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The Land Divided Among The ‘Northern’ Tribes (Ezekiel 48:1-7 ).
The land to be divided up is the land west of Jordan so that Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who previously held land east of Jordan, have to be included. The whole scheme is artificial, very different from the previous division in the time of Joshua. Indeed considering the fact that there were already people living in the land, many of them Israelites who had been there for generations, and that the tribes were largely unidentifiable as entities, it is totally unrealistic. We must rather therefore see this as indicating a fair sharing of the land among the people of Israel and the resident aliens who would live among them, put in visionary terms. Ezekiel is expressing an idea rather than a practical event.
“Now these are the names of the tribes, from the north end towards the way of Hethlon to the entering in of Hamath (Lebo-hamath), Hazar-enan at the border of Damascus, northward beside Hamath, and they shall have their sides east and west. Dan one portion, and by the border of Dan from the east side to the west side, Asher one portion, and by the border of Asher from the east side even to the west side, Naphtali one portion, and by the border of Naphtali, from the east side to the west side, Manasseh one portion, and by the border of Manasseh, from the east side to the West side, Ephraim one portion, and by the border of Ephraim, from the east side even to the west side, Reuben one portion, and by the border of Reuben, from the east side to the west side, Judah one portion.”
This further confirms the idealistic picture. Seven tribes are dealt with, the number of divine perfection. It was to be seen as a divinely perfect dwelling in the land. The strips of land, ignoring the geography of the land, were to go from east to west across the land in strict portions, commencing with Dan who were to receive the northernmost section. Then the order of tribes from north to south, but north of the sacred district, was Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Judah, seven tribal allotments of equal size (Ezekiel 47:14). Seven being the number of divine perfection adds to the artificial nature of the account. As the distance east to west would vary with the coastline this would theoretically have to be taken into account if they were to have equal portions. But this is not to intended literally. It is giving the impression of an equal position in the land.
This order does not conform to any other in the Old Testament. These tribal allotments are nothing like those given by Joshua nor are they as large (compare Joshua chapters 14-22). The general progression is possibly to be seen as from the most unfaithful tribe, Dan, who set up the original rival sanctuary (Judges 18:30-31), to the most faithful, Judah, who remained faithful to the Davidic prince and to the sanctuary of Yahweh (1 Kings 12:20). Judah, from which Prince would come, and who were faithful to the sanctuary of Yahweh, received the privilege of being adjacent to the sacred district to its north, while Benjamin, who were closely connected with them and supported them in the split, also remaining faithful to the sanctuary of Yahweh, were adjacent on the south (1 Kings 12:20-21). The seven included sons from each of Jacob’s wives and concubines. Indeed the tribes that were descended from Jacob's concubines (Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Gad) received land to the far north and far south, while those who were descended from Jacob's wives (four on each side) received land toward the centre of the land (see Genesis 35:23-26). This may or may not be accidental.
Chapter Ezekiel 47:13 to Ezekiel 48:35 The Division of the Land and the Establishment of ‘The City’.
Presenting Paradise to the people of Israel at their lowest ebb could only be by giving them a picture of the sharing of the land among ‘the twelve tribes’ and the establishment of God’s City under the Davidic prince. That was the expanded Mosaic dream, with every man living under his own vine and his own fig tree (1 Kings 4:25). But it would depend on their true response and obedience, and as ever that was lacking. Thus the vineyard would be taken from them and given to others (Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16; Matthew 21:41).
They could not dream that, under God, one day the vision of the ‘twelve tribes’ would become fulfilled in the redeemed from all nations of the world who would become the twelve tribes (James 1:1; compare 1 Peter 1:1 and the idealistic picture of the sealed of God in Revelation 7:3-8 who became the great multitude whom no man could number). This would occur as men from all nations were grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:13-24) and adopted into the new covenant, becoming fellow-citizens with the true remnant of the old Israel - ‘the saints’ (Romans 9:6; Ephesians 2:19), and becoming the new seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9; Galatians 3:29), thus themselves becoming the new Israel, the true people of God (Galatians 6:16), made near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13).
That was God’s greater vision. It was regularly in one way or another portrayed by the prophets. In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the world were to be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14), Israel were to be a kingdom of priests to the world in a world which all belonged to Yahweh (Exodus 19:5-6), His servant Israel (the inner Israel who were to seek to restore the whole) were to be the servant to the nations to bring them salvation and the true worship of God (Isaiah 49:3-7), all nations would finally flock to a new Jerusalem to worship in a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66:23; Isaiah 65:17; Zechariah 14:16-17), and so on. But that would first depend on Israel in the person of their Prince coming before God to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:27).
Thus having depicted the new Paradise Ezekiel will now portray the new sharing of the land among the people of God, the establishment of their prince, and the founding of a new city named ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35). This is his picture of the final fulfilment of God’s purposes and of His final triumph, presented to those who would be its earthly source (it was from them that the Gospel would go out to the world - Acts 1:8). It was given to them when they were at their lowest ebb, in order to lift them up and press them on towards full obedience. His people are to be redeemed and restored, in order to enter the everlasting kingdom. God’s triumph is put into words that may seem to us an anticlimax, but to the people of Israel it was their vision and their living hope. It would finally be fulfilled in a way better than he ever envisioned.
So as we look at these last two chapters from Ezekiel 47:13 onwards, we must not be tied down to the detail. We must see them rather as God’s promise, put in terms of the day, that all the dreams that He had given to His true people would come to fruition.
In fact even when they ‘returned to the land’ Israel did not seek to fulfil this vision literally. It was a vision from the past, a dream, not something that they wanted to carry into actuality. Instead of gathering together in twelve tribes, the divisions between the tribes became blurred and almost overlooked, although many did still proudly see themselves as of a particular important tribe (compare Philippians 3:5), but without trying to gather that tribe into a particular section of the land. (Jesus, Who was of Judah, happily lived in Nazareth and was ‘a Nazarene’).
Most of those who belonged to the tribes remained in foreign countries. Intermarriage blurred the distinctions. There were no longer literally ‘twelve’ tribes, and apart from in the earliest days never strictly were (the contents fluctuated, although not in a major way), and this is constantly recognised in that when the twelve tribes are listed the lists tend to differ slightly depending on their purpose (Genesis 29:0; Genesis 49:3-27; (the original twelve sons of Jacob) Numbers 1:5-15; Numbers 1:20-43 (here, and regularly, Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi omitted - note 47:47); 2; 7; 13; 26; Deuteronomy 27:12-13 (the original twelve); Ezekiel 33:6-25 (Simeon omitted); Joshua 15-21; 1 Chronicles 2:1 (the original twelve); Ezekiel 27:16 (Gad and Asher omitted); Revelation 7:5-8 (Dan omitted, Ephraim called Joseph) compare the part lists in Judges 1:0; Judges 5:14-18). It is the ideal that matters, that the full tribal confederacy made up of ‘twelve tribes’ was sharing God’s inheritance, not the detail. The ‘twelve tribes’ simply represent all the people of God.
The Holy Portion And The City (Ezekiel 48:8-20 ). Compare Ezekiel 45:1-5 .
“And by the border of Judah, from the east side to the west side, will be the Gift-offering that you will offer, twenty five thousand cubits in length and ten thousand in breadth, and in length as one of the portions, from the east side to the west side, and the sanctuary will be in the midst of it. The Gift-offering that you shall offer to Yahweh will be twenty five thousand in length and ten thousand in breadth.”
The holy portion, with the heavenly sanctuary in its midst, given to the priests, is adjacent to the portion of Judah. Thus the Levite portion must be below the priests’ portion. The portion is twice here stated to be twenty five thousand by ten thousand, (as in chapter 45), bringing out Ezekiel’s habit of repetition common to much ancient writing. ‘And in length as one of the portions’ must be seen as including with it the prince’s portion.
“And for these, even for the priests, will be the holy Gift-offering. Towards the north twenty five thousand in length, and towards the west ten thousand in breadth, and towards the east ten thousand in breadth, and towards the south twenty five thousand in length, and the sanctuary of Yahweh will be in its midst. It shall be for the priests who are sanctified of the sons of Zadok, who have kept my charge, who did not go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray, and it shall be to them for a Gift-offering from the gift-offering of the land, a thing most holy by the border of the Levites.”
The holy Gift-offering is for the priests. Again its dimensions are emphasised. They clearly have an important message to convey. It is covenant territory. The border looking to north and south is twenty five thousand cubits, that to east and west is ten thousand cubits, both intensive covenant numbers, five squared times a thousand, and five doubled times a thousand. And twice we have been told that the heavenly sanctuary was in the midst. The portion is said to be ‘most holy’. In Ezekiel 45:3 it was the heavenly sanctuary that was most holy. So this portion is now upgraded. It is made one with the heavenly sanctuary. Ezekiel is surely seeking as best he can to convey the idea of a heavenly portion for the pure in heart, the earthly becoming a part of the heavenly.
The ‘gift offering of the land’ recognises the fact that the whole of the land is a gift-offering to Yahweh, all is His, but that the holy portion is so specifically, a king of super gift-offering.
“And answerable to the border of the priests, the Levites will have twenty five thousand in length, and ten thousand in breadth. All the length shall be twenty five thousand, and the breadth ten thousand. And they will not sell in it, nor barter in it, nor will the firstfruits of the land be alienated, for it is holy to Yahweh.”
The portion for the Levites is also upgraded. It is now holy to Yahweh. As the land is being given to the people, so are the priests’ and Levites’ portions upgraded another stage to be closer in significance to the heavenly sanctuary. All earthly trade is forbidden in the Levites’ portion. The mention of the alienating of the firstfruits might suggest that the Levites had actually, under the kings, been selling the firstfruits, which were for them alone, to outsiders for profit. Now their minds are to be on heavenly things alone. They must seek God alone.
“And the five thousand that are left in the breadth, in front of the twenty five thousand, shall be for common use, for the city, for dwelling and for suburbs. And the city shall be in its midst. And these shall be its measurements. The north side four thousand five hundred, and the south side four thousand five hundred, and on the east side four thousand five hundred, and the west side four thousand five hundred. And the city shall have suburbs, towards the north two hundred and fifty, and towards the south two hundred and fifty, and towards the east two hundred and fifty, and towards the west two hundred and fifty.”
The city is to be built in the centre of the portion which is five thousand in breadth by twenty five thousand in length, the portion below and alongside the portion for the Levites. The city itself is to be foursquare, four thousand five hundred on each side. Thus there will be two hundred and fifty cubits of open space to the north and south of the city (to make up the five thousand). These, with the same measurements east and west are to be the suburbs. It will be an open space around the city.
So the city is foursquare, an indication of its perfection. But it is separated from the ‘holy’ Levites’ portion by the open space, and from the ‘most holy’ priests’ portion by the open space and the Levites’ portion, and from the heavenly sanctuary by the open space, the Levites’ holy portion and half the priests’ most holy portion. The city is for ‘common’ use, that is for the people to dwell in, and for arable land for the people to till, even though it is part of the holy Gift-offering (oblation). Ezekiel clearly wishes the city to be kept firmly in its place. Note that its portion is also only half the size of the others. It is of secondary importance
“And the residue in length answerable to the holy Gift-offering shall be ten thousand eastward and ten thousand westward. And it shall be answerable to the holy Gift-offering. And its increase shall be for food for those who labour in the city. And those who labour in the city from all the tribes of Israel will till it.”
The land, on each side east and west of the city and the open space, measuring ten thousand each (by five thousand), will make up the other twenty thousand, which with the five thousand for the city and open space is adjacent to the twenty five thousand of the Levites’ portion. This will be for the production of food for the city, which itself will be inhabited by members of all the tribes of Israel.
“All the Gift-offering shall be twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand. You shall offer the holy Gift-offering foursquare, including what is possessed by the city.”
The whole portion including the priests’ most holy portion, the Levites’ holy portion, and the city and its suburbs and lands, are now described as making up ‘the Gift-offering (oblation)’ which is thus foursquare and holy. The city too has now been upgraded to being to some extent holy, although notice how it is distinguished from the remainder as not quite so potently holy (see also Ezekiel 48:21). The whole has been offered to Yahweh as a gift and offering around His heavenly temple.
It is difficult in all this not to see it as an attempt to portray the equivalent of a ‘heavenly’ portion connected to the heavenly sanctuary, including a ‘heavenly’ city, and made up of priests, Levites and all the tribes of Israel, all slowly merging into the holiness of the heavenly temple. How else could Ezekiel do it given his limitations of concept? John saw the foursquare city in the Book of Revelation chapter 21 as the final fulfilment of the vision.
The Portion of the Prince (Ezekiel 48:21-22 ).
“And the residue shall be for the prince, on the one side and on the other of the holy Gift-offering and of what is possessed by the city, in front of the twenty five thousand of the Gift-offering towards the east border, and westward in front of the twenty five thousand towards the west border answering to (connecting with and parallel to) the portions. And the holy Gift-offering and the sanctuary of the house will be in their midst.”
The prince’s portion is on either side of the Gift-offering, stretching from there to the coast and the Jordan, and twenty five thousand cubits deep. Note that this is specifically so that the holy Gift-offering and the sanctuary can be in the midst of his portions. The prince is to have close and favoured relationship with the holy Gift-offering and sanctuary, as he already had by having his own sanctified place in the east porch of the heavenly temple (Ezekiel 44:1-3). He is to be the favoured of Yahweh.
“Moreover from what is possessed by the Levites and from what is possessed by the city, being in the midst of what is the prince’s, between the border of Judah and the border of Benjamin, shall be for the prince.”
We see here a slight ambivalence and recognition that while the Levite portion and the city portion have been described as part of the holy Gift-offering (Ezekiel 48:18; Ezekiel 48:20) they are only so secondarily. In Ezekiel 48:21 the Levite portion is included in the holy Gift-offering and the city excluded. Here both seem to be excluded from the idea of the holy Gift-offering, although being along with it territory to which the prince’s is adjacent. There are thus clear grades of holiness.
The Remainder of the Tribes (Ezekiel 48:23-29).
‘ “And for the remainder of the tribes, from the east side to the west side, Benjamin one portion, and by the order of Benjamin, from the east side to the west side, Simeon one portion, and by the border of Simeon from the east side to the west side, Issachar one portion, and by the border of Issachar, from the east side to the west side, Zebulun one portion, and by the border of Zebulun, from the east side to the west side, Gad one portion, and by the border of Gad at the south side southward, the border shall be even from Tamar to the oasis of Meribath-kadesh, to the Wadi of Egypt, to the Great Sea. This is the land which you will divide by lot to the tribes of Israel for an inheritance, and these are their several portions,” says the Lord Yahweh.’
To the south of the holy Gift-offering and the city are to be five tribes, the number of covenant relationship. Benjamin, who remained faithful to the Davidic house and to the Central Sanctuary in Jerusalem are adjacent to the city. On the outskirts is Gad who had previously had territory in Transjordan and who was the son of a concubine, not quite so important a tribe. The border described is as described earlier (Ezekiel 47:19).
The land is to be divided by lot to the tribes of Israel, as the promised land had been previously under Joshua. There it signified which portion each tribe should take. This again emphasises that these placements of the tribes described here in chapter 48 are not to be taken literally (they are so specific that no division by lot would be necessary). Rather Ezekiel is conveying ideas. He is connecting with the past and reaching out to the future. He is stressing that God will fulfil His promises, but in ways beyond what man could conceive.
Coming from someone who had no real conception of man living everlastingly in a heavenly realm beyond the grave this was as close as he could get. All was connected with the heavenly sanctuary that had come down from God on ‘a high mountain’. Directly around His sanctuary was the most holy portion, which contained those who had constantly been truly faithful to Him, ministered to Him, and had their concentration solely on Him. Then came the Levites who had not been quite so faithful, although with a record of past faithfulness. But they too now served him only and sought first His glory, avoiding the secular (they did not buy or sell). Then came the city in which lived those from all the tribes who chose to do so, electing to be a part of the holy portion. On either side are the territories of the prince in his specially favoured position before Yahweh, but not as favoured as that of the priests. (Once the Prince also became High Priest He was the most favoured of all. He combined the highest of the secular with the highest of the sacred). Connected with all are the territories of the twelve tribes, divided into seven and five, the numbers of divine perfection and covenant, with Judah closest to the most holy portion because of past faithfulness, but also having a record of unfaithfulness, as had they all. And God was all in all, surrounded by His forgiven and restored people.
This is the earthly equivalent of the scene in Relation 4 & 5, and of the heavenly scenes that follow, with the throne of God in the midst, surrounded by grades of worshipping beings. It is a picture of Heaven and of ‘the new earth’, the land of Israel absorbed into the heavenly temple..
“And these are the exits of the city. On the north side. Four thousand five hundred in measurement. And the gates of the city will be in accordance with the names of the tribes of Israel. Three gates northward, the gate of Reuben, one, the gate of Judah, one, the gate of Levi, one. And at the east side. Four thousand five hundred in measurement, and three gates, even the gate of Joseph, one, the gate of Benjamin, one, the gate of Dan, one. And at the south side. Four thousand five hundred by measurement, and three gates, the gate of Simeon one, the gate of Issachar, one, the gate of Zebulun, one. At the west side. Four thousand five hundred, with their three gates, the gate of Gad, one, the gate of Asher, one, the gate of Naphtali, one. It shall be eighteen thousand round about.
The city is now described as containing all the original tribes of Israel, all on equality with each other, Levi one with the others. It summarises the whole people of God. Three to a side may represent foursquare completeness. The number of the elect is now complete. The numbers are multiples of three and five (3 times 3 times 5 times a hundred), a declaration of covenant completeness, and an intensified multiple of three (3 times 3 times 2 times a thousand) denoting total completeness.
. And the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘Yahweh is there.’ ”
This finalises the whole message of the book. It began with the arrival of the heavenly temple and finishes with the city, finally restored. It has become the place of the presence of Yahweh with His people. It is now the new earth. It is the end to which all was moving from the moment that the heavenly temple descended on the anonymous high mountain. All is due to the arrival of the heavenly temple well outside the city and its being filled with the glory of God. ‘Jerusalem’ could not be restored from within, it required the divine power acting continually upon it from without.
Did John have this picture in mind when he wrote, “and the word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)?
It is John also who firmly places this city in the new heaven and earth, combining the gates of the city representing the elect of Israel (21-12-13), with the twelve foundation stones of the Apostles (Ezekiel 21:14), the representatives of the elect Israel and the new Israel. The city had now been prepared by God and was ready for her marriage with her husband. She will be united with the heavenly Lamb, and God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and enthroned) will be its temple (Ezekiel 21:22). And all the redeemed of all the nations will be there, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Ezekiel 21:24-27).
May God grant that many who read these words be among that number.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 48". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany