Most people have a hard time getting started on Ezekiel because of the strange Temple vision of the first chapter, but they also have a hard time finishing the book because of the Temple vision of chapters 40-48. Like the similar passages in Exodus describing the tabernacle and its furniture, these chapters are not easy to read.
Remember too that Old Testament prophecy often describes the eschatological future in terms of the Old Testament types. And since we live at a time when those types have had their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, it is difficult to sustain the interest of the modern-day reader in the detailed description of an obsolete type like the Temple.
Yet precisely because the Temple vision is pointing us to Jesus and what Jesus came to do and thus also to the eschatological future we will enjoy with Him, we should pay attention here.
It is also worth quoting the Dillard-Longman introduction to Ezekiel on the interpretation of these chapters as we did last time:
“Similar misreading widely attends Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration community (Ezek. 40-48). Almost all scholars recognize that the return to Jerusalem following Cyrus’ decree (539 B.C.) fell short of the glorious restoration depicted in Ezekiel’s vision. A temple was built, but it was not as spectacular as what the prophet described. Nor were all the tribes resettled in a new geographical distribution (47:13-48:29). The character of the terrain around the Dead Sea did not change (47:1-12).
Since no such temple as Ezekiel describes (40-43) has ever actually been built, many who urge a literal reading of the Bible insist that Ezekiel is providing the blueprint and specifications (cf. Ezek 43:10-11) for a future temple that the citizens of modern Israel will build in Jerusalem. However, some elements of the prophet’s vision seem to go beyond a reasonable literal understanding (Ezek. 47:1-12). Since the entire passage (Ezek. 40-48) is a vision, it is better to respect the essentially symbolic character of that genre and to understand the entire vision as a symbolic portrayal of the way in which God would bless his people in the future. The temple preeminently represented the presence of God in the midst of his people. Under the form of vision and symbol (Ezek. 40:2; cf. Num. 12:6), the prophet describes a time when God’s presence in Israel would transcend anything in Israel’s historical experience, a time when Israel would enjoy order, peace, and just rule. For Christian readers, that transcending experience of God’s presence that brought with it peace and justice would occur when God incarnate would walk the streets of Jerusalem and build his church as a new temple. The presence of Immanuel would mark the day that “the LORD is there” (48:35)” (p.323-324).
The introduction also notes, “There is no historical evidence that the visible cloud of God’s glory ever came to the second temple as it had to the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple; God’s glory came to the second temple when Jesus entered Jerusalem” (p.327).
This is what I have been saying all along, the return from exile (both the people returning to God and God returning to the people) does not really happen until Jesus comes.
To be sure, the fullest experience with sight of this reality will only take place for the visible earth when He comes again. In other words, there is an already and not yet to acknowledge with this vision.
Ezekiel 1-11 showed us God’s glory-cloud leaving the Temple and Ezekiel 40-48 shows us God’s glory-cloud returning to the Temple. Thus the book is a complete whole in message. These two sections we have seen are parallel in the chiastic structure of the book as well. Like that former section this one too is a vision.
The whole of Ezekiel 40-48 begins with the following time-stamp: “In the 25th year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the 10th day of the month, in the 14th year after the city was struck down, on that very day…” (Ezekiel 40:1).
The only other place we see this double-dating feature is Ezekiel 1. Davidson suggests that this is the beginning of a block parallelism between Ezekiel 1-11 and Ezekiel 40-48. He indicates that his analysis is still tentative but it would explain why the things in Ezekiel 40-48 are in the order that they are.
Double dating (Ezekiel 1 & 40)
Glory of God comes from North (to south) (Ezek 1:4a); Ezekiel looks (from the North) to the South (Ezek 40:2b)
Cherubim & Chariot-Throne (Ezek 1:4b-26a); New Temple & Its Chambers (Ezek 40:3-42:20)
Coming of the Glory of the Lord (Ezek 1:26b-28a); Coming of the Glory of the Lord (Ezek 43:1-9)
Ezekiel falls on his face and is lifted up by the Spirit (Ezek 1:28b-2:2); Ezekiel falls on his face and is lifted up by the Spirit (Ezek 43:3, 5)
Commissioning of Ezekiel (Ezek 2:3-3:27); Recommissioning of Ezekiel (Ezek 43:10, 11, cf. 40:4)
Indictments for Breaking Covenant, Stipulations: Abominations of False Worship at Temple (Ezek 4-8); New Covenant Stipulations: “the law of the Temple” for proper worship (Ezek 43:12-46:24)
Divine glory pauses at threshold then moves to the East (Ezek 9:1-11:13, esp 9:3, 10:4, 18, 19); Healing Water (symbol of the divine presence) Comes from under the threshold of the Temple & flows to the East (Ezek 47:1-12)
Promised Restoration of the Land (Ezek 11:14-21); Borders of Restored Land (Ezek 47:13-48:29)
Departure of the Glory of God from the City (Ezek 11:22-25); God does not depart; city named “The Lord is there” (Ezek 48:30-35)
It is worth noting that this vision is set on a mountaintop (Ezekiel 40:2). This gives it the sound of a second Moses on Mount Sinai event. It has been noted that Ezekiel is the only one to give “legislation” to the Old Testament people besides Moses. And more than this both received the blueprints for a sanctuary on the mountaintop.
Many things could be noted about the content of these chapters. So what we are going to cover is simply some of the interesting highlights or patterns.
The vision serves to stress that the holiness of the Temple will be strictly maintained – the standard of holiness is higher than under the Mosaic arrangement. And the purpose of the Temple vision is described this way: “As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan” (Ezek 43:10).
“And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out” (Ezek 43:11).
The exits and entrances is an important theme – access to the presence of God is much more tightly controlled.
Remember the nature of this “legislation” that follows after this in Ezekiel. Like the Temple description, the legislation is meant to instruct the people. Much like the laws in Exodus-Deuteronomy, the legislation is not a complete civil code for government to adopt. And there are differences between the code here and the one found in Exodus-Deuteronomy (not to mention that there are differences we have already seen in those books).
Among this legal material, Ezekiel says, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary” (Ezek 44:9). It is verses like this that made it such a surprise to the Jewish Christians in the New Testament era that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to join the church. Nevertheless, it is Ezekiel who stresses throughout that the circumcision of the flesh points to the heart circumcision that God would do. And it has been noted that this is a reference to the practice of hiring out temple guard duty to foreigners (Ezek 44:8, cf. Lev 8:35, 2 Kings 11:5).
Also in this legal material we see the elevation of the Zadokite priests because of the faithfulness of Zadok. And therefore the standards are higher for them too. These priests are still given the same job description we have seen earlier: “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezek 44:23). They also were to serve as the judges for the people’s disputes. But again the laws are much the same as we have seen in the covenant described by Moses. He describes the future reality in terms of the present type purified.
The effect of this kind of approach is to make it so that everything Israel did after the initial “restoration” to the land would fall short of this description (like the second temple did too) but that the description actually is not as grand as the reality it points us to in the end.
When describing the division of the land, Ezekiel notes that there is two portions for Joseph. This is how we still get to twelve tribes – the Levites have no portion (as Ezekiel has also restated).
The order of the tribes as mentioned are: Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, Isaachar, Zebulun, and Gad. Most of the text focuses on the sacred area between Judah and Benjamin. Note that though historically Benjamin had been north of Jerusalem and Judah to the south, this is reversed here. And the sacred area is further north than Jerusalem.
Noteworthy also is that the 2.5 tribes that had land in the Transjordan region now have land in the Promised Land proper. So the boundaries described here are the ones that had been promised to Moses originally. Also in this Promised Land, proselytes/converts who relocated there would receive a hereditary portion. The four tribes furthest away from the sacred area are the sons of the concubines. And the eight sons of Rachel and Leah are split into four north of the sacred area and four south of the sacred area.
Again, the Temple is the center of the land. The city described faces north toward the Temple. Like the Temple, the city is a square. It has twelve gates named for the 12 tribes. This time Levi counts and so Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as one Joseph. The three most significant son of Leah tribes face the north, her other three sons face the south, the gates to the east are Joseph and Benjamin and Dan (sons of Rachel and one son of her servant), and then the gates to the west are the other three sons of the concubines. And the city is named, “YHWH is there.”
This is a big change from the tribal arrangement back in Numbers were the northern direction was the least important.
As to the significance of some of these details…well I have to leave you plenty to study for yourself 🙂
But the main thing is that the defiled Temple has been replaced by an undefiled Temple and the wicked city of Jerusalem has been replaced by a holy city.