Ezekiel 40-48. Religious Organisation of the People in the Messianic Days.
To a modern taste these chapters, crowded with architectural and ritual detail, may seem dreary and irrelevant: to Ezekiel they are the real climax of his book, the crown as well as the conclusion of all his literary and religious activity. The past had been stained with the record of innumerable sins against the holiness of Yahweh (Ezekiel 16, etc.)—His ritual no less than His ethical holiness: that must be made for ever impossible. As the God is holy, so must the people and the land be holy, and to a man of Ezekiel's priestly temper, that can be secured only by a definitely organised religious constitution and by a minutely prescribed ritual. Already we have seen how scrupulously the land was swept clean of whatsoever defiled it (Ezekiel 39:11-16) after the terrific assault of Gog and his hordes: this is significant of the punctilious purity which must everywhere prevail, and most of all in the formal worship of the sanctuary. True, the people of the latter days will be in possession of the spirit (Ezekiel 39:29); but spirit must express itself, and the expression must be correct. In this Ezekiel furnishes a very striking contrast to the severe spirituality of Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 3:16; Jeremiah 31:33).
Two considerations should be steadily held before the mind in pursuing one's way through the labyrinthine detail which seems to stand in so little real relation to pure and undefiled religion. (a) One is supplied by the very last phrase of the book—"Yahweh is there" (Ezekiel 48:35). This is the name of the holy city whose Temple, worship, and ministers are described with so thorough and faithful a minuteness. He is there—there, and nowhere else with the same completeness, i.e. among the people whose whole life and worship and approach to God are regulated by the standards laid down by His inspired prophet. This broad principle explains and controls the detail, and helps us to approach it more sympathetically, when we see the faith and hope, the devotion and enthusiasm by which it is inspired. (b) This whole section, ordaining the conditions by which the people and priests may maintain the requisite holiness and so make it possible for their holy God to return and dwell among them, is most fully appreciated when it is seen as the happy counterpart of the stern chapters 8-11 with their vivid descriptions of the base idolatries of Israel, and the solemn departure of Yahweh which those idolatries had occasioned. The lurid past is gone, and already Ezekiel beholds the dawning light of the radiant future, when it may be said of the people, "Yahweh dwells among them," and of the city, "Yahweh is there." The uninviting detail is lit with the presence of the God who had once withdrawn because His holiness had been insulted, but who has returned to abide with His people for evermore, because they know and do His holy will, as thus revealed.
The section is of great importance in the criticism of the Pentateuch, and for the historical reconstruction of the development of OT. Without going into detail, suffice it here to say broadly that the legislation here sketched is an advance on Dt., and prepares the way for the more elaborate legislation of the so-called Priestly Code (P) embodied in the Book of Lev. and the cognate sections of Ex. and Nu. This entirely agrees with what we know of the dates of the other codes. There are excellent reasons for believing that the Deuteronomic legislation was promulgated in the seventh century B.C. (621) and the Priestly Code in the fifth. Ezekiel's sketch comes between—in the sixth: its date, to be precise, is 572 (401). It is his last legacy to his people, conceived in the maturity of his power, elaborated with superlative accuracy, instinct with practical wisdom, and destined to exercise an immeasurable influence over the subsequent religious development of his people. See further pp. 46f., 129, 131.
Ezekiel 47, 48. The Holy Land, its Beauty, Boundaries, and Divisions.
Now that the Temple and its worship, which are indispensable to the welfare of the land, have been described, Ezekiel directs his parting glance to the land itself, introducing his description with a beautiful and suggestive picture, particularly refreshing after the long stretch of minute ceremonial detail, of the life-giving stream that flowed from the heart of the sanctuary. The clearness and keenness with which the prophet's imagination is working, comes out in the frequent repetition of the word "Behold."
Ezekiel 40-48. The Temple.
Ezekiel 40:1-4. It is worthy of note that the sketch starts with the old familiar phrases "the hand of Yahweh was upon me" and "in the visions of God" (cf. Ezekiel 1:1-3). These phrases point to an ecstatic experience. It is highly improbable, though we need not say inconceivable, that the details of the sketch were flashed upon his inward eye in a trance. Doubtless for years his mind had been dwelling long and lovingly upon it; but there is nothing improbable in assuming that, in some sublime ecstasy, the vision rose before him as a whole, with all its parts compactly built together. It came to him on New Year's Day, when his heart would readily fill with hope and with thoughts of new beginnings. He seemed to be transported to the hill on which Jerusalem stood, only it seemed of far more than its natural height, and on it was the structure of the Temple, which itself looked like a city. He was accompanied by a supernatural guide, prepared to take the measurements of the building, and the prophet was instructed to declare to his people what he saw.
Ezekiel 40:5-16. He is first struck by a thick wall encircling the Temple. Steps led up to the eastern gateway which pierced the wall, and on each side of which were three guard-rooms.
Ezekiel 40:17-27. Through this he came into the great outer court, round which ran a pavement, with thirty chambers fronting on the pavement—probably for the use of the people in their celebration of the festal meals. On the northern and southern sides of the court there were gateways and guard-rooms similar to those on the east side.
Ezekiel 40:28-37. From the south gate of the outer court he crosses to another court gateway (reached by a flight of steps) which leads to another court—the south gateway of the inner court, which, like that of the outer court, had also guard-rooms on either side; and on the east and north side of the inner court were gateways precisely similar.
Ezekiel 40:38-47. By the (eastern?) gate (and possibly also the northern and southern) of this inner court was a chamber in which the burnt offering was washed. There were also tables on which the animals were slain and other tables on which the instruments of slaughter were placed. At the south there was a chamber for the Levitical priests who had the general charge of the Temple, and at the north another for the Zadokite priests who had more particularly charge of the altar which stood in the middle of the inner court and in front of the entrance to the Temple proper. (In Ezekiel 40:44 for "chambers for the singers" read, with LXX, "two chambers.")
Ezekiel 40:48 to Ezekiel 41:4. This consisted of three parts: (a) the porch—with a pillar on either side of it—reached by a flight of steps (Ezekiel 40:48 f.; in Ezekiel 40:49, for "eleven" read, with LXX, "twelve"); (b) the nave or large inner room beyond it (the "holy place"), whose name, "temple," was often applied to the whole structure; (c) beyond that the mysterious "most holy" place (half the length of the "holy place"), where Yahweh dwells, and only the supernatural guide (but not Ezekiel) is permitted to enter (Ezekiel 41:3 f.).
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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ezekiel 40". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany