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THE VISION OF THE RESTORED TEMPLE AND THE REINHABITED LAND (Chaps. 40–48)
This is a development of the promise contained in Ezekiel 37:27. The subject of the closing chapters of Ezekiel is the restitution of the kingdom of God. This is expressed by a vision in which are displayed not only a rebuilt Temple, but also by a reformed priesthood, reorganised services, a restored monarchy, a reapportioned territory, a renewed people, and, as a consequence, the diffusion of fertility and plenty over the whole earth. The return from Babylon was indeed the beginning of this work, but only a beginning, introductory to the future kingdom of God, first upon earth, finally in heaven. The vision must therefore be viewed as strictly symbolical, the symbols employed being the Mosaic ordinances. These ordinances had indeed in themselves a hidden meaning. The Tabernacle in the midst of the tents of the tribes, and afterwards the Temple in the capital of the land of inheritance, was intended to signify the dwelling of Jehovah among His people; the priesthood was to denote the mediation between God and man; the monarchy the sovereignty of God, the people the saints of God, the territory their inheritance. So that the symbols here employed have an essential propriety; yet they are truly symbols, and as such they are to be regarded.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
THE RELATION OF PRINCE AND PRIESTS TO THE TEMPLE (Chap. 44)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 44:1. “The gate of the outward sanctuary”—the court of the priests as distinguished from the Temple itself. “This gate shall be shut”—shut to the people, but opened on certain days for the prince (chap. Ezekiel 46:1), he holding the place of God in political concerns, as the priests do in spiritual. Only a prince of the House of David might sit down in the priests’ court. As a mark of respect to an Eastern monarch, the gate by which he enters is thenceforth shut to all other persons.
Ezekiel 44:3. “It is for the prince.” The Rabbis understood this to be the Messiah; but this cannot be, as He would not be likely to offer a burnt-offering as the prince was required to do (chap. Ezekiel 46:4). The prince must mean the civil ruler under Messiah: he represents Messiah, who entered heaven, the true Sanctuary, by a way that none other could. “Because the Lord nata entered in by it.” “How glorious must the entering Lord be when the prince cannot be more highly honoured than by a place in the gate by which He entered!”—Hengstenberg. “To eat bread before the Lord”—a custom connected with sacrifices (Genesis 31:54; Exodus 18:12; Exodus 24:11; 1 Corinthians 10:18). According to the old law, these feasts belonged only to the priests; none of the rest of the congregation, not even the king, might partake of them: the new system gives to the prince a privilege which he did not before possess, he standing, as the representative of Messiah, in a higher position than the kings of old.
Ezekiel 44:6. “The rebellious house of Israel.” The sins of the priesthood acted and reacted on one another: like priest, like people; and like people, like priest (Jeremiah 5:31; Hosea 4:9). God expostulates with His people in the seat of their former iniquity (Ezekiel 44:4; chap. Ezekiel 8:3).
Ezekiel 44:7. “Strangers.” Here the people are taught that unfaithful priests uncircumcised in heart (Acts 7:51), though of the true lineage, are regarded as strangers.
Ezekiel 44:8. “Ye have set keepers”—according to your own pleasure, not My ordinances (Numbers 16:40; 1 Kings 12:31).
Ezekiel 44:10. “The Levites that are gone away far from Me.” The Levites as a body had remained true to the Temple-service at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 11:13). But individuals among them deserted to Israel. These apostate Levites shall bear their iniquities; they shall not be restored to their former rank and privileges.
Ezekiel 44:11. “Yet they shall be ministers”—servants performing menial offices for the ministering priests—acting as porters, helping in the slaughter of the victims, but not as sacrificing priests. They shall not be excluded from all service in the Sanctuary, but degraded from the functions of priests to those of simple Levites. One may be a believer, and that, too, in a distinguished place, and yet lose some special honour—be acknowledged as pious, yet be excluded from some dignity. “Having charge at the gates.” Though standing as mere doorkeepers, it is in the house of God which hath foundations; whereas they who dwell with the wicked dwell in but shifting tents (Psalms 84:10).
Ezekiel 44:15. “The priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok.” The priests of the line of Ithamar were to be discharged from ministrations in the Temple because of their corruptions. Zadok, according to his name, which means righteous, and his line were to succeed, as they did not take part in the general apostasy to the same degree (1 Kings 2:35; 1 Chronicles 24:3). It indicated a race of faithful and devoted servants—a priesthood serving God in newness of spirit, not in the oldness of the letter, as the people whom they represented should also have become true Israelites, themselves a royal priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices to the Lord.
Ezekiel 44:17. “Clothed with linen garments.” Four vestments were worn by the ordinary priest—the linen breeches, the coat, the girdle, and the bonnet. The material of which they were made was linen, or, more accurately, byssus, the white shining cotton stuff of Egypt. These two qualities of the byssus are specially marked as characteristic, being symbolical of purity.
Ezekiel 44:20. “Neither shall they shave their heads”—as mourners used to do, and as the Levitical priests were forbidden to do (Leviticus 21:1-5). The worshippers of the Egyptian idols Serapis and Isis shaved their heads—another reason why the priests of Jehovah are not to do so. “Nor suffer their locks to grow long”—as the luxurious, the barbarians, and soldier in warfare did.
Ezekiel 44:21. “Neither shall any priest drink wine”—lest the holy enthusiasm of their devotion should be mistaken for inebriation, as in Peter’s case (Acts 2:13; Acts 2:15; Acts 2:18).
Ezekiel 44:23. “And they shall teach”—to spread out the hand, for example, to point to something, to teach. The priestly service is to comprehend worship and doctrine, representation of the people before God, and representation of God before the people—everything with an eye to sanctification.
Ezekiel 44:24. “They shall stand in judgment.” There was in the second Temple a council of priests whose special duty it was to regulate everything connected with the Sanctuary.
Ezekiel 44:28. “It shall be unto them for an inheritance.” The remains of the sacrifices were a chief source of the priests’ support. “I am their inheritance—possession”—something which one grasps and retains. Jehovah is the all-sufficing possession of His servants (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 18:1).
Ezekiel 44:30. “And every oblation”—offering, or heave-offering, whatever is according to precept, or of free will, lifted up for Jehovah as a consecrated gilt to the Sanctuary. “That he may cause the blessing to rest in thine house.” The heaving and waving of the offering involved the thought that in consequence of such gifts to the priest the blessing of God is brought down on the individual house.
Ezekiel 44:31. “That priest shall not eat of anything that is dead of itself, or torn.” This was defiling for any man (Leviticus 17:15); how much more so for the priests of Jehovah! (Leviticus 22:8). Thus was the idea of holiness strictly enforced.
THE DIGNITY OF THE CIVIL RULES
I. Arises from the exalted character of His regal functions. The king is the human representative of Divine justice, both in its administration and maintenance; he is God’s vicegerent and deputy. The word that describes his office indicates his power—King, Könning, Able-man. He is the summary of all that is great and noble in man. “Priest, teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do.” He is a leader and guide of men, and must be lifted far beyond the suspicion of selfishness and partiality. He must rule in equity and righteousness, with an ear deaf to the flattery of the rich, and a hand ever ready to help the oppressed and poor. He must defend virtue among the weakest, and punish iniquity among the strongest. Every brave and honest endeavour to act the king adds new lustre to the dignity of the office. The king, like every other true man, is not above acting upon the advice—
“This above all: To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the light the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
II. Distinguished by privileged access to the Divine Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-3). The east gate, through which the glory of the Lord entered the Temple, was to be shut, to be a perpetual reminder of that signal honour paid to the building, and to induce a profound reverence for the Divine majesty. But the prince was permitted to enter the porch of that gate to indicate that his office brought him into nearer contact with God, and to give weight and authority to all his royal proceedings. It is necessary to surround and support the throne with the sanctions of Divine privilege in order to keep up the king to the loftiest standard of right and to give force to every act of justice in the kingly administration.
III. Maintained by spiritual communion and fellowship with the Divine Ruler. “He shall eat before the Lord” (Ezekiel 44:3). The prince is permitted to enter the porch of the east gate that he may worship God. It is thus he is constantly reminded of his high duty and receives moral strength to act in harmony with the Divine standard. The higher we rise in the social scale the greater are our responsibilities, and the more need is there to seek Divine help to be faithful and true. The loftiest function of the king is to be the patron and protector of religion. He must seek power for his work at the same source to which the humblest believer is invited—in communion with God. The soul finds its greatest blessings in intense fellowship with the highest. Augustine once beautifully said, “Thou mayest seek after honours and not obtain them; thou mayest labour after riches and yet remain poor; thou mayest doat on pleasures and have many sorrows. But our God, of His supreme goodness, says, ‘Whoever sought Me and found Me not? Whoever desired Me and obtained Me not? Whoever loved Me and missed Me? I am with him that seeks Me. He hath Me already that wishes for Me; and he that loveth Me is sure of My love.’ ” Fellowship with God is the secret of power to govern righteously and to labour with pleasure and success.
1. The kingly office has grave responsibilities.
2. The highest honour of the king is to be the faithful servant of God.
3. The king must seek Divine grace to fulfil the duties of his office.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ezekiel 44:1-3. “The spiritual truth to be learned here is, that our Messiah entered heaven, the true Sanctuary, by a way that none other could, on the ground of His own perfect holiness (Romans 1:4): all we must enter as sinners saved by grace. Through Him alone believers eat before the Lord in the communion of the Holy Supper, and shall hereafter experimentally realise that scripture, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 14:15).”—Fausset.
Ezekiel 44:1. “And it was shut.” The Glories of Heaven—
1. Are Divinely secured.
2. Are open to all penitent seekers.
3. Are inaccessible to the unbelieving.
—“Our heart too should be shut to the world and the devil when once the holy God has entered into it and His glory has swallowed up sin and misery in us. Alas! if the door of heaven should be shut!”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:3. “What could this import but that the prince should feel he now occupied a place of peculiar nearness to God? As God’s vicegerent and deputy among the people, it became him to be the most distinguished representative in public life of God’s holiness; to tread the higher walks of spiritual communion with heaven, and stand pre-eminent in his zeal for the interests of truth and righteousness. Far now from usurping the authority that belonged to God and abusing it to selfish ends, all authority and power in Israel should be exercised—if this Divine ideal were reduced to practice—in a solemn feeling of subordination to God’s majesty and with an unfeigned desire for His glory.”—Fairbairn.
—The Kingly Office—
1. Enjoys distinguished privileges.
2. Involves much anxious thought and onerous toil.
3. Needs the help of an earnest, practical piety.
—“The Christian ruler ought to be the Christian pattern of his people. He is not to preach, just as it is not his office to offer sacrifice; but he is to nourish and protect the Church and avow its faith. He ought to have a good conscience and joy before the Lord because of his princely office, which does not merely consist in this, that we live in peace and quiet under his sceptre, but also that the people may hear the Word of God and without fear offer to Him the sacrifices of their worship”—Lange.
A HOLY PRIESTHOOD
I. Urged to fidelity by admonitions of former neglect.
1. Reminded of the lofty standard of Temple-service (Ezekiel 44:4-5). Having seen the exalted position of the prince, the prophet is shown the character of the priesthood which is to minister in the glorious Temple. A vision of the Divine glory filling the house is again flashed upon him, and he is earnestly called upon to observe with special care the ordinances and laws of the priesthood and every minute detail of the Temple-ritual. The supreme holiness of Jehovah and the manifested splendour of His majesty demand a worship of the highest and purest order. He can be ministered unto acceptably only by a holy priesthood. The object of worship reacts upon the worshipper; and our conceptions of God must necessarily affect and mould the character of the worship we offer to Him. Our souls should be continually straining after enlarged views of God, that our worship may be intelligent, reverent, and holy.
2. The apostasy of priests and people is a desecration of the Temple (Ezekiel 44:6-10). Priests and people had been unfaithful to covenant engagements and rebelled against the Divine laws. The corruption of the one class reacted upon the other, and their conjoint abominations polluted the holy Sanctuary. The old adage, “Like priest, like people,” is not less true than “Like people, like priest.” The priesthood is bound by its calling always to be ahead of the people in teaching and morality.
3. Unfaithful priests are deposed from the highest service (Ezekiel 44:11-14). The Levites who were carried away with the idolatrous tendency of the times are degraded in their status. Yet their punishment is mixed with mercy. They were not utterly excluded from the Temple. While they were not allowed to take part in the more privileged acts of worship, they were permitted to perform inferior and menial duties. The goodness of God ever provides a way of recovery for the erring; and the humblest place in His Temple is a post of honour that should be appreciated the more it is undeserved.
II. Composed of those who have been faithful in time of trial (Ezekiel 44:15-16). Amid the general defection the descendants of Zadok maintained their integrity, and they are promoted to honour; they become a type of the holy priesthood which is to occupy the highest place in the newly constituted Temple of the future. Trial is the test of character, and every resistance to evil is a strengthening of the moral fibre. The men who are to-day wielding the mightiest influence for good in Church and State are those who, in the midst of obscurity and misrepresentation, have remained true to their conscience and their God. As gold shines the brighter when submitted to the fiercest fire, so religious principle glows with a diviner lustre the more it is tried. Trial is the pathway to honour and fame.
III. Must observe the Divinely sanctioned laws of purity (Ezekiel 44:17-27). The minute directions here given concerning the vestments and habits of the priests have a distinctly moral significance. They must wear linen garments, emblems of cleanliness and purity; they must not shave their heads—as mourners did—nor let their hair grow uncut—as persons unfit for active service—nor drink wine when engaged in Temple-service—lest they should be unfit for high spiritual emotions—nor do anything which under the outward restrictions of a symbolic ritual betokened a want of inward purity. The holiness that pervades the house of God must pervade the hearts and lives of those who are called to minister in its hallowed services. The spirit in which the holiest acts are done is a sample and pattern of the spirit in which every duty should be done (Luke 22:19; comp. Colossians 3:17).
IV. Assured of adequate maintenance (Ezekiel 44:28-31). God takes care to make ample provision for those who work for Him. What they may lack in worldly affluence He makes up to them in the satisfying comfort of His presence and in the riches of His grace. Poverty has its temptations and anxieties, but it is powerless to harm the soul that has its inheritance in God. Let body and soul be wholly devoted to the service of God, and He will not fail to furnish all necessary supplies (Psalms 37:3).
1. Priestly sins are aggravated because of the privileges and opportunities of the priestly office.
2. Priestly duties demand the loftiest purity.
3. The priest is a power for good only as he is faithful to the Divine law.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ezekiel 44:4-31. “All who are engaged in the ministry should be blameless, sound in the faith, full of good works, exemplary in their lives, walking humbly before God and circumspectly in the sight of men. They should be especially careful in forming connections, and prudent in the management of their families, observing and teaching others to keep the statutes of the Lord. They should delight in every part of their sacred service, yet do all in humble reliance on Christ. Their wants should be supplied, so that they may not be obliged” to involve themselves in worldly cares and employments for a maintenance.”—Henry and Scott.
Ezekiel 44:4-5. Divine Revelations—
1. Should be seen from different points of view. “Then brought he me the way of the north gate before the house” (Ezekiel 44:4).
2. Overpower the earnest student with their splendour. “I looked, and behold the glory filled the house, and I fell upon my face” (Ezekiel 44:4).
3. Boldly challenge the most minute and careful investigation. “Mark well all the ordinances, the entering in and every going forth of the sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:5).
Ezekiel 44:4. “God reveals His glory to His servants, especially when He calls on them to make known His will to His people (Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11).”
Ezekiel 44:5. “Divine things are not to be drowsily listened to or drowsily engaged in. In everything there must be heart—in seeing, in hearing, in doing.—The goings in and out of the Sanctuary a solemn consideration for every one, but especially for those who keep the charge of the Sanctuary, whatever their rank in the service.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:6-14. God’s Treatment of Rebels.
1. Their sins are accurately recorded—rebellion (Ezekiel 44:6), abominations (Ezekiel 44:6-7), polluting the Sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:7), idolatry (Ezekiel 44:12), breaking of covenant (Ezekiel 44:7), neglect of duty (Ezekiel 44:8).
2. They are faithfully reproved (Ezekiel 44:6-13).
3. They are made conscious of their evil doings. “They shall bear their iniquity” (Ezekiel 44:10; Ezekiel 44:12).
4. They suffer official degradartion (Ezekiel 44:11; Ezekiel 44:14).
Ezekiel 44:7. “The voice of the people, the choice of the people, is not God’s voice, God’s choice, but frequently God’s judgment to the full.—Self-chosen Divine service is an abomina to the Lord.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:8; Ezekiel 44:14. “Ye have not kept the charge. But I will make them keepers of the charge.” The Divine Mercy—
1. Takes note of every act of unfaithfulness.
2. Does not fail to administer faithful reproof.
3. Does not utterly abandon the transgressor.
4. Is ever ready to restore the penitent.
Ezekiel 44:8. “What general can employ a soldier who is everything else, but no soldier?”
Ezekiel 44:9. “It is a token of the greatest decline of the Church when the wicked and manifest hypocrites are not only not expelled, but go freely in and out, and even have the ruling power.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:10. “Where there are ungodly teachers there is no want of ungodly hearers (Jeremiah 5:31). Degraded priests a mirror for pastors.”—Starke.
Ezekiel 44:11. “Even in the performance of subordinate service, where one originally stood higher, the grace of God may be with us, provided we let God’s humbling of us issue in conversion of heart and look upon the punishment as a righteous recompense. It is not at all necessary that we should, as the world calls it, make a successful career in the clerical profession.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:12. “The sins of the preacher in their consequences as regards the life of the community.”
Ezekiel 44:13. “How great then was the love of the Lord Jesus to Peter and the rest of His disciples after His resurrection, as in sending them that sweet message (Mark 16:7), so in readmitting them to the work of the ministry after so foul a revolt! (John 20:21-23). And doth He not the very same still for His poor sinful servants who desire indeed to fear His name, but are oft overtaken in a fault through infirmity of the flesh?”—Trapp.
—“Let us beware of losing precious opportunities wherein we may have the honour of doing great things for God, such as Mark lost in leaving Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia, and in not going forward to the glorious work through love of ease or fear of man; and such as the disciples lost in not affording Jesus at His request the sympathy of their prayers and tears, through drowsiness, in Gethsemane.”—Fausset.
—“The ignominy of failure in ministerial life: personal access to God is hindered, and the office becomes a torment.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:15-16. Fidelity in God’s Service—
1. Commendable in times of general backsliding.
2. Attracts the Divine notice and approval.
3. Rewarded with special honour and blessing.
1. The Lord takes notice of those who serve in His house, who are false and who are faithful in corrupt and apostatising times.
2. God takes pleasure in and honours those who are faithful and constant in His service.”—Greenhill.
—“The promise of a priesthood of the house of Zadok entirely corresponded to the promise of a shepherd with the name of David. It is the raising up of a people who should be themselves such a priesthood, and the sons of Zadok came into notice only because in connection with them there was an historical ground for taking them as representatives of a right-hearted spiritual community. All was to rise into a new and higher sphere, first the Kingdom of God itself, and then the people who enjoyed its distinctive privileges and experienced its blessings.”—Fairbairn.
Ezekiel 44:16. “The precepts according to the law should remind us that preachers particularly run within lists, as Paul writes of the Christians. What is fitting for any one else may yet be far from seemly in a preacher.—But it is just those who take things easy that speak most of their severe toil and the heavy labour they have to Undergo.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:17. “The reason is plain; wool is more apt than linen to contract dirt and breed insects; linen breeds none: besides, this is a vegetable and the other an animal substance. It was an ancient maxim that whatever was taken from a dead body was impure in matters of religion, and should not be permitted to enter into the Temple. The Egyptian priests always wore linen on their bodies and shoes of matting or rushes on their feet. The Mohammedans never write the Koran upon vellum or skin of any kind, as they would consider that as a defilement.”—A. Clarke.
Ezekiel 44:17-24. “The various precepts respecting the purifications and the dress of the priests strikingly impress our minds with the great sanctity which God attaches to the ministry. The bodies of ministers must be preserved in sanctification and in honour. He who does the work and delivers the Word of God must habitually live the servant and friend of God. Nothing in his person, in his food, in his dress, or in his conduct must revolt the faithful against the Word and ordinances of the Lord. On the contrary, all about the priest must be inviting and calculated to recommend religion by a cloud of virtues and engaging qualities. If religion do not make ministers holy and happy, what hope can remain for the people?”—Sutcliffe.
Ezekiel 44:19. “He who ministers at the Sanctuary must never seem profane, nor a fop in his attire, nor comic in his speech, nor a man of the world in his transactions. He may seem ridiculous to the world, only never conformed to the world.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:20. “Seemly, but not remarkable either in defect or excess.—Men of extremes are unfit for the holy ministry.”
Ezekiel 44:23-24. Ministerial Duty—
1. To point out the clear distinction between the false and the true. “They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern” (Ezekiel 44:23).
2. To be just and impartial in controversy. “They shall judge according to My judgments” (Ezekiel 44:24).
3. To observe and enforce obedience to the Divine laws. “They shall keep My laws and statutes and hallow My Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 44:24).
Ezekiel 44:23. “As their life, so, above all, their teaching ought to preserve the people from defilement and train them to purity.”
Ezekiel 44:24. “The obligation to hallow the Sabbaths of the Lord is not done away with by the advent of Messiah; for here, in a passage which, in any fair interpretation, can only apply to Christian times, this obligation is expressly insisted on.”—Fausset.
—“God’s word is God’s judgment, the righteous Judge, right law and upright judgment.—The servant of God as umpire in disputes. He must not be a party man, but stands over the parties.”—Lange.
Ezekiel 44:25. “They who are the messengers, heralds, and representatives of an eternal life shall neither have their serenity disturbed by the death of believers, which is no death, nor their pure life defiled by the life of the spiritually dead, which is no life.—We too are allowed to wipe our eyes, as God wipes away every tear from the eyes of His saints.”
Ezekiel 44:28. God the Heritage of the Good—
1. Ensuring all necessary temporal good.
2. Supplying all sufficing spiritual blessing.
3. Cures all anxiety as to present and future maintenance.
—“All who have first the Kingdom of God for their possession are also truly priests. God feeds them wholly on what is hallowed, and he who will have a blessing in his house must evince love to them.”—Diedrich.
Ezekiel 44:30. “That he may cause the blessing to rest in thine house.” Ministerial Maintenance a Source of Family Blessing—
1. As it is liberally devised.
2. As it is cheerfully bestowed.
3. As it is gratefully appreciated.
—“It is all in all to the comfort of any house to have the blessing of God upon it, and that blessing to rest in it; to dwell where we dwell and to extend to those who shall come after us. And the way to have the blessing of God upon our estates is to honour God with them, and to give Him and His ministers, Him and His poor, their share out of them. God blesses, He surely blesses the habitation of those who are thus just (Proverbs 3:33); and ministers, by instructing and praying for the families that are kind to them, should do their part towards causing God’s blessing to rest there.”—Benson.
Ezekiel 44:31. “In God’s service there is no filthy lucre. The Lord purifies everything for them who eat with Him.”—Diedrich.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26