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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 44

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 44 The Sacredness of the East Gate - God’s Glory Revealed in the Heavenly Sanctuary - Regulations With Regard to The People’s Own Future Temple.


Verse 1-2

The Permanent Closing of the East Gate of the Heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-3).

‘Then he brought me back the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary which looks towards the east, and it was shut. And Yahweh said to me, “This gate will be shut, it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter by it, for Yahweh the God of Israel has entered in by it. Therefore it shall be shut.” ’

Having heard the voice of the Lord Yahweh speaking to him from the sanctuary with instructions about the altar, Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant back to the east gate of the heavenly temple. And he found that it was permanently closed. For a similar abrupt reintroduction of the heavenly visitant see Ezekiel 46:19.

God then spoke to him again and told him the reason for the closure. It was because Yahweh, the God of Israel had Himself entered by it. Thus it was to remain shut up until it released the overflowing of blessing for which it was purposed (chapter 47).

This kind of ban was also known among earthly monarchs of great importance. When the great king had entered a city, the gate through which he entered would for a time be closed to common people because he had passed through it, in recognition of his status and greatness.

This was once again to remind God’s people of His holiness. Once His glory had been in contact with something it was ‘very holy’. It could not be touched by common man. This was now true of the gate of the heavenly temple by which Yahweh had entered. His glory remained in it (compare Exodus 34:29). As far as we know the restriction was never placed on an earthly temple. Even though the glory of Yahweh did enter the second temple (Haggai 2:4-9 with 21-23), there is no mention of His entering by any gate or of an east gate ever having been shut permanently (although nor do we know that it was not. We do not know the make up of the second temple).

But this gate was no ordinary gate. It was a supernatural gate. For one day from under its threshold would flow rivers of living water, and such abundant waters that they would transform the landscape, and the world, and this too was measured by the man with the measuring line (Ezekiel 47:3). Thus the gate symbolised the unique presence of God waiting in heavenly power in His heavenly temple to burst forth on the world.


Verse 3

“As for the prince, he will sit in it as prince to eat bread before Yahweh. He will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will go out by way of the same.”

This gateway was henceforth to be so holy that only ‘the prince’ could enter it, although he could not use the gate itself. He had to enter the gateway from within (from the outer court) for sacred communion and a sacral feast with Yahweh. This is speaking of the Davidic prince, God’s shepherd and servant (Ezekiel 37:24). It was a reminder that although he was not a sacrificing priest, he was recognised as having special sacred duties and responsibilities, and had a sacred place reserved for himself. He was a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, a royal priest (Psalms 110:4). It indicated the favoured place that a Davidic prince would have for ever in the eyes of God.

The lesson would seem to be that a special place, a very holy place, should be reserved for each Davidic prince to enable him to commune with God and plead for the people, having regard to his sacral status (see 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:17; 2 Samuel 24:25), a place which would be seen as sacred because it represented that heavenly east gate which had been entered by the manifested presence of God. It was a way of glorifying the final Davidic prince who would one day come to mean so much to Israel and the world. And it confirmed his royal priesthood.

The first reference of this must be to the Spirit empowered Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6), who was responsible for the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10) which would eventually shake the world (Haggai 2:21-23). But it also certainly pointed higher to the coming of the Messianic prince Himself, of whom Zerubbabel was only a pale reflection. A place, a very holy place, was to be reserved, where he could eat bread before Yahweh, and this place would ever be a reminder of that glorious day when Yahweh had returned to the land in His glory, and it would contain a promise of the going forth of future blessing.

It may well be that when Jesus used to go aside into a quiet place to commune with His Father He saw Himself as entering the east gate of the heavenly temple on ‘the mountain’ (Matthew 5:1; Matthew 8:1; Matthew 14:23; Matthew 15:29; Matthew 17:1; Mark 3:13; Mark 6:46; Mark 9:2; Luke 6:12; John 6:3; John 6:15). He alone had unique entry into God’s presence. For He knew more than any other that the earthly temple was rejected, because it had rejected Him, but that God still dwelt among His true people in the heavenly temple. The Kingly Rule of God was there. He had not totally deserted them. And He knew that from that temple, finally embodied in the lives of His people, His word would go forth into the world as Isaiah had promised (Isaiah 2:3). It was from the east gate that rivers of living water would flow out to the world (Ezekiel 47), and this represented the Holy Spirit Whom the Messianic prince would abundantly give (Ezekiel 39:29; John 7:37-39; John 15:26; John 20:22).

Whether such a sacred private place was ever set aside for Zerubbabel we do not know, but it is very probable simply because of who he was, the potential Messianic prince, with a special and unique priesthood. This was thus symbolised here. It may not have been in the east gate, (or it may have been, we do not know), but the east gate of the earthly temple had not been entered by Yahweh. But the place would certainly represent the east gate of the heavenly temple. If it was not in the east gate then the fact that no attempt was made to make the east gate a forbidden and holy place would stress that the people in those days recognised that the sacred east gate spoken of by Ezekiel was in the heavenly temple of which the earthly was but a vague copy, and that no attempt needed to be made to copy it exactly.

After all we must remember that they did hope that what they were building would be the Messianic temple (Haggai 2), and they certainly hoped, and had every right to hope, that the glory of God would fill the holy of holies (Haggai 2:7), for that temple was built under God’s instructions. We may dismiss it as ‘the second temple’, a fact of history about which we know little, but to them it was the focus of all their hopes and beliefs, and the arbiter of their future. Thus we can be sure that they did all that they felt necessary to make it so.

We have no knowledge of what happened in the end to Zerubbabel, and the Davidic princeship seems to have quickly slipped into the background to await another day (whether immediately or not we do not know). His position would be taken by the High Priest. But certainly there were great expectations to begin with.


Verse 4

The Glory of God Fills the Sanctuary.

‘Then he brought me the way of the north gate before the house, and I looked, and behold, the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh, and I fell on my face.’

Having been instructed about the future Ezekiel was now brought by the heavenly visitant to the north gate, facing the sanctuary, and there he saw the glory of Yahweh filling the sanctuary, as he had previously seen the glory of Yahweh at the River Chebar (chapter 1). And once again he prostrated himself before His glory, filled with joy that the eternal God was back in His land to bless it again.

Instructions Concerning the Future Running of the Temple.


Verse 5

‘And Yahweh said to me, “Son of man, set your heart on, and behold with your eyes, and hear with your ears, all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of Yahweh, and all its laws. And set your heart on the entering in of the house, with every going forth from the sanctuary.” ’

He was now told by God Himself to lay down under God’s instruction all that was to be done in the sanctuary which God would cause to be built on earth which to some small extent would mirror the heavenly sanctuary, and who it should be done by. He would declare who could enter where, and who would proceed from where. He was to regulate the whole pattern of future worship in the sanctuary, as Moses had before him.


Verses 6-9

“And you shall say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, O you house of Israel, let all your abominations be sufficient for you, in that you have brought foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to profane it, even my house, when you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations. And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.’ ”

The house of Israel are still described as ‘rebellious’. They have not yet learned their lesson about the need to be obedient to God in every way.

God’s first complaint was that in the past they had treated His sanctuary lightly by leaving mundane tasks to ‘foreigners’ rather than themselves rejoicing in the privilege of serving God in a mundane way. They had got above themselves and had become proud, thus permitting people outside the covenant the privilege of performing ‘covenant’ tasks. Some were even people who were uncircumcised, and even more were of uncircumcised heart. Their hearts were not right towards God.

This had occurred in Solomon’s temple. Consider for example 2 Kings 11:4 where we read of Carite temple guards. It had probably become even more prevalent in the later days of the kings. It was always easier and more pleasant to pass on menial tasks to others. One of the early instances of this kind of attitude took place when the conquered Gibeonites were made menial servants of the tabernacle, although it may be in that case that they were already circumcised, and did submit to the covenant (Joshua 9:23; Joshua 9:27). But it does demonstrate a tendency. Compare also the Nethinim in Ezra 8:20, who were probably previously prisoners-of-war who had been pressed into temple service. The Mosaic Law did forbid any unauthorised person from serving in the tabernacle (or temple) as a priest (Numbers 3:10), but believing foreigners could offer sacrifices there, presumably after being circumcised where necessary, and submitting to the covenant (compare Numbers 15:14; Isaiah 56:3; Isaiah 56:6; Zechariah 14:21).

‘When you offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant to add to all your abominations.’ The bread possibly refers to the shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-6) which was a ‘most holy’ offering. The fat and the blood were the part of the sacrifices regularly given to God. ‘They have broken my covenant’, firstly by being in the sanctuary at all, and also by their behaviour and lack of reverence. These failures have added to the crimes of Israel.

‘And you have not kept the charge of my holy things, but you have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary, for yourselves.’ They had been given the privilege of being in charge of the routine of the sanctuary, and of the holy things of God, but in their laziness they had passed it on to others not ‘qualified’, to act in their place. They had appointed them ‘keepers of His charge’. Quite clearly this had stretched to the actual dealing with holy things such as the sacrifices.

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any alien that is among the children of Israel.” ’ This was not an exclusion of all not born Israelites. Any could become Israelites by submitting to the covenant and being circumcised as proselytes. But those whose hearts were not true to the covenant, and who were not physically circumcised, thus remaining ‘aliens’, were forbidden entry to the sanctuary. Later, in Herod’s temple, they would be allowed into the court of the Gentiles, but were forbidden under pain of death to venture further. We have actual examples of notices that were put up to warn of this.

Note the reference here to circumcision of the heart. Ezekiel recognised quite clearly that it was not enough to be circumcised. There had also to be a change of heart if men were to be acceptable.


Verses 10-14

The Non-Zadokite Priests Are to Be Excluded From the Inner Sanctuary Because of Their Previous Participation In Idolatry (Ezekiel 44:10-14).

“But the Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray, who went astray from me after their idols, they will bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house. They will slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they will stand before them to minister to them. It is because they ministered to them before their idols, and became a stumblingblock of iniquity to the house of Israel, that I have therefore lifted up my hand against them,” says the Lord Yahweh, “And they will bear their iniquity. And they will not come near to me to execute the office of priest to me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, to the things which are most holy. But they will bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all its service, and for all that will be done in it.”

This was taking the Levites back to their original purpose. During the period of the Judges Levites had begun to act as priests, and in the period of the monarchy this had continued. Now they were to revert back to their original status because they had proved unworthy of their advancing claims.

But the term Levites is used here in its widest sense, and includes the Levitical priests other than the sons of Zadok. Apart from the sons of Zadok they had all been willing to cooperate in the idolatry rife in the temple and in the high places (2 Kings 23:4-9). Thus they had to bear their punishment, and that was that they should not minister in the sanctuary itself. They would have responsibility for guardianship of the temple, having oversight at the gates, they would perform temple duties, they would assist the people with the slaying of their offerings and sacrifices, and would be there to minister to them and assist them. But they would have no access to the holy place, nor be able to present the fat and the blood to Yahweh, or to partake of the bread of the Presence. They were banned from His nearer presence.

Their offence is repeated twice for emphasis. They had cooperated in the leading astray of the people, and in the course of it they had misused the holy place, and they would therefore be barred from it. But He did not wholly cast them off. They would still be allowed the privilege of temple service, and still have access to the altar, even though they were excluded from inner sanctuary service.

So the Levitical priests among them would lose their major priestly privileges. They would stand before the people to minister to them, but they would not be allowed to stand before Yahweh, nor to minister to Him. Once again we are conscious of Old Testament attitudes. In my view it is inconceivable that this could apply after the cross. Then all priests had sinned and done evil without distinction. There could be no favoured sons of Zadok. Either all would be made acceptable, or none. And the one sacrifice would offer mercy and restitution to all, conveying the privilege of access into His presence, once they had entered the new Israel (Hebrews 10:19-21).

The message behind this is clear. God observes all our actions, and although His judgment may proceed slowly, it proceeds at last. What a man sows, he reaps.


Verses 15-31

Only The Sons of Zadok May Perform the Full Priestly Functions (Ezekiel 44:15-31).

“But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they will come near to me to minister to me. And they will stand before me to offer to me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord Yahweh. “And they will enter into my sanctuary, and they will come near to my table to minister to me, and they will keep my charge.”

One group of priests had clearly proved faithful to Yahweh through all the ups and downs of the history of the kings. Always there was a remnant who were faithful to Yahweh, that is one reason why Yahwism survived, humanly speaking. They were called ‘the sons of Zadok’. These had been faithful to the Davidic king from the first and in the time of the accession of the rightful heir had proved their loyalty and had been awarded the high priesthood (1 Kings 1:8; 1 Kings 1:32; 1 Kings 1:38-39; 1 Kings 2:35. Compare 1 Chronicles 6:10 with Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:15; 2 Chronicles 31:10). Zadok was descended from the line of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6:50-53). Now the ‘sons of Zadok’ were to be rewarded by being awarded the sole right to ministry in the inner sanctuary. They alone would be able to offer the fat and the blood, they alone would minister at His table (compare Ezekiel 41:22).

‘The sons of Zadok’ are probably not to be seen as totally limited to literal descendants of Zadok (not all such would necessarily have been faithful). Rather they were probably a band of faithful priests who had gathered under the banner of the Zadokite high priestly descendant and were differentiated because of their faithfulness to Yahweh, thus becoming a recognised band named ‘the sons of Zadok’ (those who behave like Zadok - compare ‘the sons of Belial’). Many of them would no doubt be actual descendants, but not necessarily all.

But in the end the return of the exiles in the beginning was not as successful and triumphant as the prophets had hoped. It was one thing to look forward to a new beginning. It was another to hear the call ‘follow me’ and participate in it. The temple was built after many stops and starts, and the Zadokite priesthood was established in the form of Joshua the High Priest (Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14; Zechariah 3:1-10. See also Nehemiah 11:11; 1 Chronicles 9:11). But the times were hard and strict rules were probably not adhered to. Adoption into ‘the sons of Zadok’ of other priests would occur under the Zadokite leadership as long as they were ready to be true. The ancients did not stick to rigid differentiations like we do. They were more elastic, even when outwardly it appeared otherwise.

Further there was the problem of the returning exiles as against those who had remained in the land (who had not heard first hand the words of Ezekiel). Compromises would have to be reached in order for them to be able to worship together, and priests among them who proved worthy were no doubt also incorporated among ‘the sons of Zadok’. (We must remember again that ‘sons of’ did not necessarily mean genealogical purity. It meant more ‘belonging to’ or ‘behaving like’, although no doubt genealogical purity was required for the High Priest himself). Thus it was not a theoretical ideal that was to be achieved, any more than the Mosaic ideal had ever been achieved. It was a practical one. Nor was it necessary to be particular as long as those who became part of ‘the sons of Zadok’ were qualified as priests and faithful to their ministry. Soon any appointed by the high priest because of their faithfulness to Yahweh could be seen as being ‘sons of Zadok’, for he stood in the place of Zadok. But there can be no question that the final authority in the temple did lie with the sons of Zadok, and did so until 171 BC when their high priest was removed for political reasons in the time of great apostasy. The Qumran community looked for the restoration of the sons of Zadok.


Verse 17-18

Ritual Requirements For The Sons of Zadok.

“And it shall be that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they will be clothed with linen garments, and no wool shall come on them while they minister inside the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and shall have linen breeches on their loins. They shall not wear anything that causes sweat.”

These restrictions are similar to those placed on Aaron and his sons (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:27-29). Linen was the white of purity, but it also helped to prevent sweat. Yahweh’s sanctuary was not to be defiled by human earthliness. This statement about human sweat is interesting and helps to explain the ritual washings engaged in by Israelites when they came before God to be ‘made clean’. The water did not ‘cleanse’, for it is always followed by the phrase ‘and shall not be clean until the evening’. They then had to wait on God until the evening to be ‘cleansed’. The water simply removed the earthiness prior to waiting on God. (It was in fact only water that was sprinkled with the ashes of a heiffer that could ‘cleanse’).


Verse 19

“And when they go out into the outer court, even into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they minister, and lay them in the holy chambers, and they will put on other garments, lest they sanctify the people with their garments.”

The linen garments they wore were holy, for they came into contact with holy things. They could not therefore be allowed to come into contact with the mundane. They had to be kept in holy chambers. Nor must they come in contact with the people, or they could do them harm. Here being ‘sanctified’ was not something to be desired. It would bring them into an anomalous position, the mundane being made holy (see Exodus 19:21-24; Exodus 29:37; Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:27). Once being ‘made holy’ they may well have had to be put to death, or at least be required to serve permanently in the temple, so that God’s holiness would not be profaned.

The purpose behind all these distinctions was to bring home to the people the uniqueness and ‘otherness’ of God, and as a reminder of their own unworthiness and sinfulness.


Verses 20-22

“Nor shall they shave their heads, nor allow their locks to grow long. They shall only cut the hair of their heads. Nor shall any priest drink wine when they enter into the inner court. Nor shall they take for their wives a widow, nor one who has been divorced. But they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, or of a widow who is a widow of a priest.”

For some of these restrictions compare Leviticus 21:5-8; Leviticus 21:14. The shaving of the head was probably referring to practises in relation to idolatrous religion, the restriction on long hair differentiated them from the Nazirites (Numbers 1:1-6). But the aim may well have been so as to ensure that the hair was fully covered (Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10), so that when they went into the sanctuary no earthly defilement would drop from it. The restriction on wine was to ensure that none went to their sacred duties in a drunken or merry mood, unbefitting worship. The restriction on women was so that those dedicated to Yahweh and made holy might not share one, and be made one with one, who had previously been given to the mundane. The code for priests was now stricter than previously. All again stressed Yahweh’s distinctiveness and holiness.


Verse 23

“And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the clean and the unclean. And in a controversy they shall stand to judge. In accordance with my judgments shall they judge it. And they will keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall hallow my sabbaths.”

The Zadokite priests would be responsible for trying cases in ‘courts’ of law. A proper judicial system with a recognised authority would be vital immediately on returning to the land. They would also be responsible for showing the people the difference between clean and unclean, which would have become blurred during the exile (compare Ezekiel 22:26; Leviticus 10:10-11; Leviticus 11:47; Deuteronomy 33:10), and for the proper observance of the sacred feasts and of all sabbaths. Thus they had to regulate the religious life of the people in their new beginning.


Verses 25-27

“And they shall come into contact with no dead person to defile themselves. But for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother or for sister who has no husband they may defile themselves. And after he is cleansed they will reckon to him seven days. And in the day that he goes into the sanctuary he will offer his sin offering, says the Lord Yahweh.”

Contact with the dead always defiled and required seven days of cleansing (Numbers 19:11-13 compare Numbers 5:2; Numbers 31:19). (There are actually good medical reasons behind such a restriction, lest any disease has been contracted from the dead body). The priests were only to become involved with the dead in the case of close relatives, where there was no one else to take on the duties. Then they must got through the recognised period of cleansing. The sin offering was required because death was so closely related to sin.


Verse 28

“And they will have an inheritance (literally ‘it will be to them for an inheritance’). I am their inheritance. And you will give them no property holding in Israel. I am their property holding.”

The opening phrase would seem to mean that by their observance of all these things they would gain a special inheritance, an inheritance as the chosen of Yahweh and indeed the inheritance of Yahweh Himself. Yahweh would be all that they needed. Those who totally dedicate themselves to God will not lose their reward. The Lord will provide for them and they will gain a better one (compare Matthew 19:29). Therefore they look for no earthly possessions. Would that modern preachers all recognised the same principles. It would prevent many obscene displays of wealth. There is nothing more dishonouring to God than a preacher displaying excessive wealth.


Verse 29-30

“They will eat the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. And the first of all the firstfruits of everything, and every gift of everything, of all your gifts, shall be for the priests. You will also give to your priests the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on your house.”

God now makes provision for His dedicated priests. They may participate of meal offerings, and of the flesh of sin and guilt offerings (within the prescribed limits) - see Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 2:10; Leviticus 5:13; Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 7:6; Leviticus 7:9-10. Also anything dedicated to God by the people shall be theirs. These were "devoted" (Hebrew ‘herem’) things, things given that the offerer could not redeem (buy back - see Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:28; Numbers 18:14). And all gifts given to God would also be theirs. This would include the first of the dough. The result for the people who give will blessing on their houses.


Verse 31

“The priests shall not eat of anything which dies of itself, or is torn, whether it be beast or bird.”

This was in fact true for all Israelites (Leviticus 7:24), but it is emphatically stressed here that it is especially important for priests. Clearly such animals may have died of disease, or have become infected. But the main point ritually was that they had not been killed cleanly and the blood properly dealt with.

These renewed instructions to the priests were necessary so that when the return from exile took place they would immediately be aware of the need to return to the Law of Moses, and even to go beyond it in being holy before God. What had previously applied only to the High Priest now applied to all priests. For they served a holy God, and had to be a lesson and example to the people.

The assumption is that first a sanctuary would be set up, and then a temple built, which would mirror to some extent the heavenly temple. But only the former is commanded (Ezekiel 43:18). And however mean and crude their temple might be they would be ever aware of the glory of the heavenly temple that it represented. For they were the people of Yahweh, and Yahweh was glorious and holy above all things. Thus they need never be ashamed of their temple however simple it was, because of what it represented.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-44.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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