New European Commentary


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Ezekiel 44:1 Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looks toward the east; and it was shut- The intention was that when the temple was built and functioning as required, operated and used by a repentant Judah, Yahweh's glory would return through the east gate. But in the vision, it was still "shut". The same words are translated "prepare the way" in Mal. 3:1 and Is. 40:3 (see too Ez. 43:1; 47:2). The way  is 'prepared' or 'looks' eastward. This was the way or road over which the glory was to re-enter the restored temple. But Judah didn't rebuild that temple as specified and as Malachi often demonstrates, the priests failed to act as commanded in Ez. 40-48. And so the messenger of the covenant who was to prepare that way likewise failed; but finally the essence of the prophecies will come true through the work of the Elijah prophet and John the Baptist [also a priest] preparing the way of the Lord Jesus, so that His glory and Spirit could enter a spiritual temple of restored people.

Ezekiel 44:2 Yahweh said to me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Yahweh, the God of Israel, has entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut- Zechariah labours the paradox of grace- that if Judah returned to Yahweh both physically and spiritually, then He would return to them. But He by grace had already returned, so eager was He for this possible scenario to come about. And He has the same Spirit in dealing with us today. See on Ez. 46:12.

Ezekiel 44:3 As for the prince, he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Yahweh; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same- Had Judah repented at the time of the restoration, a Davidic ruler would have been raised up, Zerubbabel is the most obvious candidate (see on Zech. 6). He would have reigned "for ever", for an age. But he dropped the baton, or at least Judah were unwilling for this scenario. And so the prophecies were reinterpreted and rescheduled for total and eternal fulfilment in the Lord Jesus. "The prince" of the envisaged restored temple in Ez. 40-48 refers to this same individual. See on Ez. 37:25; 46:3.

Ezekiel 44:4 Then he brought me by the way of the north gate before the house; and I looked, and behold, the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh: and I fell on my face-

Ezekiel 44:5 Yahweh said to me, Son of man, mark well, and see with your eyes, and hear with your ears all that I tell you concerning all the ordinances of the house of Yahweh, and all its laws; and mark well the entrance of the house, with every exit of the sanctuary- The details of the temple were so detailed- Ezekiel was to “mark well…every going forth”- in order to inspire in Judah repentance for how they had abused the previous temple. Ezekiel’s prophecies should have been an inspiration to Israel, that they might be obedient and live out these things as a reality before them, and thereby see other prophecies come true in their own experience. They could have entered upon an upward spiral of spirituality. The form of the house, the very description of it by Ezekiel, should have inspired them to feel that they had had enough of sin.

Ezekiel 44:6 You shall tell the rebellious house of Israel- This the same rubric used earlier (Ez. 2:5; 3:26; 12:2,25; 17:12; 24:3). There is a congruence between the style of address found in Ez. 40-48 and the earlier part of the prophecy. See on Ez. 42:20. This is because Ezekiel is addressing the same audience- those who had heard his criticisms and appeals for repentance were the same group who were now being commanded to build a temple according to the dimensions given.

Thus says the Lord Yahweh: you house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations- These plans for the temple were given in order to elicit Judah's repentance. These words are picked up from the LXX by Peter, and applied to all of us in 1 Pet. 4:3: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles”. The same word for “abominations” occurs in the same context in Mal. 2:11: “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and has married the daughter of a strange god”. Yet it had been emphasized that the temple system Ezekiel described was to be free of all the “abominations” [s.w.] previously committed by Israel (Ez. 43:8; 44:6,7,13).

Ezekiel 44:7 In that you have brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary, to profane it, even My house, when you offer My bread, the fat and the blood- This could be read as referring to what Judah had done before the exile; they were under the impression, according to Ez. 18, that they were suffering unfairly. But in the attempt at rebuilding the temple, Judah profaned the Sabbath (Neh. 13:17,18), and profaned the temple by their marriage with Gentiles and their “weariness” with the temple ordinances (Mal. 1:12; 2:10,11). They got bored with the things of the Kingdom, and so they had no part in it.

And they have broken My covenant, to add to all your abominations- Judah broke covenant [s.w.] with Yahweh at the time of the restoration by marrying Gentiles and worshipping their gods (Ezra 9:1,14).

Ezekiel 44:8 You have not performed the duty of My holy things; but you have set performers of My duty in My sanctuary for yourselves- They had the mentality of many religious people. They thought their religious structures and leaders could do the work of spirituality for them. We recall how Israel didn't want to hear Yahweh speaking directly to them, but preferred Moses to engage with God for them; and how the spiritually weak asked others to pray to God for them instead of them doing so (Jer. 14:11; Acts 8:24). This is the problem with all organized religion; it tends to take away from personal spirituality and engagement with God.

Zech. 3:7-10 encouraged Joshua to be the king-priest of the restored kingdom: “If you will walk in my ways, and if you will keep my charge [as so frequently commanded in Ez. 40:46; 44:8,14-16 s.w.], then you shall also judge my house (as prophesied in Ez. 40-48), and shalt also keep my courts (so often mentioned in Ez. 40-48), and I will give you places to walk (s.w. Ez. 42:4 about the walkways in the prophesied temple)... hear now, O Joshua”. But he didn’t. He didn’t keep the courts, but allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to set up his office for subversion in the temple chambers.

Ezekiel 44:9 Thus says the Lord Yahweh, No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into My sanctuary, of any foreigners who are among the people of Israel- Joel 3 describes how then there would be a great invasion, to be met by Yahweh’s intervention and the establishment of the Kingdom. Then  “So shall you know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no stranger pass through her any more” (Joel 3:17). This is language undoubtedly to be linked with that of Ezekiel 40-48. There we have Yahweh dwelling in Zion, the city named Yahweh Shammah, ‘Yahweh is there’ (Ez. 48:35). No stranger would pass through Zion, according to Ezekiel 44:7-9.

Ezekiel 44:10 But the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who went astray from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity- We notice how the religious leaders and the masses are equally blamed. A population get in the end the leadership they really want and deserve, whether or not they practice a democratic system. The priesthood knew what the people wanted and encouraged them in it, for their own ends.

Ezekiel 44:11 Yet now- Having carried the guilt of their iniquity in the exile (:10), they were now to be rehabilitated as ministers again.


They are to be ministers in My sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house: they shall kill the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them- The Levites were to "stand before" the people as their inferiors, to serve them, and not as previously, as their controllers and masters.

Ezekiel 44:12 Because they ministered to them before their idols, and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel; therefore have I lifted up My hand against them, says the Lord Yahweh, and they shall bear their iniquity- As noted on :11, they were in Ezekiel's time 'bearing their iniquity' in exile, unable to minister to Yahweh in His temple.

Ezekiel 44:13 They shall not come near to Me, to execute the office of priest to Me, nor to 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- They would be able to "minister" for the people, but not to come near before Yahweh (:15). That would be done by the sons of Zadok.

The people were warned that the temple had been destroyed because of their previous “abominations”, and that the rebuilt temple was not to feature any such abominations (Ez. 43:8; 44:6,7,13). “let it suffice you of your abominations” they were told- and then told not to allow the uncircumcised into the temple, as they had been doing Ez. 44:6,9). This sounds as if the prophecy of Ezekiel was more command than prediction- to those of his own day. But they returned, and committed the abominations [s.w.] of the Gentiles (Ezra 9:1,11,14) and married their daughters; to the extent that Malachi commented upon this: “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination [s.w.] is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god” (Mal. 2:11).

Ezekiel 44:14 Yet will I make them performers of the duty of the house, for all its service, and for all that shall be done therein- Judah were to keep the charges of God relating to His house (Ez. 40:46; 44:8,14-16). Nehemiah, seeking for Israel’s obedience to Ezekiel’s vision, tried to get them to “keep the charges” (s.w. Nehemiah 7:3; 12:9,45; 13:20). But soon, Judah complained that there was no benefit to them from having kept the charges (Mal. 3:14 s.w.). Partial obedience discouraged them from any further effort, because the fullness of blessing can only come from a way of life conformed to God’s Kingdom vision and life. This is why people get disillusioned with religion and lose even the true faith- because they seek for immediate benefit as a result of keeping a few highly specific aspects of God’s law, rather than willingly devoting their way of life to the realization of His vision

Ezekiel 44:15 But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who performed the duty of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood, says the Lord Yahweh- We wonder if there was a literal "Zadok" at the time of the restoration whose sons could have literally done this.

Ezekiel 44:16 They shall enter into My sanctuary, and they shall come near to My table, to minister to Me, and they shall keep My instructions- Malachi later laments how this table or altar of Yahweh was despised by the returned exiles, offering small quantities of sick animals upon it, and thereby entertaining Yahweh in a paltry manner. They despised it (Mal. 1:7,12), they found it such a weariness. And we too have an attitude to the Lord's table. Paul speaks of us each one partaking of “the table of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:21), a phrase used in the LXX for the altar (Ez. 44:16; Mal. 1:7,12)- the sacrifices whereof only the priests could eat. This would have been radical thinking to a community used to priests and men delegated to take charge of others’ religious affairs. Hebrew 3:13 gets at this idea when we read that we are to exhort one another not to turn away, situated as we are on the brink of the promised land, just as Moses exhorted Israel.

Ezekiel 44:17 It shall be that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come on them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within- The temptation to wear woolen clothes may have been simply in order to keep warm.

Ezekiel 44:18 They shall have linen headware on their heads, and shall have linen breeches on their waists; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat- These people are clearly mortal, as sweat is part of the curse.

Ezekiel 44:19 When they go forth into the outer court, even into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they minister, and lay them in the holy rooms; and they shall put on other garments, that they not sanctify the people with unclean garments- We recall how Joshua the high priest was clothed in filthy garments in Zech. 3. The statements in :18-23) may all be hinting that these things were done by Israel before the captivity; but they were not to be done in the new temple. There was to be repentance.

Ezekiel 44:20 Neither shall they shave their heads, nor allow their locks to grow long; they shall only cut off the hair of their head- They were to be under something like the Nazirite vow.

Ezekiel 44:21 Neither shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter into the inner court- These priests are clearly mortal because they are liable to the influence of alcohol.

Ezekiel 44:22 Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her who is divorced; but they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest- These priests are clearly mortal as the immortalized will not marry (Lk. 20:35,36), and we have here a surrounding situation envisaged where there is the possibility of divorce and remarriage. If indeed this speaks of a situation in the supposed Millennium, then we have to accept there will be divorce and remarriage then. But after the Lord's return, surely all that will be part of the tears that are wiped away from our eyes and experience.

Malachi and Haggai so bitterly complain at the way the priests didn’t serve God properly in the restored temple. The priests married divorced women (Mal. 2:14-16), even though Ez. 44 commanded they should not do this.

Ezekiel 44:23 They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean- It would no longer be the duty of the Levites to teach the people as under the Mosaic law; it is envisaged here as specifically the duty of the sons of Zadok. This again confirms the conclusion that we are not reading here of the Law of Moses being reinstituted; but rather a new deal, a new covenant, offered to the returning exiles which had some similarities with the Mosaic law, but which differed from it.

The Levites were to teach Judah and to make others discern between good and evil. They should have done this, but instead “ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi” (Mal. 2:7,8). The sons of Zadok were descendants of Eleazer and Phinehas (1 Chron. 6:3-8), and Mal. 2:5 alludes to this: “My covenant was with him of life and peace: and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name” (cp. Ex. 32:28). But Mal. 2:6-8 go on to show that the sons of Zadok, as the descendants of Phinehas, had not lived up to their pedigree; they were making men “stumble at the law”. This shows the connection between the Ezekiel prophecies and Malachi’s commentary on their failed fulfilment in the hands of men like the sons of Zadok.

Ezekiel 44:24 In a controversy they shall stand to judge; according to My ordinances shall they judge it: and they shall keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts; and they shall make My Sabbaths holy- The existence of controversies is surely inappropriate to any Millenial reign of Christ; and the Sabbath was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. The situation here speaks of a scenario after the restoration from Babylon. The Levites were to judge justly. But Zechariah 7:9; 8:16 [s.w.] had to exhort them to stop judging unjustly.

Ezekiel 44:25 They shall not go near a dead person to defile themselves; but for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother, or for sister who has had no husband, they may defile themselves- The priests of this new system would have relatives who died, and the possibility of defilement. Clearly they are mortal and not immortal.

Ezekiel 44:26 After he is cleansed, they shall reckon to him seven days- As noted on :25, the possibility of defilement and the need for cleansing speaks of a very human situation at the time of the restoration, and not of the reign of the Lord Jesus.

Ezekiel 44:27 In the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering, says the Lord Yahweh- The priests will still be capable of sin and require sin offerings. They are mortal, and not immortal. And the Lord's sin offering on the cross was and is effective for all time, and thereby ended the need for animal sacrifices to atone for sin and defilement.

Ezekiel 44:28 They shall have an inheritance: I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession- The GNB grasps the sense: "The priests have the priesthood as their share of what I have given Israel to be handed down from one generation to another". The honour of serving God today should likewise make our material possessions of little moment to us.

Ezekiel 44:29 They shall eat the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs- The existence of such offerings clearly speaks of a time prior to the Lord's death, which was the ultimate offering for sin and all trespass and thereby ended the need for any further such offerings.

Ezekiel 44:30 The first of all the first fruits of every thing, and every offering of everything, of all your offerings, shall be for the priest: you shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on your house- Malachi 3:8 and Nehemiah's record show how these tithes were not given, and what was given was substandard and abused by the priests. This potential scenario didn't come about because we are reading here commands rather than prediction.

Ezekiel 44:31 The priests shall not eat of anything that dies of itself, or is torn, whether it be bird or animal- The priests 'ate' the offerings to symbolize God eating with the offerer at His table, the altar. But the returned exiles did offer such animals, according to Malachi; see on :30. The existence of animals who will have been “torn” by other animals seems hard to square with the Kingdom prophecies of Isaiah 9 and 11 about the animals living at peace with each other. It is the restoration from exile which is in view, not the Kingdom to be established by the Lord Jesus at His return.