1 Kings 10; Philippians 1; Ezekiel 40; Psalm 91
APART FROM EZEKIEL 29:17-21, the nine chapters before us, Ezekiel 40-48, take place later than the other visions and oracles that constitute the book. As the book began with a vision, so now it ends with one. Although this vision is sufficiently cut off from the rest of the book that some have labeled it an appendix, nevertheless there are some dramatic connections. In the vision of Ezekiel 8:1-11:25, Ezekiel saw the glory of God abandon the temple; now he witnesses the glory returning and filling the new temple (Ezek. 43:5). In the years following the catastrophic sack of Jerusalem Ezekiel has been comforting the people by the promise of a return to the land and to God; in some ways this vision of a temple must have lent encouragement and hope.
But that does not make this vision an easy one to understand. Today I shall lay out, rather superficially, the flow of thought not only in Ezekiel 40 but through these nine chapters. Tomorrow I shall lay out four principal lines of interpretation, and indicate the one I think is closest to what this Scripture says.
In the twenty-fifth year of his exile (by which time he was about fifty), Ezekiel in a visionary experience is transported to “a very high mountain” (Ezek. 40:2) near what turns out to be the holy city. Probably Mount Zion is intended. An angelic figure gives him a tour around the temple area, measuring everything as he goes. He begins with a detailed study of the east gate to the outer court (Ezek. 40:6-16). This is followed rapidly by the outer court itself, two other gates to the outer court (north and south), then gates to the inner court (Ezek. 40:17-37). There are no gates on the west, because the temple itself is situated there. After a brief tour of the sacrificial equipment and of the rooms reserved for the sacrificing priests (Ezek. 40:38-47), Ezekiel is given a fairly detailed description of the temple (Ezek. 40:48-41:26), followed by a survey of the temple area with special attention devoted to the rooms for the priests (Ezek. 42:1-20). The glory of God enters the temple, and Ezekiel is told what he must do with this information (Ezek. 43:1-12). The rest of chapter 43 deals with the altar of sacrifice and how it is to be used (Ezek. 43:13-27). Chapters 44 and 45 give regulations for the ordering of the temple (not least with respect to Levites and Zadokites), and then with the distribution of land around the temple. More ritual regulations follow (Ezek. 45:18-46:24). Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a flow of water from the sanctuary bringing life to the barren Dead Sea valley. The rest of the vision divides up the land for the twelve tribes and specifies the gates of the city.