Now that the glory of the Lord had returned to the temple, questions of who had access and where were critical. Exactly who could approach this holy God? Like chapter 43 this chapter is concerned with the temple’s entrances and exits, as well as the duties and procedures associated with its use. The rabbis of Judaism spent a great deal of time trying to harmonize the laws of Ezekiel 44-48 with the laws of the Torah. They were unsuccessful because the legislation in these chapters was no more intended to match that of Moses than the vision of the temple building in chapters 40-43 was designed to match the design of the tabernacle or the temple of Solomon. The description of the temple regulations conveys a theological message of change, as did the earlier description of the temple architecture. These regulations highlighted the need for proper separation between the temple and the palace. The sacrificial rituals would become more focused and more numerous on purification. Holy offerings would once again be made by people who were holy to God. Since defilement of the temple and idolatrous worship had driven the Lord out of His house (chapters 8-11) an entirely new situation was necessary if the Lord was in fact to dwell once more among His people. The legislation also puts the prince, the king descended from David, in a proper place of submission to the Lord. It finds its fulfillment with the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus comes as a servant king who delights to do the fathers will. He offered the perfect purification offering, cleansed the sanctuary once for all time, and ensured that God can dwell in the midst of His people forever. His blood cleanses us of all sin and enables sinners boldly to enter the heavenly Most Holy Place without fear or rejection.
The outer east gate of this temple must remain perpetually closed because the Lord had now returned to His temple and would never leave it again. The Lord had also sanctified this gate by going through it, and no one else was ever to use it. Though the prince had the significant privilege of being the only one allowed to feast in the Lord’s presence inside the east outer gateway, he was restricted to entering and leaving the portico from the outer court. He was not to enter the temple complex by going through the gate, as the Lord had. The earthly ruler is still a man, not God and he must submit to God. The prince must also never forget that the temple is God’s palace, not his own private chapel. There is a difference now however. Before foreigners were not allowed anywhere near the temple but now Ezekiel tells us that foreigners who had been circumcised and had given themselves to the Lord were permitted to have access to the sanctuary. The men of the tribe of Levi who were supposed to be leading God’s people to Him in worship and obedience were actually doing the opposite and now there would be consequences. They could no longer enter the inner court of the temple like the priests. But by God’s grace they could still serve by slaughtering the sacrifices. The people as a whole were kept farther from the Lord because of their idolatry. In contrast the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok had remained faithful to the Lord. As a result, their reward was serving in the inner courtyard. They were to perform the sacrificial rituals nearer to the presence of God. This privilege carried with it a heightened responsibility for holiness. Their behavior was restricted and they had to wear linen rather than wool so they did not sweat, defining themselves. They had a separate wardrobe of sacred garments that they wore only in the inner courtyard. The danger was that these sacred garments were holy and holiness was contagious. It could be conveyed to anything it came into contact with. The problem there is that if the sacred and holy came into contact with something or someone profane, there could be fatal consequences. There were rules about dead people and not drinking wine before entering the inner courtyard lest crucial mistakes be made. They were restricted in marriage to virgins of Israel or widows of other priests. This was to ensure the continuing purity of the priestly line. As before, they had the Lord as their inheritance so they did not receive property when it was divided up among the tribes.
The division of the land is described in chapters 47-48 but the central sacred section is described here because it included areas for the priests to live in. Regaining a share in the land was a big deal to the returning exiles who had nothing. Ezekiel’s interest however was not just promising the land would be divided fairly. He wanted to remind them of what the promised land was about in the first place. It was a land in which God would dwell among His people. So, at the outset the central part of the land would be assigned to the Lord as His holy portion. The main purpose of this was to provide a zone of holiness and protection around the temple. Within this holy portion the temple complex would form the Most Holy Place at the heart of the sacred square. And, like the Holy of Holies was protected by an inner court that only the priests could enter, the temple complex was surrounded by a section reserved for priests.
The priestly area had a place reserved for the Levites and the city was located south of the temple area. The rest of the square area was for the prince, whose identity we do not know. Now the temple would be both the geographical and spiritual heart of the new Israel. There was one tangible expression of the Lord’s kingly rule. He distributed land to the prince as well as the people. The prince was assigned a large enough piece of land that he did not need to oppress or rob the people. The land he was allotted was big enough to supply his needs. No longer did he need to cheat people. This was huge because there was no division of weights and measures then and cheating people was a very common practice. The people were to provide for daily offerings that would make atonement by paying a tax that went to the prince. There were to be regular daily offerings and offerings for special occasions. All of this was intended to purify the people, making them right with the Lord. The annual festivals also had a purifying purpose.
The east gateway would open once a week for the sabbath between the inner and outer courtyards, once a month for the new moon festivals, and when the prince offered voluntary burnt offerings, or peace offerings. But, the east gate between the outer courtyard and the outside world was to never be opened again. Because the prince could go through the eastern gateway to the inner courtyard as far as the entry room to worship indicated that God regarded him as more significant than the common everyday worshipers. However, he was still not fit to stand in the presence of the Lord. The ordinary Israelites would be allowed to climb the stairs to the threshold trooper their worship when the gate was open in the sabbath. Only then could they even see the inner court. During the religious festivals the people were to present themselves before the Lord by proceeding through the temple from north to south or vice versa…with the prince in their midst. They were required to follow the profane north-south axis rather than the sacred east-west axis along which the priests activities took place. We also see that the land assigned to the prince was the Lord’s gift to him and his family. He could not give it permanently to a servant and in the jubilee year all the land would revert back to the original family owners. This was intended to remove the temptation for the king to acquire more land at the expense of those who already had less than he did. No one was allowed to tamper with the people’s inheritance.
Once the temple was restored to its central place among God’s people, its beneficial influence, pictured here as a River, would spread outward, transforming life. The source of the stream was within the temple. To the right of the altar on the south side was the bronze sea. This was a massive bronze pool that provided water for cleansing. At first it was a mere trickle coming out from the gate of the temple, but as it flowed out it became deeper and deeper until it was too deep to walk through. The exiles needed to be reminded that God often works from small beginnings that miraculously blossom into full flower. We need to be reminded of this as well. The River grew as it went bringing life to everything it touched, even the salty waters of the Dead Sea, which has a salt content of 25%. Nothing can live in that much salt. From En-Gedi on the west side of the Dead Seas to En-eglaim on the west side, the Dead Sea would be brought to life. It would teem with fish and create an industry. Alongside the River would be all kinds of fruit trees. There would be a different crop each and every month.
From 47:13-48:35 the Book of Ezekiel charts the boundaries for the distribution of the new land. Theology is expressed here through geography. Issues of space, access, and position relative to the temple are of crucial significance. The boundaries were not very different than those listed in Numbers 34:1-12. The land within these boundaries was to be divided among the tribes of Israel. And even foreigners who had joined Israel as converts received land. This time the land was assigned to the tribes as strips running east to west through the land. It was aligned this way so it would be so all would have equal access to the various resources of the land. The four tribes the most distant from the temple were the tribes descended from the maid servants of Leah and Rachel. These four were the least privileged. The other eight tribes, sons of Leah and a Rachel would receive the strips of land immediately north and south of the holy portion. Judah received the land immediately north of the holy portion. Benjamin to the immediate south. Farther south was the public strip of land set aside for public use, where the city was located. The prince also received land. His land was more important than the rest of the laity but he was below the priests and Levites.
At the end of the book Ezekiel focuses attention on the exits of the city. Like the temple the city was a measured square with 12 gates, one for each tribe. The three most important gates, named for Reuben, the oldest of Jacob’s sons, Judah, the royal tribe, and Levi, the priestly tribe, faced north. This is because the most important direction was northward towards the temple, the center of the renewed land. The south side was the second most important. The east gate was assigned to the children of Rachel, Joseph, Benjamin, and by her maid, Dan. The least favored gate, the west , was given to the descendants of the concubines; Gad, Asher, and Naphtali. To cap off the entire vision the city was given a new name…The Lord is There. This name implied that the once rotten and sinful city had now been changed. No longer would the people defile the temple or worship idols. God established His sanctuary in the midst of His people forever, just as He promised.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W