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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 46




Chapter 46. Prescriptions Concerning the Earthly Temple. A Final View of the Heavenly Temple.

In these final chapters of Ezekiel from 40 onwards we have had two parallel themes, the one was the heavenly temple ‘on top of the mountain’ in which Ezekiel was led from one aspect to another by a heavenly visitant as he measured each aspect of the temple, and the other was the earthly sanctuary with regard to which all that was to be done was explained by the specific command of Yahweh. This had to be so, for it was not yet built.

On this basis we are here in these first verses dealing with the earthly sanctuary yet to be built. However in Ezekiel 46:19 we move into the heavenly sanctuary, where once again Ezekiel is led around by his heavenly visitant preparatory to the great vision of the overflowing river. The two sanctuaries are closely connected, for the one is the visible and tangible, but faint, representation of the other, but it is to the other that the hopes are directed.

Verses 1-3

Activity In The Earthly Temple.

It is anticipated that the earthly temple will have at least one gate, and possibly only one, leading into the inner court, and two leading into the temple precincts. The fact that all attention is focused on the east gate of the inner court and its opening and shutting might suggest that there is in fact only expected to be one gateway to the inner court. Access for the priests would still be gainable, presumably by a small door in the gate ready for their use. The activity being described here is for the post-exilic community. The prince clearly represents the people as their prince. But he is a far cry from the Messianic Prince.

The Opening Of The East Gate to the Inner Court on New Moons and Sabbaths.

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “The gate of the inner court which looks towards the east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. And the prince will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will stand by the post of the gate, and the priests will prepare his whole (burnt) offering, and his peace offerings, and he will worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he will go out, but the gate will not be shut until the evening. And the people of the land will worship at the door of that gate before Yahweh on the sabbaths and on the new moons.” ’

This description appears to suggest only one gateway into the inner court. It would give access to the inner court to the priests through a door in the gate at all times, but the gate itself was to be shut except on new moons and sabbaths. In other words it would only be open at times of special worship. This would probably also include special feast days when the prince had to supervise special offerings (and note Ezekiel 46:12). If there were two other gates always open, the opening and the closing of the gate would not have been so impressive, and not have provided the same lesson. The impression given is that this is expected to be the only gate into the inner court.

On the other hand the point may be that the other two gates were seen as not looking straight onto the entrance to the sanctuary. But this appears to be unlikely. The fact that they were open and that worshippers could gather at them would largely nullify the impact of the closing of the east gate.

(The reason for the closure of this gate had nothing to do with the reason for the permanent closing of the east gate into the outer court of the heavenly temple. That was because Yahweh had entered by it and it was very holy. No such idea is expressed here. This was in order to stress that open access to God was limited to special occasions. This should not, however, hide from us the fact that the people knew that they could pray to God at any time. It was more the immediacy of His presence that was in question, not their ability to pray to Him).

The new moon marked the beginning of each month, which lasted for a cycle of the moon. It was the major measure among the ancients of the orderly passage of time, and its steady course was thus evidence of the continual fulfilment of God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:22). The non-appearance of the moon was a sign of catastrophe (Ezekiel 32:7; Isaiah 13:10; Joel 3:15). The sabbath was specific to Israel and commemorated the deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the covenant (Deuteronomy 5:15) and was linked with the fact of creation (Exodus 20:11). Thus both were seen as of vital importance.

So on those days, when the prince and the people came to worship Yahweh, the east gate would be opened. The prince was given the special privilege of being able to go through the gateway and stand at the inner court end of the gateway, at ‘the post of the gate’, so that he could actually see into the inner court and the offering of his offerings on the altar. But even he could not set foot in the inner court. This was why a special place away from the inner court was allocated for him where he could eat a sacral meal before Yahweh (Ezekiel 44:3). The ordinary people stood at the outer court end of the gateway. They could come no further.

The official opening of the gate confirmed that access to Yahweh was available to all His covenant people, for when the gate was open there was no physical barrier between them and the inner sanctuary, and they shared to a large extent the privilege granted continually to the levitical priests. But it also declared that this access was limited for them in order to stress His holiness. He was not available at their beck and call. And in no way could they enter the inner court.

‘And the prince will enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and will stand by the post of the gate, and the priests will prepare his whole (burnt) offering, and his peace offerings, and he will worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he will go out, but the gate will not be shut until the evening.’ As the supervisor of the offerings it was necessary for the prince to be able to see the offerings in order to ensure that all was properly carried out. Thus he could stand at the inner end of the gateway from where, having presented his prepared offerings, he could plainly see the altar and the activity going on there. As well as giving him a privileged position of worship, there may also have been here the idea of a check on the non-Zadokite priests to ensure that they were fulfilling their responsibilities in accordance with cultic requirements. They had not proved faithful in the past and had to serve under the watchful eye of the prince, acting for the people.

But the gate was not closed when the prince left. It remained open for worshippers to gaze through, and worship at, until the end of the sabbath. All this would not have been feasible if the number of worshippers were expected to be huge, but provision was made for fairly large numbers to participate by ensuring that they moved in orderly fashion (Ezekiel 46:9).

The temple would presumably be open for worship daily, it was only the gate into the inner court that was closed.

Verses 4-7

The Prince’s Offerings On Behalf Of The People (Ezekiel 46:4-8).

“And on the sabbath the whole burnt offering that the prince shall offer to Yahweh shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish, and the meal offering shall be an ephah for the ram, and the meal offering for the sheep as he is able to give, and a hin of oil to an ephah. And on the day of the new moon it shall be a young bullock without blemish, and six lambs and a ram. They shall be without blemish. And he will prepare a meal offering, an ephah for the bullock, and an ephah for the ram, and for the lambs according as he is able, and a hin of oil to an ephah.”

The weekly offering is six lambs and a ram, but on the new moon a young bullock is also required. As ever they are to be without blemish, for what is blemished cannot be offered to Yahweh. He is worthy of the best, and what is offered to Him must be without fault. These are offerings of worship and praise. Included with them are meal offerings to a certain level, and then as the prince is able. This interesting proviso recognises that the wealth of princes and their people will fluctuate at different times. Not all harvests will be plentiful. The weekly offering may represent a lamb for each of the six working days of the week and a ram for the sabbath, or it may simply be with the intent of making the divinely perfect seven in all. The additional bullock celebrates the new moon. As described earlier these offerings are on behalf of the people as well as himself (Ezekiel 45:17).

These provisions differ from those required by the Mosaic law (Numbers 28:9-15). It is the sign of a new beginning, even though based on the old.

Verse 8

“And when the prince enters he will go in by way of the porch of the gate, and he will go out by that way.”

The prince’s right of entry and exit to the east gateway is restricted. His access and exit is by the porch of the gate and that alone. That way he avoids treading in the inner court.

Verse 9-10

Provisions of Entry For The Prince and People On Feast Days (Ezekiel 46:9-10).

“But when the people of the land shall come before Yahweh at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship will go out by way of the south gate, and he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. He shall not return by way of the gate that he came in, but shall go straight before him. And the prince when they go in shall go in in the midst of them, and when they go out they will go out together.”

This remarkable restriction is powerfully significant. Firstly it indicates that on feast days the prince enters the temple precincts in the midst of the people. He is one with them in their worship, for indeed he is their representative, not in the sense of being apart from them, but as being one among them. In a sense he is the people, and is on the same level. It also ensured that there would be no solitary regal entry for the prince. There was to be no princely splendour. At this time all attention must be on the King in His sanctuary. (We must learn this too in our churches). Secondly it indicates that when the inner east gate is to be opened the people enter and leave as guests of Yahweh. They ‘pass through’. They are not free to do their own thing.

It is true that it might also, of course, have ensured a smoother flow for the people but it is questionable whether that was the main point. The main point was symbolic. After all they would be standing within the temple outer court before the inner east gate for some considerable period as they observed and in their own way took part in the ceremonies by prayer and worship and acclamation. They were not just queuing past a fixed point. And thus leaving by the way that they came might have made things easier to organise. But that was not the question. The principle to be established here was that when the inner east gate was open they were guests of the Almighty. Things must be orderly. This was not home, and ‘court procedure’ must be followed..

Verse 11

The Meal Offerings At The Feasts and The Appointed Times (Ezekiel 46:11).

“And at the feasts and at the appointed times the meal offering shall be an ephah for a bullock and an ephah for a ram and for the lambs as he is able to give, and a hin of oil to an ephah.

The importance of the meal offering comes out in its re-emphasis here. These were offerings of which the priests partook, it was a most holy offering (Leviticus 3:2). Once again mention is made of the prince’s ability to provide sometimes more, sometimes less. This would depend on what the harvests had been like (Ezekiel 45:15). ‘The appointed times’ are presumably the new moons and sabbaths.

Verse 12

Freewill Offerings Offered by the Prince (Ezekiel 46:12).

“And when the prince shall prepare a freewill offering, a whole burnt offering or peace offerings as a freewill offering to Yahweh, one shall open for him the gate that looks towards the east, and he shall prepare his whole burnt offering and his peace offerings, as he does on the sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out one shall shut the gate.”

Provision is here made for freewill offerings over and above the prescribed offerings and sacrifices, to be offered by the prince at any time. These were expressions of gratitude and love. They may sometimes be offered on behalf of the people or sometimes be personal, no differentiation is made. But to offer such offerings specific access can be obtained through the inner east gate. The gate will be opened specifically for the purpose, so that he can sufficiently prepare it, and then closed immediately after he leaves. It is a kind of private access arrangement. The gate is not then left open for the public to see through, and worship before, after he has left, although they may presumably attend for the offering itself.

Verses 13-15

The Daily Offerings (Ezekiel 46:13-15).

The change to the second person singular suggests that these were not connected with the prince. These were offerings to be made by the priests on behalf of Israel.

“And you will prepare a lamb of the first year without blemish for a whole burnt offering to Yahweh daily. Morning by morning you will prepare it. And you will prepare a meal offering with it morning by morning, the sixth part of an ephah, and the thrid part of a hin of oil to mix with the fine flour, a meal offering to Yahweh continually by a perpetual ordinance. Thus shall they prepare the lamb and the meal offering and the oil morning by morning for a continual whole burnt offering.”

This is a daily offering made continually, a continual expression of worship, praise, and covenant loyalty and love. No mention is made of an evening offering (contrast Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 28:3-8; 2 Kings 16:15).

The Prince’s Portion.

Four points are made here with respect to the prince’s portion mentioned in Ezekiel 45:7-8. Firstly that it is his inheritance, secondly that he may pass it on to his sons as a permanent inheritance, thirdly that while he may pass some of it on to servants it may not be as a permanent inheritance, and fourthly that his sons are not to receive any inheritance outside the portion. The rights of all Israelites are ever to be preserved.

Verse 16

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “If the prince give a gift to any of his sons, it is his inheritance. It shall belong to his sons. It is their possession by inheritance.”

The portion is God’s gift to the prince and his successors and is his permanently. If he passes any along to his sons, it is theirs permanently. It is his permanent inheritance, and theirs.

Verse 17

“But if he give to one of his servants a gift from his inheritance it shall be his to the year of liberty. Then it shall return to the prince. But as for his inheritance, that shall be for his sons.”

The prince could give a gift from his portion to a faithful servant, but it would be his only to the year of liberty. In that year the inheritance would revert back from the servant to the sons.

‘The year of liberty’. Compare Leviticus 25:10. This refers to the year of jubile which occurred every fiftieth year, when all land outside cities reverted back to its original owner.

Verse 18

“Moreover the prince shall not take of the people’s inheritance, to thrust them out of their possession. He shall give inheritance to his sons out of his own possession, so that my people be not scattered every man from his possession.”

If the prince wanted his sons to have possessions, it must be out of his own portion. He was forbidden to give them land belonging to another. There must be no dispossessing of people in the land. All Israelites had a right to security of tenure.

Thus the rights of the princely line were both protected and restricted. They could not be permanently squandered, nor could they be permanently extended. Their position was safeguarded, and so were the positions of others.

Like all of Ezekiel’s visions this had both short and long application. In the short term it was a pleasant dream which had little fulfilment, in the long term it described the equity and righteousness of the coming everlasting kingdom.

Verse 19-20

‘Then he brought me through the entry which was at the side of the gate, into the holy chambers for the priests, which looked towards the north, and behold there was a place at their extreme western end. And he said to me, “This is the place where the priests shall boil the guilt offering and the sin offering, where they shall bake the meal offering, so that they do not bring them out into the outer court to communicate holiness to the people.”

‘He brought me--’ in a parallel use to here regularly elsewhere refers to the heavenly visitant. In Ezekiel 40:17 to Ezekiel 43:1 it is the constant refrain. Ezekiel had been handed over by God to the heavenly visitant. It was not God’s part to act as a tour host.

This time Ezekiel is brought to the boiling houses for the sin, guilt and meal sacrifices, which were at the western end of the holy chambers for the priests (Ezekiel 42:13). All were ‘most holy’ and must be dealt with in the holy section exclusive to the priests, for parts of all personal sin and guilt offerings could be eaten by the priests, but only in a holy place. They must not in any way come in contact with the common people lest the people be harmfully ‘made holy’, putting them in a dreadful position, neither one thing nor the other. This demonstrated that the sacrifices required of the prince were consistent with the significance of the heavenly temple.

Verses 19-24

The Man With The Measuring Line Reveals More of the Heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 46:19-24).

The account now suddenly picks up abruptly with the heavenly visitant continuing to reveal the heavenly temple as though nothing had come between. That this is so is clear from comparison with Ezekiel 47:3, and in fact this section could easily be picked up and fitted between Ezekiel 42:14 and Ezekiel 42:15, and it would not be out of place. (It has even been suggested that that should happen, but then we would lose the vital connection of chapter 47 with the heavenly tour).

But apart from the suddenness of the introduction as though we were continuing the tour of the temple without interruption, there is no reason for removing it. And that is not sufficient reason. To a man like Ezekiel, suddenly moving back into his earlier vision as though he had not left it was typical of his visionary state. He could suddenly pick up where he had left off, as though nothing had come between, because that was how his vision went. In a moment he was there. It needed no introduction. It was as though nothing had intervened.

On the other hand there is good reason for the section being here. It illustrates what has just been said about sacrifices and offerings and applies it to the heavenly temple, demonstrating that it is all consistent with it. These boiling houses would never be used, but they were a heavenly justification for their earthly equivalent. But even more importantly it brings us abruptly back into the tour of the heavenly temple so as to incorporate chapter 47 into the same heavenly vision, as though without interruption.

Verses 21-24

‘Then he brought me out into the outer court and made me pass by the four corners of the court, and behold in every corner of the court here was a (smaller) court. In the four corners of the court there were enclosed courts, forty cubits long and thirty broad. These four in the four corners were of one measurement. And in them was a row of masonry around them, round about the four, and it was made with hearths at the bottom of the rows which were round about. Then he said to me, “these are the kitchens where the ministers of the house will boil the people’s sacrifices.” ’

Finally Ezekiel was led to four kitchens, one in each corner of the outer court and was told that these were for the boiling of the part of the sacrifices of which the people could eat. Thus the temple was to be a place of sacral feasting as well as of worship. And this idea was sanctioned by these being in the heavenly temple.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 46:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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