Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 44

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary


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.”

Verses 1-3

Ezekiel 44-46. The Temple Officers and Festivals.

Ezekiel 44:1-3 .— From the inner court where he had seen the Divine glory and heard the mysterious voice (435f.) the prophet was led back to the outer eastern gate; but as Yahweh had crossed its threshold on re-entering the Temple ( cf. 1 Samuel 5:5) it was for ever after to remain shut. Only the “ prince”— i.e. the king of the Messianic days— was privileged to “ eat bread before Yahweh,” i.e. to partake of the festal meal, in the vestibule.

Verses 4-14

Ezekiel 44:4-14 . The Levites.— The regulations that follow are among the most important in the book, and they have played a great part in the critical rearrangement of OT literature and the consequent reconstruction of OT history (p. 129). The drastic character of the innovation about to be described is forcibly suggested by the solemn introduction in Ezekiel 44:5. In the past the menial offices of the sanctuary had been discharged by “ aliens”— often probably prisoners of war—“ uncircumcised in flesh” and therefore, from Ezekiel’ s point of view, also “ uncircumcised in heart.” That is an “ abomination,” to be tolerated no more within Yahweh’ s “ holy” house. But who is henceforth to discharge those duties? “ The Levites,” Ezekiel answers; and by that he means those who had officiated at the worship of the high places, nominally no doubt a Yahweh worship, but in reality, and especially to a man like Ezekiel, idolatrous. When these country sanctuaries were declared illegitimate in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 22 f.) the new legislation permitted them to come to Jerusalem and officiate on equal terms with the priests of the Jerusalem Temple ( Deuteronomy 18:6-8). But this generous concession was thwarted by the intolerant attitude of the Jerusalem priests ( 2 Kings 23:9). Ezekiel here solves the problem by admitting them indeed to the sanctuary service, but only to the humbler offices, such as the watching of the gates, the slaying of the sacrificial animals, etc. They could not offer sacrifice— that was the privilege of the priests alone. Thus, while formerly priests and Levites were synonymous and every Levite might be a priest, Ezekiel distinguishes sharply between them, and the distinction is presupposed throughout the priestly literature in the middle of the Pentateuch, which reflects the opinions and usage of the post-exilic Church, in this as in so much else influenced by Ezekiel. In other words he regards the position of the Levites at the Temple as a degradation imposed upon them as a penalty for their participation in the idolatrous worship of the high places. ( Ezekiel 44:6, “ rebellious,” recalls the stern tones of the first half of the book. In Ezekiel 44:7, for “ they have broken” read, with LXX, “ ye broke.” In Ezekiel 44:8, for “ set keepers” read, “ set them as keepers.” For “ for yourselves” read “ therefore,” which introduces Ezekiel 44:9. Ezekiel 44:12, “ lifted up mine hand,” i.e. in oath.)

Verses 15-27

Ezekiel 44:15-27 . The Priests. ( Their duties.)— The only officials qualified to bear the name or discharge the duties of priests— especially the duty of sacrifice— are the Zadokites, i.e. the descendants of the Zadok who had been appointed head of the Jerusalem priesthood by Solomon, when Abiathar, who had sided with Adonijah, was deposed ( 1 Kings 2:35). Doubtless the Jerusalem priests were, in point of morality and religion, superior, broadly speaking, to the country priests ( cf. Ezekiel 44:15), though the revelations in ch. 8 show that the Temple worship could be depraved enough; but the high prerogatives are here conferred upon them, just because of their connexion with Jerusalem. Their officiating dress, which was to be of linen, they had to change, before going out to the people in the outer court: otherwise the sanctity of the dress would have been transferred to the people with whom they came in contact, and rendered them unfit for secular occupations ( Genesis 35:2 *). Other restrictions follow touching the hair, drink, and marriage of the priests. It is significant that wine must not be drunk by a priest who is about to officiate, nor must he incur defilement by touching a dead body, except in the case of very near blood-relations. The wife, however, is excluded, as she is not a blood-relation, and the married daughter, as, by her marriage, she has passed into another family. In the suggestion of “ uncleanness” involved by contact with the dead, we have probably an implicit protest against the worship of the dead ( Leviticus 5:2, Numbers 19*). The duties of the priests ( Ezekiel 44:23 f.), in addition to the offering of sacrifice, are to teach the people the distinction between that which is ritually clean and un clean, holy and unholy, to decide controversies, and to arrange for the festivals and the hallowing of the Sabbath. (In Ezekiel 44:26, for “ is cleansed” read, with Syr., “ has incurred defilement.” )

Verses 28-31

Ezekiel 44:28-31 . The Priests. ( Their revenues.)— Certain offerings are to be the perquisites of the priests, also— as they are the representatives of the Deity— the best of the first-fruits. Formerly the sin-offering and the guilt-offering had been paid to them in money ( 2 Kings 12:16). The welfare of the people would depend upon their fidelity to the claims of the priests. The restrictions in Ezekiel 44:31 had formerly applied to all the people ( Exodus 22:31). (In Ezekiel 44:28 for “ an” read “ no.” )

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.