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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 42




Chapter 42 Further Information About the Temple.

In this chapter details are given of the priests’ quarters in the inner court (probably meaning here the temple yard, the separate place) and other buildings, and the external dimensions of the temple area. Again we have the problem that the Hebrew text is difficult for us to interpret because of the architectural terminology. But we can gain a general idea of the position. LXX makes it clearer, but not necessarily accurately. The problem from the point of view of the Hebrew text was that the translators were probably almost as much in the dark as we are, and interpreted as they saw it, amending the text when they felt it necessary. But the important thing is that this demonstrated to his listeners that Ezekiel had actually seen the heavenly temple, sufficient to describe all the detail. As a blueprint this is hopeless. As a general description of what was seen by a non-architect it was fine. Ezekiel knew exactly what he meant.

Verse 1

Further Buildings for the Use of the Priests (Ezekiel 42:1-12).

‘Then he brought me out to the outer court, the way towards the north, and he brought me to the chamber that was over against the separate place, and which was over against the building, to the north.’

The heavenly visitant now took Ezekiel outside the sanctuary and across the temple yard to buildings on the far side of the temple yard, northward from ‘the building’ (the sanctuary and its accompaniments). Compare here Ezekiel 42:10 where ‘the building’ is closely connected with the temple yard. This involves referring ‘to the north’ as connected with the direction of movement rather than as an indication of where the building was. These buildings were totally different from any yet described. The ‘outer court’ here probably actually means what he has previously called the inner court, looked on as ‘outer’ compared with the temple yard which seems to be called the ‘inner court’ in Ezekiel 42:3. He probably did not have technical names fixed in his mind as we do. (LXX agrees and thus translates ‘the inner court’). Compare the use of ‘inner’ in Ezekiel 42:15.

This is supported by Ezekiel 42:13-14 where they would seem to be for the retaining of the priestly garments because they were holy and could not leave the area of the sanctuary, and for the eating and disposal of the animal sacrifices because they too were holy.

However some argue that the building in mind was in the outer court. They interpret ‘the building towards the north’ as being the chambers on the outer wall. Much depends on the meaning of ‘over against’. Are we to see it as meaning ‘adjacent to’ or ‘opposite’ or ‘in the general direction of’? In this case the rooms in Ezekiel 42:13-14 must be other rooms, for example in the back building, or in the side chambers mentioned in Ezekiel 41:5-7.

Verse 2

‘Before the length of a hundred cubits was the north door, and the breadth was fifty cubits.’

This seems to mean that this building for the priests was a hundred cubits in length and fifty cubits in breadth, with ‘the north door’ in its length, for access, probably looking northward towards the inner court. The ‘back’ of the building being along the boundary of the temple yard.

Verse 3

‘Over against (‘adjoining’ or ‘opposite’) the twenty cubits which belonged to the inner court, and opposite the pavement which belonged to the outer court were gallery upon gallery to the third storey (in three storeys).’

Ezekiel now describes another building, three storeys high, which comes between the temple yard (the ‘inner court which is twenty cubits wide’) and the pavement of the ‘outer court’ (around the outer wall). We are possibly to see this one as definitely in the outer court proper, otherwise it could have been stated as being within the inner wall, and it being in the outer court would explain why the pavement is mentioned. But some see it as within the inner court proper, the phrase ‘over against’ simply meaning ‘in the general direction of’.

Verse 4

‘And in front of the chambers was a walk of ten cubits breadth inward, a way of one cubit, and their doors were towards the north.’

This may mean that the walkway was one cubit high and a breadth of ten cubits, so that the doors had to be reached by the walkway. Compare the pavements in the inner and outer courts. Their doors seemingly looked away from the sanctuary.

Verse 5-6

‘Now the upper chambers were smaller, for the galleries took away from these, more than from the lower and middlemost in the building. For they were in three storeys, and they did not have pillars like the pillars of the courts. Therefore the uppermost was set back more than the lowest and the middlemost from the ground.’

We do not know the meaning of the technical word translated ‘galleries’ which makes exactness difficult here, but the main point is clear, that there were three storeys and the top one was set back a little. Pillars are not mentioned elsewhere (the pillars in front of the sanctuary did not support anything) so this clearly refers to supporting pillars not yet mentioned. It possibly means the outer supporting walls of the side-chambers in the inner court (Ezekiel 41:6).

Verse 7-8

‘And the wall that was outside by the side of the chambers, towards the outer court before the chambers, its length was fifty cubits. For the length of the chambers which were in the outer court was fifty cubits. And lo those before the temple were a hundred cubits.’

This building was of fifty cubits length so that in order to match the hundred cubit building nearer to the sanctuary a further wall was built of fifty cubits.

Verse 9

‘Below these chambers was the entry on the east side, as one goes into them from the outer court.’

This may mean that there was an entry into these chambers by a door facing east which was lower than the northern facing doors because not accessed by the one cubit high walkway. Or it may be giving a general orientation in terms of the East Gate.

The chambers towards the south (Ezekiel 42:12-13) are not mentioned in detail because they duplicate those towards the north.

Verse 10-11

‘There were chambers in the thickness of the wall of the court towards the east, before the separate place and before the building. And the way before them was like the appearance of the way of the chambers towards the north. According to their length so was their breadth. And all their exits were both according to their fashions and according to their doors.’

In the wall of the inner court (it was ‘before the separate place’ and ‘before the building’ - compare Ezekiel 42:1) facing east there were also chambers, which were foursquare and built into the wall. They were in front of the temple yard and ‘the building’ (the sanctuary). They too had a walkway in front of them similar to that in front of the buildings towards the north. Their exits are dismissed briefly. Their look would depend on the particular pattern of workmanship adopted, and on the doors used. (Ezekiel is now hurrying on. He feels he has given sufficient detail. Again this confirms that this is not intended to be a blueprint, it is the description of an interested visitor to a ‘real’ building).

Verse 12

‘And according to the entrances of the chambers that were towards the south was an entrance at the head of the way, the way before the wall towards the east as one enters them.’

The south chambers, which parallel the north chambers are now introduced as a matter of fact. They are simply assumed. It is pointed out that they too had an entrance towards the east (compare Ezekiel 42:9) similar to those that they had towards the south (compare Ezekiel 42:4). The latter were entered by the walkway, at the end of which was the entrance, which was used for access to the walkway and thus entry into entrances of the chambers, and looked towards the east wall.

Verse 13

The Use For The Many Chambers In The Inner Court (Ezekiel 42:13-14).

‘Then he said to me, “The north chambers and the south chambers which are before the separate place (the temple yard), they are the holy chambers, where the priests who are near to Yahweh will eat the most holy things. There will they lay the most holy things, even the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering. For the place is holy. When the priests enter in (i.e. where they enter into a building in such circumstances) then they will not go out of the holy place into the outer court, but there shall they lay their garments in which they minister, for they are holy. And they shall put on other garments when they approach (literally ‘and shall approach’) that which pertains to the people.”

The heavenly visitant only spoke to Ezekiel four times in the whole sight seeing operation, otherwise he was too busy measuring while Ezekiel observed. The first was when he exhorted him to take note of all he saw and heard (Ezekiel 40:4), the second was when he designated apartments for the priests and had to explain the revolutionary differences which now applied (Ezekiel 40:45-46), the third was when he left the holy of holies having measured it, and said, “This is the most holy place” (Ezekiel 41:4), and this is the fourth. It is a warning about the treatment of holy things.

Two things were especially in his mind, the treatment of the holy sacrifices and the treatment of the holy garments of the priests in which they performed their holy tasks. This is strictly an Old Testament attitude. To my mind there is no way in which this could apply once Jesus Christ had broken down the barrier between priest and lay believer, and had by the offering of Himself made null and void all other sacrifices.

It is no answer to this to say that Christian Jews continued sacrificing in the temple after the resurrection. At that time the significance of the cross had not fully come home to them, and they did it in ignorance. I do not think for one moment that they actually saw those sacrifices in a new light. They saw them in the same old way, although approaching with a different attitude. They had been brought up to them from birth. It was only later that it would become clearly apparent that they no longer applied, a process aided by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and letters and teaching like the letter to the Hebrews.

The holy chambers by the temple yard were firstly for the eating of holy things. When the priests partook of that part of the sacrifices which were allocated to them, in the case of sin and guilt offerings, they had to do it in a holy place.

Under Mosaic law priests could partake of the meal offerings (Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 2:9-10; Leviticus 2:16). But they were not allowed to eat of the major sin and guilt offerings (those for priests and for the people as a whole - Leviticus 4:1-21). In that case parts of the animals had to be wholly consumed on the altar and any remains burned outside the camp (Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 4:21). But they could eat of guilt and sin offerings for individuals, although these were ‘most holy’ and could only be eaten in ‘a holy place’. They could also eat of a meal offering made for the same purpose (Leviticus 5:11-13). That is why it is these offerings that are mentioned here. They can only be eaten in a holy place.

Other offerings were holy, but not ‘most holy’, and could therefore be consumed by the priests’ families, and in many cases by the people.

So it is quite clear that Ezekiel is here maintaining the distinctions laid down by the Law. But if all these had become mere ‘memorial’ offerings these distinctions would surely not have needed to be maintained. The significance of the sin and guilt offerings would have had to change completely. They would no longer be sin and guilt offerings in the sense described in Leviticus.

The second purpose of the chambers was in order that they might be used for storing holy things, such as the fleeces of the sacrificed animals, and the holy flesh and meal from the designated offerings yet to be eaten.

The third purpose was so that they could be used for storing the priestly garments in which the priests officiated. These were holy and must not leave the holy inner court (probably the temple yard - Ezekiel 42:3, but perhaps the actual inner court). When the priests wished to leave this inner court to deal with common things they must wear different clothing, although they could leave it while officiating and slaying sacrifices.

Verses 15-20

The External Dimensions of the Temple Area (Ezekiel 42:15-20).

‘Now when he had finished measuring the inner house he brought me out by way of the gate whose prospect is towards the east, and measured it round about. He measured on the east side with the measuring reed, five hundred reeds with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the north side, five hundred reeds, with the measuring reed round about. He measured on the south side, five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He turned about to the west side, and measured five hundred reeds with the measuring reed. He measured it on the four sides.’

Finally the heavenly visitant measured outside the temple. Note here that ‘the inner house’ probably means the whole temple complex. The use of ‘inner’ can vary depending on where the person is starting from.

The whole is stated in the Hebrew to be 500 reeds by 500 reeds. The measuring reed was six long cubits (Ezekiel 40:5) which would make this an excessive amount (3,000 cubits by 3,000 cubits) if it referred to the outer wall of the temple (500 cubits by 500 hundred cubits). But it may in fact be the measurement which includes a space of separation, the part of the surrounding area which had to be set apart to separate the common from the holy (compare Ezekiel 43:12 where it says, ‘the whole limit around it (the temple) will be most holy’). Such a space of separation is found in Joshua 3:4, where the people were not allowed to come within two thousand cubits of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh; in Exodus 19:12 where a bound was set away from the holy mount which people must not cross; and in Numbers 35:4-5 where such an area was set apart round Levitical cities. It is enlarged in this case to demonstrate the added holiness of this temple. Some have suggested a further wall built to enclose this area.

Verse 20

‘He measured it on the four sides. It had a wall round about, the length five hundred and the breadth five hundred, to make a separation between that which was holy and that which was common.’

This is the grounds for arguing a further wall to enclose the area of separation. If we read ‘reeds’ all through this must be so. Compare the ‘separate place’ around the sanctuary. We must remember in these measurements that we are not talking about an earthly temple but a heavenly temple. Thus arguments about where it would be sited are irrelevant. The picture is one of unalloyed holiness which has to be preserved at all costs. The number five hundred also stresses the covenant nature of the temple area (5 x 10 x 10), five intensified.

But note that in Ezekiel 42:20 b the unit of measurement is not specifically mentioned (neither reeds nor cubits). Thus it may be that the note about the wall here is a finally added comment, referring to the wall of the temple, and ‘cubits’ is to be read in. The idea would then be to draw attention to the parallel between the ‘500 reeds’ of the separation area and the ‘500 cubits’ of the wall, (cubits being understood from the previous measurements), with the stress on the separation of the holy from the common and the covenant significance of the numbers.

(Indeed it may be that a cryptic ‘500 x 500’ would always be read as cubits automatically where no unit of measurement was stated, as today tradesmen might automatically understand ‘metres’ (or ‘feet’).)

However, LXX specifically reads ‘cubits’ throughout (mostly understood) rather than ‘reeds’ and this would then be the measurement of the outer wall around the temple area itself, which fits in with the measurements described earlier. But LXX does have a tendency to remove difficulties in the numbers by making alterations.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 42:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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