they will be clothed with linen garments, and no wool shall come on them while they minister inside the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and shall have linen breeches on their loins. They shall not wear anything that causes sweat.”

These restrictions are similar to those placed on Aaron and his sons (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:27-29). Linen was the white of purity, but it also helped to prevent sweat. Yahweh’s sanctuary was not to be defiled by human earthliness. This statement about human sweat is interesting and helps to explain the ritual washings engaged in by Israelites when they came before God to be ‘made clean’. The water did not ‘cleanse’, for it is always followed by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. They then had to wait on God until the evening to be ‘cleansed’. The water simply removed the earthiness prior to waiting on God. (It was in fact only water that was sprinkled with the ashes of a heiffer that could ‘cleanse’).

Verse 19

“And when they go out into the outer court, even into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they minister, and lay them in the holy chambers, and they will put on other garments, lest they sanctify the people with their garments.”

The linen garments they wore were holy, for they came into contact with holy things. They could not therefore be allowed to come into contact with the mundane. They had to be kept in holy chambers. Nor must they come in contact with the people, or they could do them harm. Here being ‘sanctified’ was not something to be desired. It would bring them into an anomalous position, the mundane being made holy (see Exodus 19:21-24; Exodus 29:37; Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:27). Once being ‘made holy’ they may well have had to be put to death, or at least be required to serve permanently in the temple, so that God’s holiness would not be profaned.

The purpose behind all these distinctions was to bring home to the people the uniqueness and ‘otherness’ of God, and as a reminder of their own unworthiness and sinfulness.

Verses 20-22

“Nor shall they shave their heads, nor allow their locks to grow long. They shall only cut the hair of their heads. Nor shall any priest drink wine when they enter into the inner court. Nor shall they take for their wives a widow, nor one who has been divorced. But they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, or of a widow who is a widow of a priest.”

For some of these restrictions compare Leviticus 21:5-8; Leviticus 21:14. The shaving of the head was probably referring to practises in relation to idolatrous religion, the restriction on long hair differentiated them from the Nazirites (Numbers 1:1-6). But the aim may well have been so as to ensure that the hair was fully covered (Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10), so that when they went into the sanctuary no earthly defilement would drop from it. The restriction on wine was to ensure that none went to their sacred duties in a drunken or merry mood, unbefitting worship. The restriction on women was so that those dedicated to Yahweh and made holy might not share one, and be made one with one, who had previously been given to the mundane. The code for priests was now stricter than previously. All again stressed Yahweh’s distinctiveness and holiness.

Verse 23

“And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the clean and the unclean. And in a controversy they shall stand to judge. In accordance with my judgments shall they judge it. And they will keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall hallow my sabbaths.”

The Zadokite priests would be responsible for trying cases in ‘courts’ of law. A proper judicial system with a recognised authority would be vital immediately on returning to the land. They would also be responsible for showing the people the difference between clean and unclean, which would have become blurred during the exile (compare Ezekiel 22:26; Leviticus 10:10-11; Leviticus 11:47; Deuteronomy 33:10), and for the proper observance of the sacred feasts and of all sabbaths. Thus they had to regulate the religious life of the people in their new beginning.

Verses 25-27

“And they shall come into contact with no dead person to defile themselves. But for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother or for sister who has no husband they may defile themselves. And after he is cleansed they will reckon to him seven days. And in the day that he goes into the sanctuary he will offer his sin offering, says the Lord Yahweh.”

Contact with the dead always defiled and required seven days of cleansing (Numbers 19:11-13 compare Numbers 5:2; Numbers 31:19). (There are actually good medical reasons behind such a restriction, lest any disease has been contracted from the dead body). The priests were only to become involved with the dead in the case of close relatives, where there was no one else to take on the duties. Then they must got through the recognised period of cleansing. The sin offering was required because death was so closely related to sin.

Verse 28

“And they will have an inheritance (literally ‘it will be to them for an inheritance’). I am their inheritance. And you will give them no property holding in Israel. I am their property holding.”

The opening phrase would seem to mean that by their observance of all these things they would gain a special inheritance, an inheritance as the chosen of Yahweh and indeed the inheritance of Yahweh Himself. Yahweh would be all that they needed. Those who totally dedicate themselves to God will not lose their reward. The Lord will provide for them and they will gain a better one (compare Matthew 19:29). Therefore they look for no earthly possessions. Would that modern preachers all recognised the same principles. It would prevent many obscene displays of wealth. There is nothing more dishonouring to God than a preacher displaying excessive wealth.

Verses 29-30

“They will eat the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. And the first of all the firstfruits of everything, and every gift of everything, of all your gifts, shall be for the priests. You will also give to your priests the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on your house.”

God now makes provision for His dedicated priests. They may participate of meal offerings, and of the flesh of sin and guilt offerings (within the prescribed limits) - see Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 2:10; Leviticus 5:13; Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 7:6; Leviticus 7:9-10. Also anything dedicated to God by the people shall be theirs. These were "devoted" (Hebrew ‘herem’) things, things given that the offerer could not redeem (buy back - see Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:28; Numbers 18:14). And all gifts given to God would also be theirs. This would include the first of the dough. The result for the people who give will blessing on their houses.

Verse 31

“The priests shall not eat of anything which dies of itself, or is torn, whether it be beast or bird.”

This was in fact true for all Israelites (Leviticus 7:24), but it is emphatically stressed here that it is especially important for priests. Clearly such animals may have died of disease, or have become infected. But the main point ritually was that they had not been killed cleanly and the blood properly dealt with.

These renewed instructions to the priests were necessary so that when the return from exile took place they would immediately be aware of the need to return to the Law of Moses, and even to go beyond it in being holy before God. What had previously applied only to the High Priest now applied to all priests. For they served a holy God, and had to be a lesson and example to the people.

The assumption is that first a sanctuary would be set up, and then a temple built, which would mirror to some extent the heavenly temple. But only the former is commanded (Ezekiel 43:18). And however mean and crude their temple might be they would be ever aware of the glory of the heavenly temple that it represented. For they were the people of Yahweh, and Yahweh was glorious and holy above all things. Thus they need never be ashamed of their temple however simple it was, because of what it represented.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/ezekiel-44.html. 2013.