William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Ezekiel Chapter 40
The remaining chapters of the book present a vision of the most striking character, in which the prophet sees and communicates the pledge of more than restoration - of crowning glory - for Israel in their land. Such is its plain meaning, though there may be deep details, as indeed there are, most minute, and not without difficulty as is usual in all such descriptions. But there is scarce more of obscurity in Ezekiel 40 - 48 than in Exodus 25 - 40. It is a difficulty because of circumstantial detail outside our ordinary habits or even study. There is really none as to its general scope except to those who misapply the vision. That it is unfulfilled prophecy is very true, but that this is not the real source of its difficulty to us will appear from the parallel to which reference has been made. The details of the future temple in the land are not harder to understand than those of the past tabernacle in the wilderness.
It is well known that some consider that the vision applies to the church that now is. Those who think so should on their own showing find it easy to explain its figures and symbols, for such writers generally assume that we cannot have an accurate understanding of a prophecy till it be accomplished, and certainly the church has been in existence for more than 1800 years. On this score therefore they ought to have the amplest materials for illustration. But these are the very persons who find insuperable difficulty in interpreting the prophecy. Nor need we wonder; for the whole thought is a mistake. Jerome and Gregory can make nothing of it but ingenious accommodation. There is no real exposition: what is in their remarks can scarcely have satisfied even their own minds. As one of the most learned of the commentators that follow them says in respect of part, so we may say of all, "How it is to be understood, nobody explains, nor dare I conjecture." Yet this man, Cornelius � Lapide, was not to be despised, but rather to be admired, because of the honest confession of their failure and his own. The whole of the allegorizing interpreters go on an evidently false track. It would be strange, if a symbolic vision of Christianity were to leave out the day of atonement, the feast of weeks, and the action of the high priest in the presence of God - its most essential features in type!
Scarcely better is the very large class of divines who have striven hard to appropriate the vision to the Jews who returned from the Babylonish captivity, for the facts then realized stand immeasurably below this prophetic pledge. The inevitable result therefore of such applications as of this and the preceding schools is to lower the character of the divine word.* For to speak plainly there is more contrast than analogy between the glowing promises of the prophet and the very small instalment that was paid under Zerubbabel as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. It is not only then that both these interpretations fail to meet the prophecy, but that they do not fail to depreciate scripture itself. For if the prophets be thus hyperbolical and untrustworthy, what is to save the Gospels and the Epistles any more than the Law and the Psalms? The tendency of both schools is unwittingly but none the less really to undermine inspiration.
* Listen to the words of one who did not always seem an enemy - "All the fulfilment is past, and nothing more is expected. The Jews returned to their country and rebuilt their temple. If their restoration took place in a different manner from what the prophet projected [for God is in none of these thoughts], and the circumstances attending it were a poor counterpart of his imaginings, if the reality were but a dwarfish fulfilment of the prophecy, the event shows the imperfection of Ezekiel's foreshadowing." (Davidson's "Introduction to the Old Testament," iii. 156) It shows, as I should say, the folly of such an interpretation. Is Dr. D. a prophet to say that the vision is not to be fulfilled in the future? Let him beware of the character and doom of a false prophet. God is not mocked, though it be the day of grace and patience with man on the earth.
Who can think that the modern attempt to save appearances for the latter view is at all successful? "Ezekiel," says the late Dr. Henderson (p. 187), "was furnished with an ideal representation of the Jewish state as about to be restored after the captivity." Was this "ideal" then realized? Did it or did it not differ immensely from the actual state of the Jews in Palestine after their return? Did the post-captivity temple correspond with the building here so carefully measured? Had they such priests? And what about the prince, to say nothing of the feasts and the sacrifices without a high priest - so marked a peculiarity in this prophecy? Had the Jews the glory returned to their land? Did the twelve tribes, with the special provision for the priests and the Levites and the prince, take up their position so carefully laid down by the prophet? Did healing waters flow from the temple towards the Dead Sea at that period, or in any sense whatsoever? Did the priests and Levites dwell no longer up and down Palestine, but only round about the sanctuary, both henceforth having land assigned to them? We know that not one of these things applies to the post-captivity interval.
No doubt it was the restoration of the material temple then in ruins that the prophet had in his eye, and a restoration not only of its worship but of the nation in full under the richest theocratic (and not only spiritual) privileges. No doubt a just and true interpretation supersedes all necessity of confounding the Christian and the church with the hopes of Israel; but no view is less satisfactory than that which points to the five centuries which preceded Christ, and denies a literal fulfilment in the future for Israel in their land. It is an unfounded assumption that a single feature in these visions was fulfilled by a single fact among the returned captives in their past history. Less than fifty thousand men, women, and children came up from Babylon: a little, remnant of a remnant, and in no sense those twelve tribes, whom the prophet sees to take up their allotted portions in the land - seven in the north, five in the south, extending beyond the ancient bounds of Palestine, with Jerusalem between.
Indeed there never was the very smallest semblance of the holy oblation any more than of the allotments of the land from east to west here predicted. It is ridiculous to say that there is no valid objection against such an interpretation because in many points the city, temple, services, etc., did not accord with the prophecy. The fact is that those who returned from Babylon fell back on the order as existing before the captivity, and in no respect made good the peculiar condition predicted by Ezekiel. Thus no one appeared answering to the prince, while the high priest was as before a notable personage; the land was not parcelled out to the remnant, still less to all Israel, by lot, and no strangers held inheritance any more than in ancient times. Pentecost was still as of old one of the three great feasts of the Jews, whereas it will have no place according to the prophecy. Such differences are of the most decided character and, at any rate to believers, demonstrate that the last vision is yet absolutely unaccomplished in the history of the Jews: to say that it is never to be is to confess oneself an unbeliever in prophecy at least.
It is quite true that the vision is not to be regarded as a description of what was remembered of Solomon's temple - a work of supererogation indeed for those who possessed the books of Kings and Chronicles. It was a divine disclosure of a new condition, when Israel shall be restored finally and for ever. It is a material temple, a literal but in some grave respects unprecedented arrangement of feasts, sacrifices, rites, and priesthood, as well as of general polity for the new capital and the nation, under wholly novel circumstances crowned with the glory of Jehovah who deigns again to dwell in their land. Nor does it appear consistent to interpret the temple and its ordinances literally, but as a figure the waters that carry fertility and beauty into the Dead Sea and the barren wilderness. Why this should be a mere symbol and not a fact it would be hard to tell, except that men like Secker and Boothroyd with a certain following will have it so. But we need say no more as to all these things for the present. Ample opportunity will be afforded when we come to the chapters themselves in detail.
This however we must insist on, that it is altogether illegitimate to sever these chapters in an absolute manner from those we have already had before us. The closing series (Ezek. 40 - 48) is the glorious but fitting and most intelligible sequel to the prophecies immediately before: so much so that the previous series (Ezek. 33 - 39) prepares for it, announcing the judgment but happy return of the chosen nation in the last days, far beyond what was at hand. We have had the new ground laid of individual conduct before God in Ezekiel 33, the leaders judged in Ezekiel 34, and Edom in Ezekiel 35; then the prediction of Israel's restoration to their own land with a new heart and a new spirit - yea, with God's Spirit within them - in Ezekiel 36. We have seen the parabolic vision in Ezekiel 37 of the dry bones suddenly invested with life and strength, which are expressly said to mean not Christians nor men at large, but the house of Israel, under the figure of resurrection, caused to live and placed by Jehovah in their own land, and this too united as they have never been - Ephraim and Judah - since the days of Jeroboam, under one head, one king, in the land, on the mountains of Israel. We have had before us the last and most formidable attack to be made upon Israel whilst thus settling in peace in Canaan, when the great north-eastern chief with his myriads of followers shall be exterminated by divine intervention (Ezek. 38, 39). No allegory this, as they shall then learn to their cost; and Israel shall know and the spared Gentiles too, for Jehovah shall be thus glorified in His people on earth. Most appropriately follows the last vision, where is laid down with precision the polity of Israel, both sacred and civil, and the descending Shechinah shall once more find its place in their midst, the seal of glory never to be broken, till means melt away before blessing complete and everlasting, and judgment sees no more evil to be judged.
Beyond a doubt, the main stumbling-block in this section to most Christians is the plain prediction of sacrifices, feasts, and other ordinances according to the Levitical law. These, they conceive, must be explained (that is, are really to be explained away), so as not to clash with the Epistle to the Hebrews. But the argument assumes that there can be no change of dispensation - that, because we are Christians, those whom the prophecy contemplates must be in the same relationship. This however is nothing but error. For the Epistle referred to looks at believers since redemption while Christ is on high till He comes again in glory; the prophecy of Ezekiel, on the contrary, is occupied with the earthly people and supposes the glory of Jehovah dwelling once again in the land of Canaan. The truth is that to bless Israel as such and the Gentiles only mediately and subordinately to the Jews, as this prophecy and almost all others suppose and definitely declare, is a state of things in distinct contrast with Christianity, where there is neither Jew; nor Gentile but all are one in Christ Jesus. Hence the whole ground and position here are quite different from what we see in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Earthly priests distinct from the people, with a position quite peculiar to the prince, a material sanctuary with tangible sacrifices and offerings, are distinctly predicted by Ezekiel; but these are evidently wholly foreign to Christianity. One as much as the other would be inconsistent with the doctrine set down in that Epistle for the "partakers of the heavenly calling;" but will they therefore be out of place and season for those who have the earthly calling, when Jehovah again makes choice of Jerusalem, and glory shall dwell in the land? This no one has proved, and few have even essayed to argue; but it is the real question. Entirely do we allow the incongruity of sacrifices with our faith in that one offering which has for ever perfected us. A temple on earth is a practical inconsistency with the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man, into the holiest of which, now that for us the veil is rent, we are invited to come boldly. Further, the assertion of an earthly priesthood for Christians is in principle, if not effect, a denial not only of our nearness to God by the blood of Christ but of the gospel itself as we know it.
But the coming of the Lord to reign over the earth will necessarily bring with it changes of immense import and magnitude. Yet this is the great object of all prophecy, which accordingly puts forward a new condition wherein Israel stands at the head of the nations under Messiah and the new covenant, the church having entirely disappeared from the earth, and, in fact, reigning over it with Christ, the Bridegroom of His then glorified bride.
Now the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, bring to light for that glorious day an earthly temple with sacrifices, priesthood, and rites appropriate to it. No doubt it is not Christianity; but who with such an array of inspired witnesses against him will dare to say that such a state of things will not be according to the truth, and for the glory, of God in that day? It is in vain to plead the usual resource of unbelief - the cloud that overhangs unfulfilled prophecy. Not so. To unbelief all scripture is obscure; to faith it is the light of God through men empowered by the Holy Ghost to communicate it. And the particular difficulty in the present case is only, if we believe the Apostle Paul, Christendom's conceit, which assumes, or rather presumes, that the fall of the Jew is final and that the Gentile has supplanted him for ever. The truth is that God will not spare the Gentiles in their present and growing unbelief, but will assuredly recall in His mercy Israel ere long about to repent. Those that now wait for Christ, with the risen saints, shall be caught up to Him; and the Deliverer will come out of Zion and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. If the King of kings and Lord of lords enter on so new a position, it would be singular indeed if all were not changed in consequence of it and in accordance with it. This is precisely what the prophets show, in contradistinction from the Epistle to the Hebrews as well as all the rest of the apostolic Epistles. Our wisdom is to learn of God by His word and Spirit, not to judge of scripture by conclusions drawn from our own position, circumstances, or even relation to God. Let us leave room for the various evolutions and displays of His glory in the ages to come, instead of making His present ways (profound and blessed as they are) an exclusive standard: a snare natural enough to man's narrow and selfish mind, but withering to all growth in and by the knowledge of God. Christ, not the church, is His object; and the church is blessed in proportion as this is seen.
But we must turn to the opening words of the vision. "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 Jehovah was upon me, and brought me thither. In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, and upon it was as it were a city 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. And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine oars, and set thine heart upon all that I shall show thee; for to the intent that I might show them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel." (Ver. 1-4)
The declared aim of the vision is thus evident. God certainly did not reveal the mystery of Christ and the church to Israel or to any other, but kept it secret in Himself till the due moment came to make it known. Much of man's eventful trial yet remained. God had yet to send His one Son - the Heir, not to speak of prophets who followed Ezekiel and preceded John the Baptist. Afterwards too He would add the final testimony to the risen and glorified Lord by the Spirit, besides His presence in humiliation in their midst. Accordingly the vision is of Israel's hopes when restored to their land, to show them how complete the work shall be in the last days, above all (spite of their past sins) in respect of God's presence in a new and suited sanctuary - a presence never more to be lost, least of all when time yields to eternity and to the new heavens and earth in their fullest meaning.
It is commonly laid down that the four main lines of divergence among interpreters are these - 1, the historico-literal, adopted by Villalpandus, Grotius, etc., who make these chapters (Ezek. 40-48) a prosaic description, intended to preserve the memory of Solomon's temple; 2, the historico-ideal of Eichhorn, Dathe, etc., which makes them a vague announcement of future good; 3, the Jewish theory of Lightfoot, etc., which assumes that the idea was actually adopted by the returned remnant; and 4, the Christian or allegorical hypothesis, which was that of Luther and other reformers, and followed elaborately by Cocceius, etc., and indeed generally by many to the present day, which essays to discover in them an immense system symbolic of the good in store for the church. But this leaves out the fifth and, I have no doubt, the only true interpretation, which sees in these chapters the suited conclusion to the entire prophecy, and especially akin to the chapters which precede - the prediction of the complete re-establishment in the last days of Israel then converted and in the possession of every promised blessing for ever in their land, with the glory of Jehovah in their midst. This is the only proper Messianic fulfilment of the vision, which accordingly must be taken in its simple and just grammatical import, literal, symbolic, or figurative, as the context in each passage may decide.
Thus, in the vision that follows in the chapter before us, we have a measured description chiefly of the temple courts and their appendages, the ἱερόν, (as in Ezekiel 41, of the ναός, or οἶκος). the porch of which alone had been given in the chapter before, with a sequel in chapter 42, which may be viewed as concluding the first part of the description, and is important in destroying the notion that there was, or could be, any real resemblance between the prophetic vision of Ezekiel and any temple yet realized. The "wall on the outside of the house round about" (Ezekiel 40:5) is not measured till we come to the end of Ezekiel 42, where it is declared to be 500 reeds square, which, given as it is with the most express exactitude, cannot be allowed to be a "hyperbole," without shaking the character of the prophet, and of scripture in general; that is, the precincts are to take in considerably more than the entire city did. How this can be may perhaps be shown when we come to the passage.
It is enough here to remark that, if true, the temple intended by the prophet must be looked for in the future, to which indeed all its surroundings point. One can understand also a past tabernacle typical of present heavenly things in Christ; but here it is a prophecy of what will only be accomplished for Israel in their land, when the church is changed at Christ's coming and reigns with Him over the earth. There is no room therefore for the Christian or allegorical application; that to the past Jewish we have seen to be a failure, yea, impossibility; and the vague ideal we may dismiss as scarce a remove from infidelity. As regards the prophets, disciples now, as of old, are foolish, and slow of heart to believe them. The future view is not only the sole sound one, but really alone possible. At the same time, while maintaining that all the evidence is in favour of a future temple for Israel under Messiah and the new covenant, there may be also many a lesson of truth and righteousness couched under the building and ritual and general order here laid down, without endorsing all the excellent John Bunyan's fancies, still less his confusion of all the temples of scripture, Solomon's, Zerubbabel's, Herod's, and this of Ezekiel. But as to such applications, we need a vigilant watch lest we pervert the holy word of God; and I trust myself to be reticent rather than thus offend.
On the details of our chapter there seems little to remark. In the first section (ver. 6-16) the eastern gate is measured, threshold and posts, porch within and without, chambers on both sides, breadth of the entry, length of gate and pillars, the reed consisting of six cubits, and each cubit of a handbreadth above the ordinary length. In the second (ver. 17-28), where the outer court comes before us, its gate towards the north is measured, its chambers, posts, porches, and steps, with the distance between the gate of the inner court opposite to those looking east and north. In the third (ver. 24-27) we have the measure of the south gate, with its appurtenances, as before, with the distance from a southern gate of the inner court. This gate is next measured (ver. 28-31) similarly; and the eastern gate of the same court, and the northern also (ver. 35-38). Then follows a description, in verses 38 to 43, of the cells and entrances by the columns of the gates, and the eight tables of hewn stones for slaying the burnt-offerings, etc., four on each side; and (ver. 44-47) without the inner gate cells for the singers;* one, looking to the south for the priests that had charge of the house; and one, toward the north, for those that had charge of the altar (the court itself being 100 cubits square, with the altar before the house). The chapter concludes with measuring the porch of the house, length and breadth, with the gate (ver. 48, 49).
* Boothroyd here follows the conjecture of Houbigant, or rather the version of the LXX, alleging that the rooms could not be for singers, when they were for the priests who had the charge of the altar and of the most holy place. Hence he gives, "And he brought me to the inner gate, and lo, there were two rooms in the inner court, one on the side of the north gate, and its prospect was towards the south .... And he said unto me, This room, whose prospect," etc.
It will be noticed that the sons of Zadok are specified for the service of the house. They had the pledge of that everlasting priesthood which was annexed to Aaron's line. What Phinehas, son of Eleazar, had guaranteed to him for ever falls in due time to Zadok who, under Solomon's reign, set aside the line of Ithamar according to the judgment of Jehovah predicted to Eli, after Abiathar's part in the rebellion of Absalom. We shall find the same restriction repeatedly made throughout the vision, and indeed uniformly kept up. See Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 48:11.
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.
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.
And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.
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.
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.
And every little chamber was one reed long, and one reed broad; and between the little chambers were five cubits; and the threshold of the gate by the porch of the gate within was one reed.
He measured also the porch of the gate within, one reed.
Then measured he the porch of the gate, eight cubits; and the posts thereof, two cubits; and the porch of the gate was inward.
And the little chambers of the gate eastward were three on this side, and three on that side; they three were of one measure: and the posts had one measure on this side and on that side.
And he measured the breadth of the entry of the gate, ten cubits; and the length of the gate, thirteen cubits.
The space also before the little chambers was one cubit on this side, and the space was one cubit on that side: and the little chambers were six cubits on this side, and six cubits on that side.
He measured then the gate from the roof of one little chamber to the roof of another: the breadth was five and twenty cubits, door against door.
He made also posts of threescore cubits, even unto the post of the court round about the gate.
And from the face of the gate of the entrance unto the face of the porch of the inner gate were fifty cubits.
And there were narrow windows to the little chambers, and to their posts within the gate round about, and likewise to the arches: and windows were round about inward: and upon each post were palm trees.
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.
And the pavement by the side of the gates over against the length of the gates was the lower pavement.
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.
And the gate of the outward court that looked toward the north, he measured the length thereof, and the breadth thereof.
And the little chambers thereof were three on this side and three on that side; and the posts thereof and the arches thereof were after the measure of the first gate: the length thereof was fifty cubits, and the breadth five and twenty cubits.
And their windows, and their arches, and their palm trees, were after the measure of the gate that looketh toward the east; and they went up unto it by seven steps; and the arches thereof were before them.
And the gate of the inner court was over against the gate toward the north, and toward the east; and he measured from gate to gate an hundred cubits.
After that he brought me toward the south, and behold a gate toward the south: and he measured the posts thereof and the arches thereof according to these measures.
And there were windows in it and in the arches thereof round about, like those windows: the length was fifty cubits, and the breadth five and twenty cubits.
And there were seven steps to go up to it, and the arches thereof were before them: and it had palm trees, one on this side, and another on that side, upon the posts thereof.
And there was a gate in the inner court toward the south: and he measured from gate to gate toward the south an hundred cubits.
And he brought me to the inner court by the south gate: and he measured the south gate according to these measures;
And the little chambers thereof, and the posts thereof, and the arches thereof, according to these measures: and there were windows in it and in the arches thereof round about: it was fifty cubits long, and five and twenty cubits broad.
And the arches round about were five and twenty cubits long, and five cubits broad.
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.
And he brought me into the inner court toward the east: and he measured the gate according to these measures.
And the little chambers thereof, and the posts thereof, and the arches thereof, were according to these measures: and there were windows therein and in the arches thereof round about: it was fifty cubits long, and five and twenty cubits broad.
And the arches thereof were toward the outward court; and palm trees were upon the posts thereof, on this side, and on that side: and the going up to it had eight steps.
And he brought me to the north gate, and measured it according to these measures;
The little chambers thereof, the posts thereof, and the arches thereof, and the windows to it round about: the length was fifty cubits, and the breadth five and twenty cubits.
And the posts thereof were toward the utter court; and palm trees were upon the posts thereof, on this side, and on that side: and the going up to it had eight steps.
And the chambers and the entries thereof were by the posts of the gates, where they washed the burnt offering.
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.
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.
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.
And the four tables were of hewn stone for the burnt offering, of a cubit and an half long, and a cubit and an half broad, and one cubit high: whereupon also they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice.
And within were hooks, an hand broad, fastened round about: and upon the tables was the flesh of the offering.
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.
And he said unto me, This chamber, whose prospect is toward the south, is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the house.
And the chamber whose prospect is toward the north is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the altar: these are the sons of Zadok among the sons of Levi, which come near to the LORD to minister unto him.
So he measured the court, an hundred cubits long, and an hundred cubits broad, foursquare; and the altar that was before the house.
And he brought me to the porch of the house, and measured each post of the porch, five cubits on this side, and five cubits on that side: and the breadth of the gate was three cubits on this side, and three cubits on that side.
The length of the porch was twenty cubits, and the breadth eleven cubits; and he brought me by the steps whereby they went up to it: and there were pillars by the posts, one on this side, and another on that side.