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Chapter 45 The New Land and The New Vision.
What is written here appears at first sight to be simply an idealistic arrangement for the division of the land by lot at the return from exile, in a similar way to the Mosaic idealistic arrangements carried into fruition by Joshua (Numbers 26:52-56), which never became a full reality because of the failure of the people of Israel. In a sense therefore it may seem to parallel those. But there is a remarkable distinction. The arrangements suggested by Moses, and carried out by Joshua, were clearly connected to the land as it was, even though they failed in fulfilment because of the disobedience and halfheartedness of the people. But Ezekiel is here portraying something that did not apply to the land as it was or to what he knew were the intentions of God’s people. He is in fact deliberately describing in vision something that he knows will never literally be, but the principles of which he is certain will one day be fulfilled.
Ezekiel was a visionary, but he was no fool. He knew that the vision of his fellow exiles, or at least those of them whose hearts were for Yahweh, was to return to the land, reoccupy it, and then rebuild Jerusalem and the temple on Mount Zion. (And that incidentally is also the view of those who believe in the establishing of a Millennium about what the Jews would do then).
But what Ezekiel describes here is nothing like that. His visions of the throne of God, and now his vision of the heavenly temple already established in the land, had made him recognise that what the house of Israel were planning to do was not satisfactory. He realised that they would once more become bogged down in the land and fall back into the old ritualism, if not the old idolatry. And when we read Ezra and Nehemiah we recognise that that really was the danger, and indeed what eventually happened.
So under God’s direction he lays out a plan for the future which points to something beyond that. He seeks to direct their hearts and minds to a more spiritual concept of the kingdom of God, a concept which would in fact in the end only find its fulfilment through the ministry of Jesus and in the everlasting kingdom.
What Ezekiel was seeking to convey, mainly passed the people by. For even God’s presence revealed among them in His heavenly temple did not finally move them to appreciate the heavenly nature of Ezekiel’s message. And that is why in the end they would even reject their Messiah because He proclaimed a heavenly kingship (Daniel 9:25-26 with Ezekiel 7:13-14; compare Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). So careful consideration reveals a deeper meaning to his words than that which is apparent on the surface.
There is a clear suggestion in Ezekiel 45:1-5 that the twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand cubit area depicted is to be seen as a kind of enlarged ‘temple’, with the heavenly sanctuary as the most holy place, the ‘holy portion’ of the priests as an inner court, and the Levite and city areas as the outer court. This is the nearest that Ezekiel, given the conceptions of that time, could get to a heavenly kingdom.
In the first place it is clear that the measurements are not to be taken absolutely literally. No one allocating land would do so in such a stark mathematical manner, for it takes no account of landscape and landmarks, and it is in absolute contrast to the allocating of the land in the book of Joshua. It is thus far more likely that the numbers are to be seen as conveying a specific but not literal message, and this is confirmed by the covenant significance of the numbers. It describes an area which is ‘foursquare’ in multiples of five (25000 by 25000 cubits), which surely indicates a kind of perfection within a covenant relationship.
We are not here dealing with the same situation as pictured earlier. The temple area in Ezekiel 42:20 was surrounded by what was ‘common’ or ‘profane’. But here it is to be surrounded by ‘the holy portion’. Thus the situations are to be seen as very different. The two descriptions are clearly conveying different lessons at different times, the one the stark holiness of the heavenly sanctuary in contrast to the world to which it had come before the people returned, the other the special holiness of a far wider area required by God once the people of God have returned to the land and have been re-accepted by Him.
The first thing that Ezekiel is in fact trying to convey is that from now on all concentration should be placed on a recognition of the heavenly temple ‘among them’ which is not directly connected with Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s eyes Jerusalem was to be thrust aside as the special place where His people could meet with God. It was not totally condemned, but simply set aside. It was desanctified and made ‘ordinary’, and seen as to some extent peripheral. It was present there but seen only as the representative of ‘the whole house of Israel’ in the smallest section of the foursquare arrangement. And all the thoughts of the people were to be collected around the heavenly sanctuary situated on a mountain well away from Jerusalem, and not on ‘the city’ itself.
This is all evidenced by the fact that the heavenly temple, within its own wall, measuring five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits, is described as ‘most holy’ (Ezekiel 45:3), and an open space of fifty cubits broad is to be maintained around it, to maintain this extreme holiness. Then it is surrounded by ‘the holy portion’ in which the priests, the sons of Zadok, dwell, with their hearts and thoughts towards the heavenly temple in their midst, acting as a barrier between it and the outside world.
This holy portion is then to be seen as adjacent with the Levite portion, which is in turn adjacent with the city portion which represents the whole house of Israel, making up the outer court. Or it may be seen as surrounded by the remainder, 1) a Levitical portion, 2) ‘the city’ which is for the whole house of Israel, 3) the portions for the Prince, and 4) the allocations to the tribes (not mentioned in this chapter). The whole idea is of a kind of enlarged sanctuary, with the temple being seen as ‘the inner sanctuary’, that which is ‘most holy’ (Ezekiel 45:3), the holy portion of the priests, being the inner court, and the remainder being the outer court, all with their attention concentrated on the heavenly sanctuary, in the latter case with a special place for the Prince within the outer court.
Ezekiel is beginning the process of wooing their hearts from the earthly to the heavenly, and turning their attention away from Jerusalem to the living God on His heavenly throne. He wants concentration on the Kingly Rule of God. It is the beginning of the process whereby ‘the land’ will cease to be important in itself except as it is fulfilled in a world associated with, and responding to, the heavenly temple, before finally itself being absorbed into that temple.
There is an intricacy about this which we shall consider while we look at the text, but the important lesson we must first face up to is that we must not misjudge Ezekiel and the revelation he received. He was a man of extraordinary vision. The last thing we must see in him is someone who was just mechanically mapping out a theoretical blueprint for some far off millennial kingdom. He had a much more vital message to give, and one closer to the hearts and present experience of God’s true people. He saw well beyond his times.
As we go on then we will make suggestions as to some of the ideas which may have been in Ezekiel’s mind. Sometimes they will overlap. For what he is trying to get over are ideas of which he has a deep appreciation, but which, because of the limitation of the conceptions of the time, he had great difficulty in expressing. Whether this is so readers must judge for themselves.
The Allotment of the Sacred Portion.
“Moreover when you divide by lot the land for inheritance, you will offer a gift-offering to Yahweh, a holy portion of the land. The length shall be the length of twenty five thousand, and the breadth shall be ten thousand. It shall be holy in all its surrounding borders. Of this there shall be for the holy place five hundred by five hundred, square round about, and fifty cubits for its open space round about. And by this measure you will measure, a length of twenty five thousand, and a breadth of ten thousand. And in it will be the sanctuary which is most holy. It is a holy portion of land. It will be for the priests, the ministers of the sanctuary who come near to minister to Yahweh. And it will be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary.”
The commencement is simple enough. It is a reference to when the people eventually return to the land in a new Exodus and begin to parcel out the land. But then he moves on to his new conception.
On return to the land Israel were first to set aside as ‘a holy portion’ for Yahweh an area of land ‘twenty five thousand by ten thousand’ (this is totally outside the city). This was probably intended to be seen as the equivalent of the priestly tithe. But it is stressed that it is a ‘holy portion’, and it is to be sited where it will itself surround the heavenly temple. This would then be followed by an allotment to the Levites (Ezekiel 45:5) an allotment for ‘the city’ (Ezekiel 45:6), and allotments to the prince (Ezekiel 45:7-8), after which the remainder would be divided up by lots as depicted in Ezekiel 47:13 to Ezekiel 48:35.
As we suggested on Ezekiel 42:20, where no mention is made of a unit of measurement we are probably to see it as meaning cubits, and this may be seen as confirmed by the mention of ‘cubits’ for the ‘open space’ around the sanctuary. So the size of ‘the holy portion’ is to be twenty five thousand by ten thousand cubits. These measurements for the holy portion stress the covenant aspect of the whole. Twenty five is five times five, ten is five times two. Both are ways of expressing five intensified. Thus the holy portion itself strongly stresses the covenant relationship between Yahweh and His people.
‘Of this there shall be for the holy place.’ Of the holy portion a section five hundred by five hundred has already been set aside for ‘the holy place’, the heavenly sanctuary (Ezekiel 42:20), in its midst, for the heavenly sanctuary is already there, as Ezekiel has witnessed. This is described in Ezekiel 45:3 as ‘most holy’. This section is then to be surrounded by an open space of fifty cubits wide all round (the priests are not to be limited by the larger distances mentioned in Ezekiel 42:16-19).
The five hundred by five hundred was the size of the heavenly tabernacle to its outer wall (Ezekiel 42:20). So we are again in the realm of the heavenly. This is not describing the site of an earthly temple, but of the temple which is heavenly, depicting heavenly perfection, of which any earthly temple will be but a meagre copy. No one allocating actual land would do it on such a basis (when taken with what follows). This represents a God-given covenant ideal. In this regard we would point out once again that according to Ezekiel 42:15-20 measurements were made on a different basis, and that there the land outside the 500 by 500 was called ‘common’, for there the emphasis was on the holiness of the heavenly sanctuary, to distinguish it from the mundane world to which it had come. There was as yet no ‘holy portion’ for the priests.
But now the emphasis is on the holiness of the portion of land appointed to the priests, a portion of covenant proportions, which surrounds the heavenly sanctuary, and includes it. This is clearly later in point of time than the first arrival of the heavenly sanctuary, and does indeed await the return of the exiles. It is not strictly a temple which is in mind but a holy portion around the heavenly sanctuary on its mountain.
Furthermore the whole of this area, including the sanctuary in its midst, is specifically stated to be outside ‘the city’ (Ezekiel 45:6). This certainly cannot be fitted in directly with a temple built in Jerusalem. The city in this case is seen as not worthy of the sanctuary. It is not even a part of ‘the holy portion’. The Jews, whose hearts were still wedded to Jerusalem, would never even have thought in terms of reproducing this situation. Nor did they. They missed the opportunity altogether. As ever their hearts were on the mundane. But Ezekiel was trying to turn their thoughts away from the earthly city of Jerusalem to a deeper heavenly reality, which he had already stressed in the vision of the heavenly temple, a sphere of holiness which had nothing to do with Jerusalem. He was envisaging something heavenly when there was little conception of such ideas.
So we must surely see this idealistic picture as rather presenting the truth that those who have God as their inheritance are to receive a perfect inheritance, an inheritance connected with the heavenly temple and that in the end this could only be fulfilled in the heavenly sphere. For where were they to find the heavenly temple? Possibly Ezekiel himself half believed they would see it when they arrived back in the land. But God’s thoughts went deeper than that. This is the beginning of the transference of ‘the land’ which they are to inherit, from the earth to the heavens, and to the new earth (compare Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22).
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.
“It is a holy portion of the land. It shall be for the priests, for the ministers of the sanctuary, who come near to minister to Yahweh. And it shall be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary.”
Once again we have the stress on the fact that the holy sanctuary is surrounded by a ‘holy portion’ of land. It is ‘a holy place for the sanctuary’ (this is in such contrast to Ezekiel 42:20). And in this holy portion the priests are to build their houses, away from the city, totally separated to Yahweh. In other words the hearts of the priests are to be totally wedded to the heavenly sanctuary with their lives centred on it. This is to be man’s ideal. It is incipiently pointing to the Kingly Rule of God. ‘Seek first His Kingly Rule and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
“And twenty five thousand in length by ten thousand in breadth shall be to the Levites, the ministers of the house, for a possession to themselves, for twenty chambers.”
A further allocation of land is to be given to the Levites, of similar size to that given to the priests. This would seem to be seen by Ezekiel as south of the first holy portion (see Ezekiel 48:8), and would seem from Ezekiel 45:6 and Ezekiel 48:14 also to be a holy portion. The ‘twenty chambers’ presumably means twenty sets of living quarters and should therefore be thought of as twenty clusters of housing. Again there is a deliberate avoiding of the use of the term ‘city’ (as was also true with the priests). The usage is possibly also to tie this in with the idea of the outer ‘chambers’ in the heavenly temple, places for the use of temple servants. Thus another portion of land strongly expressing the covenant relationship is connected to the heavenly temple, although outside the holy portion.
“And you will appoint the possession of the city five thousand broad, and twenty five long, side by side with the gift-offering of the holy portion. It shall be for the whole house of Israel.”
‘The city’ is also deliberately and specifically established outside ‘the holy portion’. To a people who thought of Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ this would come as a jolt. It was no longer the holy city. It was for the people, and could only be seen as representing ‘the whole house of Israel’. But it was not for the chosen of Yahweh, for the priests or Levites, who had their own portions, and were to live outside the city, and need never enter it. However we look at it Jerusalem had been de-sanctified and degraded, although still superior to territory outside the holy portion, something that has already been apparent elsewhere in Ezekiel.
It should be noted that for literalists this can only be in complete contradiction to the words of other prophets. However, once we recognise what Ezekiel is doing, turning thoughts from the earthly to the heavenly, it ceases to be so. What he is visualising is a holy portion of land connected with the heavenly temple, (which land can later be compared with the new Jerusalem), a land of holiness, away from any earthly city with its prospective earthly temple, a land where His own especially chosen ones will be with Him outside the camp.
The Old Testament constantly makes clear that cities are the source of a large part of the evil in the world, commencing with Cain’s encampment (Genesis 4:17), moving on to the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), and then on to Nineveh and Great Babylon, both of which are roundly condemned, along with other great cities. Now Ezekiel is attempting to cancel out the influence of ‘the city’. It is not condemned, but it is no longer central, nor is it seen as containing the heavenly temple. While it still symbolises the people as a whole, ‘the whole house of Israel’, it is as secondary to that which pertains to God. The people are being wooed away from concentrating on Jerusalem.
And yet the whole area now occupied in Ezekiel 45:1-5 is twenty five thousand by twenty five thousand, (five squared times a thousand by five squared times a thousand) also representing the perfect covenant relationship. As we have already seen, central to the area is the heavenly sanctuary, that which is most holy (Ezekiel 45:3), then there is ‘the holy portion’ of the priests, the sons of Zadok (Ezekiel 45:1), the equivalent of the inner court of the temple, which surround the heavenly temple; then there is the portion of the Levites; and then the portion of ‘the city’, this latter representing the whole lay house of Israel. These are all joined in unity in the covenant around the heavenly temple, turning the thoughts of all towards the heavenly temple at its centre. Israel is being wooed from earth to heaven. Given that Ezekiel did not appreciate fully the reality of a heavenly world available to redeemed man, or Jesus’ later conception of the Kingly Rule of God present among men, he was reaching to it as best he could. It was the nearest that he could get to such ideas, given the conceptual limitations of his time.
This area which lies foursquare and sums up the people of God at their various levels of commitment, with God at their centre, can then be compared with the city that lies foursquare in Revelation 21:16. That was a similar, although more advanced, conception. There it was described as the new heavenly Jerusalem, for the old Jerusalem was no longer a problem. But to Ezekiel Jerusalem was a problem. He wanted to get over the fact that it was no longer important except as representing the people of Israel and must not therefore be given prominence in any way. His thoughts were in the heavens, and especially on the heavenly temple. With our wider understanding of heavenly realities we recognise that he was feeling for the idea of the eternal kingdom.
So to repeat. Ezekiel 45:1-6 depict a foursquare area of land which is seen as temple-like. In its centre is what is most holy, the sanctuary. This is surrounded by the holy portion, which is like the inner court. And then on the outside are the Levites, and ‘the city’ which represents the people, comprising the outer court. Its size in multiples of five emphasises its strong relationship with the new everlasting covenant mentioned by Ezekiel earlier (Ezekiel 37:26) and central to it is its relationship with the heavenly temple of Yahweh, to which Ezekiel sees they must in some way become attached. It is the ideal kingdom of God, and it is of a heavenly nature.
“And what is to belong to the prince will be on one side and on the other side of the holy gift and of the possession of the city, in front of the holy gift and the possession of the city on the west side westward and on the east side eastward, and in length comparable to one of the portions from the west border to the east border. As far as the land is concerned it will be to him for a possession in Israel. And my princes will no more oppress my people. But they will give the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes.”
The reference to ‘the prince’ need not necessarily refer to the prince of the house of David. It is neutral. It is to whoever will have the highest lay authority over Israel. But the vision of Israel would be that it did refer to the future successive princes of the house of David who would be God’s servants and shepherds. That was part of their dream, even though it seemingly failed. These princes are to have their own allotted territory in the land. And it will be their permanent inheritance (Ezekiel 46:16-18). But notice the stress on the fact that they are to have no other. While they will exercise some kind of secular authority in the land they are not depicted as overall despotic rulers. The aim is to guarantee security of tenure under God to all who possess land, so that no prince may appropriate it as Ahab did the land of Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16).
The fact that this is placed here confirms that we are to see it as part of the overall picture being painted in Ezekiel 45:1-9. And yet it is not a part of the specific 25000 by 25000 cubit section. On the other hand we must recognise that it does conclude the passage, although also acting as a bridge to what follows. So the picture already presented, which was complete in itself, is now being augmented by the territory of the prince, which is specifically seen as attached to both sides of that portion. The prince too must have His eyes on God.
So, to summarise again. In the total picture the holy portion belongs to God for the residence of His priests. Similarly with the Levite land. The city belongs to the people under God, (and so later, do the tribal lands). Now we learn that whoever is prince over them will also have his own lands, but also under God. That does not mean that he does not have some kind of jurisdiction within the whole land as the leading lay authority, but it emphasises that he was not to consider it as his own possession to do with as he will (see Isaiah 5:8). He was a prince of the people, not of the land. The land was God’s, and God is supreme.
The principle enunciated here is of vital importance. God’s prince is not to see himself as supreme ruler and lord of all the land, with divine rights to do as he will. He is to have his own lands, but must otherwise recognise the rights of priest and people to their land, all under God’s sovereign control. At the commencement of the monarchy under Saul, David and at first under Solomon, the favoured title for the king was ‘prince/war-leader’ (nagid). Yahweh was king, they were His prince/war-leaders. These princes however are to be nasi’, princes and chiefs, with not quite such high authority, and certainly not kings.
It is especially interesting that these princes have no land within the foursquare land surrounding the sanctuary. Under God’s inspiration Ezekiel saw that as uniquely God’s, and the earthly princes had no part in it. This supports our view that the central portion is somehow to be seen as heavenly. It was directly under God. However, the prince’s land was east and west of it, and bordered on it. Even though not in it, it has the closest possible connection with it on both sides, east and west. This is made clear. Their hearts must be towards God.
But the dimensions of the prince’s land are not so clear. They depend on interpretation. The question is, what is the ‘length comparable to one of the portions, from the west border to the east border’. Chapter 48 makes clear that it in fact means from the Great Sea to the Jordan. So Ezekiel’s aim is to connect the prince with the foursquare section around the heavenly temple without him being an essential part of it, just as the prince is given an important though peripheral place in the temple (Ezekiel 44:3). The latter was so as to honour the prince and exalt his status given that he was unable to enter where only priests could go. Thus a similar idea is in mind here. There was no desire to make him prince of the ‘ideal’ foursquare area that belonged to the heavenly temple. It was only future revelation that would make known that the Prince to come was also to be the Great High Priest (interestingly although unconsciously foreshadowed in future ‘history’ when the high priest became also the leader of the people).
It need hardly be stated that these things never came literally into actuality. But then it was not expected that they would. The heavenly temple was not visible to all men, only visible by faith, and the parlous state of the land and of men’s faith would not be conducive to their fulfilment. The people of Ezekiel’s time were on the whole too motivated by the world to seek to fulfil such ideals. It became rather a vision of what would be in the future. And not a practical vision if taken literally. Israel were too wedded to their own ideas and to Jerusalem. But as a vision of a future kingdom with its root in the heavenly temple it was remarkable. And one day Jesus would come proclaiming, ‘the Kingly Rule of God is at hand’, both as a present invisible Kingly Rule on earth with its source in Heaven, and as an everlasting kingdom in a new Heaven and earth where God would be all. And Ezekiel’s vision would become a reality.
At the return from exile things might at first have seemed promising. Zerubbabel, grandson of King Jehoiachin (1 Chronicles 3:19; Matthew 1:12), became Israel’s Davidic prince, and there were certainly great expectations concerning him as we have already seen (Haggai 2:1-9; Haggai 2:20-23). But the people’ minds again became bogged down in Jerusalem, and after Zerubbabel, the history of the princes of the house of David, although not the names, is unknown. It is lost in the mist of the past possibly never to be known. Even when Israel was restored to independence for a while there appears to have been no serious intention of re-establishing the Davidic line, and certainly no princes thought in terms of fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision. To be fair it would have been difficult. They did not know where the heavenly temple was. All they had was a replica on earth. But nor was there the attitude of heart which the vision required. It is true that they did not have the vision which was required to recognise it as referring to a heavenly kingdom, but they did know basically what they had to do, and that was to be obedient to the God of the covenant. And that they were not. Had they been the vision of the heavenly kingdom might have been brought home to the.
‘As far as the land is concerned it will be to him for a possession in Israel. And my princes will no more oppress my people. But they will give the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes.’ This is the final summary of what is initially to be expected of Israel’s rulers on the return from exile. They are to have their own possession within the land, but they are not to oppress the people. Rather they are to ensure that they receive land in accordance with their tribal numbers. Oppression was to be a thing of the past, and they must rule wisely in combination with the sons of Zadok in order to see the better land.
God’s Word to the Princes of Israel (Ezekiel 45:9-25 ).
The Need For The Prince To Ensure Justice and Fair Weights and Measures .
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Let it be enough for you, O princes of Israel. Remove violence and spoil, and execute judgment and justice. Take away your evictions from my people,” says the Lord Yahweh. “You shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of one measure, that the bath may contain the tenth part of a homer, and the ephah the tenth part of a homer. Their measure shall be in terms of the homer. And the shekel shall be twenty gerars. Twenty shekels plus twenty five shekels plus fifteen shekels shall be your maneh.”
This kind of cry was common among the prophets, for Israelite society brought dishonour on Yahweh and his covenant by their social behaviour. The princes of the future are to ensure righteousness in the land. They are to be satisfied with their own land, and ensure proper justice throughout Israel. They are to prevent violence and looting, and to ensure that men receive true justice and right judgments, and that the poor are not evicted by the rich for no good reason (compare Leviticus 19:13-15; Isaiah 3:14-15; Amos 3:10; Amos 6:3-6; James 5:1-6). They are to ensure true and correct weights and measures, and honesty in monetary exchange (compare Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10-12). These latter were a continual problem. Ancient balances had a wide margin of error and it is rare archaeologically to find two weights that agree. It was simple therefore to cheat the poor and helpless.
A homer meant originally a donkey load and came to mean approximately 220 litres (just over 48 gallons). An ephah was a vessel large enough to hold a person (Zechariah 5:6-10), and was used for measuring cereals. The bath was used for measuring liquids. The latter two were to be equivalent measures, one tenth of a homer.
The sixty shekels to a maneh was in accordance with usage in Babylonia. There is evidence of a fifty shekel maneh in pre-exilic times (compare Genesis 23:15; Exo 30:24 ; 1 Samuel 17:5; Numbers 31:50, which all seem to point to the existence of a fifty shekel maneh) which explains the need for Ezekiel’s detailed explanation.
The Oblations to be Paid to the Prince To Enable Him To Make The Necessary Sacrificial Offerings For The People (Ezekiel 45:13-16 ).
“This is the oblation that you shall offer, the sixth part of an ephah from a homer of wheat, and you shall give the sixth part of an ephah from a homer of barley, and the set portion of oil, of the bath of oil, shall be the tenth part of a bath out of the cor, which is ten baths, that is a homer, for ten baths are a homer. And one lamb of the flock out of two hundred, from the well watered pastures of Israel, for a meal offering, and for a whole (burnt) offering, and for peace offerings, to make atonement for them,” says the Lord Yahweh. “All the people of the land shall contribute to this oblation for the prince of Israel.”
In response to his activity in ensuring fair justice and trading the prince will receive a reasonable level of oblations. This will be composed of reasonable proportions of what is produced in the land. The purpose behind these will be to provide a set proportion of produce for the necessary sacrificial offerings, including meal offerings, whole (burnt) offerings and peace offerings for the purpose of making atonement for the people. For it will the prince’s responsibility to ensure the spiritual well-being of his people. Once again it is difficult to square this with ‘memorial’ offerings. These are required offerings in order to make atonement and cover the people’s sins before God.
The required oblation by the people to the prince was thus one-sixtieth of all grain produce, one hundredth of all oil produce, and one out of two hundred clean domestic animals.
The Prince To Be Responsible To Ensure that the Offerings Are Offered.
“And it shall be the prince’s part to give the whole burnt offerings, and the meal offerings, and the libations (drink or oil offerings), in the feasts and in the new moons and in the sabbaths, in all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will prepare the sin offering, and the meal offering, and the whole burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make atonement for the house of Israel.”
The prince’s sacred duty is to ensure that the full basic sacrificial requirements for the people are carried out throughout the year at Israel’s wide-ranging feasts, including the new moons and sabbaths. This was probably ever seen as the Davidic kings’ duty, even though many of them did not fulfil it satisfactorily. This was why they were seen as priests after the order of Melchizedek (Psalms 110:4). This title had arisen because Jerusalem was the city of David and they had therefore inherited the royal priesthood of the city, named after its early priest king Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18). But as only the Levitical priests could actually offer these sacrifices and present them before Yahweh under the covenant, the duty of the prince/king was seemingly to ensure their provision, allocation and preparation ready for the sacrificial act. This is now dealt with in more detail.
The Prince’s Sacral Responsibilities (Ezekiel 45:17-25 ).
Ezekiel was aware what the limited role of the Prince would initially be on their return to the land. The land would be ruled by governors appointed by Persia, and the Prince could only therefore have a limited local role. But with regard to the cult he had full freedom under God. There he could express his authority without stirring trouble or being seen as a revolutionary. And it was to be his central purpose. What mattered above all was the relationship His people had with God.
The Prince’s Responsibility For Cleansing the Sanctuary and The People at the New Year.
‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “In the first month, on the first day of the month, you will take a young bullock without blemish, and you will cleanse the sanctuary. And the priest will take of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the house, and on the four corners of the settle of the altar, and on the posts of the gate of the inner court. And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one who errs and for every one who is ignorant. So shall you make atonement for the house.” ’
The first responsibility of the prince is to ensure the fitness for worship of the earthly sanctuary. Each new year’s day, that is of the ancient religious new year commencing around March/April at the new moon, this had to be cleansed by the sin offering of a young bullock without blemish on the first and seventh day. The priest would then take the blood of the bullock and put it on the doorposts of the house, that is of the sanctuary where the offering was made, and on the four corners of the settle of the altar (compare Ezekiel 43:20) on which the offering was offered, and on the posts of the gate of the inner court. This would cleanse the sanctuary for another year. That there would be such a sanctuary was clear from the building of the altar under Yahweh’s instructions (Ezekiel 43:18).
‘And so shall you do on the seventh day of the month for every one who errs and for every one who is ignorant.’ As with the cleansing of the altar (Ezekiel 43:26) this cleansing required a seven day period, although in this case not specifically daily. The sin offering, probably in both cases, was for sins of error (Leviticus 4:2; Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22; Leviticus 4:27; Numbers 15:22-29) and sins of ignorance (Leviticus 5:17) for the whole people. Both are in contrast with ‘sins with a high hand’ (Numbers 15:30). This was seemingly an innovation, a further reminder of their continual need to be cleansed from sin. It would be a constant reminder in the future of how Israel had previously failed in their history to learn the lesson of the New Year sacrifice.
The Prince’s Responsibility for the Passover and The Feast of Tabernacles.
What is described clearly abbreviates ancient ceremonies already known, the full details of which did not need to be described. The point being made here is the Prince’s responsibility for them. The Passover lambs themselves would be eaten in their houses, but what is described here are the major sacrifices on behalf of the people.
“In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the passover, a feast of seven days. Unleavened bread shall be eaten. And on that day the prince will prepare for himself, and for all the people of the land, a bullock for a sin offering. And for the seven days he shall prepare a whole burnt offering to Yahweh, seven bullocks and seven rams without blemish daily the seven days. And a he-goat daily for a sin offering. And he shall prepare a meal offering, an ephah for a bullock and an ephah for a ram, and a hin of oil to an ephah.”
The Passover celebrated the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12-13). It was thus a suitable feast to emphasise once the New Exodus had taken place. Here again was deliverance from a far country. From now on Passover (including the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread) would celebrate two deliverances. Note how Passover and Unleavened Bread are seen as one feast. Compare 2 Chronicles 30:1-27; 2 Chronicles 35:1-19. The public celebration of Passover in style appears regularly to have been the sign of a new beginning, as the people were reminded of what their covenant God had done for them.
There was to be a daily sin offering throughout the feast to deal with the sins of the people, thus seven in all, and twice sevenfold whole burnt offerings offered in worship and praise and dedication daily, a sweet savour to Yahweh (Genesis 8:20-21; Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13), although these also included an atoning factor. Whole burnt offerings (literally ‘that which goes up’) were a very ancient form of sacrifice, offered long before the deliverance from Egypt (Genesis 8:20-21; Genesis 22:2). The whole of the offering was consumed by fire. Along with the whole burnt offerings a meal offering was offered.
“In the seventh month, on the fifteenth day of the month, during the feast he will do the like for seven days, with regard to the sin offering, with regard to the whole burnt offering, with regard to the meal offering and with regard to the oil.”
In the seventh month, the agricultural new year, at the feast of tabernacles, the same process would be repeated.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 45". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany