Have you ever gone somewhere you had no desire to go, only to find that once you got there, this was exactly where you most wanted to be? That’s what I’m hoping I’ll find at the end of Ezekiel today, because here on the front end, I’m feeling just the opposite.
God gives Ezekiel another vision, one important enough to occupy the last nine chapters of his book. I’ve gotta say, I’m not eager to dive into a vision that goes on and on in what feels to me like the meaningless, measurement details of a building that doesn’t exist.
But I’m a believer in God’s words. I believe if God goes on and on about something, he’s got a good reason, even if I don’t quite see it from the get-go. I feel like Nancy Drew, sleuthing out clues, wondering what they mean, and hoping this will make sense by the end. Here goes.
The vision happens on a specific date in a particular place. It’s the 25th year of the exile in Babylon, 14 years after Jerusalem has fallen, on the 10th day, “on that very day the hand of the Lord was upon me and he took me there…to the land of Israel…on a very high mountain,” 40:1-2.
This is an actual day in history, not an undesignated time period that Ezekiel can’t quite remember. He’s taken to Israel (also called Judah) where he can see a city. He doesn’t say it’s Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is what his listeners would have expected, since Jerusalem is where they were from. The fact that he doesn’t name it makes me think he doesn’t necessarily recognize it as Jerusalem, though he does recognize the geography of Israel.
Clue 1: I learn that this vision really happened.
Ezekiel was expected when he gets there and is given a task to do. There’s a man standing, waiting for him, “whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand.” The man tells him to pay close attention to what he’s about to see and hear, because the reason he’s been brought there is so Ezekiel can “tell the house of Israel everything you see,” 40:3-4. This man was most likely an angel, since his appearance is “like bronze,” a description used of other angels in other visions, Ez 1:7, 13.
Clue 2: I learn what Ezekiel is supposed to do: tell the vision to the exiles, and by inference, to anyone who read it after them.
The angel has tools of measurement in his hands–a rod and a linen cord. The linen cord and rod measure cubits and rods, a cubit being 18 inches and a rod (or reed) being 11 feet. (minuteswithmessiah.com/question/reed.html). These are tools of measurement the exiles would have been familiar with, and their use is so specific, it’s clear that there is meaning here to understand, though I don’t know what it is, 40:3.
Clue 3: I learn that something will be measured with exact measurements.
While Ezekiel watches and takes mental notes, the angel begins to measure a wall that “completely surrounds the temple area.” This is the first mention of a temple and this wall. The wall is a rod high and a rod thick, so it’s 11 feet high and 11 feet thick, 40:5.
He continues to the gate facing east and measures its threshold, which is 11 feet deep. From there he goes on to measure alcoves and projecting walls and porticos, as well as the other gates, and honestly, I’m lost in the drafting and details, but this much I understand: this is an enormously strong and sturdy wall. It has a height and depth of 11 feet, which is taller than the ceiling in the room where I sit and almost as wide, 40:5-27.
There are 22 verses of measuring details devoted to the wall and the gates and all the rest of the connecting parts as well as the rooms of the outer court along this wall. Someone with more patience than I might want to scale the parapet heights and plumb the portico depths for meaning, but I’m content to note, again, that all of this measurement must mean something. I’m just not sure what.
Clue 4: I learn there’s a massively thick wall surrounding this temple with equally massive gates, and there are other parts connected to it that are to scale with it.
The projecting walls are decorated with palm trees. So far Ezekiel has described architecture and the math involved in measuring it. But here he says that parts of the wall are decorated with palm trees. There’s intentional beauty here, and the chosen decorative emblem in this outer area is the palm tree, 40:16.
My ears perk up. A palm tree is well known for its many qualities, among them its resilience and long life, as well as its usefulness. Palm trees were the symbol for life in ancient Assyria, and in the Bible were a symbol for praising God–Jesus was welcomed to Jerusalem with palm branches–and of flourishing life, Ps 92:12 (thespruce.com/fascinating-facts-about-palm-trees-2736717).
Clue 5: I learn that this is not just an enormously strong wall, it’s also beautifully decorated with a tree symbol of the earth.
The angel moves into the inner court of the temple and measures. It’s a square of 150 feet–half a football field. This would be the exterior hardscape, where people gathered when they came and offered sacrifices at the temple. The altar for sacrificing animals was here and this is where the levites played music, 40:28-37, 47.
The angel measures everything else connected with the inner court–its gateways that are decorated with more palm trees, and the slaughtering and washing rooms for the sacrifices. Ezekiel describes the equipment there, laid out like a surgical room it seems to me, but without any animals or any priests to process them, 40:38-47.
Clue 6: I learn that while the temple has everything considered important for use, it isn’t in use as a temple in the vision.
Then the angel measures the temple building itself. The front doorway is 15 feet wide and 7.5 feet deep. The outer sanctuary and the inner sanctuary with the Most Holy Place are the rooms that comprise the main building. The outer sanctuary was 60 feet x 30 feet, and the inner sanctuary was 30 x 30 feet. The exterior walls of the building were 9 feet thick, 40:48-41:5.
The walls inside the temple are made of wood and are carved with alternating cherubim angels and palm trees along all the outer and inner sanctuary walls. They’re carved into the double front doors and the double doors of the Most Holy Place, too. Two faces of the 4-faced cherubim are seen, one is human, the other a lion, and they each look toward the palm tree beside it, 41:15-26.
Cherubim were used for decoration inside the temple building only. The people would gather outside, but only the priests who were consecrated were allowed inside the temple building, because it was holy and represented the place of God’s presence. The cherubim were used as decorative symbols for heaven since they were believed to surround God’s throne. Ex 25:20, Ps 99:1.
Clue 7: I learn that the the temple building itself is also massive and especially beautiful, decorated with symbols of both heaven and earth.
I want to get perspective on the size of a 15 foot wide, front door threshold and a 9-foot thick wall, so I check in first with fantasy basketball and learn that the front doorway is wide enough for two NBA basketball players to lie down, lengthwise head to toe, and still have room for two basketballs. At 9 feet, the walls are more than 13 times the thickness of an 8 inch standard exterior wall of today, wider than a one ton dually truck’s cab. If it were possible, a dually would have enough room to drive on top of the walls, (fantasybasketball101.com/nba-average-height/; https://www.quora.com/How-long-and-wide-are-pickup-trucks?share=1).
There’s a lot more measuring in these chapters, but you get the idea.
I review my clues: There’s a real vision from God of a real temple building of enormous proportions; Ezekiel is given the task of telling the exiles about it; it’s all set up for use and yet isn’t in use; it’s intricately decorated with cherubim and palm trees, symbols of heaven and earth. The clues leave me with a lot more questions than answers, but one thing seems clear: this was a huge temple, much larger than the one that was burned in Jerusalem. Was this a blueprint for the temple they will one day build to replace it? Or are these measurements intended to communicate something else altogether?
While the design and purpose of this building would have felt very familiar, the size and majesty of it is unlike anything the exiles would have known. It would have been a mind blowing experience to sit and listen to Ezekiel’s description of a building with measurements beyond their imaginings, an obvious replacement of the temple they lost, only super-hero-sized, or maybe it’s more double-Goliath-sized.
The destroyed temple was designed to connect worshippers to God with rituals of sacrifices and cleansing, but there are no people bustling about in this visionary temple. There are no animals here. No blood. And it’s so large a structure, it couldn’t be built on the site of Solomon’s temple–it wouldn’t fit, (enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-40/).
So if it’s to be built, the question is where? And why is this vision given to the exiles now, of all times? If it’s 14 years after the fall of Jerusalem, then it’s 56 years before the exiles return. That’s a long time to sit on a set of blueprints.
At the time of the vision, it was nearly Passover. In fact, if Ezekiel was using the religious calendar, this would have been the exact first day of the preparation days for Passover (enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-40/). Even if they hadn’t celebrated Passover faithfully in Jerusalem before they left, and even if they hadn’t celebrated it in exile, it still was an important event in their history and tradition. It was a celebration of their being saved by the lamb’s blood on the doorposts in Egypt, and as such, was a joyful season for them, something like Christmas.
Losing the temple was like losing the heart of their homeland. The temple was where the community gathered and connected–exchanged news, got married, circumcised babies, got advice about rashes, settled disputes, made financial agreements, sacrificed animals, got cleared after illness, and ate together. It was where they worshipped God, too, until their worship became polluted by the idol worship just outside of town, that is, until it actually moved inside the temple. But that’s not the point.
The point is, if there ever was a time to feel sentimental about your former home and culture and what you’ve lost that’s dear, it would be now, 25 years after captivity and a few days before Passover. Even if they don’t have plans to celebrate it, I’m guessing they’d be remembering the temple on this meaningful day.
Ezekiel’s vision on this one day-of-all-days before Passover was God’s very intentional reminder of his love, a gift of consolation and hope. It let them know they weren’t forgotten and that their connection with him would one day be restored by a new and more glorious temple, the likes of which they just cannot imagine. There will be a new temple! There will be celebrating and reunion! We will be home! Super-sizing the temple measurements was a way to communicate the surpassing glory of the better temple that is coming.
And something snags, and I think I’m finally getting a clue. Are you tracking, too?
Jesus said he was the temple. When the Jews asked him what gave him the authority to kick the money changers out of the temple, he said “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They didn’t understand and said it had taken 46 years to build the temple. If it’s knocked down, how could Jesus raise it in just three days? “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said,” Jo 2:13-22. Jesus was the better temple, the temple to end all temples, and his body was a better sacrifice. Broken and bleeding, he offered an atonement for sin once and for all, never to be repeated, He 10:10.
Why all the measuring of the visionary temple? I’m guessing the measurements told them there was a real temple coming of such size and magnitude, such greatness, they just wouldn’t believe it. How could they know that it would be made with human flesh and blood and house God himself, walking around on earth? No wonder Ezekiel’s temple was empty. Since Jesus has come, there’s no need for animal sacrificing. Jesus was the sacrifice all the others pointed to.
Jesus is the one through whom we have access to the Father, the one who tore the curtain between us and God. He was the Gate into the pasture, the Door into God’s presence, the Bread of heaven broken, the Good Shepherd who laid his life down for his sheep. All the analogies of Scripture find their fulfillment in him, who is the all-in-all, Co 3:11.
Hebrews is about Jesus as the better high priest, the one all others pointed to, the one whose sacrifice only needed offering once instead of every year, the one who sat down after he rejoined the Father because there was no more work that needed doing, “But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” He 10:12.
Some think the vision is of an actual future building that will be built on earth or is a description of a building that already exists in heaven, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel 40/). But these interpretations seem to ignore what Jesus himself said: he’s the temple. That’s the lens for interpreting any reference to the temple, whether it’s the tabernacle in the desert, Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, or the temple of Ezekiel’s vision. Jesus is the temple in heaven that the Jerusalem temple was a model of, He 9:24.
Does it matter how Ezekiel’s vision is interpreted? Maybe not in the grand scheme of salvation. But which interpretation brings Jesus most glory?
The temple in the vision sounds like a fortress. And I remember he is our stronghold, our high tower, where we can always run for shelter and help. The decorations of palm trees and cherubim–those earthly and heavenly symbols–remind me that Jesus was the God-man of both heaven and earth and was beautiful in his service. The sheer size and space of the temple remind me of his unlimited capacity to bring all his sheep into the fold and see to it that they connect with the Father.
Why would God use the metaphor of a temple rather than just tell about the Messiah as a person? The vision of the temple is suited to the exiles frame of reference. Their best understanding of what Jesus would one day do for them–provide constant communion with God while experiencing connection with one another–would have been in their experience in the temple. I think this is why God used the metaphor of a massive temple building. How else could they comprehend a Savior who would do for them infinitely more than what the temple did?
But we can comprehend him. In the hindsight of Jesus having come, we see his “better temple.”
Jesus’ body broken, Jesus’ blood spilled–these made the way for the Spirit to move into God’s people and clean them up and create in them new hearts to love and serve him. Everywhere they are, Jesus’ body is, too, doing the work of faith around the world–a living, breathing church body, a spiritual building empowered by God himself.
I think the vision of the temple was given as a pep talk for the exiles in Babylon. And I can almost hear ‘Zeke say, “We’ve really blown it. But the day is coming when we’ll have everything we love about the temple, only better. We’ll be spotless before Jehovah God. We’ll have all our longings for relationship fulfilled. And we’ll be home and all together. This is the best news ever! It’s gonna be better than we can dream. But we gotta press on in hope and not give up.”
One day Paul would say pretty much the same thing–
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant,” Col 1:21-23.
We live in such a privileged time, with the entire Bible at our fingertips and with Jesus’ life as a lens of understanding into it. We see the fullness of God’s plan through his church unfolding better than at any other time in history. As techy as we are today, immediate mind connection with the flick-of-a-thought still hasn’t been duplicated, but this is the 24/7 access Jesus gave us to God at the cross.
There’s no place I’d rather be.
James is direct. He doesn’t beat around the bush but goes right to the heart of human relationships–what causes fights and arguments. He says they happen because we can’t have what we want, and we don’t think to ask God for it. The implication is that we insist on getting it from one another, so we fight and argue.
And when we do think to ask God, we ask for self indulgent things to please ourselves, not to please God. The implication is to ask God for what pleases him instead. It’s not things God’s predominantly concerned with. It’s hearts, v 8. So rather than asking for a yearly vacation, ask him for a relationship with him that’s a daily vacation, for “he gives us more grace,” v 4.
A few verses down, he tells how to come to God. Instead of fighting for what you want, James says to humble yourself and ask God instead. Here’s how:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail.
Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and he will lift you up,” Js 47-9
James gives us what looks like a 6-step sequence for coming to God, but steps implies a progression of closeness that (for me) misses the beauty of the immediate access we have to God because of Jesus. So I think of James’ words as more like a description of the merry-go-’round of relationship with God. I can jump on at any point and be connected, and all of them are equally vital places for jumping on.
–Submit your heart to God in faith and trust.
–Fight off the tricks Satan brings. Here are just a few that haunt each jump-on, “Look out for number 1,” “God’s not gonna show up,” “What I did isn’t all that bad,” “What if I get overlooked?” “I’ve always been a mess.”
–Come near to God, believing that he comes near to you, too.
–Repent of sins and grieve them to the point of emotion. Confession should move us.
–Humble yourself before him.
–Allow God to “lift you up.”
While all of these are hard, the last one is hardest for me, God. It feels humble and righteous to wallow in my sin a while. Help me to repent quickly and often, and to turn from it just as quickly and celebrate forgiveness. Thank you that because Jesus has suffered for sin, I don’t have to.
Thank you for cranking up the music.
These verses describe the access we have to God because of Jesus, “the stone the builder’s rejected,” v 22. Because of his sacrifice, we get to enter through him, “the gate of righteousness,” and go right on up to the altar of God’s presence, v 27. I like to think that I get the backstage pass to the party in the dressing room.
This is a psalm of celebration with words that pulse with joy: “give thanks,” “marvelous,” rejoice,” “be glad,” “success,” “blessed,” “we bless you,” “his light shines on us,” “boughs in hand,” “festal procession,” “exalt you,” “he is good,” “his love endures forever.”
What does the writer celebrate? He celebrates his access to God. God answered his cry for help and saved him, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation,” v 21. His crying out and God answering is the connection Jesus enabled.
The psalmist’s family of God celebrates with him, “it is marvelous in our eyes…let us rejoice and be glad…with boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar,” v 23-24,27. They’re all moved in heart and body to praise.
The flick-of-a-thought immediacy of prayer is miraculous. When is the last time I celebrated it like this? The psalmist and his fellow worshippers are moved emotionally in their worship. Does worship move me?
My take away today is Jesus, the torn curtain, the open door, the backstage pass, so I never have to wait outside and wonder where I stand with God or when he’ll find time for me. Jesus gives me immediate access to God whenever, wherever, however I choose.
I see Jesus in the magnificent temple of Ezekiel, the strong and sturdy one whose work to connect me can never be undone. I find a guide in James for how to come to God–using my backstage pass to repent and party. And Psalms reminds me of the joy and delight of being connected to God.
Thank you, God, for your glorious Son