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Deeper Commentary

Ezekiel 48:1 Now these are the names of the tribes: From the north end, beside the way of Hethlon to the entrance of Hamath, Hazar Enan at the border of Damascus, northward beside Hamath, (and they shall have their sides east and west)- The initial audience would have balked at the mention of Damascus. It would've seemed impossible to establish a new kingdom bordering on such a powerful city. These descriptions of the borders of the land and the inheritances were therefore a huge challenge to faith, just as the message of a future Kingdom is to us today, surrounded by the seemingly permanent and powerful structures of this world.

Ezekiel 48:2 By the border of Dan, from the east side to the west side, Asher, one portion- By the time of Revelation, the tribe of Dan isn't mentioned in Rev. 7:5-8. But this was not the case at the time of the restoration. This is another reason to understand the entire potential scenario here as relevant to the restoration but not to the return of the Lord Jesus.

Ezekiel 48:3 By the border of Asher, from the east side even to the west side, Naphtali, one portion- The tribal allotments are all equal in size, and the borders as it were imagined as straight lines. But this would have been unworkable in practice due to issues of topography; greater definition was needed to enable this to be practically done. The implication is that had Israel repentantly returned and responded to the plans of Ez. 40-46, then more detail would have been given. This is exactly as stated in Ez. 43:11.

Ezekiel 48:4 By the border of Naphtali, from the east side to the west side, Manasseh, one portion- The inheritance of Manasseh east of the Jordan is now ignored, and in order to be given parallel swathes of territory, this would meant Naphtali giving some of its former territory to Manasseh.

Ezekiel 48:5 By the border of Manasseh, from the east side to the west side, Ephraim, one portion- Ephraim as the largest tribe of the ten tribes is still given the same inheritance size. It could be that with the loss of the genealogical records at the destruction of the temple, the captives were not strongly aware of what tribe they came from. And so effectively a new Israel was being declared.

Ezekiel 48:6 By the border of Ephraim, from the east side even to the west side, Reuben, one portion- The inheritance of Reuben east of the Jordan is now ignored; perhaps because effectively their separation there from the rest of Israel had not been to their spiritual good.

Ezekiel 48:7 By the border of Reuben, from the east side to the west side, Judah, one portion- The exiles of Judah returning from Babylon would have expected a larger portion, but this was not to be. A new Israel was envisaged here. This division of the land between the tribes was designed to take away any sense of parochialism and superiority based upon previous history.

Ezekiel 48:8 By the border of Judah, from the east side to the west side, shall be the district which you shall set apart, twenty-five thousand cubits in breadth, and in length as one of the portions, from the east side to the west side: and the sanctuary shall be in its midst- If the sanctuary was to be strictly in the midst of a swathe of land running from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, then this position would not coincide with mount Zion. Perhaps this was intentional- to as it were relocate Zion, perhaps due to topographical changes God would have brought about. But "in its midst" need not be so literally interpretted. The Hebrew can as well be translated "within it".

Ezekiel 48:9 The district that you shall offer to Yahweh shall be twenty-five thousand in length, and ten thousand in breadth- The holy district had to be consciously 'offered' to God by the tribes. This suggests that the scenario in this chapter is more command than prescription of what God would force to come about. Ez. 45:1 seems to envisage a ceremony at which the returned exiles formally divided up the land according to these borders and also offered the district to the Lord. But they never did this.

Ezekiel 48:10 This holy district shall be for the priests: toward the north twenty-five thousand in length, and toward the west ten thousand in breadth, and toward the east ten thousand in breadth, and toward the south twenty-five thousand in length- This area was to be consciously given to the priests; see on :9. Hence LXX "Out of this shall be the first-fruits of the holy things to the priests".

And the sanctuary of Yahweh shall be in its midst- See on :8.

Ezekiel 48:11 It shall be for the priests who are sanctified of the sons of Zadok, who have kept My instruction, who didn’t go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray- But there is no record of the sons of Zadok keeping separate from the apostasy of the Levites in the time before the exile. We can conclude that they did have some faith, and this was counted to them for righteousness; hence "Zadok" means 'righteousness'. The sons of Zadok would sanctify others to work as priests, presumably because at the time of the restoration they were so few. Ezra struggled hard to get any Levites to return with him. And there is no evidence that the sons of Zadok ever did this at the restoration.

Ezekiel 48:12 It shall be to them an offering from the offering of the land, a thing most holy, by the border of the Levites- GNB "So they are to have a special area next to the area belonging to the Levites, and it will be the holiest of all". Again we see the intentional usage of the language of "the holiest of all" used about areas other than the most holy place. The impression given is that holiness will abound, and not be confined to a tiny area of 9 square meters; Zech. 14:20 likewise speaks of holiness abounding in the restored temple system. As noted on :9, this area was to be consciously given to the sons of Zadok; hence LXX "And the first-fruits shall be given to them out of the first-fruits of the land, even a most holy portion from the borders of the Levites". But this simply wasn't done at the restoration.

Ezekiel 48:13 Opposite the border of the priests, the Levites shall have an area twenty-five thousand cubits in length, and ten thousand in breadth: the entire length shall be twenty-five thousand, and the breadth ten thousand- The division between sons of Zadok, priests sanctified by the sons of Zadok and Levites all seems to contradict the idea that the faithful are and will eternally be 'king-priests' (see on Rev. 5:10). We conclude therefore that this situation describes what could have happened at the restoration, and not in the future Kingdom of the Lord Jesus.

Ezekiel 48:14 They shall sell none of it, nor exchange it, nor shall the first fruits of the land be separated; for it is holy to Yahweh- The situation envisaged is where sale and exchange of land is possible, although the Levites must not do so; which hardly sounds appropriate to the Lord's future Kingdom on earth. The original text is unclear regarding the "first fruits". The GNB offers: "none of it may be sold or exchanged or transferred to anyone else". The Levites were to be provided for, but did not own anything of themselves. And we in this age are to live in the spirit of priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5).  

Ezekiel 48:15 The five thousand that are left in the breadth, in front of the twenty-five thousand, shall be for common use, for the city, for dwellings and for suburbs- Ezekiel had earlier explained that Judah went into captivity because the priests made no difference between the holy and the "common" (Ez. 22:26 s.w.). The restored system was to correct that and maintain the separation. But Malachi makes clear that they did not do so.

And the city shall be in its midst- See on :8. There could be here the implication that the exiles had a choice as to where to build the city. Perhaps a new Zion was in view.

Ezekiel 48:16 These shall be its measures: the north side four thousand five hundred, and the south side four thousand five hundred, and on the east side four thousand five hundred, and the west side four thousand five hundred- The style here is alluded to in the description of the four square city of God in which there is no temple in Rev. 21:13. The idea seems to be that the essence of these prophecies will come true in a spiritual and eternal sense, but without the literal temple system (Rev. 21:22).

Ezekiel 48:17 The city shall have suburbs: toward the north two hundred and fifty, and toward the south two hundred and fifty, and toward the east two hundred and fifty, and toward the west two hundred and fifty- Whilst the Levites and sons of Zadok lived in the area around the sanctuary, it seems there were to be no other tribes living there. Judah, in whose territory Jerusalem previously stood, had a separate swathe of territory as an inheritance. To as it were lose Jerusalem would have been unattractive to the people of Judah who were in captivity hearing these words for the first time. See on :18.

Ezekiel 48:18 The remainder in the length, alongside the holy district, shall be ten thousand eastward, and ten thousand westward; and it shall be adjacent to the holy district; and its increase shall be for food to those who labour in the city- Revelation alludes to these prophecies, and effectively speaks of "the city" as being "the temple" (Rev. 3:12; 21 cp. Is. 66:6). "Them that serve the city" could refer to the Levites, who were "to serve the tabernacle" (Num. 4:24, 26; 18:6), which was now the temple / city. But the restored exiles considered that it was vain to serve God (Mal. 3:14,18), and so this just didn't come about at the restoration.


Ezekiel 48:19 Those who labour in the city, out of all the tribes of Israel, shall cultivate it- I suggested on :17,18 that nobody actually lives in the city; all the tribes have their inheritances elsewhere. The servants of the city may be the Levites. In this case we are to imagine them as under the Mosaic system, scattered throughout the tribes of Israel teaching there, and coming up by groups to work at the temple. One of their jobs will be to grow food for those working in the temple.

Ezekiel 48:20 The entire district shall be twenty-five thousand by twenty-five thousand: you shall offer the holy district foursquare, with the possession of the city- Again we note that the returned exiles were to consciously offer this area to God (Ez. 45:1); see on :9.

Ezekiel 48:21 The residue shall be for the prince, on the one side and on the other of the holy offering and of the possession of the city; in front of the twenty-five thousand of the offering toward the east border, and westward in front of the twenty-five thousand toward the west border, answerable to the portions, it shall be for the prince: and the holy offering and the sanctuary of the house shall be in its midst- 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.

Ezekiel 48:22 Moreover from the possession of the Levites, and from the possession of the city, being in the midst of that which is the prince’s, between the border of Judah and the border of Benjamin, it shall be for the prince- This is the territory which Ez. 46:18 says could be passed on by the prince to his sons for a lasting inheritance. But there is no legislation about how his sons could pass it on; over time, the area would have become endlessly subdivided between the prince's descendants. This is one of the many practical issues which arise in studying these records, just as the division of the land into horizontal swathes along straight lines requires more definition in order to be practically done. As noted on Ez. 43:11, had the returned exiles been obedient, then more details would have been given.

Ezekiel 48:23 As for the rest of the tribes: from the east side to the west side, Benjamin, one portion- Dt. 33:12 had stated that Benjamin would dwell close to Yahweh, and his portion is directly next to the sanctuary area. Jerusalem was originally situated on the border between Benjamin and Judah, although Judah took over Benjamin's territory at that point and effectively Jerusalem was considered as within Judah. But now, the tribal allotments were such that Jerusalem clearly belonged to neither of them. Such petty squabbles were to be forgotten in the restored kingdom.

Ezekiel 48:24 By the border of Benjamin, from the east side to the west side, Simeon, one portion- Simeon's original territory was surrounded by Judah; now they were to be as it were given territory which was once Judah's, and Judah was given  an inheritance to the north of where they had previously inherited. This would have been hard to accept for the men of Judah to whom Ezekiel was preaching. But all sense of pride and clinging on to the once significant things of this life is to be subsumed in the realities of the restored Kingdom. And we can learn a lesson from that.

Ezekiel 48:25 By the border of Simeon, from the east side to the west side, Issachar, one portion- Issachar had previously inherited to the far north of the land. Now they were in the far south. All we once held so dear is to be completely inverted in the inheritance prepared for us in God's Kingdom.

Ezekiel 48:26 By the border of Issachar, from the east side to the west side, Zebulun, one portion- Likewise Zebulun had previously inherited to the far north of the land. Now they were in the far south. Those who simply wanted to return to what they had once known were to be disappointed. See on :27.

Ezekiel 48:27 By the border of Zebulun, from the east side to the west side, Gad, one portion- This area would have been desert, as was the area promised to Issachar. To achieve an equality and fairness in the distribution of territory, there must be the implication that the climate and even topography would be changed. The restoration prophesies are full of promises of abundant harvests and blessing upon the physical land. But unless they were believed, Zebulun would have considered that this was not a good deal, and that the good news of this new kingdom held nothing much for them. And so it is with us. The promise of the Kingdom is only meaningful and good news for us if we have the faith to believe that things shall radically change on this earth, and the promised Kingdom will not simply be a return to how we have known secular life in this world; the old and familiar, like the previous inheritance and homesteads of Gad before the exile, will not be returned to us. Something far better is in store.

Ezekiel 48:28 By the border of Gad, at the south side southward, the border shall be even from Tamar to the waters of Meribath Kadesh, to the brook of Egypt, to the great sea- Tamar was apparently at the southern end of the Dead Sea. There would therefore be a diagonal line drawn from there to the "brook of Egypt". As noted on Ez. 47:18, this was a new definition of the promised land. It was intended for the time of the restoration, as in the full Messianic Kingdom, the entire territory promised to Abraham will be inherited.

Ezekiel 48:29 This is the land which you shall divide by lot to the tribes of Israel for inheritance, and these are their individual portions, says the Lord Yahweh- It was Ezekiel, as he sat with the exiles in Babylon, who was to divide the land by lot unto the various tribes. The tragedy of all the details recorded in Ezekiel 40-48, and the very reason for their being preserved to this day, is to show us to what great extent God has prepared potential things for His people, and yet they can be totally wasted if we don’t respond. In fact according to Mic. 4:10, it was God’s purpose to exile His people to Babylon, “and there shalt thou be delivered; there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies”. And yet they preferred to side with their enemies and to prefer non-deliverance from Babylon. The tragedy of it all is almost unthinkable, and yet this is what we do if day by day we chose the things of this world against the deliverance from this world which there is in Christ.

Ezekiel 48:30 These are the exits of the city: On the north side four thousand five hundred reeds by measure- "Exits" is literally 'goings out', the word used of Israel's going out from captivity in Egypt and Babylon. The association is in the fact that if they had truly gone out from Babylon, spiritually as well as literally, then this wonderful city would have been built.

Ezekiel 48:31 And the gates of the city shall be after the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates northward: the gate of Reuben, one; the gate of Judah, one; the gate of Levi, one- Nehemiah did his very best to bring the potential Kingdom of God about by urging the people to repentance and conformity to God’s will, such was his perception of what was going on; that the coming of God’s Kingdom was being limited by the apathy of his own people. See on Ez. 40:10. He arranged for 12 gates to be built in the wall, as Ez. 48:31-34 had commanded there to be. The twelve gates with the names of the tribes of Israel are spoken of in Rev. 21:12; but the language there is completely figurative. Seeing Judah had not built the city commanded in Ezekiel, it would as it were descend ready made from Heaven. But this is all figurative language. Seeing the literal fulfilment had been precluded by Judah's disobedience, God would fulfil the essence of it in spiritual terms.

Ezekiel 48:32 At the east side four thousand five hundred reeds, and three gates: even the gate of Joseph, one; the gate of Benjamin, one; the gate of Dan, one- Ez. 48:31-34 envisaged the 12 gates of Jerusalem being named after the 12 tribes of Israel. But it seems no accident that twelve separate gates of the city are mentioned in the restoration record- but they weren't renamed after the tribes of Israel. But the names of the city gates in Nehemiah were: valley (Neh. 3:13); horse (Neh. 3:28); east (Neh. 3:29); Miphkad (Neh. 3:31); water (Neh. 8:16); dung (Neh. 12:31); fountain (Neh. 12:37); Ephraim, old, fish, sheep and prison gates (Neh. 12:39). No wonder some wept when the rebuilt temple was finally dedicated- the pattern of Ezekiel's vision hadn't been followed, even on such basic matters as the names of the twelve gates of Jerusalem. The prophetic intention was that both the ten tribes and the two tribes would be restored. Hence the intended naming of the gates after all twelve tribes. But the ten tribes didn't return, and those of Judah and Benjamin who did still felt superior to the ten tribes, and didn't want the gates of their city named after them. And so petty factionism yet again precluded God's people from achieving their potential.

Ezekiel 48:33 At the south side four thousand five hundred reeds by measure, and three gates: the gate of Simeon, one; the gate of Issachar, one; the gate of Zebulun, one- The division of the tribes into four groups of three in a square formation recalls the cherubim visions of Ez. 1. The cherubim speak of the action of God on behalf of His people, and those who wished to could identify themselves with that work. The cherubim could have returned to Jerusalem and been manifested in the twelve tribes of a restored Israel. But this was precluded at the time by their disobedience and simple disinterest.

Ezekiel 48:34 At the west side four thousand five hundred reeds, with their three gates: the gate of Gad, one; the gate of Asher, one; the gate of Naphtali, one-  There is no reason to think [contra Henry Sulley in The Temple of Ezekiel's Prophecy] that there will be eleven gates on the West side. This is merely the fantasy of an architect.

Ezekiel 48:35 It shall be eighteen thousand reeds around: and the name of the city from that day shall be, Yahweh is there- Jerusalem was to be renamed "Yahweh is our righteousness" (Jer. 33:16 RV)- Ez. 48:35 likewise is a command rather than a prediction, that the city should be called "Yahweh is there". The cherubim of glory would have returned; but as Zechariah makes clear, Judah had to return to God, not just physically returning to Judah and making the motions of worship, but in repentance. The idea that Jerusalem will become the city where “the Lord is there” must be connected with Ezekiel’s early use of the phrase to describe how the Lord “was there” in the land of Israel before the Babylonian invasion (Ez. 35:10); all these details could have come true in Ezekiel’s time; but they did not. When they do so in the last days, the glory will visibly enter by the east gate in the person of the Lord Jesus. Using the prophetic perfect, God had prophesied that at the time of the restoration, He would come and dwell in rebuilt Zion (Zech. 8:3)- just as Ezekiel’s prophecy had concluded: “The name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there” (Ez. 48:35). Clearly, Ezekiel’s prophecies could have been fulfilled at the restoration; God was willing that they should be. But human apathy and self-interest stopped it from happening as it could have done.    

They should have been more committed to building the temple “that I may appear in my glory” (Hag. 1:8 RSV). The glory of Yahweh as described at the end of Ezekiel could have appeared in Haggai’s time- but this wonderful possibility was held back by Israel’s petty minded, self-satisficing laziness.