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The Vision of the New Temple (Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 42:20 ).
The Man With the Measuring Reed (Ezekiel 40:1-4 ).
‘In the twenty fifth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was smitten, on the selfsame day, the hand of Yahweh was on me, and he brought me there. In the visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was as it were the frame of a city on the south.’
This incident is dated the tenth day, of the first month of the twenty fifth year of the captivity (573 BC), namely either the 10th of Abib (or Nisan) (March-April), compare Exodus 12:2-3, which was the day of separating the Passover lamb ready for the Passover, or the 10th day of Tishri (September/October) which was the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 25:9), depending on which calendar was being used. Thus it may be seen as the day of preparation for deliverance (the Passover), or the day of repentance and atonement, in preparation for the new age (the Day of Atonement).
It is also described as being on the fourteenth year ‘after the city was smitten’. This was twice times seven, an intensively perfect period, an indication of God’s specific timing. God was now ready to take up His people and land again. Note the reference to ‘the city’. The name of Jerusalem is deliberately not mentioned.
There are also other indications of vagueness. He is set down on ‘a very high mountain’. He saw ‘as it were’ a city. Contrast the very specific descriptions the previous time that Ezekiel was transported in this way to the land of Israel, ‘to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner temple’ (Ezekiel 8:3), ‘the east gate of Yahweh’s house’ (Ezekiel 11:1). This time he is in vision again but there is no exactness. The city and the mountain are nameless, and the city vaguely described. There is a deliberate intention not to tie this too closely to the earthly Jerusalem. Attempts to name the mountain would therefore defeat Ezekiel’s purpose (both Mount Zion and the Mount of Olives have been suggested, among others). He makes clear in Ezekiel 45:1-7 that this temple is not located in ‘the city’, and does not want us to tie it in with an earthly locality. He wants all concentration to be on this mysterious temple, present in the land, of which he is made aware, and to which all are to turn.
‘On a very high mountain.’ In Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1, the ‘mountain of Yahweh’s house’ in ‘the latter days’ was to be on the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills. The same eschatological idea is in mind here. It is the house to which all nations will flow, and from which will go out the word of Yahweh and His Law, when He rules the nations righteously and brings peace. It suggests the going forth of God’s truth and the everlasting Kingly Rule of God, which was continued in the ministry of Jesus and the early church, and finalised in the bringing in of the everlasting kingdom. It was to be a witness to the nations.
‘On which was as it were the frame (or construction) of a city on the south.’ The temple was not in the city. Indeed the city is vague, a future dream, as indicated by the ‘as it were’, but the temple is real and can be measured.
The New Temple (Ezekiel 40:1 to Ezekiel 48:35 ).
The book of Ezekiel began with a vision of the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly chariot throne of God in order to speak directly to His people through Ezekiel (chapter 1). He then recorded the departure of God's glory from Jerusalem and the Temple because of the sins of Israel (chapters 8 - 11). This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Now it ends with another vision, the return of God's glory to the land and to His people (chapters 40 -48) depicted in the form of a heavenly temple established on the mountains of Israel to which the glory of God returns, resulting in the final restoration of ‘the city’ as ‘Yahweh is there’. Thus this part of the book follows both chronologically and logically from what has gone before.
Furthermore at the commencement of the book Ezekiel received his divine commission as a prophet (chapters 1 - 3), then he pronounced oracles of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem for their sins, declaring that Jerusalem must be destroyed (chapters 4 - 24). He followed this up with oracles of judgment against the foreign nations who had opposed Israel (chapters 25 - 32). Then on hearing of Jerusalem's fall (Ezekiel 33:21), the prophet proclaimed messages of hope for Israel, declaring that God would fulfil His promises to deliver and bless His people Israel, and would restore them to the land of their fathers and establish them in the land.
Yes, more, that they would be established there everlastingly under a new David, with an everlasting sanctuary set up in their midst (stressed twice - Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28) (chapters 34 - 39). And now he declares the presence of that new Temple, even now present in the land, invisible to all but him and yet nevertheless real in so much that it can be measured. It is ‘the icing on the cake’, the final touch to what has gone before (40-48). God is back in His land. For such an invisible presence, a glimpse of another world, present but unseen except by those with eyes to see, compare Genesis 28:12; 2 Kings 2:11-12; 2 Kings 6:17; Zechariah 1:7-11. Indeed without that heavenly temple the glory could not return, for it had to be guarded from the eyes of man.
The heavenly temple can be compared directly with the heavenly throne with its accompanying heavenly escort which Ezekiel saw earlier (chapter 1). That too was the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ark of the covenant, and huge in comparison. So Ezekiel was very much aware of the heavenly realm and its presence in different ways on earth, for he was a man of spiritual vision.
But there is one remarkable fact that we should notice here, and that is that having been made aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, and looking forward to the restoration of Israel and its cities and the Satanic opposition they will face, and even speaking of the building of a new Temple, Ezekiel never once refers directly by name to Jerusalem in any way (in Ezekiel 36:38 it is referred to in an illustration). This seems quite remarkable. It seems to me that this could only arise from a studied determination not to do so. He wants to take men’s eyes off Jerusalem.
Here was a man who was a priest, who had constantly revealed his awareness of the requirements of the cult, who had been almost totally absorbed with Jerusalem, who now looked forward to the restoration of the land and the people, and yet who ignored what was surely central in every Israelite’s thinking, the restoration of Jerusalem. Surely after his earlier prophecies against Jerusalem his ardent listeners must have asked him the question, again and again, what about Jerusalem? And yet he seemingly gave them no answer. Why?
It seems to me that there can only be two parallel answers to that question. The first is that Jerusalem had sinned so badly that as far as God and Ezekiel were concerned its restoration as the holy city was not in the long run to be desired or even considered. What was to be restored was the people and the land, which was his continual emphasis. Jerusalem was very secondary and not a vital part of that restoration. And secondly that in the final analysis the earthly Jerusalem was not important in the final purposes of God. Jerusalem had been superseded. His eternal sanctuary would be set up, but it would not be in the earthly Jerusalem (chapter 45 makes this clear). Rather it would be set up in such a way that it could more be compared to Jacob’s ladder, as providing access to and from the heavenlies (Genesis 28:12) and a way to God, and yet be invisible to man. It is a vision of another world in its relationships with man (compare 2 Kings 6:17). It was the beginnings of a more spiritual view of reality. And it would result in an eternal city, the city of ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:30-35).
Now that is not the view of Jerusalem and the temple of men like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) and Daniel (Daniel 9:2; Daniel 9:16; Daniel 9:19), but they were God-inspired politicians thinking of the nearer political and religious future not the everlasting kingdom. (Daniel does of course deal with the everlasting kingdom, but he never relates Jerusalem to it. He relates the everlasting kingdom to Heaven). Nor do the other prophets avoid mentioning Jerusalem, and they do see in ‘Jerusalem’ a place for the forwarding of the purposes of God (e.g. Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 4:3-5; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 31:5; Isaiah 33:20-21; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 44:26-28; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 62:1-7; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:10-20; Jeremiah 3:17-18; Jeremiah 33:11-18; Joel 2:32; Joel 3:1; Joel 3:16-20; Obadiah 1:17-21; Micah 4:2-8; Zephaniah 3:14-16; Zechariah 2:2-4; Zechariah 2:12; Zechariah 3:2; Zechariah 8:3-8; Zechariah 8:15; Zechariah 8:22; Zechariah 9:9-10; Zechariah 12:6 to Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:11-21; Malachi 3:4), although some of these verses too have the ‘new Jerusalem’ firmly in mind. And certainly God would in the short term encourage the building of a literal Temple in Jerusalem (Haggai and Zechariah). Thus all saw the literal Jerusalem as having at least a limited function in the forward going of God’s purposes, simply because it was central in the thinking of the people of Israel. Although how far is another question. However, Ezekiel’s vision went beyond that. It seems to be suggesting that in the major purposes of God the earthly Jerusalem was now of little significance. It was not even worthy of mention. It is now just ‘the city’.
Yet we find him here suddenly speaking of the presence of a new Temple in the land of Israel. But even here, although it is referred to under the anonymous phrase ‘the city’ (Ezekiel 40:1), Jerusalem remains unmentioned by name. And the temple is not sited in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is simply a place called anonymously ‘the city’, whose future name, once it is redeemed and purified, is ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35). What Ezekiel is far more concerned to demonstrate is that the glory of Yahweh, and His accessibility to His own, has returned to His people in a new heavenly Temple, which has replaced the old, and is established on a mysterious and anonymous mountain, rather than to stress His presence in an earthly Jerusalem. Indeed he will stress that this temple is outside the environs of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 45:1-6).
This should then awaken us to the fact that Ezekiel is in fact here speaking of an everlasting sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26; Ezekiel 37:28). This is no earthly Temple with earthly functions. There is no suggestion anywhere that it should be built, indeed it was already there and could be measured. It is an everlasting heavenly Temple of which the earthly was, and will be, but a shadow.
It is true that a physical temple would be built, and they are specifically told that the altar described (but pointedly not directly ‘measured’) is to be made (Ezekiel 43:18), for physical sacrifices would require a physical altar, and that will be the point of contact with the heavenly temple, but the important thing would be, not the physical temple, but the invisible heavenly temple, present in the land, of which the physical was but a representation. The ancients regularly saw their physical religious artefacts as in some way representing an invisible reality, and so it is here. A fuller picture of the heavenly temple is given throughout the Book of Revelation. And this temple was now ‘seen’ to be established in the land even before a physical temple was built. God had again taken possession of His land, and awaited the return of His people for the ongoing of His purposes.
But a further point, putting these verses firmly in its context, is that this will make them realise that once they have come through the trials brought on them by Gog and his forces, fortified by the presence of God in their midst, they will be able to enter the eternal rest promised them by God, for His heavenly, everlasting temple was here so that He could dwell among them in an everlasting sanctuary. This was thus putting in terms that they could understand the heavenly future that awaited His people. It was a fuller and more perfect sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26-28; Hebrews 9:11). And it had relevance from the beginning as the sign that God had returned to His land.
This section about the ‘heavenly’ temple can be split into five parts. The first is a brief introduction in terms of the vision that Ezekiel experienced (Ezekiel 40:1-4). This is followed by a detailed description of the new temple complex with the lessons that it conveyed (Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 42:20), the return of Yahweh to His temple (Ezekiel 43:1-9), the worship that would follow as a result of that temple (Ezekiel 43:10 to Ezekiel 46:24), and the accompanying changes that would take place with regard to His people as they ‘repossessed the land’ with the final establishment of a heavenly city (chapters 47-48), all expressed in terms of what they themselves were expecting, but improved on. To them ‘the land’ was the ultimate of their aspirations, a land in which Yahweh had promised them that they would dwell in safety and blessing for ever. So the promises were put in terms of that land to meet with their aspirations. But there are clear indications that something even more splendid was in mind as we shall see. The land could never finally give them the fullness of what God was promising them, and once the temple moved into Heaven, ‘the land’ would move there too.
But we should perhaps here, in fairness to other commentators, pause to recognise that there are actually a number of main views (with variations) with regard to these chapters, which we ought to all too briefly consider for the sake of completeness, so as to present a full picture. As we consider them readers must judge for themselves which one best fits all the facts, remembering what we have already seen in Ezekiel the details of a vision that reaches beyond the confines of an earthly land. We must recognise too that accepting one does not necessarily mean that we have to fully reject the others, for prophecy is not limited to a single event, but to the ongoing action and purposes of God. Nevertheless we cannot avoid the fact that one view must be predominant
1) Some have considered that what Ezekiel predicted was fulfilled when the exiles returned and re-established themselves in the land, rebuilding the physical temple and restoring the priesthood. However nothing that actually took place after the return from Babylon matches the full details of these predictions. Neither the temple built under Zerubbabel's supervision, nor the temple erected by Herod the Great, bore any resemblance to what Ezekiel describes here. In fact, there has been no literal fulfilment of these predictions. And there does not seem to have been a desire for it. Thus this view disregards many of the main facts outlined and dismisses them as unimportant. It sees them as mainly misguided optimism or permissible exaggeration.
2) Others have interpreted this section spiritually. They have seen these predictions as fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the church, and certainly the New Testament to a certain extent confirms this view. Consider for example the use of the idea in chapter 47 in John 7:38. But many consider that this approach fails to explain the multitude of details given, such as the dimensions of the various rooms in the temple complex. They point out that Ezekiel's guide was careful to make sure that the prophet recorded these details exactly (Ezekiel 40:4). The reply would be that what they indicate symbolically is God’s detailed concern for His people. This view presupposes that the church supersedes the old Israel in God's programme (as many believe that the New Testament teaches) and that many of God's promises concerning a future for Israel find part of their actual fulfilment in the church as God’s temple and as the new Israel, symbolically rather than literally. There is certainly some truth in this position.
3) Still others believe that these chapters describe a yet future, eschatological temple and everlasting kingdom in line with Ezekiel 37:24-28, and following 38-39, but that they again do so only symbolically. These interpreters believe that the measurements, for example, represent symbolic truth concerning the coming everlasting kingdom, including the dwelling of God among His people, the establishing of true and pure worship, and the reception by His people of all that He has promised them in fuller measure than they can ever have expected, but they do not look for a literal temple complex and the establishment of temple worship. Indeed they consider that such would be a backward step in the progress of God’s purposes.
It is claimed by those who disagree with them that this view also overlooks the amount of detail given, so much detail, they would claim, that one could almost use these chapters as general blueprints to build the structures in view. To this the reply is partly that the detail is in fact not sufficient to prepare efficient blueprints, and partly that they bear their own message. Indeed they argue that all the many attempts to make a reliable blueprint have failed. If taken literally, they argue, there are problems with the detail that cannot be surmounted. They are therefore far better seen as depictions of the concern of God for perfection for His people.
4) Still others also take this passage as a an apocalyptic prophecy but anticipate a literal fulfilment in the future. While they accept that some of the descriptions have symbolic significance as well as literal reality, and that some teach important spiritual lessons, and can also be applied to the eternal state, nevertheless, they argue, the revelation finally concerns details of a literal future temple to be built to these specifications, details of a system of worship and priesthood which will be literally established, and actual physical changes in the promised land, which will occur when a people identifying themselves specifically as Israel, not the church, dwell there securely (i.e. during what they call the Millennium).
Those who disagree with them point among other things to the impracticality of the plans for the temple, the impossibility of now establishing a genuine Zadokite priesthood, the contradiction of establishing a system of sacrifices when the New Testament points to a better sacrifice, made once for all, which has replaced all others, the discrepancies and difficulties with regard to the siting of the temple, and the unfeasability of dividing the land in the way described.
5) And finally there is the view that we are proposing here, that the Temple of Ezekiel was never intended to be built by man, but was rather a genuine and real presence of the heavenly temple which was from this time present invisibly on earth (invisible to all but Ezekiel, as the armies of God were present but invisible to all but Elisha -2 Kings 6:17). It is saying that God has established Himself in His own invisible temple in the land ready to carry out His campaign into the future. This can then be seen as connected with the temple seen in Revelation in heaven, with the earthly temples to be built as but a shadow of the heavenly, and with the final temple in the everlasting kingdom. The strength of this position will appear throughout the commentary. Suffice to say at this point that there is nowhere in the chapters any suggestion that the temple should be built from the description presented (in complete contrast with the tabernacle - Exodus 25:40). And this is even more emphatically so because instructions are given to build an altar for worship. Given Ezekiel’s visionary insight this fact in itself should make us hesitate in seeing this as any but a visionary temple already present in Israel at the time of measuring.
Whatever view we take we cannot deny that the New Testament does see God’s temple as being present on earth in His people (Ephesians 2:20-22; 1Co 3:16-17 ; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 11:1), and that John in Revelation refers throughout to a temple in Heaven, and to a new Jerusalem, clearly related to some of the things described in these chapters. Furthermore his description of the eternal state, of life in ‘the new earth’ after the destruction of the present earth, is partly based on chapter 47-48 (Revelation 21-22). And we might see that as suggesting that once the Messiah had been rejected God’s heavenly temple was thought of as having deserted Israel, and as having gone up into Heaven where it was seen by John, although still being represented on earth, no longer by a building, but by His new people.
Bearing all this in mind we will now consider the text.
‘And he brought me there, and behold there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed, and he stood in the gate.’
The man’s appearance ‘like the appearance of brass’ depicts him as a heavenly visitor (compare Ezekiel 8:2). He was glorious in his appearance. The line of flax was for measuring distances, the measuring reed for more exact measurements. He was there to measure the temple that was already there and stood ready at the gate. The fact that the measurement began at the gate may be seen as stressing that it was the making available of the people’s access to God that was primarily in mind.
We should note again that there is nothing here to indicate that attempts were to be made to build such a temple, nor that it should be built. It was already there in vision, and the fact that it could be measured was to deliberately indicate its ‘real’ presence and the intention for it to be currently effective. It indicated heavenly activity taking place on earth in a form usually invisible, as with Jacob’s ladder which provided access to heavenly beings from some spiritual realm and was no doubt to be seen as continuing even when Jacob saw it no more (Genesis 28:12) and providing a similar way to God which was no doubt seen as equally invisibly permanent. Jacob saw Bethel as the house of God and the gate of Heaven (Genesis 28:17). And it was from then on looked on as a sacred sanctuary. How much more this new temple. It is a vision of that other world in its relationships with man (compare also 2 Kings 6:17. See also Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20; Zechariah 1:7-11).
‘And the man said to me, “Son of man, behold with your eyes and hear with your ears, and set your heart on all that I show you, for it was with the intention that I show them to you that you were brought here. Declare all you see to the house of Israel.” ’
Ezekiel was to take careful note of all that he saw and heard. He was to carefully remember it, setting his mind and heart on it. For it was a message to the house of Israel.
The message was plain. A new temple, a heavenly temple, had been established in the land of Israel which made clear the awful holiness of God, and was now there. This had an important present message for Ezekiel’s hearers in that it suggested to them that God was taking them up again as His people, and was dwelling in the land, and that they would one day return there and be able to re-establish temple worship, but that they must ever remember His holiness and be wary of their sins. However, there was a mysteriousness and remoteness about this temple which pointed to it having a deeper significance. In its full manifestation it would portray the invisible presence of God with His people, the outflowing of the Spirit in the Messianic age (chapter 47), and the presence of the everlasting kingdom (Ezekiel 48:35). It was both a near and a far ‘prophecy’. Thus it symbolised both present hopes and future expectations.
The Measurement of the Wall of the Outer Court.
‘And behold there was a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed of six ‘long cubits’, being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the building, one reed, and the height one reed.”
The measuring reed was six ‘long cubits’ in length. A long cubit was about 50 centimetres (Ezekiel 20:5 inches) per long cubit (a cubit and a handbreadth) compared with the normal cubit of (44 centimetres) Ezekiel 17:5 inches. Thus the wall around the temple was about Ezekiel 3:2 metres (10 foot 3 inches) thick and Ezekiel 3:2 metres (10 foot 3 inches) high, in perfect symmetry.
So the first thing we learn about the new temple is that it was protected from the outside world by a wall of perfect symmetry, which declared its perfection. Access was thus limited to those who had the right to enter. It was not open to anyone. Like the linen screen round the courtyard of the tabernacle, the wall separated the holy from the profane (Ezekiel 42:20). Without was the world. Within was God’s holy provision for His true people, and a place of worship and prayer where they could meet with Him.
So the wall was to be seen as providing perfect protection, a perfection indicated by its symmetry, for the temple of God itself, protecting it from the profane. But it was also to be seen as providing a sanctified place within it, protected from the world, for the true worship of God. In New Testament terms it gave access into the heavenlies. None, however, could pass in except those granted privileged access, who could enter to meet with God, and entry would be only by those who sought His face and were obedient to His covenant, those of a humble and a contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15). The high and lofty One was in His heavenly temple, and only those whose hearts were right could approach Him.
Thus when Paul later likened the people of God to the temple it indicated not only the glorious fact that they were the dwellingplace of God by His Spirit, but also that they too enjoyed His full protection and were separate from the world in His eyes, a people set apart for Himself, walled off from the world and its degradation, and with open access to Him.
The Measuring of the Temple (Ezekiel 40:5 to Ezekiel 42:20 ).
There follows now the measuring in detail of the temple and the temple area, and we may ask what is the purpose of these detailed measurements? In actual fact they were very important for they confirmed the reality of the invisible temple and its purpose. While a visionary temple, it was nevertheless firmly grounded in reality. The measuring made clear to the people a number of facts which they needed to learn.
Firstly it stressed that the tabernacle of God was now once more in the land awaiting them, although in visionary, not literal form. Secondly it pointed ahead to what was to come. And thirdly it stressed that He was a holy God and that approach to Him was not to be endeavoured lightly. Anything short of what appeared to be a detailed blueprint would not have achieved these aims. Those who heard Ezekiel speaking about it would naturally ask for details of what he had seen, and would indeed find their hearts dance within them at every little detail given, for it would remind them of the old temple which they thought they had lost for ever.
1) The detailing of the measurements made clear to the exiles that the temple in question was not just some pipe dream but was a genuine other-worldly temple that had been measured. It was confirmation of their hopes. Each detail had been considered and was being carefully described. So they could know that the new temple was real and truly ‘existed’ in the purposes of God, for Ezekiel had seen it measured and could recount the detail.
2) The fact that it had been measured, not by Ezekiel but by a messenger of God, confirmed that it was God’s own temple, provided by Him, a heavenly temple, a temple which could not be touched by this world, but of which Ezekiel was a witness.
3) The detailed measurements given, which could be compared with the detailed measurements provided for the tabernacle, confirmed that it was of God’s design, like the tabernacle (but this time with no indication that it should be built to specification). It was confirmation that God was still interested in providing His people with the full and necessary resources for approaching and worshipping Him, while at the same time warning them that He was a holy God and not to be approached lightly. Thus while it was a portrayal of the heavenly, it was also ‘down to earth’, and would indeed eventually find its shadow in the earthly temple, which would be a simpler representation. While they made use of a their smaller earthly temple they would be able to visualise and acknowledge the glorious heavenly temple, of which it was a symbol.
4) The perfect symmetry of the measurements revealed the perfection of God, and the perfection of His plans and purposes for His people that were yet to be, and indeed of the temple itself. This was God’s work and not man’s.
5) The measurement of each part of the temple demonstrated that it was being potentially ‘brought into use’ for the people of God. We can compare with this how God elsewhere arranged for the ‘measurement’ of Jerusalem to demonstrate that it belonged to Him, that He was beginning His actions on its behalf and that He had taken it under His protection (Zechariah 2:1-5), something again done invisibly of which only the physical outcome was seen. We can also compare His arranging of the measurement of the new Jerusalem so as to bring out its perfection and readiness for use (Revelation 21:15). Here then was a temple ready for use and through which God was about to act.
The Measurement of the East Gate.
‘Then he went into the gateway which looked towards the east, and went up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed broad, and the other threshold, one reed broad. And the side-rooms (or ‘guard chambers’) were one reed long and one reed broad. And the space between the side-rooms was five cubits. And the threshold of the gate by the vestibule of the gate towards the house was one reed.’
The East Gate was the main approach to the temple and was thus seen as very important (compare Ezekiel 10:19; Ezekiel 11:1 and see Ezekiel 43:4; Ezekiel 44:2). It consisted of an inner and outer gate with an oblong passageway in between, at each end of which was a vestibule and with guard rooms up the sides, the whole being fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits wide.
The temple complex as a whole would be oriented east to west, (thus the importance of the east gate), and consisted of an outer court approached through the gate, and then, within that outer court, surrounded by it on three sides (north, south and east), an inner court leading into the sanctuary itself, which sanctuary was surrounded on three sides (north, south and west) by a small temple yard (a ‘separate place’) within the inner court area. The whole edifice was built on a platform raising it above the surrounding area, with the inner court also on a further platform rising above the outer court, and the sanctuary still higher.
Steps (probably seven - compare Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26) led up from outside the temple to the outer threshold of the gateway (which itself led to the outer court), which again was one reed broad. And passing through the initial gateway there were three side-rooms or guard chambers on each side of the open ‘corridor’ within the gateway, a corridor which led up to the threshold of the porch (or vestibule) at the far end, which was again one reed broad. The purpose of the measurements was to demonstrate the continual perfect symmetry of the whole.
‘Five cubits.’ Five and its multiples were a regular measure in the tabernacle and were indicative of the covenant relationship. Five is the number of covenant. It is thus prominent in this heavenly temple.
(There were five fingers to the hand with which covenants were confirmed, five commandments on each tablet of stone in the giving of the covenant, five books of the Law, and of the Psalms, five loaves in the covenant feeding of the five thousand of Israel, multiples of five were in common use in the tabernacle, and so on).
This gate, the east gate, along with the north and south gates, granted the only access to the temple precincts. Between the three they thus ensured that there was a ‘complete’ and sufficient way in to the dwelling-place of God provided for His people, as the fact of ‘three’ gates indicated. (Three was the number of completeness throughout the ancient Near East, often divine, as seven was the number of divine perfection).
But its construction also brings home that it was an access that was closely guarded (thus the guard chambers), giving ‘complete’ security (threefold on each side) and excluding the profane. Let no one dare to enter who was unfit. The raising of the temple on a platform, which explains the need for the steps, indicated that it was other-worldly, raised above the outside world, (compare Isaiah 2:2-3), in the world but not of it. It was not of this world.
So God was indicating to His people by this that they could once more approach Him with confidence if they were pure, and that a way was provided for them which none other could use unless they entered the covenant, for nothing profane could approach Him.
The construction of the gateway is very similar in design to a Solomonic gateway discovered at Megiddo, and has affinities with Syrian and Palestinian temples such as that at Carchemish. When God was designing for His people He did so in terms of their current environment, as He had done previously with the tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
‘He also measured the vestibule of the gate towards the house which was one reed. So he measured the vestibule of the gate, eight cubits, and its posts, two cubits, and the vestibule of the gate was towards the house. And the side rooms of the gate eastward were three on this side and three on that side, the three were of the same size, and the posts were of the same size on this side and on that side. And he measured the breadth of the opening of the gateway, ten cubits, and the breadth of the gate, thirteen cubits.’
‘Towards the house’ indicated that this vestibule was at that end of the gateway nearer the sanctuary, rather than at the outer end. So the inner protecting gate was also measured by God’s representative. The six guard rooms are again described, emphasising their importance in relation to the protecting gate. The way to God had to be fully protected from profanity. There was a way in but it had to be guarded and kept for those for whom it was allowed. The measuring of them stresses that they were there and that they had to be taken into account.
The eight cubit vestibule plus the two one cubit posts, presumably make up the ten cubit opening of the gateway. Emphasis again is on multiples of five.
‘And there was a barrier in front of the side rooms, one cubit on this side and one cubit on that side. And the guard rooms were six cubits on this side and six cubits on that side.’
Detail is given of the guard rooms in order to draw attention to their importance, and to demonstrate their symmetrical perfection. They would, without any question, fulfil their functions. They had to be six cubits so as to make up the twenty five cubits across (five squared) when taken with the thirteen cubit wide corridor.
‘And he measured the gate from the top of one side room to the top of another, a breadth of twenty five cubits, door to door.’
The twenty five cubits is possibly represented by adding the six cubits of two opposite side rooms, to the thirteen cubits which is ‘the breadth of the gate’ (i.e. of the inner corridor). Thus the important multiple of five, the covenant number, is maintained (the sixes and the thirteen being required for this reason). ‘Door to door’ might suggest a back door in the wall of each guard room leading into the outer court, so that the rooms could be entered or left by means of the outer court without using the main gateway.
‘He also made posts of sixty cubits, and the court to the post, the gate round about. And from the forefront of the gate at the entrance to the forefront of the inner porch of the gate were fifty cubits’
The sixty cubits would be the gateposts at the outer end of the gate, forming a deliberately imposing gateway, common in antiquity. It was what those who were without would see. The phrase ‘and the court to the post, the gate round about’ is a little obscure and may mean that the distance between where the court was entered (the inner gate), and the outer gate was filled by the whole gate construction, the distance being fifty cubits, or it may signify that the outer court came up to the gateposts, externally to the gate itself, at each side of the gate, but of course inside the walls, as the gate construction would protrude out into the outer court. Either way the length of the whole of the construction of the gate (from outer gate to inner gate) was fifty cubits.
The whole intention is to give the impression of a magnificent gateway protecting the way into the temple precincts (lest the temple be defiled), and manifesting the glory of God.
“And there were narrowing windows in the side rooms, and to their posts within the gate round about, and likewise to the colonnade. And windows were round about inward. And on each post were palm trees.’
Windows of the kind described (compare 1 Kings 6:4) were scattered all round the gateway, providing light and air, (the meaning of the word translated ‘colonnade’ is a technical architectural term and is uncertain), and palm trees were engraved on the posts. This latter was a common decoration in Solomon’s temple symbolising creation (1 Kings 6:29-35). Palm trees were also symbols of beauty and fruitfulness (see Lev 23:40 ; 1 Kings 6:29; 1 Kings 6:32; 1Ki 6:35 ; 1 Kings 7:36; 2 Chronicles 3:5; Song of Solomon 7:7; Psalms 92:12-14; Nehemiah 8:15; Zechariah 14:16-21). The detail of the whole would confirm to any sceptics that Ezekiel was actually describing something that he had seen, and that what he claimed to have seen had thus at least some degree of reality and was not just an illusion.
“Then he brought me to the outer court, and lo there were chambers, fronted by a pavement, erected round about the court. Thirty chambers were fronted by the pavement. And the pavement was beside the gates, corresponding to the length of the gates, even the lower pavement.”
Chambers were built around the outer court. The purpose of the chambers, which were built on the wall, with the pavement in front, is not mentioned, but see Jeremiah 35:2. They were probably used as meeting places, and for the general convenience of worshippers. ‘Thirty’ (three intensified) demonstrates a completeness of provision for worshippers. All that was needed was here. They were built on a ‘lower pavement’ There was a ‘higher pavement’ in the inner court. An increase in height at each stage demonstrated the increasing holiness of the place in question.
The Measurement of the Outer Court (Ezekiel 40:17-19 ).
The outer court surrounded the inner court and the sanctuary on three sides, (the inner court and the sanctuary being surrounded by another wall with three gates in it), the fourth side of the sanctuary along with the building behind it being against the west wall. The outer court was for the use of God’s people generally, the inner court being reserved for the priests.
“Then he measured the breadth from the forefront of the lower gate to the forefront of the outside of the inner court, a hundred cubits both on the east and on the north.”
Thus the outer court was one hundred cubits, from the inmost part of the gateway to the inner court, all round on three sides.
The Measurement of the North and South Gates (Ezekiel 40:20-27).
These two gates were an identical reproduction of the east gate, the ‘three’ gates representing ‘complete’ access. This time the number of steps leading up to them is given. It is seven, the number of divine perfection. The temple was raised above the earth by a divinely perfect amount, and accessed in a divinely perfect way. The number seven had huge significance to the ancients throughout the Ancient Near East. It was the ‘perfect’ number and often indicated divine activity and perfection.
‘And the gate of the outer court whose prospect is towards the north, he measured its length and breadth. And its side rooms were three on this side and three on that side. And its posts and its colonnades were of the same measurements as the first gate. Its length was fifty cubits and its breadth twenty five cubits. And its windows and colonnades, and its palm trees were of the same measurements as the gate whose prospect is towards the east. And they went up to it by seven steps. And its colonnades were before them. And there was a gate to the inner court over against the other gate, both on the north and on the east, and he measured from gate to gate one hundred cubits. And he led me towards the south, and behold, a gate towards the south. And he measured its posts and its colonnades, and there were windows in it and in its colonnades round about, like those windows. The length was fifty cubits and the breadth twenty five cubits. And there were seven steps to go up to it, and its colonnades were before them. And it had palm trees, one on this side and one on that side, on its posts. And there was a gate to the inner court towards the south, and he measured from gate to gate towards the south one hundred cubits.’
So all three gateways to the outer court were identical representing complete access and complete protection from profanity. Entry was available for those within the covenant, whose hearts were right, for this was a heavenly temple and entry was by seven steps. These can be compared with the seven gates leading into the underworld in Sumerian and Babylonian myths. The difference being that these led up to God. They were for His people. All others were excluded.
The Inner Court - the Court of the Priests .
It is extraordinary to me that given that the difference between priest and laity has been cancelled by the new covenant, so that all God’s people are royal priests ( 1Pe 2:5 ; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10), some would argue on the basis of this vision (and belief in a millennium) that the difference is once again to be introduced by God in Israel. This is especially strange in the light of Isaiah 62:6.
For the truth is that this vision of the inner court spoke directly to Ezekiel’s time. Then the difference between priest and laity was still maintained, and the way to God was still shown to be difficult because He was substantially unapproachable by man because of His awful holiness. At the root of this vision of the heavenly temple established by God on earth is the fact that His people had to be made aware of this extreme holiness, for it was a lesson that they had still not learned. That was why they had become idolatrous. But the detail of the heavenly temple demonstrated quite clearly that He dwelt in unapproachable light and was so holy that the way into His presence was heavily restricted and protected from those who were unworthy. And all must come through the shedding of blood and through a carefully revealed ritual.
But once this temple was transferred to Heaven, and Jesus was made High Priest (Hebrews 9:24), and the one sacrifice for all had been offered (Hebrews 9:28), the way into His presence was opened up for all His people and they had direct access into His presence (Hebrews 10:19; Revelation 7:9). Christ’s priesthood would then replace the earthly priesthood, for He would take their place by entering into a more glorious and unchanging priesthood (Hebrews 7:11-12; Hebrews 7:24), and His people too would become ‘royal priests’ (1 Peter 5:9) with access into the presence of God. Thus the significance of the temple was transformed and there was no way in which it could go backwards to the picture described here.
But this does not mean that we can enter the presence of God lightly. The blood has been shed, the price has been paid, and it is with reverence and awe that we must ensure that we are cleansed in that blood before we approach Him (1 John 1:5-10). We too must remember that God is holy.
Having recognised this principle let us go back to the lessons that this heavenly temple on earth has to teach us.
The Measurement of the South Gate of the Inner Court.
‘Then he brought me to the inner court by the south gate, and he measured the south gate in accordance with this measurement, and its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades, in accordance with these measurements. It was fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits broad. And there were colonnades round about, twenty five cubits long and five cubits broad. And its colonnades were toward the outer court, and palm trees were on its posts, and the ascent to it had eight steps.’
The descriptions of the gates of the inner court are abbreviated because they were much like the East gate of the outer court. Note again that the measurements are in multiples of five. This is covenant territory. And the palm trees, symbols of creation and fruitfulness, are prominent. The fact that there are such gates indicates that the inner court was also surrounded by a wall. The vestibule faces outwards towards the outer court.
There were eight steps up to the inner court, one more than for the outer court. This is probably in order to stress that entry becomes more difficult, and the way harder, the nearer men approach to God. Having climbed the seven steps of divine perfection there is yet one more step to go. It reveals an increasing degree of holiness. The inner court was barred to all but priests, those especially set apart and prepared to deal with holy things. God was too holy to be approached lightly or by any not especially chosen and prepared.
The Measurements of the East and North Gates of the Inner Court.
‘And he brought me to the inner court towards the east, and he measured the gate in accordance with these measurements, and its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades, in accordance with these measurements. And there were windows in it and in the colonnades round about. It was fifty cubits long and twenty five cubits broad. And its colonnades were towards the outer court, and palm trees were on its posts, on this side and on that side. And the ascent to it had eight steps. And he brought me to the north gate, and he measured it according to these measurements, its side rooms, and its posts, and its colonnades. And there were windows in it round about. The length was fifty cubits, and the breadth twenty five cubits. And its posts were towards the outer court, and the palm trees were on its posts, on this side and on that side. And the ascent to it had eight steps.’
All that has been said about the south gate applies in threefold measure (north, south and east).
‘There was a chamber with its door by the posts at the gates. There they washed the burnt offering. And in the porch of the gate were two tables on this side and on that side, on which to slay the burnt offering, and the sin offering and the guilt offering. And on the side outside as one ascends to the entry of the gate toward the north, were two tables, and on the other side which belonged to the porch of the gate, were two tables. Four tables were on this side and four tables were on that side, by the side of the gate. Eight tables on which they slew the offerings.’
The tables for the slaying of the sacrifices were seemingly partly in the vestibule and partly outside. There were eight in all, four inside and four outside (that is one reading. There may have been more tables depending on whether we see repetition here). They are described here as being at the northern gate but the idea is probably that they were similarly at all three gates. The shedding of blood before approach to God was ever necessary
The Equipment for Sacrifice (Ezekiel 40:38-43 ).
Full provision was made for sacrificial activity, including whole (burnt) offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. Approach to God still required the full sacrificial rites, the same as before the exile. So there were eight or more tables for the slaying of sacrifices (probably at each gate) and four to carry the sacrificial instruments.
The emphasis is therefore laid on the fact that none could approach God without the shedding of blood for sin and guilt, together with worship and thanksgiving offerings. The whole (burnt) offering was an offering of total surrender to God, and in its different uses included worship, praise, thanksgiving and atonement. The sin and guilt offerings were on the other hand basic. They represented a sacrifice for the taking away of the guilt of sin (Leviticus 4:1 to Leviticus 5:17). There is no way in which they can be seen as memorial offerings. Their meaning is clearly identified. A man sins. The sin or guilt offering is necessary in order to ‘bear’ the man’s sin (This once for all cancels the idea that they can just be dismissed as memorial offerings as is required by the millennium theory). Once the tabernacle was taken up into Heaven, however, these would be unnecessary, as the one offering for sin for ever would already have been made.
It is no argument against this to say that animal sacrifices did not really take away sins, but only did so as pointing forward to Christ. That is true, but at the time that they were instituted they were the only way known by which sin could be taken away, and the complexity of the sacrificial system was because of the complexity of the problem of sin. To reproduce this in a ‘memorial system’ replacing the simplicity of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) would be ludicrous in the extreme. Solemn ceremonies carried out and animals killed in large numbers in a complicated system were necessary before full enlightenment came. Once, however, it came, and the full price was paid at the cross, they were no longer necessary. And in a land noted for the fact that killing between man and beast had ceased it would be shameful (Isaiah 11:6-9).
‘And there were four tables for the burnt offering, of hewn stone, a cubit and a half long, and a cubit and a half broad, and a cubit in height. On these were laid the instruments with which they slew the burnt offering and sacrifice. And hooks a handbreadth long were fastened within round about. And on the tables was the flesh of the oblation.’
The tables for the tools required for sacrifice are described here, each foursquare to symbolise perfection. The hooks were probably intended for hanging animal flesh on. So in the heavenly tabernacle, while situated on earth after the exile, it is made clear that the old order as far as sacrifices were concerned was to continue. Atonement had to be made for sin if men were to meet with God. It would be different once full atonement had been made once and forever. Similar dressed slaughter stones were discovered in the excavations at Ebla.
But if this was a heavenly temple where priests could not literally enter, why was the detail necessary? It was, of course, to provide a basic pattern so that when the priests in the earthly temple carried out their duties it was recognised that in some way this was affecting the situation with regard to the heavenly temple. By their actions they were approaching Heaven.
The Chambers for the Priests (Ezekiel 40:44-46 ).
‘And outside the inner gate were chambers for the singers in the inner court, which were at the side of the north gate. And their prospect was towards the south, and one at the east gate having the prospect towards the north. And he said to me, “This chamber, whose prospect is towards the south, is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the house. And the chamber whose prospect is towards the north is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who, from among the sons of Levi, come near to Yahweh to minister to him.”
There were a number of chambers outside the inner gate, all but two of which were for the singers who sang in the inner court. The two were set aside for the priests, the one facing south (‘this chamber’ - being no doubt indicated by the hand of the speaker) for those who had charge of the house (see Ezekiel 44:10-14), the one facing north for those who had charge of the altar (see Ezekiel 44:15-21).
Singers are described elsewhere in 1 Chronicles 6:31-32 where they were Levites, but it may be that the point being made here is that the singers here were priests, (and therefore more holy and allowed into the inner court), the Levites being no longer worthy due to past failure, and that all the chambers facing south were thus for the priests who had the lesser privilege of ‘charge of the house’ and of ‘singing’. But only ‘the sons of Zadok’ (compare Ezekiel 44:15; 1 Samuel 2:31-33; 2 Samuel 15:24-29; 1 Kings 1:5-26; 1Ki 1:32-35 ; 1 Kings 2:26-27; 1 Kings 2:35; 1 Chronicles 6:3-8; 1 Chronicles 24:3) were from now on to be allowed to enter the sanctuary and offer the fat and blood of the sacrifices before Yahweh (Ezekiel 44:15). They were the keepers of ‘the charge of the altar’. Thus a distinction was now to be made between differing ‘families’ of priests with ‘the sons of Zadok’ now stated to be especially favoured because they had shown particular loyalty to Yahweh in the period of the kings (Ezekiel 44:15). There was thus to be a limiting of the priestly function for the majority. See further on Ezekiel 44:10-21.
‘Sons of Zadok’ were seen as descended from Zadok of the house of Aaron (1 Chronicles 6:8; 1 Chronicles 6:53), who had loyally supported David, and had ensured the accession of Solomon thereby obtaining the high priesthood (1 Kings 2:35), which remained Zadokite (1 Chronicles 6:10; 1 Chronicles 6:15 with Haggai 1:1) into the future. But loyal Yahwist priests from other parts of the family who sided with their loyal stance may well have joined with them, and been adopted as ‘sons of Zadok’, while some of their own who chose the way of idolatry may well have united with others and distanced themselves from the sons of Zadok. For ‘sons of’ primarily came to mean ‘those who behaved like’ (compare ‘the sons of Belial’). And ‘the sons of Zadok’ were probably seen as a narrow-minded clique by other priests.
This enunciation of detail would have been particularly impressive to Ezekiel’s hearers, and have helped to convince them that he really had seen the invisible temple of Yahweh already established in the land. The fact that chambers had been so set aside confirmed that God would in the future restore Israel’s way of worship. The heavenly temple was conveying a message rather than being for practical utilisation.
The Vestibule for the Sanctuary.
‘And he measured the court, one hundred cubits long and one hundred cubits broad, foursquare, and the altar was before the house.’
The inner court was foursquare and attention is drawn to the fact. This was regularly a symbol of perfection. Compare Exodus 26:0; 1 Kings 6:20 where the holiest of all was a perfect cube; and the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:16 which ‘lay foursquare’. (See also the two altars and the breastplate in Exodus 27:1; Exodus 28:16; Exodus 30:2; Exodus 37:25; Exodus 38:1; Exodus 39:9). In the middle of the inner court was the altar, in front of ‘the house’, that is the sanctuary. But it is noteworthy that the altar is not measured. This fact is quite striking. It has a unique significance as denoted in Ezekiel 43:13-27.
‘Then he brought me to the porch of the house and measured each post of the porch, five cubits on this side and five cubits on that side, and the breadth of the gate was three cubits on this side and three cubits on that side. The length of the porch was twenty cubits, and the breadth eleven cubits, even by the steps where they ascended to it. And there were pillars by the posts, one on this side and one on that side.’
We are now approaching the sanctuary, and the first thing we reach is the porch or vestibule of the sanctuary. The steps demonstrate that the sanctuary was on a further raised platform, denoting its increased holiness. LXX says that there were ten steps leading up to it. The increase in the number of steps would also tie in with the increasing holiness of the place.
The twenty cubits was what we would call the breadth, but the Israelites always called the longest measurement ‘the length’ (strictly in fact the translation is therefore inexact in our terms). The pillars probably had a similar purpose to the free-standing decorated bronze pillars of Solomon’s temple named Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:15-22). There is considerable evidence for free-standing columns at the entrance to temple sanctuaries.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 40". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany