Ezekiel 43 – God’s Glory Comes to Ezekiel’s Temple
A. The glory of God comes to Ezekiel’s temple.
1. (1-2) The glory of the LORD comes through the eastern gate.
Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory.
a. The gate that faces toward the east: This was where Ezekiel’s visionary tour of the temple began (Ezekiel 40:6). Also, many years before, in a vision Ezekiel saw the glory of God depart from the temple, and it left through the east gate (Ezekiel 11:23).
i. “Although Yahweh could have entered the temple area through the northern or southern gate, the choice of the east gate is deliberate, leading in a straight line along the central spine of concentrated sacrality to the holy of holies.” (Block)
b. The glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: From the same direction Ezekiel saw God’s glory depart (Ezekiel 11:23), so now in his vision he saw it come to this new temple.
i. Without the glory of the God of Israel, Ezekiel’s temple was nothing more than a building. With the glory of God, it was a sacred place, a habitation for God and the radiance of His presence.
ii. It is hard to define the glory of God; we could call it the radiant outshining of His character and presence. The Bible says that God’s glory radiates throughout all His creation (Psalm 19:1-4). Yet there is also the concept of the visible, tangible glory of God – the shekinah – and this is scattered about the Old Testament. In many cases it is described as a cloud.
· This is the cloud that stood by Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22).
· This is the cloud of glory that God spoke to Israel from (Exodus 16:10).
· This is the cloud from which God met with Moses and others (Exodus 19:9, 24:15-18, Numbers 11:25, 12:5, 16:42).
· This is the cloud that stood by the door of the Tabernacle (Exodus 33:9-10).
· This is the cloud from which God appeared to the High Priest in the Holy Place inside the veil (Leviticus 16:2).
· This is the cloud of Ezekiel’s vision, filling the temple of God with the brightness of His glory (Ezekiel 10:4).
· This is the cloud of glory that overshadowed Mary when she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).
· This is the cloud present at the transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:34-35).
· This is the cloud of glory that received Jesus into heaven at His ascension (Acts 1:9).
· This is the cloud that will display the glory of Jesus Christ when He returns in triumph to this earth (Luke 21:27, Revelation 1:7).
c. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory: As Ezekiel experienced in his vision, the glory of God had an aspect that could be heard and seen. It sounded like the awesome and inspiring sound of a great waterfall (the sound of many waters). It looked massive and radiant (the earth shone).
i. “The voice of Jehovah was as the sound of many waters, but in speaking to Ezekiel it became the voice of a man, and declared that Jehovah had taken up His abode in the house, that He would dwell in the midst of Israel forever, and that she should no more defile His holy name.” (Morgan)
2. (3-5) Ezekiel’s understanding of and reaction to God’s glory.
It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw—like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city. The visions were like the vision which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the LORD came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
a. It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw: Ezekiel recognized this as the same display of glory he saw in a negative sense in Ezekiel 10-11 by the River Chebar. Then the glory of God came in judgment, to destroy the city.
i. Since we are not given details, we don’t know if Ezekiel saw merely a radiant cloud of God’s glory, or the elaborate throne-chariot of Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 8-11, complete with a series of wheels and active cherubim. Yet, Ezekiel knew that it was the same glory of God on display.
ii. To destroy the city: The specific verse referred to seems to be Ezekiel 9:8: Ah, Lord GOD! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?
b. I fell on my face: Though Ezekiel had seen this vision of the glory of God twice before (in Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10-11), it was in no way a familiar or comfortable sight. In holy reverence to God, he fell on his face. The sense is that Ezekiel didn’t choose to do this; it was a natural response. He had done the same before (Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; 9:8, and 11:13).
i. Fell on my face: “In reverence to his majesty, in admiration of his mercy, and in the sense of mine own unworthiness. The nearer any one cometh to God, the lower he falleth in his own eyes.” (Trapp)
c. The glory of the LORD came into the temple: The sense is that this happened fairly swiftly; there was no delay or hovering. When the glory of God left the temple, there was the sense of hovering, as if reluctant to depart (Ezekiel 10:18-19). God fills with His glory readily and only withdraws reluctantly.
i. “When Moses dedicated the tabernacle (Exodus 40) and Solomon the temple (2 Chronicles 5:11–14), the glory of God moved in, signifying that the Lord had accepted their worship and approved of their work.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “The Shekinah glory is never mentioned in connection with the restoration (Zerubbabel’s) temple, so that temple cannot be the fulfillment of what is predicted here.” (Feinberg)
d. Behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple: The Spirit brought Ezekiel to see the glory fill the temple, and the prophet’s repetition indicates a sense of wonder. It was as if Ezekiel said, His glory really does fill the temple!
i. “Now that the temple had been described, it was necessary to signify that the building was accepted by God.” (Feinberg)
3. (6-9) God’s claim to the temple and to Israel.
Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me. And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places. When they set their threshold by My threshold, and their doorpost by My doorpost, with a wall between them and Me, they defiled My holy name by the abominations which they committed; therefore I have consumed them in My anger. Now let them put their harlotry and the carcasses of their kings far away from Me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.
a. Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple: The voice of Yahweh Himself spoke from the temple, showing that the glory of God was the active representation of His presence. Where the glory was, God was; and where God is, He speaks.
b. While a man stood beside me: This was, presumably, the radiant man who was Ezekiel’s tour guide through the temple (Ezekiel 40:3-4); likely an angelic being. This is the last mention of the radiant man.
i. “Nothing more is said about him. He disappears mysteriously from view, leaving the prophet to concentrate on the message he is about to receive from the newly arrived divine king, who now begins to speak.” (Block)
c. This is the place of My throne… where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever: Yahweh proclaimed that He had come back to the temple to reign. It was His throne, where He would stand (the place of the soles of My feet), and where He would abide. This shows not only God’s abiding, even eternal relationship with Israel as a covenant people, but also shows God’s regard for that land. This will be especially evident in the millennial kingdom, the general context of Ezekiel 40-48.
i. And He said to me, “Son of Man”: This address “is not only typically Ezekielian; this is precisely how Yahweh’s first speech to Ezekiel had been introduced in Ezekiel 2:1.” (Block)
ii. “The words here are an echo of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:12, 13, 27.” (Taylor)
iii. Where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever: “The word forever made this declaration more far-reaching than anything which was spoken concerning the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon (Ezekiel 43:7a).” (Smith)
d. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name: This day of a renewed temple, God’s glory, and promise of near dwelling would also be a day of holiness for Israel. Their sinful practices of the past (such as idolatry on the high places) would continue no more.
i. In Ezekiel’s temple there is no dividing line between Jew and Gentile or men and women; the dividing line is between what is holy and what is profane (or common).
ii. “This passage reminds us that people who frequent ‘holy places’ ought to be ‘holy people.’ The Jewish remnant that returned to their land to rebuild the temple would need to take this message to heart, and we need to take it to heart today.” (Wiersbe)
iii. “Since this was to be in the fullest sense the residence of the Lord, there had to be absolutely nothing that would defile. They would follow the pollution of idolatry no longer. The modern mind has no concept of the depths of degradation and filth to which the idolatry of that day led, unless one has read somewhat widely in extrabiblical sources.” (Feinberg)
iv. With the carcasses of their kings: “Either the dead bodies of their deceased kings, buried too near the temple, less likely; or by the sacrificing of men to their idols, to Moloch; or idols are here called carcasses, as dead, stinking, loathsome things in the sight of God.” (Poole)
v. “It appears that God was displeased with their bringing their kings so near his temple. David was buried in the city of David, which was on Mount Zion, near to the temple; and so were almost all the kings of Judah; but God requires that the place of his temple and its vicinity shall be kept unpolluted; and when they put away all kinds of defilement, then will he dwell among them.” (Clarke)
e. When they set their threshold by My threshold… they defiled My holy name: When Israel thought of themselves living near or beside God, they did not honor and obey Him fully. God’s true desire was to dwell in their midst forever, and to do so as part of a new covenant transformation of Israel.
i. We note God’s solemn promise: I will dwell in their midst forever. The plain and clear meaning of these words challenges all who believe God is forever finished with Israel as Israel.
4. (10-12) God’s purpose for the detailed description of Ezekiel’s temple.
“Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple and its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, its entire design and all its ordinances, all its forms and all its laws. Write it down in their sight, so that they may keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them. This is the law of the temple: The whole area surrounding the mountaintop is most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple.
a. Describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: This states at least one of the reasons God gave this vision to Ezekiel. Through his description of the promised temple, down to the measure of its pattern, Israel would see how great the restoring love and grace of God was toward them. It would make them ashamed of their iniquities.
i. “The vision of the glory of the House was given in order to produce shame in the hearts of the people for those evil ways which had robbed them of their glory.” (Morgan)
b. Make known to them the design of the temple and its arrangement: Again, the very detail of the description was an assurance to Israel that this was real. Their restoration would be real. This made it important for Ezekiel to write it down in their sight.
i. The greater message for Ezekiel and the exile community was, God isn’t finished with you yet. He will gather, rebuild, restore, and bring His glory. Yet this message wasn’t communicated with fairy tales and wild stories, but with the prophetic declaration of real things that would surely happen.
c. This is the law of the temple: A foundational principle of Ezekiel’s temple was holiness. The law of the temple (said twice for emphasis) was the whole area surrounding the mountaintop is most holy. The presence of God’s glory abided in holiness.
i. Block titled the section of Ezekiel 43:12 through to the end of Ezekiel 46 as The New Torah. He translated the opening line of Ezekiel 43:12 as, this is the Torah of the temple. “Whereas most translations understand the word legally, and render torah as ‘law,’ the noun is derived from the Hiphil form of ‘to teach, instruct.’ Accordingly, ‘instruction’ is more precise etymologically. Ezekiel reflects long-standing Israelite tradition in associating ‘instruction’ with the priests (Ezekiel 7:26), particularly instruction in cultic and ceremonial matters.” (Block)
B. The altar of burnt offerings.
1. (13-17) The measurements of the altar.
“These are the measurements of the altar in cubits (the cubit is one cubit and a handbreadth): the base one cubit high and one cubit wide, with a rim all around its edge of one span. This is the height of the altar: from the base on the ground to the lower ledge, two cubits; the width of the ledge, one cubit; from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge, four cubits; and the width of the ledge, one cubit. The altar hearth is four cubits high, with four horns extending upward from the hearth. The altar hearth is twelve cubits long, twelve wide, square at its four corners; the ledge, fourteen cubits long and fourteen wide on its four sides, with a rim of half a cubit around it; its base, one cubit all around; and its steps face toward the east.”
a. These are the measurements of the altar: After the description of God’s glory and the promise of His abiding presence, Ezekiel went back to describing the place of sacrifice. Like every true altar of Yahweh, this altar points to the cross, and the finished work of Jesus Messiah upon the cross.
i. “Now that God has returned to the temple (Ezekiel 43:1–12), it is necessary for the prophet to provide ordinances that will regulate the temple’s use. The center of the temple complex is the altar, so the prophet begins with it.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “It is not surprising that He starts with the altar of burnt-offering in the centre of the inner court (Ezekiel 43:13, cf. Ezekiel 40:47). We too can approach God only through the blood shed on the altar of the cross.” (Wright)
iii. Some have tried to explain the design of Ezekiel’s altar by linking it to Babylonian altars. We can’t explain every detail of Ezekiel’s design, but as Block noted it was much more like Solomon’s altar than anything Babylonian: “The details of Ezekiel’s altar reflect either firsthand familiarity with the preexilic altar, or an ancient document or tradition describing it.”
iv. We must always remember that in all of Ezekiel’s temple and altar section, there is no command to build. Ezekiel only described what was. If this temple and altar are to be built and used (in the millennial period, as the author believes), then it will be God’s doing and not man’s.
b. The cubit is one cubit and a handbreadth: This was the same unit previously used to measure the temple (Ezekiel 40:5). It was about 20.5 inches (52 centimeters) long.
i. As with the description of Ezekiel’s temple, one may consult many of the visual diagrams and representations for a sense of the dimensions and structure.
c. This is the height of the altar: The dimensions show that the altar was large and that it was real. It had real, actual spatial dimensions. It was also tall, with estimates of its height from 20 feet (Wright) to 12 feet (Vawter and Hoppe).
i. Horns: “They were regarded as of the utmost sanctity and the sacrificial blood was smeared upon them (Exodus 29:12; Ezekiel 43:20); they were also regarded as places of refuge (cf. 1 Kings 1:50ff.; 1 Kings 2:28ff.).” (Taylor)
ii. Adam Clarke on two phrases in Ezekiel 43:15, the altar hearth: haharel, ‘the mount of God.’ From the hearth: “umihaariel, ‘and from the lion of God.’ Perhaps the first was a name given to the altar when elevated to the honour of God, and on which the victims were offered to him, and the second, the lion of God, may mean the hearth, which might have been thus called, because it devoured and consumed the burnt-offerings, as a lion does his prey.”
d. Its steps face toward the east: This was a hint that Ezekiel understood that when Israel was finally and fully restored to the land, and Yahweh’s covenant promises to them fulfilled in their Messiah, the Mosaic law would in some sense be set aside. In the law of Moses, it was specifically commanded that there be no steps leading to the altar (Exodus 20:26).
i. Toward the east: “As in the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon, the priests would always face west in their ministering (unlike the idolaters who faced the sun and worshiped it, Ezekiel 8:16).” (Feinberg)
2. (18-27) The consecration ceremony for the altar.
And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: ‘These are the ordinances for the altar on the day when it is made, for sacrificing burnt offerings on it, and for sprinkling blood on it. You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the Lord GOD. You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. Then you shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and burn it in the appointed place of the temple, outside the sanctuary. On the second day you shall offer a kid of the goats without blemish for a sin offering; and they shall cleanse the altar, as they cleansed it with the bull. When you have finished cleansing it, you shall offer a young bull without blemish, and a ram from the flock without blemish. When you offer them before the LORD, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD. Every day for seven days you shall prepare a goat for a sin offering; they shall also prepare a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without blemish. Seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it, and so consecrate it. When these days are over it shall be, on the eighth day and thereafter, that the priests shall offer your burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar; and I will accept you,’ says the Lord GOD.”
a. These are the ordinances for the altar on the day when it is made: Through Ezekiel and his vision, God instructed Israel how they should consecrate the altar for this temple to come.
i. The ceremony is presented as if it were Ezekiel himself who would perform it, the same as in Exodus 29, which was written as if Moses would perform the purification ceremony. As a priest, Ezekiel was qualified to represent the one who would, many years in the future, perform this purification ceremony for the altar.
ii. “Basic to the action described here is the aim of setting the altar apart for its holy function and cleansing it from every taint of the secular, a process which takes a full seven days.” (Alexander)
b. You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests: A series of sacrifices over seven days consecrated the altar, and it would then begin its normal service on the eighth day and thereafter.
i. As noted before (in Ezekiel 40), these may be fairly regarded as memorials pointing back to the work of Jesus. Animal sacrifices were never actually effective for the cleansing of sin, only as representations and shadows of the future reality fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah in His crucifixion. Even so, the literal presence of these sacrifices does not mean that they should or could be regarded as effective for the cleansing of sin. Much as the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Table is a powerful spiritual representation and memorial of Jesus’ work on the cross, these sacrifices can be regarded in a similar way.
ii. “The offerings presented thereon were meant to be memorials, much as the Lord’s Supper is no efficacious sacrifice but a memorial of a blessedly adequate and all-sufficient sacrifice for all time. Thus, whereas the sacrifices of the Old Testament economy were prospective, these are retrospective.” (Feinberg)
iii. “Old Testament believers weren’t forgiven because animals died, but because they put their faith in the Lord (Hebrews 11; Psalm 51:16–17; Habakkuk 2:4). Therefore, the use of animal sacrifices in the millennial temple no more minimizes or negates the finished work of Christ than these sacrifices did before Jesus died. It appears that the sacrifices will be offered in a memorial sense and as expressions of love and devotion to the Lord (Isaiah 56:5–7; 60:7). They will also bring people together for fellowship and feasting to the glory of the Lord.” (Wiersbe)
iv. Of the seed of Zadok: “Non-Zadokites were debarred from priestly office on account of their past idolatrous associations with rural shrines (Ezekiel 44:10) and were allowed only to act as temple servants.” (Alexander)
v. The priests shall throw salt on them: “The preservative qualities of salt apparently rendered it a perfect symbol of the permanence of covenant relationship. The addition of salt to the ritual served as a reminder to Ezekiel and the priests of Yahweh’s commitment to his people.” (Block)
vi. And I will accept you: “Through the Levitical offerings the sacrifices of Israel and they themselves as well were accepted by the Lord. Thus Ezekiel is not presenting a new administrative principle with God, for acceptance with God is on the basis of sacrifice.” (Feinberg)