In Ezekiel chapter 44, Ezekiel is told to “…look carefully, listen closely, and give attention….” where the entrances of the Temple are specifically mentioned. It’s an odd place to start this chapter, but touches on a theme of this whole second section of Ezekiel’s vision. That theme is fairness, equality, and justice. Notice the very first 3 verses speak about the rule which seals the East gate shut at all times, and then notes the one exception in the case of the Prince. This exception is called out several times in the surrounding chapters. There are specific rules about this exception meaning that the Prince is not above the law either, which is justice.
In verse 4, Ezekiel shares with us that he finally gets to see the Temple filled with the Glory of the Lord and he falls to the ground. You can only imagine how overcoming it is for Ezekiel to finally see the completion of his vision, to see that place become truly holy. It is a pure place, an undefiled place of prayer, offering and sacrifice. And it is in this that we gain clues as to what the next several verses are about.
Ezekiel is called to pay attention to the entrance to the Temple and all of the exits. Recall that in earlier chapters we were given exact measurements and specifications for these doors and that Ezekiel was taken to each gate to verify that each gate was the same.
Why? What does that say?
As mentioned earlier, it is a theme of fairness. There is no special door. There is no gate that is higher and bigger than another, which means that there isn’t a gate for the privileged and another gate for the not-so-privileged. There is equal access to the priests and alter of offering. The exception is the Prince who is given permission to pray from the East gate. But, that being said, the Prince is to enter by either the North gate or South Gate – just like every one else. Additionally, the Prince has specific offerings which are required. In other words, Royalty is not allowed to come in with a boat load of offerings, large and conspicuous, and thereby shame the poor pilgrims bringing their humble offerings as they can afford.
In Ezekiel’s view, fairness and justice are essential elements of purity and holiness. Now, in verse 7 and 8 we get a direct, no exceptions, diagnosis of what went wrong with the first temple. “.. In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. 8 Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary.”
Stop. Hold it right there. This is one of the most misinterpreted sentiments expressed in prophetic writing. This is not, not, an endorsement of racial purity as a measurement of religious faithfulness. Yet human nature sadly seems to carry people to this conclusion over and over again. In Ezekiel’s case, he defines foreigners as people who are uncirmcumcised in heart and flesh. Notice that Ezekiel places ‘heart’ above flesh.
He also defines the act of desecration for us with the line, “…you put others in charge of my sanctuary.” That’s right, as discussed in earlier chapters, the leadership of the Temple, outsourced the very ministry of the temple. Contracted ministry, rather than the purity of service from the heart. When they did this, they placed the practice of worship on a lower priority than the practice of management. This opened the door to the deals and contracts that allowed other religions (idol worship) to seep into the hallways and chambers of the original temple. That practice of sidelining sacred duty of enabling offering, sacrifice and prayer of the people is the desecration that Ezekiel is describing.
So this has nothing to do with purity of race – not at all. It is a pity that the Israelites returning to the demolished city of Jerusalem after 70 years fell back to the base human nature and excluded other peoples from participating in the reconstruction of the temple as described in Ezra chapter 4. I write a criticism of human weakness, a decision made by those specific individuals to say, “No, this is only for us.” Sadly, this mantra is oft repeated in our contemporary society – exclusion comes too easy to us.
Ezekiel foresaw this human weakness and gave specific instruction in Verse 9. This puts to rest any notion that Ezekiel was advocating anything other than faith and purity of heart – not racial or national exclusion. He reiterates that the laws of faithfulness apply equally to everyone,….including “…the foreigners who live among the Israelites.” Ezekiel’s vision of a place as holy as the new temple would be a tremendous draw for others seeking their faith.
The temple depicted in this series of Ezekiel’s vision is not to be construed as some kind of end-of-days, millennium temple. That would make the realization of this vision a benefit to people thousands of years in the future, providing little incentive for hope or salve for the immediate needs of his people . For Ezekiel, this was a vision of a right now Temple – of an achievable dream for his people. It was something to give them hope during their captivity. Ezekiel’s temple was a place of social justice, a hope for his people enduring an unjust occupation and captivity.
Getting back on track, the remainder of the chapter is used to define the roles and activity of the newly purged priesthood structure. Much of this content reveals a return to simplicity among those responsibilities compared to what was previously described in the Pentateuch. However, the last major point of this chapter is the reinforcement of the idea that the Levitical priesthood will have no property ownership rights. They are to own nothing of themselves, but live entirely off the offerings of the population.
How does that provide a benefit? Why is that important? It means that there can be no hierarchy of status based on wealth. You can’t buy your way into good graces of service, you can’t grant your way into absolution by gifting property. You can’t establish landmarks of ownership and thereby create a sense of importance which could translate into a last legacy. It prevents the problem of someone having an overriding opinion or viewpoint simply because they are rich and able to “contribute to the cause” more so than someone else.
Ezekiel’s visionary policy prevents another problem of ministers flashing their accumulated wealth as some kind of validation that they are living correctly, and everyone else is somehow weak in the faith. Ezekiel addressed that decidedly false doctrine back in Ezekiel chapter 11, as discussed in my blog entry: https://inopencountry.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/ezekiel-blog-thats-entitlement-for-ya/
As stated at the beginning, this chapter draws awareness to Ezekiel’s overall insistence on fairness, humanity, humility, social justice and equality.