Ezekiel chapter 43 describes the return of the Lord’s glory to the site of the newly rebuilt temple. In computer programming languages, the key word “IF” is very powerful as it represents a conditional set of actions based on a choice or decision point. Embedded in this chapter, in many translations is the word “IF”. Some translations of this chapter of Ezekiel use the conditional statement “When” – somewhat more optimistic, but still an implied decision point. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Firstly, Ezekiel has brought us to his crowning (almost) ending of his visionary vista of reward to the faithful. In his vision, the Temple has been rebuild according to the new specifications, all preparations have been made by a faithful people, and the glory of the Lord is seen returning through the East facing gate. Once God has taken up residence, the East gate is to be closed and no one is to ever traverse that gate again – though the prince may pray from that gate….but no one else.
Now, it is important to read what Ezekiel states in verse7, “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.” It is a very specific indication. This place, this temple, rebuilt exactly as specified, and sanctified exactly as specified, manned by the priesthood exactly as specified is the place of God’s throne and where His feet will walk. The corollary is that if it is not exactly this place, then it will not be the place of God’s throne.
Why is that important?
It is significant because this sets up an ideal set of circumstances which will meet God’s indication of faithfulness with regard to the people of Jerusalem now in captivity. There is also that pesky “IF” clause in verse 11 eg. “…If they are ashamed of all they have done,…” they will adhere to these specifications as detailed in Ezekiel’s vision. It is a test of faith to restore the centerplace of faith according to these instructions. This was the plan, this was the vision, this was the end goal.
In reality, what actually happened was very different. Recorded in Ezra chapter 3 we find that the returning people of Israel took a different course of action. This is described in verse 2: “….built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.” In other words, they eschewed the instructions of Ezekiel and went back to doing things according to the way Moses described. There is also indication in the same chapter of Ezra that the people began reconstruction after the manner of David, again not Ezekiel.
Finally, Ezekiel specified a line of priesthood from the family of Zadok. In actuality, the people resumed usage of the entire Levitical priesthood as described by Moses. And they built the alter and began offering burnt offerings according to the Mosaic tradition. Ezekiel had detailed a series of offerings specifically designed to dedicate the alter, and then had envisioned a more streamlined set of offerings for the people. None of that happened.
So, what do we conclude from this?
Well, an entire generation had been raised in the time between Ezekiel’s vision and the time the people were allowed to return to their homeland. That means the interim generation had to have been taught about their religious traditions. Given that Ezekiel was performing his ministry for the first 25 years of their exile, and he detailed his visions and explained them at length to the religious leaders remaining with the people. Since the people chose to go with the traditions of Moses rather than the teachings of Ezekiel, we can only surmise that there must have been a power struggle among the religious leaders of Israel while in captivity, and that the traditional hold-outs won out over the new visions of Ezekiel.
However, as determined earlier in this thesis, Ezekiel was no ordinary priesthood member, nor was he to be considered an ordinary prophet. He was a prophet beyond reproach because of his education and standing as a Priest of the Temple, something no other prophet can claim. His vision was very specific and detailed as would be expected by one so educated.
But the conclusion is inescapable. Since the people chose to rebuild the temple after the manner of Moses and David, and not after the new vision of Ezekiel, then the rebuilt temple did not meet the requirements of faith which God had stipulated with his “IF” statement. As such, the second temple or rebuilt temple could not have been the place as described in chapter 43 verse 7 where God says, “…this is the place of my Throne…”
And if that incarnation of the temple was not the holy and sacred ground where God walked, then certainly the third incarnation, Herod’s Temple, could not have been either. The fact that the temple was destroyed again and that Herod’s Temple was also destroyed gives makes this claim credible. Additionally, at the end of Ezra chapter 3, it says the old men wept when the foundation of the rebuilt temple was laid. The old men may have remembered the teachings of Ezekiel (speculating only on this), while the younger folks shouted for Joy.
Not discounting religious tradition, or mocking the religious significance of a place as described by a people or community, but ask yourself this: If that temple site is not the sacred ground where God walks, nor the seat of His throne, then isn’t the remaining temple site we see today just another place on the planet, just another piece of rock? In other words, why was there so much killing associated with that place, and such a desire for possession? Why were the crusades launched to capture the “holy city” when in reality, it was just a regular city with a lot of history? Is it worth the struggle for possession today, with each of the major religions all claiming that it is their sacred site? Really? God doesn’t seem to think so.
Food for thought.