If you are reading this before you read the days reading, do not despair. If you are reading this after you have read the scripture, you did not read in vain. Today’s reading is a bit of a mind numbing description of Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple. The date was April 28, 593 B.C. and the hand of the Lord was on Ezekiel. The hand of the Lord is mentioned several times in The Book of Ezekiel. The hand of the Lord is mighty, dangerous and deadly against His enemies, and empowering to His servants. His hand can be heavy to discipline His people. The Lord will use His hand to help His people, and for Ezekiel it was a steadying presence when the Lord called him to do extraordinary things. Ezekiel and the Jews were 25 years into the exile when he was given the vision that makes up chapters 40-48. As you look at these chapters know that these are not construction blueprints. God did not ask Ezekiel build anything. The Lord brought Ezekiel to a very high mountain from which he could see the city of Jerusalem to the south. Ezekiel is asked to look with his eyes, listen with his ears, and pay attention to everything he is shown. Then he is to report everything he sees and hears back to Israel. Think about this: when the exiles returned to Jerusalem after the exile and rebuilt the temple, these are not the plans they used. And, when Herod rebuilt the temple again, he did not use these plans either. But then, the temple Herod built was much more for his glorification than God’s glory.
So the question can then be asked, if these chapters are not a construction plan for God’s people to follow, why do we have this? Some point to chapter 43:6-12 saying the purpose is that God’s holiness matters. Ezekiel is told to describe the temple to the house of Israel so they can be ashamed of their iniquities. And he is told that the law of the temple will be especially holy. This vision is given to teach God’s people about His Holiness and not just how to build His house. Instead of the earthly temple contaminated by the sins of the people and abandoned by the presence of God, Ezekiel has seen an undefined temple, refilled by God’s glory. You see, God does not have to dwell with us. He chooses to do so. Have we become so used to the promise of God dwelling with us that this awesomeness is lost on us? Let’s take a look at these chapters.
Revelations from God often happen on mountain tops in scripture, especially the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s tour guide in this vision was a man who had a face that shone like bronze. This would indicate this man was other than human, most likely an angelic guide. Bronze coloring is reminiscent of the heavenly creatures described in the opening vision but unlike the guide for the previous visionary tour of the earthly temple in chapters 8-11, this guide was armed with only a measuring rod and a linen measuring cord. These are instruments of construction rather than destruction. Measurement is a key theme in the chapters that follow, allowing Ezekiel to highlight the importance of certain parts of the temple by making them larger and more precisely determined than other parts. The gates were fortress like constructions, designed to keep out unauthorized intruders. The eastern gate is described first because it was the most important. It lay on the sacred east-west axis of the temple along which the entire construction was oriented. And, it was the gate through which the glory of the Lord would finally return. The temple area was completely surrounded by a wall which defines space, here as inner and outer. The wall was also substantial, its function to separate the holy from the profane. Carved palm trees were a reminder of the rich fertility of the garden of Eden, and even the outer courtyard provided a buffer zone around the holy things in the inner courtyard. The 30 rooms are not given specific functions though some may have been for storage and others for the very poor who lived and served in the temple. Gateways on the east and north sides were similar though not described in such detail. There was no west access because that area was blocked off to prevent access from the rear.
The steps that led to each gate heightened the sense of their inaccessibility. The inner, most sacred areas of the temple were significantly higher in elevation than the outer parts, which provided yet another layer of separation. There were gateways separating inner and outer courtyards as well. However, there was no wall around the inner courtyard, maybe because it was elevated another 8 steps, perhaps 8 feet taller. There were specific places for the slaughter of animals, which indicates the primary function of this temple was as a place of sacrifice. This new temple in Ezekiel’s vision was radically focused on sacrifices that atoned for sin. By contrast, the temple in Jerusalem was both a center for sacrifice and a house for prayer. The hooks fastened on the walls may have been for storing knives. We also see that the Lord rewarded the loyalty of Zadok by decreeing that his descendants were the only ones permitted to approach the Lord to minister to him. Access to God in this temple was restricted to those whom the Lord had chosen and who were fit to enter the holy space.
The inner courtyard was a perfect square, the shape of holy spaces throughout the Old Testament. At the center stood the altar of sacrifice, the only piece of furniture located in that space. Holy sacrifices had to be offered without threat of defilement to ensure the continuing presence of the Lord once He had returned to fill the temple with His glory. The Temple was at the protected center of the temple complex, temple here referring to the Holy of Holies. It was located at the highest point of the complex, yet another ten steps higher above the inner court which was eight steps above the outer court. The temple walls where ten and a half feet thick. Ezekiel did not enter the most holy place but waited outside while the angel went in alone to measure it. There were 90 side rooms spread over three floors with a large building of unspecified use that may have served to protect the back of the Temple from authorized access. No one was permitted to approach God’s presence from behind. The temple building was paneled with wood and decorated with palm trees and cherubim, cherubim like those Ezekiel had seen in earlier visions of judgement. These had only two faces, that of a lion and that of a human. The lion was the highest of the wild animals and the human the pinnacle of the created order. The altar made of wood was most likely where the bread of the presence was daily laid out by the priests before the Lord.
Once Ezekiel reached the center of the temple complex he began traveling outward again. The design of the rooms for the priests was unique. There were three levels of rooms so that the priests could enter at the top from the inner court and emerge at the bottom in the outer court. The priests could store the sacred offerings and eat the most holy offerings in these rooms. The clothes they wore while they served were also stored in these rooms because they were Holy. When they were done serving they would change into “street clothes”. All of these regulations represent a significant increase in the care taken to separate the holy from the profane. Much of the design of this temple was designed to keep the holy and the profane from ever coming into contract with each other.
We need to remember that the sacred spaces of the previous chapters were of no value if they were empty. To be effective, they must be occupied by the glory of God. We read in chapter 10 of the glory of God departing the temple and now it would return from the same direction in which it left, the east. If you remember, the tabernacle in the wilderness faced east. Unlike the glory of the Lord’s slow, almost reluctant departure, its return would come suddenly, accompanied by the terrifying roar of rushing waters. Ezekiel did what he had done before, he fell facedown on the ground in response to the glory of the Lord. The Spirit lifted Ezekiel up to his feet and carried him into the inner courtyard so he could hear the Lord declare that the restored Temple was the place in which His throne and footstool were located and that He would live forever among the people of Israel. The identification of the temple as God’s dwelling and the seat of His sovereignty was not new. The temple would now be God’s throne forever and never again would the sins of His people drive Him away from His sanctuary.
There have been many efforts made to understand the details of Ezekiel’s vision in such a way that the prophecy might be described as fulfilled. But these attempts have been unsuccessful. It appears that this is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. At the same time, we can apply these chapters to the present as examples of God’s planning, precision, and sovereignty. God maintains control of the events of history. When events seem chaotic, God reminds us to rest in His ability to bring order. Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple, when the the temple in Jerusalem had just been destroyed, reassured the exiles. God would and does create beauty out of ashes. The exiles needed that vision of hope, and so do we. But the Lord also wanted His people to know that if holy God was to dwell in their midst forever, absolute holiness on Israel’s part was required. The altar here was nearly three times the size of the one in front of the tabernacle and this altar was approached by steps going up the east side of the altar. This is a reversal of ancient near eastern practices. This was done so that there would be no hint of sun worship. Instructions were given for consecrating the new altar before it was to be used, the process similar to that used when Solomon’s temple was consecrated. These sin offerings properly set the temple apart for holy use so the priests could once again offer sacrifices for the people. These offerings were necessary if the Lord were to accept His people.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W