Ezekiel 44 – The Prince and the Priests
A. The east gate and the prince.
1. (1-2) The shut east gate.
Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.
a. Then He brought me back: It seems at this point Ezekiel was led by Yahweh Himself, and not the radiant man of Ezekiel 40:3. Some believe the radiant man was the angel of the LORD, Yahweh Himself.
i. John Trapp drew this spiritual application from Ezekiel 44:1: “Christ must be followed, though he seem to lead us in and out, backward and forward, as if we were treading a maze.”
b. To the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east: This was where Ezekiel’s tour of the temple compound began (Ezekiel 40:6).
i. This gate shall be shut: “This verse has been adduced by the Roman Catholics to prove the perpetual virginity of the mother of our Lord; and it may be allowed to be as much to the purpose as any other that has been brought to prove this very precarious point, on which no stress should ever be laid by any man. Mary was a virgin when she brought forth Jesus.” (Clarke)
c. It was shut: For emphasis, the idea is repeated three times in this verse. The gate was shut and no man shall enter by it. The reason it was shut was because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it. It was a gate especially reserved for God Himself. It was separated for God’s use alone.
i. “Once Yahweh has made his grand entrance into his temple, however, no one else may enter here. Priests must enter the inner court to perform their services, but not even they may follow in Yahweh’s steps.” (Block)
ii. “The closure of the gate then is not a menacing symbol but an encouraging one… Since Yahweh entered the temple through this gate, it is unseemly that others should use it. Since God will never leave the temple again, the gate will remain closed.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
iii. On the temple mount in Jerusalem today, the eastern gate is completely closed, filled in with stone blocks. Yet this is not the fulfillment of Ezekiel 44:1-2; the gate mentioned here belongs to a temple compound yet to come.
iv. “This gate is not the ‘golden gate’ located in the old city of Jerusalem today, because the dimensions of the two temple areas are vastly different. The structures of the current ‘temple area’ will not exist in the millennial period.” (Alexander)
2. (3) The privilege of the prince.
As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way.”
a. As for the prince: Ezekiel wrote of a ruler, a prince, who would have special privilege regarding the gate. This ruler is likely David, whose future rule over Israel is mentioned several times in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:23-25, 37:25) and elsewhere (Isaiah 55:3-4, Jeremiah 30:8-9, Hosea 3:5). In Ezekiel 37:25 it is specifically written that David would be prince over Israel.
i. The identity of the prince is a matter of much discussion among Bible commentators and teachers. A few take it to be Jesus the Messiah, and some that he is a civil leader or a high priest.
ii. The fact that the prince must offer a sin offering (Ezekiel 45:22) and has sons (Ezekiel 46:16) means it is unlikely that the prince is Jesus Messiah.
b. He may sit in it to eat bread before the LORD: This gives us more indication that the prince is not the Messiah, who is also Yahweh Himself. Yet this prince has special access to the gate complex. The gate itself is not open to him, but he may sit in its chambers and vestibule there in fellowship with the LORD.
i. “The prince, Messiah’s representative in a special sense, will then have the privilege of sitting in the very gate where the Lord Himself will have entered. He will perform certain religious acts in the presence of the Lord.” (Feinberg)
B. Those admitted to the temple.
1. (4-5) Marking who may enter the house of the LORD.
Also He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD; and I fell on my face. And the LORD said to me, “Son of man, mark well, see with your eyes and hear with your ears, all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of the LORD and all its laws. Mark well who may enter the house and all who go out from the sanctuary.
a. He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple: Because the east gate was shut, Ezekiel was brought to the right and came through the north gate.
b. Behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: The glory Ezekiel saw fill the temple in Ezekiel 43:1-4 remained there. As promised, it would be His dwelling place forever (Ezekiel 43:7). Ezekiel’s reaction was as before; he fell on his face (Ezekiel 43:3).
i. “Remarkably, not a word is said about the high priest or the most sacred space of all—the holy of holies, the throne room of Yahweh himself.” (Block)
c. Mark well who may enter the house and all who go out from the sanctuary: God wanted Ezekiel to carefully note those allowed and those excluded from the temple. A similar kind of distinction is described as relevant to the eternal state (Revelation 21:7-8 and 22:14-15).
2. (6-9) Those excluded from the temple.
“Now say to the rebellious, to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “O house of Israel, let Us have no more of all your abominations. When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary to defile it—My house—and when you offered My food, the fat and the blood, then they broke My covenant because of all your abominations. And you have not kept charge of My holy things, but you have set others to keep charge of My sanctuary for you.” Thus says the Lord GOD: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel.
a. Let Us have no more of your abominations: God spoke to the people of Ezekiel’s own day, to the rebellious in the house of Israel. In light of the glory to come one day to the temple described by Ezekiel, Israel owed Yahweh their complete allegiance and the complete rejection of idolatry (abominations).
i. “The future Temple would be restricted to those who had complied with the initiatory commands of the Lord and who had surrendered their hearts to him.” (Smith)
b. When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh: In the past, they were disobedient by bringing in foreigners – those who had not accepted the covenant God made with Israel – and allowed them to serve in the temple.
i. “Under no circumstances should aliens or the uncircumcised in the heart or flesh serve in the sanctuary of Jehovah. This had been the sin of the past, and must not be repeated.” (Morgan)
ii. “It is clear from Ezekiel 44:5-8 that in the last days of Solomon’s Temple the priests had allowed anyone, even uncovenanted pagans, to act as priests and temple servants. Either they had been lazy or busy with their own affairs, and had hired others to do their work; or they had taken bribes from pagans who wanted to serve in the Temple, perhaps for the offerings that they were able to take home and resell.” (Wright)
c. You have not kept charge of My holy things: Israel did not care for the holy things God entrusted to them in His law, the temple, and their associated rituals. They let the ungodly keep charge of My sanctuary.
d. No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary: Because of Israel’s past sin in allowing those out of covenant with God to have leadership and participation in the temple, God promised that in His future temple there would be a true separation and those not in covenant could not even enter His sanctuary.
i. “The religions of the ancient Near East frequently used foreign captives as temple servants to aid the priests. The Lord’s rebuke of Israel in these verses reflected ancient Israel’s adoption of this practice.” (Alexander)
ii. Matthew Poole thought of these as mere visitors to the temple. “None of these, or such like, shall on any colour of pretense be brought into my sanctuary. Perhaps Solomon showed Sheba’s queen too much, we are sure Hezekiah showed the ambassadors too much, yet we read not that either of them showed the sanctuary.”
C. The laws of the priests.
1. (10-14) The Levites who were far from God.
“And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them,” says the Lord GOD, “that they shall bear their iniquity. And they shall not come near Me to minister to Me as priest, nor come near any of My holy things, nor into the Most Holy Place; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Nevertheless I will make them keep charge of the temple, for all its work, and for all that has to be done in it.
a. The Levites who went far from Me: God now spoke to the Levites, those who strayed from Yahweh along with the rest of Israel, going after their idols. This was true of the Levites of Ezekiel’s day, now in their exile.
i. The Levites: “They were specially appointed for tabernacle service, their duties including maintenance of the tabernacle, carrying the ark of the covenant, and restricted cultic service. According to Numbers 3-4 the last duty included assisting the priests in their temple service.” (Block)
b. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary: God promised a future restoration of the Levites who previously went astray. In the restoration of Ezekiel’s temple, they would be gatekeepers and servants (ministers) of the temple.
i. “Though lapsed, they shall not be altogether discarded, partly for the honour of the priesthood, but principally for the encouragement of such as, having fallen by infirmity, rise again by repentance.” (Trapp)
c. They shall bear their iniquity: Repeated twice, this phrase emphasizes that God held the Levites accountable for their sin and idolatry, and God would discipline them because of it.
i. I have raised My hand in an oath against them: “Sworn against them, that they shall suffer for this their iniquity. This lifting up the hand is the form of an oath, Exodus 6:8, Deuteronomy 32:40, Ezekiel 20:5.” (Poole)
d. They shall not come near to Me to minister to Me as priest: In Ezekiel’s future temple the Levites would not be allowed to perform sacrifices as priests. They would be allowed to perform the previously mentioned functions. This would be part of their discipline for previous idolatry, as they would bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed.
i. “Far from causing the Levites to gloat with pride over their assignment, this act of divine grace will precipitate a sense of shame and intense unworthiness over their restoration within the cult of Yahweh.” (Block)
ii. This fact of the Levites being disciplined for their prior sin during the time of Ezekiel’s temple demonstrates that this does not belong to the eternal realm, but to the millennial period.
e. Nevertheless I will make them keep charge of the temple: For emphasis, God repeated the principle. The Levites would not be excluded from all service relevant to the temple, only the work of priestly sacrifice.
i. “Yet mercy is not lacking, for they will not be excluded from all types of priestly ministry. It is only that they will lose the dignity of the higher services of the priesthood, such as were performed in the holy place or the first compartment of the tabernacle and temple.” (Feinberg)
ii. “These were menial tasks. Nevertheless, they were tasks which had to be done and the ordinary people were not permitted to do them, so we must beware of denigrating the duties of the Levites in Ezekiel’s temple. They have their counterparts today in all aspects of church life and doubtless then, as now, many reckoned it a privilege to be attending on the people of God in the more mundane details of their religion. After all, they were doing their duties by divine appointment.” (Taylor)
2. (15-16) The priests and their ministry to the LORD.
“But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord GOD. “They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.
a. But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok: Here God spoke to the sons of Zadok. The sons of Zadok were of the tribe of Levi (the Levites) and were of the family of Aaron (the priests). Zadok received the right to the priesthood in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 2:35). They were not like the other Levites in general, being noted for their faithfulness (who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me).
i. “The new priesthood is confined to the line of Zadok, who was a descendant of Eleazar, the third son of Aaron. Representatives of this line had evidently stood firm.” (Wright)
ii. “Zadok was the son of Ahitub of the line of Eleazar (2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Chronicles 6:7-8). He was faithful to David during the insurrection of Absalom (2 Samuel 15:24 ff.), and anointed Solomon as king after the abortive attempt of Adonijah to seize the throne (1 Kings 1:32 ff.).” (Feinberg)
b. They shall come near Me to minister to Me: With great emphasis, God declared that the ministry of the priests was fundamentally to God Himself. This is noted in the phrases, near Me to minister to Me… before Me to offer to Me… to minister to Me.
i. Seen in light of the new covenant, there is a spiritual application of this. Every believer is a priest unto God (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10). This charge to the sons of Zadok emphasizes the principle that believers in general (and God’s servants in particular) have their first service to God Himself. We do serve one another and a needy world for the glory of Jesus, but God first says to us, they shall come near to Me to minister to Me.
3. (17-19) The clothing of the priests.
And it shall be, whenever they enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments; no wool shall come upon them while they minister within the gates of the inner court or within the house. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat. When they go out to the outer court, to the outer court to the people, they shall take off their garments in which they have ministered, leave them in the holy chambers, and put on other garments; and in their holy garments they shall not sanctify the people.
a. Whenever they enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments: When the sons of Zadok came to perform their priestly service, they were to do it in the linen garments and linen turbans and linen trousers prescribed for the priests. The purpose of the linen was so they would not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat. God wanted His priests (ancient and modern, literal and spiritual) to serve Him in the peace and rest of the Spirit, not the sweat of human effort apart from God.
i. “The linen not only depicted purity by its whiteness, but its coolness kept the priests from perspiring and thereby becoming unclean.” (Alexander)
b. They shall take off their garments: When their service was over, they were to leave their special priestly “uniforms” behind at the temple.
i. They shall not sanctify the people: “To ‘sanctify the people,’ in this text, is to persuade them that they are sanctified by the touch or sight of the priestly vestments. The monks at this day make the silly people believe that they cannot be damned when they die if they be buried in a Franciscan’s cowl.” (Trapp)
4. (20-22) The outward displays of holiness for the priests.
“They shall neither shave their heads, nor let their hair grow long, but they shall keep their hair well trimmed. No priest shall drink wine when he enters the inner court. They shall not take as wife a widow or a divorced woman, but take virgins of the descendants of the house of Israel, or widows of priests.
a. They shall keep their hair well trimmed: Their hair was not to be shaved, but their hair was not to be long. They were to avoid extremes in either way.
i. “Like scarred skin, both the shaved head and long, unkempt hair were considered signs of disfigurement (cf. Leviticus 19:27). If the sacrificial animals were to be without defect or blemish, how much more those functionaries who stand before the holy God in service?” (Block)
ii. Nor let their hair grow long: “Priding themselves in it, as Absalom, giving ill example by such excess. Shall only poll their heads; when the hair is grown somewhat, they shall trim, cut the ends of their hair, and keep it in moderate size.” (Poole)
iii. “As women’s: some heathen priests nourished their hair to a great length. A shag-haired minister is an ugly sight: bushes of vanity become not such, of any men.” (Trapp)
b. No priest shall drink wine: They will not be under the influence of even the relatively mild wine of that day.
i. “They must be in full control of their faculties so as to offer intelligent worship to God, not using drink (or drugs?) to release their inhibitions (cf. Proverbs 31:4-5).” (Wright)
ii. “The prohibition concerning drinking wine is in agreement with Leviticus 10:9. What disastrous results such imbibing can have is clear from the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu.… The zeal of the priests, moreover, is to be holy and true, not induced by outward carnal stimulants.” (Feinberg)
c. They shall not take as wife a widow or divorced woman: The sons of Zadok in the days of Ezekiel’s temple must also observe the marriage regulations relevant to the priests of Israel.
5. (23-24) The teaching and leading work of the priests.
“And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. In controversy they shall stand as judges, and judge it according to My judgments. They shall keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed meetings, and they shall hallow My Sabbaths.
a. They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy: This was one of the fundamental duties of the priests of Israel. They were by both instruction and example to teach Israel the difference between the unclean and the clean.
i. “This verse conflates Leviticus 10:10-11, which first highlights the necessity of the priest to make these same distinctions, and then speaks of the priest’s responsibility to teach (hora) Israel all the statutes (huqqim) that Yahweh had communicated to Moses.” (Block)
b. In controversy they shall stand as judges: The priests of ancient Israel could also serve as judges or mediators. This was because they were supposed to be well versed in the laws and statutes of God, and able to apply them in given situations.
i. “The judicial role of the religious functionaries in Israel has a long history. Deuteronomy 33:10 perceives this role as a natural corollary to the Levites’ teaching responsibilities.” (Block)
c. They shall keep My laws and My statutes: The priests were also called to live lives of obedience to God. This was to be true of their appointed meetings for worship, teaching, and sacrifice and also of God’s appointed Sabbaths.
6. (25-27) The defilement of the priests.
“They shall not defile themselves by coming near a dead person. Only for father or mother, for son or daughter, for brother or unmarried sister may they defile themselves. After he is cleansed, they shall count seven days for him. And on the day that he goes to the sanctuary to minister in the sanctuary, he must offer his sin offering in the inner court,” says the Lord GOD.
a. They shall not defile themselves by coming near a dead person: As was true of the priests commanded by Moses, so it is to be of the priests in the time of Ezekiel’s temple. They are to avoid dead bodies and carcasses. Theirs will be a ministry of life, not death.
i. “There would be individuals entering the Millennium with natural bodies from the tribulation period. These, of course, would ultimately die physically, though physical life would be much longer during the Millennium (cf. Isaiah 65:20).” (Alexander)
ii. “Since death is viewed in Scripture as Levitically defiling, bringing to remembrance most forcefully the sin of Adam which introduced death into the human family, priests will have to be careful in their contact with the dead.” (Feinberg)
iii. “The Jews tell us that he who comes within four cubits of the dead is defiled; and the law, though it determine not at what distance such are defiled, it doth determine that they are unclean till evening by touch or coming near the carcass of any but man, and the defilement by coming near a dead man lasted seven days.” (Poole)
b. He must offer his sin offering: If the priest must have contact with a dead body (as in the case of a close relative), then he will have to follow the prescribed sacrifice for cleansing upon resuming priestly service.
7. (28-31) The inheritance and provision for the priests.
“It shall be, in regard to their inheritance, that I am their inheritance. You shall give them no possession in Israel, for I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering; every dedicated thing in Israel shall be theirs. The best of all firstfruits of any kind, and every sacrifice of any kind from all your sacrifices, shall be the priest’s; also you shall give to the priest the first of your ground meal, to cause a blessing to rest on your house. The priests shall not eat anything, bird or beast, that died naturally or was torn by wild beasts.
a. I am their inheritance: This principle was true in the days when the priesthood was established by Moses, and would also be true in the days of Ezekiel’s temple. They would have no true inheritance in the land of Israel; Yahweh Himself would be their inheritance.
i. “Like the Old Testament priests, the kingdom priests will not have an inheritance of land but will have the Lord as their inheritance and be able to live from the temple offerings.” (Wiersbe)
ii. By spiritual analogy, we can relate this to our inheritance in God. “We possess God as the flower the sunlight; as a babe the mother. All His resources are placed at our disposal… All the resources which have been placed at His disposal in His ascension and eternal reign are gifts which He holds for men.” (Meyer)
b. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering: Though they would not have the same land inheritance as the other tribes of Israel, God promised to provide for His priests. One way they would be provided for was to receive a part of what came to the temple as offerings. Portions of the sacrifices and the firstfruits will be given to the priest.
i. “The priests earn their living by doing the special work that God has given them, and their income comes from the offerings (Ezekiel 44:28-30). God still calls some to what we call wholetime service, and in giving for their support we are giving to God, as were the people who brought their offerings to the Temple.” (Wright)
c. To cause a blessing to rest on your house: God promised that even in the period of the millennial temple to come, there would be blessing upon those who gave to God’s work. The blessing would not only be financial, but it would rest on your house.
i. “Tithe and be rich. See Malachi 3:10.” (Trapp)
d. The priest shall not eat anything, bird or beast, that died naturally or was torn by wild beasts: Things that died naturally or were killed in some kind of accident must not be food for the priests. This would violate the principle of not touching dead bodies (Ezekiel 44:25), but also be an expression of their trust that God would provide. They will not have to scavenge for food as some animals might.