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 45:1-4. The Priests. (Their estates.)—A rectangular space, roughly eight miles by three, in the centre of which was the sanctuary, is to be reserved for the priests.
Immediately north of this was an area of similar extent for the Levites (Ezekiel 45:5), and south of it lay the city with its adjacent territory, occupying an area of about eight miles by two (Ezekiel 45:6)—the whole thus forming a square. East of this, stretching to the Jordan, and west to the Mediterranean, were the domains of the prince (Ezekiel 45:6-8). (In Ezekiel 45:5 for "twenty chambers" read, with LXX, "cities to dwell in.")
Ezekiel 45:9-17. The Prince. (His duties and rights.)—The ominous allusion in Ezekiel 45:8 to the oppression of Israel by her kings in the past leads Ezekiel to an earnest exhortation to have done with injustice and to maintain inflexible moral principles in civil and commercial life for the days to come. This was to be secured by standardising the weights and measures, so that it would be beyond the power of the reigning monarch to alter them in his own interests. "Five shekels shall be five (not less) and ten ten, and fifty shall be your mina." (So LXX Alex.) The "exactions" of Ezekiel 45:9 are such iniquitous expulsions as Naboth had suffered at the hands of Ahab (1 Kings 21). The homer was about 11 bushels (dry measure) and 90 gallons (liquid measure): the shekel about 2 Samuel 6 d. (though its purchasing power was about ten times as great as now). The prince derived his revenues from a tax upon the people of 1 per cent, of oil, 1⅔ of wheat and barley, and ½ per cent of lambs; but from these revenues he had the obligation of providing for the offerings required in public worship. (In Ezekiel 45:15 for "fat pastures" read, with LXX, "families.")
Ezekiel 45:18 to Ezekiel 46:15. Festivals and Offerings.
Ezekiel 45:18-25. The Passover and Harvest Festivals.—The mention of the prince's responsibility for providing the festival offerings is appropriately followed by a description of the festivals themselves. And first the two half-yearly festivals—of the passover in the first month (i.e. in spring), and of the harvest or "booths" (it is here simply called the festival, Ezekiel 45:25) in the seventh. Each begins in the middle of the month and lasts for a week: while, to ensure the ceremonial purity of the sanctuary, which may have been endangered by error or ignorance, each of the festivals is preceded on the first of the month by a day of atonement (Ezekiel 45:18-20). (In Ezekiel 45:20 read, with LXX, "on the first day of the seventh month.")
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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ezekiel 45". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany