July 24, 2005 Volume 6, Issue 21
© 2005, J.W. Carter
It has been fourteen years since the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (Ezek. 40:1). Ezekiel's earlier prophesies concerning its complete destruction were ignored, the Jews refused to turn to God in obedience, and God's plan to remove the people from the promised land was fulfilled. By the time this prophesy of Ezekiel is experienced, any children who were taken into captivity are adults, and any adults who were taken captive are senior adults. The time period of an approximate generation has passed while the remnant of Israel remained in Babylonian captivity. The people are well-settled into the daily routine of their existence, one that was unimaginable prior to the destruction of Judah. The ancients believed that gods were regional in nature, influencing the lives of the people in the region who worshipped them. By their removal from Judah, the natural response of the Jews was to assume that their God had been defeated. Following the final siege of Jerusalem, Ezekiel witnessed the departure of the glory of God from the temple and reported the event to the people. With the city destroyed, and God's presence removed, many of the people felt homeless and godless.
What would the future hold for these people who based their identity upon the God of Abraham, a God who has seemingly deserted them? God has always preserved, protected, and encouraged the small remnant of those who remain faithful to Him. The purpose of the Babylonian exile was to preserve that remnant of followers, and it was through Ezekiel, Daniel, and other prophets, that God would encourage them during this difficult period.
Ezekiel had been receiving several visions from God that would each reveal a part of God's purpose and plan for His children. The apocalyptic literature style was employed by Ezekiel (and others) as a vehicle for recording these visions. This practice continued for almost a century, providing us with a good body of information on how to interpret such literature. In order to obtain the greatest amount of understanding when studying apocalyptic literature, it is best to have some knowledge of the literary style and the use it makes of imagery. Chapters 40:1 - 42:20 describe Ezekiel's vision of a new temple, a vast temple that God would prepare for those who follow Him. Ezekiel also saw the return of God's glory to this temple. From the temple flowed a river of life and healing. When one views these visions from a New Testament perspective, one can easily understand how the descriptions provided by Ezekiel so closely illustrate the New Covenant whereby God dwells in the heart of each believer, the new temple of the Holy Spirit, and the eternal LORDship such a tabernacle engenders.
Afterward he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looketh toward the east:
Ezekiel presents this portion of his vision from a vantage point within the new Jerusalem, the new city of believers that is both complete and eternal. A gate is a place of entrance to the city, and from someone within the city, it is a place to look outside of its walls. As Ezekiel looks out of the gate, he is looking to the east. Apocalyptic language uses compass points to impress concepts. For example, when something comes from the north in Jeremiah and Ezekiel's writings, that which comes is contrary to God's purpose (Jer. 6:22, 13:20, 31:8, 50:9, 50:41, 51:48; Ezekiel 26:7, 39:2, et. al.) This may come from the conflict that Judah had with all of its northern neighbors, including the northern kingdom of Israel.
When something comes from the East, that which comes brings peace and replenishment (Isa. 2:6, 41:2, 43:5, Matt: 2:1, 24:27, Rev. 7:2, et. al.) This may be a reference to the use of the Eastern gate of Jerusalem as the primary access point to the Kidron valley and the Jordan river. It was through this gate that the bulk of the goods for the city would pass. It was also through this gate that Ezekiel saw God's glory depart the Jerusalem temple (Ezek. 10:17).
And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.
The Israelites were quite familiar with the glory of God that Ezekiel describes. This is the pillar of fire that led the nation from Egypt through the wilderness, the same pillar of fire that resided over the tent of meeting and later over the temple in Jerusalem. It is this glory of God that Ezekiel saw depart from Jerusalem in a vision. The pillar of fire demonstrated God's presence to the people for about 800 years, and for those years it would descend into the temple holy of holy place where it would consume the sacrifice brought by the high priest on the day of atonement. Consequently, the return of the glory of God to the temple is paramount to the prospect of restoration to any kind of fellowship with God.
We can see the application of of His Glory in the hearts of every believer in the characteristics seen by Ezekiel. First, His voice was like a noise of many waters As His Spirit speaks through each believer, their voices combine as a huge noise. If one could imagine the sound of the shouts of praise from every believer, we can see the imagery used here. Under the New Covenant, the glory of God is not located over the temple in Jerusalem, but in the hearts of every believer, filling the whole earth with the light of His glory (Matt. 5:14-16).
This prophesy brings great assurance to those living in Babylonian captivity, even if they do not understand it as we can now do.
And it was according to the appearance of the vision which I saw, even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city: and the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face.
If the visions that Ezekiel is receiving are true, they will be consistent in their content and message. As Ezekiel describes this vision, he is reminded of those earlier visions (Ezek. 9:1 ff, and 1:4 ff). When he comes to realize that he is in the presence of God, he has no other response but to fall on his face. Falling prostrate before another was a cultural expression of complete submission, one that is still practiced today. It may be interesting to note than people fell prostrate before Jesus and before the apostles when they recognized them, and those who fell were asked by Jesus and by the apostles to stand. Though we deserve to fall prostrate before Jesus, He wants us to come to Him boldly. This demonstrates the close relationship that God wishes to have with those who love Him.
And the glory of the LORD came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east. 5So the spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house.
As Ezekiel looks to the east, the glory of the LORD came through the gate and entered the temple. Though the immense temple would be a place of spectacular beauty, such aesthetics cannot be compared with the sight of the glory of God filling the temple. In the 800 years of the presence of the Glory of God over the temple, its light shown over the temple and its surrounding area, entering the temple in the holy of holies on the day of atonement. The holy of holies was the innermost part of the temple, accessible only by the high priest on the high holy day. In Ezekiel's vision, the glory of the Lord is present in the inner court, the place where Jews would gather, demonstrating His renewed presence with His people. In the New Jerusalem, God's glory would be present with every believer.
And I heard him speaking unto me out of the house; and the man stood by me.
At this point Ezekiel hears a voice coming from the temple, and he makes it clear that this is not the voice of the man who is serving as his guide in this vision. This, and the language in the content of the message, makes it clear that this is the voice of the LORD speaking to Ezekiel. As impressive as the sight of the new temple, the new Jerusalem, and the glory of the LORD would be, it is the Word of God that would be truly important. The sights bring needed encouragement, while God's Word brings truth.
And he said unto me, Son of man, 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 for ever, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoredom, nor by the carcases of their kings in their high places.
Up to this point in Ezekiel's experience, the visions that he received were concerning God's judgment upon those who reject Him. These were prophesies that were meant to turn back to Him those who had left God in order that they might immerse themselves in this secular and pagan world. God clearly stated His judgment against those who choose to reject Him. Now that the prophesies concerning the destruction of Judah have been fulfilled, God takes Ezekiel in a new and unexpected direction. Those who remain in Babylon include the faithful remnant who never turned their backs on God, and remained steadfast in their love for God despite their own rejection by the bulk of Jewish society, including its political and religious leadership. It is these people who are in need of encouragement. It is not appropriate that they share in the judgment against those who turned against God. God's message to Ezekiel provides a context and interpretation of the vision he has received.
First, God states that He will establish a new throne, and a new place where He will dwell. This place will be in the midst of those who have been faithful to Him. Furthermore, this place will be permanent, a place that will last forever. Finally, it will be a place that cannot be defiled by man.
This description of the temple would be a mystery to the ancient Jews. No place made by human hands can last forever, and no object created by human hands cannot be defiled. Again, as we observe this description from the perspective of the New Covenant, we find its message consistent with the salvation that comes from the atoning act of Jesus Christ. God, in His power and grace, rebuilt the temple: one not made with hands. The temple is the tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and the New Covenant describes this place as in the heart of every believer. At the end of this earthly life, every believer will enter eternity with God in a place that cannot be defiled, for the spirit of defilement, the spirit of whoredom, and the spirit of death will not be in that place, but will be cast into the "outer darkness", the "lake of fire", that is to be separated from God's abode for eternity.
In their setting of their threshold by my thresholds, and their post by my posts, and the wall between me and them, they have even defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed: wherefore I have consumed them in mine anger. 9Now let them put away their whoredom, and the carcases of their kings, far from me, and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever.
God describes people who have made a decision. They have chosen to reside close to the place where God resides, yet they have also built a wall between themselves and God. We see the image of those who would be religious in appearance, but are not submitted to God's glory. Their thresholds and posts appear to be close to the temple. That is, their works appear to be religious and their testimony may declare their faithfulness, they profess to be righteous. These are not those who are pagans, who summarily reject God, but those who hold to a false religion, claim membership in the religious community, but do not have the Spirit of God in their hearts. It is these who, even as sons of Abraham, rejected God while claiming righteousness by their ancestry, and by their identification with the temple.
God looks past the works of man, and sees directly into their hearts. Those who profess righteousness but do not love God are quite evident to Him, and the destruction of the nation of Israel is a type of the destruction that comes upon all who reject God, including those who claim false righteousness. God will separate from Himself all of those who live in apostasy. However, God's offer of grace never fails. The faithful remnant are currently living in exile in Babylon, yet even these are living among the vast majority of Jews who still reject God. God's offer of salvation is open to all people, even those who are still living apart from him. God's promise, however, takes upon a subtle and dramatic change from that given in the covenant to Abraham. God's promise to Abraham and his seed was (1) to provide them a land, and (2) to keep them in it as long as they remained committed to Him. It was their fall from commitment that resulted in their loss of both the land and God's protection. God's new covenant is quite different: God promises to live forever in the midst of those who will come to Him in faith.
Thou son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. 11And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them. 12This is the law of the house; Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.
With this statement, Ezekiel is given a new task. Under the old covenant, faithfulness to God could be demonstrated by the keeping of the Law, though salvation was still by faith (Heb. 11). Note that the new covenant that God is making with His people makes no mention of Abraham, and no mention of the Law. In fact, there is no mention of any restriction upon those who would come to Him in faith. Ezekiel's new task is to take this new message to the people. The nature of God's covenant with man will change, now that man can clearly see the consequences of their apostasy. When they look at all of the unholy acts of their lives, they will be ashamed. All people will find that they have lived with sin in their hearts (Rom. 3:23). Ezekiel is to show the people the new form of the house, the new covenant that God will make with those who turn to Him in faith. Unlike the law, which the people could not possibly keep, Ezekiel is to bring to the people this new covenant with its ordinances that they can keep. The Law of Moses is replaced with the Law of the House, the new covenant of God's new tabernacle. The old tabernacle appeared to the people to be a structure of wood and stone. The new tabernacle will not be one made of human hands, but a permanent one in which God will dwell with all of His people.
From this side of the Cross of Calvary we can see that this tabernacle is the human heart, and every heart that is Holy will dwell with God in eternity. The sacrifices that were continually offered at the brick and wood tabernacle would be offered only one time for the sins of all people who would place their faith and trust in God.
How do we respond to Ezekiel's prophesy? This is one prophesy that was in the future of the ancient Jews, but is now history. It became history when the Son of God, the Messiah, the Creator and Judge of all creation came to earth in the Christ child, lived a sinless life, communicated God's message of grace to all people, and then laid down his own life as the sacrificial lamb that would take away the sins of all of those who ever had, and ever will place their faith and trust in God. Our response should be the same as those who heard Ezekiel's first report of this vision:
1. Admit that you are a sinner. We have all come short of God's glory, and should be ashamed of what we have done.
2. Place your faith and trust in God. The Law of the House is God's plan of salvation, offered to all who would place their faith and trust in Him.
God does not expect us to keep the law, for the entire body of God's word reveals that it is impossible to do so. Only Jesus lived a perfect life. However, when we come to Him in faith, His Holy Spirit comes to reside in our hearts, showing us on a moment-by-moment basis what is righteous, allowing us the choice to follow Him. When we do listen and follow the Holy Spirit we will find our life blessed by the blessings of His presence. When we choose to ignore the Holy Spirit we will experience the consequences of our rebellion. However, God's promise through Ezekiel reveals that His Spirit will never leave us. His Spirit will serve as a mark of our salvation when our days on this earth come to an end. With our names written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 20) or eternal future with God is secure.
Why would anyone choose to reject Ezekiel's prophesy? Why would anyone choose to reject the life, testimony, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? An eternity with God is certainly a suitable demonstration of God's love for us, and the assurance of his eternal presence can serve as tremendous encouragement as we go through the experiences we encounter in this pagan world.