Bible Passages:

Ezekiel 44:1-16

44 Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. 2 The Lord said to me, ‘This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. 3 The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way.’

4 Then the man brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked and saw the glory of the Lord filling the temple of the Lord, and I fell face down.

5 The Lord said to me, ‘Son of man, look carefully, listen closely and give attention to everything I tell you concerning all the regulations and instructions regarding the temple of the Lord. Give attention to the entrance to the temple and all the exits of the sanctuary. 6 Say to rebellious Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: enough of your detestable practices, people of Israel! 7 In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. 8 Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary. 9 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: no foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites.

10 ‘“The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin. 11 They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12 But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the people of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign Lord. 13 They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. 14 And I will appoint them to guard the temple for all the work that is to be done in it.

15 ‘“But the Levitical priests, who are descendants of Zadok and who guarded my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and serve me as guards.

 

Ezekiel 45:1-17

45 ‘“When you allot the land as an inheritance, you are to present to the Lord a portion of the land as a sacred district, 25,000 cubits long and 20,000 cubits wide; the entire area will be holy. 2 Of this, a section 500 cubits square is to be for the sanctuary, with 50 cubits around it for open land. 3 In the sacred district, measure off a section 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. In it will be the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 4 It will be the sacred portion of the land for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and who draw near to minister before the Lord. It will be a place for their houses as well as a holy place for the sanctuary. 5 An area 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide will belong to the Levites, who serve in the temple, as their possession for towns to live in.

6 ‘“You are to give the city as its property an area 5,000 cubits wide and 25,000 cubits long, adjoining the sacred portion; it will belong to all Israel.

7 ‘“The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. 8 This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.

9 ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: you have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 10 You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah and an accurate bath. 11 The ephah and the bath are to be the same size, the bath containing a tenth of a homer and the ephah a tenth of a homer; the homer is to be the standard measure for both. 12 The shekel is to consist of twenty gerahs. Twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels equal one mina.

13 ‘“This is the special gift you are to offer: a sixth of an ephah from each homer of wheat and a sixth of an ephah from each homer of barley. 14 The prescribed portion of olive oil, measured by the bath, is a tenth of a bath from each cor (which consists of ten baths or one homer, for ten baths are equivalent to a homer). 15 Also one sheep is to be taken from every flock of two hundred from the well-watered pastures of Israel. These will be used for the grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 All the people of the land will be required to give this special offering to the prince in Israel. 17 It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths – at all the appointed festivals of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the Israelites.

 

Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

God made human beings to live in his place, enjoying his presence and obeying his commands (Genesis 2). But human beings rejected God’s rule and so were cast out of his place (Genesis 3). The LORD promised Abraham that he would make him into a great and blessed nation (Genesis 12:1-3) and that nation became the people of Israel. God rescued them from slavery and brought them into the promised land. The LORD promised he would be with them if they worshipped him alone and, through sacrifice, ensured a Holy God could be among them (Exodus 25:1-9, Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 16). He came to live in the temple and among his people (1 Kings 8).

 

But the nation turned from God. Kings led the people astray, and they misused the temple and worshipped other gods (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 21:11, 24:17-19, 26:16-20, 33:1-9). Eventually the Lord judged his people by sending them into exile and by leaving the temple (Ezekiel 8-11). The nation was scattered and no longer knew God’s blessing. While the people were later brought back to the land and rebuilt the temple (Ezra 3: 10-13), the LORD’s glory was not present with them.

 

But God came to be with his people in the person of Jesus, the location of his glory (John 1:14). He was the humble prince who gave himself up for others (Mark 10:45). He drew others to worship and give God glory (John 17:1) as he gave himself as a sacrifice. He was the faithful and holy priest who served the LORD purely. He gives us secure access to God’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-5:10, 10:1-14). By faith in him we have been made into a new nation of priests in God’s service (1 Peter 2:4-10). And we are also now God’s place together. He is present in us as the Spirit lives within us (Ephesians 2:19-22). One day, Jesus will renew creation. We will be his fully faithful nation and fully enjoy his presence for eternity (Revelation 21).

 

Brief note on key themes of book

Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:

  • God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness

  • his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed

  • only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.

Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage

Ch40-48 are Ezekiel’s 4th and final vision, 25 years after the people went into exile. The LORD promises that his new covenant people (with the new heart, Spirit and king of chapters 34-37) will come to a new and better temple (ch 41-42). And the LORD’s glory will be present there (Ch43). But the LORD is as holy as ever and still opposed to all sin. What would the restored nation need to be like too ensure God remained with them? That is what chapters 44-46 is all about. In chapters 47-48, this vision of the temple and nation becomes eternal and sinless. One day life will flow from God’s presence and renew all creation. His new covenant nation will be present in a new creation that will last forever. There will be no more sin or sacrifice. That place will be known as “The LORD is there” (48:35)

Structure of the passage

All of chapters 44-46 takes place within the fourth of Ezekiel’s visions (see Ezekiel 40:1). This part of that vision is in the form of the LORD’s instruction to his people. Now that the LORD’s glory has entered the temple and will not leave (Ezekiel 44:1-5), what will the nation in his lasting presence need to be like? It’s important to remember that these commands appear in a vision. They are not to be taken literally. God is using instructions familiar to the exiles to paint a picture of the three things a new nation in his presence needs: the priests (Ezekiel 44), the place (Ezekiel 45:1-8) and the prince (Ezekiel 45:9-46:24).

 

1)     We need a holy priest with access to the holy Lord (Ezekiel 44)

The God of Israel has entered his temple and will not leave (v3). That’s why the commands the LORD gives are all about entrances and exits to the temple (v5). Who gets to have access to a holy God? Because they have treated the LORD’s holiness with contempt, the people and the Levites cannot have access to him in his sanctuary (v6-14). But the LORD will provide faithful priests who can access him and serve him, and so ensure the nation can be in his presence (v15-16). They will be holy like the God they serve is holy, showing in their lives that they are different from those around them (v17-31). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus, our priest (Hebrews 2:17). He lived a holy and faithful life and died a holy and faithful death. He has total access to God, and he shares it with us too (Hebrews 4:14-16). We can enjoy sharing in his inheritance – enjoying the privileges of access we have now and looking forward to those we’ll have in the new creation.

 

2)     We need a place with worship of the LORD at its heart (Ezekiel 45:1-8)

The new nation’s land is going to have the LORD at its heart. The Lord will have his sacred district (v1), housing his sanctuary and his priestly servants (v3-4). All his people will be close to him. The Levites (v5) will be in an area nearby and the city (which belongs to all the people) will adjoin the LORD’s own district (v6). The prince will have his place, but he’s not the centre of attention (v7). This is completely different from what the exiles had experienced before. Before the exile, it had always been unclear who was at the centre – the king or the LORD. But now there’s no ambiguity. The king here is called a prince because the LORD is the true king. God decides who gets what land, and the new nation will be formed around him. Today, God’s place/land is the church – the people who have come into relationship with him through Jesus. God comes to live in us together by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). Nowhere else in the world is like our local churches. Only gathered together will we be encouraged to focus on God rather than human interests and human power.

 

3)     We need a humble prince who provides our sacrifice (Ezekiel 45:9-46:24)

This section has four sub-parts expressing the will of the Sovereign LORD (see 45:9, 18, 46:1, 16). But they all have a common theme. Up until now the people have had princes who have dispossessed them from the land for their own selfish interests (45:9), but now the Lord will provide a prince who will provide sacrifices to cover the people’s sin. He will do this by ensuring the just measurements needed to ensure the right quantities of different items are sacrificed (v10-15). But he’d also be responsible for providing everything needed for the sacrifice that removes the Israelites’ guilt for sin and makes them at one with God again (45:16-17). The rest of the passage shows him doing just this (in yearly festivals -45:18-25 and more frequent festivals -46:1-12). Every sin will be covered because these sacrifices will take place morning by morning (46:13-15). Animal sacrifices will not ultimately cover human sin because an animal cannot take our place and our guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). But God fulfils this promise through Jesus, the ruler who came and humbly gave his own life for others (Mark 10:45). At the cross, the perfect human being took our punishment so that our sins against God could be totally forgiven, now and forever.

 

Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What’s with all the ‘law’ in the middle of this vision!?

See opening notes on the structure above.

 

What was so wrong about bringing the foreigners into the temple (44:7)?

It’s important to note that the rebellious Israelites, not the foreigners, are being addressed here (v6). By handing over responsibility for the temple to people who were not in God’s people physically or spiritually (the ‘uncircumcised in heart and flesh’) they had shown they had no appreciation for the perfection of God’s character and the seriousness of human rejection of him. Entering God’s presence as an unrepentant sinner is dangerous (Hebrews 10:31).

 

Is sacrifice really necessary?

See the notes on 45:9-46:24 above. We won’t appreciate sacrifices until we appreciate the seriousness of human sin. Animal sacrifices were a provisional way of dealing with human sin. The sacrifices showed that human sin deserves judgement, and that God graciously intended to provide a substitute to whom the guilt and punishment would be transferred. But the animals couldn’t actually take away human guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). Jesus came to fulfil the promise of a substitute the sacrifices pointed to (Hebrews 10:8-14). His self-sacrifice was once and for all and makes us perfect before God. No further sacrifice is needed to forgive our sins and unite us with God.

 

What are all these different sacrifices for?

Different types of sacrifice are mentioned in this passage – burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings and sin offerings. But in Ezekiel they all have the same purpose. They are to make atonement for the people (v15, 17), to bring the people and God together by removing the guilt and punishment the nation deserved for its sin. The two exceptions to this are the atonement for the temple and sins committed there (v18-20), which underscores the holiness of God’s place, and the free will and fellowship offerings of the prince.

 

How can the prince be Jesus if he’s described as having descendants (46:16) and providing sacrifice for his own sins (45:22)?

Its essential that we remember that this is a vision in the form of law, not law in the form of vision. Ezekiel was given a vision in terms he and his original hearers would have understood. The details are painting a picture for us, but they are not literal. The big point of 46:16-18 is that the prince has no reason to be unjust towards his people, because his own inheritance from the Lord is secure (v16-18). He can therefore humbly give himself to his main task, which in this passage is overwhelmingly the provision of sacrifices for others. The 45:22 is less clear because Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-15), but Ezekiel is again using a form of law the people would have been familiar with. Offering sacrifices is what the exiles would have expected an obedient and humble ruler who loved God to do, and that’s how we should understand it’s message. We need to read this passage considering what we’ve heard already in Ezekiel. The title prince has been used before in ways that make it clear they describe the forever king in the line of David who God sends to shepherd and unite his people (Ezekiel 34:24, 37:24-25).

 

How can Jesus be the temple, the priest, the sacrifice and the prince?

Jesus is the temple, because he is the place where God’s glory dwells (John 1:14, 2:19-22) and where we meet with God. Jesus is the priest and sacrifice because he sacrifices himself once and for all (Hebrews 10:8-13) to make us perfect in God’s eyes. He is the prince because he comes to lead, unite and shepherd his people (Ezekiel 34:24, John 10:14-18). God used each of these images in the Old Testament to show us that Jesus’s death, resurrection and rule is not his plan B, but the eternally planned answer to all of his promises (Luke 24:44-49, 2 Corinthians 1:20). The extent of God’s work in his divine Son Jesus is so great that no one of these images can ever fully capture all that we have to praise him for.

 

Hey, what about 46:19-24?

Good spot! The ‘super-structure’ to the whole of Ezekiel’s 4th vision is a tour of the new and better temple (starting in Ezekiel 40:1-4). In Ezekiel 44:1-4 Ezekiel gets to the north gate in front of the temple and this is where the vision-commands of Ezekiel 44:5-46:18 are given. In 46:19-24 Ezekiel finishes the tour (as sacrifices have been the dominant feature of chapter 46 its fitting that Ezekiel should now be shown the kitchens used for preparing those sacrifices.) This close to his first tour then prepares us (and Ezekiel) to leave the temple and look at it again in Ezekiel 47:1, where something new is happening…!

Summary of author’s main point

The new nation in the LORD’s lasting presence will need holy priests to serve him and a prince who provides a sacrifice for sins. The whole land will focus on his worship.

 

Purpose for original audience

Look forward to a better nation with confidence – your sins will be dealt with; your place will be secure and you’ll worship the Holy God who will remain among you.

Purpose for us today

Christ is the priest and prince who serves and sacrifices to make us a nation with access to the LORD’s presence: serve and worship him together with security and joy.

 

Key area of application

Do we enjoy access to the Holy God?

If we’re quite keen to have a relationship with God but Jesus isn’t in the picture, he needs to be. We can only have access to God through him. If we do know Jesus as our priest, then are we really enjoying that access? When we find ourselves comparing our lives to our friends and thinking that being a Christian brings too many restrictions, remember apparent limitations are only marks of our identity as priests. We get to share in Jesus’ inheritance. We have access to God in prayer, the promises of the new creation, and God’s grace and presence with us every day.

 

Are we making the most of gathering together to centre on God?

There’s no place outside the church where we’ll be encouraged to put God at the heart of our lives. So let’s not give up on meeting with each other frequently and regularly.

 

Are we sure we’re forgiven?

Our sins are a real problem, but they can be completely removed because Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice in our place. Don’t let Easter pass without exploring whether that’s really what was happening on the cross 2000 years ago. And if we’ve been Christians for some time, have we let our forgiveness affect how we feel when our consciences are weighed down by the weight of our sin? Our rejections of God grieve the Spirit and God is so much better than any alternative we cling too, so we should fight sin. But we can do so confidently, knowing we are completely forgiven.