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The present chapter continues the description of "the house," and falls into four subdivisions.
(1) The interior of the temple, or the holy and most holy places (Ezekiel 41:1-4);
(2) the wall and the side buildings (Ezekiel 41:5-11);
(3) the gizrah, or separate place (Ezekiel 41:12-14);
(4) the projecting portions of the temple building (Ezekiel 41:15-26).
The interior of the temple.
The temple. הַהֵיכָל frequently applied to the whole building (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chronicles 3:17; Jer 1:1-19 :28; Haggai 2:15; Zechariah 6:14, Zechariah 6:15), is here used of the nave of the temple, the holy place, as distinguished from the holy of holies. Schroder alone of commentators holds by the extended meaning. The measuring began from the east wall of the holy place. The posts (אֵילִים), as in Ezekiel 40:9, the corner pillars on each side of the entrance, measured six cubits broad, whereas those of the porch measured only five (Ezekiel 40:48). The phrase, The breadth of the tabernacle; or, the tent (הָאהֶל), has occasioned difficulty. Hitzig, Ewald, and Smend propose to substitute for הַאֹהָל the word הָאָיִל ("post"), which might in itself be unobjectionable, only no such device is required to render the clause intelligible. It is sufficient to understand the phrase as signifying that the measurements noted had a special relation to the entire breadth of the temple, here styled "tabernacle," or "tent," to indicate the covered portion of the edifice, which, in this respect, and in respect of its being the place of meeting between Jehovah and Israel, resembled the ancient sanctuary of the wilderness.
The breadth of the door, i.e. of the opening from the porch, was ten cubits; whereas the door into the porch was eleven cubits (Ezekiel 40:49). This would have the effect of rendering the door into the holy place more conspicuous. The sides (or, shoulders) of the door—according to Kliefoth, "the side walls," from the door to the corner pillars; according to Keil, the shoulders lay behind the pillars—were five cubits on the one side, and five cubits on the other; i.e. were as broad as the posts of the porch. The length of the holy place, forty cubits, and the breadth, twenty, were the same as in the Solomonic structure. The entire frontage of the holy place was 20 cubits of interior breadth + 12 (2 x 6) cubits, as breadth of pillars—32 cubits; or, otherwise, 6 + 6, for the two pillars, 5 + 5 for the sides, and 10 for the door opening = 32 cubits in all.
Then went he inward; i.e. into the most holy place. As this could not be entered even by a priest, but only by the high priest once a year (Exodus 30:10; Le Exodus 16:17; Hebrews 9:7), Ezekiel was left without, while "the man" announced to him in succession the measurements of the adytum, as these were taken. First, that of the post of the door (the singular for the plural, meaning the post on either side of the doorway) two cubits. Next, that of the door itself, which is given first as six and second as seven cubits. Kliefoth and Keil take the six as the height and the seven as the breadth of the entrance into the holy of holies; but as no other measurement of height occurs throughout this description, Dr. Currey regards "six" as the distance from "pest" to "post," and "seven" as the actual width of the door, each post projecting half a cubit beyond the hinge of the door, which opened inward. Ewald and Villalpandus, after the LXX; read, "the entrance six cubits and the flanks of the entrance seven cubits;" and these figures, 7 + 6 4- 7, certainly make up the breadth of the interior; only it is impossible to extract this meaning from the Hebrew without tampering with the text.
The holy of holies was an exact square of twenty cubits, as in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:20), and to the measuring-man, who had turned himself round, lay along the whole breadth of the temple or holy place.
The wall and side buildings.
The measuring commenced with the wall of the house, i.e. with the outer wall, which, beginning at the pillars (Ezekiel 41:1), enclosed the temple on its south, west, and north sides. Its great thickness, six cubits, corresponded with and even surpassed the colossal proportions of architecture in the ancient East. The walls of Solomon's temple, though not mentioned in either Kings or Chronicles, could hardly have been less than four cubits thick (see 1 Kings 6:6), and were probably more (Schurer). Like the Solomonic (1 Kings 6:5-10), the Ezekelian temple had side chambers, which, like those of the earlier building, served as storehouses for priests' clothing, temple utensils, and temple treasures (1 Kings 7:51; 2 Kings 11:2; 2 Chronicles 5:1), and measured four cubits broad in the clear.
The side chambers were three, one over another, and thirty in order; literally, side chamber over side chamber, three and thirty times; which means that they were ranged in three stories of thirty each; in this, again, agreeing, as to number and position, with the chambers in Solomon's temple (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8.3. 2). It is not needful to alter the text, as Bottcher, Hitzig, Havernick, and Ewald propose to do, in order to make it read, with the LXX; "chamber against chamber, thirty and (this) three times," on the ground that אֵל and not עַל is the preposition, because in Ezekiel אֵל often stands for עַל (Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 31:12; Ezekiel 40:2). How the chambers were arranged along the three sides is not stated; but most likely there were twelve threes on each of the longer sides, the north and the south, and six threes on the shorter or western side. Like the chambers in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:6). those in Ezekiel's were not fastened to "the wall of the house," i.e. of the temple proper; the only question is whether they were built against the temple wall, as Kliefoth, Keil, Smend, and Schroder suppose, or, as Ewald and Dr. Currey seem to think, against another wall, five cubits thick (verse 9), which ran parallel to the temple wall, and which, having been built expressly for the support of the side chambers, might properly enough be said to be "of the house," i.e. belonging to it. In the former case the chambers would doubtless be fastened to the temple wall by means of "ledges," "holds," "rebates," as in the temple of Solomon: in the latter case, as Ewald translates, there would be "a light passage between the wall of the house and the side chambers around."
See drawing, Ezekiel's Temple
Legend to Ezekiel's Temple
A, porch of temple.
B, holy place, 20 x 40 cubits.
C, holy of holies, 20 x 20 cubits.
E, wall of house, 6 cubits.
F, side chambers, 4 cubits.
G, wall of chambers, 5 cubits.
H, light passage, 5 cubits (in other plans, this light passage runs in front of the chambers).
p, q, r, s, temple area, 100 cubits square.
s, s, s, free space, 20 cubits broad.
a, altar of incense in the holy place.
d, d, doors of side chambers.
In the side chambers an enlarging took place as they went up, i.e. the floorage of the second story exceeded that of the first, and the floorage of the third that of the second; though how this was effected can only be conjectured. If the chambers were built against the temple wall, then probably the wall at each story went in, say a cubit or a cubit and a half from the outside, so as to admit the beams; or, if the chambers were built against an outside wall, a similar recession of the wall from the inside may have taken place. In either ease, the (interior) breadth of the house, i.e. of the side chambers, would be upward, and would increase from the lowest chamber to the highest by the midst. Plumptre, after Kliefoth, suggests that the increasing size of the chambers in the three stories may have been due to projecting galleries. Ewald, taking "house" as "the temple," supposes that it gradually became bigger. i.e. broader, as it rose, which could be the case only if the side chambers were built against the temple wall, and the increased width of the stories was scoured By projecting galleries or corridors. Greater obscurity attaches to the second clause, and a winding about still upward to the side chambers, which the Authorized Version and some expositors regard as an indication that Ezekiel's temple had a spiral staircase like that in Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 6:8); and probably some such mode of passing from story to story did exist in Ezekiel's temple; yet the clause, when properly rendered, does not refer to this. The Revised Version reads, "And the side chambers were broader as they encompassed the house higher and higher; for the encompassing of the house went higher and higher round about the house; therefore the breadth of the house continued upward; and so one went up (most likely by a spiral stair) from the lowest chamber to the highest by the middle chamber."
explains that "the house" did not stand upon the level ground, but, like many temple buildings in antiquity (see Schurer, in Riehm's 'Handworterbuch,' art. "Tern. pel Salerno"), upon a height—or, raised basement (Revised Version)—round about, which agrees with the statement in Ezekiel 40:49 that the temple was approached by means of a stair. In consequence of this, the foundations of the side chambers were a full reed of six great cubits; or, of six cubits to the joining (Revised Version); "six cubits to the story" (Ewald); literally, six cubits to the armpit. This can hardly mean six cubits each equal to the distance from the elbow to the wrist, which would be a new definition of the length of the reed; but as Havernick and Kliefoth propose, must be taken as an architectural term indicative of the point where one portion of the building joined on to another. Accordingly, by most interpreters the six cubits are considered to be a statement of the height of the ceiling above the floor in each story, which would give an elevation of eighteen cubits for the three stories; but probably they mark only the height of the temple and side chamber basis above the ground. Kliefoth includes both views, and obtains an altitude of twenty-four cubits from the ground to the temple roof.
The thickness of the wall, which was for the side chambers on the outside, is next mentioned as having been five cubits, i.e. the same as the breadth of the wall of the porch (Ezekiel 40:48), but one cubit thinner than that of the temple (Ezekiel 41:5). The clause which follows is obscure. By that which was left, the Authorized and Revised Versions understand the place of the side chambers that were within—or, that belonged to the house (Revised Version)—without intending to assert that the whole space left, which was five cubits (Ezekiel 41:11), was occupied by the side chambers, which were only four cubits broad (Ezekiel 41:5). Accepting these measurements, Kliefoth and Keil regard the free space as a walk of five cubits broad on the outside of the side chambers. Ewald, and Dr. Currey, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' place the five cubits between the temple wall and the side chambers.
Ewald and Smend, following the LXX; combine verses; 9 and 10 thus: "And that which was left between the side chambers of the house and the cells (along the inner court wall) was twenty cubits round about the house on every side." Interpreters who reject this combination of the verses explain Ezekiel 41:10 as a statement of the distance between the outside wall of the side chambers and the cells of the inner court. Between the two lay the wideness of twenty cubits; i.e. a free space of such breadth on the north, south, and west sides of the house.
The place that was left has been differently explained (see above on Ezekiel 41:9); but on any hypothesis the side chambers opened on the free space towards the north and towards the south, g.s. one row of chambers was entered by a door from the south, another by a door from the north. The corridor into which the chambers opened—whether between them and the house (Ewald, Currey) or between them and an outside wall (Kliefoth, Hengstenberg, Keil)—was five cubits broad. Thus the whole breadth of the temple court can be obtained.
I. The breadth of the court—
1. Breadth of the house 20 cubits
2. Breadth of wall, 6 x 2 cubits = 12 cubits
3. Breadth of chambers, 4 x 2 cubits = 8 cubits
4. Breadth of chamber wall, 5 x 2 cubits = 10 cubits
5. Breadth of corridor, 5 x 2 cubits = 10 cubits
6. Breadth of free space, 20 x 2 cubits = 40 cubits
II. The length of the court—
1. The length of the house—60 cubits
2. The temple wall—6 cubits
3. The chambers—4 cubits
4. The chamber wall—5 cubits
5. The corridor—5 cubits
6. The space towards the west—20 cubits
The "house" was thus one hundred cubits square. The perch of the house was reckoned as belonging to the inner court (Ezekiel 40:48).
The separate place.
See drawing, The Separate Place
Legend for the Separate Place
G, gizrah, or separate place, 90 x 70.
B, wall of gizrah, 5 cubits thick.
S, free space, 10 cubits broad.
T, T, temple place, 20 cubits abroad.
The building that was before the separate place. The word הַגּזְרָה, occurring only in this chapter, and translated "separate place," is derived from a root signifying to "cut off," and here denotes a space behind the temple on the west, which was marked off from the rest of the ground on which the temple with its courts and chambers stood, and devoted most likely to less sacred purposes. Behind Solomon's temple lay a similar space (2 Kings 23:11; 1 Chronicles 26:18), with buildings upon it and a separate way out; and as the name gizrah appears to convey the notion of something that required to be kept apart and removed from the sacred precincts, the opinion of Kliefoth is probably correct that "this space with its buildings was to be used for the reception of all refuse, sweepings, all kinds of rubbish—in brief, of everything that was separated or rejected when the holy service was performed in the temple, and that this was the reason why it received the name of 'the separate place.' The dimensions of this building were
(1) the breadth, seventy cubits;
(2) the length, ninety cubits;
(3) the thickness of the wall, five cubits round about.
Ezekiel 41:13, Ezekiel 41:14
Thus the whole breadth of this erection was seventy plus ten, or eighty cubits; which, with ten cubits of free space on the north and south sides, make a hundred cubits in all. Its whole length was ninety plus ten, or a hundred cubits. The entire area was thus once more a hundred cubits square. At this point, again, a convenient estimate of the whole dimensions of the temple area may be made.
I. The breadth of the area from west to east—
1. The separate place (including walls)—100 cubits
2. The "house" (with free space behind)—100 cubits
3. The inner court—100 cubits
4. The outer court (the two gates with space between them)—200 cubits
II. The length of the area from north to south—
1. The outer court (the two northern gates with spaces between them)—200 cubits
2. The "house" (with free space on both sides)—100 cubits
3. The outer court (the two southern gates with distance between them)—200 cubits
The projecting portions of the temple building.
With this verse begins a summary of measurements of which some have been already given, while others are new. Starting from the gizrah, or separate place, this summary mentions that the "man" measured
(1) the whole length of the erection;
(2) the length of its "galleries" on the north and south sides; and
(3) the inner temple with the porches of the court.
The length of the separate place is not stated, that having been already done (Ezekiel 41:13). The length of the galleries is specified as a hundred cubits, which shows they extended along the whole side of the building. As for the nature of these "galleries," or אַתִּקִים, nothing can be ascertained from the derivation of the word. The LXX. renders it in this verse by ἀπόλοιπα ("things left over"), in Ezekiel 42:3, Ezekiel 42:5 by περίσυλα and στοαί: the Vulgate has hero ethecas, the Hebrew Latinized, and in Ezekiel 42:1-20. portions. The ethekim were most likely passages or perches running along both (north and south) sides of the building, and supported either by pillars or ledges in the wall. The inner temple, which was measured, was the "house" which stood between the gizrah and the inner court; the porches of the court were the gate buildings in the inner and outer courts. Of all these the dimensions have already been reported, and are not again rehearsed.
Ezekiel 41:16, Ezekiel 41:17
Introduce several new details.
(1) That the door-posts (rather, thresholds), and the narrow (or, closed) windows, and the galleries round about on their three stories, were covered with a wainscoting of wood from the ground up to the windows.
(2) That the windows, whether openings on the first floor (Kliefoth) or skylights in the roof (Hengstenberg), were "covered," which may signify, as Ewald and Plumptre think, that they were not left open, but protected by a lattice-work of bars or planks; or, as Currey suggests, that they were wainscoted as well as the space from the ground to the windows.
(3) That nothing was constructed by caprice or at random, but that all about the building proceeded by exact measurement.
As in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:29), the wainscoting was adorned with artistic carving of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree and a cherub standing alternately. Each cherub had two of its four faces exhibited (since four could not be conveniently represented on a plain surface)—a man's face (symbolizing the rational creation) directed towards the palm tree on one side, and a young lion's face (symbolizing the irrational creation) turned towards the palm tree on the other side. This particular style of ornamentation was employed from the ground unto above the door, which Plumptre interprets as an indication of the height of the palm trees and cherubic figures, but which probably meant the same thing as the preceding clause, "through all the house round about." Cherubic figures formed part of the adornment of the tabernacle curtains (Exodus 26:1; Exodus 36:8). (On the nature of the cherubim and their symbolic significance, see Ezekiel 1:5-10.)
The posts of the temple were squared; literally, as for the temple the doorposts were squared, or "the sanctuary post work of square form" (Keil). The remaining clauses ought to read as in the Revised Version, "As for the face of the sanctuary, the appearance thereof was as the appearance of the temple," the sanctuary being the holy of holies as distinguished from the holy place or the house as a whole, The precise force of the last words, the appearance as the appearance, is supposed by Kliefoth and Keil to be that the sanctuary door, like that of the temple, had square pests; by Ewald, that it appeared to be what it really was; by Plumptre, that the appearance was like that he (Ezekiel) had formerly described: by Currey, that the appearance in this vision was the same as in the other visions, and as in the actual temple (comp. Ezekiel 43:2). Something can be said for each of these attempts to elucidate a dark phrase. Smend and Hitzig, follow the LXX. in connecting the last clause of Ezekiel 41:21 with Ezekiel 41:22 in this fashion, "And in front of the holy place was an appearance like the sight of a wooden altar."
The altar. This was the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1, etc.), which stood in the holy place in contradistinction to the altar of burnt offering, which was located in the outer court. The altar of burnt offering in Solomon's temple was of brass (2 Chronicles 4:1), and in the tabernacle of shittim wood (Exodus 27:1); the altar of incense in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:1) and in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 7:48) was constructed of wood overlaid with gold, but in this temple only of wood. Plumptre, commenting on this, writes, "Possibly Ezekiel shared the feelings of Daniel (Daniel 9:25), that the rebuilding would be 'in troublous times,' and did not contemplate an abundance of gold as likely to be the outcome of the scant offerings of an impoverished people." The dimensions of this altar in the tabernacle were two cubits high and one cubit long and broad; in the Solomonic temple, though not stated, they were probably the same as in the tabernacle; in Ezekiel's temple they were three cubits high, two cubits long (and probably two cubits broad). The corners of the altar were most likely "the horns, or horn-shaped points projecting at the cornets." The length. Ewald, Keil, Smend, and others, after the LXX; change into "base," "stand," or "pedestal," on the ground that the length has been already mentioned, and that one does not usually speak of a length being of wood; but it does not strike one as peculiarly objectionable to say that the altar had corner pieces, a length, and walls (or sides) of wood, meaning thereby to intimate that it was wholly constructed of timber. When the prophet's attention had been directed to it, the guide who accompanied him observed, This is the table that is before the Lord, not because, as Bottcher conjectured, the altar was regarded as including the table of showbread, but because in the Law the offerings laid upon the altar had been spoken of as the bread of God (see Le Ezekiel 26:6, Ezekiel 26:8, Ezekiel 26:17, Ezekiel 26:21, 22; and comp. Malachi 1:7); and because in this vision table and altar appear to be used inter-changeably (see Ezekiel 44:16).
The doors of the temple and of the sanctuary form the next subject for description. Again as in the Solomonic edifice (1 Kings 6:31, etc.), the holy place and the holy of holies had two doors; i.e. each had one door composed of two turning (or, folding) leaves, ornamented, like the walls of the house, with carvings of cherubim and palms. On the face of the porch without were thick planks, by which Ewald understands "foliage" or "leafwork," but which, with greater likelihood, were either as Keil renders, "moldings of wood" for the threshold; or "cornicings," as Kliefoth translates; if not, as Smend suggests, projecting beams to afford shelter to one standing in the porch; or as Hengstenberg and Plumptre say, "steps." The last verse states that narrow or closed (as in Ezekiel 41:16) windows admitted light into the porch, while carvings of palm trees adorned its walls on each side. The cherubic figures, Plumptre hints, were absent, because the porch was a place of less sanctity than the temple. Hengstenberg notes that the words, "thick planks," "thick beams," or "steps," as he translates, fitly close this description, "as placing the extreme east over against the extreme west with which it began."
The new temple.
Ezekiel is a priest (Ezekiel 1:3). It is natural that his thoughts should run on the lines of his professional occupations, and travel to the familiar haunts of his old life. Thus we find that with him the picture of the restoration centers in a glorified temple, just as to Isaiah the statesman of war-times it appears as an era of unparalleled peace (Isaiah 11:6), and as to Daniel the minister of a foreign court it appears as a kingdom conquering the great world-empires (Daniel 7:27). The happy future is so rich and wide and manifold that it has room for all of these prophecies. Each prophet may conceive it in his own style. We must combine all their various visions if we would gain anything like a complete idea of its character, and even then we shall fail, for "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Let us now consider the special suggestiveness of the restored temple. We know that a new temple was built on Mount Zion. But the very building of it enshrined large ideas concerning God's great and perfect restoration of his people.
I. THE PRESENCE OF GOD. The temple is more than a place of assembly. It is a house in which God dwells. The tabernacle in the wilderness was called the "teat of meeting," i.e. the tent in which God meets man. There is no temple in St. John's new Jerusalem, because God fills the whole city with his presence, i.e. the whole city is a temple. The Christian Church is growing into a great, temple for the dwelling of God. God dwells now in the midst of his people. This is their highest privilege. The dwelling of God in heaven constitutes its bliss.
II. HOLINESS. The temple was sacred. It had its holy place reserved for the priests, and its holy of holies into which only the high priest could enter, and he but once a year. Even the court of the congregation was strictly confined to Jews, and for a Gentile to enter it was accounted a dreadful profanation—as we see in the case of the attack of a mob on St. Paul, on the ground that he had been a party to such a profanation (Acts 21:28). Now God calls his people to holy living. They are to be all priests, with free access to his presence (Hebrews 4:16). Their holiness is to be real and spiritual, not ritual and ceremonial like that of the priests of Israel. The sanctity of the Church is just the holiness of the lives of her members. It. is not the church that sanctifies the worshippers, but the worshippers who sanctify the church.
1. There were sacrifices in the temple. Christ is our Sacrifice, and he is in his Church. The ordinance of the Lord's Supper commemorates that one supreme sacrifice. We have now to offer our bodies as living (not slain) sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
2. There was service in the temple. Levites as well as priests worked there. It was a busy scene of activity. Christ's people are all priests and Levites. They are not called to gaze at a spectacle, but to take an active part in the work of the Church.
3. There was praise in the temple. The sons of Korah and their later representatives made its walls resound with loud, if not always with what we should call sweet, music. The Christian life should be as a glad psalm of praise.
"The wall of the building was five cubits thick." This suggests a solid structure.
I. THE STRUCTURE OF SALVATION IS SOLID. The temple was strong as a castle. Indeed, it was used as a fortress in the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, and was the last part of the city to yield to the foe. The Church of God is better than an ark on the waters; it is a mighty fortress, built upon a strong foundation, and strongly protected by the presence of God. We need not fear for our spiritual shelter. It will not be blown away with every wind of doctrine. What Christ has done for us will stand the hardest strain.
II. THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS SOLID. There are, indeed, some Christian people whose faith seems to be no better than the flimsiest summer tent, quite unfit to stand against the least gale of doubt, temptation, or trouble. But he who is really and earnestly endeavoring to live the Christian life by the grace of God will find that, though he is weak, God can make him strong, and build up his spiritual life into a vigor at which the man himself may well be surprised.
III. THE STRUCTURE OF TRUTH IS SOLID. There is a great deal in men's opinions of religion that will need to be swept away by widening knowledge. But this is not truth. As soon as a real fact is reached, no granite from Aberdeen can be more hard and firm. When we reach truth our feet touch the rock, and when we build up our teachings out of truths they must stand. "Truth is great, and it must prevail."
IV. THE STRUCTURE OF GOOD WORK IS SOLID. Here is the test by which to reveal showy, worthless work, and to distinguish it from that which is of real value. There are men who build on the right foundation, and yet only pile up wood, hay, and stubble. Their work will be burnt, though they themselves will be saved (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). But when a man with an honest heart toils unpretentiously to build up what is real and true—to better society, to spread the gospel by it—all on the foundation of Christ, he may rest assured that his work will stand. Such work is solid.
V. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IS SOLID. The Church has stood many shocks and dangers—temptations and persecutions. Still she endures. Philosophies, social systems, and political movements have risen and fallen. But the Church of Christ has outlived them all. She outlived the Roman empire and the ancient civilization. She will outlive her rivals in thought and social movements in the present day.
VI. HEAVEN IS SOLID. It is no vague cloudland. Christ spoke of his Father's house (John 14:1). St. Paul contrasted the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, with the present temporary tabernacle of the earthly body (2 Corinthians 5:1). The writer to the Hebrews shows us Abraham looking "for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).
Cherubims and palm trees.
Ezekiel is here in the midst of his favorite imagery. But as there were no palm trees in the old tabernacle of the wilderness, nor in Solomon's temple, why does the prophet plant them among his cherubim?
I. THE FUTURE WILL BE VICTORIOUS. The old times were times of darkness, fear, difficulty, and strife. Even yet we are not out of the noise of the battle, and perhaps a more fierce conflict is gathering. But beyond all these is the peace of Divine victory assured to the servants of Christ. This was anticipated by the exultant Galilaeans, who spread palm branches before our Lord as he rode up to Jerusalem. Now, the vision of the palm trees should encourage patience and inspire energy. A splendid future is Before us; let us, then, press on with undimmed hope.
1. The palm tree is lofty. It shoots straight up and towers above the plain, a graceful and a conspicuous object. The happy future will be exalted and heavenly.
2. The palm tree bears all its fruit on its summit. It is a high, bare pillar, crowned with fruit and foliage. Men must climb to reach its treasures. The victory of Christian experience is not for those who grovel in earthly-mindedness.
3. The palm flourishes in the desert. It is the one fruitful tree of the desert. The victory of Christ over Satan was obtained amidst outward darkness and despair. His future victory over all evil may be among discouraging external signs. We need not despair of the human desert if the palm of Christ is there.
4. The palm tree requires water for its nourishment. It will not grow in the sandy wastes of the Sahara. The victory of Christianity depends on hidden supplies of the water of life.
II. THE VICTORY OF THE FUTURE WILL BE DIVINE. The palm tree is in the temple, planted among the heavenly cherubim. It is a bit of nature surrounded with things never found in nature. Christ's kingdom grows upon earth. The people of God are to flourish like the palm tree (Psalms 92:12). But this prosperity is no mere natural growth of wild humanity; neither is it the cultivated product of secular education. The palm tree is not in the well-pruned and tended garden, but in the temple. It is through religion that we are led on by Christ to victory.
1. There is the conquest of evil. The palm tree is planted by the place of sacrifices—in the temple. We can only hope for a good future when the wrongs and sins of mankind, which are its greatest evils, are overcome.
2. There is dedication to God. The palm tree grows in a holy place. We must be devoted to God if we would enjoy his smile and favor. The highest glory will crown the work of the most devoted servant of Christ. At the monastery of Mar Saba, in the wilderness of the Dead Sea, a palm tree grows on a shelf of the rock high up a wild, barren cliff, and yet flourishes there and bears fruit, because—as the monks say—it springs from a date-stone sown by the saint who founded the monastery. True saints will grow palms of victory from the hardest lives.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The most holy place.
Holiness is an idea which admits of gradual precision and elevation. There is a very simple and primitive meaning of the term, which it would ill become us to despise and ridicule, inasmuch as it was preliminary and preparatory to a more spiritual conception. At the same time, we should do discredit to our Christian training did we not strive to rise to a higher and nobler conception of holiness than that which obtained among, and was sufficient for, a people in an early. stage of spiritual culture. In the temple at Jerusalem there was a holy place, and a holy of holies, or, in the language of Ezekiel, the most holy place. An effort may be made to reach and to explain the several ideas which together made up the peculiar sanctity of the adytum of the Jewish temple.
I. THE PRIMITIVE SIGNIFICATION OF HOLINESS IS SEPARATION, AND THE MOST HOLY PLACE WAS ONE MARKED OFF AND SET APART FROM ALL AROUND. A purpose was served by the distinction between the sacred and the profane—a distinction which may, in the highest stage of spiritual culture, be transcended. Men have to be taught by their senses; and the separation of a certain spot, a certain building, a certain portion of a building, from all around, contributes to the formation of the idea of sanctity. This might not be necessary in a world where no sin exists; but in this world, where sin has reigned, and where sin still so largely prevails, the evil has impressed itself on men's minds as normal, and the pure and Divine as exceptional. Hence the consecration of sites, and temples, oracles, and holy places.
II. THE MOST HOLY PLACE SERVED TO EDUCATE THE JEWISH PEOPLE IN MORALITY AND IN TRUE RELIGION. The whole ceremonial and sacrificial dispensation established by Moses, with all the observances of the Levitical Law, may justly be regarded as instructive and disciplinary, in the first place for Israel, and then for all mankind. Those who looked upon the temple and its sanctuary could not but be reminded that here was the peculiar dwelling-place of a holy God. The degrees of holiness attaching to the several parts of the sacred edifice, culminating in the sanctity of the most holy place, were fitted to elicit the spiritual apprehensions, the reverence, the devotion, the penitence, of those who felt themselves in the presence and under the training of the all-holy God. To a certain extent every Israelite not specially disqualified might draw near to Jehovah; the priests were suffered and required to approach still nearer to the shrine; but the high priest alone was permitted, and that only upon a special occasion, to enter the most holy place. Such arrangements and provisions were admirably adapted to educate the Jewish people in the idea and in the practice of holiness.
III. RECONCILIATION BETWEEN A SINFUL NATION AND A JUST AND PURE GOD WAS EFFECTED THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE MOST HOLY PLACE. In the holy of holies was performed the especially solemn and sacred service in which, upon the Day of Atonement, the high priest alone was suffered to take part as the representative of the people of the covenant. On that occasion the federal relation of Israel was conspicuously set forth. To the pious Jew the contents of the holy of holies, the vestments of the officiating high priest, the blood of atonement, must all have possessed a very special and very sacred interest. And that interest centered in the idea of reconciliation between Jehovah and the chosen nation—reconciliation rendered necessary by the sins of the people, and by the perfectly holy character, the perfectly righteous government, of God. Consecrated to this use, the inmost sanctuary was naturally invested with a sacredness altogether unique.
IV. THE MOST HOLY PLACE BECAME ASSOCIATED WITH COMMUNION BETWEEN ISRAEL AND ISRAEL'S GOD. Reconciliation naturally led to fellowship. The enlightened Jews doubtless took a spiritual view of the Divine presence, and sympathized with the sublime language of Solomon at the dedication of the temple: "Will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!" Still, it was by means of this temple, its priesthood and its services, that the Jewish nation generally were, by Divine appointment and intention, made familiar with the possibility and privilege of fellowship with the Eternal. It was inculcated upon them that such communion was only possible in virtue of the condescension and compassion of the Most High, and that there was needed on their part, in order to the enjoyment of the privilege, a peculiar preparation, a spiritual cleansing. The thoughtful and devout Jew learned, by means of the temple services, to form such an idea of God as led him to seek a spiritual discipline. He knew that the sacrifices in themselves were insufficient, and that the sacrifices required by the Searcher of hearts were spiritual, consisting in humility, penitence, faith, and obedience. Those thus prepared might draw near unto God, and God would draw near unto them.
V. THE MOST HOLY PLACE, AS THE SCENE OF HIGH PRIESTLY MEDIATION, SYMBOLIZES THE MEDIATORIAL WORK OF CHRIST. In order to understand the symbolical, and indeed typical, character of the holy of holies, and of the ministration therein performed by the Jewish high priest, it is important to study the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In that portion of Scripture is as authoritative and lucid explanation of the spiritual meaning of the central scenes and observances of the Jewish economy. It is shown that the shadow was in Christ superseded by the substance, and that in the new and spiritual dispensation we have the fulfillment of ancient promise. The transactions which, on the great Day of Atonement, took place within the holy of holies prefigured and adumbrated the great events by which, not Israel only, but humanity as a whole, was reconciled to God. For when Christ expired upon the cross the veil of the temple was rent in twain; and thenceforth, through the rent veil of Christ's humanity, the way into the holiest of all was opened up; the alienation of the human race from God was abolished; and perpetual communion was provided between a gracious Father and his restored and accepted children. The most holy place into which through Christ we have access is nothing else than the favor, the fellowship, the love of God.—T.
The table that is before the Lord.
There can be no question that by this table Ezekiel intends the altar of incense, which stood in the holy place, but which, on account of its sacredness and value, is mentioned by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews as part of the furniture of the holy of holies. This altar in the tabernacle was of acacia wood covered with gold; that in the temple of Solomon was of cedar wood covered with the same pure and costly metal. Upon this table was burned, every morning and evening, the incense which represented the devotions of Israel. Upon the day of atonement the horns of the altar of incense were touched with the blood of sacrifice. But as no sacrifice, in the strict meaning of that term, was offered upon it, it seems appropriately designated "the table that is before the Lord." Remembering the symbolical intention of the offering of incense as described in the Apocalypse, we cannot fail to understand by this table the appointment that prayer and praise, as an acceptable offering to God, should ever be presented by the Church through the priestly mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. A SPIRITUAL OFFERING. The costly and fragrant incense had value in the sight of God, as representing the spiritual sacrifices with which he is ever well pleased. Prayer is not only natural to man as a needy and dependent being; it is enjoined by God as an exercise profitable to man and as the wisely ordained means of securing spiritual and promised blessings. Thanksgiving and praise are becoming to those who are ever receiving from Heaven more than they desire or deserve. We are not to understand merely verbal offerings, but those which proceed from a devout, grateful, confiding, and affectionate heart.
II. AN APPOINTED OFFERING. In the thirtieth chapter of Exodus we find minute directions concerning the presentation as well as the preparation of incense. This service was not an invention of man; it was prescribed by Divine authority. In the Church it is God's will that there should be constant presentation of devotion—" incense and a pure offering." From the altar of Christian hearts such sacrifices are to ascend to heaven. God will be "inquired of" by his people. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth God."
III. AN ACCEPTABLE OFFERING. We have abundant testimony in Scripture to the Lord's indifference to the merely material gifts of men. If such gifts are not the expression of faith and loyalty, he disdains and rejects them. But, on the other hand, nothing is more clearly revealed in Scripture than the delight of the Supreme in the offering of true and loving and reverent hearts. This is a "sweet-smelling savor" to him.
"Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would his favor secure;
Sweeter by far is the heart's adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor."
IV. A PERPETUAL OFFERING. Incense was offered by the Jewish priest daily—every morning and every evening. Not leas frequent should be the offering of prayer and praise by God's people-in the Church and in the home, above all in the heart. There is no cessation of God's favors; there should be no cessation of our thanksgivings. There is no intermission of our needs; there should be no interruption of our prayers. "Pray without ceasing."
V. A HEAVENLY OFFERING. It is observable that the one altar mentioned in the Book of the Revelation as existing in the celestial temple is the altar of incense. The purpose of sacrifice is answered and accomplished upon earth. There remains no more offering for sin. In heaven, accordingly, is no altar of sacrifice. But the altar of incense is imperishable. From it ascend immortally the praises and the prayers of the redeemed and glorified. In heaven fellowship with God is never suspended; there harps are never unstrung and voices are never silent.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
"This is the most holy place." There has always dwelt in the minds of men a feeling that some places are peculiarly sacred. Unfortunately, there has been no small amount of superstition connected with this feeling, which should be discouraged in others and should be resisted in our own ease. We should strongly insist upon the truth, and carefully cultivate the conviction, that if some places have a peculiar sanctity, it is that "ever, place may be holy ground "to us; that we may find God everywhere and in everything; that we may worship and serve him in every sphere and on all occasions whatsoever. Still, the feeling rests on a basis of truth. We know that there was a "most holy place"—
I. IN THE ANCIENT TEMPLE. Within the veil was "the holy of holies," into which none but the high priest might enter, and he only once a year, and then only with the blood of the slain goat. God might only be approached by men as they were purified from sin; and this the careful graduation of access to him clearly symbolized. That inner chamber of the temple was the most sacred spot on earth, because there God manifested his presence as nowhere else. But there were very holy places indeed—
II. IN THE LIFE OF OUR LORD. He was the living Temple when he was with us; for was not God manifest in him far more truly and importantly than he was present "between the cherubim" in the luminous cloud? There were three places which, in the experience of Jesus Christ, may be said to be "most holy"—the upper room in Jerusalem, where he "sat down with the twelve" to that sacred meal, and delivered that discourse of priceless value to mankind (John 14:1-31.); the garden of Gethsemane, where he passed through the great agony; and the "place which is called Calvary," where the great sacrifice was offered for the sins of the world.
III. IN OUR OWN BUILDINGS NOW. We find such in those sanctuaries or in those chambers which are closely associated with our converse with the Most High. Apart from and independent of any act of formal "consecration," the place where we gather together to worship God, the place where we hold holy and happy fellowship with Christ, the place where we listen with eager mind and fervent spirit to his Divine truth,—this is hallowed ground to us; these are sacred spots which we tread reverently, where we feel near to God, which will always be peculiarly dear to our hearts.
IV. IN OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. There are certain very solemn and sacred experiences through which the God of our life "makes us to pass, of which we may truly say that they are "most holy." Of these we have instances in:
1. The time of separation, of loneliness, when we first find ourselves cast upon God for guidance and for fellowship.
2. The day of desperate grief, of overwhelming sorrow, when men can do nothing for us, but God everything.
3. The hour of very special privilege, when we feel the nearness of Christ, the excellency of his salvation, the power of the world to come, the influence of the Holy Spirit; when we feel that we stand before the open gate of the kingdom of God.
4. The occasion of great opportunity, when it is in our power to make some great sacrifice for others or to render some valuable service to them or to speak faithfully and effectively for Jesus Christ.—C.
Ezekiel 41:18-20, Ezekiel 41:25
The significance of the cherubim.
Among the difficulties that attend this question, it seems clear that these composite forms were intended either to represent the human or the angelic, not the Divine. The idea of any artistic representation of the Divine Being in a Hebrew temple is surely quite inadmissible (see Deuteronomy 4:15-17). Making our choice, then, between the human and the angelic, we distinctly prefer the former, and think that the general idea is that man, when raised to the highest conceivable condition, when possessed of the greatest variety of powers, should bring everything he has and is to the worship and service of God. The fact that, in Ezekiel's vision, the cherubim had so large a share in the ornamentation, "made through all the house round about," suggests the very close connection there should be between the finest and highest powers of man and the worship of God. In other places (see Ezekiel 1:1-28.) we have a far fuller description of these "living ones," and there we have the idea not only of "peerless strength and majesty" suggested by the "face of a young lion" (verse 19), but also of patient, productive labor (the ox), and of penetrating vision (the eagle); while the thought of swift motion is conveyed both by the wings and the wheels of the prophet's former vision. Conceive man at his very best, endowed generally with such powers as he is never or rarely possessed of now; add to those capacities which he does enjoy those which are borrowed from other nonhuman spheres; and as he would then be, thus invested, thus enlarged and crowned, the fitting thing would be for him to be found in the temple, blessing and praising God. This is so, in several aspects and for many reasons.
I. IT IS HIS MOST SACRED AND BOUNDEN DUTY. For however high in dignity man may rise, and to whatever commanding faculty he may attain, it is certain that:
1. He will always owe everything he may be or may possess to the creative power of God, and that:
2. He will be dependent on the providential goodness of God for their continuance. Thus gratitude and hope should bring him to the sanctuary, to bless God for bestowing them upon him, and to ask him to sustain and to enlarge them.
II. IT IS HIS TRUEST AND HIGHEST HONOR. There are many engagements by which man does some honor to his human nature; e.g. conversing, reading, discussing, meditating, planning, learning, executing works of art, composing works of literature, etc. But never does he confer such honor on himself as when he is worshipping God; then the life of the "living one" reaches its very highest point. To come consciously into the near presence of God, to hold communion with the Eternal, to hymn his praise, to dwell in thought upon his nature and his high purposes, to speak his Divine truth or hear it, to work with him toward the gracious and glorious end he has in view,—there is nothing we can do, here or perhaps hereafter, so worthy of, so honorable to, our human nature. Man reaches the very summit of his manhood when he is engaged in worshipping God.
III. IT IS THE SOURCE OF THE PUREST AND MOST EXALTING JOY. Of all sources of delight, beginning with the sensuous and rising to the spiritual, there can be none purer or more ennobling than this.
IV. IT BRINGS DOWN A LARGE SHARE OF DIVINE BLESSING.—C.
Ezekiel 41:18-20, Ezekiel 41:25
The significance of the palm trees.
The cherubim and the palm trees were closely associated; both were largely represented, and they were found in close conjunction: "a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub." Both of them pictured the righteous man in the sanctuary of God, but while the cherub signified the good man at his best bringing himself and all that he had as an offering to God, the palm tree stood for the good man as one who had been made what he was by the services of the sanctuary; the one was enlarged and ennobled humanity brining its offering to God, the other was that same humanity gaining its goodness and worth from God and from his house. "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," said the psalmist (Psalms 92:12). And there is very good reason why that tree should be taken as a type or picture of the righteous man; there is also excellent reason why the prominence of the palm tree in the prophet's vision should picture the truth that man's goodness is the fair and excellent result of much communion with God. Among the resemblances are these—
I. ITS UPRIGHTNESS. Some trees are irregular, they are twisted and tortuous in their growth; some hug the ground before they rise; but the palm rises straight toward heaven, it stands upright among the trees. "Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric grew." The good man is well figured here; he is the man who does not stoop, who does not bend and bow earthward, who stands erect, who moves in one heavenward direction, who is governed constantly by true and abiding principles. And these he gains from God and from his house. There, in the sanctuary, he is sustained in his principles, is reminded of them, gains fresh inspiration to illustrate and adorn them.
II. ITS FRUITFULNESS. The palm, as a fruit-bearing tree, bearing a fruit which is remarkably nutritious—for the date will sustain life for a long time, without any other kind of food—is an admirable picture of the righteous man. He bears fruit; he is expected to "bear much fruit," and fruit of many kinds: excellency of spirit,—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc.; worthiness of life,—consistency, blamelessness, practical kindness, etc.; earnest effort to do good,—patient, prayerful endeavor to awaken the slumbering, to elevate the fallen, to comfort the sorrowful, to encourage the feeble, etc. And if he does this, it can only be by having much to do with Jesus Christ his Lord. He must be a branch abiding in the vine; he must maintain a very close spiritual connection with Christ; and how shall he do this without the ordinances of his house?
III. ITS BEAUTY. The palm tree lends a great charm to the landscape when seen standing in clusters upon the heights against the sky; and its evergreen foliage makes each particular tree an object of beauty. The righteous man is he whose character is fair, excellent, admirable. When he is what his Master calls on him to be, and what he actually becomes when he seeks the strength and refreshment to be found in communion with God, then the more he is observed the more he is admired. Those qualities are found in him which are "lovely and of good report;" he is unselfish, pure, considerate, open-handed, patient, brave, loyal, loving. His goodness, like the foliage of the palm, grows not near the ground, where it can easily be soiled and lost, but high up, where lower things cannot damage or destroy it.
IV. ITS ELASTICITY. The fiber of the palm is so elastic that, even when loaded with considerable weights, it still grows determinately upwards (see Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible'). The good man may have much to depress him and to hamper his growth, but if he "dwells in the house of the Lord," he will rise, notwithstanding all that would otherwise check him, to a noble height of virtue and of piety.
V. ITS ULTIMATE TRIUMPH. It does not promise much at the beginning. "It is rough to the touch and enveloped in dry bark, but above it is adorned with fruit … so is the life of the elect, despised below, beautiful above;… down below straitened by innumerable afflictions, but on high it is expanded into a foliage … of beautiful greenness" (see 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:11).—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 41". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/