THE PRIVILEGE OF ACCESS TO GOD MUST BE TIGHTLY CONTROLLED BY DIVINE STANDARDS OF HOLINESS
Iain Duguid: Following on the description of the return of the glory of the Lord to fill the central space of the temple, Ezekiel 44 continues the process of the filling of the various spaces described in chapters 40–42. No one is allowed access to the Most Holy Place itself, but who may be permitted to enter into the inner court of this holy God? The question of access to God is, of course, not a new one in Ezekiel’s day. The tabernacle had strict regulations governing access to the different areas, as had Mount Sinai itself before that (Ex. 24). What is new about Ezekiel’s vision, however, is that the rules of access are tighter than those of the tabernacle, and the basis for those rules is now bound up in the past obedience of the parties concerned. Those who have proved themselves obedient are rewarded with the closest access to the center, while those who have strayed are allowed only a more limited access. It is the outworking in visionary, graded form of the question and answer of Psalm 24:3–4.
Feinberg: The main subject of this chapter is the regulations for the priests of the Lord who serve in the temple. Purity of worship is safeguarded and emphasized throughout, therefore attention is directed toward those having to do with introduction of pollutions in former times. Notice that all worship is carried on facing westward, as in the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon, to forestall any reenactment of the abominations of chapter 8. There will be no sun worship.
I. (:1-3) PROTECTION OF THE SANCTITY OF THE SANCTUARY BY THE CLOSED EAST GATE AND THE PRIVILEGED PRINCE
A. (:1) Staged Vision of the Closed East Gate
“Then He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary,
which faces the east; and it was shut.”
B. (:2) Secure Residence of the Lord in the Temple
“And the LORD said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened,
and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.’”
Constable: Its sealed condition guaranteed God’s promise that He would never depart from the temple again (37:24-28).
David Guzik: On the temple mount in Jerusalem today, the eastern gate is completely closed, filled in with stone blocks. Yet this is not the fulfillment of Ezekiel 44:1-2; the gate mentioned here belongs to a temple compound yet to come.
Daniel Block: The closing of the gate is significant for several reasons. First, as the text itself declares, because Yahweh has passed through this gate it is henceforth barred to all human traffic. The issue is access to the sacred precinct. Prior to Yahweh’s arrival, there had apparently been no restrictions on passage through this gate. If the prophet had not passed through it himself, he had observed the guide walking about inside it, taking measurements of the gate’s features. Once Yahweh has made his grand entrance into his temple, however, no one else may enter here. Priests must enter the inner court to perform their services, but not even they may follow in Yahweh’s steps.
Second, by inference one may conclude that if the closed gate symbolizes the sanctity of the precinct, particularly the central spine, it also declares the permanence of Yahweh’s residence within the temple. The closing of the door presents the prophet with a visual affirmation of the promises expressed verbally in 43:7, 9. Yahweh hereby announces concretely that he would reside among the descendants of Israel forever. The tragedy of 11:23 will never be repeated.
Third, the closed gate presents a veiled polemic against pagan notions. Among the many activities involved in the Babylonian New Year festival was the ritual “opening of the gate” (pît bâbi). The sacred gate (bābu ellu) apparently remained closed to all human traffic except on the great day of the festival when Marduk would exit and later return in procession through it. The closing of this gate declares on the one hand that Yahweh is not dependent on human arms for residence in the temple. No one, neither well-intentioned worshipers nor foreign conquerors like Nebuchadnezzar, may enter here. As the sovereign over Israel, and by extension over the earth, Yahweh opens gates that no one may close, and closes gates that no one may open. No enemy, either human or divine, will ever crash his sacred residence, remove him from his throne, and drag him off, according to the common treatment of the images of patron deities of conquered lands. Yahweh reigns supreme.
C. (:3) Special Privileges for the Administrative Prince
“As for the prince, he shall sit in it as prince to eat bread before the LORD;
he shall enter by way of the porch of the gate,
and shall go out by the same way.”
Constable: This prince (Heb. nasi) is not Messiah, though some commentators have concluded that he is. This becomes clear later when the writer described him as presenting a sin offering for himself, something that it is impossible to imagine Jesus Christ doing (45:22; cf. 46:4, 12; Heb. 4:15; 9:22-28). Furthermore, this leader will produce natural children, another extremely unlikely action for Messiah (46:16). Third, he is not a priest and exercises no priestly rights, whereas Jesus Christ is now and ever will be our great high priest.
David Guzik: As for the prince: Ezekiel wrote of a ruler, a prince, who would have special privilege regarding the gate. This ruler is likely David, whose future rule over Israel is mentioned several times in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:23-25 and 37:25) and elsewhere (Isaiah 55:3-4, Jeremiah 30:8-9, Hosea 3:5). In Ezekiel 37:25 it is specifically written that David would be prince over Israel.
Lamar Cooper: If the prince is not the Messiah, then who is he? Some have identified the prince as David resurrected and serving in the temple during the millennium. More likely the prince is a special representative of the Messiah who will serve as an administrator of the temple, temple area, and sacred district. Such a conclusion is suggested by Levenson, who sees the prince as an apolitical messianic leader or a David-like administrator. . .
Gates were more than entrances to cities in the ancient Near East. Archaeological excavations have revealed that these ancient gates were actually buildings with rooms on either side of the entrance. In these rooms the elders of the city sat to rule in civil and judicial matters. The city gates functioned as a town council, chamber of commerce, city court, and welcome wagon all in one. Amos decried the lack of justice in the gate and indicted the city fathers because they were corrupt and could be bribed into perverting justice. Thus the rich were able to secure whatever injustice they could buy, and the poor were disadvantaged (Amos 5:10, 12, 15; Prov 22:22).
The prince of Ezekiel’s temple is a godly representative of the messianic King. He will sit in the gate, commune with God, and serve as a guarantor of mercy, justice, and righteousness. He will be the perfect spiritual-administrative leader of the new kingdom. The eternal security of believers in the millennium and beyond is guaranteed by God’s determination to dwell permanently among his people (44:1–3; cf. John 10:28; Heb 7:24; Jude 4).
Feinberg: The author believes it is a future scion of David’s dynasty who will represent the Messiah governmentally in the affairs of earth. He will have a representative position but not that of the high priest nor of the kings formerly in Israel. His will be an intermediate status between the priests and the people. He will be among the people in their worship seasons (46:10) but will not be permitted to enter the inner court, although he can approach nearer than the people (46:2). He will be obligated to provide the various festival offerings and the solemnities of Israel (45:13-22). He will have allotted to him a special portion of the land and will be forbidden to appropriate any inherited land of the people (45:7-8; 46:18; 48:21-22). His modified and intermediate status emphasizes the nature and importance of the theocracy in the millennial day, where high priestly and kingly rule will be combined in the King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The prince, Messiah’s representative in a special sense, will then have the privilege of sitting in the very gate where the Lord Himself will have entered. He will perform certain religious acts in the presence of the Lord, and have a particular ingress and egress to the house of God.
II. (:4-14) PROTECTION OF THE SANCTITY OF THE SANCTUARY NOW THAT THE GLORY OF THE LORD HAS RETURNED TO DWELL
A. (:4-5) Sacred Space Created by the Return of the Glory of the Lord
1. (:4) Vision of the Glory of the Lord Filling the Sanctuary
a. Staging of the Vision
“Then He brought me by way of the north gate
to the front of the house;”
b. Magnificence of the Vision
“and I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD,”
c. Response to the Vision
“and I fell on my face.”
2. (:5) Charge to Protect the Sanctity of the Sanctuary
“And the LORD said to me, ‘Son of man, mark well, see with your eyes, and hear with your ears all that I say to you concerning all the statutes of the house of the LORD and concerning all its laws; and mark well the entrance of the house, with all exits of the sanctuary.’”
B. (:6-8) Sacred Space Was Violated in the Past
“And you shall say to the rebellious ones, to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, Enough of all your abominations, O house of Israel, 7 when you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to profane it, even My house, when you offered My food, the fat and the blood; for they made My covenant void– this in addition to all your abominations. 8 And you have not kept charge of My holy things yourselves, but you have set foreigners to keep charge of My sanctuary.’”
Wright: It is clear from vs. 5-8 that in the last days of Solomon’s Temple the priests had allowed anyone, even uncovenanted pagans, to act as priests and temple servants. Either they had been lazy or busy with their own affairs, and had hired others to do their work; or they had taken bribes from pagans who wanted to serve in the Temple, perhaps for the offerings that they were able to take home and resell.
Lamar Cooper: The practices being condemned in vv. 7–8—bringing foreigners into the sanctuary (cf. Neh 13:4–9), giving unauthorized individuals charge over holy things, and desecrating the temple with unholy foreign worship (44:7–8) cannot be identified historically with certainty. Rabbinic tradition says the “detestable practices” consisted of the employment of priests who were unqualified to minister before the Lord because of their evil deeds. It also may refer to the unauthorized use of prisoners of war to perform menial tasks in the temple. Perhaps these sins were committed during Ezekiel’s exile in Babylon. They are not directly attributed to the Levites, however, whose sin is said to have been idolatry and encouraging Israel in idolatry (vv. 10, 12). There is nothing to suggest that their guilt involved serving as priests at the high places.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel identifies two consequences of this encroachment on sacred space: the sanctuary and all things sacred had been desecrated (ḥillēl), and Yahweh’s covenant is rendered null and void. . . Ezekiel views the temple in the midst of the people as the visible sign of Yahweh’s covenant. Israel’s failure to respond to his gracious presence with ethical and cultic obedience absolved Yahweh of responsibility toward his covenant partner. To the prophet, the admission of foreigners into the temple struck at the heart of Israel’s relationship with God.
C. (:9-14) Sacred Space Must Be Protected in the Future — Role of the Levites
1. (:9) Prohibition of Foreigners in the Temple
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary.’”
Constable: In the millennial temple, foreigners (uncircumcised in heart and flesh, i.e., unbelieving Gentiles) would not be allowed to enter the temple proper, and probably not even the temple precincts (v. 9; cf. Ezra 4:1-3; Neh. 13:1-9; Acts 21:27-31).
2. (:10) Punishment of Rebellious Levites for Past Idolatry
“But the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who went astray from Me after their idols, shall bear the punishment for their iniquity.”
Feinberg: Because those who had come near to the Lord in His service, yet so forgot their high calling and privilege as to minister for the nation before idols – strengthening the nation in their inclination to apostatize form the Lord – God must manifest His righteous displeasure in forbidding such participants of the Levites from the higher areas of priestly ministry. Theirs will be an inferior phase and place of service. Finally, it is reiterated that they will be entrusted with the general oversight of the service of the sanctuary. The grace of God is to be found throughout the pages of the Old Testament, even if not to the degree manifested once the Messiah came to earth, ministered and died for man’s sin.
3. (:11-14) Place of Service for the Levites in the Millennial Temple
a. (:11) Assignment of Future Role for the Levites in the Sanctuary
“Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house and ministering in the house; they shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them.”
Lamar Cooper: God has a place of service for everyone. Though the Levites were disqualified from leadership roles, they still had a significant part in the service of the temple. Past moral failure does not exclude one from worship or service in the house of God. It may, however, preempt one from serving in leadership roles where a moral failure would present a compromised testimony (44:11–14).
b. (:12-13) Accountability for Past Transgressions Limits their Role
“’Because they ministered to them before their idols
and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel,
therefore I have sworn against them,’ declares the Lord God, ‘that they shall bear the punishment for their iniquity.
And they shall not come near to Me to serve as a priest to Me, nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed.’”
Ralph Alexander: Limitations were placed on Levites’ ministry. They would not be permitted to serve the Lord as priests, nor would they be allowed to come near any of the Lord’s holy things, especially his most holy offerings (v. 13a). They would serve neither in the inner court nor in the temple itself.
c. (:14) Administrative Duties Associated with Worship in the Temple
“Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the house,
of all its service, and of all that shall be done in it.”
III. (:15-31) PROTECTION OF THE SANCTITY OF THE SANCTUARY DELEGATED TO THE ZADOKITE PRIESTHOOD
A. (:15-16) Role of the Zadokites
“’But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,’ declares the Lord God. 16 ‘They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge.’”
Constable: The Levites from Zadok’s branch of the priestly family, however, would have special privileges since Zadok and his sons had served the Lord faithfully in the past (cf. 40:46; 1 Sam. 2:35; 2 Sam. 8:17; 15:24-29; 1 Kings 2:26-35; 1 Chron. 6:7-8). They would be able to approach the Lord Himself and minister to Him by presenting the sacrifices of the people to Him. They had permission to enter the temple proper, to place sacrifices on the “table” (the altar, 40:46, and or the table in the holy place, 41:22), and to fulfill what God commanded concerning His worship.
Feinberg: Zadok was the son of Ahitub of the line of Eleazar (2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Chronicles 6:7-8). He was faithful to David during the insurrection of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:24 ff.), and anointed Solomon as king after the abortive attempt of Adonijah to seize the throne (1 Kings 1:32 ff.).
Leslie Allen: The role of the priests is duly spelled out. They are strikingly demarcated as “levitical” and “Zadokite,” that is, members of the same tribe as the Levites but descended only from Zadok. While the Levites’ role is tinged with a vehement expression of disgrace, that of the priests is antithetically expressed in terms of honor. Theirs were to be the privileges of the central task of altar duty and of access into the inner court, to which, together with the temple, the term “sanctuary” now refers, over against the “temple area” of v 14 (cf. Gese, Verfassungsentwurf 127).
B. (:17-22) Regulations Regarding Dress and Conduct
1. (:17-19) Linen Garments Required
“And it shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. 18 Linen turbans shall be on their heads, and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat. 19 And when they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments that they may not transmit holiness to the people with their garments.”
Constable: The Zadokite priests would need to wear linen, not wool, garments when they served the Lord in the temple sanctuary and the inner gates and court (cf. Exod. 28:42; Lev. 16:4; Rev. 19:8). This included linen turbans and undergarments. No fabric that caused them to sweat would be acceptable because perspiration would make them wet, and dry skin stays cleaner than sweaty skin. Wool may have been an unacceptable material too because it is a product of animals, whereas linen comes from plants.
Leslie Allen: vv. 17-31 — To the clarification of vv 15–16 has been smoothly appended a potpourri of regulations concerning priests. They are essentially a selection designed to illustrate how cultic holiness was to be translated into the priestly lifestyle. Holiness is their explicit or implicit motif. The priests’ right of access to the inner court (vv 17, 21, 27) made them stewards of a scrupulously guarded holiness.
Ralph Alexander: When the priests left the inner court to go out among the common people, they were required to change their clothes (cf. Lev 6:11), leaving their linen garments in the sacred rooms so designated (42:1-14). In this way they would not improperly make the people holy with their ministering clothes (v. 19).
2. (:20) Moderation in Hair Length
“Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads.”
David Guzik: Their hair was not to be shaved, but their hair was not to be long. They were to avoid extremes in either way.
Charles Dyer: Completely shaving one’s head or letting one’s hair go unkempt were signs of mourning (cf. Lev. 10:6; 21:5, 10).
3. (:21) Abstinence from Wine While Ministering
“Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court.”
4. (:22) Marriage Parameters
“And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.”
C. (:23-24) Regulations Regarding the Priorities of Teaching, Judging and Obeying
1. (:23) Teaching
“Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference
between the holy and the profane,
and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”
Douglas Stuart: Several of the regulations repeated here from the Pentateuch emphasize the importance of not mingling the common with the secular. This does not mean that common, everyday things are bad in themselves. Rather, the usual, typical, routine, regular, common things of life do not point people to God and certainly do not emphasize the fact that special steps must be taken to cleanse people from sin. We do not overcome sin automatically. In this fallen world, we can be sure that human beings will never reach God’s standards and will never receive His favor if they just continue doing what is typical and common. The route to God is a special route—and the restrictions on mingling the secular with the common helped the ancient Israelites, if they were willing to learn, to see exactly that.
Lamar Cooper: Verse 23 breaks into the flow of regulations to interject the reason for these regulations: “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean,” teaching by example as well as precept. The priests were to provide the kind of unblemished example that would encourage Israel to worship God and attract unbelieving nations to serve him.
2. (:24a) Judging
“And in a dispute they shall take their stand to judge;
they shall judge it according to My ordinances.”
3. (:24b) Obeying
“They shall also keep My laws and My statutes
in all My appointed feasts, and sanctify My sabbaths.”
D. (:25-27) Regulations Regarding Defilement with Dead People
1. (:25a) Overall Prohibition
“And they shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves;”
Constable: The Zadokite priests would not be able to have any contact with a dead corpse except in the case of their own immediate families (cf. Lev. 21:1-3). People will die during the Millennium (cf. Isa. 65:20), but no one will die in the Eternal State (Rev. 21:4). After his initial cleansing from the defilement caused by contact with a corpse, the priest would have to wait seven days before resuming his priestly duties (cf. Num. 19:11-19). On his first day of service after his cleansing, he would have to go into the inner court and offer a sin offering for himself.
2. (:25b-27) Exception for Close Relatives
a.. (:25b-26a) Contact Permitted
“however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter,
for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband,
they may defile themselves.”
b. (:26b) Cleansing Required Followed by Week of Isolation
“And after he is cleansed, seven days shall elapse for him.”
c. (:27) Continuance of Ministry Requires Sin Offering
“’On the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering,’ declares the Lord God.”
E. (:28-31) Regulations Regarding Inheritance and Material Provision
1. (:28) Inheritance
“And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel– I am their possession.”
2. (:29) Material Provision
“They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs.”
Constable: These priests would receive no other inheritance in the land but the privilege of serving the Lord in the special ways that He permitted. The Lord would designate a portion of the land in which they would live (45:4; 48:10-11), but this was not their inheritance. The perquisites (the “perks”) of this inheritance would include the privilege of eating parts of the best grains and animals that the people brought to the Lord as sacrifices (cf. Deut. 25:4; 1 Cor. 9:9-12; 1 Tim. 5:18). Everything that the people would bring as offerings to the Lord would go to them. These were “devoted” (Heb. herem) things, things given that the offerer could not redeem (buy back; cf. Lev. 27:21, 28; Num. 18:14).
3. (:30) First Fruits
“And the first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests;
you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house.”
4. (:31) Prohibition
“The priests shall not eat any bird or beast that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces.”
David Guzik: Things that died naturally or were killed in some kind of accident must not be food for the priests. This would violate the principle of not touching dead bodies (Ezekiel 44:25), but also be an expression of their trust that God would provide. They will not have to scavenge for food as some animals might.