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The empty temple complex of Ezekiel 40-42 comes to life, that is, persons now come forward to serve there. When the LORD has returned to the temple (Ezekiel 43:1-12), His people can draw near to Him there. The laws that demand our attention in Ezekiel 44 underscore that the temple described in Ezekiel 40-42 is not an inanimate monument. That temple is the center of worship and priestly service. Having already focused attention on the altar as the center of worship (Eze 43:13-27), Ezekiel now speaks of the worshipers (Ezekiel 44:1-45:8) and the regulations regarding worship (Ezekiel 45:9-46:24).
After a brief discussion of the prince’s relationship to the sanctuary (Eze 44:1-3), Ezekiel goes on in this chapter to talk about the characteristics of the temple servants (Eze 44:4-14), the regulations for the priests (Eze 44:15-27), and the provisions for the priests (Eze 44:28-31). In the first verses of the next chapter, he speaks further about the allotment of land to the priests (Eze 45:1-8).
The Shut East Gate
Ezekiel, who is in the inner court, is brought by the Man to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces the east (Eze 44:1). That gate appears to be shut. The LORD lets Ezekiel know that that gate is shut because “the LORD God of Israel” has entered through that gate. Therefore, the gate must remain shut (Eze 44:2; Eze 43:1-4). The way He goes cannot be gone by anyone else. There remains that holy distance between Him and His people.
That shut gate also means that God will never leave His sanctuary again (cf. Eze 43:7; 9). Seeing that shut gate may thus be quite a reassurance to His people. For our personal lives, the Lord Jesus said that He remains with us to the end of the age (Mt 28:20; Heb 13:5b).
Although the east gate is shut, it will still have a function (Eze 44:3). For the prince will sit in the porch of the gate to eat bread before the LORD. By this bread is meant the part of the peace offering that is for him. He will sit there in the porch, which he will reach through the north or south gate. The east gate also remains shut to him, for he cannot enter or exit through that gate. He will have to leave the outer court again through the north or south gate.
The person of the prince mentioned here is not the Messiah. Messiah as “Prince” has been spoken of before (Eze 34:24; Eze 37:25). He is the Prince of Israel in the realm of peace. The prince, however, whom we meet here in connection with the new temple is mentioned here for the first time. We meet him several times after this. Then we see that his job is to provide the priests with sacrifices to offer on his behalf (Eze 45:17; Eze 46:1-7).
That this prince is not the Messiah is evident from some of the characteristics given of him. For example, this prince must offer sacrifices for himself (Eze 45:22; cf. Heb 5:3; Heb 7:27). Furthermore, it also appears that he has sons, thus is married and has a family (Eze 46:16). He also has an earthly domain, a piece of land that is his (Eze 45:7; Eze 46:17-18). He dwells on earth, with his own houses and his own pastures.
The Sanctuary Not Profaned Again
Although the tour of the temple is finished, the Man continues to accompany Ezekiel. He then takes him through the inner north gate to the front of the house (Eze 44:4). There Ezekiel sees once more, and now for the last time, the glory of the LORD. Again, this leads him to prostrate in worship before the LORD. The LORD has instructions for Ezekiel, telling him to mark well everything He will speak to him by looking closely at it and listening carefully (Eze 44:5). The instructions concern the statutes of His house and all the laws pertaining to them. Ezekiel is also to mark well those who enter the house as well as anyone who is not allowed to enter it.
After this general and also penetrating announcement, the LORD tells Ezekiel what to say to the rebellious people (Eze 44:6). The abominations committed are charged to the whole people. What the abominations consist of is clearly stated (Eze 44:7). They have profaned the house of the LORD in a horrible way by bringing into it people who are completely outside the covenant of the LORD with His people. They have allowed them to participate in the holy sacrifices. It is already forbidden for the Israelite to eat the fat and blood (Lev 7:22-27), let alone the foreigner. The fat and the blood belong entirely to the LORD. Thus they have broken the covenant of the LORD with their abominations.
The same is true for us. It is impossible to have a common service together with unbelievers, who have no connection with the Lord Jesus, to honor Him and celebrate the Supper (2Cor 6:14-18; 2Cor 7:1). No fellowship is possible between a believer and an unbeliever. After all, unbelievers do not have new life. New life is obtained only through repentance and conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus. The heart of unbelievers is not pure. Therefore we must also see to it that only children of God are received at the Lord’s Supper. For the sake of completeness, it must be added that it must also be clear that these children of God reject sin in their doctrine and life and do not want to be associated with it as well.
Furthermore, the Israelites themselves did not observe their task in the holy things of the LORD (Eze 44:8). They had that task done by others, possibly by their slaves. They themselves have no interest in the LORD, but they still want to give the impression that they are religious. Thus, in various ways they have shown their contempt for the LORD and His service. We see such contempt in our day, for example, in groups that hire unbelieving musicians to accompany worship services or appoint or maintain a pastor who denies that God exists.
The LORD insists that this behavior will not be displayed again (Eze 44:9). No stranger, one who has no part in the covenant of the LORD, may enter His sanctuary. Only those whom the LORD has called may do service at the altar. Nowhere is the earthly sanctuary more holy than in the realm of peace when everything breathes God’s holiness.
Unfaithful and Faithful Levites
By the Levites spoken of in Eze 44:10-14 are meant the descendants of Levi, except the sons of Zadok. The sons of Zadok are spoken of in Eze 44:15-16. First the LORD speaks of the unfaithful Levites. During the periods when the people have gone astray from Him, instead of calling the people back to Him, they have kept themselves far from Him (Eze 44:10). That is their iniquity. They have not sided with the LORD against the people who have gone after the stink gods. This is a culpable negligence. They even preceded the people in idolatry, becoming a stumbling block to the people (Eze 44:12).
Their negligence and bad example does not mean that they are now barred from serving in God’s house. In fact, the LORD obliges them to do service in His sanctuary (Eze 44:11). However, they will be given a lesser task; they will be degraded, so to speak. They have not served the LORD but the Israelites and done according to their wishes and desires (Eze 44:12). Therefore, the LORD has had to turn against them and swear that they will bear their iniquity.
They will be allowed to serve in the new temple, but they are not allowed to draw near to the LORD as priests (Eze 44:13). Nor may they come close to the sanctified things, to the most holy things, for there is reproach upon them. Their unfaithfulness has profound consequences for their service. The appointment they receive from the LORD is for a task on behalf of the house, in the outer court, not in it, not in the higher located inner court where the altar of burnt offering stands (Eze 44:14). It can also be the case with us, that we lose (part of) our service through unfaithfulness.
Then the LORD starts speaking about the sons of Zadok (Eze 44:15). In the temple that Ezekiel has described, the sacrificial service is performed by the sons of Aaron who are descendants of Zadok. Zadok, the son of Ahitub, is a descendant of Eleazar, the third son of Aaron (1Chr 6:3; 50-53).
During the time of Absalom’s rebellion against David, Zadok does not side with Absalom, but remains loyal to David (2Sam 15:24). Later, he anoints Solomon and opposes Adonijah, Solomon’s brother, who wants to remove Solomon from the throne (1Kgs 1:32-34). Abiathar, who descends from the line of Ithamar, has sided with the rebel Absalom. Solomon therefore dismisses him as high priest and gives this office to Zadok (1Kgs 2:27; 35). Thus, Zadok becomes the first high priest in the first temple, Solomon’s, built shortly thereafter.
The LORD speaks of the sons of Zadok with joy and emphasis. He says all that they may do for Him. They owe these privileges to their faithfulness to the LORD during the time when the Israelites had strayed away from Him. Just as unfaithfulness means ‘degradation’, so faithfulness means ‘promotion’. Zadok’s sons may come near the LORD to serve Him. They may offer Him fat and blood, which He calls “My bread” (Eze 44:7), which are destined only for the LORD.
The Lord GOD says emphatically that they may enter His sanctuary and that they may come near to His table (Eze 44:16). It is most likely that the altar of burnt offering is meant here. As we have seen, the wooden altar of incense is also called “table” (Eze 41:22). On it, however, the fat and blood of the sacrifices are not brought, which is what happens here. In the picture, this means that they have fellowship with God on the basis of the blood and work of Christ, which He accomplished with the use of all His energy, of which the fat speaks. Thus they will serve Him and fulfill their task for His sake. Their task is specially focused on the LORD because they have been focused on Him during the time when the people have gone astray.
The Holiness of the Sons of Zadok
The LORD gives the priests of the new temple precise precepts about a number of things. The first precept concerns their garments (Eze 44:17-19). They are to wear their priestly garments only when they serve in the inner court (Eze 44:17). Their garments must be of linen. They are not allowed to wear woolen garments. Wool attracts dirt. Also, insects can easily nest in wool. The chances of contamination are high. Linen offers no opportunity for insects to nest in it.
Linen speaks of righteousness (cf. Psa 132:9a; Rev 19:8). To be in the presence of God, they must have garments that expresses that they are in agreement with God, appropriate to be there. Their turban must be of linen and also their undergarments (Eze 44:18). They must wear these in a way that does not make them sweat.
Sweat is first found after the fall into son. It is a result of the Fall and associated with the laborious work of man (Gen 3:19). After Christ accomplished the work, He was laid in a tomb and His face cloth, or sweat cloth, was rolled up in a place by itself (Jn 20:7). With the Lord, Who is without sin, the sweat cloth is the symbol of His laborious suffering on the cross where He was made sin. That work was accomplished, so the sweat cloth was no longer needed and could remain in the tomb. Wool comes from the flesh of a sheep. It speaks of what comes forth from the natural man. Sweat speaks of man’s effort. Neither can God endure in His presence.
When the priest has finished his service, he must change his garments before going among the people into the outer court (Eze 44:19). He is to lay down the removed garments in the holy chambers (Eze 42:14). Any mixing of the holy and unholy must be avoided. If the holy comes into contact with the unholy, the unholy is sanctified by it (cf. Lev 6:18), but without changing anything in the essence of the unholy in this case. This precept is meant to prevent people who are not allowed to enter the sanctuary from getting the wrong impression that the sanctuary is coming to them, making holiness a general thing and losing its true meaning for staying in God’s house.
The garments in which the priests served is not suitable for wearing in everyday life. Our service as priests in the sanctuary is of a different order than our stay in the world. When we are in daily life, we should not and cannot pretend to be in the sanctuary. The holiness of our stay in the sanctuary is not transferable to others, for example, our children. We must be careful not to give them the impression that they can ‘piggyback’ on our dealings with the Lord and be accepted by Him on the basis of our Godliness.
We can also apply this to the various meals in which we can participate. We can participate in the Lord’s meal, the Lord’s Supper, at His table. The way we participate in that meal will be different from the way we have our meals at home. The Corinthians need to be admonished that they have relegated the Lord’s meal to a mere meal (1Cor 11:20-22). The Lord’s meal involves the highest holiness. No unbelievers should participate in that meal.
Our meals at home we use in a different, looser, way than the Lord’s meal. Unbelievers may also participate in this and we may even invite them to it. For what we eat and drink, we thank the Lord, because we realize that we get it from Him (1Tim 4:3-5). We also set the mood at the meal. Compared to the Lord’s meal at His table, the meal at our house table is of lesser holiness.
Then there is the meal to which we may be invited by an unbeliever (1Cor 10:27). Such a meal is an even lesser form of holiness. If we decide to go there – we will discuss this with the Lord – we may eat what is set before us. We will use the opportunity to testify to Whom we belong and Whom we serve, which we will do, for example, by giving thanks to the Lord before our meal.
The second precept concerns their head hair (Eze 44:20). The priests must not shave their heads, but they must not let the hair grow freely either (Lev 21:5; 10). The head hair must be cut short.
The third precept is about drinking wine (Eze 44:21). Drinking wine is not forbidden to the priest. However, the priest is forbidden to drink wine when he goes to do service in the inner court (cf. Lev 10:9). This prohibition is intended to prevent the slightest degree of intoxication in the service of the LORD. Any ecstasy or loss of consciousness, of self-control or self-discipline must be excluded. We are to be sober in all things (2Tim 4:5). Service of the LORD should be done with clear understanding.
Then, fourth, comes a precept about marriage, purity in the marriage relationship (Eze 44:22). In the law, marriage to a widow is forbidden only to the high priest (Lev 21:7; 13). Here this prohibition is extended to all priests. The only exception to this prohibition is that he may marry the widow of a priest. It does show how the LORD watches over the holiness of those who draw near to Him. The priest may only enter into a marriage covenant with one who belongs to the people of God and is still a virgin. This precept includes, of course, the prohibition of pre-marital intercourse.
Then follow various regulations for the service of priests among the people. The sons of Zadok are to teach God’s people about the difference “between the holy and the profane” and “between the unclean and the clean” (Eze 44:23; Lev 10:10-11; Deu 33:10; Mal 2:7). They will have to demonstrate this difference first and foremost by their walk, but additionally in their teaching. For our time, we can apply this to the teachers the Lord Jesus has given to the church. They are to show those who belong to the church the difference between sound doctrine, which promotes spiritual health, and error, which proliferates like the cancer resulting in spiritual death (Tit 1:9-11; Tit 2:1).
The priests are also to act as judges when there are disputes (Eze 44:24). Occurring court cases they are to conduct in accordance with the LORD’s provisions. They are not to act according to their own judgment. This also applies to us who live in the kingdom of God that now exists in hidden form. Every believer must be able to administer justice between brothers who have disagreements with one another (1Cor 6:1-4).
With regard to the appointed feasts, which the LORD calls “My appointed feasts”, He tells them to keep them in accordance with His laws and His statutes. His sabbaths they must sanctify. This refers back to creation, where God sanctified the seventh day (Gen 2:3). This intention of God finds its full fulfillment in the realm of peace. The realm of peace is a millennial sabbath.
A final precept is that the priest may not touch a dead person, for death defiles (Eze 44:25; Lev 21:1-3). Some exceptions where he does get to touch a dead person involve immediate family members. That touch equally defiles, but in those cases the LORD provides an opportunity for cleansing (Eze 44:26). If he is clean, he must wait seven more days (Num 19:11). Then he may enter the inner court to serve in the holy place, but he must first “offer his sin offering” to the LORD (Eze 44:27).
The Inheritance of the Sons of Zadok
The sons of Zadok, like the tribe of Levi before them, will not have a piece of land as an inheritance (Num 18:23b; Deu 10:9; Jos 13:14). Their inheritance is infinitely greater, for the LORD Himself is their inheritance (Eze 44:28). The LORD says it twice, thereby emphasizing that they are not to be given an inheritance in Israel. It is not to be given to them.
This does not mean that they are worse off. They may eat of the sacrifices offered to the LORD (Eze 44:29). The application for us who may be priests in this age is that we may have close fellowship with God in the sacrifice of Christ. Everything that has been struck with the spell and thereby is consecrated to the LORD, the LORD gives to the priests.
The words “all” and “every” (Eze 44:30) indicate a vast quantity (cf. 2Cor 9:8). And of that vast quantity, the priests are to receive “the first” or “the best”. The people must also give the priests the first of their dough. If the people do so, blessing will rest on their house. Everything serves to promote the priestly service. Finally, as a great contrast, the priests are not to eat anything that has died an unknown or violent death (Eze 44:31), that has not been slaughtered by human hand.
Those who have God as their inheritance need not worry about possessions and inheritances on earth. If we have God, we have everything and therefore enough. Paul confirms this truth in what he writes to the Corinthians: “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1Cor 3:21-23).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 44". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26