Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then he brought me forth into the utter court, the way toward the north: and he brought me into the chamber that was over against the separate place, and which was before the building toward the north.XLII.
This chapter describes what is not only new in this vision, but also unknown in either the former or the later Temple. Ezekiel 42:1-14 are occupied with the account of certain chambers for the priests adjoining the inner court, but actually within the area of the outer. From Ezekiel 42:14 it is plain that these chambers, although thus situated in the outer court, were considered for ecclesiastical purposes as belonging to the inner. Ezekiel 42:15-20 describe a very large area enclosing the Temple and its courts as an additional safeguard to its sanctity.
(1) Utter court.—Outer court (see Note on 40:31). The “into” of the next clause should be “unto”; so also in Ezekiel 46:19.
Before the building.—The preposition is the same as that translated just before, and also twice in Ezekiel 42:3, “over against.” The length of this chamber, or series of chambers, was 100 cubits (Ezekiel 42:2), and as it appears from Ezekiel 46:19 that it did not reach to the western wall, it must have extended the whole remaining length of the building to the west of the separate place, across the separate place itself, and probably also across the chambers at the west end of the Temple (see Plan II., H, H [Ezekiel 40:44-49]). The chamber on the north is particularly described in Ezekiel 42:1-9, and in Ezekiel 42:10-12 mention is made more briefly of a corresponding one on the south.
Before the length of an hundred cubits was the north door, and the breadth was fifty cubits.(2) Before the length.—This verse is still a part of the same sentence, and means, “he brought me before the long side of 100 cubits with the door toward the north, and the breadth 50 cubits.” The entrance being on the north was necessarily in the outer court, and the whole description requires that the long way of the building should be east and west. The width therefore of 50 cubits projected into the court just as far as the gateways of the inner court. The measurements of this “chamber” are external, since the prophet did not enter it.
Over against the twenty cubits which were for the inner court, and over against the pavement which was for the utter court, was gallery against gallery in three stories.(3) Over against the twenty.—See under Ezekiel 42:1. This was the space of twenty cubits (I [Ezekiel 40:44-49]) to the west of the western Temple chambers.
The pavement.—There is but one pavement mentioned in the outer court, that which ran along the inside of the wall. The chamber in question was opposite to the pavement on the north side, as it was opposite to the separate place, &c., on the south—i.e., its length was parallel to both, or east and west. “Utter” again means outer.
Gallery against gallery.—The expression is a difficult one in the original. “Against” is literally, unto the face of, or in front of, and stories is altogether wanting. The meaning seems to be that in each chamber building, on the north and on the south, there was a gallery in the third storey, so placed on the south side of the north building and the north side of the south building that they faced each other.
And before the chambers was a walk of ten cubits breadth inward, a way of one cubit; and their doors toward the north.(4) A walk of ten cubits breadth inward.—The meaning of this clause depends upon that of the next, “a way of one cubit.” There is every reason to suppose here an error of the text, and that one cubit should be one hundred, as it reads in the Greek. The change requires only a transposition of the first letters in one word, and a consequent alteration of one letter in the other. Exactly the same transposition has occurred in Ezekiel 42:16, where it is corrected in the margin of the Hebrew, and properly translated “five hundred” instead of “five cubits.” One cannot conceive of a walk or an entrance of one cubit (twenty inches) serving any useful purpose. Assuming this change, the meaning will be that a walk (see Plan II., K [Ezekiel 40:44-49]) of 10 cubits wide and 100 long led to the entrance of the chambers. That this was on the north is plain from its being expressly said that the door was on the north. It may seem surprising that this should have been in the outer court, but a glance at the plan in connection with what is said below will explain the reason of the arrangement. The length of the walk, 100 cubits, just reaches to the steps of the north gate of the inner court. It will be remembered that in Ezekiel 40:39-43 this was described as the place for killing and preparing the sacrifices. Now, only the fat and kidneys of the sin and trespass and peace offerings were burnt upon the altar; the whole of the former (ordinarily) and the priests’ portion of the latter were to be carried to this chamber (Ezekiel 42:13). The walk was therefore placed in the best possible situation.
Now the upper chambers were shorter: for the galleries were higher than these, than the lower, and than the middlemost of the building.(5) For the galleries were higher than these.—Translate this verse, And the upper chambers were shortened, because the galleries took off from them (literally, eat of them) in comparison with the lower and the middle [chambers] of the building. The building was in three storeys (Ezekiel 42:6), like the chambers round the Temple, but the gallery is mentioned only in connection with the third (Ezekiel 42:3). As it must have been taken out of the width of the chambers, it made those of the third storey narrower.
For they were in three stories, but had not pillars as the pillars of the courts: therefore the building was straitened more than the lowest and the middlemost from the ground.(6) As the pillars of the courts.—This statement is introduced to show that as there was no external support for the galleries, they must have been taken from the width of the chambers; but it gives incidentally the interesting information that there were pillars in the courts. These could not have been the ornamental pillars at the entrance of the various porches, for the connection implies that they supported something. It is quite likely, therefore, that there were cloisters around the inside of the wall of the courts (on the pavement), as in the later Temple.
And the wall that was without over against the chambers, toward the utter court on the forepart of the chambers, the length thereof was fifty cubits.(7) The wall that was without.—We have two indications of what wall is here meant. In the first place, the word itself is neither of those which have been hitherto used, but one signifying a fence-wall, and is translated in Ezekiel 13:5; Ezekiel 22:30, hedge; and in Numbers 22:24, a vineyard wall. Its length is also said to be fifty cubits (the breadth of the chamber). It must, therefore, have been a screen wall at one end of the chambers, and it could not have been at the western end, as that was otherwise occupied (Ezekiel 46:19-20). It was then at the eastern end, and was doubtless for the purpose of screening the windows at that end from the outer court while the priests were changing their garments. The word here translated over against is not the one used in Ezekiel 42:1; Ezekiel 42:3, and may equally well be rendered parallel to.
For the length of the chambers that were in the utter court was fifty cubits: and, lo, before the temple were an hundred cubits.(8) The length of the chambers.—We should say the breadth, since a longer measurement the other way immediately follows; but the word is used in connection with, and as a reason for, the length of the wall mentioned in Ezekiel 42:7, as if it were said, “The wall was fifty cubits long, because this side of the building was fifty cubits long.” To prevent any possible misunderstanding it is immediately added, “Before (literally, upon the face of) the Temple an hundred cubits;” i.e., the length east and west was 100 cubits.
And from under these chambers was the entry on the east side, as one goeth into them from the utter court.(9) From under these chambers.—This verse as it stands in our version is scarcely intelligible. Translate: And from underneath it (i.e., the wall just spoken of) these chambers. The wall screened the lower part of the chambers so that to one looking from the east they appeared to rise out of it. Then a new clause begins: “The entrance was from the east, as one goeth to them from the outer court.” It is perfectly clear that this does not refer to any entrance from the inner court, because it expressly says “as one goeth from the outer court.” The object of the statement is probably to show that the access to the chambers was from the outer court by means of the walk already described, leading from the east, from the porch of the gate to the inner court.
Ezekiel 42:10-12 describe briefly another chamber-building at the south of the “separate place,” exactly like the one already described at the north. There is only need to notice some required changes in the translation. Thus read Ezekiel 42:10, On the breadth of the wall of the court going toward the east, over against the separate place and over against the building were the chambers. The wall is here the same word as in Ezekiel 42:7, and means therefore not the wall of a building, but a fence-wall; it is here defined, however, as “the wall of the court,” and must be understood of the division wall between the inner and outer courts. Along this, as it stretched to the east, the building was situated. Some writers, by a slight alteration of the text, would change east into south, so that for “going toward the east” we should read on the south. This makes the sense clearer, but is not necessary.
And the way before them was like the appearance of the chambers which were toward the north, as long as they, and as broad as they: and all their goings out were both according to their fashions, and according to their doors.(11) “And a way in front of them like the chambers which were towards the north; as long as these and as broad as these, and [like] all their goings out, and their arrangements, and their doors.”
And according to the doors of the chambers that were toward the south was a door in the head of the way, even the way directly before the wall toward the east, as one entereth into them.(12) “So were the doors of the chambers which were toward the south, a door at the head of the way, the way over against the corresponding (?) wall, the way as one enters from the east.” The word here translated corresponding occurs only in this place, and is of doubtful signification; but the word for wall is the same as in Ezekiel 42:7, and there can be no doubt that it refers to the screen-wall to the east of the chambers. The way from the porch of the gate to the inner court was directly “over against” the passage between this wall and the chambers, and in fact joined it at right angles.
This closes the somewhat obscure and difficult description of these chambers, where we do not have, as in the other cases, any similar construction in the ancient Temple to guide the interpreter. It would seem altogether probable that there must have been an additional entrance to these chambers from the space at the side of or behind the Temple, for the convenience of the priests in changing their garments. Perhaps there was such an entrance to the second storey, which must have been about on the same level with the Temple court, but is not mentioned because only the plan of the lower storey is described.
Then said he unto me, The north chambers and the south chambers, which are before the separate place, they be holy chambers, where the priests that approach unto the LORD shall eat the most holy things: there shall they lay the most holy things, and the meat offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering; for the place is holy.(13) Shall eat the most holy things.—In the next clause it is said, “There shall they lay the most holy things,” both clauses referring to the priests’ portion of the sacrifices. We cannot think of their laying the uncooked flesh of the sacrifice in the same room where they ate (the cooking was done in another room west of this, Ezekiel 46:19-20); but the great size of this building—166 ft. long and half as broad—allowed of its division into several separate rooms. It is noticeable that there is no mention of the peace offerings, for it was not required in the law that they should be eaten in a holy place. For the others, see Leviticus 6:16; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 7:6. The “meat offering” is the unbloody oblation usually accompanying the animal sacrifices.
When the priests enter therein, then shall they not go out of the holy place into the utter court, but there they shall lay their garments wherein they minister; for they are holy; and shall put on other garments, and shall approach to those things which are for the people.(14) There they shall lay their garments.—It was apparently the requirement of the law that the priests should wear their official garments only when engaged in priestly duties within the tabernacle; this is not expressly stated in general terms, but it is said that they were to wear them when engaged in such duty (Exodus 28:43), and in some particular cases that they were to put them off when they went out of the tabernacle (Leviticus 6:10-11; Leviticus 16:23). It seems probable, therefore, that Ezekiel here recognises the ancient custom.
Now when he had made an end of measuring the inner house, he brought me forth toward the gate whose prospect is toward the east, and measured it round about.(15) The inner house.—This expression is here evidently used neither of the Holy of Holies, nor of the whole Temple building exclusively, but of all that had been measured, all that was included within the wall of the outer court. The prophet is led out from this by the eastern gate to measure a much larger space around it. It is not said in what part of this space the Temple with its courts was situated; but, for the reason given in Ezekiel 42:20, it is to be supposed that it was in the centre.
He measured the east side with the measuring reed, five hundred reeds, with the measuring reed round about.(16) With the measuring reed.—According to Ezekiel 40:5 the reed was six cubits long; 500 reeds therefore, the measure of each side of the square, was 3,000 cubits, or about 5,000 feet = nearly a mile. Of course such a space, quite as large as was ever enclosed by the walls of ancient Jerusalem, would have been impossible upon the hill of Moriah, and various efforts have been made by some of the commentators to reduce the size; but the use of the reed as the unit of measurement is decisive. The objection to the size is without value, as Keil well says, “for the simple reason that in Ezekiel 45, 48 there follow still further statements concerning the separation of the sanctuary from the rest of the land, which are in perfect harmony with this, and show most indisputably that the Temple seen by Ezekiel was not to have its seat in the ancient Jerusalem;” nor, it may be added, in any other earthly locality. It is a vision not designed to have a material realisation.
He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.(20) It had a wall.—Around this vast enclosure on all sides was a wall, not of the slight character of that in Ezekiel 42:7; but the same word is used as in Ezekiel 40:5, of the massive wall surrounding the outer court. The object of this enclosure was to protect the sanctity of the Temple and its courts, “to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.”