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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Ezekiel 48

 

 

Introduction

THE VISION OF THE RESTORED TEMPLE AND THE REINHABITED LAND (Chaps. 40-48)

This is a development of the promise contained in Eze . The subject of the closing chapters of Ezekiel is the restitution of the kingdom of God. This is expressed by a vision in which are displayed not only a rebuilt Temple, but also by a reformed priesthood, reorganised services, a restored monarchy, a reapportioned territory, a renewed people, and, as a consequence, the diffusion of fertility and plenty over the whole earth. The return from Babylon was indeed the beginning of this work, but only a beginning, introductory to the future kingdom of God, first upon earth, finally in heaven. The vision must therefore be viewed as strictly symbolical, the symbols employed being the Mosaic ordinances. These ordinances had indeed in themselves a hidden meaning. The Tabernacle in the midst of the tents of the tribes, and afterwards the Temple in the capital of the land of inheritance, was intended to signify the dwelling of Jehovah among His people; the priesthood was to denote the mediation between God and man; the monarchy the sovereignty of God, the people the saints of God, the territory their inheritance. So that the symbols here employed have an essential propriety; yet they are truly symbols, and as such they are to be regarded."—Speaker's Commentary.


Verses 1-35

THE IDEAL ALLOTMENT OF THE HOLY LAND. (Chap. 48)

EXEGETICAL NOTES.—The order of the original occupation of the Holy Land by the tribes under Joshua is partly, but only partly, followed. It is a new order of things, and its ideal character is evinced, as elsewhere, by exact and equal measurements. From north to south seven tribes succeed each other—Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, each occupying the full breadth of the land from east to west. Then comes a portion separated as an offering to the Lord, into

(1) a northern portion for the Levites;

(2) a central portion for the priests and the Temple;

(3) a southern portion for the city and those who serve it. These three form a square which does not occupy the whole breadth of the land, but is flanked on either side, east and west, by portions assigned to the prince. Then follow, south of the city, five portions for the five remaining tribes—Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad—similar to those assigned to the seven. Thus the Levites, the Temple, and city are guarded by Judah and Benjamin, the two tribes who had throughout preserved their allegiance to the true sovereignty of Jehovah, and thus the plan expresses the presence of Jehovah among His people, summed up in the name of the city with which Ezekiel's prophecy closes, "The Lord is there."—Speaker's Commentary.

Eze . "A portion for Dan." Literally, Dan one. The same is repeated for each tribe, the usual mode in Hebrew of expressing distribution and implying equality in the portions. Dan, as morally semi-heathen, has the least honourable place in the extreme north.

Eze . "Asher." No one of note in this tribe is mentioned in the Old Testament. The prophetess Anna belonged to it (Luk 2:36).

Eze . "A portion for Manasseh." The intercourse and unity between the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan and the nine and a half west of it had been kept up by the splitting of Manasseh, causing the visits of kinsmen one to the other from both sides of the Jordan. There shall be no need for this in the new order of things.

Eze . "A portion for Ephraim." This tribe, with its two dependent tribes, Manasseh and Benjamin, for upwards of 400 years under the judges held the pre-eminence.

Eze . "A portion for Reuben"—doomed formerly for incest and instability not to excel (Gen 49:4). No distinguished prophet, priest, or king came from this tribe. To it belonged the mutinous Dathan and Abiram. A pastoral and Bedouin character marked it and Gad (Jud 5:16).

Eze . "The five thousand that are left." The remainder of the great square of 25,000 reeds from north to south. "A profane place for the city"—not strictly sacred as the sacerdotal portions, but applied to secular or common uses: so chap. Eze 42:20.

Eze . "Out of all the tribes of Israel." Formerly the citizens of Jerusalem were out of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. Now all the tribes are to have an equal part in it, to avoid jealousies (2Sa 19:43).

Eze . "Benjamin shall have a portion." This tribe alone with Judah had been throughout loyal to the house of David, so its prowess at the night of the national history was celebrated as well as in the morning.

Eze . "Simeon a portion." Simeon was omitted in the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33), perhaps because of the Simeonite prince who at Baalpeor led the Israelites in their idolatries with Midian (Num 25:14).

Eze . "Issachar a portion"—its ancient portion had been on the plain of Esdraelon. Compared (Gen 49:14) to "a strong ass crouching between two burdens"—tribute and tillage; never meddling with wars except in self-defence.

Eze . "The gates of the city." The twelves gates bear the names of the twelve tribes, to imply that all are regarded as having an interest in it.

Eze . "The Lord is there." "The name of the city shall be no longer Jerusalem—The vision of peace—but Adonai-shama—The Lord is there—because Jehovah will never again withdraw from it as He once withdrew, but will hold it as His everlasting possession."—Jerome. Not that the city will be so called in mere name, but that the reality will be best ex pressed by this descriptive title (Jer 3:17; Jer 33:16; Zec 2:10; Rev 21:3; Rev 22:3). A prophetic vision fulfilled in Emmanuel, God with us, who tabernacled among men (Joh 1:14).

HOMILETICS

THE EARTHLY CANAAN A TYPE OF THE HEAVENLY

(Eze .)

In this closing chapter we have a condensed summary of the magnificent vision described in the previous chapters with such fulness and exactitude. Reviewing the gradual development of the prophecy, Ezekiel catches up its chief features and groups them in a pictorial form calculated to arrest the attention and keep alive the hope of God's people through the dreary years that followed. The lost land is restored and repeopled; from the ruins of the old Jerusalem rises a city exceeding in vastness and splendour the colossal buildings of antiquity; the Temple like a guardian angel occupies a lofty, central position, round which the current of city life and worship is continually circling, and from that Temple, like rays of golden light, the glory of the Divine presence is spread throughout the holy and happy land. The prophetic description suggests the Earthly Canaan as a type of the Heavenly.

I. In the significant position occupied by the Temple of Jehovah. "The Sanctuary in the midst" (Eze ; Eze 48:10; Eze 48:21). To the pious Jew the Temple was the glory of Palestine, the all-prominent, central object, towards which his gaze was ever directed, and wherever he prayed his face was reverently turned towards the holy place. In the midst of the heavenly Canaan the Temple stands conspicuous. Worship is the delightful employment of the glorified, and the very essence of their individual bliss (Rev 5:14).

II. In the spectacle it presents of a united spiritual brotherhood (Eze ). The land was divided in equal portions among the tribes, and a holy oblation apportioned for the Temple, priests, Levites, prince, and people (Eze 48:9-22). There was no ground, nor was there any disposition, to indulge in the envyings and jealousies that had vexed and torn asunder the different tribes.

"Antipathies are none. In the heart

No passion touches a discordant string,

But all is harmony and love."

The charm of heaven is its inviolable unity. Each heart is bound together by the cord of love, and the union is cemented and strengthened by the worship and service in which all have a common interest. The unifying power is ever present in the object of their constant praise. There the prayer of Jesus has its most sublime realisation (Joh ).

III. In the honourable position assigned to those who have been conspicuous for fidelity. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who remained faithful to Jehovah when all the rest were renegade, have a place of honour in close proximity to the holiest—Judah on the north and Benjamin on the south of the portion of land specially dedicated to the Lord (Eze ; Eze 48:23). The priests, the sons of Zadok, who had kept the charge while the Levites went astray, are also generously remembered in the new order of things (Eze 48:11). Man loses nothing by making a resolute stand for truth and righteousness. He may sink in the estimation of the temporising and may suffer for his principles; but it is more disastrous to sink in his own estimation, and still more in the estimation of God: that would be to entail suffering from which there is no relief. The faithful champion for the truth shall have victory in this life and distinguished reward in the next (Rev 3:12; Rev 7:14-17).

IV. In being presided over by the manifested glory of the Divine Presence. "The Lord is there" (Eze ). To the true Israelite the Temple of the earthly Canaan was a synonym for the Divine presence: there He dwelt, there He revealed His glory from between the cherubim, and thence He declared His law and governed His people. The light, the glory, the joy of heaven is the presence of the Divine King robed in peerless majesty and ever displaying the endless manifoldness of His matchless character. Its beauty, its splendour, its order, its purity, its ecstasy, are all summed up in the exulting fact—"The Lord is there!"

LESSONS.—

1. We learn that things earthly are the patterns of the heavenly.

2. In our darkest experiences we are cheered with the brightest visions of the future.

3. The supreme glory of heaven is a sight of the unveiled presence of Jehovah.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

Eze . "The places of more or less honour assigned to each tribe are regulated by the degree of faithfulness to the Lord and His ordinances by which the tribes severally were characterised. Thus Judah and Benjamin, the tribes which adhered longest to the ordinances of the Temple and to the house of David when the rest apostatised, shall hold the most honourable positions. Dan, on the contrary, is to have the least honourable place at the extreme north, as having been so early as the times of the Judges in a great degreee demoralised and heathenised. So in respect to the degrees of glory which await all the saints in the coming Kingdom of God, the measure of honour will be regulated by the measure of faithfulness. Herein believers have the strongest incentive not merely to work, but to abound in the work of the Lord (1Co 15:58)."—Fausset.

Eze ; Eze 48:10; Eze 48:21. "The Sanctuary in the midst." The Centrality of the Church of God—

1. A special mark of the Divine honour and affection.

2. Indicates its supreme importance to the universe.

3. The choicest blessings emanate from and converge towards it.

4. It is the seat of Divine authority and power.

Eze . "Thy heart is in thy midst; take heed to whom it belongs: is it a temple of God in which His Spirit dwells, or is it a habitation of unclean spirits? God has an eternal right to the centre of man. God is the centre of the spirit-world, and in Him everything lives and moves."—Lange.

Eze . God's care for His Servants.

1. They shall have ample provision for all their needs (Eze ).

2. He will specially reward those who have been faithful to Him in times of trial (Eze ).

3. Their possessions shall be permanent and secure (Eze ).

Eze . "To err with the erring excuses no one; the way is broad, not for us to walk on it, but to call attention to the narrow path of life."—Starck.

Eze . "The priests had their lot near the Sanctuary, and the Levites had theirs in the centre of the tribes, that they might be ready for the service of God and for the instruction of the people. Hence the Lord, having made the priests His first care, expects that they should make the souls of the people their sole concern."—Sutcliffe.

Eze ; Eze 48:30-35. A Happy City—

1. Occupying a spacious area.

2. Commanding vast temporal resources.

3. Enjoying unexceptionable religious privileges.

4. Inhabited by a devout and contented people.

5. Providing ample facilities for ingress and egress.

6. A model of order, good government, unity, and peace.

Eze . "The city was ample and glorious, being about nine miles from gate to gate and thirty-six miles in circumference. The unbelief of the Jews in our Lord's time was fostered by a literal interpretation of the prophecies which, under splendid figures taken from earthly scenes, shadowed forth that superior and spiritual empire which He came to establish, and their carnal hopes and prospects of temporal dominion and glory led to the rejection of the true Messiah. Nor is it much less delusive to expect a literal fulfilment of the predictions we have been contemplating, which would in effect be going back to that shadowy dispensation which the Gospel is intended to supersede, instead of advancing to that brighter and more spiritual glory to be revealed in the latter day, and would, instead of converting Jews to Christianity, bring back the Christian Church to a state of Judaism."—Sutcliffe.

Eze . "Behold here the great goodness of God, who thinks of even the labourers in the city and cares for them. But every Christian ought to to be an upright labourer, as every stone, wherever it is placed, belongs to the building and contributes to its erection."—Lange.

Eze . Holy Citizens. "

1. The citizens are holy men, not common, profane men; Israelites, not Gibeonites.

2. They are men chosen not out of one, but out of every tribe.

3. They are to be serviceable—to improve their talents for the good of the city."—Greenhill.

Eze . "All our dealings must be square, or else we are not of the holy portion, of the New Jerusalem."—Trapp.

Eze . "As in the great family of man not one face answers precisely to another, but each is distinguished by some peculiarity, so it is amongst the children of God: therefore, though the sons of Israel were so many, they had all their distinguishing names, to which doubtless the searcher of their hearts and the orderer of their lives saw something corresponding in their character and history. Here also we see that, whatever our place may be, it is ordered for us by God, as the lots of the tribes in the earth; that, however we may enter into the kingdom of heaven, the peculiarity of our character shall be regarded there, seeing the names of its gates are not one but many; that, whatever the history of our preparation for it be, suitable character of glory is provided for us there, since its gates open upon every quarter of the earth."—M‘Farlan.

Eze . "Let every man be content with the portion of temporal goods which he possesses, for the Lord has apportioned it (Mat 20:14)."—Lange.

Eze . The City of God—

1. Is well and strongly founded.

2. Is comely and beautiful.

3. Has access to it from all parts.

4. Its happiness from the Lord's inhabiting it.

—"The names of the twelve tribes are to be severally connected with the twelve gates of the city, for all alike shall have an interest in it in their respective places and situations. So the very humblest believer has his due place appointed to him in the heavenly city. That shall be a blessed change from the present scene of disorder and confusion to a world wherein all beneath God, from the highest to the lowest, know and keep their place in the most perfect harmony, love, and blessedness."—Fausset.

Eze . "The glory and joy of heaven shall not be so much the absence of all present woes and the presence of all the other good things which God shall bestow, as it shall consist in this: the Lord Himself shall be there as the everlasting portion, joy, and light of His people."—Fausset.

—"That such scenes should have been described with such assured confidence and at a time so deeply overspread with gloom, was indeed an ennobling triumph of faith over sight. It gave a most illustrious proof of the height in spiritual discernment and far-seeing insight into the purposes of Heaven, which is sometimes imparted in the hour of greatest need, especially to the more select instruments of the Spirit's working. Here the heart of faith is taught never to despair, even in the darkest seasons. And when it is seen how much of the scheme delineated in the prophetic vision has already been accomplished, should not believers feel encouraged to look and strive for its complete realisation?"—Fairbairn.

—"Here endeth this remarkable vision, which, though greatly mystified by many of the attempts to explain it, stands forth to view on the sacred page as a noble specimen of Divine Wisdom, admirably calculated to inspire the captive exiles in Babylonia with the cheering hope of their resettlement in their own land and the restoration of their beloved metropolis and Temple. In contemplating it, the truly spiritually-minded Christian, with his thoughts raised above all earthly localities, will not perplex himself with subtle and trifling inquiries, but grasp the grand ideas which the vision suggests, and anticipate for himself in a future world a realisation of what was only dimly shadowed forth by that which is here described"—Henderson.

HOMILETICS

JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH: THE CITY OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE

(Eze .)

I. At abode of impregnable safety. "The Lord is there." He will be always there, never to desert it as He did the earthly Temple because of the sins of His people. It is sustained and defended at every point by His invincible power. The enemy assails in vain; no weapon can pierce the invulnerable defence. Evil cannot invade its holy precincts. Its inhabitants are for ever freed from the struggles and warfare with sin with which their earthly life has been harassed. The Divine Ruler governs with irresistible and loving authority, and the order and peace of the city remain for ever unbroken.

II. An abode of unfading beauty and splendour. "The Lord is there." The city shines with the reflected glory of His matchless perfections, and every part of the edifice is moulded into indescribable beauty and tipped with splendour. Perfection is the highest beauty. The Lord beautifies everything He touches. There is not a flower that blooms, a bird that flies, or a star that glitters but is adorned in every part of its wondrous structure with the reflected beauty of the Divine Artist. What, then, must be the inimitable beauty of the soul which, created in the Divine image, redeemed and transfigured by Divine love, is now admitted a citizen of the heavenly commonwealth, to bask for ever in the glory of the Divine presence?

III. An abode of endlessly satisfying joy. "The Lord is there." In His presence is fulness of joy (Psa ). The withdrawal of that presence is the soul's acutest misery, and is a catastrophe to be constantly deprecated (Psa 51:11). The joy of earth is mingled with disappointment and distress; but in the city of the Divine presence no sorrow wrings the heart with anguish or brims the eyes with tears. The soul is satisfied for ever with the raptures of the ever-blessed God.

"Let earth repent, and hell despair,

This City has a sure defence:

Her name is called ‘The Lord is there,'

And who has power to drive Him thence?"—Cowpan.

REFLECTED RAYS FROM THE BEST LITERARY LIGHTS ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EZEKIEL'S TEMPLE

"The whole wondrous vision is only the picture of a condition of surpassing glory, expressed in imagery peculiar to the prophet. No one thinks of taking the almost parallel visions of St. John in the Apocalypse as literal descriptions. We do not expect to see the holy city, the New Jerusalem, actually coming down from God, out of heaven, nor that it will be literally four-square, with walls and gates like an ancient town, nor that the walls will be over 200 feet high, or the city itself 1500 miles square, or that its buildings and spires will rise 1500 miles into the air; and yet it must be done, if the description is to be understood otherwise than figuratively. To Ezekiel and St. John alike, the only aim was to convey the highest conception of magnificence as each imagined it most vividly presented. Living in the age of Rome and great provincial cities, St. John thinks of a New Jerusalem such as he describes. imbued with a strongly Jewish and priestly bias, Ezekiel sees a glorious Temple rise before him, and all the details of a re-establishment of the Theocracy in Palestine, with transcendent splendour. To the mind of St. John, the Temple had ceased to be a central religious thought; in that of Ezekiel, the priest, it was supreme. In both, the inspired writer is left free to express the surpassing glory of the Messianic age in the only way possible to his modes of thought and the ideas of his age."—Geikie's Hours with the Bible.

"It was probably a Jubilee year when this vision was seen. The Temple and city were in ruins, but God was pleased in this way to revive the hopes of His people.

"Grotius and others have conceived that Ezekiel was simply guided to leave behind patterns on the basis of which the Temple should in after-days be rebuilt and its services restored. But an examination of the vision will show the insufficiency of this explanation. Not only was this plan never carried out, but it was, as Ezekiel must have known, incapable of execution. The physical features of the land would not admit of the separation of precincts a mile square, surrounded by a territory sixteen miles by forty-eight. The river, though connected with the stream brought by conduit-pipes into the actual Temple, soon passes into a condition wholly ideal, and the equal apportionment of the land to each of the twelve tribes is compatible neither with history nor geography. That the Temple and its services were symbolical of the Sacrifice and of the Priesthood of Christ the Epistle to the Hebrews sufficiently proves. The assemblage of the Christian Church around Christ as the central object of worship was that of which the assemblage of the people around the Temple was the type and representative; and it is more simple to understand the vision as portraying immediately the Church of Christ, than to refer to such a partial fulfilment as would give to the details an unreality discouraging to such as were looking to an actual rebuilding. But as the Jews already knew something of the typical character of the Temple services, this vision was intended to teach them more, and the very impossibility of realising its form was to draw them to the substance, and to give them prospects looking beyond any material reconstruction, just as Haggai consoled them for their disappointment at the erection of the second Temple by promises of spiritual glory.

"Others have looked upon the vision as purely allegorical, and disregarding its symbolical character, have interpreted it according to mere fancy. But many of the details had an actual existence in the original Temple, and some were exactly repeated, as though they were essential and not accidental.

"If we are surprised at the minuteness of the details, we must remember that it is of the essence of a vision that the seer has before him every line, as in a carefully drawn picture. In verbal illustration much is left undescribed, and the figures employed are often not carried out; but in a vision the seer at least has all before him, and it is the manner of Ezekiel to describe all he sees, and so to put his reader in the same position as himself. This may account for the insertion of details unimportant in themselves; but the numbers and figures employed are not without their meaning. Bhr has, in an elaborate treatise, shown that among the Eastern nations numbers and figures have ever had a highly symbolical character, and has applied such symbolism to the details of the Tabernacle and of the Temple. Without entering into particulars, we may remark that the symbolical numbers of the Temple of Solomon were repeated in the vision of Ezekiel, which reproduces with scrupulous accuracy the leading dimensions of the most holy part of the edifice, and, even where there are variations, employs constantly the same fundamental numbers and figures. Among the Hebrews the perfect figure was the square or the cube, and harmony was thought to be attained by exact equality, or by the repetition of like dimensions. Thus in the ideal Temple, as in the real, we find the fundamental measure of 100 cubits square, which is maintained in the Temple-court and in the court of sacrifice.

"The vision is intended to depict the perpetual worship of the God of heaven in the Kingdom of Christ. To the mind of an Israelite the proper figure to represent this would be the Temple and its services, with people, priest, and prince each doing their fitting part.

"In other parts of this book Ezekiel points forward to the spiritual teaching of the Gospel; here to a people mourning over a ruined Temple, scattered priesthood, and a captive king, the seer sets forth in visions that which the last of the prophets foretold in words (Mal ). This will also account for the absence of all mention of the high priest and his office. In the old dispensation the chief function of the high priest was the performance of the great act which typified the atonement wrought by the sacrifice and death of Christ for the sins of the world. This atonement was effected once for all upon the Cross, and in the new dispensation Christ appears in the midst of His people as their Prince and Head, leading and presenting their prayers and praises day by day to His Father in heaven.

"It is to be observed that the vision represents the coming dispensation as a kingdom, and in this respect has especial reference to the rule of Messiah, foretold under the name of David. We find that Solomon took a special part in the Temple-services as king, and here there are new and remarkable provisions for the prince; and thus is brought forth, as a leading feature in the vision, the figure of a king reigning in righteousness, the representative of Jehovah upon earth."—Speaker's Commentary.

"The description of the Temple does not correspond with the plan of the Tabernacle, or that of the first Temple. These were real buildings, and were erected according to the patterns shown by God Himself to Moses and to David; but this is an ideal communicated, not to a leader or king in order to be actually carried out, but to a seer, who wrote down his vision for the consolation of the captives of Babylon. It cannot even have been meant that this ideal structure should have been built by the Jews after the return from captivity, or at any subsequent period. The dimensions of the Temple, as given in the vision, are greater than the entire ancient city of Jerusalem. The dimensions assigned to the city are as great as the whole of Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and could not be placed on a square centring at Mount Zion without covering part of that sea. Plainly the Temple is ideal, and so is the city. The vision was given to keep before the minds of the exiles the duty of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple on their restoration to their own land. The stupendous scale of the vision was, we presume, intended to project the thoughts of devout readers into far-distant times—not the times of the present Church of God, but those of the future glory and blessing on the earth, centring at Zion and Jerusalem, when the Lord shall be King over all the earth, and the Holy City shall be named Jehovah-Shammah, ‘The Lord is there.'"—Donald Fraser, D.D.

"That there be things hard to be understood in the Sacred Scriptures these nine last chapters, as well as the beginning of Ezekiel, do abundantly testify; and such difficult things are in these last that they have made many men of the greatest parts to tremble at the thought of interpreting them. The Rabbins say that the first of Ezekiel and these last chapters are inexplicable secrets, and understood by none, and therefore forbid their disciples to read them; adding, when Elias shall come he will explain all things. Jerome, that great light in his time, professes his trepidation hereat, that he did knock at a closed door. Gregory the Great, when he went about this work, said, ‘We pursue a midnight journey.' Maldonate affirms that this last prophecy of Ezekiel is so difficult and dark that it appears scarcely possible to be understood. Œcolampadius tells us that in chapter xlii. there is the grand difficulty which ancient expositors understood not; and he brings in Rabbi Solomon, who wrote upon the whole Talmud, saying that he thinks there is not anything extant which aids the understanding of it; and professes that neither by his own study, aid of ministers, nor by his own reading, he attained any help in understanding the meaning of this building, but only what he had from heaven: and of himself he saith, chap. 45,' In this passage, above all others, I feel the weakness of my own understanding, yet silently I adore its mysteries. It is good to tremble at the Word of God, both what we understand and what we understand not; for all is of equal authority, and to him that trembles thereat the Lord looketh, and will let in light. The vision is dark, but God dwells in darkness; the Temple and city are dark, but Jehovah-Shammah, ‘The Lord is there,' whom we most humbly desire to let out some beams of light, whereby we may come to understand something of the incredible sweetness of these dark and deep things.

"This vision, therefore, points out the introduction of a better hope, viz., the Church of Christ under the Gospel. A. Lapide tells us that many Rabbins and Jews refer this Temple and city to the Messiah, expecting that He should build them; and because this third Temple and new city are not yet built they think the Messiah is not yet come. That which the vision doth chiefly hold out unto us is, the building of the Christian Temple, with the worship thereof, under Jewish expressions which began to be accomplished in the apostles' days. And that the spiritual Temple, consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles, is chiefly intended we may see from that correspondency between Ezekiel and John in his Gospel and Revelation."—Greenhill.

"The import of the vision in the main is this: that God would in due time accomplish the restoration of His exiled people to the land of their fathers, effect the reconstruction of their ruined Temple and reorganisation of its religious services, and bless them with manifest tokens of His favour. At the time it was granted, the Hebrews were in a state of the lowest depression in Babylon.

"Fourteen years had elapsed since the destruction of their sacred edifice, and nothing could have been better calculated to revive their drooping hopes, reinvigorate their confidence in their Covenant-God, and encourage them to return to Palestine when the hour of their liberation should arrive, than the brilliant prospect of the restoration of their civil and religious privileges, which the prophet here holds out to their view.

"Let now any reader of ordinary intelligence turn up the description of the vision, and let him be asked what is the impression which it naturally makes upon him, and which he finds it impossible to dismiss from his mind, and he will candidly own that it is that of a literal Temple. With respect to the waters, chap. 47, it is altogether different. Here there was nothing left for the Jews to do in bringing about the realisation of the vision. Having left the Temple, the seat of the Divine residence, and the source whence blessings were to flow to the restored Hebrew nation, the prophet is carried in vision southwards into the regions of the Dead Sea, which had been noted for everything that was forbidden and noxious in its aspect—the very embodiment of barrenness and desolation. These were now to be converted into fertility and beauty. As in the previous condition they were strikingly symbolical of the spiritually unproductive and abhorrent character of idolatrous Israel, so they were now to serve as images of the renewed state of things when God should bring back His people, and, according to His promises, bless them by conferring upon them abundantly the rich tokens of His regard. By the copious effusions of the influences of His Holy Spirit, He would restore His Church to spiritual life, and lender her instrumental in diffusing blessings to the world around.

"The only apparently plausible objection that can be taken to the literal interpretation of the Temple is founded on the dimensions assigned to it. It remains, however, to be settled whether reeds be the measure intended, and whether the language be not susceptible of another construction. Nor is there any inconsistency in interpreting one part of the vision literally and the other symbolically. The cases are perfectly different. In the one a literal Temple was required to meet the circumstances of the exiled Hebrews; in the other, though outwardly restored, the Temple and Temple-worship would still have left them in a state of spiritual destitution, if they had not received the blessing from on high. The rich and abundant communication of this blessing we conceive to be beautifully set forth under the image of a river issuing forth from the Divine presence in the new Temple, and, increasing as it flows in the direction of the Dead Sea, spreading life and fertility wherever it comes."—E. Henderson, D.D.

"If any one will take up the full circuit of the wall that encompassed the holy ground, according to our English measure it will amount to half a mile and about one hundred and sixty-six yards. And whosoever, likewise, will measure the square of Ezekiel (chap. Eze ), he will find it six times as large as this (chap. Eze 40:5), the whole amounting to three miles and a half and about one hundred and forty yards—a compass incomparably larger than Mount Moriah divers times over; and by this very thing is shown that that is spiritually and mystically to be understood.

"The description of the Temple and city that he hath given in the end of his book, as it was a prediction of some good to come, so was that prediction true, thus far according to the very letter—namely, that there should be a Temple and a city newly built; and so it was a promise and a comfort to the people then in captivity of their restoring again to their own land, and their enjoying Jerusalem and the Temple again as they had done in former time before their removing and captivating out of their own country. But as for a literal respondency of that city and Temple to all the particulars of his description, it is so far from it that his temple is delineated larger than all the earthly Jerusalem, larger than all the land of Canaan. And, thereby, the scope of the Holy Ghost in that ichnography (ground-plot) is clearly held out to be, to signify the great enlarging of the spiritual Jerusalem and Temple, the Church under the Gospel, and the spiritual beauty and glory of it, as well as to certify captived Israel of hopes of an earthly city and Temple to be rebuilt; which came to pass upon their return under Cyrus."—Lightfoot.

"The general scope of the vision may be twofold.

1. To assure the captives that they should not only return to their own land and be settled there, which had been often promised in the foregoing chapters, but that they should have, and therefore ought to be encouraged to build, another Temple, which God would own, and where He would meet and bless them; that the ordinances of their worship should be revived, and the sacred priesthood should there attend; and though they should not have a king to live in such splendour as formerly, yet they should have a prince or ruler that should countenance the Word of God among them, and should himself be an example of a diligent attendance upon it; and that prince, priests, and people should have a very comfortable settlement in their own land.

2. To direct them to look further than all this, and to expect the coming of the Messiah, who had before been prophesied of under the name of David (the man that projected the building of the first Temple), and who should set up a spiritual Temple, even the Gospel Church, the glory of which should far exceed that of Solomon's Temple, and which should continue to the end of time. And the Gospel Temple, erected by Christ and His apostles, was so closely connected with the second material Temple, and was erected so carefully just at the time when that Temple fell into decay, being designed to receive its glories when it resigned them, that it was proper enough that they should both be referred to in one and the same vision; which vision, under the type and figure of a Temple and altar, priests and sacrifices, foreshowed the spiritual worship that should be performed in Gospel times, and that worship perfected at last in the kingdom of glory, in which, doubtless, these visions will have their full accomplishment; if not, as some think, in a glorious and happy state of the Gospel Church to take place on earth in latter days."—Benson.

"It is a great thought which presents itself unadorned to our view in the prophetico-symbolic Temple: God henceforth dwells in perfect peace, revealing Himself in the unbounded fulness of His glory, making Himself known in the living Word of progressive, saving, and sanctifying redemption. Everything is placed upon the ample circuit of the Temple, whose extended court receives all people, and through whose high and open gates the King of Glory is to enter in (Psa ), and then upon the order and harmony of the Divine habitations, the well-proportioned building (chap. Eze 42:10); and the revelations of the holiest are stored up in the pure deep water of His Word, which in life-giving streams issues from the Temple. The stone tables of the Law are consumed, and the fresh and free fountain of eternal truth streams forth from the Temple of the Spirit, quickening and vivifying in land and sea, awakening by its creative and fructifying power a new and mighty race on earth. And thus hast thou, much-misjudged yet lofty seer, in the unconscious depth of thy mysteriously flowing language, set up upon the great undistinguishing, well-proportioned, and beautifully compacted building a type of the simple yet lofty Temple of Christ, from which flows the spiritual fountain of life."—Umbreit.

"The ideal Temple exhibits, not the precise literal outline, but the essential character of the worship of Messiah as it shall be when He shall exercise sway in Jerusalem among His own people, the Jews, and thence to the ends of the earth. A Temple with sacrifices now would be a denial of the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. He who sacrificed before, confessed the Messiah; He who should sacrifice now would solemnly deny Him. These difficulties, however, may be all seeming, not real. Faith accepts God's Word as it is, waits for the event, sure that it will clear up all such difficulties. Perhaps, as some think, the beau-ideal of a sacred commonwealth is given according to the then-existing pattern of Temple-services, which would be the imagery most familiar to the prophet. The minute particularising of details is in accordance with Ezekiel's style, even in describing purely ideal scenes. The old Temple embodied, in visible forms and rites, spiritual truths affecting the people, even when absent from it. So this ideal Temple is made, in the absence of the outward Temple, to serve by description the same purpose of symbolical instruction as the old literal Temple did by forms and acts. As in the beginning God promised to be a Sanctuary to the captives at the Chebar, so now at the close is promised a complete restoration and realisation of the theocratic worship and polity under Messiah, in its noblest ideal (Jer ). Israel's province may hereafter be to show the essential identity, even in the minute details of the Temple-sacrinces, between the Law and Gospel (Rom 10:4; Rom 10:8). The ideal of the theocratic Temple will then first be realised."—Fausset.

"As to the Messianic character of the substance of this whole vision Jewish and Christian commentators are generally agreed; and the opinion which, according to Jerome, many of the Jews entertained, and which has been supported by the rationalistic expositors after the example of Grotius—namely, that Ezekiel describes the Temple of Solomon destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar as a model for the rebuilding of it after the return of the Jews from the captivity—has not found much favour, inasmuch as, apart from all other objections to which it is exposed, it is upset by the fact that not only are its supporters unable to make anything of the description of the spring which issues from the threshold of the Temple, but they are also unable to explain the separation of the Temple from the city of Jerusalem; as it would never have occurred to any Jewish patriot, apart from Divine revelation, much less to a priest like Ezekiel, who claims such important prerogatives for the prince of the family of David in relation to the Temple, to remove the house of Jehovah from Mount Zion, the seat of the royal house of David, and out of the bounds and territory of the city of Jerusalem. But even if we lay aside this view, and the one related to it, viz., that the whole vision contains nothing more than ideal hopes and desires of better things belonging to that age, with regard to the future restoration of the destroyed Temple and kingdom, the commentators, who acknowledge the Divine origin of prophecy and the Messianic character of the vision, differ very widely from one another with reference to the question how the vision is to be interpreted; some declaring themselves quite as decidedly in favour of the literal explanation as others in favour of the figurative or symbolico-typical view, which they regard as the only correct and Scriptural one."—Keil.

"According to some we have here ‘a model, according to which, on the return of the people, the Temple should have been rebuilt,'—a building specification by Divine authority. But this opinion forgets that we have here to do not with an architect but with a prophet—with one whose department is not the hands but the hearts, which he has to awaken to faith and hope. It cannot produce a single analogy from the prophetic region: nowhere have the prophets intruded into the department of legislation, for which under the old covenant other organs were provided. Especially all the other prophecies of Ezekiel of the time after the destruction bear not a legislative but a hortatory character. In particular, the adjoining prophecy concerning Gog and Magog leads us to expect that here also much will belong to mere pictorial description, which is excluded if we ascribe a legislative import to the section. To this is added the obvious impossibility of erecting a building according to the specifications given. These suffice only to give play to the imagination. We have in particular almost nothing of materials, to which so much space is devoted in the description of Solomon's Temple. As a rule, the specifications are confined to the mere measures and distances; whence those who, like Villalpandus, have undertaken to give literal plans of Ezekiel's Temple have been obliged to draw much from their own fancy. Lastly, in the building of the second Temple, it is manifest that no reference is made to Ezekiel's Temple. As the reason of this cannot be sought in any doubt of the Divine mission of Ezekiel, whose prophecies were admitted into the canon, it can only be found in this, that men saw in this prophecy something else than a building specification. The restoration of the city and the Temple rests on the ground of the firm conviction of the living power and indestructibility of the Kingdom of God, the symbol of which was the Temple, according to a view pervading the whole of the Old and New Testament. And as the prophecy reaches beyond its first fulfilment, it guarantees that within the Kingdom of God life shall arise out of every death—that the old covenant cannot go down without rising again gloriously in the new."—Hengstenberg.

"What is this Temple? The first obvious suggestion is, that Ezekiel was looking forward to the times of Ezra; that this Temple is an anticipation of that of which Zerubbabel brought forth the headstone. But the building which rises before the eyes of the seer covers an area which the second Temple never can have occupied. In Ezekiel's vision there is a distinct allusion to that appearance of the glory of the Lord which belonged, the Jews say, exclusively to the elder building. Christian writers have availed themselves of these circumstances to decide peremptorily that the vision is of a spiritual, not an earthly Temple. The difficulties in the way of such an opinion are very great. Accurate admeasurements in feet and cubits seem as if they must relate to a visible, not to an invisible fabric. There are still two possible opinions. One is popular among many of our countrymen. It is, that a Temple exactly answering to Ezekiel's description will appear hereafter in Jerusalem. The other, that Ezekiel carried with him into Chaldea the habits, the prejudices, and formality of the priestly order to which he belonged. Therefore, though he had high moral purposes and divine instincts, he could not but regard the reappearance of a Temple like that which Nebuzaradan had destroyed, only more magnificent, as the consummation of an Israelite's dreams and hopes.

"But where did the prophet get these measures? To what did they correspond? There cannot be the slightest doubt, I conceive, that the general form and construction of the building, the different parts of which it was to consist, the cherubim and palm-trees which were to adorn it, were suggested to him by that which he had actually seen. If he taught that the future was to be unlike the past, that there was no common root out of which they both grew, he would be faithless to his vocation, he would be forgetting the permanent and eternal Being. Solomon's Temple had been Ezekiel's primer or first lesson-book. I have anticipated what I have to say to those who maintain that Ezekiel is giving us the pattern of a Temple made of living stones, not of stones hewn out of an earthly quarry. By a spiritual Temple they do not, I trust, mean an unsubstantial Temple, one built of clouds and mists, one erected by the eye which sees it. They believe, doubtless, the spiritual temple to be a spiritual society, possessing a real unity inhabited by the Divine Presence resting on the Divine Name. Well, I do not doubt that Ezekiel saw more or less clearly the pattern in earthly forms. But we must remember, first, not to confound the pattern with the earthly forms which set it forth; secondly, we must assure ourselves that whatever is spiritual and substantial will seek to find some expression for itself, to make the things of earth into mirrors which may reflect at least a portion of its glory. In chap. Eze we have announced a great moral and political law which was a necessary and natural corollary from the doctrine that the Temple was to be the building which denoted the restoration of the national society. This is a law which those who merely talk of a spiritual Temple without believing that that Temple is to make its influence felt in this world would never dream of promulgating. This is a law which it was most strictly in the function of a Jewish prophet to assert, not as proceeding from him, not even as proceeding from Moses, but as coming from the mouth of the Lord."—F. D. Maurice.

"The views entertained upon the vision generally may be ranged under four classes. I. The historico-literal, which takes all as a prosaio description of what had existed in the times immediately before the captivity, in connection with Solomon's Temple. II. The historico-ideal. According to it the pattern exhibited to Ezekiel differed materially from anything that previously existed, and presented for the first time what should have been after the return from the captivity, though from the remissness and corruption of the people it never was properly realised. III. The Jewish carnal view. It is the opinion of some Jewish writers that the description of Ezekiel was actually followed by the children of the captivity as far as their circumstances would allow, and that Herod, when he renovated and enlarged it, copied after the same pattern. But as this was necessarily done in an imperfect manner, it waits to be properly accomplished by the Messiah, who, when He appears, shall cause the Temple to be reared precisely as here described. IV. The Christian-spiritual or typical view, according to which the whole representation was not intended to find either in Jewish or Christian times an express and formal realisation, but was a grand complicated symbol of the good which God had in reserve for His Church, especially under the coming dispensation of the Gospel. There are several considerations to be kept in view in the interpretation of the vision.

1. That the description purports to be a vision—a scheme of things exhibited to the mental eye of the prophet in the visions of God. This alone marks it to be of an ideal character.

2. That this is confirmed by the substance of it, as there is much that seems obviously designed to force on us the conviction of its ideal character. There are things in the description which, taken literally, are in the highest degree improbable, and even involve natural impossibilities.

3. That some may be disposed to imagine that, as they expect certain physical changes to be effected upon the land before the prophecy can be carried into fulfilment, these may be adjusted in such a manner as to admit of the prophet's measurements being literally applied. It is impossible, however, to admit such a supposition.

4. That the vision, as it must, if understood literally, imply the ultimate restoration of the ceremonials of Judaism, so it inevitably places the prophet in direct contradiction to the writers of the New Testament.

5. That, holding the description to be conclusively of an ideal character, we affirm that the idealism is precisely of the same kind as that which appeared in some of the earlier visions—visions that must necessarily have already passed into fulfilment, and which therefore may justly be regarded as furnishing a key to the right understanding of the one before us.

6. That, looking to the manifold and minute particulars given in the description, some may be disposed to think it highly improbable that anything short of an exact and literal fulfilment should have been intended.

7. That it may be asked whether the feeling against a spiritual understanding of the vision and a demand for outward scenes and objects literally corresponding to it does not spring to a large extent from false notions regarding the ancient Temple and its ministrations and ordinances of worship, as if these possessed an independent value apart from the spiritual truths they symbolically expressed? On the contrary, the Temple, with all that belonged to it, was an embodied representation of Divine realities.

8. That in the interpretation of the vision we must keep carefully in mind the circumstances in which it was given, and look at it, not as from a New but as from an Old Testament point of view. We must throw ourselves back as far as possible into the position of the prophet himself. He speaks chiefly of Gospel times, but as one still dwelling under the veil and uttering the language of legal times."—Patrick Fairbairn, D.D.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 48:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/ezekiel-48.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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