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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 48". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-48.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 48". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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The closing chapter of the prophet's temple-vision treats more particularly of the distribution of the land among the several tribes (Ezekiel 48:1-29), and concludes with a statement concerning the gates, dimensions, and name of the city (Ezekiel 48:30-35).
The distribution of the land among the several tribes. First, the portions north of the terumah (Ezekiel 48:1-7); secondly, the terumah (Ezekiel 48:8-22), embracing the portions of the priests and Levites (Ezekiel 48:8-14), with the portions for the city (Ezekiel 48:15-20) and the prince (Ezekiel 48:21, Ezekiel 48:22); and thirdly, the portions south of the city (Ezekiel 48:23-30).
The portions north of the terumah. These should be seven, lie in parallel strips from the Mediterranean to the east border, and be allocated to the tribes of Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, and. Judah. The divergences between this and the earlier division under Joshua (14-19.) are apparent.
(1) In that Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh received portions on the east of Jordan; in this no tribe obtains a lot outside of the boundary of the Holy Land.
(2) In that the allocation commenced in the south with Judah; in this it begins in the north with Dan (for the reason, see Exposition).
(3) In that the most northern portions, those of Asher and Naphtali, started from a point a little above Tyre; in this the most northern portion, that of Dan, proceeds from the entering in or the south border of Hamath, some fifty or sixty miles north of Damascus.
(4) In that the portions were scarcely ever parallel; in this they always are.
(5) In that the portions of Judah and Reuben lay south, and that of Dan west of Jerusalem; in this all three are situated north of the city.
Ezekiel 48:1, Ezekiel 48:2
The names of the tribes. The tribe of Levi Being excepted, the number twelve should in the future as in the past division of the holy soil be preserved by assigning to Joseph portions (Ezekiel 47:13), one for Ephraim and one for Manasseh. From the north end. On the former occasion the allotment had begun in the south of the land and proceeded northwards; on this it should commence in the north and move regularly southward. The alteration is sufficiently explained by remembering that, after the conquest, the people were viewed as having come from the south, whereas at the restoration they should appear as entering in from the north. To the coast of (better, beside) the way of Hethlon, as one goeth to (literally, to the entering in of) Hamath, Hazar-enan, the border of Damascus. This was the north boundary of the land from west to east, as already defined (Ezekiel 47:16,Ezekiel 47:17); and with this line the portion of Dan should begin. The portion should then, as to situation, be one lying northwards, to the coast of (or rather, beside) Hamath. That is to say, beginning with the border of Hamath, it should extend southwards. For these are his sides, east and west should be, And there shall be to him sides east, west, meaning "the tract between both eastern and western boundaries," rather than as Hitzig translates, "And there shall be to him the east side of the sea," signifying that his territory should embrace the land east of the Mediterranean;" or as Hengstenberg renders, And they shall be to him the east side the sea," equal to "the tract in question should have the sea for its east border." Then, as this applies equally to all the tribe-portions, Hengstenberg regards "to him" (לוֹ) as pointing to "the whole of the tribes combined into an ideal unity," but expositors generally agree that "to him" should be referred to Dan, whom the prophet had in mind and was about to mention. A portion for Dan should be Dan one "portion," חֶבֶל (Ezekiel 47:13), rather than "tribe," שֵׁבֶט, as Smend proposes. To take אֶחָד as alluding to the enumeration of the tribes is indeed countenanced by Ezekiel's mode of numbering the gates (verses 30-35); but Ezekiel's style in verses 30-35 will be preserved here also if חֶבֶל precede "Judah," thus: "the portion of Danone." "The presupposition that one tribe should receive exactly as much as another led to the individual tribe's portion being considered as a monas" (Kliefoth). In the first division of the land, Dan's portion was small, and situated west of the territories of Ephraim and Benjamin.
After Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh (the whole tribe) Ephraim, Reuben, and Judah should receive portions, each the size of Dan's, and, like his, stretching from the east side to the west, each joining on to the border of its predecessor, and the seven portions together occupying the whole space between the north boundary of the land and the portion of the Levites. Among the differences distinguishing this from the division made by Joshua, these may be noticed:
(1) Reuben and Manasseh are brought from the east of Jordan to the west, and Reuben inserted between Judah and Ephraim.
(2) In order to make room for these, Zebulon, Ephraim, and Benjamin are displaced, and located south of the city.
(3) Dan heads the list, instead of fetching up the rear as on the last occasion.
(4) Ephraim loses her former position next to Judah.
The terumah, or priests' portion (Ezekiel 48:8-12), with the portions for the Levites (Ezekiel 48:13, Ezekiel 48:14), for the city (Ezekiel 48:15-20), and for the prince (Ezekiel 48:1, Ezekiel 48:22).
The terumah, already referred to (Ezekiel 45:1-5), is here more minutely described.
(1) In situation, it should be by the border of Judah, i.e. contiguous to Judah's territory on the south. Hence it should embrace all the above specified portions.
(2) In breadth, from north to south, it should be twenty-five thousand reeds, this being undoubtedly the word to be supplied.
(3) In length, it should be as one of the other parts, extending from the east to the west side of the land.
(4) In relation to the sanctuary, this should be in the midst of it, not necessarily in the exact geographical center of the whole terumah in the larger sense, but generally in a central position.
refer to the priests' portion proper, setting forth
(1) its dimensions, 25,000 reeds along the north and south boundaries from east to west, and 10,000 reeds from north to south along the east and west sides, so that it should form an oblong or rectangle of 25,000 x 10,000 reeds—548 square (geographical) miles;
(2) its relation to the sanctuary, which should stand in its midst, in this case should occupy the exact geographical center;
(3) its destination, viz. for the priests that are sanctified of the sons of Zadok—better than "that which is sanctified is for the priests," as Ewald and Hitzig propose;
(4) its character, most holy; and
(5) its petition, by the border of the Levites, i.e. with the Levites' portion adjoining it, but whether on the north or the south is not stated, and cannot yet be determined (see on Ezekiel 48:22).
Ezekiel 48:13, Ezekiel 48:14
The Levites' portion is next described by its situation, as lying over against—לְעֻמַּת, "at or near," answerable to (Revised Version), parallel with (Keil)—the border of the priests; by its dimensions, as twenty-five thousand reeds in length, from east to west, and ten thousand reeds in breadth, or from north to south, i.e. it should be as large as the priests' portion—in point of fact larger, since the space necessary for the sanctuary required to be deducted from the former; by its tenure, which was such that the Levites could neither sell, exchange, nor alienate it, any more than under the Law the Levites could sell the field of the suburbs or pasture-lands of their cities (Leviticus 25:34); and by its character, which, as consisting of the firstfruits of the land, i.e. of the first portion of the land heaved up or presented in offering (see Ezekiel 45:1), was holy unto the Lord (cf. Ezekiel 44:30). The changes in the text made by the LXX. and favored by Hitzig and Smend—"to the Levites" instead of "the Levites" (Ezekiel 48:13), and "twenty" instead of "ten thousand" (Ezekiel 48:13)—are unnecessary.
.—In the same way the portion for the city receives detailed exposition.
gives four particulars.
(1) The city portion should consist of the five thousand reeds' breadth of the entire terumah remaining after the deduction of the priests' and Levites' portions.
(2) It should lie over against (עַל־פְּנֵי); in front of, and therefore parallel with, the five and twenty thousand cubit-lengths of which these were composed.
(3) In character it should be a profane place, i.e. a place devoted to common use as opposed to consecrated ground (comp. Le Ezekiel 10:10) and designed for the city, i.e. for dwelling, and for suburbs, i.e. for the erection of houses, and for an open space or precinct (מִגְרָשׁ) around the city, similar to that around the sanctuary (see Ezekiel 45:2). Among the Romans "a space of ground was left free from buildings, both within and without the walls, which was called pomaerium, and was likewise held sacred".
(4) The city should stand in the midst thereof, as the sanctuary in the midst of the priests' portion (verse 10).
The dimensions of the city should be four thousand five hundred reeds on the four sides; in other words, it should form a square (comp. Le Ezekiel 21:16). The חמשׁ, left unpunctuated by the Massorites, and marked as "written but not to be read," should be omitted as an error.
Ezekiel 48:18, Ezekiel 48:19
The remaining portions of the terumah should be two strips of land, each 10,000 x 5000 reeds, one on each side of the city, the increase or produce of which should be for food unto them that serve the city. By "them that serve the city" Hitzig and Smend understand its ordinary inhabitants, since a district may be said to be cultivated through simple residence upon it (compare colere locum). Havernick, after Gesenius, thinks of the workmen who should be employed in building the city, against which may be urged that the city is supposed to be already built. Hengstenberg, with whom Plumptre seems disposed to agree, can only see in the city servers "a militia who take the city in the midst." Keil and Kliefoth find them in the laboring classes, who should not in this future state, as so often in ordinary states among men, be destitute of a possession in land, but should receive an allotment for their maintenance. But an obvious objection to this view is that it hands over the city land exclusively to the laboring classes, forgetting that the "other" classes require support as well as they. Probably the best interpretation is to regard עֹבְדֵי הָעִיר, "them that serve the city," as standing in antithesis to the other two classes already mentioned—the Levites, whose office should be to serve the tabernacle (see Numbers 4:24, Numbers 4:26; Numbers 18:6, in which עָבַד is employed to denote the service of the Levites); and the priests, whose special function should be to serve the altar (see Numbers 18:7, in which, again, the same verb is used). Thus regarded, "they that serve the city" will mean all engaged in secular pursuits in the city, which approximates to the view of Hitzig; and the prophet's language will signify that all such should derive their sustenance from the city lands, i.e. should either have direct access to these lands to cultivate them for themselves, or should obtain a share in the produce of these lands for other services rendered to the city. With this accords the further statement that those who served the city should serve it out of all the tribes of Israel; i.e. its inhabitants should not, as formerly, be drawn chiefly from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but contain representatives from all the tribes of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 45:6).
All the oblation, the whole terumah, must in this verse include the three portions already marked out for the priests, the Levites, and the city. Added together, they should form a square of five and twenty thousand reeds. Hence it is added in the second clause, Ye shall offer the holy oblation four square, with the possession of the city. Hitzig, Kliefoth, and Keil translate, "To a fourth part shall ye lift off the holy terumah for a possession of the city," as if the sense were that the area of the city possession should be a fourth part of the area of the whole tern-mall. That 5000 of breadth is a fourth part of 20,000 of breadth may be admitted; but that the city portion was not in area a fourth of the other two, a little arithmetic will show—the area of the whole terumah being 25,000 x 25,000 reeds = 625,000,000 square reeds, and that of the city possession being 5000 x 25,000 reeds = 125,000,000 square reeds. Hence the Authorized and Revised Versions are probably correct in taking רְבִיעִית, "a fourth part (see Exodus 29:40), as equivalent to רָבוּעַ (Ezekiel 43:16), τετράγωνον (LXX.).
Ezekiel 48:21, Ezekiel 48:22
The prince's portion should take up the residue of the original oblation, or terumah (see Ezekiel 48:8), from which had been withdrawn the aforesaid square containing the portions of the Levites, the priests, and the city. This residue should consist of two strips of land, situated one on each side of the holy oblation (here, of the priests and Levites) and of the possession of the city, and running along the whole length of the five and twenty thousand of the oblation (here the three portions composing the square), and extending eastward to the Jordan and westward to the Mediterranean. The last two clauses of Ezekiel 48:21, which should read, And the holy oblation and the sanctuary of the house shall be in the midst of it, implies that the two parts of the prince's portion, the eastern and the western, should be equal. Ezekiel 48:22 teaches that the whole intermediate territory between the border of Judah (in the north of the terumah) and the border of Benjamin (in the south of the terumah), from the possession of the Levites (the north portion of the terumah) and from (equivalent to "to") the possession of the city (the southern portion of the terumah), should belong to the prince. The mention of the possession of the Levites and the possession of the city as the extreme portions of the terumah, appears to indicate $hat the priests' portion lay between. Ewald translates as if the prophet meant to say the sanctuary should lie between the possession of the Levites and the possession of the city (in the first place), and between the two parts of the prince's land (in the second place), and yet again between the border of Judah and the border of Benjamin (in the third place): but to read thus the text must be changed.
As for the rest of the tribes, these should follow on the south of the city portion, in parallel tracts, from east to west—Benjamin: Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad—till the southern boundary of the land should be reached, which boundary is again defined as in Ezekiel 47:19. Each tribe should receive, as those north of the terumah, one portion. The exact extent of this equal portion, though not stated, may be calculated—
Latitude of entrance to Hamath—34° 20'
Latitude of Kadesh (say)—30° 30'
60 x 3 5/6—230 geographical miles.
But the whole breadth of the terumah was 25,000 reeds = 37 geographical miles. Hence 230—37 = 193 miles, which, divided by 12, gives 16 miles of breadth (from north to south) for each portion. The precise length from east to west is more difficult to estimate, in consequence of the varying widths of the land. Accepting this, however, as 55 miles at Jerusalem, the breadth of the prince's portion from east to west would be only 2½ miles on each side of the terumah; which, multiplied by 50 miles from north to south, would yield an area of 125 square miles on each side, or of 250 square miles in all. The disposition of the southern tribes differs from that made under the earlier division of the land—Simeon alone lying where he had been formerly placed, in the south quarter, Issachar and Zebulun being fetched from the north, Benjamin from the middle, and Gad from the west to keep him company. Upon the whole, the new arrangement has several marked peculiarities which distinguish it from the old. While agreeing with the old in this, that the three tribes, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali retain their original places in the north, and the temple is not deprived of its central position between Judah and Benjamin, it differs from the old in placing the three northern tribes side by side from west to east, but after one another from north to south, and exchanges the positions of Benjamin and Judah, transferring the former to the south and the latter to the north of the temple and the city. Then, while under the old neither priests, Levites, nor prince had a portion, all three obtain one in this. And, finally, while under the old no regard was had to the temple, in the new this forms the central point of the whole.
The closing paragraph is devoted to a statement of the gates, dimensions, and name of the city.
The goings out of the city. These were not, as Hitzig, Gesenius, Ewald, Schroder, and Currey have supposed, the city exits, or gates, which are afterwards referred to, but, as Kliefoth, Keil, Hengstenberg, and Smend suggest, the extensions or boundary-lines of the city, in other words, the city walls in which the gates should be placed, and which are measured before the gates are specified. The north wall, with which the rest should correspond, should be four thousand and five hundred measures; literally, five hundred and four thousand (not cubits, as Ewald states, but reeds) by measure.
The gates of the city. These should be twelve in number, three on each side, and named after the twelve tribes (comp. Revelation 21:12). The gates leading northward should be those of Reuben, Judah, and Levi, all children of Leah (Genesis 29:32, Genesis 29:35), as Keil observes, "the firstborn in age, the firstborn by virtue of the patriarchal blessing, and the one chosen by Jehovah for his own service in the place of the firstborn." The same three occupy the first three places and in the same order in the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:6-8). Towards the east should lead the gates of Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan, the first and second sons of Rachel, and the third a son of Rachel's handmaid (Genesis 30:6, Genesis 30:24; Genesis 35:18). In the blessing of Moses Benjamin precedes Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:12, Deuteronomy 33:13). The south gates receive the names of Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun, again all sons of Leah. The west gates are those of Gad, Asher, and Naphtali, that is, two sons of Leah's handmaid and one of Rachel's. It is observable that in the naming of the gates Levi resumes his place among the tribes, which necessitates the substitution of Joseph the original tribe-father instead of Ephraim anti Manasseh his two sons. (On the phrase, one gate of Judah, literally, the gate of Judah one, see on verse 1.)
The entire circuit of the city should, according to the above measurement of the walls, be eighteen thousand reeds, i.e. 18,000 x 6 (cubits) x 1.5 (feet) = 162,000 feet = 30 miles. Josephus ('Wars,' 5.4. 3) reckoned the circuit of Jerusalem in his day to be thirty-three stadia, or four miles. The name of the city from that day should be, The Lord is there. It is debated whether "from that day" (מִיוֹם) should be connected with the preceding or the succeeding words, and likewise whether שָׁמָּה should be translated" there" or "thither." The Authorized and Revised Versions, Ewald, Havernick, Hengstenberg, Schroder, and Smend agree that מִיוֹם belongs to the antecedent clause, but differ as to whether it should be understood as equivalent to "from this time forth," i.e. for all time to come (Ewald), or "from henceforth," i.e. from that clay on, i.e. from the day of the city's building (Hengstenberg), which seems the most natural interpretation. Kliefoth and Keil prefer to conjoin "from that day" with the clause following, and expound the prophet's statement as saying that the city's name should be, "Henceforward Jehovah is there, or thither." Ewald, Hitzig, Keil, and Smend, with the two English Versions, decide for "there," Havernick, Hengstenberg, Kliefoth, and Schroder for "thither," as the sense of שָׁמָּה. That "thither" is the ordinary import of שָׁמָּה is undoubted; but that by Ezekiel. (see Ezekiel 23:3; Ezekiel 33:29, Ezekiel 33:30) and others (Jeremiah 18:2; Psalms 122:5; 2 Kings 23:8) it is used as "there" is also correct (see Gesenius, 'Lexicon,' sub rose). Happily, whichever rendering be adopted, the difference in significance is not material. If "there," the sense is that Jehovah will henceforth reside in the city; if "thither," that he will henceforth direct his regards towards the city. To object against the former view that Jehovah was in the future to reside in the temple rather than in the city is hypercritical, since, if Jehovah should make the temple his peculiar habitation, it would be for the sake of the city; if the latter view be taken, Kliefoth's explanation must be set aside that" from this day on Jehovah would direct himself towards the city; that the city and all concerning it may come to pass." As Keil observes, the name Jehovah Shammah was not to be given to the city before but after it was built (comp. Isaiah 60:14).
On the significance of the temple-vision.
The substance of what has been ascertained in the foregoing Exposition may thus be set forth.
1. According to the vision shown to the prophet, on returning to take possession of their Own land in accordance with promises previously given (Ezekiel 34:13; Ezekiel 36:24 : Ezekiel 37:12, Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:25), the tribes of restored and reunited Israel should first separate from the soil a holy heave, or terumah, as a portion for Jehovah (Ezekiel 45:1-8). This terumah they should divide into three parallel tracts: assigning that on the north, two-fifths of the whole, to the Levites for chambers anti for lands; that in the middle, also two-fifths of the whole, to the priests, for the sanctuary, which should occupy its center, and for houses in which they might reside; and that in the south, one-fifth of the whole, for the city, which also should stand in its middle, for dwellings and for suburbs (Ezekiel 48:15). Two strips of equal area on either side of the terumah, one extending westward to the Mediterranean and another eastward to the Jordan, should be handed over as a portion for the prince, out of which he should provide burnt, meat, and drink offerings in the feasts, new moans, sabbaths, and other solemnities of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 45:17). The remainder of the laud they should partition among themselves, allotting to each tribe an equal portion, which should extend from east to west across the entire breadth of the territory between the river and the sea, and be parallel to the holy oblation, but locating seven tribes north and five south of the terumah.
2. On returning to their own land, they should find that Jehovah had again, according to premise, established amongst them his sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:26, Ezekiel 37:27), a description of which the prophet gives. It is noticeable that no indication is furnished by the prophet that the people should erect an edifice after the pattern and according to the measurements of the house shown, but simply a statement made that such should be the sanctuary in which they should Worship.
3. On finding themselves once more in possession of the land which had been given to their fathers, and of a sanctuary prepared for them by Jehovah, the people of Israel should thenceforward serve him in accord-ante with the ordinances prescribed in the new Torah (Ezekiel 44-46.); should appear before him in the yearly feasts of the Passover and Tabernacles, in the monthly feasts of the new moon, in the weekly feasts of the sabbath, and in the daily ritual of sacrifice; should devolve upon the Zadokite (i.e. upon faithful) priests the duty of ministering at the altar, upon the Levites, to which rank the apostate (or unfaithful) priests of the monarchy should be reduced, that of attending to the sanctuary, or of serving the priests; and upon the prince that of providing the requisite sacrificial victims for the public festivals; the people for this purpose paying him the sixtieth part of their corn, the hundredth part of their oil, and the two-hundredth head of their flocks annually as a heave offering.
4. When Israel, thus revived and regenerated, restored and reunited, should serve Jehovah with a pure cultus, faithfully per. forming his commandments and walking in his ways, there should flow from the temple, as the habitation of Jehovah and the central institution of the land, down to the Jordan valley and into the Dead Sea, a miraculously increasing river, which should clothe the banks along its course with never-fading beauty and never-failing fertility, and on reaching the sea should render its waters salubrious, so that living creatures and fishes of every kind should swarm therein.
The question, therefore, which remains is—What significance should be attached to this temple-vision? The answer will de-pond on whether the principle of interpretation applied to it is literal or metaphorical, historical or typical, actual or symbolical. Round these two methods of interpretation the different views that have been entertained of this temple-vision may with sufficient accuracy be grouped.
I. VIEWS WHICH GROUND THEMSELVES ON A MORE OR LESS LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION. The only point which all the views in this class have in common is that they regard Ezekiel as having furnished the sketch of a new constitution for Israel, civil as well as, but chiefly, religious, to be actually put in force at some time in the future, either immediately subsequent to the exile or afterwards, by the erection of a temple, the institution of a worship and a division of the land in accordance with the specifications furnished by Ezekiel.
1. That the "temple-vision" was designed, in whole or in part, to provide a new constitution for the exiles who should return from Babylon when the seventy years of captivity had run their course, is a view which has always commanded support.
(1) It was favored by Villalpandus, who saw in Ezekiel's "house" only a reminiscence of the Solomonic temple which the prophet, having conjured up before his imagination, placed on paper that it might serve as a model for the future shrine which the home-returning Israelites should erect; but inns-much as Ezekiel's "house," while exhibiting not a few correspondences with Solomon's temple, at the same time discovered too many differences from that edifice to admit of being regarded as its exact transcript, critics soon perceived that the explanation of Villalpandus would require to be modified.
(2) Accordingly, Grotius substituted for the temple as first constructed by Solomon, the same edifice as it existed in Nebuchadnezzar's time immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem. This, that scholar thought, would account for the variations from Solomon's temple which were perceptible in Ezekiel's "house;" but, as Kliefoth properly observes, while changes must undoubtedly have passed upon the temple (both upon the building and in its ritual) between the dates of its erection and of its demolition, these were little likely to be of such a character as to render it the harmonious and symmetrical structure it appears in Ezekiel's vision.
(3) A third suggestion was then advanced by Eichhorn, Dathe, and Herder, and adopted by Hitzig, that Ezekiel's temple was not so much modeled after Solomon's as freely imagined and presented to the exiles as an ideal sketch of the new religious and civil order which should be established in Palestine after the return item captivity; while to the objection that no such order was established by the Jews who came back from Babylon, it was replied that that was not the fault of Ezekiel, but of the people, and no detraction from the splendor of the ideal which had been held up before them, but only an indication of their inability to convert that ideal into reality. This view, however, besides being open to the objections to be afterwards urged against it in common with others, has this difficulty of its own to contend with, that in introducing the subjective element of fancy as the primal source of the "vision," it directly conflicts with the prophet's statement that the vision was expressly shown him by supernatural agency.
(4) Closely allied to the preceding views, and in fact combining them, are those of Ewald, Kuenen, Wellhausen, Smend, Robertson Smith, Canon Driver, and their followers in Germany and in England. "Ezekiel may for a long time," writes Ewald, "have pondered with burning desire and lively recollection on the institutions of the fallen temple and kingdom: what appeared to him great and glorious therein may have deeply engraven itself upon his heart as the model of a future restoration; with such historical memories he may have compared the Messianic expectations and demands in detail, and thus in spirit have projected for himself the most vivid pictures of the best constitution and arrangement of the details at the hoped-for restoration of the kingdom." Kuenen ('The Religion of Israel,' 2.114) calls the passage now alluded to "a complete plan for the organization of the new Israel." Wellhausen speaks of the whole "vision" as "a program for the future restoration of the theocracy." Smend styles Ezekiel "a lawgiver, who outlines a complete life-ordinance for the Israel of the future." Robertson Smith characterizes his Torah as "a sketch of ritual for the period of restoration." Canon Driver says that Ezekiel 40-48, give "the constitution of the restored theocracy," but adds that, "though the details are realistically conceived, it is evident that there is an ideal element in Ezekiel's representations which in many respects it was found impossible to put into practice." Thus, while presenting different shades of opinion, the interpreters and critics just mentioned, from Villalpandus downwards, are unanimous in regarding the "vision" as having been at once a temple plan, a cultus Torah, and a land act for the post-exilic age; but against this understanding of the "vision," in the judgment of such scholars and expositors as Havernick, Fairbairn, Keil, Kliefoth, Wright, and Plumptre, the objections that may be urged are too numerous to admit of the belief that Ezekiel had any such intention as it supposes, viz. an intention to prepare beforehand a new constitution for the restoration era, which he believed to be at hand. These objections are the following:—
(1) If Ezekiel actually did intend to leave behind him a program for the coming age, a constitution for the new theocracy which he foresaw should arise, it is, to say the least, remarkable that no suspicion of this appears to have crossed the minds of any of the post-exilic leaders, such as Zerubbabel, Joshua, Ezra, or Nehemiah, all of whom, besides, lived so close to Ezekiel's time that they must have been aware of it had any such intention existed.
(2) Nor is it simply that the post-exilic leaders gave no indication that they regarded it as binding on them to carry out the wishes of Ezekiel as these were set forth in this temple-vision; but in proceeding with their work of restoration, in the reconstruction of the temple, in the reorganization of the worship, and in the redistribution of the land, they went back to the state and condition of things which had existed in pre-exilic times, building their new temple on the exact foundations of the old (Ezra 3:8-13), fashioning their worship in accordance with the prescriptions of the Levitical (or so-called priest-) code, and dividing their territory, if net after the land act of Moses, still less after that of Ezekiel.
(3) Add to this that, had the post-exilic leaders been desirous of following the directions of the "vision," they would have found it in many points quite impracticable. Not to speak, at least in this connection (see below), about the "very high mountain" or the "temple-river," which one scarcely sees how they could have improvised, it may be asked how they could have laid out on the summit of Moriah the precincts of the temple, which were 500 reeds square, or a compass of over three miles and a half; or measured off the terumah, which enclosed an area of 2500 square miles or nearly twice as large as the whole of Judaea; or divided the territory (which they did not possess) from the entrance of Hamath to the river of Egypt? Assuredly, if Ezekiel's plan was thus one which could not have been carried cut, even had he meant it, Ezekiel may be credited with having had sufficient sense not to mean it.
(4) Then on the literal hypothesis, what is to be made of the "very high mountain" on which the temple was seen to rest, and of the river that increased without receiving any tributaries along its course; and of the sea, whose waters were rendered salubrious and made to teem with fish by the flowing into them of the temple-stream? A hill whose maximum elevation above the sea was not more than 2528 feet could hardly have been represented as a "very high mountain;" a water-canal or spring could scarcely have been made to do duty for a freely flowing river; while a visit to the Dead Sea will convince the most skeptical that its waters are today as unwholesome and fatal to life, both vegetable and animal, as they ever were. Considerations such as these are sufficient to indicate that the prophet never intended his language to be taken literally, or his "house" to be regarded as a new temple, his Torah as a new ritual, and his territorial distribution scheme as a new land act for the returned exiles.
(5) If more be needed to demonstrate that the prophet, in writing down these temple-measurements, sacrificial ordinances, and land arrangements, was not drafting a new constitution, for post-exilic Israel, it may be found in this, that he removed the temple so completely beyond the precincts of the city. Whatever significance may have lain in that as a symbol (to be considered in the sequel), it is obvious that no Jewish patriot could have been expected to acquiesce in such an arrangement (already it has been seen that they did not), on the supposition that it was meant to be actually put in force; and hence it may be almost pronounced certain that, whatever notions may have lurked in the prophet's mind regarding it, he never seriously proposed it as a model to be copied by the builders of the post-exilic age.
2. A second view deserving mention, if less extended, is that of those who, while finding in the temple-vision a new constitution for restored and reunited Israel, and while conceding that in some small measure or degree it may have been put in force subsequent to the exile, nevertheless anticipate the coming of a golden age, when it will receive an exact and complete fulfillment, when the soil of Palestine will be divided, the temple erected at Jerusalem, and the worship of Jehovah established therein precisely as here outlined by Ezekiel.
(1) It is not difficult to understand how this idea should from the first have been favored by Jewish interpreters, who still expected Messiah, and believed that when he came he would not only replace the Jewish people in their own land, but set up the precise civil and religious arrangements that are here sketched.
(2) But besides these, not a few Christian millenarians have embraced this interpretation, holding, as they do, not only that Jesus is the Messiah, but that in connection with and prior to his second coming—which they consider will introduce the thousand years' reign of the risen saints upon the earth—all the details of this vision will be carried out: the Jews, who shall then have become converted to Christianity, will return to their own land, which they will divide amongst themselves as here represented, erect a temple after the specifications here laid down, and institute a worship in accordance with the Torah here enjoined. Of this view a representative may be found in M. Baumgarten, who thinks that the points of contact between Ezekiel's temple and Solomon's are too numerous and close for one to resolve the whole picture into symbol and allegory, and who asks how, when Israel has returned to her God, she ought to give expression to her faith and obedience, if not in the forms and ordinances which Jehovah has given to them—these forms and ordinances being those embodied in Ezekiel's temple-vision (see Herzog's 'Real-Encyclopadie,' art. "Ezechiel"). But against this view, whether in its Jewish or Christian form, which expects a future glorification of the land, people, and religion of Israel, serious and insurmountable difficulties press.
(1) The objections already mentioned as declaring against the former view of a program for the pest-exilic ago speak with equal force against this, which simply transfers the building of the temple, the institution of the ritual, and the dividing of the land to a future Messianic age, either with the Jews, that of a first, or with the millenarians, that of a second, coming. It is true the advocates of this theory experience no difficulty in dealing with any of the unusual phenomena which ordinarily hamper the literal interpretation, such as the rapidly increasing river, the sweetening of the waters of the Dead Sea, and the exceeding high mountain, because they anticipate such a glorification of Palestine in the Messianic, or millennial, era as will not only admit of all these things being, but show them actually to be, realized. The passages of Scripture, however, which are supposed to promise the future external glorification of Canaan are, neither in the Old Testament (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 9:1-6; Isaiah 11:12; Jer 31:31 -44; Jeremiah 33:15; Amos 9:8-15; Zechariah 14:8; Joel 4:18; Micah 7:9-13) nor in the New (Romans 11:15; Acts 3:19-21; Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:2), so clear and decisive that their literal interpretation cannot be disputed, as in reality it is, to the extent even of denial, by the majority of Bible students; and accordingly, to claim these as substantiating the proposition that Canaan is ultimately to undergo such a transformation as to render the realization of Ezekiel's vision possible, is simply to beg the question at issue.
(2) In addition to this, the view undergoing examination is exposed to all those difficulties which tell against the millenarian doctrine in general, and this in particular, that the Jews will yet as a nation return to their own land. Were they to do so, it would not infallibly follow that they would re-erect a temple, worship Jehovah, and divide up the soil as here directed; but it is certain they would do neither of these things if they never did return; and that they never will return (as a nation) to occupy Palestine may at least be regarded as the more probable alternative of the two. Unless resort is to be had to miracle, it is not easy to discern how, after the Jews have renounced their unbelief and become Christian, they are to be prevented from intermingling with Christians and so losing one of their national characteristics, or how the tribal divisions which have for centuries been lost are again to be recovered, or how the land is to be rendered capable of sustaining them. Nor can one detect a sufficient reason for restoring the national existence of Israel in the closing years of the Christian dispensation, if not for the purpose of reintroducing the special worship of Judaism; and this, it should now be emphasized, occasions the greatest of all difficulties that impinge against the theory under review. For—
(3) If Israel as a nation is, in some golden era or millennial period towards the close of time, to return to her old land, re-erect her old temple, and reinstitute her old worship, what shall then (or even now) be said of the truthfulness of those passages of Scripture which teach that the Levitical system of tabernacle (or temple) and altar, of priest and sacrifice, of type and symbol, of external commandment and visible ceremonial, was from the first provisional in its nature, intended to serve as a shadow of good things to come, and designed to be set aside for ever when the higher and more spiritual system of the gospel had been inaugurated by the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah (see Hebrews 5-10.; and comp. John 4:21-24; Colossians 2:17; Galatians 3:23-25)? The simple suggestion that in the glorious millennial era, when Christianity as a system of religion will be near the culmination of its triumphed progress through the centuries, the Church of God, either in whole or in part, should return to the beggarly elements of Judaism, and set up the worship of God by means of bloody offerings and all the paraphernalia of altars and priests, is too ridiculous to be entertained for a moment by any one who has attained to a proper conception of the spiritual nature of that religion which mankind eighteen centuries ago received from Jesus Christ. "The whole teaching of the New Testament," writes Plumptre (unpublished manuscript notes)," and especially of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is opposed to the thought that the revival of a local sanctuary at Jerusalem, sacred above all other sanctuaries, the object of devout pilgrimages from all quarters of the world, with the perpetuation of annual sacrifices offered by the priests of the house of Aaron, living under the old ceremonial conditions, forms part and parcel of what we are to expect in the future history of Christendom. We are compelled, if we would be true to that higher teaching, to say that the visions of Ezekiel, like those of the Apocalypse, which in part reproduce them, can receive only, as symbols of the truth, a spiritual and not a literal fulfillment." To this the weighty utterance of Delitzsch may be added: "The New Testament Divine worship knows of a central sanctuary neither in Jerusalem nor upon Gerizim, and the religion of Jehovah, after it has. become the religion of humanity, will never again return back into its chrysalis condition, and the setting up again of animal sacrifices as memorials of Christ's death would be, in face of the offering which was made upon the altar of the cross (Hebrews 10:11-14), a return out of the essence into the shadow, out of the spirit into the letter, out of the law of freedom into the law of the 'elements of the world,' of which Christ was the end. A Christian world-cathedral belonging to Israel converted to Christ and again assembled in Jerusalem—a monument such as this of the history of salvation having reached its final aim, a finger-post like this directed heavenward towards God the All-merciful—will necessarily be of another sort than the temple of Old Testament prophets still fast bound in shadow work."
II. VIEWS WHICH GROUND THEMSELVES ON A SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION. A literal interpretation being impossible, the only alternative is to have recourse to the method of symbolic exposition; and, in addition to what has been already said, some things suggest themselves as strongly corroborative of this conclusion. First, there is the circumstance that the temple-plan, the ritual Torah, and the land act formed three successive parts of one extended "vision," which was shown to the prophet while in a state of "trance" or ecstasy, and were thus, as to mode of communication at least, totally unlike the tabernacle model, the Levitical code, and the land arrangements which were directly exhibited or imparted to Moses without the intervention of a "vision." Besides, the obvious correspondence of this closing vision to the earlier vision or visions (Ezekiel 8-11.), in which were represented the desecration and destruction of the first temple, lends countenance to the inference that here also, as there, the tableaux presented to the prophet's inward eye were designed as symbols. Secondly, there is the absence of any instruction to the prophet, like that given to Moses, to see that all things were made, either by himself or others, according to the pattern which had been shown to him in the mount, From the beginning to the end no hint is discoverable that the prophet or his countrymen were expected to replace the building Nebuchadnezzar had overthrown by one fashioned after the pattern now disclosed. Thirdly, without emphasizing as strongly as Kliefoth does the numbers three, seven, and twelve, that run through the whole, the obvious symmetry maintained alike in the temple-buildings, sacrificial ordinances, and land arrangements, speaks for a symbolic as against a literal interpretation; and this impression is confirmed rather than weakened by observing that in respect both of the temple and the city, only (or principally) ground-measurements are recorded, while no allusion whatever is made to either building materials or architectural details. Fourthly, there are portions of this "vision" to which a symbolic interpretation must of necessity be assigned, as e.g. the temple-river and the healing of the waters of the sea; and this fact alone should be held as decisive, unless it should emerge that there are other portions to which a symbolic exposition is inapplicable. Fifthly, antecedent passages in Ezekiel, to which this temple-vision palpably looks back, declare more or less strongly for a symbolic interpretation. One of these has already been referred to, Ezekiel 8-11. Another is Ezekiel 20:40-41, concerning which it may suffice to quote Plumptre's words in this Commentary: "The fact that Israel itself is said to be the 'sweet savor' (Revised Version) which Jehovah accepts, suggests a like spiritual interpretation of the other offerings, though the literal meaning was probably dominant in the prophet's own thoughts." A third is Ezekiel 37:26-28, in which a literal interpretation can be maintained only at the expense of truth, Sixthly, the analogy of similar prophetic adumbrations of Israel's future supports the idea that here also the writer's thought clothes itself in a symbolic dress. Let the pictures given by Jeremiah, Ezekiel's contemporary (Jeremiah 31:38-40; Jeremiah 33:17-22), by Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1-22), Joel (Joel 3:18), Haggai (Haggai 2:7-9), and Zechariah (Zechariah 6:9-15; Zechariah 8:1-8; Zechariah 14:8-21) be attentively studied, and the conviction will be hard to resist that one and all they were designed in figurative language to foreshadow the spiritual blessings of a future time; and if such was the prophetic style generally, it seems reasonable to infer that Ezekiel. like his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors, was accustomed to use the same. Seventhly, the symbolic interpretation admits of being carried out, which is more than can be affirmed of the literal; and this consideration should decide the question as to how the "vision" should be understood in favor of the former rather than of the latter mode of exposition.
But now assuming the symbolic method of interpretation to have been fully vindicated as the only one properly applicable to the temple-vision, a fresh inquiry rises—Of what was the vision meant to be symbolic? And the reply to this may be stated in terms so general as to unite all who favor the ideal or allegorical method of interpretation. It may be said that the vision was designed to symbolize the great and gracious blessings Jehovah purposed at a future time, when he had turned again the captivity of Israel, to bestow upon his Church. So far as the terminus owl quern of this period of blessing is concerned, it is agreed by all expositors that that is the consummation of all things, when Israel's last and mightiest enemies, Gog and Magog, shall have been destroyed; only then do interpreters fall out when the terminus a quo is required after. Some, like Diedati, Greenhill, and Hengstenberg, find the point of departure in the return from Babylon; others, as Luther, Calvin, Cocceius, Pfeiffer, Fairbairn, Havernick, Kliefoth, and Currey, begin with the Incarnation; while a third group, of whom Keil may be regarded as the representative, restrict the "vision" to the times of the consummation, i.e. to the perfect service of God in the heavenly world.
1. It seems impossible to doubt that the "vision" had a reference to the times immediately subsequent to the exile. Without conceding to Hengstenberg that the whole prophecy, with the exception of Ezekiel 47:1-12, was destined then to receive fulfillment, or to Wellhausen that it was expressly composed as a new constitution for pest-exilic Judaism, it may be granted that the exiles in Babylonia were intended to derive from it the hope and promise of a return to their own land, a re-erection of their fallen temple, and a reinstitution of their ancient worship. Indeed, it is hard to see how they could have failed to deduce such an inference from a perusal of the prophet's words. Forming, as the "vision" did, the last and culminating note of crenellation addressed to the exiles, if the picture it held up before their minds was not a mere ignis fatuus intended to mislead—if it represented (even symbolically) any underlying reality—then that reality could only have been that in the future, it might be Aim and distant, Israel and Judah, once more united and enlarged by accessions from the Gentiles, or the Church of God whom they represented, should serve Jehovah with a pure cultus in a land he had prepared for and given to them: and not a large amount of insight would be required to conclude that if Israel and Judah had any such destiny before them in the future, then assuredly their exile must terminate and their divided tribes be once more united in the old country. Whatever may have been the true significance of that picture, if it symbolized anything in which Israel and Judah were to have a share, it could not but occur, at least to the prophet himself and the more thoughtful of his first readers, that it prognosticated the dawning of brighter days, when Jehovah should turn again the captivity of his people, and re-establish them in their own land.
2. Similarly, the view of those who find in the vision a symbol of the Christian Church as a whole, or, in the words of Kliefoth, "the Christian Church in its origin, its development and influence in the world, and its completion in the hereafter," has much to support it. That Ezekiel perfectly understood the significance of his own "vision" is not asserted, and is not likely to have been the case (see 1 Peter 1:11); all that is wished to be affirmed by those who adopt this view is that Ezekiel's picture of a new temple, a new worship, and a new land pointed to a state and condition of things which first began to be realized when the Christian dispensation was established by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and certainly there are few particulars in which the import of the symbol (looked at in this light) cannot be at once and clearly traced. Without claiming it as a point in favor of this view that the vision makes no mention of any building materials, inasmuch as the Christian Church is composed of "lively stones," or believing and gracious souls (1 Peter 2:5), the entrance into the temple of the glory of God (Ezekiel 43:1-6) found and still retains its counterpart in the perpetual inhabitation of the Church by the Spirit of Christ (Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22). The awful sanctity with which the temple was surrounded, increasing as one approached it from the outside, beginning with the holy terumah, and advancing successively to the priests' portion in the midst of which the temple stood, to the precincts five hundred reeds square which encompassed the court, to the suburbs or "void places" which ran round the outer wall, to the seven steps which conducted into the gateway, to the outer court, to the eight steps leading up to the inner court, and finally to the ascent by which access was gained to the "house,"—all this fitly symbolized the superior holiness which should belong, and in point of fact does belong, to the Church of God under the gospel. So the absence of both high priest and great Day of Atonement in Ezekiel's temple was an adumbration of the time when the ever-living High Priest of the house of God having put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, all Jehovah's worshippers should be priests in their own right, whose services should be acceptable through Jesus Christ. The daily sin offering, and the similar offerings on the solemn feast-days, meant that in the Church of the future there should be a constant remembrance of the great Propitiation that had been offered once for all, and an ever-renewed appropriation of the same by those who worshipped. The greater symmetry and fullness in the burnt offerings and meal offerings served to typify the more thorough self-consecration of Jehovah's worshippers, and their more intimate fellowship with him in the new dispensation. That the prince should be charged with the responsibility of providing victims for all the public festivals, and on the occasion of their celebration should enter and retire from the temple courts in their midst, was a foreshadowing of the truth that all the offerings of s Christian worshipper must be presented through Christ, who thus, as it were, ideally approaches the heavenly throne surrounded by his people. The miraculously flowing river rising in the temple, and increasing in width and depth as it flows, creating life and beauty wheresoever it comes, was an easily understood picture of the spiritually healthful and vivifying influences of the gospel The equal division of the land among the tribes, and the introduction of the sons of the stranger to equal privileges with the Israelite, may have been designed to intimate that when the new condition of things arrived to which the vision looked forward, i.e. when the Christian era dawned, the distinction between Jew and Gentile should no more exist (Ephesians 2:14-16), and all the members of the new Israel should share alike in the inheritance of which Canaan was the earthly emblem. The separation of the temple from the city may have pointed to the fact that in that coming age the Church should be an institution altogether distinct from and no longer identical with the state, as under the Hebrew dispensation it had been. These, with other instances that might be given, show how easily the whole symbol may be understood of the Christian Church on earth, which was the view commonly entertained by the Reformed theologians, who did not, except indirectly, employ it as typical of the kingdom of God in its perfect or heavenly condition.
3. This, however, is the view taken of the vision by both Kliefoth and Keil, the first of whom does not, while the second does, exclude all allusion to the present or historical condition of the Christian Church. In the vision Kliefoth, while discovering some things, as for instance the sin offerings, that can only be applied to the present or temporal form of the Church, finds others, as e.g. the temple-river, which he holds can only have its counterpart in the river of the Apocalypse (Revelation 22:1). On the other hand, Keil argues that only one thing presupposes that Israel has still to take possession of (the heavenly) Canaan, viz." the directions concerning the boundaries and the division of the land," and proceeds to say, "It fellows from this that the prophetic picture does not furnish a typical exhibition of the Church of Christ in its gradual development, but sets forth the kingdom of God established by Christ in its perfect form." In short, Keil regards the whole "vision" as a symbolic representation, in Old Testament language and ideas—the only way in which such representation could have been given so as to be intelligible to Ezekiel's readers—of the introduction of God's spiritual Israel into their heavenly Canaan, and of the perfect service they shall there render to Jehovah. That the heavenly condition of the Church of God was designed to be depicted it seems necessary to hold, both from the position of the vision in Ezekiel's book and from the contents (in part) of the vision itself. The vision occurs, as the last note of consolation offered to the exiles, after the vision of their moral and spiritual resuscitation and establishment in their own land, with David, Jehovah's Servant and King, ruling over them, and in close connection with, if not immediately after, the final conflict with Gog, which leads up, one should say, quite naturally to the complete blessedness of the future life. Then the correspondence between the river in John's description of the heavenly Jerusalem, and this temple-stream in Ezekiel's vision, renders it impossible to exclude from the latter all allusion to the heavenly state. At the same time, there are points, even on Keil's showing, that cannot well be harmonized with the theory that only the heavenly and glorified form of the Church is symbolized by the vision. One of these has been mentioned, the perpetuation of the sin offering; another is the precept concerning the hereditary property of the prince and its transmission to his sons; a third is the separation between the temple and the city; a fourth is the invasion of Gog, which, as Keil has observed, is represented as occurring after Israel has taken possession of the land. Hence probably it is wrong to restrict the significance of the "vision" so exclusively as Keil does to the heavenly world.
Upon the whole, it seems best to find a place for each of the above views in any interpretation of the vision; and this may be done by supposing that the vision was designed by its real Author—the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11)—to set forth, by means of Old Testament imagery, a picture of that perfect service which ought to have been rendered from the first by Israel (after the flesh) to Jehovah, but was not, and which it was Jehovah's promise to the exiles would ultimately be rendered by that new Israel (according to the Spirit) he was soon to call out of the ruins of the old. In this way, as setting forth the ideal of a perfect worship which will not be completely realized until Israel reaches the heavenly Canaan, the "vision" admits of Keil's interpretation; but inasmuch as this ideal worship will not be attained to there unless the worship itself begins on earth in the Christian Church—to which not a few features in the symbol point—the vision is also susceptible of Kliefoth's exposition; while as the first step towards the calling out of the new Israel was taken when God turned again the captivity of the exiles, the view of Hengstenberg cannot be excluded.
A few words may be added on the bearing which the view just taken of the significance of the temple-vision has upon the chief critical question of the day as to the structure of the Pentateuch. The modern theory, begun by Graf and Reuss, but per-leered by Kuenen and Wellhausen, it is well known, is that, while the book of the covenant (Exodus 21-23 originated in the early years of the monarchy, and Deuteronomy not later than the reign of Josiah, the priest-code, as it is styled (Exodus 24-40. with some exceptions, the whole of Leviticus, and the most of Numbers), is a work of post-exilic origin, and that Ezekiel (40-48.) constituted, as it were, the bridge by which the law-making spirit of the Hebrew religion passed over from the popular legislation of the Fifth Book of Moses to the highly developed and minutely articulated system of Leviticus. Into the general question it would be out of place in this work to enter; the most that can be (lone is to indicate how far the theory is entitled to claim support from the temple-vision which has just been expounded and interpreted. Nor is it needful, in doing so, to dwell upon the alleged evidence of Ezekiel's priority to Leviticus, derived from Ezekiel's language and the contents of his sacrificial Torah—this has been more or less done in the course of exposition—since the validity or invalidity of such (so-called) evidence depends entirely on the correctness or incorrectness of the presupposition which is commonly made, viz. that Ezekiel designed to draft a new constitution for the post-exilic Church. Could this have been made out, it would by no means have followed that Ezekiel's Torah, by its divergences from that of Leviticus, proved the later origin of the latter, since Ezekiel, having himself been prophet, no less than Moses, was at liberty to abrogate or modify any pre-existing law if impelled to do so by the Spirit that originally taught Moses; but inasmuch as it has not been and cannot be made out beyond reachable doubt—rather, inasmuch as strong grounds exist for holding that Ezekiel had no such intention, but designed to provide a complex symbol of the perfect relations which should subsist between God and his (spiritual) Israel, it is clearly not permissible to argue that Ezekiel was suggesting for the first time the course which temple-legislation should pursue in the new era which should commence when the exile was ended and the restoration begun. If all that Ezekiel had in contemplation was to furnish a symbol of the sort already indicated, it is manifestly an inference not warranted by the premises that he desired to initiate a distinction which should afterwards be put in force between the priests who should serve the altar and the Levites who should serve the tabernacle, and to assign the former honor to the sons of Zadok, while inflicting the latter degradation on the Levites who had ministered at pre-exilic high places. If Ezekiel's fetching in of the sons of Zadok was merely a device to obtain a symbol of faithful and pure service, then the whole theory which has been so ingeniously erected on the so-called degradation of the Levites—a passage which has been styled "the key to the Old Testament "—runs the risk of falling to pieces, and, to use the words of Delitzsch, "the degradation of the Levites, which certainly appears in Ezekiel as an innovation," becomes "another thing than a riddle to be solved by the new Pentateuchal theory."
(first clause, "Now these are the names of the tribes")
The tribes are here severally named. Elsewhere whole pages of the Bible are taken up with lists of names. Let us consider the significance of this method of assortment.
I. NAMES INDICATE INDIVIDUALS. Each tribe has its name; each person also has his own private name. Thus the community is broken up into its several constituent elements. God does not treat men in the mass. He takes "one of a city, and two of a family" (Jeremiah 3:14). Each tribe of Israel had its separate district, each family its own allotted inheritance.
II. NAMES DESCRIBE CHARACTERS. This was the case with names in Old Testament times. It does not apply among us, excepting in the case of soubriquets. But the old suggestiveness contains a lesson for all time. Different men have different characters. All these varieties are known to God, even though some of them may be concealed from our fellow-men. It might often have happened that by some accident, misunderstanding, or act of malice, a false name would be given to a person—a good name to a Bad man, or a bad name to a good man. No such error can be found in God's books, the books in which he reads the names of his people. There he notes the true character of all.
III. NAMES DIRECT APPEALS. We call a person by name to arrest his attention and to show that we desire to speak to him individually, and we write his name on a letter in order that it may be sent to him and accepted by him as intended for himself. Christ calls his sheep by name (John 10:3). He knows each member of his flock separately, and has direct, separate, personal dealings with every one. God called young Samuel by name. We do not expect audible appeals from heaven. Yet God is changeless, and he just as truly seeks us out separately now as he sought out Samuel in the days of the judges.
IV. NAMES PRESERVE MEMORIES. History would be a hopeless morass but for the solid ground afforded in definite names. If a man has done anything worthy of fame he is said to have made a name. His name is now treated with respect and handed down to subsequent generations. There are names of honor and names of infamy. To Christ is given the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). If one lives an ill life he may earnestly desire to be forgotten; but, alas! the stigma of disgrace is indelibly stamped on his name.
V. NAMES JUSTIFY CLAIMS. A signature gives authority. A name in a will entitles its owner to what is bequeathed under it. There are names "written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27), and all who own those names are entitled to an eternal inheritance with the saints in light. A man's name may not be down in the list of Israel's heirs, nor recorded in any Doomsday book on earth; yet if it is written in Christ's records it is secure for a possession better and richer than the most valuable estate that can ever be enjoyed in this world.
VI. A CHANGE OF NAME SIGNIFIES A CHANGE OF STATUS. Jacob, "the Supplanter," is named afresh Israel, "God's prince" Christ's people have a new name on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4). We may leave the evil name of the old life and enjoy the blessings that attach themselves to a true Christian name.
An inalienable possession.
The people were not permitted to sell their allotments, and especial provision was made to prevent the priests from parting with their share of the fruits of the land.
I. THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE IS AN INALIENABLE POSSESSION.
1. No enemy can take it away. Christ secures it for his people, so that it is theirs forever. We may lose all earthly things in the shocks and changes of life, but the heavenly treasure abides. So long as we hold it truly, no moth nor rust can corrupt it, no thief can then break through and steal it.
2. The Christian has no right to part with it. He can deny Christ, renounce the gift of God, and abdicate his position as one of the kings and priests of God. But he has no right to act in this way. When once he is called into the kingdom it is with a view of never departing from it. Though left free from external constraints, the bands of conscience forbid his ever giving up his glorious heritage. The vows of Christian fidelity are irrevocable.
II. IT IS A SIN TO ENDANGER THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE. AS Christians, we have a charge to keep. Our estate in the kingdom of heaven is entrusted to us. But we may be false to our trust in various ways.
1. By neglecting it. So long as our heritage is faithfully kept no enemy can enter or injure it. But if the hedge is broken down the wild boar from the wood may come through and root up the tender vines (Psalms 80:13). We need to watch over and carefully guard the privileges of the Christian life.
2. By renouncing it for worldly things. The priest might grow tired of his sacred office, and might prefer to have a farm of his own rather than be dependent on the sacrificial offerings of the people, while a lay Israelite, ambitious of the priesthood, might be glad to barter his estate for rank and office in the temple. This was forbidden. The Christian has no right to give up his allegiance to Christ and his inheritance in heavenly things for any earthly consideration. Having put his hand to the plough, he is never to look back.
III. THE INALIENABILITY OF THE CHRISTIAN INHERITANCE RESULTS FROM ITS RELATIONS TO GOD. The portion of the priests was holy, not because they had it, but because it was primarily God's share of the produce of the land. The Christian inheritance has special relations to God.
1. It is purchased by the death of Christ, the Son of God. A possession so acquired must have a profound sanctity attached to it. To throw away lightly a gift that was brought to us by means of the incarnation and crucifixion of our Lord is to despise God's most wonderful condescension, to trample on the love of Christ in his most tremendous self-sacrifice. If he has died to make the inheritance ours, the least we can do is to prize it above all things.
2. It is still rightly owned by God. The priests enjoyed God's portion of the produce. It was still God's while they had it. Christ has called us into his kingdom to be his stewards. All we enjoy really belongs to him, and we shall have to give an account of our stewardship. If we destroy or alienate the vineyard with which we are now entrusted, we shall have no answer to give in the great day of reckoning.
A profane place.
We are not to suppose that this place was devoted, to evil uses. It was simply distinguished from the holy place of the temple. There were degrees of holiness—all the land holy when compared with heathen countries; Jerusalem especially the holy city; the temple the holy site in Jerusalem; and the holy place and the holy of holies the most sacred center of the whole circle of sanctity. By comparison with the temple area the rest of the city of Jerusalem was called "profane"
I. GOD PROVIDES FOR THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF HIS PEOPLE. The so-called "profane place" was carefully mapped out, and ample provision was made for the life of the people in it. The laity was not ignored when the priesthood was provided for. It was never expected that the people would spend all their days in the temple, nor that they would need no comfort for their life in the world. God is not now only concerned with our attending to religious services at church. The greater part of life must be occupied with secular pursuits. These pursuits can be followed according to the call of God, and in occupying ourselves with them we may well expect that he will give the necessary supplies, guiding our energies, and ultimately blessing our toil if it is in accordance with his mind and will.
II. IT IS POSSIBLE TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE AMIDST THINGS CALLED PROFANE. The priests might be guilty of spiritual profanity while busily engaged in temple service; the laity might be truly occupied with a holy ministry, though on ground that was named profane. It is not necessary to be consecrated to the priesthood nor to enter a monastery in order to live "the religious life." The work of the busy world must be carried on, and it would be simply disastrous if all who were inspired with pure and lofty aims were to withdraw from its many necessary occupations. Not only would the service of life be neglected for want of men and women to employ themselves in it, but what work was accomplished by others would be degraded in character. This would just amount to handing the world and all its concerns over to the powers of wickedness. Christians are called upon to take the exactly opposite course, and so to be "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).
III. ADVERSE EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES DO NOT PREVENT SPIRITUALITY OF LIFE. The secularity of a man's occupations does not prevent him from being a Christian of the very highest type. The supposed profaneness of his circumstances cannot be accepted as an excuse for godless, sinful living. Nothing would be really profane if the heart were true and spiritual; for "to the pure all things are pure." It is sometimes supposed that it would be more easy for a man to live a religious life if he were a minister of religion. But then the temptation of professionalism would come in, and the business spirit endanger the sacredness of the most spiritual things, whereas when religion is wholly sought after for its spiritual use it is less in danger of sinking into a mere form. But the whole question turns on the spirituality of the character and conduct—rather than on the form of the occupations of daily duty.
Serving the city.
A militia, selected from all the tribes of Israel, is to be marshaled as the garrison of Jerusalem. Thus representatives of the whole nation are to have a share in the service of the city.
I. MEN SERVE GOD BY SERVING MAN. They who serve the royal city serve the king. If we love not our brethren whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen (1 John 4:20). But a true-hearted love for God must inspire practical love for man. Obedience to the two great commandments is one common experience in the heart of the servant of God. It is a mistake that any should urge "the service -f man" as a new religion for the age; this is the true ritual of the old religion of Christ (James 1:27). There is no Christianity without it. Christianity is most vigorous and fruitful when ministries of active benevolence are most vigorously maintained. Jesus was the Son of man, who "went about doing good."
II. ALL CLASSES SHOULD TAKE PART IN THE SERVICE OF MAN. The one tribe of Levi was told off for the service of the temple; but every tribe was to he represented in the city guard. The special work of the Christian ministry devolves upon those who are specially adapted to it, and called by God to devote their lives to it. It is not every Christian who is required to occupy the post of a minister of a Church or to go out as a missionary to foreign lands. But every man, woman, and child should take part in the Christian work of helping others. Every class in society, every order of mind, every gift, faculty, and opportunity can and should be used for this wide and varied service.
III. A CITY HAS PECULIAR CLAIMS ON CHRISTIAN SERVICE. Jerusalem was to be specially provided for as the capital of the land. The metropolis needs to be carefully guarded. But every city has its claims. These depend on several considerations.
1. Great needs. A city is a heterogeneous collection of human beings. The energetic are attracted and the helpless are drifted there. In the city human life is lived at its best and at its worst. The poverty, the vice, the degradation, that haunt the purlieus of great cities call for especial attention. The enemies that now attack our cities are not armed men besieging after the old style. But strong drink; gambling; profligacy; cruel oppression of workpeople; fierce competition among traders; selfish inconsiderateness on the part of the public, making this competition almost a necessity of life; overcrowding, rendering common decency a physical impossibility, and infant mortality a frequent occurrence; the tremendously rapid growth of the centers of population overtaking the means of Christian work; the obscurity and loneliness of life in a crowd permitting the unfortunate to perish unheeded;—these and other characteristic circumstances of modem city life call for redoubled energy on the part of all Christian people in great fields of work. Christ concentrated his ministry on the densely populated regions round about the Sea of Galilee.
2. Great influence. A city is a center of influence to all the region round about. The metropolis is the heart of the nation. If there is righteousness in the center, righteousness may flow through all the national life. Christianity, which came as a cosmopolitan religion, manifested from the first metropolitan affinities. The apostles concentrated their labors to a great extent on the principal cities of the empire—Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth, Athens, Rome. The country-people were more slow to receive the gospel, and thus the names "pagan" and "heathen" came to stand for "non-Christian." It will be a bad thing for Christendom if the cities are lost to Christ.
The city gates.
I. THE CITY GATES ARE FOR EGRESS. The citizens are not to remain always immured in their streets and houses. They are to go forth to the country—till their vineyards, lead their flocks over the hills, visit their neighbors.
1. It is bad to be always in society. Christ called his disciples away from the multitude to a desert place, to rest awhile.
2. It is desirable to cultivate the spirit of enterprise. We English have our island home guarded by the friendly sea, but we take care to have many gates, and to go forth over the wide world. We travel and trade; in discovery and adventure the hardy vigor of the British race finds scope, and grows by exercise. It will be a misfortune for England if this spirit of enterprise gives place to a more indolent, self-indulgent tone of life. The same spirit should be seen in the Church. We ought to have more energy and daring, not content to enjoy our privileges at home, but eager to go forth and do some fresh service for our Master.
3. It is a Christian duty to carry missionary work out into the world. Christians should go out of the gates of Christendom to bring the standard of the gospel into heathen lands.
II. THE CITY GATES ARE FOR INGRESS.
1. Strangers should be welcomed. The gates of the city of God are open day and night (Revelation 21:25). The heavenly Jerusalem is always ready to welcome new guests. The city is to be a metropolis of man, a center and home for all travelers in the weary journey of life. It is utterly contrary to the spirit of Christ for a Church to show any spirit of exclusiveness, any desire to keep its privileges to itself. Christianity is for the world. "Whosoever will, let him come,"
2. The citizens should return home. "Man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labor, until the evening" (Psalms 104:23). "Then the ploughman homeward plods his weary way." After work in the fields comes rest in the home. We cannot be always engaged in Christian enterprises. It would not be healthy for a Church to be wholly absorbed in mission work. It must also have its own loving fellowship and refreshing worship.
III. THE CITY GATES ARE FOR PROTECTION. They are gates, not gaps. The well cared-for city of the olden times had massive gates with stout locks and bars, and perhaps a portcullis at each gate for additional protection. The city of God has ample means of warding off the attack of the enemy of souls. God has not cast his people out in a waste, howling wilderness to be a prey to evil creatures. He has called them into "a city which hath foundations" and walls and gates. Christ himself is the Lord of this new Jerusalem, and all are safe who are with him. "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
IV. THE CITY GATES MUST BE MANNED BY THE PEOPLE.
1. They need guards. The garrison of Jerusalem must concentrate its attention on the gates. Christ is the Captain, we are the soldiers; under him it becomes our duty to hold the gates. The sick, the aged, and women and children, are kept in the city while the men sally forth to attack the enemy. The gates must be guarded for the sake of the human trust within. The Church should guard the young, the feeble, the tempted,
2. The guards are severally apportioned. Each gate seems to be named after the tribe to whose soldiers it is allotted. There are various branches of the Christian Church, and there is separate work for each body of Christians. If one gate is taken, the city is endangered. Faithfulness is needed in all classes of Christians for the security of the whole Church.
A glorious name.
The restored city of Jerusalem is to receive a new name, "The Lord is there." The announcement of this name makes a splendid conclusion to the Book of Ezekiel. The numerous and varied utterances of the prophet have carried us through scenes of shame and sorrow, and even of blood and terror; but above all has shone the vision of God and his grand providence, and the end of all is seen in the new city and temple of a renewed people.
I. THE NAME DESCRIBES A WONDERFUL FACT. Sin drives away the blessed consciousness of the Divine presence, though God is never really absent from any part of his dominions. But when God's people are reconciled to him he draws near to them in inward communion.
1. A real presence. This is not the name of a truth unrealized. God is now present with his people. He does not govern his city by deputy; he himself dwells there.
2. A permanent presence. "The Lord is there." This describes what is continuous. God is ever with his people.
3. A wide presence. He fills the city; all the citizens may enjoy his fellowship.
II. THE NAME DENOTES A HAPPY CONDITION. God is present for high and glorious purposes.
1. To protect. God is the Commander of the garrison, and he has innumerable heavenly armies whom he can summon to the relief of his hard-pressed people as occasion may require. If he is in our midst, we shall never be moved (Psalms 46:5).
2. To govern. God is the Sovereign. If he comes, it must be to rule over us. The order and life of the Church depend on the Divine Spirit that dwells in the midst of her. But if God is thus present, he must be obeyed. Disobedience is sedition.
3. To bless. The very presence of God is sunshine to the soul. His communion with his people brings life and blessedness.
III. THE NAME COMMEMORATES A GREAT EVENT. "From that day." This phrase indicates a definite period. There were ages when it could not be used; there is a particular time after which it can be used, viz. the time of the restoration of Israel, and the rebuilding of the once ruined and desolate city. The glorious name takes its rise from this glorious event.
1. After repentance. Sin caused God to withdraw from the city. He returns to meet his penitent people, he dwells in the contrite spirit.
2. Through redemption. God calls his people back to their land after he has redeemed them from the power of their enemies. Christ's redemption opens the path for a return to God. He—our great Redeemer—is the Way to God.
3. In restoration. The people come back to their home and rebuild their city; then God manifests himself in the midst of them. God dwells in his Church from the time of Christ's great restoring work; he dwells in each soul as soon as it is restored to him. The thought of his presence commemorates our redemption.
IV. THE NAME PROCLAIMS AN IMPORTANT TRUTH. Not only is it stated that God will be with his people, but this truth is to be constantly set forth by standing in the very name of the city.
1. As a grateful acknowledgment. If God is with us, we ought not to be ashamed of so wonderful a fact, nor should we ungratefully ignore it. Let this be in the forefront of our banner, let it be the inspiration of our song!
2. As a necessary reminder. There is a danger lest God's people should forget his presence
(1) in doubt and distrust, or
(2) in worldliness and self-sufficiency.
3. As an inviting gospel. Dwellers in other parts would learn the new, high name of the holy city, and so be led to seek the privileges of citizenship. A confession of Christian truth and a description of the blessings of the faith help to draw others to Christ and his grace.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
It was highly creditable to these sons of Zadok that, when the children of Israel generally and the Levites in particular went astray, they resisted the influence of a very general example, and remained faithful to the worship and service of Jehovah. "Faithful among the faithless," they were recognized and remembered by God himself, and their fidelity was rewarded in the apportionment of the territory among, the people. It is a virtue which every Christian should aim at possessing and exercising.
I. FIDELITY IS IN CONTRAST TO GENERAL UNFAITHFULNESS. Doubtless there was a period in the history of Israel when apostasy was remarkably general. But such is the weakness and vacillation, the inconstancy and mutability, of human nature, that fidelity is in every age and in every state of society a noticeable virtue. When multitudes turn from God and abandon themselves to error or superstition, to infidelity and irreligion, they are conspicuous and commendable who cleave unto the Lord with purpose of heart.
II. FIDELITY IS DISPLAYED IN THE RESISTANCE OF TEMPTATION. Two considerations account for unfaithfulness—the inducement of interest, indolence, worldliness, etc.; and the weakness of the moral nature, the frailty of resolution. To brave unpopularity, to dare to be singular, to turn a deaf ear to the instigations of the lower parts of the nature, to follow the guidance of deliberate convictions,—such is the way of honor and of piety. Life is a scene of discipline; none can escape the probation; the faithful endure it and profit by it.
III. FIDELITY CONSISTS IN KEEPING THE LORD'S CHARGE. We are all trustees to whom the great Ruler and Judge of all has confided a charge. It may be a deposit of truth, it may be a certain service to be rendered; but whatever it be, it is required in us as stewards that we be found faithful. There are those who boast of their fidelity so their fellow-men, who have, however, no just and practical sense of the duty of faithfulness to God himself. But of all our responsibilities the most sacred is that to him in whom we live and move and have our being, who has assigned to us our work and vocation on earth, and who will require of every one of us a strict account.
IV. FIDELITY IS A VIRTUE THE MANIFEST EXHIBITION OF WHICH MUST NEEDS INFLUENCE THE COMMUNITY FOR HIGHEST GOOD. The faithful are the salt of human society; they are a rebuke to the vacillating, and an encouragement and inspiration especially to the younger members of society whose aim it is to serve their generation according to the will of God. In Jewish history are to be found not a few illustrations of the beneficial effects of examples of faithfulness to God and to the mission and the witness appointed by God.
V. FIDELITY IS APPRECIATED AND REWARDED BY GOD HIMSELF. The text furnishes us with an instance of the Divine satisfaction with those who do not shrink from fulfilling the charge Committed to them. And our Lord Jesus Christ has assured us that those who are faithful in a few things shall he made rulers over many things. The prospect of Divine approval may well sustain the servants of God when they have to endure tribulation, persecution, and desertion because of their steadfastness and integrity in the discharge of sacred duty; all this God is "not unrighteous to forget."—T.
The service of the city.
Jerusalem was the metropolis of the Jewish state and of the Jewish Church. Accordingly, it was regarded as the charge of the whole nation. All Israelites had an interest in its peace and prosperity, and all recognized the honorable obligation of providing for its welfare. In his ideal reconstitution of the nation Ezekiel provided that the city lands should be cultivated, and the city service should be fulfilled by Israelites selected from all tribes, who also should serve as a militia for its defense. The principle is a Divine principle which applies to the Church of Christ, the true and spiritual Jerusalem.
I. A UNIVERSAL SERVICE. As all the tribes of Israel joined in serving their country's metropolis, so in the Church of the Divine Redeemer no one is exempt from contribution to the common good. No one is so feeble or so obscure that his aid may be dispensed with. Every age and every land in which Christianity is professed furnishes a contingent to swell the army of the Lord.
II. A VOLUNTARY SERVICE. No other is acceptable to the Lord, who desires the heart, and who will accept no mechanical, unwilling labor. Cordiality is essential, even though power be slight and opportunity be limited. The professional and official element must always be regarded with anxiety and watchfulness, for the motive must be pure or else the work is marred.
III. A VARIED SERVICE. Each has his own special gift, and none should be undervalued, far less despised. Young and old, learned and lay, those in public and those in private life, all have their work to do, their part to fulfill. None can be spared. The Church is built upon its Divine Foundation through the labors of many minds, many voices, many hands. The one Master finds work for all.
"He has his young men at the war,
His little ones at home."
IV. A DIGNIFIED AND HONORABLE SERVICE. To do anything at the bidding of such a Master, and for the progress of such a cause, may welt be esteemed a privilege. Our Lord himself, by his incarnation, ministry, and sacrifice, has done more than could have been done in any other way to teach us the true dignity of service. If it be an honor to serve a great nation, a powerful king, how much higher is the honor of serving the Lord Jesus and those for whom he died!
V. A SERVICE WHICH IS LIBERALLY RECOMPENSED. Our Lord himself saw of the travail of his soul, and was satisfied. And when the promise is given to his faithful servants and followers, that they shall enter into the joy of their Lord, this is equivalent to an assurance that, sharing his toil, they shall also share his recompense. The safety and the growth, the prosperity and the glory, of the city is an abundant reward to the citizen who works with diligence and self-denial for its good. And the Christian has no greater joy than to witness the increase and the fame of the heavenly Jerusalem, and no brighter hope than to share his Master's throne.—T.
The Lord is there.
A sublime close to a glorious book of prophecy. Ezekiel has had occasion to witness against Jerusalem, to upbraid the inhabitants of the city for their unfaithfulness to their God and to their privileges, to threaten chastisement and desolation, and to lament because his prediction has been fulfilled. But as he turns his vision away from the actual to the ideal, from the past to the future, from the Jerusalem that now is to the Jerusalem which is from above which is the mother of us all, from the Jewish state to the Church of God which that state foreshadowed, his mind is elevated with a sacred rapture, he beholds his brightest hopes fulfilled, God in very deed dwells with man—"the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there."
I. TO DISPLAY HIS FAITHFULNESS TO THE CITY. The purposes and promises of God to man stand written indelibly upon the sacred page. Not one word that he has spoken shall fail; all shall be fulfilled. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." "The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but my faithfulness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy upon thee."
II. TO RULE AND GOVERN THE CITY. Not with the harshness of a despotic tyrant, but with the wisdom and justice of a beneficent Sovereign, does Jehovah bear sway over his redeemed and happy Church. He represses all rebellion and disorder, he promulgates ordinances, he inspires a cheerful obedience, he maintains that order which is the expression of loyalty and contentment.
III. TO PROTECT THE CITY. The Lord has taken his Zion under his own guardian care. The foes of the city may be mighty, but her Friend and Protector is mightier still. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge." Fear cannot be, for danger cannot come where he is. He casts the shield of his almighty protection around his beloved. The walls of the city are salvation. The citizens may dwell in everlasting peace. No weapon that is formed against Zion shall prosper.
IV. TO DIGNIFY AND HONOR THE CITY. The presence and the throne of the Eternal Majesty shed a luster over the sacred metropolis. The seat of his government is by that very fact invested with an incomparable splendor and renown. The kings of the earth bring their honor into it. Every citizen shares in the dignity conferred by the throne of the great King.
V. TO ABIDE FOR EVER IN THE CITY. "The Lord is there." The unfaithfulness and defection of the Israelites were such that the glory of the God of Israel removed by the east gate from the temple and the city of Jerusalem. But the prophet beholds him return to his chosen dwelling-place. And as Jehovah takes up his abode in his Church, he utters the assurance, "I will never leave thee!"—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Religion the nucleus of human life.
The spiritual training of men has been uppermost in God's mind. As a wise father trains his child, so God has been training us. From God earthly fathers have instinctively learnt their methods. With unparalleled patience God has been encouraging men to take the first step heavenward, then the next, and the next. The progress has been slow, often imperceptible; yet it has been continuous. Earth has been, and still will be, a great school-house, a religious university, and God's lesson-books are numberless. The outline of God's plan was sketched in Judaea, and the Hebrews (dull scholars as they were) have become teachers to the world.
I. RELIGION FILLS A CENTRAL PLACE IN A RENOVATED WORLD. "The sanctuary of the Lord shall be in the midst thereof." As the light of truth permeates men's minds, they will discover the supreme excellence of piety. Whatever will aid in the unfolding of their spiritual nature, whatever will promote increasing likeness to God, shall be most appreciated. Temporary good will sink into its proper place; will be appraised at its proper value. The outlook upon human destiny will be taken from a loftier elevation. Present possessions and enjoyments will be deemed, not final, but stepping-stones to higher things. And, from her central throne, Religion will radiate a benign influence over every interest men have in life. What the sun is to the solar system, or what the axle is to the wheel, or what the heart is to the human body, true religion will be among the concernments of our race.
II. RELIGION PROVIDES A GRADUATED SCALE OF EXCELLENCE. It produces states of purity, circle within circle. Central amongst the civilized nations lay the Hebrew people—a "holy nation—a peculiar people." Among the Hebrew tribes was one tribe set apart and hallowed for God. Within this tribe was selected a consecrated family, and within this family a consecrated man. So also within Jerusalem, the holy city, there was a central portion holier still; within this enclosure a court sacred to the priests, and within this holy place the holy of holies. Thus God leads us step by step from a lower to a loftier life, from one stage of holiness unto another. We aspire and make endeavor after a nobler style of life; and lo! when we have attained it (as in ascending the Alpine mountains) we discover heights of excellence still above us, more attractive yet. Kindlier methods than those God uses on our behalf it is impossible to employ, and his benevolent ambition is to raise us to his own level of life and joy.
III. RELIGION PROMOTES UNITY AMID DIVERSITY. "The sanctuary shall be in the midst of it." In other words, the several tribes of Israel were allotted their territory (in Ezekiel's ideal sketch) in relation to the holy place. Their vital connection with the sanctuary determined their connection with each other. The distinction between the tribes was not obliterated; it served some useful purpose; but this common relation to the sanctuary bound them each to each. If they had any separate interests as tribes, they had larger and more precious interests as a nation. The more they valued the sanctuary the stronger was the attachment to each other. The nearer they got to God the less distance there was between each other. Among the citizens in Christ's kingdom diversities in minor things will continue. Diversity adds to beauty and to usefulness. Diversity of function and office, diversity in opinion and in taste, is lawful; yet amid all lawful diversity there runs a bond—a vital tie—of true unity. The members of the body are various, yet the body is one. In all God's works the same principle prevails.
IV. RELIGION BRINGS GOD EQUALLY NEAR TO ALL. As a fact in Jewish history, the tribe of Dan, being furthest removed from God's sanctuary, became more worldly, idolatrous, and godless than the other tribes. In the new settlement of things, in Ezekiel's vision, Dan shall have equal privilege with the rest. Type and parable wilt always lack some elements, which inhere in the substance. In the new kingdom God shall be within easy reach of all. Spiritual monopolies shall cease. Exclusive privilege has vanished. The devout heart in every tribe of men, or in any class of society, may find God always near. Distance from God is no longer geographical; it is moral. The slave and the pauper may have access to the great presence-chamber; the monarch, Jew or Gentile, may be barred out by their own unbelief. "With that man will I dwell, who is of an humble and a contrite heart."
V. RELIGION HAS AMPLE REWARD FOR FAITHFUL SERVICE. The sons of Zadok had remained faithful in a time of general apostasy. Divine approval may not have been openly or profusely expressed at the time. Yet generous reward was in store. Permanent honor and permanent advantage appear as the prolific fruit. They shall dwell nearer to God than others do. The entire nation shall serve them. Their deed shall reflect honor upon their father's name. The glory of their deed shall be perpetual, shall be world-wide. Their noble deed shall be the seed-corn for other deeds, and these again shall bear fruit in other lands. "The memory of the righteous is blessed."
VI. RELIGION IS SUPREMELY VALUABLE. Concerning this consecrated land it was decreed, "They shall not sell of it, neither exchange, nor alienate the firstfruits of the land." Nothing can compensate for the loss of religion. It is solid consolation that true piety is inalienable. No power on earth or in hell can rob us of our faith, or of our purity, or cf our hope. It has the guarantee of almighty protection. You can no more alienate religion from a saint than you can alienate warmth from a sunbeam or saltness from the sea. All that a man hath will he give for his life; but the life of his spirit he accounts a thousandfold more precious yet. God's friendship is treasure which no arithmetic can express. All comparisons fail.—D.
The apex of glory.
"The name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there." The final words of the prophet are golden, and deserve to be written in largest capitals. The architecture of the holy city is ideally complete; its finial shines out with immortal luster. The city is baptized with a new name. Instead of "Jerusalem," it shall be "Jehovah-Shammah." Names are often labels which falsify the reality. A worthless mine may be named "El Dorado." A rotten ship may still bear the name Impregnable. But this name shall express the distinctive feature of the renovated city. Its glory shall not appear in chiseled marble and in burnished gold. In the new kingdom Christ shall set up, all the materials shall be spiritual, therefore impervious to decay. The charm and enchantment of the place will be this—
"The Lord is there."
It shall be nothing less than heaven in miniature. This illustrious name betokens—
I. SECURITY. Real security is never a visible quantity. It does not consist of granite walls and bastions, nor yet of approved artillery. The walls of Jericho were a poor defense. Jerusalem was better shielded by an unseen angel against the legions of Sennacherib, than by all its towers and citadels and gates. The host of Israel, when invading Canaan, was invincible because the Lord was among them. The presence of God is no mere fancy; 'tis a substantial reality. And if he be among us he brings with him all the qualities of Omnipotence. He who reared the Alps by a word, cannot he defend us? He who created with a breath this solid globe, cannot he protect? He is to us better than all "munitions of rocks." If he dwell in our midst, well may we triumphantly shout, "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge."
II. EMINENT RENOWN. A city is deemed garnished with honor if it be the residence of a king. To have the presence of a monarch in their midst, to enjoy ever and anon his smile, is a privilege which all citizens prize. But how superior the renown of a city in which the King of heaven specially dwells! That he should stoop to sojourn among feeble mortals is an act of condescension peculiarly God-like. Compassion to the fallen is his delight, and he is satisfied if he can bestir in us holy ambitions. But what an honor! It is a difficult task to make it real to ourselves. His presence is the essential charm of heaven. He is its Light and its Life. Yet he deigns to dwell in an earthly empire I Will he not be equally the Life and Glory of the place? Will not this city acquire an eminence that shall cast into the shade all other renown? What other honor can we desire than this? Can ambition any higher climb? Is not this a climax of honor—"God with us"? Such a city becomes the metropolis of the world.
III. INTERNAL ORDER. If our King dwell in our midst, and if he be endowed with qualities of supreme wisdom and supreme righteousness, then the order of the city will be complete. Oppression of every sort and kind will be unknown. Upon every act of violence he will frown, and his frown will suffice. The inhabitants will instinctively study his comfort. The least danger of losing his presence will make them loyal. They will feel intolerable shame at any act that would distress his mind. His laws and regulations they know to be righteous through and through. His administration of rule is kindly and gentle. It is a joy to please him. Resistance can find no corner wherein to lurk, for "his eyes are in every place." To meet his gracious commands is not enough; they anticipate his every wish. For such a one service is a very banquet. At his feet they place heart and will.
IV. PROSPERITY. The presence of God among us brings real prosperity. From him, the eternal Fount of good, all substantial blessing flows. A hollow, transient prosperity may now and again be possessed without him; but it soon collapses,—it is only penalty disguised. The foes of God have at times had a flash of apparent success. But again men looked; it had vanished; the possessors were hurled into destruction; into smoke had they faded away. As the rising, of the sun brings to us radiant day, so the smile of God alone gives success to agriculture, to commerce, to art, to legislation, and to literature. If God dwelt among us, every interest in human life prospers. Industry reaps a full reward. Contentment reigns in every home. The very deserts bud and blossom like the rose.
V. HIGH COMMUNION ALSO IS ENJOYED. Our King does not clothe himself in silent, proud reserve. The very opposite; he is free of speech, affable, familiar. All the stores of knowledge he has he is ready to communicate. It is his purpose to make us wise, righteous, beneficent, pure. He dwells among us that we may commune with him and learn of him. We have known and felt the rich gains to character and to spiritual progress we have made by an hour or two of converse with the great and good among men. We were lifted up to a higher plane of life. But what language can express the gain of purity and spiritual excellence we obtain from converse with God? It is at times a glad experience; but earth is too poor in speech to tabulate the gain. And it is a gain that abides. A stupendous change passed over the eleven apostles through their familiar intercourse with Jesus, and we have often envied them the high advantage. Yet we are not excluded. We are invited to closer friendship, to more intimate converse with God. Fools we are that we do not use the privilege. By communion with God we become like God.
VI. EXQUISITE JOY. As superior joy pervades like a sunny atmosphere the scenes of heaven, so an installment of the came joy fills the city on earth where God dwells. Joy springs out of the harmony between our souls and our surroundings. The highest joy is reached when our souls have perfect friendship with our Maker. Oat of this intimate relationship with God comes friendly relationship with all holy beings. Now "all things work together for our good." Sorrow is but a preparative for a higher joy. The darkest cloud breaks into showers of blessing. Sorrow is ephemeral; joy is permanent. There are qualities in joy as well as varying measures. This joy is superlative—the cream of all joy. 'Tis the selfsame joy that dwells in Jehovah's heart. My peace," said Jesus, "I give unto. you." All other forms of gladness fade into nothingness m the presence of such joy as this. It Is a well-spring of bliss which can never be exhausted, because God can never be exhausted. "In thy presence is fullness of Joy." "Then shall I be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness."
"O blest the city, blest the land,
That yield them to this King's command!
O blest the heart set free from sin,
To which he deigns to enter in!"
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Characteristics of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God, here symbolized "with such imperfect materials of thought and utterance as then lay within the prophet's reach," was to be one that has not yet been realized; but with the overthrow of many superstitions, the breaking down of much corruption, and the birth and growth (or the revival) of much Christian zeal, it may be said that this fair vision is being fulfilled—that the kingdom of Christ is coming, though it is far from having come. Among its characteristics, as it shall one day be, are—
I. GLORIOUS MAGNITUDE OF DIMENSION. (Ezekiel 48:10. See homily on Ezekiel 42:15-20.)
II. IT'S A MIXTURE OF GRACE AND OF REWARD. The distribution of the land seems to have been without much (if any) regard to the meritoriousness of the tribes. Dan, which for its admission of idolatrous dements might have been last placed, comes first of all (Ezekiel 48:1); on the other hand, marked preference is shown to "the priests … of the sons of Zadok, which have kept my charge, which went not astray," etc. (Ezekiel 48:11). In the kingdom of Christ there is this same righteous and beneficent admixture.
1. It is of God's grace that all sinful souls are taken back into his favor, and are partakers of eternal life (Ephesians 2:5; Romans 6:23).
2. A large reward is offered to steadfastness and fidelity (Luke 22:28; Matthew 25:21; Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10).
III. COMMUNION AND CO-OPERATION.
1. The several tribes were so placed that they were as near to one another as could be; they were to be located side by side. And there was to be no barrier of sea or mountain wall, or even deep river between them; there was to be no hindrance to full communion (see Ezekiel 48:1-8).
2. They were to unite in a common service. All the tribes were to take part in the service required for the city (Ezekiel 48:19). When in the future the kingdom of God shall be what its Lord would have it, there shall be no separating walls keeping Churches and communities apart; there will be nothing standing in the way of fullest and happiest communion; differences of opinion or of organization will not be sources of division and separation; and while fellowship will be uninterrupted, co-operation for common ends will be common and complete,—all will serve together.
IV. BEAUTY. The aspect presented by this vision is one of symmetry; the sanctuary of the Lord in the midst of it (Ezekiel 48:10); the sacred city around the sanctuary; and the twelve tribes around the city. Here is the beauty of a symmetrical arrangement. The beauty of the Church will not, indeed, be of this visible, material order. That is quite out of the question. It must necessarily be moral, spiritual, if at all. And that it will be.
1. It will be fair with devotion—constant, systematic, and (withal) spontaneous devotion (see next homily).
2. It will be adorned with an admirable consistency of behavior, shunning the evil and pursuing the good which its Divine Master has either condemned or commended.
3. It will be beautiful with the spirit of a true catholicity, its members having a cordial regard and affection for one another, however they may differ in views and tastes.
4. It will be arrayed in the "beautiful garments" of sympathy and helpfulness.—C.
God the Accessible One.
Admitting to the sacred city, in the midst of which, was " the sanctuary of the Lord" (Ezekiel 48:10), were twelve gates, three on each side of it, and bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Surely the significance of this arrangement was that the Divine Sovereign was always accessible to all his people; that he desired to be approached by them all in order that they might have fellowship with him, and that he might confer blessing upon them. In that kingdom, of which the vision is prophetic, the Divine Lord is accessible to all; and it is not only true that he may be approached by all who will seek him, but that it is his express, his strong desire that all his children should freely draw near to him and hold converse with him. God, as revealed and related to us in Jesus Christ, is accessible—
I. AT ALL TIMES. The gates into the kingdom, or into the near presence of God, shall "in no wise be shut," either day or night. There may be days and hours when we may be offered unusual facilities for coming before God, but there is no day and there is no hour when we may not draw nigh unto him, when he is not willing and even desirous that we should pour our prayers or our praises into his ear.
II. FROM ALL DIRECTIONS. These gates looked in all directions—north, south, east, and west. From all the four quarters of the land the children of Israel were to draw near to the sacred city and to the more sacred sanctuary of the Lord. From all possible directions are we now to approach God.
1. All geographical directions. There is no sort of favoritism anywhere. As well be born in any one place under heaven as in any other. There is no Jerusalem, no Gerizim, no Mecca, no Benares, no Rome, in the kingdom of Christ.
"Where'er we seek thee, thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground."
2. All moral directions. We may approach God from a great variety of spiritual standpoints.
(1) From that of the burdened sinner seeking forgiveness and release.
(2) From that of the son who has been painfully conscious of a long estrangement or a growing coldness, and who is anxious for full reconciliation and for close and happy, perhaps renewed, intercourse with his Father.
(3) From that of a rejoicing spirit longing to bring his gladness in holy and happy gratitude to the altar of the Lord.
(4) From that of the troubled and sorrowful soul seeking comfort of him who "raiseth up them that are bowed down."
(5) From that of the seeker after righteousness, who is longing for more complete deliverance from evil and greater likeness to his Divine Leader, asking for the cleansing and renewing influences of the Spirit of God.
(6) From that of the earnest worker in the vineyard, pleading for the effectuating power which alone will make his efforts to be crowned with a true success. But from whatsoever direction a man draws near to God he will find an open gate, a welcome, a response. But there is now one Name only that is inscribed. All entrance is—
III. THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. He is "the Door," and "no man cometh unto the Father but by him." By him both Jew and Gentile "have access unto the Father" (John 10:7; John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18). Jesus Christ is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); he is the one Propitiation for our sins, having offered the one sacrifice for sins forever (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:12). It is through him we come, and it is his Name we plead (John 16:23). He is the open Door, and whether we approach as sinners seeking reconciliation, or as children or friends seeking communion and blessing, we have constant admission to the ever-accessible Father of our spirits.—C.
The presence of Christ in his Church.
Far more valuable to the Church of Jesus Christ is that Divine presence here promised than was the sacred Shechinah to the ancient people. The latter was only a mere symbol, once a year beheld by one man; but the former is a gracious power, to be appreciated and felt by every true Christian heart. "God is in the midst of her; The Lord is there," or (as Fairbairn would translate it) "The Lord is thither or thereupon;" the Lord from his temple looks towards (or upon) the city, and through the city to the whole land. It is the presence of its Divine Lord in the midst of the Church that is here indicated, and it may well be the concluding, as it is the crowning, thought which gives completeness to the prophet's vision.
I. HIS OBSERVANT PRESENCE. Jesus Christ is "with us always" (Matthew 28:20); not in the body, but in the spirit; and his spiritual presence means his observation of us, his perfect knowledge of us all, his observation of our inner life and of our outward conduct, in the homes in which we live and in the different spheres in which we move, as well as when we are gathered together in his house or around his table. The near presence of our Lord is a thought which should preserve us from folly and from sin, which should urge us to duty and to kindness, which should sustain us in trouble and in loss.
II. HIS SYMPATHETIC PRESENCE. 'We have need of his presence at all times, but we realize our need more especially and more profoundly in the time of our affliction. It is then we want a Divine Friend and an all-powerful Deliverer. Man fails us then; he may be something or even much to us, but he leaves much to be desired. And to feel that "the Lord is there," in the trials of the household, in the anxieties of daily duty, in the pressing problems and sacred struggles of the Church, is much to the mind of the devout. In Jesus Christ we have a present, sympathizing Friend, who enters into our sorrows, who goes down with us into the deepest waters through which we have to pass.
III. HIS ACTIVE PRESENCE. Our Lord is with us, not only observing us and feeling for us, but also acting graciously upon us and through us.
1. Illuminating our minds by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.
2. Sustaining our spiritual life by Divine communications of power (see Ephesians 1:19).
3. Responding to our devotion, accepting our praise and our adoration, hearing and answering our prayers.
4. Energizing and. effectuating our work, enabling us to speak for him, and making our words to be "mighty to pull down" and to build up. The near presence of Christ should be the most powerful incentive to the pursuit of spiritual worth and to the execution of Christian enterprise.
1. Do not indulge in a vain regret. It would have been very pleasant to "see the Lord" as his apostles saw him, to look into his face, to hear his voice; and very honorable it would have been to minister to his necessities as they were permitted to do; but we can be, in fact and in truth, as near to him now as they were then; and still we listen to his word, and still we serve him most acceptably for inasmuch as we show kindness or render help to "one of these little ones of his," we do the same thing "unto him'"
2. Do not cherish an unfounded hope. Many are the souls that lived long and died disappointed, expecting to have a present visible Savior amongst them. We need not add to their number; the words of promise find another fulfillment than this.
3. Realize the valuable truth, the invaluable truth, that our Lord. is with us now, loving us, caring for us, strengthening and Comforting us, governing and using us, blessing us with all priceless blessings.
Make the present heritage a foretaste of the future. Live in such happy and holy Consciousness of the presence of the Lord that it will only be a change of scene and sphere, not of spiritual condition, when we are citizens of that country where "God himself shall be with them," where "he who sits on the throne shall dwell among them," of that city which may well be called "Jehovah-Shammah," for "the Lord is there."—C.