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The prophet, having finished his account of the temple, or place of worship, proceeds, in the second section of his vision (Ezekiel 44-46.), to set forth the culture, or ritual, to be performed in the temple; treating first of the several classes in the new community, and of their relation to the sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:1-31.); next of the regulations to be observed in the maintenance of worship (Ezekiel 45:1-25.); and, thirdly, of certain supplementary orders for the prince, the people, and the priests, when engaged in the solemnities of their religion (Ezekiel 46:1-24.). In particular, the present chapter deals
(1) with the relation of the prince to the sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:1-3);
(2) with that of the people, Levites, and priests (Ezekiel 44:4-16); and
(3) with the duties and emoluments of the priests (Ezekiel 44:17-31).
The relation of the prince to the sanctuary.
The gate of the outward sanctuary, the outer gate of the sanctuary (Revised Version)—which looketh toward the east. To this door the prophet was conducted back, by way of the inner north or south gate, from the inner court, in which he had received the measurements of the altar and the instructions for its consecration (Ezekiel 43:5). Whether Ezekiel stood upon the outside of this door as in Ezekiel 43:1, or upon its inside, cannot as yet be determined; but in either ease he observed that it was shut—again, whether on the east side towards the temple precincts, or on the west towards the outer court, is not mentioned, and cannot at this stage be decided. What led the seer to notice that the gate was closed was probably the circumstance that the last time he stood beside it it was open (Ezekiel 43:1), though proof cannot be given that he passed through it (Ezekiel 43:5), conjoined with the fact that it formed the principal entrance to the temple, and as such had been described to him and measured (Ezekiel 40:6).
This gate shall be shut, The prophet must have noted this as an important difference between the new sanctuary and the old (whether temple or tabernacle), in which the east gate stood always open. That the gate of the new temple was to be closed only on the six working days Ewald mistakenly infers from Ezekiel 46:1, where he reads, after the LXX; the outer instead of the inner court. But Ezekiel 46:1 refers to the east gate of the inner court. Of the east gate of the outer court it is declared emphatically that it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it, meaning that it should be closed in perpetuity; and that not, as Abar-banel and Lightfoot have supposed, to express the idea that the glory of Jehovah should no more depart from the temple, but abide in it forever, but to inspire an exalted conception of the sanctity of the "house" and all its belongings, as Jehovah explained, Because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.
It is for the prince conveys an erroneous impression, as if the edict, excluding all from passing through the east outer gate, did not apply to the prince; but even for him the gate was not to serve as a mode of entrance into the temple, or, if so, only on exceptional occasions (see on Ezekiel 46:2), but merely as a place to sit in. The Revised Version accurately renders the words, As for the prince, he shall sit therein as prince, etc. That the "prince" here alluded to (הַגָּשִׂיא) could not have been the Prince David, i.e. the Messiah already spoken of (Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24; Ezekiel 37:24), but must have denoted the civic authorities of the new community of Israel, "the civil head of the theocracy," Havernick infers from Ezekiel 45:8, Ezekiel 45:9, where the coming "prince" is contrasted with Israel's previous rulers who oppressed their subjects, from the absence of some such characteristic predicate as "shepherd" or "king," which would, he thinks, have been attached to the word "prince" had it been intended to designate Messiah, from the prince's offering for himself a sin offering (Ezekiel 45:22), from the allusion to his sons (Ezekiel 46:16), and from what is recorded about his behavior in worship (Ezekiel 46:2); but none of these statements concerning the "prince' forbids his identification with Messiah, unless on the supposition that it was already understood Messiah should be a Divine-human Personage. This, however, had not then been so distinctly revealed as to be widely and accurately known. Hence it seems enough to say that while the "prince" would have his highest antitype in the Messiah, he would also have, though in a lower and lesser degree, an antitype in every righteous ruler (if ever there should be such) who might subsequently preside over Israel (see on Ezekiel 37:25). The phrase, to eat bread before the Lord, while referring in the first instance to those sacrificial meals which, under the Law, commonly accompanied unbloody offerings, as the meat offerings (Le Ezekiel 2:3), the showbread (Le Ezekiel 24:9), and the unleavened leaves of the Passover (Exodus 12:18; Leviticus 23:6 Numbers 28:17; Deuteronomy 16:3), and could only be partaken of by the priests, in the second instance signified to partake of sacrificial meals in general, even of such as consisted of the portions of flesh which were eaten in connection with ordinary bloody offerings (Genesis 31:54; Exodus 18:12). If, after Kliefoth, the former be adopted as the import of the phrase here, then the thought will be that in the new cultus the prince should enjoy a privilege which under the old was not possessed even by the king; if, after Keil, the second view be preferred, the sense will amount to this, that under the regulations of the future the prince should have the favor accorded him "of holding his sacrificial meals in the gate," whereas the people should only be permitted to hold theirs "in the court," or "in the vicinity of the sacrificial kitchens." The way of the porch is mentioned as the ingress and egress for the prince; which implies that he should obtain access to the outer court by either the north or the south gate, since the outer door of the east gate was shut. This renders it probable that Ezekiel was himself standing on the outside of the east gate (see on verse 1).
The relations of the people, Levites, and priests to the sanctuary.
From the outside of the east gate of the outer court the prophet was brought the way of the north gate, but whether of the outer or of the inner is uncertain, and set down before the house. On the ground that the prophet at his new station was in front of the temple, Hitzig, Keil, and others decide for the north gate of the inner court; whereas Kliefoth, looking to the circumstance that the first communications made to the prophet at his new post concerned "the entering in of the house," and "the going forth of the sanctuary," prefers the north gate of the outer court. But at whichever of the gates the prophet was set down he perceived a second time (comp. Ezekiel 43:5) that the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord, and this, perhaps, should cast the balance in favor of the inner court entrance, from which the interior of the "house" could be more easily
Having fallen on his face before the renewed theophany, the prophet was summoned as once before (Ezekiel 40:4), but with greater emphasis than before, to mark well, or set his heart to observe, the communications about to be made to him concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and. all the laws thereof (see on Ezekiel 43:11), more especially with regard to the persons who should have a right to participate in its services.
Let it suffice you of all your abominations. It was not without sights canoe that at the north gate, which had formerly been represented as the scene of Israel's idolatries (Ezekiel 8:5), the prophet should be reminded of those past iniquities of his nation, and receive instructions as to how the new community should be preserved from lapsing into similar transgressions.
The special sin chargeable against Israel in the past had been the introduction into the sanctuary, while the priests were engaged in sacrifice, of strangers—aliens (Revised Version); literally, sons of a stranger—uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, in express contravention of Jehovah's covenant. Ewald, Havernick, Hengstenberg, Schroder, and Currey restrict the designation "strangers" to unfaithful and unauthorized priests, who, as in the days of Israel's apostasy, notoriously under Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:31; 2 Chronicles 11:15), may, in the confluence of idolatries that took place in Jerusalem during the reigns of Ahaz (2Ki 16:3, 2 Kings 16:4, 2 Kings 16:10-15; 2 Chronicles 28:2-4, 2 Chronicles 28:23-25) and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2-7, 2 Kings 21:11, 2 Kings 21:15; 2 Chronicles 33:2-7), have been admitted to participate in the temple services; but Kliefoth, Delitzsch, Keil, Smend, and Plumptre, with better judgment, recognize in the "strangers" foreigners who had not incorporated themselves with Israel by submitting to circumcision, but, though dwelling in the midst of Israel, were still uncircumcised heathen in both heart and flesh. With regard to these foreigners, the Law of Moses (Leviticus 17:8,Leviticus 17:10) enacted that, by accepting circumcision, they might become members of the Israelitish commonwealth, but that without this they could not be permitted to partake of the Passover, the highest symbol of national and religious unity (Exodus 12:48, Exodus 12:49). Nevertheless, it was open to them, on giving a certain measure of obedience to the Law (Exodus 12:19; Exodus 20:10; Le Exodus 17:10, Exodus 17:12; Exodus 18:26; Exodus 20:2; Exodus 24:16, 22), to enter the sanctuary and present all sorts of offerings to Jehovah (Leviticus 17:8; Numbers 15:14, Numbers 15:29) Hence Israel's offence had not been the admission of such "sons of the stranger" into the sanctuary, but the admission of them without insisting on the above specified conditions, in other words, the admission of such as not only lacked the bodily mark of circumcision—which would not have excluded them—but were destitute as well of the first elements of Hebrew piety, i.e. were as uncircumcised in heart as they were in the flesh. The sanctioning of such within the temple courts, while Jehovah's bread, the fat and the blood, was being offered, i.e. while sacrificial worship was being performed, was not simply a desecration of the "house," but was an express violation of the covenant Jehovah had made with Israel with reference to these very "sons of the stranger."
Instead of having exercised a holy solicitude for the purity of the temple and the regularity of its rites, by keeping strict watch over the holy things of Jehovah, the house of Israel had set keepers; literally, had set them, i.e. the uncircumcised "strangers" above referred to, as keepers of Jehovah's charge in his sanctuary for themselves, i.e. to please themselves, irrespective altogether of Jehovah's enactments. From this it has been argued, by Wellhausen, Smend, Driver, and others, that the "strangers" above mentioned had been not only allowed access to the outer court as spectators or as worshippers while the priests were offering sacrifice, but admitted to the inner court as assistants to the priests in their altar duties, that this, the employment of these heathen hierodules, had been the special wickedness of which Israel had been guilty, and that henceforward these "foreign ministers" were to be thrust out from their offices, and their places supplied by the about-to-be-degraded Levites. It is, however, doubtful if the phrase, keepers of my charge in the sanctuary, can be made to signify more than has already been expressed by the clause, "to be in my sanctuary … when ye offer my bread" (Ezekiel 44:7), by which, as Kliefoth and Keil explain, Israel had practically made these strangers "keepers of Jehovah's charge," i.e. observers of the rites of worship prescribed by him, though observers in their way, not in his; if more can be extracted from the words, then the most they can be legitimately made to affirm (as there is no mention of the inner court) is that these "strangers," in addition to obtaining access to the outer court to witness the sacrifices, or perhaps offer such for themselves, had been more or less frequently employed in performing subordinate offices towards the Levites, who were the proper priests' assistants, like the Gibeonites, whom Joshua (Joshua 9:27) made "hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord unto this day," and like the Nethinim, whom, according to Ezra (Ezra 8:20), David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites. (On the phrase, "to keep the charge of Jehovah," as signifying to follow his directions or comply with his prescriptions, see Numbers 9:23.) "In the sanctuary" explains that the prescriptions alluded to were those pertaining to the sanctuary or to the worship of Jehovah.
Accordingly, that no such abuses might creep in to desecrate the temple of the future, a new Torah was promulgated concerning the persons who should have a right to participate in its services. If the "prince" is omitted, the reason probably was that a special section is subsequently devoted to him (Ezekiel 46:1-8).
The ordinance for the people. No stranger (or, alien), uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary. The publication of this edict marked a clear advance upon preceding legislation. The old Torah conceded right of access to a foreigner, though uncircumcised, on certain conditions (Ezekiel 44:7); this new Torah would accord such right of access to a foreigner on no conditions. Even should he be circumcised in the flesh, unless he possessed also that which the bodily mark symbolized, viz. circumcision of heart, he must remain without. Does not this look as if Ezekiel were posterior to the priest-code, rather than vice versa, as Wellhausen contends?
The ordinance for the Levites. According to the so-called priest-code, the Levites were Levi's descendants, who were chosen by Jehovah for service in the tabernacle (Numbers 3:6-13; Numbers 16:9), to minister to the priests when these sacrificed in the tabernacle (Numbers 8:19; Numbers 18:6), and in particular to keep the charge of the tabernacle, i.e. of the house and all its vessels (Numbers 1:53), as distinguished from the charge of the sanctuary and of the altar, which pertained to Aaron and his sons alone as priests (Numbers 18:2-6, Numbers 18:23). The Deuteronomic code, says Wellhausen, was unacquainted with any such distinction between Levites and priests, who, it is alleged, composed one homogeneous body, the tribe of Levi, whose members were equally empowered to officiate at the altar (Deuteronomy 10:8), the lower duties of the tabernacle having been performed by the aforesaid strangers, and the subordination of Levites to priests having first been suggested by Ezekiel, and first formally carried out alter the exile. This theory, however, cannot be admitted as made out in face of
(1) Deuteronomy 18:1-22; which (Deuteronomy 18:1) recognizes "the priests" and" the Levites" as constituting "the whole tribe of Levi," and (Deuteronomy 18:3, Deuteronomy 18:6) distinguishes between "the priest" and "the Levite;"
(2) 2 Samuel 15:24, which associates with Zadok the priest, the Levites as carriers of the ark;
(3) 1 Kings 8:4, in which the same distinction between the two bodies is recognized;
(4) 1 and 2 Chronicles, passim, which attest the existence of priests and Levites as separate temple officials in pre-exilic times; and
(5) Ezra 1:5, 62; Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:10; Ezra 6:20, which show that the distinction, alleged to have been first made by Ezekiel, was well known to the first company of exiles who returned under Zerubbabel to Jerusalem, and was by them traced back to pre-exilic times. The question, therefore, of which Levites Ezekiel speaks in this verse, whether of those whose duties were of a menial order or of those whose functions partook of a priestly character, is not difficult to resolve. It could hardly have been the former, since in verses 11-14 Ezekiel's Levites are represented as about to be degraded by being relegated to inferior tasks than those they had formerly performed; it must have been the latter, because in the present verse they are designated the Levites that are gone away (or, went) far from me, when Israel went astray. Now, Israel's apostasy from Jehovah and declension towards idolatry began with Solomon's unfaithfulness (1 Kings 11:4-8), and continued with greater or less intensity in every subsequent reign till the exile; it certainly cannot be restricted, as Keil and Currey propose, to Jeroboam's conduct in setting up rival sanctuaries in Dan and Bethel, with altars and priests, for the accommodation of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:26-33). Nor is there room for doubting, although historical notices of the fact are not abundant, that in this apostasy the priesthood largely led the way (Jeremiah 26:7, Jer 26:11; 2 Kings 16:11-16; Zephaniah 1:4), becoming priests of the high places, ministering for the people at heathen altars, and so causing them to fall into iniquity (verse 12). Hengstenberg and Plumptre suggest that the reason why these apostate priests are now called Levites was to intimate that they were no more worthy of the priesthood, and were about to be reduced to the lower ministry of the Levites so called. Consequently, under the new Torah, those among the priests (who were also Levites) who had been guilty of this flagrant wickedness (i.e; says Delitzsch, all the Aaronides who were not Zadokitos) would no more, either in themselves or their descendants, be suffered to retain the priestly office, but would be degraded to the status of ordinary Levites, and, like them, should be ministers in Jehovah's sanctuary, having charge—or, oversight (Revised Version)—at the gates of the house, and ministering, to (or, in) the house, i.e. in its courts, serving as keepers of the charge of the house (verse 14), as watchers at the gates of the house (verse 11), as slaughterers of the sacrificial victims (verse 11), but should not, like their brethren who had remained faithful, be allowed to do the office of a priest, i.e. approach the altar to offer sacrifice, or to enter into the holy place (verse 13). In this way they should bear their iniquity (verses 10, 12)—a favorite expression in the middle books of the Pentateuch (Exodus 28:38, Exodus 28:43; Le Exodus 5:1; Exodus 10:17; Exodus 20:19; Numbers 5:31; Numbers 18:1), but never occurring in Deuteronomy, and meaning "to be requited" on account of, and make expiation for, sin and their shame and their abominations, i.e. the shame due to them for their abominations—a specially Ezekelian phrase (comp. Ezekiel 16:52, Ezekiel 16:54; Ezekiel 32:30; Ezekiel 36:7).
Ezekiel 44:15, Ezekiel 44:16
The ordinance for the priests. That Ezekiel derived the phrase, the priests the Levites, from Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 27:9) may be granted without admitting that the Levites were all priests, or that the phrase had other import than that the priests were, as the Deuteronomist says, "sons of Levi" (Deuteronomy 21:5; Deuteronomy 31:9). The priesthood, at its institution, having been entrusted to Aaron and his sons (Exodus 27:20, Exodus 27:21; Exodus 28:1-4; Exodus 29:9, Exodus 29:44; Numbers 3:10; Numbers 16:40; Numbers 18:7; Numbers 25:13), on Aaron's death the high priesthood passed into the hands of Eleazar, his eldest (living) son (Numbers 20:26-28), and after Eleazar's death into those of Phinehas, his eldest son (Numbers 25:11-13). In the last days of the judges, when the ark and tabernacle stood at Shiloh? The high priesthood belonged to Eli, of the line of Ithamar, in which line it continued till the reign of David, when it was held conjointly by Abiathar (called also Ahimelech) of the line of Ithamar, and Zadok of the line of Eleazar (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:4). This arrangement, however, Solomon eventually overturned, by deposing the former for espousing Adonijah's pretensions to the throne (1 Kings 1:7; 1 Kings 2:26), and from that time forward till the exile the high priesthood remained with Zadok and his sons (1 Kings 2:35; 1 Chronicles 29:22). When, therefore, it is announced to Ezekiel that his vision-sanctuary should have as priests the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of Jehovah's sanctuary, when the children of Israel went astray from him; the first question that arises is—To what does this allude? Kliefoth holds it cannot mean that, while Israel as a whole declined into idolatry, the Zadokite priests remained faithful to the worship of Jehovah, because the vision of Judah's idolatries granted to the prophet, in Ezekiel 8:16, revealed quite clearly that the priesthood was as much caught in the national apostasy as were the princes or the people. Nor is the language of the text perfectly satisfied by the view of Havernick, Keil, Delitzsch, and others, that it goes beck to Zadok's fidelity to the throne of David at the time of Absalom's rebellion (2 Samuel 15:24-29), a fidelity exhibited also by Abiathar, or to his adherence to Solomon in preference to Adonijah (1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 1:39), this time without Abiathar's concurrence, rather in the face of his opposition. In neither of these instances was Zadok's fidelity specially directed towards Jehovah's sanctuary, but concerned expressly and exclusively David's throne. Hence the commendation of the Zadokites' fidelity can only signify that, while the priesthood as a body were corrupt like the people, there were among them, as among the people, some who, like Ezekiel, continued steadfast to Jehovah's sanctuary; that these faithful few were Zadokites (see Ezekiel 48:11), and that to these should be entrusted the priesthood in the new sanctuary. But, at this point, a second question starts—Was it intended to declare that the new priesthood should be Zadokites in body, i.e. in respect of lineal descent, or only in soul, i.e. in respect of moral and religious excellence? The former is contended by Kuenen, Wellhausen, Smend, and others, who see in the vision-sanctuary a plan of the second, or post-exilic, temple, and in its ordinances a program for the establishment of the Levitical hierarchy; but this contention shatters itself on the fact that no proof exists either that the second temple was constructed after Ezekiel's as a model, or that those who served in it were exclusively flesh and blood Zadokites. The latter opinion, favored by Kliefoth, appears the more correct, that moral and spiritual resemblance to the sons of Zadok should form the first qualification for the priesthood in this ideal sanctuary of the future (see note at the end of Ezekiel 48:1-35.).
The duties and emoluments of the priests.
Beginning with their attire when engaged in temple service, this verse states, in a general way, that the priests should be clothed with linen garments, as the priests were under the Law (Exodus 28:40-43; Exodus 39:27-29; Le Exodus 6:10), with this difference, that whereas under the Law the terms employed were שֵׁשׁ, the white byssus of Egypt, and בַּד, "fine white linen," here the word is פִּשְׁתֶּה, or "flax"—a difference which assists newer critics to perceive in the so-called priest-code a refinement on Ezekiel, and therefore an evidence that the priest-cede arose later than Ezekiel But if the so-called priest-code had already indicated that the linen for priests' garments should be of the finest quality, Ezekiel may have felt there was no occasion for him to use other than the generic term for "linen," which פִעשׁתֶּה (pishteh) seems to have been (comp. Leviticus 13:47, Leviticus 13:48, Leviticus 13:52, Leviticus 13:59; Deuteronomy 22:11; Jeremiah 13:1). That this was so is suggested by the statement that no wool, צֶמֶר, "perhaps so called from its being shorn off" (Gesenius), should come upon them whiles they ministered in the gates of the inner court, or within the court itself, or the house—the contrast being between what was of vegetable and what was of animal production. The reason for the prohibition of wool is hinted at in verse 18—it was apt to cause sweat, and thus entail impurity; the clean white linen, on the other hand, was designed both for hygienic reasons and as an emblem of purity (comp. Revelation 19:8, Revelation 19:14).
In particular the priests should have linen bonnets upon their heads—literally, linen tires shall be upon their heads—and linen breeches upon their loins. To infer from the use of מִגְבָּעוֹת in Le Ezekiel 8:13 and of פְאֵר here for the head-dress of the priests, that Ezekiel was composed before Leviticus, is not convincing. Smend explains the latter term as the customary headdress of common people, and the former as a specially ornamental tiara or turban. Gesenius reverses this meaning, making the former the ordinary round cap, and the latter a tiara (see for the former, Exodus 28:40; Exodus 29:9; Exodus 39:28; and for the latter, Exodus 39:28; Isaiah 61:10; Ezekiel 24:17, Ezekiel 24:23). In addition, the priests should not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat; literally, should not gird themselves in, or with sweat, which was another way of forbidding them to wear woollen clothing, which might cause them to sweat and so lead to uncleanness.
When the priests retired from the inner court, and before they passed into the outer court to mingle with the people, they were enjoined to lay aside their official robes, depositing them in the holy chambers already described (Ezekiel 42:1-14), and to put on other, i.e. their ordinary, clothes (comp. Le Ezekiel 6:11). The reason for this injunction was that they might not sanctify the people (comp. Ezekiel 46:20) through the people's coming in contact with their garments. These, being in a manner, i.e. ceremonially, holy, would impart to the people a levitical or ritualistic sanctity which would disqualify them, for a time, at least, from attending to the common duties of life, as under the Law those were who touched the sacrificial flesh (Leviticus 6:18, Leviticus 6:27), the altar (Exodus 29:37), and the vessels of the sanctuary (Exodus 30:29).
The next rubric concerned the mode in which the priests should wear their hair. It should neither be shaved nor worn long, thus avoiding excess on either side (compare for the first, Le Ezekiel 21:5; and for the second, Le Ezekiel 10:6; Ezekiel 21:10, Revised Version), but should merely be polled. The obligation to let the hair grow freely was imposed upon the Nazarite only during the period of his vow (Numbers 6:5). The verb "to poll," or "cut" (כָּסַם), occurs nowhere else. Smend thinks what is hero denied to the priests collectively is in the priest-code denied solely to the high priest (Le Ezekiel 21:10, Revised Version; compare, however, Leviticus 10:6, Revised Version), and discovers in this a sign of the later origin of Leviticus. Ezekiel's raising the priesthood as a body to the rank of the high priest, of whom in connection with this temple is no trace, rather proves Ezekiel to have been later than Leviticus.
The prohibition of wine to the priests when engaged in temple service accorded with Mosaic legislation (Le Ezekiel 10:9). Total abstinence at other times was not enjoined.
As to marriage (since the priests in Ezekiel's "house" were no more expected to be celibates than were those employed about Moses' tabernacle or Solomon's temple), they were forbidden to marry widows (which the Levitical priests were not, though the high priest was) or divorced women, and allowed to wed only virgins of the house of Israel, or (the sole exception) widows of such as had been priests (compare with the priest-code, Le Ezekiel 21:7, Ezekiel 21:13, Ezekiel 21:14). Ezekiel's enactment discovers two variations—first, that it does not formally forbid to the priests marriage with a harlot; and, second, that it sanctions marriage with a priest's widow. But the first was implied in the prohibition of marriage with an adulteress, and the second was a sign of the higher sanctity of the priesthood belonging to Ezekiel's temple. Hence, so far from indicating the priority of Ezekiel, it rather points to the priority of Leviticus.
Ezekiel 44:23, Ezekiel 44:24
Among the priests' official duties four things are prescribed.
(1) The education of the people in the fundamental principles of their religion, viz. that a distinction existed between the "holy" and "profane," or "common," and in the practical application of that principle, the art of discerning between the "unclean" and the "clean." This duty had been laid upon the priests of Mosaism (Le Ezekiel 10:10; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:10), but in the last years of the monarchy had been neglected (Eze 26:1-21 :26; comp. Malachi 2:7-9).
(2) The administration of justice in all disputes arising out of and connected with the practices of their religion. This office had pertained to the priests under the Law (Numbers 5:14-31; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Deuteronomy 19:17; Deuteronomy 21:5), and was exercised in pre-exilic times (Hosea 4:6; Micah 3:11; Isaiah 28:7; Jeremiah 18:18), though not always in accord-ante with Jehovah s judgments. That the juridical authority of the priests was purely of a moral kind (Wellhausen, Smend), can be maintained only by rejecting 2 Chronicles 17:7-9 and 2 Chronicles 19:5-11 as unhistorical
(3) The regulation of all festal assemblies in accordance with the Divine statutes. For errors in the celebration of these festivals, the priests should be answerable, as they had always been; only under the new regime there should be no errors.
4. The hallowing of Jehovah's sabbaths. This they should do both by resting on the seventh day and by offering the sabbath sacrifices, the showbread, and the burnt offering; both of which things the priests under the Law had been commanded to do (see Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:13-17 : Le Exodus 23:3; Exodus 24:8; Numbers 28:9), but had not done (Ezekiel 20:12,Ezekiel 20:13, Ezekiel 20:20, Ezekiel 20:21; Ezekiel 22:8; Ezekiel 23:28).
Regulations are next given for preserving the priesthood from defilement through coming in contact with the dead, and for removing such defilement in case of its having been contracted. As under the Law, so in the ideal constitution of Ezekiel, the priests should not be at liberty to contract ceremonial impurity through touching a corpse except in the case of near relations (comp. Le Ezekiel 21:1-4). That neither in Leviticus nor in Ezekiel is the priest's wife among the excepted is surprising, and hardly to be explained, with Knobel, on the ground that a wife is not a blood-relation, since according to the Divine conception of marriage husband and wife are one (Genesis 2:24), but either by holding, with Keil, that the wife, who stands nearer her husband than any of the relatives named, was viewed as included under the phrase, "and for his kin that is near unto him" (Le Ezekiel 21:2), or by supposing it self-evident that such defilement could not be avoided in the case of a wife and was therefore tacitly allowed. Smend, as usual, finds signs of Ezekiel's priority to the priest-code, first in the circumstance that Ezekiel regarded it as perfectly natural that a priest should sorrow for his wife (Ezekiel 24:15-18), which showed he had no acquaintance with Leviticus 21:1-24.; and secondly, in the fact that Le Leviticus 21:11 prohibits absolutely to the high priest all contact with a corpse, which, it is argued, betrays a greater strictness than existed in the days of Ezekiel. But as the prohibition in Le Ezekiel 21:11 applies only to the high priest, who in Ezekiel's temple has no place, an argument as to which of the books had priority of origin cannot properly be founded on so insecure a Basis. Knobel remarks on Le Ezekiel 21:1-4 that "among the Greeks, priests and priestesses remained at a distance from funerals; while among the Romans ought the Flamen dialis to touch no corpse (Gell; 10.15), the augur perform no funeral rites (Tacit; 'Ann.,' 1.31), and the pontifex accompany no funeral procession (Die Cass; 56.31); not at all should he behold a dead body (Serv; 'Ad AEn.,' 6.176),and in case he had occasion to pronounce a funeral oration, a curtain should hang between him and the corpse." As to the cleansing of a defiled priest, that should be conducted in accordance with the customary regulations (comp. Numbers 19:1-22.),with this difference—that on the termination of the ordinary rites, which extended over seven days, an additional seven days, according to Havernick and Keil, should elapse, at the end of which, on the presentation of a sin offering, he should be restored to service in the inner sanctuary.
state the emoluments which should Be enjoyed by the priests.
The Authorized Version conveys the impression that the first portion of the priests' sustenance should be derived from the sin offering, which is not mentioned till the following verse. And it shall be unto them for an inheritance ought rather to be rendered, and there shall be to them (what shall be) for an inheritance; or more simply, and they shall have an inheritance (Revised Version), which, it is next declared, as in the Law (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:1, Deuteronomy 18:2), should be Jehovah, and not any territorial possession or tribal tract such as should be assigned to the other tribes (see Ezekiel 48:1-35.). Smend thinks Ezekiel was scarcely accurate in describing the priests as landless in the sense intended by the Deuteronomist and the priest-code, since in Ezekiel 45:4 they are, after all, furnished with a plot of ground on which to build their houses and erect their sanctuary; whilst Wellhansen holds the priest-code to have somewhat romanced in adopting the same language about the Aaronides and Levites, since, if they really did obtain forty-eight cities, "what were these if not a lot and a land tract, and that too a comparatively great and important one?" Neither view stands in need of refutation.
To the priests should be allocated, in addition, what already had been assigned them by the Law for their support, the meat (or, meal) offering, consisting of flour, corn, or bread (comp. Le Eze 2:1 -16; 6:16; Numbers 28:12, Numbers 28:13), and the sin offering (see Leviticus 6:25-29; Ezekiel 7:6; Numbers 18:9, Numbers 18:10), and the trespass (or, guilt) offering (comp. Leviticus 7:28-38), and every dedicated (or, devoted) thing in Israel (see Le Ezekiel 27:21; Numbers 18:14). The burnt offering is omitted, because it was entirely consumed upon the altar, with the exception of the hide or skin, which under the Law became a perquisite of the officiating priest (Le Ezekiel 7:8). That Ezekiel is silent about this, while the requirement of Leviticus 7:30, that the priest should obtain the breast with the right shoulder of every fire offering, goes beyond the prescription of Deuteronomy 18:3, that the shoulder, two cheeks, and the maw should be the priest's portion, is regarded by Wellhausen and Smend as a proof that Ezekiel stands between Deuteronomy and the priest-code. But as Ezekiel does not condescend upon the particular parts which should be reserved from the fire offerings, it is impossible to say whether he held with the Deuteronomist or the writer of the priest-code, supposing them to be different; and, inasmuch as Leviticus 7:30 speaks of an offerings, by fire that was first paid to Jehovah and by him afterwards handed over to Aaron and his sons, while Deuteronomy 18:3 treats of the dues which should be paid by the people directly to the priests, it is clear that both practices may have existed together instead of the one (the former) coming in as an advance upon the other (the latter); see Keil on Deuteronomy 18:3.
A further portion of the priests' emoluments is stated as the first of all the firstfruits of all things—or, of everything (Revised Version), as e.g. of corn, oil, must, and wool—and every oblation (תְּרוּמָה)—or, heave offering—of all—or, of everything—with the first of the people's dough; or, coarse meal; which again re-echoes the provisions of the Law, the first of the firstfruits being specified in Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4; the oblation, or terumah (Hebrew), in Numbers 15:19; Numbers 18:19; and the dough, or coarse meal, or groats, in Numbers 15:20, Numbers 15:21. Ezekiel's supposed (Wellhausen, Smend) silence as regards the firstlings of cattle, which in the book of the covenant (Exodus 22:29) and in the Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy 15:19) are to be eaten by the offerer, but in the priest-code (Numbers 18:21) belong to the priests, is imaginary. The first of all the firstfruits of everything cannot surely mean of everything except cattle. If Ezekiel does not give the tenths of the tithes to the priests, he still assigns them to the sanctuary (see Ezekiel 45:14).
The commandment of the Mosaic Law is here renewed against eating the flesh of any fowl or beast that had either died a natural death or been mangled in the killing (comp. Le Ezekiel 17:15; Ezekiel 22:8)—a commandment which, while enjoined specially upon the priests (Le Ezekiel 22:8), was equally binding upon all (Exodus 20:1-31; Deuteronomy 14:21).
Ezekiel 44:2, Ezekiel 44:3
The shut gate.
The "Golden Gate" at Jerusalem, on the eastern side of the temple area, looking towards the Mount of Olives, is now built up, so that it can only be traced by means of the form of the arches and carved work embedded in a line of wall. Tradition associates this now inaccessible archway with the gate which Ezekiel said should be shut till the Prince passed through it. There is a striking symbolism in Ezekiel's description of the shut gate.
I. THE GATE WAS SHUT.
1. The way to God was closed. Man once had free access to his Father. Sin barred the door and shut him out in the waste.
2. The way to life was closed. Cherubim with flaming swords, stood between Adam and the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Fallen man cannot recover his spiritual life; he has forfeited eternal life, and it is beyond his power to regain it.
3. The way to happiness was closed. The tree of life stood in Eden, and Eden was shut against fallen man.
4. The way to heaven was closed. The door was shut against the foolish virgins. The bliss of futurity is denied to man in his sin.
II. THE HOLINESS OF GOD BARS THE GATE. God had passed through the gate; therefore it was to be closed against man. This suggests a painful thought; where God is man may not be. The same idea was prominent at Horeb, when no man or beast was to come near the mount while God descended upon it (Hebrews 12:20). There is a natural feeling of the supreme majesty of God that leads to a thought of utter separateness. No being approaches him in greatness or rank. The Sovereign of all is alone in his awful majesty. Yet we must not associate vulgar ideas of pomp and ceremony with God. He does not need the artificial dignity of separateness. He is necessarily apart from us in sheer greatness. But he desires to be near to his children. The real secret of the separateness is sin. Man cannot come where God is because man is sinful and God is holy.
III. THE GATE IS OPENED FOR THE PRINCE. Christ, and Christ alone, realizes the Messianic vision of Hebrew prophecy. He is the Prince par excellence. Christ has a right of access to God by reason of his sinlessness, and by reason of his nature as "the Only Begotten of the Father." He has made a way to God by his intercession and his sacrifice. The door, long barred by sin, is now opened by grace. First our Prince goes through it, and himself realizes communion with God. But he does not keep this as a rare privilege for himself alone. He is the "Firstborn among many brethren," and he opens the door of access to God for all men. He leads all his people to the tree of life, for "he that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). He gives true blessedness to his people. He unbars the golden gate of heaven. All who sleep in Jesus will awake in the glorious resurrection-life of which he is the Source and Center who could say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25).
The attentive consideration of religious truth.
Ezekiel was to mark well the minute directions which were given to him concerning the temple. He was not a builder, and there is no reason to think that he was expected to consider these matters with a view to carrying out the work of constructing the new temple. But it was important that he should attend to the suggestiveness of every detail, because all that was here set forth was symbolical of spiritual truth. The smallest points of this truth should be considered with exactness, while every effort is made to grasp and comprehend it in its vast length and breadth.
I. RELIGIOUS TRUTH IS WORTHY OF ATTENTIVE CONSIDERATION, Great attention is required for a man's business if that is to be made successful. Politics absorb the thoughts of those who are much engaged in them. Pleasure, and what is called "sport" command earnest attention. Is it right that these things should occupy all a man's faculties, and that religion should be treated in an off-hand style as not worth much thought? Yet the conduct of multitudes would suggest that this supreme interest could be sufficiently considered by occasional and listless attendance at public worship. But note how important it is.
1. It concerns God. Surely he—Maker of all things, Ruler of the universe, "in whom we live and move and have our being," our Father and our God—is worthy of some thoughtful attention.
2. It concerns our duty. The chief thing to be thought of is what we ought to do. To give much attention to our worldly interests and pleasures, and to treat our duty with thoughtless indifference, is to show shameful negligence of what is supremely important to us.
3. It concerns our eternal welfare. Religion is a matter of life and death. Its truth embraces eternity. When the petty affairs of this brief life are forgotten, its mighty issues will still proceed to work our highest blessedness or our utter destruction.
II. RELIGIOUS TRUTH NEEDS ATTENTIVE CONSIDERATION. It is not to be taken in with indolent ease. A man cannot comprehend his Bible at a glance, as he would his newspaper. Religious truth requires thought for several reasons.
1. It is remote from our common experience. It should not be so; but sin has introduced an entirely different train of ideas. We require an effort to bring thoughts of religion vividly to mind.
2. It is concerned with great mysteries. We can never understand it perfectly; but there is room in it for the explorations of the greatest minds. We must never forget, indeed, that its most precious pearls are for simple, childlike minds; that God has revealed to babes what he has hidden from the wise (Matthew 11:25). But who giver such absorbing attention to what interests them as children? We just need the child's whole-hearted listening, as when he drinks in a tale, every detail of which he pictures to himself in his fresh imagination.
III. RELIGIOUS TRUTH SHOULD RECEIVE ATTENTIVE CONSIDERATION. We now come to the practical point—How are we to give full attention to this great subject? Ezekiel suggests three ways.
1. We must fix attention. "Mark well." The mind tends to float away from difficult subjects. The anchor to hold it is some keen interest. The love of truth, or, better, the love of Christ, should serve as such an anchor.
2. We must look into truth. "And behold with thine eyes, and 'hear with thine cars." We must, so to speak, visualize truth. To make it real we must see it before us. But first we must look for it. There is a seeing and hearing by experience that is better than all indirect testimony. As soon as we thus come into personal contact with truth it is likely to be interesting to us. Then it is a real thing. Above all, it is well to follow the Greeks, who "would see Jesus," and by living experience to know him for ourselves.
A sufficiency of sin.
I. OBSERVE IN WHAT THE SUFFICIENCY OF SIN CONSISTS. All sin is in excess of what it should be, for no sin is permissible. How, then, can there be such a thing as a sufficiency of it? We may regard this as an ironical idea, or as a thought that is useful in the argumentum ad hominem. It is as though a man had said he must have some sin, and now the question is raised—Has he not had enough? Those who sin greatly may be said to have had more than enough—to have attained what St. James calls "a superfluity of naughtiness" (James 1:21). The sufficiency of sin may be tested in three ways.
1. By its magnitude. What more can the sinner desire? Would he still add to his enormous pile of guilt? Surely no mortal man could crave a heavier account.
2. By its fruits. The pleasures of sin soon cloy, and the foolish slave of vice has to turn from one to another form of evil to whet his jaded appetite. One would have thought that he had got his surfeit. Is there yet more pleasure to be extracted from the rotten root of sin? Certainly the more it is drawn upon the less really enjoyable are its products.
3. By its penalties. All this tin must be paid for, and the time of reckoning is at hand. Is not the sin already committed enough to have to answer for? It will be a heavy account as it is, if no more be added.
II. CONSIDER HOW THE SUFFICIENCY OF SIN IS TO BE TREATED.
1. It should not be increased. It is great enough; let us add no more to it. This awful tale of guilt can never be met; it would be madness to proceed still further in piling up accusations against one's self.
2. It should be regarded with profound penitence. There are not many things of which the sinner is full. In regard to his better nature he seems to be a helpless bankrupt. Indeed, he has but one perfect thing—his sin. He is rich only in one commodity—wickedness. Surely the consciousness of such a state of affairs should overwhelm him with grief and shame.
3. It should be brought to God for pardon. Man cannot undo the past, nor can he compensate for the many misdeeds he has committed. Were his sin but small, it would still be impossible for him to atone for it. With a fullness of sin to account for, there can be no possibility for hope in man alone. But great as man's sin is, the love of God is even greater. Heavy as is his guilt, the merits of Christ outweigh it all. Thanks be to God, the sufficiency of man's sin is met by the sufficiency of Christ's atonement. The sin was great to require the death of the Son of God; but since Christ has died for it, the supreme work of redemption has been accomplished. Even a surfeit of past sin is now no barrier to God's full pardon of his penitent children.
Religion by proxy.
The people had neglected their own duty in regard to the worship of God, and had appointed hirelings to discharge the sacred offices in their stead. This was a case of trying to practice religion by proxy. We often see the-attempt made in various ways now, but it is doomed to failure.
I. THE ATTEMPT TO SATISFY THE CLAIMS OF RELIGION BY PROXY. There are now many Jews in Jerusalem kept in idleness by their more wealthy brethren in Europe, who hope by this expedient to secure for themselves the merit of living and dying in the Holy City, without undergoing the irksome experience of actual residence. In Roman Catholic countries it is common to devote a sum of money to the payment of the priest who is to say so many Masses on behalf of a person. Among ourselves there is an unconfessed but common notion that the minister in some way performs the offices of religion on behalf of the people, who stand by as idle spectators, and yet enjoy the fruits of his vicarious service. The development of elaborate ritual and the cultivation of highly ornate choral services tend in this direction, by taking the acts of worship out of the grasp of the people, and consigning them to the clergy and choir. Where this is not the ease, there is a common feeling that the mere attendance at church when a service is being conducted is of some religious efficacy, the officiating minister carrying on the real worship on behalf of the congregation, which may be listless and indifferent, so long as he discharges his duty faithfully. Or perhaps the religion by proxy is attempted in the way of money payments. The rich man who will make no moral sacrifice, and who is unwilling to worship God or serve him, subscribes to charities and Missionary Societies, and consoles himself by the thought that he is supporting religion and other good works. He is not a pillar of the church within the sacred building, but he is a sort of buttress outside it. By this indirect service of a money payment he thinks to compound for his irreligion. Lastly, living in a Christian land, belonging to a Christian home, and having Christian associates are regarded as matters of some religious value by people who possess no real religion of their own. Thus they too would be religious by proxy.
II. THE UTTER FUTILITY OF THIS ATTEMPT. Every man must have his own personal dealings with God. There are such things as mediation, intercession, and vicarious sacrifices. The good mother is spiritually helpful to her children. Christ's righteousness, his obedience, and his sacrifice are for the good of the world. But none of these things will compensate for irreligion in those who would avail themselves of their advantages. Moreover, God looks to the heart. Money gifts not offered by a grateful, devout heart, but only paid in fines to exonerate a man from the consequences of his misdeeds and negligences, are of no value whatever in the sight of God. There is no merit in helping the religion of other people if no right motive inspires the action. The very desire to be religious by proxy reveals a wrong state of the heart, for it shows that those people who experience it have no love for God and no real inclination for religion. The man whose heart is right with God will not wish to be religious by proxy. The son who has true affections will have no inclination to pay a substitute to take his place in the family circle. When his heart is renewed the Christian is most eager to be near to God, for then worship is glad and spontaneous.
The exclusion of the stranger.
There was a strict exclusiveness about the Hebrew religion. Only the circumcised were to share in its privileges. In regard to outward ordinances and national distinctions, this exclusiveness is destroyed by Christ, and his gospel is free to Gentile as well as Jew, to the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised (Galatians 5:6). Nevertheless, in spite of the new breadth of Christianity, the ideas suggested by the old, narrow exclusiveness still obtain, though now only in spiritual relations.
I. THE STRANGER TO GOD IS EXCLUDED FROM THE PRIVILEGES OF RELIGION. It matters not what nation he belongs to; now we have to do with spiritual, not national distinctions. Thus it is possible that the Jew or the Christian may be a stranger to God, while the Gentile and one of a heathen nation may really know and love God. But where the distinction is it does involve serious consequences. It is a mistake to treat a Christian nation as though all its citizens enjoyed the favor of Heaven; and it is a mistake to address a Christian congregation as though all its members were devout men and women. Now, so long as a man is alienated from God, he is excluded from all the highest blessings of the gospel. The door of heaven is shut against the hard, the worldly, the impenitent. Surely some Church discipline should be exercised in regard to those whose alienation from God is undisguised. To keep up the name of Church-fellowship with people in this unhappy condition is to delude them with false hopes.
II. THE UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART ARE STRANGERS TO GOD. Even in the directions that concern the old Jewish ritual this class is named as well as that of the uncircumcised in flesh. The one great question is as to the state of a man's heart. The uncircumcised heart is given up to sinful naturalism. Pure human nature should be fit for the presence of God, but sinful human nature is not. Unclean and degraded, it needs a spiritual circumcision before it can be accepted by God. In the state of sin man is thus far from God, and so excluded from the privileges of enjoying heavenly Blessings. But the estrangement that results from this sinful condition involves a state of ignorance. Alienated from God, sinful man does not know his loss. He is out in the darkness, a heathen, though bearing the Christian name.
III. THE STRANGERS WHO ARE AS YET UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART MAY BECOME TRUE PEOPLE OF GOD AND ENJOY THE PRIVILEGE OF ACCESS TO GOD. The hindrance must first be removed.
1. There must be a change of heart. The mischief is in the heart; thither the cure must be brought. Thus the first thing is for a man to pray that God would create in him a clean heart (Psalms 51:10).
2. This can only be brought about by a Divine renewal, which may be called the circumcision of the heart. God, and he only, can create, and we need to be new creatures in Christ Jesus.
3. This may be realized through the gospel of Christ. He has come to call in the strangers. By his great all-embracing love he reconciles "them that are afar off" as well as "them that are near." There are now no barriers which the grace of Christ cannot break through. It only remains for the strangers and uncircumcised in heart to avail themselves of that grace by penitent confession of sin and active trust in Christ.
The degradation of the Levites.
From this interesting passage it would appear that there was a time when the Levites enjoyed free access to the altar, and were allowed to serve as priests before the Lord. But they had abused their privileges in admitting heathen people to the sacred enclosure, in doing their work by proxy, in even going aside to idolatry. Therefore they were degraded from their high functions—all of them except one family, that of Zadok. As the members of this family had remained true, the priesthood was now settled exclusively on them, while the rest of the Levites were put down to serve in secondary offices in connection with the temple ritual.
I. DISLOYAL SERVICE IS PUNISHED BY LOSS OF OFFICE. The unfaithful priest is deprived of his rank and ministry. Of Judas it was said, "His bishopric let another take" (Acts 1:20). The hireling may direct the flock for a season to his own advantage. Even the thief and the wolf may be in office. We cannot judge of a man's character by his rank, nor can we tell what is his position in the eyes of God by observing his ecclesiastical status. Much is expected of those to whom much has been given. Therefore the disloyal servant who stands in a high position will be most sternly judged. His first penalty will be loss of office. The man who had buried his talent is deprived of it (Matthew 25:28).
II. DEGRADED SERVANTS MAY BE PERMITTED TO DISCHARGE HUMBLER DUTIES. The Levites are not discharged; they are only put to lower offices. God inflicts no heavier penalties than are absolutely necessary, He bears no grudge against any of his servants. If we have failed in a more honorable position, we need not despair; there may be a lowly work which we can still perform. It must have been most painful for the Levites to be thus forced to take a lower place. Possibly at first they would rather have given up the whole temple service, and have devoted themselves to secular pursuits. It speaks well for them that they silently confessed the justice of what was done, and quietly took the lower place. It is hard, like John the Baptist, to step back and give way for a new man; hard to say, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). But he who has the cause of Christ at heart will be willing to do anything for the service of his Master. Many would be willing to take the rank of priests. The test is whether we will obey when we are called to the more humble work of the Levites.
III. THE DEGRADATION OF THE UNFAITHFUL IS ACCOMPANIED BY THE EXALTATION OF THE FAITHFUL. The loss of the Levites is the gain of the family of Zadok. The talent that is taken from the idle servant is given to the servant with ten talents. We may here see a hierarchy in the making. Merit and practical utility lie at the foundation of institutions that have subsequently become more formal. But merit and utility should always govern the appointment to office. There is no higher honor than to have been true in a time of general unfaithfulness.
The difference between the holy and profane.
I. THERE IS A REAL DIFFERENCE. Men have been much concerned with wholly fictitious distinctions, and a most artificial line has been drawn between what has been accounted sacred and what has been regarded as profane. But this is only the abuse and the degeneracy of what should be discovered in its high and true condition as a genuine difference. The formal distinctions of the Jewish Law were all intended to symbolize moral and spiritual differences. Some of them were obviously concerned with matters of common cleanliness and decency; some had a more immediate bearing on sanitary laws; others, perhaps, were too suggestive of Jewish exclusiveness or conventional propriety; but even these latter regulations could not but impress upon the minds of thoughtful men the separateness of true holiness. The one real distinction is moral. It is the line of demarcation that separates sin from righteousness. This, and not the supposed distinction between the secular and the sacred, is the real difference between clean and unclean. St. Peter was taught to call none of the creatures of God common or unclean (Acts 10:15). It is not they that are so, but the uncleanness is in us, in our use of them. "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Titus 1:15). Similarly, men make an artificial distinction between sacred and profane history. Coming from the pen of a Josephus, the history of Israel is profane; written by an Arnold, the history of Rome is sacred. He who sees God in history beholds a sacredness in it. To him who is worldly and untrue in heart all that he touches is profane.
II. THIS DIFFERENCE IS TO BE LEARNT BY SPIRITUAL EDUCATION. The priests were to teach the people the difference between the clean and the unclean. No doubt the elaborate external regulations of the Jewish Law required careful study, and men needed to be thoroughly instructed in regard to them, in order that they might avoid even unconscious offences. This was a necessary adjunct of a ceremonial religion. A religion of law needed lawyers for its priests. Now that system is wholly swept away. We live in the glorious liberty of the sons of God, and there is no need for us to be instructed in elaborate rules of ceremonial purification. Still, moral education is now needed, though in another direction. Conscience must be educated, so that it may be sensitive and keen to discern what is right, and separate this from what is evil. This education is not to be a drilling in casuistry, which would be a return to the old bondage of the Law; but it is to be an enlightening in regard to the great principles of Christian righteousness, and still more a quickening of the soul to feel the force of those principles, and to apply them without delay to every case as it arises. It is important that the religious teaching of children should be directed more to this end. One great function of the pulpit is to awaken men's sense of the great distinction between sin and purity. We live too much by compromise. We need to learn more of the absolute claims of righteousness.
Taking God as an Inheritance.
The priests were to have no share in the partition of the land. They were to be supported by means of the sacrificial offerings of the people; and in so living they were said to take God for their Inheritance. Viewing their position from the lowest point of view, we have the thought that they were dependent on what was dedicated to God, as their livelihood was derived from God's share of the produce of the land; a higher consideration would lead them to see that it was through God's relation to his people that they received their maintenance; and the highest view to which they could attain would be to regard God himself as their real Inheritance, and the sacrificial offerings merely as necessary means of living. Let us see how God may be regarded as an Inheritance and a Possession.
I. GOD MAY BE RECEIVED. An inheritance is not some distant territory that one simply knows of or beholds at a distance. We may believe in God, and even look towards him from afar, and yet not think of having any inheritance in him. But it is possible to have more close relations with him.
1. The inheritance is received as a birthright. The priests had a hereditary claim on their portion. All men are by nature children of God. By new birth we recover our original birthright. The Christian is an heir of God.
2. The inheritance is received through death. One dies, and another receives his inheritance. That was seen in Old Testament times in the succession of the priests. To us it is remarkable, as witnessed in the great fact that Christ died to give us our heavenly inheritance.
II. GOD MAY BE OWNED. When we receive God as an Inheritance, we take him as our Possession. There is thus a certain ownership in God established. But in the most complete way he owns us. How, then, can we also own God? There is a spiritual appropriation by which we personally accept God as our God, and hold to him in faith. It is much to be able to say from the heart, "O God, thou art my God!" All religion centers in that experience. The priests were to enjoy special Divine privileges in the Jewish system; all Christians are now to own God as their peculiar Possession.
III. GOD MAY BE ENJOYED. The inheritance is made use of and valued for what it gives, and on its own account.
1. When God is our Inheritance, Divine blessings are our portion. A rich inheritance contains many treasures—acres of fertile soil, well-timbered land, farms and orchards, perhaps mines and houses. He who takes God for his Portion has all the wealth of God to supply his need. It is true he may still receive but little of this world's goods; that is because God sees that it is best for him to be tried with poverty. But he will have a true sufficiency. If he trusts in God, and does what is right, he has the promise that he shall be fed (Psalms 37:3). Ultimately he will have great possessions. "All things are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:22).
2. God is himself the greatest Blessing for his people. The inheritance itself is more valuable than all that it is the means of procuring for us. To own God is to be rich indeed. When the Lord is our Portion we have a wealth of treasures for our souls. His presence, his love, his truth, his life, he himself dwelling within, make those who own him rich in the highest good.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The prerogative of the prince.
The regulation prescribed in these verses is very remarkable, and is not free from difficulties. It appears that a peculiar sanctity attached to the eastern gate of the temple, owing to the fact that it was by this gate that the glory of the Lord entered, and by this same gate that the glory of the Lord had previously forsaken, the sacred precincts. To mark this sacredness, the gate was kept shut, and no one was permitted to pass through it, except the prince. He, as the head, the representative, the ruler, of Israel, was permitted to enter and to depart by this gate. And further, it was appointed that he should in this gateway eat bread—whether by this be meant the meat offering or the showbread. This was a priestly privilege, but it seems to have been shared by the prince, who, after the return from the Captivity, was not only the representative of the consecrated people, but also the representative of the premised Messiah. This singular prerogative suggests to our minds certain principles which have a special application to a religious community and state.
I. THE UNITY OF A RELIGIOUS AND CONSECRATED NATION IS PERSONIFIED IN A RELIGIOUS SOVEREIGN. David was not only the greatest of the Hebrew monarchs; he was the representative of the Hebrew monarchy and theocracy. In the prophets and in the later national religions literature, David appears as the ideal king, personifying the people of the covenant and foreshadowing the promised Messiah. And the" prince" of the people is, in this and other passages, regarded as the successor of the cherished son of Jesse. The prince is looked upon as worthy of his station, worthy of his illustrious and beloved predecessor. The true head of a great and religious people is that people's representative, not only before man, but before God.
II. THERE IS IMPLIED IN THIS PROVISION THE DIVINE ORIGIN AND CHARACTER OF POLITICAL AUTHORITY. There are some students of Scripture who find in the Word of God much relating to the authority of the Church, but who fail to remark the many assertions of the Divine authority of the state and of its officials and rulers. But it is very instructive for those in such a position to remark how, in this and similar passages, stress is laid upon the position and power of the prince. "The powers that be are ordained of God;" the state is as much Divine in its origin and sanction as is the Church. In the theocracy the monarch no doubt occupied a very special position. But religion certainly has for one of its functions the upholding of government as a Divine institution and of authority as a Divine principle. Independently of the form of government, and of the designation of the chief ruler of the state, it is for teachers of religion to follow the example of the scriptural writers in requiring justice from the governor and loyalty from the governed.
III. THE OBLIGATION IS APPARENT THAT THOSE IN AUTHORITY SHOULD CULTIVATE AND PRACTICE TRUE RELIGION. It is taken for granted by the prophet that the prince will appreciate and will use the prerogative here described. Nevertheless, it is probable that some who occupied the highest position in the nation were far from being truly devout and pious men. In every age and country men are found who come short of the ideal of their station. This, however, does not affect the fact that the occupation of a high position, the primacy of a great people, imposes upon a man a peculiar obligation to honor God, the Fountain of all authority and the Judge of every earthly sovereign. He who leads a people should lead them in the ways of righteousness and of piety.—T.
The prophet was brought "the way of the north gate before the house," because it was thence that, on a previous occasion, he had been directed to gaze upon the provision for idolatrous worship which aroused the indignation of Jehovah. Instructions were about to be given which would be the means of preventing a repetition of the infamous defilement of God's holy place which in times past had taken place within the temple precincts. And that a suitable impression might be made, "the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." It was upon this occasion that the prophet, filled with reverence and awe, fell upon his face.
I. THERE IS MISPLACED REVERENCE.
1. When men revere worldly greatness and splendor.
2. When men revere idols and deities, which are nothing but the work of their own hands and the invention of their own minds.
II. THERE IS JUSTIFIABLE AND BECOMING REVERENCE. Such was that felt and manifested by Ezekiel in the presence of the glory of the Lord.
1. The nature of man is capable of true and profound reverence. There is groveling and degrading homage offered to men or to supposed supernatural powers—homage not worthy to be designated reverence. But man has the capacity of honoring the noblest and the best; and this is among the sublimest capacities of his nature.
2. The attributes, the character, of God deserve such reverence. The more the Eternal is studied, as manifested in his works and in his Word, the mere will it be felt that he is the one fit Object of reverential regard and worship. The admonition of the angel addressed to the seer of the Apocalypse was just and is universally applicable, "Worship God!"
III. THERE IS APPROPRIATE EXPRESSION OF TRUE VENERATION AND ADORATION. A natural manifestation of reverence is that accorded in the text: "I fell upon my face." The attitude of the body and the expression of the countenance are the natural revelation of the deep feelings of awe and veneration. A more articulate expression is the language of prayer and praise, which must indeed always be inadequate, which yet may in all conceivable circumstances be employed by the Church of Christ. All attitudes and all language are vain except as the manifestation of the deep feelings of the heart. Yet it is not possible for men to have a just view of God, to feel aright towards him, without presenting some audible or visible, some manifest expression of such thought and emotion. Man is both soul and body, and the movements, the attitudes, the utterances, of the bodily nature are the expressions of what is intellectual and spiritual. Whilst worship, to be acceptable, must be in spirit and in truth, they who are in the flesh will bow in reverence or kneel in supplication, will pour forth their gratitude in song, and their faith and adoration in petition and in praise.—T.
The true circumcision and the true worshipper.
Provisions such as this were no doubt of an educational character, and were intended to teach the Israelites the necessity and the duty of holiness. The consecrated nation was called to present to Jehovah a pure offering. The alien was denied the privileges appointed for the Israelite; being uncircumcised, and not a child of the covenant, he was forbidden access to the holy place.
I. THE SANCTUARY WAS A SYMBOL OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE, FELLOWSHIP, AND FAVOR. The Lord's holy temple was the scene of the especial manifestation vouchsafed by Jehovah to Israel. The Divine presence, naturally ubiquitous, was for a purpose localized. Here was, so to speak, the point of contact between the God of Israel and his chosen people; the media of communication being the sacrifices and services ministered by the consecrated priesthood. Here the acceptance and good will of Jehovah were sealed. They who conformed to Divine appointments were ceremonially justified and cleansed; and they who drew near with hearts prepared to receive a spiritual blessing were abundantly rewarded.
II. THE SELECTION OF THE CIRCUMCISED AND CONSECRATED, AND THE EXCLUSION OF THE UNCIRCUMCISED AND THE ALIEN, WERE SYMBOLICAL OF THE SPIRITUAL CONDITIONS OF ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP. No one can suppose that there was "favoritism" in the treatment of worshippers by the just, impartial God; we know that in every nation those who wrought righteousness were accepted. But so far as the temple at Jerusalem was concerned, there were regulations intended to draw attention to the character of true worship, and to the qualifications of acceptable worshippers. No doubt impure Israelites were admitted, and just and benevolent aliens were excluded. But all were taught the indispensable necessity of compliance with Divine regulations, and of the possession of prescribed qualifications. This provision was a preparation for the introduction amongst men of a higher and purer conception of true holiness, that which is not ceremonial, but real.
III. IN CHRISTIANITY WE HAVE THE FULFILMENT OF THE TYPE AND PROMISE OF THIS PREPARATORY DISPENSATION. The religion of Christ lays stress upon the new nature, the new heart, the new birth, the new life. It requires a cleansing, a putting off of the old nature, the circumcision of the spirit. It requires a naturalization in the new and Divine kingdom, a citizenship such as no physical birth and no external legislation can impart. A man must be born anew and from above in order to enter into the kingdom of God, of heaven. The conditions of acceptable worship at Jerusalem have to be translated into the language of spiritual reality in order to be applicable to the new dispensation.
IV. THE CONDITIONS OF ENTRANCE INTO THE HEBREW SANCTUARY WERE AN ANTICIPATION OF THE TERMS OF HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP. In this, as in so many passages; the prophecies of Ezekiel point on to the language of the Apocalypse, and the reader of the New Testament interprets these ancient declarations, prescriptions, and promises in the light of the closing book of the canon. The ceremonial preparation required of the Hebrew worshipper prefigured the qualifications laid down as a condition of admission into the celestial temple. Into the abodes of immortal purity there enters nothing that worketh abomination or maketh a lie. The citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem are renewed and purified and thus fitted for the privileges and occupations of the city whose Builder and Maker is God.
Ezekiel 44:15, Ezekiel 44:16
The priests were an essential element in the Mosaic system, and their duties were prescribed with a precise exactness. After the Captivity, they still fulfilled their appointed duties, although their relative importance was probably diminished, whilst the scribes became growingly the religious leaders and teachers of the people. In the dispensation of the Spirit, the priesthood, so far as it is perpetuated, has been widened so as to include the whole Christian congregation.
I. MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH IS THE APPOINTMENT OF GOD. As the priesthood was instituted by Divine wisdom, so the will and pleasure of the great Head of the Church is that the members of the spiritual society should regard themselves as called by God to the fulfillment of varied duties as his servants.
II. MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH IS UPON THE PATTERN OF THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST THE HEAD. The Son of man came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister. The Lord was himself Servant of all, and those who are his are summoned to follow the example of him who declared that he was among his people as One who served.
III. MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH IS FOR MUTUAL BENEFIT. It is sometimes taken for granted that there are certain persons who minister to their fellow-Christians, whilst the rest simply receive and enjoy the advantages of their services. But in reality there is no one member of the true Church who is not commissioned for some special work which it is for him to do, who has not some gifts and opportunities for serving his fellow-disciples, for the edification of the body of Christ.
IV. MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH IS FOR THE SALVATION OF THE WORLD. The Jewish Church was restricted; the Christian Church has a universal mission—a mission for the benefit of mankind. They who have Christ's Spirit will live as disciples of him who said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself."
V. MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH INVOLVES ACCOUNTABILITY TO GOD. With calling and gifts and influence there is associated responsibility. And this responsibility is to him who is the one, only, all-sufficient Judge and Lord. From this responsibility there is no escape; and it must ever be the aim and the hope of every Christian that he himself and his work may be acceptable and approved at last, when every man shall have praise of God.—T.
The difference between the holy and profane.
It was one great office of the Jewish priesthood to instruct the people to discern between the unclean and the clean. No doubt this office was often discharged in a perfunctory manner; yet a valuable purpose was answered by the importance which the Israelites were thus encouraged to attach to obedience to the behests of the great King.
I. THERE IS AN ARBITRARY AND FACTITIOUS DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE HOLY AND THE PROFANE. Such is the distinction drawn in heathen communities, simply in the interests of the priests themselves, with no moral bearing or intention.
II. THERE IS A CEREMONIAL AND SYMBOLICAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE HOLY AND THE PROFANE. Such was the difference which was established by the Law given by Moses to the Israelites, and maintained by Divine command by the instrumentality of the priests of Jehovah.
III. THERE IS A SPIRITUAL AND REAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE HOLY AND THE PROFANE. It cannot be doubted that the ceremonial differences were intended to be the emblems of deeper and more real distinctions of a moral nature. In the Christian dispensation men were early taught upon the highest authority to call nothing common or unclean. But whilst Christ abolished distinctions, which were a means to an end, which served a temporary purpose of preparation, he emphasized those distinctions which, in the sight of a holy God, are real and important. Especially was this the case with the eternal difference between moral good and evil, between what is in accordance with, and what is repugnant to, the nature, the character, and the will of God, This distinction is one which the Church of Christ is bound to maintain, both by teaching and by conduct, before a sinful and disobedient world.—T.
The Lord the Inheritance of his people.
There was a special sense in which the Lord was the Inheritance of the Levites and priests among the sons of Israel. A provision was made for them to compensate them for the lack of a territory such as was apportioned to the other tribes. Jehovah himself undertook the care of those who ministered in his sanctuary; he was their Inheritance. This declaration is suggestive of a wider truth, viz. that God is the Portion and Inheritance of all his people.
I. THE LORD PROVIDES FOR ALL THE NEED, BOTH TEMPORAL AND SPIRITUAL, OF THOSE WHO TRUST IN HIM.
II. THE LORD IS THE JOY AND COMFORT OF THE HEARTS OF ALL WHO LOVE HIM.
III. THE LORD IS THE EVERLASTING PORTION OF ALL WHO SEEK AND SERVE HIM HERE.
APPLICATION. Such a declaration as this should assist those who profess themselves to be God's people to overcome the natural tendency to be anxious and careful concerning their temporal state and prospects. It should encourage them to set their affection upon things above—upon the true riches. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."—T.
The devoted thing.
There were objects, both animate and inanimate, in connection with the worship and the sacrifices of the temple, which were in an especial sense dedicated and devoted to the Lord. By this provision, spiritual instruction was afforded, and religious reverence was encouraged. As in the Christian dispensation nothing is common or unclean, we are taught to regard everything that belongs to and is associated with the Christian as consecrated to the Lord.
I. ALL THAT THE CHRISTIAN HAS IS DEVOTED TO THE LORD IN VIRTUE OF WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE FOR HIM.
1. Everything is the Lord's gift. What have we that we did not receive?
2. Everything is redeemed by Christ, who, in giving himself a ransom for us, redeemed our possessions and our powers unto himself.
II. ALL THAT THE CHRISTIAN HAS IS DEVOTED TO THE LORD IN VIRTUE OF HIS CONSCIOUS SURRENDER AND DELIBERATE CONSECRATION OF HIMSELF TO HIS REDEEMING GOD. The dedication which the true Christian has made of himself to his Savior is unreserved.
"Yet if I might make some reserve,
And duty did not can,
I love my Lord with zeal so great
That I would give thee all!"
As it was foretold that upon the bells of the horses should be inscribed, "Holiness unto the Lord," so, as a matter of fact, should the sincere Christian devote to his Redeemer all the common possessions, all the daily opportunities, with which Providence enriches him.
III. THE PRINCIPLE LENDS A NEW BEAUTY AND DIGNITY TO ALL THAT THE CHRISTIAN OWNS AND DOES. Every Christian's life is dedicated, and all his property and all his talents and influence are devoted. He is not his own. Thus the light of heaven is shed upon the darkness of earth, and common things are not without a glory, because they are sanctified and ennobled as used for the service and the praise of God.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Church-worship vital to the soul.
As the heart is vital to the body, and sends its tide of life to every organ in the system, so the sanctuary is the central source of spiritual life to the human commonwealth. What the Church is, the home will be, the town will be, the nation will be. The guilt contracted by Israel in the temple was a fount of iniquity whence defilement spread to every part of the body politic. The sin of the sanctuary was the sin of sins. On the other hand, the sanctuary may be a well-spring of salvation. The loftiest expectations cherished here God will satisfy. "This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell." Here, "he that asks, receives." "I looked, and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house."
I. CHURCH-WORSHIP IS SUPREMELY IMPORTANT. "Son of man, mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house." Of such moment to human interests are these laws and ordinances, that the prophet must give concentrated attention to the matter. Every faculty of soul must be engaged to learn the will of God, and to do it. There are subtle bonds of vital connection between the human soul and temple-worship, which easily escape the notice of the eye. To gain the good which God intends we must prepare the heart and mind beforehand. "Mark well the entering in of the house" High expectation of blessing should be raised. A state of mind free from selfish care should be fostered. As the photographer carefully prepares his plate to receive a faithful impression, so equally concerned should we be to prepare our hearts for high and intimate converse with God. Nor should we be unmindful how we depart from that august Presence. What care is needed to bury deep in our memory the truths we have received! What care ought there Be to retain the anointing of holy influence upon the soul!
II. CHURCH-WORSHIP EMBRACES ELEMENTS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE. To be acceptable worshippers God required that they should Be circumcised in flesh and circumcised in heart. The one was designed to be the visible symbol of the other. To circumcise the flesh would Be useless if there was not also the circumcision of the heart. The circumcision of the flesh was instructive and disciplinary—was a test of obedience. To neglect this was a willful and open breach of the covenant made with Israel. In our present earthly state, outward religions forms are highly useful; but if they remain only forms—done without heart or willinghood—they are barren of blessing to men. As the race advances in religious culture, simpler and fewer forms will suffice. Men will be able to rise to communion with God without the intervention of rites. In the heavenly home no temple is found, for God himself is the Temple, and the redeemed have immediate access to his presence. But for the present, visible ordinances are the best channels by which we can gain fellowship with God.
III. CHURCH-WORSHIP REQUIRES PURITY OF CHARACTER. Had the God of Israel demanded internal purity as the condition of approaching him, he would have shut out the whole race of men from his house. But his high design is to create holy character among men, and every arrangement of temple-worship has purification for its end. The uncircumcised Gentiles were allowed to enter an outer court; the circumcised could have nearer approach; an inner circle was reserved for the children of Levi; and only one of all the human race was permitted to enter the holiest sanctuary—the very presence-chamber of Jehovah. In this way the world was taught the value of moral purity. In proportion to holiness of character is the nearness of access to God, The pure in heart shall see him. Hence the cardinal distinction between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, which God so wisely imposed. With that man God dwells who has a humble and contrite heart. To promote moral purity is the proper design of Church-worship.
IV. CHURCH-WORSHIP DEBASED IS THE FOULEST OFFENCE. It is to repel God in the act of his most gracious approach to men. It is to wound God in the tenderest part of his nature. Sacrilege has always been counted a most heinous offence. To secularize the temple is to destroy the only ladder by which we can climb to heaven. To trifle with religion is to commit spiritual suicide. On this head our Lord asks, "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" As new-fallen snow is among the most beautiful of natural objects, so tarnished snow is most offensive to the eye. If the only fount of living water be poisoned, how can the life of men Be sustained? To abuse the ordinances of the sanctuary is to starve one's own soul, is to make religion obnoxious to our fellows, is to insult Jehovah. This is man's crowning sin—"a sin unto death."
V. RELIGIOUS SERVICE MUST BE PERSONAL AND INDIVIDUAL. "Ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves/' In the eyes of God it was a foul offence that the priests had delegated their work to others—to persons whom Jehovah had not appointed, did not approve! It is impossible for any man to devolve his service for God upon another person. God's service cannot be discharged by proxy. Just as no man can transfer to another his talents, or his qualities, or his position, so no man can transfer his responsibilities or his work. Already God has supreme claim to the entire service of that man to whom I may wish to transfer my task. Already he is under tribute to serve the same Master. Moreover, by abandoning my service, I abandon my reward and my joy. Delegation of service in God's kingdom is forbidden. "Each one of us must give account of himself before God." Rightly understood, service is privilege. To serve is to reign.—D.
Reward and punishment on earth,
According to rank and position in the Church is responsibility. Example is contagious. Treachery by a military officer is a graver sin than treachery by a soldier in the ranks. Pollution at the fourth is a greater evil than pollution in a branch-stream. Disease in the heart is a more serious matter than disease in the skin or at the extremities. If the priests of God sanction idolatry, the whole nation will follow suit, and the cause of God is betrayed. The sin of Judas lay in this—that he had been a trusted friend and companion of Jesus. God's ministers hold responsible posts.
I. MEN ARE OFTEN SUBJECTED TO A CRUCIAL TEST. The present race is mainly tempted to infidelity, but the earlier generations of men were tempted to idolatry. As infidelity is now the ally of vice, so was and is idolatry. Both chime in with the lower passions of human nature. In the period preceding Ezekiel's birth Israel had gone astray after idols. On every side false deities were being set up. Idolatry was in the atmosphere. A great opportunity opened to the Levites. As ministers of Jehovah, set apart for the service of religion, they should have stood in the gap and raised barriers against the inflowing tide of idolatry, the honor of God was in their keeping. The well-being of the nation rested with them. They were the trustees of God's truth for the world. It was a testing-time. Men's favor or God's—which would they choose? Popularity for the moment or enduring fidelity—which? Alas! they made a suicidal choice! They chose the path of selfish ease. Like a physician summoned to a critical case, they too might have abated the raging fever and saved the patient's life. But they had no religious earnestness. They were mere functionaries of a system; and so long as duty was light and a livelihood secure, religion might take care of itself. Honored with a tremendous trust, they proved themselves unworthy—faithless. Regard for God was lacking. Moral prowess was lacking. They drifted with the stream. Their sin was the sowing of evil tares, which developed into a harvest of misery and disaster.
II. IN SUCH CASES TWO LINES OF CONDUCT ARE POSSIBLE. In the stress of temptation men can either resist or yield. In no case is it a necessity to succumb. Moral principle in man has withstood the incoming deluge of temptation, and it always can. Unseen resources are on the side of him who steadfastly adheres to right. God is at his side. So far as public action went, Elijah stood alone in the days of Jezebel's idolatry. In Babylon Daniel stood erect as the sole witness for Jehovah, and notable triumph was his. Martin Luther was for years the only champion of Bible truth on the continent of Europe—one man against the world; yet he prevailed. So, in the instance narrated here, one family remained faithful. The sons of Zadok were worthy sons of a worthy sire. A good name is a good heritage, and no better name can a man wear than Zadok, i.e. "Righteousness." If a man trusts to his good name, he is a fool; but if he lives up to a good name—makes that his model—he is wiser than Solomon. A rotten ship will not survive the storm, though she is named Impregnable. These sons of Zadok were like Abdiel, "faithful among the faithless found." "They kept the charge of the sanctuary" when Israel went astray. They had moral backbone—some iron principle in their blood. It is the basest cowardice merely to go with the majority. Numbers are not the arbiter of truth or of right. Men who deserve the name inquire for themselves, judge for themselves, seek guidance from the Unerring Source, and act according to the result. There was no external necessity to follow the crowd of idolaters. The sons of Zadok resisted. So in every case a man's conduct is the outcome of his own choice.
III. AS THERE ARE TWO LINES OF CONDUCT, THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF AWARD. It is only the blindness of men that supposes that God's justice ever slumbers or ever mistakes. God can patiently wait his time, and can generously forbear. Yet with perfect calmness he metes out justice to every man. Touching these Levites he declares, "they shall even bear their iniquity." If any sensitiveness of soul was left in them, they must have been sorely pained, during the seventy years of captivity, with the self-conviction that their unfaithfulness had been a main cause of Israel's disaster. Nor was this all. A perpetual stigma was upon their name. An everlasting degradation was imposed on them and on their posterity. Their children and their children's children through many generations were involved in the disgrace and in the deprivation of office. So far as it had been an honor to be a Levite, now it shall be reversed—it shall be a dishonor. "They shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, in the most holy place." They had put God far away from them; it was simple retribution that God should forbid them to come near to him. Sin always bears its Own natural fruit. Still, judgment was tempered with mercy. They shall not be entirely superseded. They shall not be banished from the new temple. Inferior office they may yet fill; subordinate service they may yet perform. And in their degraded rank they shall learn that God's service is real honor; that nearness to God is man's heaven. "They shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having charge at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house; they shall slay, the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people." But, on the other hand, special honor is conferred on the loyal sons of Zadok. "They shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me … They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table," etc. Here is unmistakable promotion. "They had kept the charge of the sanctuary;" now "they shall keep my charge." In other words, "They shall be my treasures: I will entrust my honor and all my precious things unto them." Their fidelity is established; yea, is strengthened and enlarged by this strain of temptation. Their characters have come forth from the furnace like burnished gold. They shall be trusted in the heavenly kingdom because they are trustworthy. The omniscient eye of God does not overlook the least meritorious deed. High reward is in course of preparation for the righteous. Men often deceive themselves with specious hopes of escape. They often deceive others with plausible semblances, they can never deceive God!—D.
In every part of the world there is hunger, more or less, to possess land. By long observation men have discovered that to possess land is to possess influence and honor among their fellow-men. Is not land essential as the foundation of the harvest-crops? And are not crops of corn and fruit essential to the life of men? Is not agriculture the mainstay of a nation's well-being? Yet without land agriculture is impossible; is it not therefore reasonable that men should eagerly long to call the land their own? On the other hand, this anxiety chains down men's thoughts to inferior occupations and to a provision for their inferior nature. Such anxiety tends to draw away their attention from God and to weaken their sense of pious trust. In order to counteract this disastrous tendency, God appointed a class of men whose business it should be to keep God prominently before the eyes of their fellow-men. These servants of God were precluded from acquiring wealth. They were to be wholly employed in fostering the religious life in men. For their maintenance God provided in a special manner. These priests were designed to be models of human life, patterns of later Christians. God's method for teaching the race is this—viz; to set down a good man in their midst, and to inspire others with the desire to imitate him. If one man can live and prosper by virtue of implicit and practical faith in God, other men can. By diligent culture of the land, God has ordained that human life shall be sustained. Yet God is not shut up to this one system. "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
I. EARTHLY POSSESSION IS ONLY A MEANS TO AN END. It is not a blessing, but only a medium of blessing. It is part of God's system of means. The land exists with a view to harvest. The harvest is produced with a view to man's bodily life. Man's bodily life is sustained with a view to his spiritual character. On the whole, it is best that the land should be appropriated to personal possession. This secures that the land shall be cultivated in the highest degree, and that the crops shall be protected from premature use. If all land should remain as common property, there would be lack of inducement to cultivate it; there would be lack of inducement to personal exertion; there would be no check to extravagant waste. Personal possession is best for a community; yet it becomes a waste and an injury if a man possesses more than he can cultivate. God gives not land to a man in order that he may be tyrannical, selfish, puffed up with overweening conceit. This is a miserable perversion of a Divine gift. Land is created for cultivation. Cultivation of laud is designed for the support of human life. And all the laud in the world is worth nothing to me except as it ministers to the health and vigor of my life.
II. GOD CAN SECURE THIS END BY OTHER SYSTEMS OF MEANS. The best proof that, he can do so is the fact that he has done so on many occasions. It would be the height of folly to suppose that God has not made the wisest possible arrangement for the well-being of men. Yet if men abuse the arrangement and push God away from his rightful place, God can alter his system, and bring about his end by other agencies. He sustained the life of Abraham, gave him wealth and influence among men, while, at the same time, he refused to give him a rood of land. He was the Special Protector of the Hebrew nation; yet he led them about the desert for the lifetime of a whole generation, where harvests could not be gathered, and where land was not desired as a possession. Yet they wanted not for food or for clothing. God was to them better than all harvests. So Jesus Christ called away the twelve from their secular pursuits; yet he did not suffer them to want any good thing. Jesus himself preferred to have no encumbrance of land or wealth. He freely chose the state of poverty. To him, living in such intimate union with his Father, landed possession would have been a needless burden; yet, not only were his own wants supplied, but he royally spread a table for others. What the Son did on earth was the visible effect of his Father's working.
III. UNSELFISH SERVICE BRINGS TO A MAN THE LARGEST GAIN. He who forgets himself in his generous kindness is not forgotten by his fellows—is not forgotten by God. The family of Zadok were prohibited from being landholders. Nevertheless, they shall not want. "Every dedicated thing in Israel shall be theirs." "The first of all the firstfruits" shall be theirs. God out-distances all his creatures in generously rewarding faithful service. In his book every item of devoted toil and sacrifice is noted; for it ample reward is preparing. Just as one pain of corn will produce, in the harvest, a hundred grains, so consecrated service is living seed—it shall fructify into splendid results. Did Abraham ever regret his unswerving fidelity to God? Does St. Paul feel today that he made too great sacrifices of himself for others? Has any one been a loser for serving God? It almost savors of profanity to propose such a question. The true servants of God shall enjoy the tribute due to God himself. Statesmen, under a mighty king, are rewarded with a goodly share of the revenue of the empire; so the tribute paid into God's temple God distributes among his priests. For them who serve God well other men labor. Other men till the ground and prepare the produce. They who do the highest work shall have the best reward. Thus it was predicted, "Strangers shall stand and feed your flock, and the sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen and your vine-dressers; but ye shall be called the Priests of the Lord." Like many other good things, the name and the office of the priest have been made a curse. Yet a true priest—God's servant to mankind—is a very fount of blessing. He is like salt in the earth—a preserving and purifying power. Wherever he comes he is a spring-season of life and joy. He is to be well cared for, so "that he may cause the blessing to rest in thine house."
IV. THE DEVOTED SERVANT OF GOD OBTAINS A PROPRIETORSHIP IN GOD. "I am their Inheritance … I am their Possession." An estate is not really ours because we call it ours. We cannot call anything ours unless it becomes a part and parcel of ourselves. If it adds to our character and our strength, then, and only then, is it ours. The land estate is often the master of the man. He lives to improve it rather than to be improved by it. We possess property when we really get some advantage out of it. So is it also with respect to God. If we make God our Friend, we extract advantage from him. If we believe his promises and open our souls to his vitalizing grace, we are enriched from him. God's wisdom becomes our wisdom. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. His love becomes a fountain of love in us. We are "partakers of the Divine nature." In a very emphatic sense God gives himself to us. Every capacity in us may be filled with God. If we are fully God's property, God is our Portion—our Inheritance. This is transcendent condescension, the sublimity of love.
V. TO POSSESS GOD IS TO POSSESS ALL THINGS. On this account it would have been a superfluity if Jesus had been a Proprietor of wealth. Of what advantage would it have been for him to possess fields, if he could create a sufficient supply of bread by the magic of command? Although the poorest, he was yet the richest of men. It is understood that he who possesses the key of the bank possesses the contents of the hank. If the Creator be mine, if I can call him "my Father," then whatever his creation contains of good is mine also. It is clear that I must, as a creature, be dependent. Is it better to depend on law or on the Lawgiver? on the cistern or on the Fount? on blind circumstances or Omniscient Wisdom? on natural forces or on the all-creative God? My faith is founded in common sense. God undertakes to be my Friend—my Father. Then I am his child; and" if a son, then an heir—heir of God; "All things are yours, for ye are … God's."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Ezekiel 44:1, Ezekiel 44:2
The shut gate: reverence.
What is the true significance of this closure? Much has been made of it by fanciful exposition; but surely the true lesson is that which lies upon the surface, viz. that the closed gate would be a continual reminder that the people must reverently abstain from using the entrance through which the Most High himself had once passed. It was another symbolic utterance of the truth that we must "put off our shoes" when we stand on "holy ground." The fact that there was a closed gate in this visionary, this ideal temple, may not unfittingly suggest to us (though it cannot be said to teach us)—
I. THE WAY THAT IS BARRED. If we try to enter the kingdom of God by the way or the gate of:
1. A false independence; if we attempt to reach the saving and redeeming truth of God by our unaided intelligence, unwilling to learn of him who came to teach us, to be to us "the Wisdom of God,"—then we shall find no entrance there (see Matthew 18:3; 1 Corinthians 3:18). The same may be said of:
2. Unholy indulgence; and of:
3. The favorable opportunity in the future. Whoever seeks to enter the kingdom of Christ by these doers will find no open gate, but a barred way; he must enter by the way of childlike faith, of purity, of immediate decision. The closed gate may also suggest to us, by contrast—
II. THE OPENNESS OF THE KINGDOM. There is a very valuable and most precious sense in which no gate is shut that was ever open into the kingdom of God. No man, let him be who or what he may, let him have been anything whatever in the past, coming to the gate of the kingdom of Christ in sincere penitence and simple faith, will find it closed against him. By whatever path he may have approached, by whatever influences constrained, if he be earnestly desirous of seeking God and serving him, he will find himself before an open door. Christ himself/s the Door, and he is ever saying, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." But the true lesson of the passage is—
III. THE CONSTANT DUTY OF REVERENCE IN THE WORSHIP AND SERVICE OF GOD. The shut gate said (in effect), "Where God has come, you may not enter; there must be another way for the feeble and sinful creature than that taken by the almighty and holy Creator; realize the immeasurable difference between yourself and him." It is well that there should be raised, now and again, the reminder that the Lord whom we serve is the Most High and the Most Holy One; that it becomes us to worship him and to speak for him in the spirit of deepest reverence; that if a "holy boldness" may be cultivated, an unholy irreverence is to be most sedulously shunned; that our dearest Friend is our Divine Lord, worthy of the profoundest homage our hearts can pay him, claiming the fullest subjection we can bring to his feet, as we worship in his house or work in his vineyard.—C.
The prophet is necessarily expressing himself in the terms of the old dispensation; and he declares, in God's name, that no man who has not received a right spirit ("uncircumcised in heart"), and that no man who has not been admitted to the citizenship of the kingdom of God ("uncircumcised in flesh"), can "enter the sanctuary"—can come into closest contact with, and render holiest service unto, the Lord (see Ezekiel 44:9). And he further declares that those of his people who had grievously sinned against him by their guilty apostasy should be excluded from the more sacred offices of the priesthood; yet that they should be admitted to the humbler posts of guarding the doors, of slaying 'the sacrificial animals, and of ministering to those priests who were worthier than themselves (Ezekiel 44:11, Ezekiel 44:14). The general lesson we learn is that God deals with us graciously and generously, but discriminately. He gives to all his children, but he does not give the same kind, nor does he give the same measure, to all; he is merciful to the penitent, but he does not let his mercy obscure or reduce his righteousness. Those who have done serious wrong "bear their iniquity" (Ezekiel 44:10), they "bear their shame" (Ezekiel 44:13); and yet they have their place and do their work in the day of restoration (see Ezekiel 44:11, Ezekiel 44:14). In that kingdom of God wherein we now stand we see illustrations of this Divine discrimination in—
I. THE DISPENSING OF THE DIVINE BOUNTY. God gives much to all his creatures, to all his children; but he gives much more to some than he does to others. Herein is no favoritism or injustice. It is simply the presence of a most desirable variety; the conferring upon every one more than he deserves or can claim, and upon some a very large inheritance of good. Not any one of us is entitled to our being, or our comforts, or our powers; but God, in the fullness of his bounty, gives us these. Shall we complain because there are those to whom he has been even more bountifully than he has to us? Shall we not rather rejoice and be grateful that he has not limited his love as he might well have done? In fact, although very much inequality here is due to our own unwisdom, much is due to the variety in the Divine distribution. To some he gives more vigorous health, a clearer or more active mind, a stronger will, a fuller or longer life. Surely gratitude and not complaint is the note of the wise and the good.
II. THE DIVERSITY OF THE DIVINE BESTOWAL OF "GIFTS." While there is no one who may not and who should not bring his contribution to the cause of Christ and of man, it is clear that some may do a much higher and a much greater work than others can. To some it is given to guard the door only; to others to present the sacrifice unto the Lord. Some with a feeble intelligence and a scanty knowledge may be quite equal to a humble post; others with versatile and vigorous powers and a well-stored mind may render most important and vital service. And there are many degrees between the humblest and the highest office in the Christian ranks. Let every man feel that to be or to do anything for Christ is a joy and an honor; let those who are invited to the "chief seats" remind themselves that they "have nothing which they have not received," and let them do everything "as with the ability which God giveth."
III. THE EXERCISE OF DIVINE MERCY. The "Levites that went astray after their idols' were to receive the Divine mercy; they were to be restored to their place in the commonwealth of Israel; they were to be admitted to service at and indeed in the sanctuary (see Ezekiel 44:11, Ezekiel 44:14); but they could not wholly regain what they had lost; some of their iniquity (or shame, Ezekiel 44:13) they would have to bear; at a certain point their privileges stopped. Now, in the kingdom of Christ, we have the same kind of Divine discrimination.
1. There is mercy for those who have gone furthest astray. Into whatever alienation of heart, rejection by the mind, guiltiness of behavior, they have wandered, there is forgiveness to be had in Jesus Christ.
2. The mercy of God means much. It means the absolute pardon of all past sin; the restoration of the soul to the favor and the friendship of God; access, full and free, to his praise, his throne, his table; liberty to serve him in the broad field of sacred usefulness.
3. But there is some serious and necessary qualification. They who have gone very far into wrong-doing, or have spent many years in sinful estrangement, must "bear their iniquity" in one sense—they must suffer the injury which their sin has wrought in the formation of evil habits (mental or physical) which cannot be immediately cast forth; in the loss of reputation which cannot be at once regained; in the enfeeblement of the soul (or, at any rate, the loss of strength and influence that might have been acquired) which has to be endured. Sin means some considerable measure of absolutely irreparable loss.—C.
Ezekiel 44:15, Ezekiel 44:16
Fidelity and its reward.
We do not suppose that the statement respecting the sons of Zadok is to be pressed to historical exactitude. Their steadfastness is assumed for the purpose of exhortation, to point out the reward of fidelity in the kingdom of God. We have—
I. THE FACT AND THE ACCOUNT OF UNFAITHFULNESS. There is no more patent fact before our eyes than that men do "go astray;' they go astray, like these Levites, from God, from truth, from wisdom, from purity, from their earlier convictions and their noble life. The frequency of the fact cannot dull our eyes to the extreme sadness of it. What sadness was there in the tone of the Master's question, "Will ye also go away?" With what profound regret do we now witness the descent or' a human soul from the heights of heavenly wisdom to the depths of disbelief or iniquity! If we are asked to account for it, we suggest three powerful temptations which prove too strong for resistance.
1. The fascinations of novelty; the love of looking at things in new lights or of treading new paths.
2. The strength of the social current; the unconscious and (often) the wholly unreasonable deference we pay to the opinions of those around us. It is difficult to row against the stream of current thought and practice; it is pleasant to go with the tide, even though we suspect it is bearing us out to the open sea of uncertainty and unbelief.
3. Concern for our temporal interests; for it often happens that a firm adherence to conviction means a painful parting, not only from friends, but from the source of "food and raiment."
II. THE SUMMONS TO FIDELITY. Many things demand of us that we should be faithful even to the end. Fidelity is:
1. Obligatory. We cannot leave the service of God or of truth without breaking the most sacred bonds, without laying ourselves open to self-reproach and doing that which we shall look back upon with shame and sorrow. We owe it to those who are coming up after us—especially to our own children—that we turn not our back on our old principles.
2. Excellent. There is something honorable and admirable in a very high degree in a consistent and faithful life; not, of course, the unintelligent repetition of the old sounds, but the adherence, through good report and evil report, through storm and sunshine, to the vital principles we learnt at the feet of Jesus Christ. The head that has grown white with the consistent advocacy and illustration of elevating and ennobling truth does wear a glorious crown.
3. Attended with a large and a true reward. Steadfastness, as compared with vacillation or apostasy, not only commands the esteem of men, and not only enables its possessor to enjoy his own self-respect, but it secures for him the abiding favor of God. God calls such men not only to the gate or door of the sanctuary; he bids them "enter into it," and "come near to his table," to "minister unto him." For them is reserved the closer fellowship and the more honorable and essential service. In the service of Christ fidelity not only aspires to the higher and better service of the Master and of mankind below, but it looks forward to an admission within the blessed gates, and sitting down to the "table" of the Lord in the heavenly kingdom (Luke 22:30).—C.
A good minister of Jesus Christ.
What the faithful priest was under the Law, that the "good minister" is under Christ (1 Timothy 4:6). And while the form of service is altogether different, the spirit should be the same. The ideal priest, as here delineated, is, mutatis mutandis, the true bishop or pastor of the New Testament. The latter is—
I. STUDIOUS OF HIS MASTER'S WILL, EVEN IN SMALL PARTICULARS. The priest was to carry out very minute instructions (see Ezekiel 44:17-20). The minister of Christ is freed from the observance of such particulars, but still he is to be regardful of the will of Christ in everything. He is to carry a Christian temper and bearing everywhere. If in the view of the Master there was a right and a wrong way of entering a room and taking a seat (see Luke 14:7-10), so may there be a right and a wrong way of entering a pulpit, or reading a chapter, or visiting a cottage.
II. CAREFUL TO BE AT HIS BEST IN PUBLIC MINISTRATIONS. The priest was to avoid the drinking of wine at or near the time of sacrifice (Ezekiel 44:21). The true minister of Christ will
(1) shun everything in the way of bodily indulgence which unfits him, and
(2) study and practice every habit, whether physical or mental, which will qualify him, for the discharge of his sacred duties with the utmost efficiency.
III. AN EXEMPLAR IN ALL MATTERS OF PURITY. (Ezekiel 44:22, Ezekiel 44:25, Ezekiel 44:26.) In all domestic relations, as husband and father (see 1 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:6). And in all his relations with either sex it becomes him to be a pattern of purity; not only shunning that which is positively wrong and guilty, that which is condemned in terms, but avoiding even the approaches to evil in this direction, knowing the great importance that he should encourage all, more especially the young, in that thorough purity (of heart, of word, and of deed) without which no character can be beautiful in the sight of God.
IV. ONE THAT EXPOUNDS AND ENFORCES PRACTICAL RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Ezekiel 44:23.) What the people have a right to look for from their Christian teacher is:
1. A full, clear, forcible declaration of those truths which determine their relation to God, First of all, men want to be brought into a right relation with him; until that is done it may be said that nothing is done; estranged and separated from God, there is no rest or rightness for the human heart. Then comes:
2. A clear enunciation of Christian morals; such an exposition of duty that men shall know and feel the distinction between what is right and what is wrong in all their dealings with their fellow-men, in all their home relations, in all the varied spheres in which they, move.. The minister of Christ is to be, like Noah, a "preacher of righteousness, he is so to speak that those who hear him will be powerfully encouraged in every virtue, strongly dissuaded from every evil way and all unworthiness in temper and spirit.
V. A MAN OF AN ESSENTIALLY DEVOUT LIFE. (Ezekiel 44:24, Ezekiel 44:27, Ezekiel 44:28.) One that delights in the worship of God, that does not fail to use well the privileges provided by the day and the house of the Lord, that finds his chief and best inheritance in God himself; to whom the Fatherhood of God and the friendship and service of Jesus Christ are (and not merely bring) an "exceeding great reward." He is to be a man who can say that "to him to live is Christ," and that, conversely, to know and love and serve Christ is life indeed.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 44". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany