Ezekiel 40
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


These closing chapters of Ezekiel form one continuous prophecy of a distinctly marked character. They present a vision of the Temple in minute detail, with careful measurements of its parts; various ordinances for the Temple, for the Levites, and the priests, and for the prince; a new and remarkable division of the land; and the vision of the life-giving waters issuing from the sanctuary. The whole passage differs too much from anything in the past to allow for a moment the supposition that it is historical in character; and uttered, as it was, at a time when the Temple lay in ashes, and the land desolate, it is equally clear that it cannot describe the present. It must, therefore, have been prophetic; but this fact alone will not decide whether it looked to a literal fulfilment, or was ideal in its character; although the à priori presumption must be in favour of the latter, since all was seen “in the visions of God” (Ezekiel 40:2)—an expression which Ezekiel always applies to a symbolic representation rather than to an actual image of things. Certainly the Temple was afterwards rebuilt, and the nation re-established in Palestine; but the second Temple was quite unlike the one described by Ezekiel, and no attempt was ever made to carry out his division of the land. The few interpreters who have supposed that he meant to foretell literally the sanctuary and the state of the restoration have been compelled to suppose that the returning exiles found themselves too feeble to carry out their designs, and hence that this prophecy remains as a monument of magnificent purposes which were never accomplished. If this were the correct view, it is inconceivable that there should be no allusion to the language of Ezekiel in the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the prophecies of Haggai, which all relate to this period, and describe the return and settlement in the land, and the rebuilding of the Temple, with no reference to this prophecy, nor any trace of a desire to conform their work to its directions. Other objections to this view will be mentioned presently.

At the same time, it is to be remembered that a remnant of the people were restored to their land, and their Temple was rebuilt upon Mount Zion; it is but reasonable to suppose that these events, so often foretold, were present to the prophet’s mind, and that he looked out from them upon a more distant future, in the same way that near and typical events often with the other prophets form the basis of their foreshadowing of the future.

The only other way in which this prophecy can be literally understood is by supposing that its fulfilment is still in the future. In general, it is difficult to say that any state of things may not be realised in the future; but in this case there are features of the prophecy, and those not of a secondary or incidental character, but forming a part of its main delineations, which enable us to say unhesitatingly that their literal fulfilment would be in plain contradiction to the Divine revelation. For it is impossible to conceive, in view of the whole relations between the old and the new dispensations, as set forth in Scripture, that animal sacrifices can ever again be restored by Divine command, and find acceptance with God. And it may be added that it is equally impossible to conceive that the Church of the future, progressing in the liberty wherewith Christ has made it free, should ever return again to “the weak and beggarly elements” of Jewish bondage here set forth. But besides these obvious reasons, there are several indications in the detail of the prophecy that show it was never intended to be literally understood. These cannot all be seen without a careful examination of the details, but a few points may be presented which will make the fact sufficiently clear.

In the first place, the connection between the Temple and the city of Jerusalem is so deeply laid in all the sacred literature of the subject, as well as in the thought of every pious Israelite, that a prophecy incidentally separating them, without any distinct statement of the fact, or assignment of a reason for so doing, is scarcely conceivable. Yet in this portion of Ezekiel the Temple is described as at a distance of nearly nine and a half miles from the utmost bound of the city, or about fourteen and a quarter miles from its centre. This holds true, however the tribe portions of the land and the “oblation” be located (see the map in the Notes to Ezekiel 48); for the priests’ portion of the “oblation” (Ezekiel 48:10), in the midst of which the sanctuary is placed, is 10,000 reeds, or about nineteen miles broad; to the south of this (Ezekiel 48:15-17) is a strip of land of half the width, in which the city with its “suburbs” is situated. occupying its whole width.

A Temple in any other locality than Mount Moriah would hardly be the Temple of Jewish hope and association; but Ezekiel’s Temple, with its precincts, is a mile square, larger than the whole ancient city of Jerusalem. It is hardly possible that the precincts of any actual Temple could be intended to embrace such a variety of hill and valley as the country presents. However this may be, the prophet describes it as situated many miles north of the city, and the city itself as several miles north of the site of Jerusalem. This would place the Temple well on the road to Samaria.

But, still further, the description of the oblation itself is physically impossible. The boundaries of the land are the Jordan on the one side and the Mediterranean on the other (Ezekiel 47:15-21). The “oblation” could not have reached so far south as the mouth of the Jordan; but even at that point the whole breadth of the country is but fifty-five miles. Now measuring forty-seven and one-third miles north (the width of the oblation) a point is reached where the distance between the river and the sea is barely forty miles. It is impossible, therefore, that the oblation itself should be included between them, and the description requires that there should also be room left for the prince’s portion at either end.

Again, while the city of the vision is nowhere expressly said to be Jerusalem, it is yet described as the great city of the restored theocracy. It cannot, as already said, be placed geographically upon the site of Jerusalem. Either, then, this city must be understood ideally, or else a multitude of other prophecies, and notably many in Ezekiel which speak of the future of Zion and of Jerusalem, must be so interpreted. There is no good reason why both should not be interpreted figuratively, but it is impossible to understand both literally; for some of these prophecies make statements in regard to the future quite as literal in form as these of Ezekiel, and yet in direct conflict with them. To select a single instance from a prophecy not much noticed: Obadiah, who was probably a contemporary of Ezekiel, foretells (Ezekiel 39:19-20) that at the restoration “Benjamin shall possess Gilead;” but, according to Ezekiel, Gilead is not in the land of the restoration at all, and Benjamin’s territory is to be immediately south of the “oblation.” Again, Obadiah says, “The captivity of Jerusalem” (which, in distinction from “the captivity of the host of the children of Israel,” must refer to the two tribes) “shall possess the cities of the south;” but, according to Ezekiel, Judah and Benjamin are to adjoin the central “oblation,” and on the south four of the other tribes are to have their portion. Such instances might be multiplied if necessary.

The division of the land among the twelve tribes; the entire change in assigning to the priests and to the Levites large landed estates, and to the former as much as to the latter; the enormous size of the Temple precincts and of the city, with the comparatively small allotment of land for its support, are all so singular, and so entirely without historical precedent, that only the clearest evidence would justify the assumption that these things were intended to be literally carried out. No regard is paid to the differing numbers of the various tribes, but an equal strip of land is assigned to each of them; and, the trans-Jordanic territory being excluded and about one-fifth of the whole land set apart as an “oblation,” the portion remaining allows to each of the tribes but about two-thirds as much territory as, on the average, they had formerly possessed. The geographical order of the tribes is extremely singular: Judah and Benjamin are, indeed, placed on the two sides of the consecrated land, and the two eldest, Reuben and Simeon, are placed next to them, and Dan is put at the extreme north, where a part of the tribe had formerly lived; but the classification extends no further, and the remaining tribes are arranged neither in order of seniority nor of maternity, nor yet of ancient position. Moreover, nearly the whole territory assigned to Zebulon and Gad is habitable only by nomads, except on the supposition of physical changes in the land.

Another consequence of this division of the land is important: the Levites, being now provided for in the “oblation,” no longer have their cities among the tribes. But it had been expressly provided that the “cities of refuge” (which must be distributed through the land in order to fulfil their purpose) should be Levitical cities (Numbers 35:9-15). With this change, therefore, the provision for cities of refuge ceases, and a profound alteration is made in the whole Mosaic law in regard to manslaughter and murder.

The ordinances for the sacrifices and feasts, as given in Ezekiel 45, 46, differ greatly from those of the Mosaic law, as will be pointed out in the commentary. For the variation in the amount of the “meat offering,” and of the number and character of the victims on various occasions, it is difficult to assign any other reason than that they were intended as indications that the prophet’s scheme was not to be taken literally; it is certain that no attempt was made at the restoration thus to modify the Mosaic ritual, although this could have been done without difficulty if it had been understood that it was intended. The ample provision for the prince, and the regulations for his conduct, were politically wise and useful additions to the Mosaic economy, if literally understood, but which no attempt was ever made to carry out in practice. But in the ordering of the great cycle of feasts and fasts, the modification of the Mosaic system is so profound as quite to change its symbolic value. The “feast of weeks” and the great day of atonement are altogether omitted; and also the “new moons,” except that of the first month, which is enhanced in value. The fact that the men who received these teachings from Ezekiel’s own lips and had charge of the ordering of the services in the restored Temple,[11] paid no attention to these changes, is strong evidence that they did not consider them as meant to be literally carried out.

[11] This prophecy was given in the twenty-fifth year of the captivity, and was, therefore, forty-five years before the restoration. The elderly men of the restoration must have been of full age to appreciate this prophecy at the time it was uttered, and in the immediately subsequent years of its perusal and discussion. There can be no reasonable doubt, also, that the prophecies of Ezekiel were carried back to Judæa by the returning exiles, and from their very nature they must have been made generally known to those who were in the captivity.

In connection with the omission of the day of atonement, all mention of the high priest is carefully left out. That this is not accidental is shown by the fact that the laws of marriage and of mourning for all the priests are made more strict than in the legislation of Moses (Ezekiel 44:22-27), evidently as a sort of compensation for the omitted legislation in regard to the high priest. But the Levitical system without a high priest becomes a different institution in itself, and is also greatly changed in its symbolism.

It may be remarked in passing that the system here set forth is not at all of the nature of an intermediate or transitional ritual between that which we know existed under the monarchy, and that which is set forth in the Levitical law, and therefore affords no basis for the theory that the Levitical system was the outgrowth of the captivity. The absence of the high priest, so prominent both in the law and in the history, is alone a sufficient proof of this; and to this may be added the full regulations for the prince in Ezekiel, of which there is no trace in either the earlier or the subsequent history.

A further difficulty with the literal interpretation may be found in the description of the waters which issued from under the eastern threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12). These waters run to the “east country,” and go down “to the sea,” which can only be the Dead Sea; but such a course would be physically impossible without changes in the surface of the earth, since the location of the Temple of the vision is on the west of the watershed of the country. They had, moreover, the effect of “healing” the waters of the sea, an effect which could not be produced naturally without providing an outlet from the sea; no supply of fresh water could remove the saltness while this water was all disposed of by evaporation, and Ezekiel (in Ezekiel 47:11) excludes the idea of an outlet. But, above all, the character of the waters themselves is impossible without a perpetual miracle. Setting aside the difficulty of a spring of this magnitude upon the top of “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2) in this locality, at the distance of 1,000 cubits from their source, the waters have greatly increased in volume; and so with each successive 1,000 cubits, until at the end of 4,000 cubits (about a mile and a half) they have become a river no longer fordable, or, in other words, comparable to the Jordan. Such an increase, without accessory streams, is clearly not natural. But, beyond all this, the description of the waters themselves clearly marks them as ideal. They are life-giving and healing; trees of perennial foliage and fruit grow upon their banks, the leaves being for “medicine,” and the fruit, although for food, never wasting. The reader cannot fail to be reminded of “the pure river of water of life” in Revelation 22:1-2, “on either side” of which was “the tree of life” with “its twelve manner of fruits,” and its leaves “for the healing of the nations.” The author of the Apocalypse evidently had this passage in mind; and just as he has adopted the description of Gog and Magog as an ideal description, and applied it to the events of the future, so he has treated this as an ideal prophecy, and applied it to the Church triumphant.

It is to be remembered that this whole vision is essentially one, and that it would be unreasonable to give a literal interpretation to one part of it and a figurative to another. All the objections, therefore, which lie against the supposition of the restoration of animal sacrifices hold also against the supposition of the general restoration of the Jewish Temple and polity. This was felt at an early day, and such Christian commentators as Ephrem Syrus, Theodoret, and Jerome adopted throughout a symbolic or typical explanation. The changes in the Mosaic law are indeed great, but still are only of detail, and leave it open to the Apostolic description as a “bondage” to which we cannot suppose the providence of God would ever lead back the Church Christ has redeemed at the cost of the sacrifice of Himself. Either the whole argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a mistake, not to speak of those to the Romans and Galatians, nor of our Lord’s own discourses (as with the woman of Samaria), or else the Holy Spirit could not have intended a literal realisation in the future of this vision of Ezekiel.

We thus come to regard this prophecy as an ideal one on every ground, not looking for any literal and material fulfilment. If it should be asked, Why then is it given with such a wealth of minute material detail? the answer is obvious, that this is thoroughly characteristic of Ezekiel. The tendency, strongly marked in every part of his book, merely culminates in this closing vision. The two previous chapters, especially, have abounded in concrete and definite details of the attack of a great host upon the land of Israel, while yet these very details have given evidence upon examination that they could not have been meant to be literally understood, and that the whole prophecy was intended to shadow forth the great and final spiritual conflict, prolonged through ages, between the power of the world and the kingdom of God. So here, the prophet, wishing to set forth the glory, the purity, and the beneficent influence of the Church of the future, clothes his description in those terms of the past with which his hearers were familiar. The use of such terms was a necessity in making himself intelligible to his contemporaries, just as to the very close of the inspired volume it is still necessary to set forth the glory and joy of the Church triumphant under the figures of earthly and familiar things, while no one is misled thereby to imagine that the heavenly Jerusalem will be surrounded with a literal wall of jasper, “twelve thousand furlongs” = 1,500 miles (Revelation 21:16; Revelation 21:18), or that its twelve gates shall be each of an actual pearl. It is remarkable that in two instances, that of Gog and that of the river of life, the imagery is the same in Ezekiel and in Revelation. At the same time Ezekiel is careful to introduce among his details so many points that were impossible, or, at least, the literal fulfilment of which would have been strangely inconsistent with his main teaching, as to show that his description must be ideal, and that its realisation is to be sought for beneath the types and shadows in which it was clothed. It may be as impossible to find the symbolical meaning of each separate detail as it is to tell the typical meaning of the sockets for the boards of the tabernacle, although the tabernacle as a whole is expressly said to have been a type. This is the case with every vision, and parable, and type, and every form of setting forth truth by imagery; there must necessarily be much which has no independent signification, but is merely subsidiary to the main point. It is characteristic of Ezekiel that these subsidiary details should be elaborated with the utmost minuteness. His purpose was understood by his contemporaries, and by the generation immediately succeeding, so that they never made any attempt to carry out his descriptions in the rebuilding of the Temple and reconstitution of the State. The idea of a literal interpretation of his words was reserved for generations long distant from his time, from the forms of the Church under which he lived, and from the circumstances and habits of expression with which he was familiar, and under the influence of which he wrote.

In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither.
(1) In the five and twentieth year.—It is the habit of Ezekiel in giving the year to make no mention of the era from which it was reckoned; but in a few important passages (Ezekiel 1:2; Ezekiel 12:21, and here) it is described as “of our captivity.” This vision was seen “in the beginning of the year.” The Jews always reckoned the month Abib, or Nisan, in which the Passover was celebrated, as the beginning of the year, according to the command given in Exodus 12:1, and the “tenth day” of that month was the day in which the preparations for the Passover began, and hence a most appropriate season for this vision of the Church of the future. Others consider that this was a Jubile year (for which there is no evidence); and since the Jubile began at the great fast of the Atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh month, it is thought that this is the day here intended. At a much later time the Jews sometimes reckoned the years from the Jubile, but there is nothing to show that this custom began so early. In either case the text distinctly says that it was fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem; a substantial period had, therefore, elapsed in which this great judgment would have produced its effect upon the minds of the exiles; there was thus now occasion for bringing before them the brighter hopes of the future.

In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south.
(2) In the visions of God.—This expression presupposes that what follows is an ideal description rather than an account of anything that ever had or ever should have a literal existence. The same expression has been used in the same sense in regard to Ezekiel 1-3, and again Ezekiel 8-11. It always refers, not to an actual image of existing things, but to a symbolic representation of their substance.

Upon a very high mountain.—Comp. Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1. This cannot apply literally to the hill of Moriah, surrounded by greater heights, but is frequently used to mark the spiritual importance of the Temple site. (Comp. Ezekiel 17:22-23; also Revelation 21:10.)

By which.—The margin is more accurate, upon which. This proposition and the one just before translated upon are different in the original, but upon is the proper sense of this one, while the former has the meaning of unto. The structure which the prophet sees is upon the mountain, and is not the city, but in size and with walls, &c., “as the frame of a city;” in fact, it was the greatly enlarged Temple, as the whole following description snows.

On the south.—The prophet, although transported only in vision, has in mind the usual way of entering Palestine from Chaldæa, viz., at the north. Hence he sees the Temple “on the south.”

And he brought me thither, and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate.
(3) A line of flax . . . a measuring reed.—The former for the longer, the latter for the shorter measures, a characteristic definiteness in details.

And behold a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man's hand a measuring reed of six cubits long by the cubit and an hand breadth: so he measured the breadth of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed.
(5) By the cubit and an hand breadth.—The sense will be more clearly conveyed by reading, “each being a cubit and a hand-breadth,” i.e., each of the six cubits which made up the reed was an ordinary cubit and a hand-breadth more. It is difficult or impossible to fix with precision the length of the cubit of Scripture, more especially as the value of the measure appears to have changed in the course of ages. In 2Chronicles 3:3 the measurements of Solomon’s Temple are given “by cubits after the first [or ancient] measure.” It appears, therefore, that the cubit in common use at the time of the compilation of that book (after the return from the captivity) was different from the standard Mosaic cubit. Ezekiel evidently intends to use the latter in his Temple measurements, and therefore adds “an hand breadth” to the common cubit. Different writers vary in their estimate of the length of the measure thus obtained from eighteen to twenty-four inches. By considering it twenty inches we shall have a convenient number for use, and cannot be far wrong. The “reed of six cubits” was therefore about ten feet long.

The breadth of the building—i.e., the thickness of the wall surrounding the court. The length of this wall is not given until Ezekiel 40:47. The thickness and height are made equal, evidently for the sake of the symmetry of the measures. (Comp. Revelation 21:16.)

Then came he unto the gate which looketh toward the east, and went up the stairs thereof, and measured the threshold of the gate, which was one reed broad; and the other threshold of the gate, which was one reed broad.
Ezekiel 40:6-16 contain a description of the eastern gate, or rather, gate-building of the Temple, by which one entered from the precincts into the outer court. The other gates were like it, but this is described first, because it had the pre-eminence. It looked straight to the door of the Temple itself; it was by this that the glory of the Lord was afterwards seen to enter His house (Ezekiel 43:1); and in consequence this gate was to be kept shut, except for the prince (Ezekiel 44:2-3). The accompanying plan may be a help in understanding the description. Notwithstanding the minuteness of detail in the text, a few points remain undetermined; but the plan represents the main features correctly, and gives the most probable view of the parts that are not entirely settled.

(6) The stairs.—These steps to the porch were seven in number (Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26) for the north and south gates, and therefore probably also for this. They were entirely outside of the threshold, and hence are not reckoned in the dimensions of the gate-building. (See plan, A.)

One reed broad.—That is, from east to west (see plan, T). This was just the thickness of the enclosing wall, w (Ezekiel 40:5). The text of this verse becomes clearer by omitting the words in italics which are not in the original; also throughout the description it is better to omit the inserted words was and were, since the various things mentioned are all dependent upon measured.

The other threshold.—This is the threshold at the opposite, or inner end of the gate-building (T′). It is mentioned here to bring out the fact that the two were alike, but is spoken of again in its place in Ezekiel 40:7.

(7) Little chamber.—Rather, guard-chamber, and so throughout this passage. The original word is quite different from that translated “chamber” in Ezekiel 40:17, and is used in 1Kings 14:28; 2Chronicles 12:11 in the sense of guard-chamber. These rooms were only ten feet square, but there were three of them (Ezekiel 40:10) on each side of the entrance-way. They were for sentries who were to guard against the entrance of any improper person or thing (see plan, G). These guard-rooms were separated by spaces (s) one cubit narrower than themselves, which probably formed a part of the solid wall, and the ward-rooms were therefore in reality large niches in the wall.

(8) The porch of the gate within.—The same expression as in the previous verse, and indicates a porch or vestibule to the gateway on the inner or Temple side. Its width from east to west was the same as that of the guard-rooms, added to the thickness of the porch-walls, and was probably equal also to the space occupied by the steps leading to the other end of the gateway (P).

(9) Eight cubits.—This is often considered the measurement of the porch from north to south. A more probable suggestion is that this is the same measurement as in Ezekiel 40:8, but is now the external instead of the internal length. In this case the porch must be considered as built independently of the gateway proper, and having short return walls on the east and west of a cubit each. In this way the whole length of the gateway (including the porch and its “posts “), as given in Ezekiel 40:15, exactly agrees with the details. It is accordingly so drawn on the plan.

(10) The posts.—This verse gives the further information about the guard-chambers of Ezekiel 40:7, that they were all alike, and also about the “posts” of Ezekiel 40:9, that they were alike (see plan, c). The supposition, therefore, that there was a colonnade inside the gateway is quite uncalled for. Such an arrangement would have seriously obstructed the passage-way, and is hardly supposable in view of the height of the columns mentioned in Ezekiel 40:14.

(11) The breadth of the entry of the gate.—This is the measurement of the clear space between the sides of the gate, and, according to the length of the cubit adopted, was 16½ feet.

The length of the gate, thirteen cubits.—This is a difficult expression, and has been variously explained. It is now generally understood of that part of the gateway which was roofed over, including the threshold of six cubits, and the first pair of guard-chambers of six cubits more, together with one cubit of the space or wall between these guard-chambers and the next. The reason for extending it over this last cubit was doubtless that the width was otherwise too great (10 cubits + 6 × 2 = 22) to span with the roof without support. It was therefore necessary to carry it one cubit further. In the plan the part supposed to be thus roofed is marked by lines (RR). Whether there was a corresponding roofing at the other end of the gateway does not appear, but that some at least of the guard-chambers were roofed is certain from Ezekiel 40:13.

(12) The space.—The guard-chambers themselves were just six cubits square (Ezekiel 40:7), but in front of each was a space (a) of one cubit projecting into the passage way. This must have been separated by some sort of railing from the passage-way itself, although there is no mention of this. The object of this space was evidently to allow the guard to command a view of the passage-way, as they could not have done if kept behind the line of its walls.

(13) From the roof . . . . to the roof.—This is a measurement across the gateway from north to south. The passage-way was ten cubits, each guard- chamber six, and an allowance of a cubit and a half for the outer wall will exactly make up the sum of “five and twenty cubits” (10 + 2 × (6 + 1½) = 25).

Door against door.—The immediate object of this clause is to mark the direction in which the above measurement was taken; but besides this, it shows that there were doors to the guard-rooms. These doors were presumably in the outer wall to allow the watch. men free passage between the court and their posts of duty. There is no mention of an inner wall between these chambers and the passage-way, and it is more probable that there was none. If any existed its thickness must be deducted from that given above for the outer wall.

(14) He made also posts of threescore cubits.—The word “made” instead of measure correctly represents the original, and the change is for the obvious reason that columns of the height mentioned could not be directly measured by the reed. Made is therefore used in the sense of determined or fixed, although we are not told by what method of calculation.

The height of these columns, sixty cubits, though only half that given in 2Chronicles 3:4 as the height of the porch of Solomon’s Temple, is sufficient to remind us of the Egyptian custom of placing obelisks before the doors of their temples. The height is also very great in proportion to the size of the columns, which were but two cubits square (Ezekiel 40:9). Probably the columns were engaged with the wall as far as the height of the porch, as the original word for “posts” seems to indicate, and as the dimensions of the gateway suggest. Thus buttressed the size would be sufficient for stability. It is to be remembered, however, that as in the case of the wheels in Ezekiel 1:16-17, we are here studying only a vision, not an actual structure.

Even unto the post of the court round about the gate.—This is scarcely intelligible, and even the original is obscure: lit., “And unto the post the court the gate round about;” and the proper translation seems to be, “the court (extended) to the column and (was) round about the gate.” The object is to show that the court reached quite to the gate-building and encircled it on three sides, so that the gate structure projected inwards from the line of the wall and terminated in the columns, beyond which, and on each side of the gate, the outer court of the Temple began.

(15) Fifty cubits.—The length of the gate-building was just twice its breadth, and was made up as follows: outer threshold, 6 cubits; three guard-rooms, each 6 cubits = 18; two “spaces” between these, each 5 cubits = 10; inner threshold, 6 cubits; porch, 8 cubits; columns, 2 cubits (6 + 18 + 10 + 6 + 8 + 2 = 50).

(16) Narrow windows.—This is an abbreviated form of the expression used in 1Kings 6:4 of the windows in Solomon’s Temple. Narrow should be closed, as in the margin; the windows had over them lattice-work which could not be opened. ‘It is difficult to understand the situation of these windows on account of the uncertainty in the meaning of the words translated “their posts” and “the arches.” The former, from its use in 1Kings 6:31, and also in Ezekiel 41:3, of the “side posts” of the door into the Holy of Holies, must mean the jambs or parts of the wall to which the doors were attached; and the latter indicates some projection of the wall which is most probably to be explained of the “spaces” between the guard-chambers and at the sides of the inner threshold. The meaning of the whole verse will then be, that within the gateway windows were seen on both sides, both at the side of the doors leading from the court to the guard-chambers, and also in the parts of the wall projecting between the guard-chambers. On the plan these are marked (w).

Upon each post were palm trees.—The palm had been largely used in the carving of Solomon’s Temple (1Kings 6:29; 1Kings 6:32; 1Kings 6:35).

Then brought he me into the outward court, and, lo, there were chambers, and a pavement made for the court round about: thirty chambers were upon the pavement.
The prophet is now taken across the outer court, which he describes on the way (Ezekiel 40:17-19), to the north gate (Ezekiel 40:20), and then to the south gate (Ezekiel 40:24).

(17) Outward court.—The Temple of Ezekiel has two courts, an outer and an inner; but there is no appropriation of these courts to the special use of any classes. It may be assumed that the inner court, from its size and arrangements, was for the priests engaged in the sacrifices, and the outer for the people generally.

A pavement.—Comp. 2Chronicles 7:3; Esther 1:6. The word is generally understood to mean a tesselated or mosaic pavement.

Thirty chambers.—The size and location of these chambers is not given. In accordance with the general symmetry of the arrangements, it may be assumed that there were ten on each of the three sides not occupied by the Temple buildings, and that five were on each side of the gate. They are conjecturally indicated on Plan II. (page 124 [Ezekiel 40:44-49]) by DD. They are drawn as if joined together; but this is not certain. Such chambers for the use of officiating priests and Levites, and for the storage of the tithes, are mentioned both in connection with Solomon’s Temple and with that of the restoration (see Jeremiah 35:4; Jeremiah 36:10; 1Chronicles 9:26; Nehemiah 10:38-39).

And the pavement by the side of the gates over against the length of the gates was the lower pavement.
(18) Over against the length of the gates.—The width of the pavement was the same as the projection of the gateways into the court, i.e., 44 cubits (50 cubits, less the thickness of the wall).

Lower pavement.—In contradistinction to the pavement of the inner court, which was upon a higher level.

Then he measured the breadth from the forefront of the lower gate unto the forefront of the inner court without, an hundred cubits eastward and northward.
(19) An hundred cubits eastward.—As the prophet is taken through the outer court its width is measured from the eastern gate, which he had already examined, and from the northern gate, to which he is next taken (Ezekiel 40:20). Afterwards (Ezekiel 40:27) the same measurement is made to the southern gate, and these all agree as 100 cubits each. The starting-point of the measurement is clearly defined as “from the forefront of the lower gate,” i.e., from the western or innermost extremity of the outer gate-building; but the final point, as given in this verse, “the forefront of the inner court,” leaves the question open, whether this was to the wall of the inner court itself, or only to the outer extremity of its gate. This doubt is removed in Ezekiel 40:23; Ezekiel 40:27, which expressly say that the measurement was “from gate to gate,” i.e., between the nearest points of the gate-buildings.

Ezekiel 40:20-23 describe the north gate, which was exactly like the east, already described. In Ezekiel 40:22 is the first mention of the number of steps leading up to the gates (see also Ezekiel 40:26), and in Ezekiel 40:23 the first mention of the gates of the inner court (see also Ezekiel 40:27).

Ezekiel 40:24-27 describe the south gate, exactly like the other two and with the same dimensions. The space between the outer and inner gates has now been measured on the east (Ezekiel 40:19), on the north (Ezekiel 40:23), and on the south (Ezekiel 40:27), each being 100 cubits.

And he brought me to the inner court by the south gate: and he measured the south gate according to these measures;
(28) Brought me to the inner court.—The preposition should be translated into, being the same with that in Ezekiel 40:32. The prophet having entered the inner court by the south gate, this is first described (Ezekiel 40:28-31). This and the other gates of this court are essentially the same, and require the same changes of translation as in the case of the outer gates. The same plan will serve for both, remembering that it must be reversed, the porches of one set of gates facing the porches of the other set; of course the steps led to the porches of the inner gates instead of to the opposite end. The few points of difference between them will be noted as they occur.

And the arches round about were five and twenty cubits long, and five cubits broad.
(30) The arches round about.—This word, as already noted under Ezekiel 40:16, should be projections of the walls, if it has been correctly pointed by the Masorets; but it is exceedingly difficult to understand what is meant by the dimensions given, twenty-five cubits long and five cubits broad. This statement occurs nowhere else in the description of the gates, and the verse is omitted in the Greek translation, and either considered spurious or else passed over in silence by many commentators. One explanation given is that the twenty-five cubits is the sum-total of all the “projections of the walls” into the interior of the gateway. thus there were two “spaces” (S on the plan [Ezekiel 40:44-49]), each of five cubits; two thresholds (TT′ [Ezekiel 40:44-49]), each of six cubits; and two walls of the porch, each of one cubit, or in all (5 × 2+6 × 2 + 2) twenty-four cubits, the remaining cubit being made up by mouldings at the angles of these several projections. But it is fatal to this explanation that in no other case is any measurement thus made up by adding together the details of parts which do not adjoin. The same explanation requires the breadth of five cubits to be the transverse measurement of these projecting parts, which certainly could not apply to the first threshold, and would require a very awkward or even impossible narrowing of the gateway where the “spaces” are placed. The true solution of the difficulty seems to be in a slight change in the vowels of the Masoretic punctuation, which will transform the word into “porch.” That porches were connected with the inner gates also is plain from Ezekiel 40:39, yet they are nowhere mentioned in the description unless here. Being a somewhat independent part of the gate, the measures are taken in a different direction from that of the gate itself. The “length” is the long way of the porch, just as long as the gateway is wide, twenty-five cubits; and the breadth is the measurement between the walls, five cubits, thus allowing a half-cubit for the thickness of each wall, and one cubit less clear space than in the outer gates.

And the arches thereof were toward the utter court; and palm trees were upon the posts thereof: and the going up to it had eight steps.
(31) Utter = Outer, and so in Ezekiel 40:37; Ezekiel 42:1; Ezekiel 42:3; Ezekiel 42:7; Ezekiel 42:14; Ezekiel 44:19; Ezekiel 46:20-21. In old English utter and outer appear to have been often interchanged.

Eight steps.—All the gates of the inner court (see Ezekiel 40:34; Ezekiel 40:37) had one more step than those of the outer, the inner court being raised so much more above the outer than the outer was above the precincts. The two sets together made up fifteen steps, the same number as led up in the later Temple from the court of the women to the court of Israel, and on which, according to Jewish tradition, the Levites stood to chant the fifteen Psalms (Psalms 120-134) called “Songs of Degrees.”

Ezekiel 40:32-34 describe the east gate, and Ezekiel 40:35-37 the north gate, both exactly like the one already described.

And the chambers and the entries thereof were by the posts of the gates, where they washed the burnt offering.
(38) And the chambers and the entries thereof.—These words in the original are in the singular, and have no article. The word for chamber is an entirely different one from that used in the former part of the chapter (Ezekiel 40:10; Ezekiel 40:12-13). The verse should be translated, “And a cell with its door by the posts of the gates; there they washed the burnt offering.” All the arrangements for sacrificing are here described in connection with the north gate, although in Ezekiel 46:2 it is said that at certain festivals the prince shall enter by the east gate, and there worship while the priests prepare his offerings. In the law it was required (Leviticus 1:11; Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 7:2) that all sacrifices should be slain in the court at the north side of the altar. Here the slaying is done at the north gate, but within the outer court. The reason appears to be that in the law each offerer was to slay his own victim, but here (Ezekiel 44:11) the sacrifice is to be slain by the Levites, and it was therefore desirable that it should be done in the presence of the offerer and the people, i.e., in the outer court. There was also a further reason in the convenience of disposing of the flesh of the victims. Only the whole burnt offerings and the fat and the kidneys of the others required to be taken to the altar in the inner court; while all the flesh of the sin offerings and the priests’ portion of the peace offerings was to be carried to the priests’ cooking place (F, Plan II.) to which a walk led from this point. The rest of the flesh of the peace offerings was taken to the people’s cooking places (E) in the corners of the outer court.

And in the porch of the gate were two tables on this side, and two tables on that side, to slay thereon the burnt offering and the sin offering and the trespass offering.
(39) In the porch.—The preposition admits the sense of either in or by, but as the porch was very small for two tables on either side, and as a thoroughfare would be an inconvenient place for the slaughter of the victims, it is better to take the sense of by. The four tables were arranged, two on either side, near the porch.

And at the side without, as one goeth up to the entry of the north gate, were two tables; and on the other side, which was at the porch of the gate, were two tables.
(40) At the side without.—If there could be any doubt that this means in the outer court, it would be removed by the explanation “as one goeth up,” lit., at this ascent. These tables were of stone (Ezekiel 40:42), and they stood, two on each side, just in advance of the steps, for the purpose (Ezekiel 40:42) of slaying the sacrifices upon them.

Four tables were on this side, and four tables on that side, by the side of the gate; eight tables, whereupon they slew their sacrifices.
(41) Four tables.—The eight tables of this verse are evidently meant to be distinguished from those of Ezekiel 40:40; Ezekiel 40:42, and make twelve tables in all. They stood four on each side of the gate, somewhat nearer, therefore, than the others to the wall of the inner court. They were used for the same sacrificial purpose, except that the others only are mentioned (Ezekiel 40:42) as places “whereupon they laid” the sacrificial instruments.

And within were hooks, an hand broad, fastened round about: and upon the tables was the flesh of the offering.
(43) Hooks.—This is a word of doubtful meaning, found elsewhere only in Psalm 68:13, where it is translated pots. It certainly designates something “within” the porch, and therefore could not have been anything attached to the tables which were “without.” Our translators, following the ancient Chaldee paraphrast, have probably given the true sense, hooks, upon which the flesh of the victims was hung after it had been prepared upon the tables.

And without the inner gate were the chambers of the singers in the inner court, which was at the side of the north gate; and their prospect was toward the south: one at the side of the east gate having the prospect toward the north.
(44) Without the inner gate.—Without must here be understood in a different sense from the without of Ezekiel 40:40, because this is expressly said to be “in the inner court;” it means, therefore, only outside the gateway.

Chambers of the singers.—The description of the chambers in Ezekiel 40:44-46 is not very clear, and has caused very great difference of opinion, and even a disposition to modify the text. But the text as it stands is supported by the ancient versions, Greek, Chaldee, and Syriac, as well as by the Masoretic punctuation. There seem to have been three or more chambers altogether, two at least at the side of the north gate opening to the south, i.e., towards the altar, and one at the east gate opening toward the north. The purpose of the chamber at the east gate is perfectly clear; it was “for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the altar,” i.e., for those priests who were on duty at the time in connection with the sacrifices. It is not mentioned on which side of the gate it was placed, nor how large it was, but it is drawn on the plan on the north (Plan II., O). The chambers at the north gate (N), however, are called (Ezekiel 40:44) “chambers of the singers,” and yet in Ezekiel 40:45 one of them is said to be for the priests “in charge of the house.” The difficulty arises simply from the very common use of the plural in connection with only one of several persons or things, the other being separately specified. To make it entirely clear, we should say, “the chambers, one for the singers, and one for the priests.” The singers were particular families of the Levites (1Chronicles 6:31-37; 1Chronicles 9:33; 1 Chronicles 25; 2Chronicles 5:12), and were not of the priestly order. The general arrangement appears to have been as follows: the offerer brings his victim into the outer court (C) near to the north gate leading into the inner court; there the Levites slay it (at x) and prepare it for the altar upon the tables provided, and then hang its flesh upon the hooks within the porch of the gate; the priests “in charge of the house” in the chamber near the inner end of the gate (N) now notify the singers in the other chamber and also the priests on duty at the altar in the chamber at the east gate (O), that both may enter upon their functions.

A, Altar.

B B B, Outer gate.

B′ B′ B′ Inner gates.

C C, Outer court.

C′, Inner court.

D D, Chambers in outer court.

E E, People’s cooking-places.

F F, Priests’ cooking-places.

G, Building in separate place.

H H, Priests’ chambers.

I, Space in separate place.

J, Chambers adjoining Temple.

K K, Walk.

L L, Screen walls.

M M, Wall of outer court.

N, Chambers in inner court for priests and singers.

O, Chamber for officiating priests.

P P, Pavement.

R R, Wall of inner court.

S S, Steps.

T, Temple.

T′, Holy of Holies.

V V, Columns.

W W, Winding staircases.

X X, Places for killing sacrifices.

Y Y, Platform around chambers.

Z, Porch of Temple.

(46) The sons of Zadok.—By the law all sons of Aaron were entitled to become priests, but in Ezekiel the offering of sacrifice appears to be confined to the sons of Zadok (comp. Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 48:11). The reason for this is obscure. According to 1Samuel 2:30-36 the high-priesthood was to be transferred from the house of Eli, and this was accomplished by Solomon in deposing Abiathar and putting Zadok into his place (1Kings 2:26-27); but there must have been many other priests descended from Ithamar and Eleazar besides the families of Eli and Zadok, and it is hardly possible that all these could have perished in the slaughter of the eighty-five priests by Saul at Nob (1Samuel 22:17-19). But the body of the priests must have been thereby much reduced, and it is very possible that in the subsequent disorders of the times so few were left who, outside of the family of Zadok, had not fallen into idolatry, that all who were allowed to officiate at the altar came to be called by his name.

(47) He measured the court.—This is the inner court (C′), in front of the Temple building itself, and was just 100 cubits square. In this stood the brazen altar (A), the measurements of which are given in Ezekiel 43:13-17.

(48) The porch of the house.Ezekiel 40:48-49 describe the porch of the Temple itself (Z) and may be considered as belonging more properly to the next chapter; still, as this porch projected into the inner court, they are not inappropriate here. The first point to be determined in regard to the construction of this porch is the direction in which its length is measured. The porch in front of Solomon’s Temple equalled in length the interior breadth of the house (1Kings 6:3; 2Chronicles 3:4), the thickness of the walls and the chambers at the sides projecting beyond the ends of the porch. The same thing is true here, even if the length should be measured from north to south; the exterior front of the house (independently of the side chambers) was thirty-two cubits, each of the side walls being six cubits thick (Ezekiel 41:5). But writers who adopt this supposition find it necessary to alter the text in order to harmonise the measurements of both verses. It is better to understand the measurements as taken the other way, like those of all the gates of both the outer and inner court. The exterior width of the porch will then be sixteen cubits or just half the exterior width of the house; and the projection into the court will be twenty cubits added to the thickness of the exterior wall and diminished by the thickness of the wall of the house, i.e., 16½ cubits (20 + 2½ – 6), the exterior being thus almost exactly square.

Each post of the porch.—The front wall, on which the gates were hung, was five cubits on each side, and each leaf of the gate was three cubits, giving sixteen cubits (5 × 2 + 3 × 2) for the whole exterior breadth of the porch.

(49) The breadth eleven cubits.—This interior measure subtracted from the exterior gives 2½ cubits for each wall—a fair proportion between the thickness of the wall and the size of the porch.

The steps.—The number is not stated, but is given in the Greek as ten. It shows that the house itself stood upon a still higher elevation than the inner court.

Pillars by the posts.—On either side of the steps, and near the front wall of the porch, was a pillar corresponding to those in front of the porches of the gates. They answered to the pillars Jachin and Boaz of Solomon’s Temple (1Kings 7:15-22), and appear to have been placed there for the same general purposes as the obelisks in front of the Egyptian temples.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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