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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 40

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


BOOK 4. CHAPTER 40-48.

The Prophetic Vision of the New Sanctuary and its Orders in Messianic Time.

These nine chapters have always been considered one of the riddles of biblical interpretation. Because of the difficulty in understanding them, and the sharp contrast between these directions of worship and those of the Mosaic law, the Jews were not permitted to read them in public.

The earlier chapters, even to Ezekiel’s most severe critics, seem to breathe the fervent life of a high religious ideal and to be enriched with a noble Messianic expectation, while almost every verse glows with simile or metaphor; but these chapters seem to many totally different, referring wholly to the external formularies of worship, being “full of most unimportant and trivial things” which are described in cold, unimaginative, arithmetical phraseology. (See, for example, Max Kamrath, Jahrbucher, 17:585, etc.) But even some of Ezekiel’s critics, such, for example, as Bertholet, see that these closing chapters of the book cannot be a mere unimportant appendix, but must be the crown and climax of the entire work. What then can be their meaning?

1 . Are they merely literal architectural directions for building a new temple in Jerusalem, as Kuenen, Wellhausen, and many others assure us? Even then each detail must have conveyed to his hearers some spiritual lesson, as did the details of construction not only in Solomon’s temple, but in all the Babylonian temples with which the captives were familiar. (See Introduction, “VIII. Symbolism.”) But again, if taken literally, these directions would have been “physically impossible and ludicrously unjust” (Farrar). Only the grossest ignorance concerning the topography could have led the prophet to suppose that he was dividing the Holy Land equally among the tribes by simply drawing equally distant lines from east to west across the country, without any reference to quality of land, or the fact that southern Palestine was several times wider than northern Palestine. It was an impossible topography; for, according to the dimensions of the temple “oblation,” this would have reached far beyond the Jordan, though the Jordan is made the border line (Ezekiel 47:18); an impossible temple, which must be upon the summit of the mountain (Ezekiel 40:2), and yet which not only contains an area inconsistent with this, but is to be removed from Mount Moriah and even some distance from Jerusalem itself (Ezekiel 45:1; Ezekiel 45:6; Ezekiel 48:8; Ezekiel 48:21); an impossible river, which grows without tributaries and runs up hill, flowing into the Salt Sea, which has no outlet and yet becomes sweetened; impossible trees upon the river bank, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Ezekiel 47:12). Further than this, there is no hint that Zerubbabel or Ezra or Nehemiah, or even the Pharisees in the days of Herod though called the legitimate children of Ezekiel took any notice whatever of Ezekiel’s directions when they were building their temples, for these edifices greatly differ from Ezekiel’s in many particulars which might easily have been made to conform to the prophet’s plan. This shows pretty clearly that they did not take these prophetic directions literally. (See especially, Farrar, Expositor, vol. 9.) It is noticeable also that the builders never complain because they are not able to follow the “program” or “model” which Ezekiel is supposed to have given them. It was not because of lack of funds, as Bertholet suggests, that they failed to do this; for in many directions such as the division of the land, etc. funds were not necessary. We must conclude, therefore, with Terry, that “Ezekiel’s temple is no more explicable as a model of real architecture than are his cherubim and wheels possible in mechanics” ( Biblical Apocalyptics).

2 . But can we not say with Delitzsch and Gautier that these prophecies respecting a future temple in Jerusalem would have been fulfilled literally if the Jews had fulfilled literally the stated conditions? (Ezekiel 43:10-11.) This at best must remain only a possibility. As we have seen, it would have required miracle after miracle to make the land of Canaan ready for such a literal temple. God could have done it, but such has never been the divine method. Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah, nor any other of Ezekiel’s successors, seems ever to have supposed that it was the nation’s sin which caused the later temple to resemble Solomon’s more than Ezekiel’s. It is not probable.

3 . The supposition that the temple is yet to be literally erected in Jerusalem, that the altar is to be set up in it and beast sacrifices are there to take the place of the One Sacrifice which was offered once for all to take away the sins of many as many Jewish interpreters who still expect the coming of the Messiah have taught is wholly contrary to the spirit of the new covenant and the direct teaching of the Holy Scriptures. (See, for example, Galatians 3:4; Hebrews 8-10.)

The prophet himself never mentions building materials or building specifications (as Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40). He always speaks as if the temple were completed, a building not made with hands, and even declares in so many words its spiritual symbolic meaning (Ezekiel 43:10-11).

4 . The position of Havernick and Kliefoth, that these chapters describe allegorically the Christian Church, is less objectionable than the above, but is not sustained by sufficient evidence and is contrary to prophetic analogy. If this theory were true, every Jew previous to the coming of Christ must have misunderstood the book and almost all Christian teachers do now misunderstand it. This is not to be believed.

The prophet was not so poor a teacher as that would imply as is proved by his earlier chapters. We may not understand his meaning fully at all times, but there need be no doubt that he spoke so that his contemporaries could understand him.

5 . The best view seems to be that this was a real bona fide vision, which perhaps the prophet did not fully comprehend any more than he did that of the heavenly chariot (see chap. 10, notes and Appendix); but which contained nevertheless plain spiritual lessons for his companions in captivity. (See Ezekiel 43:10-11.) Even Cornill admits that these chapters are “full of the deepest symbolism, and to give them a literal meaning would not be doing justice to the prophet.” It will not do, however, to call this vision, which is the crown of the book, an ignorant, mistaken prophecy of a hoped-for building which was never erected (compare Renan, History of Israel, 3:333-340), nor, on the other hand, was it a mere “dream” in which the numbers were written down “by chance” and everything is without meaning a mere “trifling with the impossible.” Not so do the prophets write.

This was a vision of spiritual realities pictorially represented by a temple and its surroundings, which expressed under well-known symbols certain fundamental and eternal ideas with regard to the true worship of God. The returning exiles no doubt expressed these ideas in their new temple in the way best suited to their circumstances never seeking for literal conformity while, as Renan says, the picture of the celestial Jerusalem which has consoled the world for eighteen hundred years is only a slightly modified copy of the Jerusalem of Ezekiel. Both Nehemiah and St. John seem to have considered this description of the temple as ideal and symbolic, like that of the chariot of Jehovah and the cherubim (chaps. 1 and 10). If we understood the language of symbolism as well as did the hearers of Ezekiel we would better understand the local coloring of this priestly parable (Ezekiel 43:10-12; Ezekiel 44:5, and Introduction, “VIII. Symbolism”). Undoubtedly the primary intent of this vision was to give comfort to the captives by pointing out to them their certain and glorious restoration to the Holy Land, but, as in many other prophecies, the seer’s eye looked beyond the immediate picture to the final consummation of Jehovah’s kingdom. (See closing note Ezekiel 39:27-29, and compare our Lord’s description of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24:0.) The Holy Spirit, the inspirer of prophetic visions here as elsewhere, caused Ezekiel to speak better than he knew (1 Peter 1:11). But many teachings were plain, both to him and to all of his companions. Already he had pictured the destruction of the old Israel (1-24) and the overthrow of the enemies of Jehovah’s kingdom (25-23), and had foretold the day when a new Israel should be born having a new heart of perfect loyalty to Jehovah who should be established in their old land, the sanctuary of the Lord being in the midst (36; Ezekiel 37:26-27), and they therefore made safe from all future combinations of hostile powers (37-39). The present section pictures this new Israel, forgiven of sin and re-established in Canaan, worshiping God after a somewhat new order in a blessed condition of holiness and felicity. The land is once more “holy.” In the midst of a holy square a symbol of perfection and righteousness well understood is the holy temple in which “Holiness to the Lord” is stamped on every dimension and every ceremonial. The chariot of Jehovah, which had left the city because of its sins (Ezekiel 11:22), once more enters it from the east (the direction of Babylon), and henceforth this divine gateway may be locked, for Jehovah will nevermore leave his people, while out from beneath the holy chariot goes forth a stream of life for the entire land, which grows stronger and more powerful as it proceeds, and which not even the salt waters of the Dead Sea can resist. (Compare Joel 3:18; Zechariah 13:1.) The secret of this regenerate land and happy people is seen in the new name given to this new Jerusalem: Jehovah-shammah: “The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). To the companions of Ezekiel, to whom this kind of language had been familiar from childhood, every detail must have been filled with interest and in every difference between this and the ancient ritual they must have sought some spiritual and significant lesson. (Compare Appendix to chap. 10.) We cannot now always discover those lessons, and in the following pages we will only seek to point out those which seem most prominent.

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Verse 1

1. The twenty-fifth year of the captivity would come somewhere between 575 and 572 B.C., some thirteen or fourteen years after the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 33:21). Hitzig, Green, and others believe that this revelation of the new law came on the Day of Atonement and on the day when the blast of the trumpet ushered in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9). If, however, Ezekiel followed the same time computation as elsewhere, the month alluded to would be Abib, on the tenth day of which the paschal lamb was selected (Exodus 12:2-3). This was a peculiarly fitting time for a vision of Israel’s Messianic deliverance. (Compare Ezekiel 24:2.) It is suggestive that the new year’s festival was also made much of by the Babylonians (Jastrow).

Verse 2

2. The prophet seems in his vision (compare Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:24) to be brought to the old home land and placed upon the lofty mountain “whereon was a city like mass of buildings,” the new temple.

On the south As the prophet was supposed to come from the north, the Greek renders, “opposite me.” For a general impression of the temple see frontispiece and the picture introducing chapter 8. These representations do not claim to be necessarily correct in every feature, but they are the best possible with our present knowledge of ancient architecture.

Verse 3

3. A man This was a representative of Jehovah (Daniel 10:5-6) whose face shone with heavenly glory. (Compare Ezekiel 1:26-27; Revelation 1:13.) He carried in his hand the instruments for measuring the temple and surroundings the reed for short and the line for long distances. (Compare Ezekiel 47:3.) He probably stood in the north gate (Ezekiel 40:2). He came afterward to the east gate, which was the main entrance (Ezekiel 40:6).

Verse 5

5. The length of the measuring reed has been variously estimated, according to the supposed length of Ezekiel’s cubit. The Hebrew cubit has usually been reckoned at about eighteen inches, while it is now known that the ordinary ancient Babylonian cubit contained about twenty. This, however, is not material. The symbolism expressed by these measurements does not depend upon the exact length in inches of the cubit or reed. The reed was six cubits long, “of a cubit and a handbreadth each” (R.V.); but as the ordinary cubit was six handbreadths (according to the Mishna, Chilim, Ezekiel 17:9; and Josephus, Antiquities, Ezekiel 3:6 ; Ezekiel 3:5) this sacred cubit must therefore have been seven handbreadths long and the symbolic measuring reed of six sacred cubits would be equal in length to seven ordinary cubits. Gudea, king of Babylon about 2500 B.C., has upon his lap a scale in which the reed is reckoned as equal to six great cubits, each cubit being equal to sixty finger lengths. Nebuchadnezzar is called in a cuneiform inscription, “the possessor of the reed of augury” ( W.A.I., Ezekiel 4:14), and both Jews and Babylonians alike were able to understand this symbolism of number. The peculiar sacredness of the number seven may be noticed everywhere, in both literatures. The number seven in Hebrew ( sheveh) is from a root meaning to be full, satisfied. In the tabernacle, ten, the number of perfect symmetry, seems to be the governing number; in the temple of Solomon and in the Christian Church the heavenly number twelve is the symbolic unit (compare twelve tribes, twelve disciples, and see Revelation xxi), while the sacred cubit, seven handbreadths long, and the sacred reed, seven ordinary cubits in length, control the measure of Ezekiel’s temple. (See further in Introduction, “Symbolism,” and closing note chap. 40.) The wall (A.V., “building”) in-closing the area, when measured by this symbolic reed, was seen to be of the most sacred dimensions: seven cubits broad and seven cubits high. (Compare Revelation 21:16.)

Verses 6-8

6-8. Coming now to the main gateway of the temple, which faced the rising sun, and ascending its seven steps (Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26) the threshold is seen to measure seven cubits, as also each side of the three little chambers (“lodges,” R.V.; “guardrooms,” Toy), and “the threshold of the gate by the porch,” as well as the porch itself.

Verse 9

9. Keil thinks the difference in the measure of the porch may be explained by supposing that Ezekiel 40:8 states the breadth from east to west and Ezekiel 40:9 from north to south. The posts (R.V., margin, “jambs”) measured two cubits each way (Ezekiel 40:10) unless, as some suppose, the “posts” in Ezekiel 40:10 are not the jambs of Ezekiel 40:9, but are the “wall fronts” between the guardrooms (Davidson), or, “pilasters” (Toy). It is impossible to be certain of the meaning of all these architectural details, but the adjoining plan will assist in understanding the general outline of the structure.

Verse 11

11. The meaning of the verse is doubtful. The length of the covered gateway was fifty, not thirteen, cubits. (See Ezekiel 40:15.) This may refer to a covered portion of the gateway; but as we do not have the advantage of consulting the prophet’s drawings of the building as probably his companions did for Ezekiel was a draughtsman (Ezekiel 4:1) we cannot be certain. The fact that we have only the ground plan, without elevations, makes the restoration more difficult for us.

Verse 12

12. R.V. reads, “and a border before the lodges, one cubit on this side, and a border, one cubit on that side.” (Compare Ezekiel 27:4; Ezekiel 43:13; Ezekiel 43:17.) Plumptre supposes this border formed a pathway for the guards at the gate, who could thus observe what was going on in the gate without being interrupted by the traffic.

Verse 14

14. R.V. reads, “He made also posts, threescore cubits; and the court reached unto the post, the gate being round about.” Davidson and Toy, following LXX., read “porch, or vestibule” ( ailam) for posts ( ailim), and “twenty” for threescore.

Verse 15

15. Plumptre points out that the whole length of the gate, from the outer entrance to the inner exit, was thus composed: 1. An outer threshold (Ezekiel 40:6), 6 cubits; 2. Three guard chambers (Ezekiel 40:7), 18 cubits; 3. Two spaces between chambers (Ezekiel 40:11), 10 cubits; 4. An inner threshold (Ezekiel 40:7), 6 cubits; 5. A porch before the gate (Ezekiel 40:9), 8 cubits; 6. One post or pillar (Ezekiel 40:10), 2 cubits; total, 50 cubits. It will be remembered that these were sacred cubits, each being equal to seven hand-breadths (Ezekiel 40:5).

Verse 16

16. Narrow windows R.V., “closed windows.”

Arches R.V., margin, “colonnade.” Toy translates, “The guardrooms and their pilasters had latticed windows within the gateway round about, and so the vestibule had windows round about within; and beside its jambs stood palm trees.” The palm tree was one of the most common symbolic forms to be seen on the Assyrian sculptures, signifying fruitfulness and fullness of life. Often in ancient architecture pillars are shaped to represent palm trees, or are crowned with palm-tree ornamentation. (Compare 1 Kings 6:29-35.)

Verse 17


17. The chambers, or “cells,” around the “outer court” were for the priests who had charge of the house and the altar (Ezekiel 40:45-46). “They were apparently of several stories (Ezekiel 42:6), but did not occupy the corners of the wall in which kitchens were situated (Ezekiel 46:21-24).” Davidson.

Verse 18

18. Rather, And the pavement was by the side of the gateways, corresponding to the length of the gateways [that is, the lower pavement ]. This was called the lower pavement because it was below the level of the inner court (Ezekiel 40:34). Seven steps led from the outside up to each gateway (Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26), and on this same level, of course, was the pavement of the outer court; from this court eight steps led to the gateway and pavement of the inner court (Ezekiel 40:31). From the inner court an ascent of ten steps led to the isolated raised platform on which stood the central sanctuary (Ezekiel 40:49). From the lower, that is, the outer gate to the gate fronting the inner court was one hundred sacred cubits “from gate to gate” (Ezekiel 40:23).

Verse 20

20. The northern and southern gates are here seen to correspond exactly in dimensions, surroundings, and distance from the gate of the inner court, with the eastern or main entrance, which has been previously described.

Verses 28-37


28-37. “The construction and measurements correspond with those of the gates in the outer court, with only two points of difference; namely, that it possessed a flight of eight steps instead of seven, and that the arches or wall projections were toward the outer court. The difference in the number of steps was doubtless of symbolic significance, and pointed not only to the higher sanctity in general which attached to the inner court, but to the truth that, as one approached the dwelling place of Jehovah, an increasing measure and degree of holiness were demanded. The seven steps of the outer door, added to the eight steps of this, amount to fifteen, with which correspond the number of the pilgrim psalms (Psalms 120-134), which are supposed to have been sung one upon each step by the choir of Levites as they ascended first into the outer and then into the inner court.” Plumptre.

Verses 38-43

38-43. The description of these chambers of sacrifice must always remain obscure. Was there a chamber and tables of offering at each of the three gates of the inner court, or only at the north gate, which seems to be described in the text, or only at the east or principal gateway, where certainly burnt offerings and peace offerings were prepared for the prince? (lxvi, 2.) The LXX. is probably correct in reading “gate” instead of gates (Ezekiel 40:38), and the R.V. in reading “chamber” instead of chambers. The eastern gate would seem the most natural place for such sacrifices, yet because Ezekiel 40:40 seems to refer, without a possibility of mistake, to the northern gate (compare also Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 7:2), and because in one place Ezekiel distinctly refers to the north gate as the “altar gate” (viii, 5), we conclude that but one place of offering is here described and that it is situated at the northern gate. There were eight slaughtering tables four within the entry or porch of the gate, and four without and also, it seems, four additional tables of stone on which were laid the heavy instruments with which the burnt offerings, etc., were slain. Perhaps for this reason they were called tables “for the burnt offering” (Ezekiel 40:42). They can hardly be the same tables referred to in Ezekiel 40:39. One suspects the phrase “for the burnt offering” to be an interpolation. The “hooks” referred to were either fastened up “within” the entry to receive the slaughtered beasts (Targum) or the word must be translated “ledges” (R.V., margin), and be thought of as a projecting border around the tables. Toy renders, “and borders one handbreadth in width were fixed within on the tables round about for the flesh of the offering.”

Verses 44-46

44-46. In Ezekiel 40:44 the LXX. seems to have followed a better text in rendering, “And he led me into the inner court, and behold, two chambers in the inner court, one at the side of the gate that looketh toward the north, having its prospect toward the south, and out of the side of the gate toward the south, but looking toward the north.” According to this change all of these verses refer to the chambers of the priests. (For a discussion of “sons of Zadok” see our Introduction, “Book of Ezekiel and the Levitical Law,” and notes Ezekiel 44:15.)

Verse 48

48. With this verse the description of the house or temple begins. Toy, following the Greek text, renders, “Then he brought me to the porch of the temple and measured the jambs of the porch on each side five cubits thick; the width of the entrance was fourteen cubits, and the jambs of the entrance were three cubits wide on each side.”

Verse 49

49. Eleven LXX., twelve.

The steps LXX., ten steps.

Pillars These pillars correspond to Boaz and Jachin of Solomon’s temple. Compare 1 Kings 7:15-21; note illustration opposite, and frontispiece.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 40". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/ezekiel-40.html. 1874-1909.
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