Ezekiel 44
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 44–46 Ordinances regarding the Temple

These ordinances define who shall minister in it, priests and Levites (ch. 44); the revenue of the priests, the Levites and the prince, with the duties devolving on the prince in upholding the ritual (Ezekiel 45:1-17); the special and daily services in the temple, and the special offerings of the prince (Ezekiel 45:18-25).

Ch. 44 Those who shall minister in the Temple

The passage contains these parts:

(1) Ezekiel 44:1-3. An ordinance regarding the eastern gate: it shall be kept shut because by it the Lord entered into the house.

(2) Ezekiel 44:4-14. Precepts regarding the subordinate ministrants, who keep the gates of the house and perform such offices as slaughtering the victims. These subordinate services shall no more be performed, as they have been to the desecration of them, by uncircumcised foreigners (Ezekiel 44:4-9). But the Levites, who ministered as priests at the high-places when Israel went astray from Jehovah, shall perform such services. For their former sin they shall bear their iniquity and be excluded from the holy functions of the priesthood proper, though permitted to take part in the service of the house in a subordinate place (Ezekiel 44:10-14).

(3) Ezekiel 44:15-31. Precepts regarding the priests (i.e. those who minister at the altar), e.g. that they shall be the sons of Zadok alone (Ezekiel 44:15-16); regarding their garments in their ministrations (Ezekiel 44:17 seq.); their marriage (Ezekiel 44:22); their functions as teachers of the people and judges (Ezekiel 44:23-24); their preservation from defilement by contact with the dead (Ezekiel 44:25-27), and their maintenance (Ezekiel 44:28 seq.).

Ezekiel 44:1-3. The prophet is brought to the outside of the outer gate, which he observes to be shut. It must be kept shut because the glory of the Lord entered by it into the house. None shall enter by it.

Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut.
Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.
It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.
3. The only exception is in favour of the prince. He shall eat bread in this gate, i.e. partake of the sacrificial meal there. Though not expressly stated it is implied that the meal shall be partaken of in the porch of the gate, which looked into the outer court. The statements in ch. 46 make it probable that even the prince did not enter through the E. gate from the outside, but passed into the outer court through some other gate, and entered the porch from the court.

Ezekiel 44:4-9. The former practice of employing uncircumcised foreigners to minister and to keep the charge of the house shall absolutely cease.

Then brought he me the way of the north gate before the house: and I looked, and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: and I fell upon my face.
4. The prophet is brought by way of the N. gate into the inner court before the house. From his position in front of the house he beholds the glory of the, Lord filling the house, and falls on his face.

And the LORD said unto me, Son of man, mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of the LORD, and all the laws thereof; and mark well the entering in of the house, with every going forth of the sanctuary.
5. He is commanded to give heed to all the ordinances and laws regulating the future service of the house.

entering in of the house] The phrase to the end of the verse is a general designation for all the functions of the house, those who shall be permitted to enter it (Ezekiel 44:10-14), with the manner of their going in and coming out (Ezekiel 44:17-21).

And thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations,
6. The “rebellious,” lit. rebellion, a term frequently used in ch. 1–24 (e.g. Ezekiel 2:5, Ezekiel 3:9, Ezekiel 12:2, Ezekiel 17:12, Ezekiel 24:3), but dropped since the fall of the city. Recollection of the former abominations practised in the sanctuary again brings it to the prophet’s lips.

In that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant because of all your abominations.
7. into my sanctuary strangers] i.e. foreigners. What is reprobated is not of course allowing foreigners to present sacrifices to Jehovah, which they might do (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:12; Numbers 15:14), but allowing them to officiate in the offering, and in general in the ministry of the sanctuary. It is not ascertainable to what extent these uncircumcised heathen were permitted to fill the subordinate offices about the house, such as those of keepers of the gates and assistants to the priests, but just as the kings employed foreign mercenaries as guards (who were employed even in the temple, 2 Kings 11:7), it appears that persons not Israelites and not incorporated in Israel by the necessary rites, were employed in the house. They were probably captives taken in war and the like (Joshua 9:27; 1 Samuel 2:13; Zechariah 14:21; cf. Ezra 8:20; Ezra 2:58). This is regarded by the prophet as a profanation of the house and an infraction of the covenant between Jehovah and Israel. It is the latter from the nature of the case. Israel was the people of the Lord and his service must be performed by Israel. These heathen were uncircumcised both in flesh and heart, their service was purely mercenary, and without religious reality. For “and they have broken” LXX. reads, and ye have broken, which is more exact.

because of all] Perhaps: in addition to all your abominations.

And ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.
8. ye have set keepers] Some would read: ye have set them keepers. This of course is the meaning. The change is hardly supported by LXX (as Well. p. 122).

Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.
9–14. Such services shall not be performed by foreigners any more, but by the Levites who formerly ministered at the high-places. Because of their sin in leading the house of Israel astray they shall bear their iniquity and be excluded from the priesthood.

And the Levites that are gone away far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray away from me after their idols; they shall even bear their iniquity.
10. And the Levites] But the Levites which went away far from me … after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity, 11 and shall be ministers &c. The clause “they shall be ministers” explains how these Levites shall bear their iniquity—they shall be degraded from the priestly office and reduced to the place of subordinate servants. To “bear iniquity” is to bear the penalty of it, ch. Ezekiel 4:4. On “idols,” ch. Ezekiel 6:4.

which went astray] Most naturally refers to Israel, cf. Ezekiel 44:15; though it might refer to the Levites, cf. Ezekiel 48:11.

Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having charge at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them.
11. The verse is closely connected with Ezekiel 44:10 (note on Ezekiel 44:10). The services which the Levites shall be allowed to perform are such as having charge of the gates, slaying the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering for the people and in general ministering to them, e.g. cooking the sacrificial flesh for their meals (Ezekiel 46:24). To “stand before” is to serve, Numbers 16:9.

Because they ministered unto them before their idols, and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity; therefore have I lifted up mine hand against them, saith the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their iniquity.
12. caused … to fall … iniquity] lit. as marg.: were a stumbling-block of iniquity unto. Ch. Ezekiel 7:19, Ezekiel 14:3-4, Ezekiel 18:30. On “idols,” Ezekiel 44:10.

lift up mine hand] i.e. sworn, Ezekiel 20:5.

And they shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, in the most holy place: but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed.
13. Ezekiel 44:13 is closely connected with Ezekiel 44:12 … bear their iniquity, and they shall not come near unto me.

in the most holy place] Rather: unto the things that are most holy. The words are in apposition with “my holy things.”

But I will make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all the service thereof, and for all that shall be done therein.
14. But I will make] And I will. The prophet as was natural to him takes a severe view of the conduct of the priests of the high-places, laying much of the blame of Israel’s defection upon them (Ezekiel 44:12).

But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD:
15, 16. The priests of the family of Zadok alone shall be priests in the new Temple. These continued faithful to Jehovah when the provincial priests went far from him. The judgment of the prophet may be to some extent a comparative one. The worship at Jerusalem never sank to the level of the licentiousness and corruption prevailing at the rural sanctuaries, though undoubtedly the record of the reform of Josiah reveals great corruptions at Jerusalem also (2 Kings 23). How far these were introduced by the kings, such as Manasseh, despite the opposition of the priests, cannot be ascertained. The reforms of Hezekiah most probably, and certainly those of Josiah, were promoted by the priests (2 Kings 22). The family of Zadok dates from Solomon, who deposed Abiathar on account of his favouring the pretensions of Adonijah and installed Zadok in his place. Since those remote times the Zadokites had served in the temple, and upon the whole the prophet’s favourable judgment of them is no doubt justified (cf. 2 Kings 11; Isaiah 8:2).

They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge.
16. near to my table] The altar of burnt-offering is no doubt meant, cf. on Ezekiel 41:22.

Ezekiel 44:17-19. The garments of the priests.—In the service of the sanctuary they shall wear only linen clothing, drawers and head-dresses. In Exodus 28:39; Exodus 28:42; Exodus 39:27; Leviticus 16:4, the coats and bonnets of the priests are byssus (possibly cotton).

And it shall come to pass, that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come upon them, whiles they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within.
They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat.
18. Sweat is regarded as uncleanness.

And when they go forth into the utter court, even into the utter court to the people, they shall put off their garments wherein they ministered, and lay them in the holy chambers, and they shall put on other garments; and they shall not sanctify the people with their garments.
19. The sacred garments shall be worn only in the inner court, and in service. Before going out into the outer court the priests shall put them off and deposit them in the sacred cells, Ezekiel 42:13-14.

sanctify the people] i.e. by bringing that which is holy in contact with them. The enactment is not a precaution against defilement of the holy garments, at least in form, though it may be a precaution against confusion of the sacred and the common. Cf. Ezekiel 46:20; Exodus 29:37; Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:27. The words “even into the utter court” are probably an accidental repetition. LXX. omits.

Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads.
20. The priests shall poll or cut the hair of their heads, and neither shave their heads bald nor let the hair flow loose. Shaving the head bald was a sign of mourning (Leviticus 21:5; Leviticus 21:10, cf. Ezekiel 24:17), and forbidden both to priests and people as a practice of the heathen (Deuteronomy 14:1); though the prophets frequently refer to it as a token of disaster and mourning; Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 16:6; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16. Leviticus 10:6 indicates that letting the hair flow loose and dishevelled was also a sign of grief. The phrase appears used both of this practice and of the Nazirite custom of allowing the hair to remain uncut (Numbers 6:5, cf. Numbers 5:18).

Neither shall any priest drink wine, when they enter into the inner court.
21. On this prohibition cf. the narrative Leviticus 10:1-9.

Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her that is put away: but they shall take maidens of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow that had a priest before.
22. The marriage of the priests. They shall marry only virgins, or the widows of former priests. In Leviticus 21:14 marrying a widow of any kind is forbidden to the high-priest, but no restriction is imposed on the priests (Ezekiel 44:7). Ezek. makes no allusion anywhere to a high-priest.

And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.
23, 24. General duties of the priests towards the people. They shall teach the people to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean, cf. Ezekiel 22:26; Leviticus 10:10; Haggai 2:11; Malachi 2:7.

And in controversy they shall stand in judgment; and they shall judge it according to my judgments: and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all mine assemblies; and they shall hallow my sabbaths.
24. They shall also act as judges in causes that arise among the people. It is not certain that Ezek. commits the office of judge to the priests exclusively, cf. Ezekiel 45:9. In Deuteronomy 17:8 seq., Deuteronomy 19:17, Deuteronomy 21:5 the priests sit in difficult cases along with the judges who shall be in those days (cf. Deuteronomy 21:19; Deuteronomy 22:15; Exodus 18:21-22). In Ezekiel’s final state of the kingdom of the Lord, however, only cases of misunderstanding, not of wrong, would arise. Finally it is the duty of the priests to see that the laws and statutes of the Lord be observed at all the appointed seasons (A.V. assemblies), or sacred occasions (Ezekiel 45:17 seq.), and that the sabbath be sanctified, cf. Ezekiel 22:26.

And they shall come at no dead person to defile themselves: but for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother, or for sister that hath had no husband, they may defile themselves.
25–27. Regulations for their necessary contact with the dead. They shall approach the dead bodies only of their nearest relatives, father, mother, son, daughter, brother and unmarried sister. From the defilement caused by this contact they must purify themselves before resuming their service in the inner court. It is curious that no reference is made to the priest’s wife among the relatives with whose dead bodies they may defile themselves. The same omission occurs Leviticus 21:1-3. In Ezekiel 24:15 it is understood that he would naturally shew tokens of mourning for his wife. The two things, however, are not identical, and Ezek. was not an acting priest. According to Leviticus 21:11 the high-priest was not to defile himself by going near any dead body whatever. How defilement was contracted is explained Numbers 19:14.

And after he is cleansed, they shall reckon unto him seven days.
26. after he is cleansed] i.e. the priest. The length of time during which he shall remain unclean is not stated. In ordinary cases he who touched a dead body was unclean seven days (Numbers 19:11). After his cleansing the priest must count seven days, which would imply exclusion from his official duties for 14 days.

And in the day that he goeth into the sanctuary, unto the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering, saith the Lord GOD.
27. Before resuming his functions the priest presents a sin-offering.

And it shall be unto them for an inheritance: I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel: I am their possession.
28. it shall be … inheritance] This cannot refer to the sin-offering (Ezekiel 44:27), which was burnt entire outside the sanctuary. To translate: This shall be their inheritance (viz.) I am their inheritance, making the words “I am” &c. subject is too artificial. The balance of sentence seems to require, they shall have no inheritance, I am &c., corresponding to the second half of the verse. So Vulg., cf. Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:1-2; Joshua 13:14 &c.

28–31. The maintenance of the priest. He shall have no inheritance among the people: the Lord is his inheritance. He shall eat the meat-offering, the sin- and trespass-offering; everything put to the ban shall be his, and the best of all the first-fruits and of all the dues.

They shall eat the meat offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering; and every dedicated thing in Israel shall be theirs.
29. Cf. Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 7:9-11, for the meat-offering; Leviticus 6:18; Leviticus 7:6-7; Numbers 18:9-10, for the sin- and trespass-offerings; and for that put to the ban or “devoted” to Jehovah, Leviticus 27:28; Numbers 18:14. For “dedicated” as marg. devoted.

And the first of all the firstfruits of all things, and every oblation of all, of every sort of your oblations, shall be the priest's: ye shall also give unto the priest the first of your dough, that he may cause the blessing to rest in thine house.
30. And the first] Or, the best. Cf. Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4.

and every oblation] The word sometimes rendered heave offering. Numbers 15:19; Numbers 18:19. It means a part taken from a larger whole, cf. Ezekiel 45:1, &c., where the portion of land dedicated to the use of the priests and Levites is so called.

of your dough] The term occurs again only Numbers 15:20-21; Nehemiah 10:37, and is of doubtful meaning. LXX., dough; Targ. Syr., baking trough; others, coarse meal. On the “blessing,” Malachi 3:10; Proverbs 3:9-10.

The priests shall not eat of any thing that is dead of itself, or torn, whether it be fowl or beast.
31. On this prohibition Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 22:8. Cf. Leviticus 17:15.

The injunctions in Ezekiel 44:30 are very general. The prophet presupposes former customs familiar to the people, which he desires to continue. Everywhere in these chapters his directions are in the main a reproduction of a past customary and understood practice.

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