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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 41

 

 

Verse 1-2

‘And he brought me to the temple and measured the posts, six cubits broad on the one side and six cubits broad on the other side, which was the breadth of the tent. And the breadth of the entrance was ten cubits, and the sides (shoulders) of the entrance were five cubits on the one side and five cubits on the other side. And he measured its length, forty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits.’

Now we are entering the ‘nave’ of the sanctuary, the holy place. The posts are one cubit larger than for the entry to the vestibule, an indication of the increasing importance of the place being entered. Note the reference to ‘the tent’ or tabernacle, a deliberate but subtle linking of the heavenly temple with the tabernacle. But the size of the doorway decreases to ten cubits. The place is holy and entry restricted.

The size of the holy place is forty cubits by twenty cubits. The proportions all match the tabernacle. The holy place is twice the size of the holy of holies, the latter probably being a perfect cube (compare 1 Kings 6:20). The measurements indicate the gradual approach towards ultimate perfection.


Verses 1-4

The Sanctuary (Ezekiel 41:1-4).

We have now reached the central focus of the temple complex, the sanctuary itself. This was divided into three parts, the porch or vestibule (’ulam), the holy place (the nave - hekal - from the Sumerian e.gal ‘great house’) and the holiest of all (the holy of holies) (here depicted by ‘debir’ - from a root meaning ‘back’ or ‘rear’). Everything up to this point has indicated the increasing holiness, from the seven steps by which entry was first made into the complex, past the necessary guard rooms, to the eight steps to the foursquare inner court, to the (ten) steps into the sanctuary itself, this emphasis continues. As a priest Ezekiel is able to enter the holy place, but notice that even he cannot enter the holy of holies, even in vision. That is allowed to the supernatural visitor alone. It is most holy.

How different it would all be once the heavenly temple was seen as transferred to Heaven in Revelation. Then Yahweh will be seen by all, although it must be recognised that the actions of those in His presence will still convey the idea of His holiness and greatness (Revelation 4-5). And there it has clearly been made possible because of the sacrifice of the Lamb Himself (Jesus Christ - Revelation 5:6).

The general plan of the sanctuary is patterned on the tabernacle and is paralleled elsewhere, for example at Tell Tainat on the Orontes where there is a small shrine dated 9th century BC patterned similarly, and at Khorsabad and Hazor (late bronze age).


Verse 3-4

‘Then he went inward and measured each post of the entrance, two cubits, and the entrance six cubits, and the breadth of the entrance seven cubits. And he measured its length, twenty cubits, and its breadth, twenty cubits, before the temple. And he said to me, “This is the most holy place”.’

Notice ‘he went inward’. No longer ‘he brought me’ (Ezekiel 40:28; Ezekiel 40:32; Ezekiel 40:35; Ezekiel 40:48; Ezekiel 41:1). For Ezekiel could not enter the most holy place. That could only be entered by man once a year, and only by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement after specific and detailed preparation (Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:15-16; Hebrews 9:7). The entrance is now only six cubits wide. Entry is even more restricted, indicating the increased holiness of the inner room.

And it is foursquare, twenty cubits by twenty cubits, the ultimate in perfection. The seven cubits measures from each side of the door to the wall, thus with the six cubit door making twenty cubits. The two sevens, representing divine perfection, explain why the door is six cubits, but there may also be the indication that this Isaiah 2 x 3 cubits, indicating double completeness (as the previous door was 2 x 5 cubits, indicating covenant related). The emphasis is on the perfection and extreme holiness of this inner room. Even the heavenly visitor has to say in awe, ‘this is the most holy place’. It was the place to which the glory of Yahweh would return.

And so we have at last reached the holiest of all. We have ascended increasing levels of steps three times, seven, eight and ten, (twenty five in all, which is significant - the covenant number squared), and we have come through narrower and narrower doors, three times, to enter this holiest of all. We now but await the return of Yahweh to His land.


Verses 5-7

‘Then he measured the wall of the house, six cubits. And the breadth of every side-chamber, four cubits, around the house on every side. And the side-chambers were in three storeys, one over another, and thirty in order. And they went into the wall which belonged to the house for the side-chambers round about, that they might have support in it, and not have support from the wall of the house.’

The wall enclosing the vestibule, holy place, and most holy place was six cubits thick. Rooms four cubits deep surrounded this wall on all sides except the east. There were three storeys of these chambers, thirty chambers on each level, again a complete provision (3x3x10). There was another wall on the outside of these chambers which bore their weight so that the inner wall of the temple did not have to carry it.


Verses 5-12

The Side Chambers (Ezekiel 41:5-12).

It is with a sense of anticlimax that we move to examine more detail of the sanctuary building. Here are described the side chambers (see 1 Kings 6:5-10) possibly intended for different purposes such as the storage of temple equipment and furniture, for tithes and offerings (compare Malachi 3:10) and for fellowship, discussion, and worship among the priests. It reminds us that God accepts the humble as well as the glorious, and it reminds us of the practicality of God. The heavenly temple provided general guidance for the coming building of the earthly temple by the exiles, and indicated that man was welcome into the temple of God as long as he was submissive to God and observed the required conditions. But there is no suggestion that it should be exactly copied, and indeed no attempt would be made to do so.


Verse 7

‘And the side-chambers were broader as they went round the house level by level. For the surrounds of the house went up level by level around the house. So the breadth of the house continued upwards, and one went from the lowest level to the highest level via the middle level.

The rooms on the upper floor were the largest, , the rooms on the second floor were not as large, and the rooms on the first floor were the smallest. We are given no detail or explanation. What we do know is that it indicated that in God’s heavenly temple there was a place for man. He could enter and serve there.


Verse 8

‘I saw also that the house had a raised platform round about. The foundations of the side-chambers were a full reed of six long cubits.’

The side rooms stood on the same platform as the rest of the temple, which was six long cubits above the level of the surrounding courtyard. The six probably represents twice three, expressing double divine completeness.


Verse 9

‘The thickness of the wall which was on the outside, which was for the side-chambers, was five cubits, and what was left was the place for the side-chambers which belonged to the house.’

The outer wall supporting the chambers was five cubits thick. ‘What was left’ probably refers to a pavement round the sanctuary (compare Ezekiel 41:11). This was for the benefit of the side-chambers.


Verse 10

‘And between the chambers was a breadth of twenty cubits round about the house on every side.’

The chambers belonging to the sanctuary proper, which have just been described, were separated from any other buildings by a ‘temple yard’ measuring twenty cubits all the way round on the north, south and west sides . This yard was called ‘the separate place’.


Verse 11

‘And the doors of the side-chambers faced that which was left, one door towards the north and one door towards the south. And the breadth of the place that was left was five cubits round about.’

The external doors leading to the side-chambers were accessed from the pavement (‘that which was left’) round about the whole sanctuary on three sides (north, south and east), which measured five cubits, and was on the platform the sanctuary was built on. It had been deliberately left as a walkway. The west side of the sanctuary had no pavement. It was not permissible to walk directly behind the holy of holies.


Verse 12

‘And the building that was before the separate place at the side towards the west was seventy cubits broad, and the wall of the building was five cubits thick round about, and its length was ninety cubits.’

To the rear of the sanctuary, instead of chambers there was a large building, separated from the sanctuary by the temple yard. Its perfection is revealed by its size. It is seventy cubits (7x10 - divine perfection intensified) by ninety cubits (3 squared x 10 - multiple completeness intensified), fully complete and divinely perfect. This could be for storage, including possibly remains of sacrifices which were for the priests. It was built against the outer wall, with the temple yard (the separate place) which surrounded the sanctuary on three sides (not the entrance side) coming between it and the sanctuary.


Verses 13-15

The Full Measurement of the Sanctuary (Ezekiel 41:13-15 a).

‘So he measured the house, a hundred cubits long, and the separate place and the building, with its walls, one hundred cubits long. Also the breadth of the house, and of the separate place towards the east, a hundred cubits. And he measured the length of the building before the separate place, which was at the back of it, and its galleries on the one side and on the other side, a hundred cubits.’

The point is not so much the measurement as the perfect symmetry. This was the ideal temple, a suitable dwelling place for God. It was the heavenly temple and could not be built by man. All man’s feeble efforts would produce but a poor imitation. Yet as they worshipped in what they did build they were ever aware that what they worshipped in represented this glorious heavenly structure.

The hundred cubits long of the house is made up of the post (5 cubits - Ezekiel 40:48), the vestibule (11 cubits - Ezekiel 40:49), the post (six cubits - Ezekiel 41:1), the holy place (40 cubits - Ezekiel 41:2), the post (2 cubits - Ezekiel 41:3), the holiest of all (20 cubits - Ezekiel 41:4), the wall (6 cubits - (Ezekiel 41:5), the side chamber (4 cubits - Ezekiel 41:5) and the outer wall - 5 cubits (Ezekiel 41:9), making 99 cubits. The pillars at the front (Ezekiel 40:49) were presumable one cubit in diameter.

The hundred cubits across is the measurement of the rear building (90 cubits + two 5 cubit walls). This is the equivalent of the width of the sanctuary and the temple yards, made up of the holy place ( 20 cubits - Ezekiel 41:2; Ezekiel 41:4), walls (two x 6 cubits - Ezekiel 41:5), side-chambers (two x 4 cubits - Ezekiel 41:5), walls (two x 5 cubits - Ezekiel 41:9), pavement (two x 5 cubits - Ezekiel 41:11), and separate place (temple yards - two x 20 cubits).


Verse 15

-17 ‘And the inner temple and the vestibules of the court, the thresholds, and the narrowing windows, and the galleries round about on their three storeys over against the threshold, were panelled with wood round about, even from the ground up to the windows, (now the windows were covered), to the space above the door, even to the inner house and outside, and all the wall inside and outside, by measure.’

All the interiors of the sanctuary and the rooms connected with it were panelled with wood from the ground upwards, to a level above the doors. This probably means, as with Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:18), that they were totally covered. No stonework must be observable within the sanctuary. Solomon’s temple also had gold overlay (1 Kings 6:22), but there is no gold in the heavenly temple. Gold is of insufficient value and too ornate. God’s ways are not man’s ways.


Verses 15-26

The Temple Decorations and Furnishings (Ezekiel 41:15-26).

The walls of the sanctuary were all panelled with wood and decorated with palm trees and cherubim, the latter having two faces, representing both man and beast. Thus the whole of creation was celebrated in the decorations.


Verses 18-20

‘And it was decorated with cherubim and palm trees, and a palm tree was between cherub and cherub, and every cherub had two faces, so that there was the face of a man towards the palm tree on one side, and the face of a young lion towards the palm tree on the other side. Thus was it decorated through all the house round about. From the ground to above the door were cherubim and palm trees used as decoration. Thus was the wall of the temple.’

The whole was decorated with cherubim and palm trees, which were spaced alternately. The two faces of the cherubim represented both man and the animal world (man is always distinguished from the animal world). In Revelation also they represent the whole of the animal creation (Revelation 4:7; Revelation 5:14 compare also Ezekiel 1:5-10; Ezekiel 10:14). All creation is celebrated within the sanctuary.

Ivory inlaid decorations have been discovered in a temple in Samaria, and in Solomon’s temple the decorations were overlaid with gold, but there is no suggestion of either here. Possibly the wood itself was also intended to represent the fruit of creation, that which grew. Outside was the stonework that represented the basis of creation, inside was that which God had made to finalise creation, a representation of His handywork.


Verse 21

‘As for the temple, the door posts were squared. And as for the face of the sanctuary the appearance was as the appearance (i.e. as described above).’

The description is finalised by stressing that the door posts were squared, an indication of perfection (they were foursquare), and that the whole of the sanctuary appeared as previously described.


Verse 22

‘The altar was of wood. It was three cubits high and its length was two cubits. And its corners, and its length, and its walls were of wood. And he said to me, “This is the table which is before Yahweh”.’

Once again we have the heavenly visitant speaking with awe as he describes something very special. It is ‘the table which is before Yahweh’. The object in question is ‘an altar of wood’ which stands before the entrance to the holy of holies, where the Zadokite priests will minister (Ezekiel 44:16). This seemingly combines the table of the shewbread, the ‘table of the Presence’ (Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9; 1 Kings 7:48) and the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-7; Exodus 37:25-28; Leviticus 4:7; 1 Kings 6:22; 1 Kings 7:48; Revelation 8:3). Here the intercessions of the people of God are offered before Yahweh (Revelation 8:3), in terms of the incense (compare Psalms 141:2), and here is ‘offered’ the shewbread, the most holy of all the offerings ‘made by fire’, which represents God’s gifts to His people for their daily sustenance and their expression of gratitude towards God (Leviticus 24:9). The latter were eaten by the priests in ‘a holy place’ (Leviticus 24:9). This twofold aspect can be compared with ‘hallowed be your name -- give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:9; Matthew 6:11).

Once again we note the absence of gold. The heavenly temple has no need or place for gold. It is above man’s vanities.


Verse 23-24

‘And the temple and the sanctuary had two doors, and the doors had two leaves each, two turning leaves, two leaves for the one door and two leaves for the other.’

There were two doors in both the entrance to the holy place and the entrance to the holy of holies, and each of those doors divided in two so that they could be turned back on themselves. Thus it was possible to enter by just opening one half of a door leaving a small gap to pass through. This was to preserve the holiness of these places and to stress their inaccessibility except to those given access when the time was right, in the case of the holy of holies but once a year for the High Priest.


Verse 25-26

‘And there was decorated on them, on the doors of the temple, cherubim and palm trees, in a similar way they were decorated on the walls, and there were thick beams of wood (or ‘a wooden canopy’) on the face of the vestibule outside, and there were narrowing windows and palm trees on the one side and on the other side, on the sides of the vestibule. Thus were the side-chambers of the house, and the thick beams.’

The doors were decorated similarly to the remainder of the sanctuary. The meaning of the word translated ‘thick beams’ (or ‘canopy’) is not known. It is a technical term and may represent a canopy over the outer entranceway, or some other form of architectural embellishment. It must be recognised in much of what has been said above that detailed translation and interpretation is sometimes difficult. Ancient architectural terms and descriptions are used which were no doubt clear at the time, but have long since been forgotten. The general idea and description is, however, clear. The final description of the vestibule may indicate that there there were no cherubim. The description of the sanctuary building itself is now concluded.

The descriptions of this heavenly temple would be listened to with awe by Ezekiel’s audiences. Most had never even entered the court of the priests in the old temple. To them these descriptions were fascinating and awe inspiring, and they reminded them in their detail of the perfection, holiness and unapproachability of God, and of their own unworthiness. They were also, with their measurements in multiples of five, a reminder of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. But more, they were also an indication of the fact that God once more awaited them in the land, and that there was a way open to Him through the shedding of blood. Most exhilarating of all was this fact that God’s invisible temple was once again situated in ‘the land’, His land, and awaited their homecoming, when they could themselves build a temple, the physical means by which they could enjoy and experience the heavenly temple.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 41:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-41.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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