Leaving the Temple behind, this chapter begins with a geographic overview. Each tribal portion is listed out, including their borders with one another. “The offering that you shall separate for the Lord, its length [shall be] 25,000 and its width 10,000 (Ezekiel 48:9).” In this, we see that like crops, and money, even the land itself will have a portion set aside for holy purposes. What would it look like if we did that with our lands now? If in every physical aspect of our lives, just like spiritually, we had to designate portions that were beyond our own control and self-important desires? Would it make us appreciative, mindful, selfless?
With this, the book of Ezekiel comes to an end. He’s the last of the major prophets, and this has been the last of the long books that I’ll be reading for a while. Starting on Sunday, I’ll begin with the minor prophets, so I’ll be starting new books fairly regularly for the rest of 2016. I can’t believe that I’m coming up on the 2 year anniversary of this project – thank you all for joining me in the journey!
As Ezekiel comes close to the end of his tour of the Temple, there seems to be a flood in the area. The water is described as starting as a trickle, and then reaching his ankels, knees, and loins. “And he measured one thousand, a stream that I could not cross, for the water was so high that it was water for swimming, a stream that could not be crossed (Ezekiel 47:4).” So Ezekiel is guided away, and subsequently told that the waters will eventually reach the sea, and when this happens, they’ll mix, and be healed. It will form a natural border for the land to be divided amongst the tribes of Israel. “And you shall inherit it, one as another, being that I lifted up My hand to give it to your forefathers, and this land shall be to you an inheritance (Ezekiel 47:14).” What I like about this sentiment is that an inheritance to me speaks of a gift, of something to pass on to each generation like a blessing, an obligation, an everlasting bond.
In this chapter we hear more about the worship that existed at the Temple in biblical times. No detail is too small for mention, and one in particular caught my eye. “But when the people of the land come before the Lord on the times fixed for meeting, he who enters by way of the north gate to prostrate himself shall go out by way of the south gate, and he that 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 whereby he came in, but he shall go out by that which is opposite it (Ezekiel 46:9).” What I like about this concept is that when I think about not being able to go back out the door that one originally came through, it seems to indicate that in the Temple, one could only move forward. I imagine that going to the Temple to make a sacrifice was such a transformative experience that upon exiting, a person couldn’t go back to being who they were before. They were a new person based on the encounter, which meant that they needed a new path towards their futures.
We’re still talking about the Temple, the land it will be located on and the sacrifices that will take place within. “You shall have honest scales, an honest ephah, and an honest bath. The ephah and the bath shall have one volume, the bath shall contain a tenth part of the homer, and a tenth part of the homer is the ephah; according to the homer shall be its volume (Ezekiel 45:10-11).” Ok, so these verses contain a lot of weird words, but the sentiment is what I want to focus on. We see here that there’s an emphasis on honesty and equality. In the ancient world, and frankly in many parts of society today, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising for such items to be weighted or irregular in order to cheat one of the users. But in God’s house, things needed to be precise and accurate, so these small details are taken into account and formalized.
God finishes showing Ezekiel the Temple in all its grandeur, and shows him His own glory as well. “And he brought me by way of the Northern Gate before the House, and I saw that behold the glory of the Lord filled the House of the Lord, and I fell upon face (Ezekiel 44:4).” Ezekiel is understandably overwhelmed by this experience, which even Moses didn’t fully have. Moses was able to feel God’s presence passing his cheek, and even that was overwhelming. So imagine seeing God filling this space, and the power that such an experience would have had.
The chapter goes on to describe the role of the priests in the Temple. The Levites will be its caretakers, having not been given a portion of the land. Instead, the direct service of God is their inheritance. “And My people shall they teach the difference between holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the impure and the pure (Ezekiel 44:23).” This comes up in both grandiose and minute details – interaction with the dead, who they can marry, how their hair should be cut. I think it’s all about mindfulness and making every aspect of life an opportunity to create meaning and connection.
Ezekiel is standing in the east gate of the Temple. “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east, and its sound was like the sound of abundant waters, and the earth shone from His glory (Ezekiel 43:2).” This verse, and the imagery that it evokes, brings to mind for me the duality of the nature of God. There’s the glory, the power of God that’s incomparable to any other force on earth. But for me personally, the concept of the sound as being like the sound of the waters brings to mind an image of comfort, soothing waves. I definitely see God as fulfilling that dichotomy, of simultaneously being mighty and intimate in His relationship with each of us.
More measurements, and an explanation. “And he said to me, ‘The northern chambers and the southern chambers, which are below the fortress, they are the holy chambers where the priests who are near the Lord will eat the most holy sacrifices; there they shall lay the most holy sacrifices and the meal offering, and the sin offering, and the guilt offering, for the place is holy (Ezekiel 42:13).” The Temple was the center of Israel, the heart of religious, public, and civil life for the Jewish people. I’ve been thinking a lot about civil religion today. For the American people, voting and the democratic process are our civil religion. Today, the country is reeling from the results of yesterday’s election, and the news that Donald Trump is officially the president-elect of the United States. Personally, I’m shocked. This is not the result that I wanted, nor is it what I thought would happen. But it’s our reality, and as a believer in our democracy and the civil religion that is the democratic process, we have to accept this outcome. In Temple times, the priests were the catalysts for the sacrifices, the intermediaries between the people and God. Democracy gives us a hands on role in shaping our own future, and now it’s our job to work to co-create the tomorrow we want to wake up to.
The description of the Temple continues. “And he brought me to the Temple, and he measured the pillars, six cubits wide from here and six cubits wide from there, the width of the tent (Ezekiel 41:1).” We get more dimensions as Ezekiel is brought to the Holy of Holies, the heart and center of the Temple, and therefore of the Jewish people. If I were better at visualizing things, I’m sure that this would give me a true reading of the grandeur of the interior and exterior of the Temple, but within my limits, all I can do is keep reading about these pillars and those cubits. When I go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the last remnant of this massive structure, and how it must have impressed and inspired everyone who saw it. We only see the shadow, and it draws us in.
Time check! “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, in the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year, after the city was smitten, on this very day the hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me here (Ezekiel 40:1).” God brings Ezekiel to Israel, on a mountaintop, and he sees a man who looks like copper, standing in a gate. The man is the deliverer of the prophecy. He gives lots of measurements, specific dimensions of the Temple. Things get so intricate that one can really picture themselves standing in the Outer Court, the Inner Court, at the height of the grandeur of the Temple.
“And I shall publicize My glory among the nations, and all the nations will see My judgement that I performed and My hand that I place upon them (Ezekiel 39:21).” If there’s one thing that I’ve been learning through this daily reading, it’s that many of our emotions as humans, even the ones that seem the most petty, are mirrored by God much of the time. In this case, it appears that God wants to ensure that He gets credit for His actions. As someone who is perhaps too preoccupied with always getting the credit for my successes as well, it’s interesting to see if the concept of being made in God’s image extends to such seemingly human emotions and behaviors.