Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut.XLIV.
The altar being consecrated, the next thing is to provide for the purity of the worship of which it is the centre. The pollutions of former times had been largely introduced by the princes, and by the Levites and priests; and these classes are therefore treated of in this chapter. Only three verses are here given to the prince, since he is to be spoken of at greater length hereafter, and the rest of the chapter is occupied with directions as to the exclusion of strangers, and the duties of the Levites and priests.
(1) The gate of the outward sanctuary.—This is better rendered, the outer gate of the sanctuary. The prophet had been in the inner court, or court of the priests, where the altar stood, and is now brought back to the eastern gate of the outer court. He finds it shut, as it was ordinarily to remain; but with the exceptions mentioned in Ezekiel 44:3, and in Ezekiel 46
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.(2) Hath entered in by it.—See Ezekiel 43:1-2. The thought is, that the gate which had been sanctified by such a manifestation of the Divine presence, should not afterwards be used for the ordinary purposes of the entrance of the people.
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 prince.—The Rabbis understood this to refer to the Messiah, and unquestionably the same person must be meant as by David in Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24. This gives another and a conclusive reason for regarding the sacrificial worship of Ezekiel 46 as symbolical.
To eat bread before the Lord.—This is the common scriptural expression for partaking of the sacrifices (see Genesis 31:54; Exodus 18:12), and there is no reason for restricting it to the shew-bread and other unbloody offerings. The eating of the latter was an exclusively priestly prerogative, and the “prince” of Ezekiel, though greatly distinguished, is not in any way endued with priestly functions. He is to partake of his sacrificial meals within this highly-honoured gate, while the people eat in the outer court. There has been much discussion as to whether the prince was to go in and out by this gateway, or only, having entered by one of the others, to eat in this. The language here seems sufficiently plain, and if there could be any doubt, it would be removed by Ezekiel 46:1-2; Ezekiel 46:8; Ezekiel 46:10; Ezekiel 46:12. It appears there that the prince is always to enter and leave by this gate except “in the solemn feasts;” then he is to enter in the midst of the people, by either the north or the south gate, and go out by the opposite one.
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 north gate.—The prophet is now carried to the north gate, and since this is described as “before the house” and was in full view of it, it must have been the gate of the inner court, the appointed place for the killing of the sacrifices, and therefore especially fitting for the announcement of the ordinances of the priests. There he saw the “glory of the Lord” filling the house, and was commanded to give the utmost attention to the laws now to be announced.
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) Strangers, uncircumcised in heart.—The heathen living in Israel, or coining to worship at the Temple, were allowed, and even in some cases required, to offer sacrifices (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:12; Numbers 15:14; Numbers 15:26; Numbers 15:29). This seems also to have been recognised in Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the Temple (1Kings 8:41-43); but the ground on which the Israelites are here censured for the licence given to strangers is, that they allowed those to draw near in worship who were uncircumcised in heart as well as in flesh, i.e., ungodly men who had no real purpose to worship God.
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) For yourselves.—Comp. 1Kings 12:31.
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) Shall enter into my sanctuary.—To guard against the evils of the past, the command is now given that none of the strangers described shall even enter the sanctuary; but our version gives a wrong impression of this prohibition by rendering, “nor uncircumcised in flesh.” It should be, as in Ezekiel 44:7, and. The command is not that no uncircumcised person should be allowed to enter the sanctuary, for the residence of strangers among the Israelites is expressly provided for in Ezekiel 47:22-23; but the emphasis here, as before, is upon the “uncircumcised in heart.” No godless heathen should be allowed to enter in to profane the Divine worship.
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 that are gone away.—The connection between this and the preceding verse is made clearer by translating the first words, “Yea, even;” not only the uncircumcised in heart among the heathen are to be excluded from the sanctuary, but even the Levites who had apostatised are to bear their guilt. Levites is here used (see Ezekiel 44:13), as often, emphatically of the Levitical priests. At the great schism of the northern kingdom these had remained true to the worship of Jehovah (2Chronicles 11:13); but in the subsequent general religious declension many of them, as has appeared from Ezekiel 8, had fallen into idolatry. Such priests are to be allowed, like the priests under the law who had any physical blemish (Leviticus 21:17-23), to minister in the more menial offices of the priesthood, but not to approach the altar (Ezekiel 44:11-14).
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) The sons of Zadok.—See Note on Ezekiel 40:46. They are here described as those who continued faithful in the general apostasy, and it is probable that Ezekiel uses the term in this sense. As Zadok had continued faithful in the rebellion of Adonijah, when even the high priest and life-long friend of David went astray (1Kings 1:7-8), so all the faithful priests in the time of apostasy were called “sons of Zadok.”
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.(17) Clothed with linen garments.—The rest of the chapter is occupied with directions for the clothing and conduct of the priests. The dress (Ezekiel 44:17-19) is the same as that prescribed in Lev. 28, only a few special points being mentioned partly for emphasis, and partly as recalling to mind the whole.
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) They shall put off their garments.—The requirement that the priests shall wear their official dress only when engaged in official duty, putting it on when they entered the inner court, and putting it off when they went out, which is only implied in Exodus and Leviticus, is here expressly enjoined. Utter here, as elsewhere, means outer.
Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads.(20) Their locks to grow long.—The law forbade the shaving of the head (Leviticus 21:5), but only condemned letting the hair grow long by implication, providing for it in the exceptional case of the vow of the Nazarite. The prohibition of Ezekiel 44:21 is given in Leviticus 10:9.
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) A widow that had a priest before.—In regard both to marriage and to mourning (Ezekiel 44:25-27) the Levitical law made a broad distinction between the ordinary priest and the high priest. The former was only forbidden to marry a divorced woman (Leviticus 21:7), but was allowed to marry a widow; the latter could marry only a virgin of Israel (ib. 14). So also in the law of mourning; the high priest might not be “defiled” nor make any sign of mourning even for his nearest of kin (Leviticus 21:11-14). Ezekiel does not recognise this distinction, and in fact nowhere mentions the high priest at all; but, instead, gives a general law for all priests, somewhat between the two.
And after he is cleansed, they shall reckon unto him seven days.(26) Reckon unto him seven days.—In Ezekiel 44:23-24, the general duties of the priests are prescribed in terms taken from the Mosaic law, and in Ezekiel 44:25-27 special instructions are given about the defilement from a dead body. These are in general an exact repetition of Leviticus 21:1-4; but, in accordance with the principle mentioned in the last Note, there is added to the ordinary cleansing of seven days (Numbers 19:11-17) another period of seven days, after which Ezekiel requires (Ezekiel 44:27) the priest to offer a sin offering before entering again on his duties.
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) I am their inheritance.—This is a simple repetition of the frequent declarations in the law (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:2); the priests were to be supported by the tithes given to God, and by their portion of the offerings made to Him. These are here summarily mentioned in Ezekiel 44:28-29, and may be found more particularly described, as regards the priests’ share of the meat, sin, and trespass offerings, in Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 6:25; Leviticus 6:29; Leviticus 7:6-7; the devoted field, Leviticus 27:21; the first-fruits, Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4; and for the special heave offerings, Numbers 15:19-21; Numbers 18:19. As it was not inconsistent with these provisions that the priests should also have assigned to them cities for residence, with their suburbs for pasturage, so these gifts are not now excluded by the fact that the priests should possess the “oblation” of land (Ezekiel 45:1-5), although their portion is thereby greatly increased.
The priests shall not eat of any thing that is dead of itself, or torn, whether it be fowl or beast.(31) Dead of itself, or torn.—Comp. Leviticus 22:8. The same law was binding upon all the Israelites. (Leviticus 17:15.) In the wilderness they were required to “cast it to the dogs” (Exodus 23:31); afterwards they might give it to a stranger or sell it to an alien. (Deuteronomy 14:21.)