Before we set out with Ezekiel on his tour of inspection of the temple-buildings, we must acquaint ourselves with some particulars. First, the date of the inspection. “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten”, 40. 1. And so two cycles of seven years have passed since the destruction of Jerusalem, and the preparation day for the passover has come around again. The festival that commemorates past deliverance quickens hope of yet another. The God who delivered His people of old will do so again. Let us note in passing how often in the sacred volume the lamb is associated with the house! The heart is always better conditioned to understand what grace is accomplishing when it appreciates the great sacrificial cost. Secondly, the first sight of the buildings is “upon a very high mountain”, 40. 2. As Moses of old, and John in the isle of Patmos, this elevation in a mount becomes the great vantage point to survey the thoughts of God. No builder is seen. Everything is viewed as “God’s workmanship”. Thirdly, the guide, who has “the appearance of shining brass”, v. 3 LXX, a heavenly being of purity and righteousness, is equipped with a “line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed”, v. 3, so that the greater and smaller measurements of horizontal and perpendicular surfaces can be measured (consider “the God of measures”, 2 Cor. 10. 13 J.N.D.). The guide’s command reveals that the faculties of the prophet can be filled with divine things, “Son of man, behold with thine eyes (revelation), and hear with thine ears (communication), and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee (affection and understanding)”, v. 4.
The inspection is extensive and intensive, which means that we can but give brief attention to the salient features in the compass of this article. The whole is deeply interesting, bringing us to the crowning glory of the restoration of Israel.
1. The Layout. There are five courts, (i) The great plane of 500 reeds surrounding the whole of the buildings. This, it appears, is the court to which the Gentile nations will come, (ii) The court of the Israelites in the centre of the great plane and measuring 500 cubits. (iii) Inside this, the court of the Levites of 300 cubits square. (iv) The altar court, 100 cubits, (v) The court of the temple, to the west of the altar court, also 100 cubits square, to which the priests alone have access. There are some differences from the former temples of Scripture, yet the layout is similar, especially in the purposes of the sections. This is deeply impressive. After the passing of centuries of time, the same aim appears. Here is divine insistence calculated to fix our attention upon the immutability of God’s character; the “gifts and calling of God are without repentance”, Rom. 11. 29. All His covenants and purposes with Israel will be fulfilled.
2. The Central Point. As we survey the seven squares of the buildings (the most holy place, the holy place, the temple court, the altar court, the court of the Levites, the court of the Israelites and the court of the Gentiles), and thereby see the ground plan, the central point is seen to be the altar of God. Every line of approach from the east, north and south converges upon this sacred spot. The centrality of the cross will not be lost in the day of His glory!
3. The Measurements. All the information supplied in this connection impresses our minds with three great factors, (i) Exactness. Here is a great plan with accompanying specifications and details drawn with care. This is a forcible reminder of the exactness of God’s holiness and government. It is remarkable, however, that there is only one measurement defined as height, “I saw also the height of the house round about”, 41. 8. But even this refers to the platform of the temple proper. It is a ground plan that is before us all the time. It is characteristic of man in his pride and rebellion to aim at building “a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven”. Nothing like this is supplied, and the omission declares that man’s blessing is not found by self-effort to reach up to God, but through God in grace coming down to him. As a result of this coming down there is a great spreading out! (ii) Symmetry. The architecture is founded upon the square or rectangle. The square is predominant as the reader will discover, and there are no uneven multiples. All are divisible by five or ten, leaving no fractions when divided. Is not the square used by the Holy Spirit as a means for expressing sacred things in their local relations? The circle expresses heavenly and eternal things. Thus every feature of God’s work is seen in perfect proportion and adjustment. His work in Israel and the nations on earth will yet be manifest in all the beauty of its adaptation, (iii) Gradation. The outward court is entered by ascending seven steps, 40. 22. Access to the inner court was by eight steps, 40. 31, and to the house itself by ten steps, 40. 49 R.V. and J.N.D. Thus the successive terraces are traceable. The knowledge of God and fellowship with Him is ascent. The worshipper approaches by varying but increasing ascents. The ten steps coming at the last, yet nearest to the house, serves to teach us that intensity of effort is accentuated by progress. But effort does bring one to the heart of things! In the language of the holy Scriptures it means, “from strength to strength”, “from glory to glory”, or “more and more”.
4. The Materials. Surprisingly, little is written of the materials used in the construction. The tables at the north gate are of “hewn stone”, 40. 42, and mention is made of “wood” with which parts of the priests’ dwellings are wainscotted, 41. 16. Does the omission of precious metals infer that the glory of the divine Executor will be manifest everywhere?; see 43. 2. The symbolism of the “stone” and “wood” does cause us to think of the genuineness and permanence of His manhood in whom the glory shines. The Spirit’s purpose, perhaps, is to emphasize the fact of manhood amidst the conditions of glory evident everywhere.
The priesthood in this latter part of Ezekiel is mediatorial; the sacrifices declare the grace of divine provision for man; the city points to the administration of the millennial day; and the land to the blessing of the inheritance promised to the fathers. In the temple itself the divine presence is the principal thought. What are we to learn of this presence?
The Wall. Surrounding the house was a wall six cubits thick and six cubits high, 40. 5. It measured 500 cubits square as we are informed later, 42. 20; 45. 2. Its purpose is clearly stated, “to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place”, 42. 20. The sanctuary is a place separate from ordinary use. At once we perceive the meaning of the wall. The presence of God is to be regarded with the highest reverence. The more this fact is taken to heart, the less one will condone that familiarity which has overtaken so many of God’s children in our time. We dare not endorse various questionable habits or ideas when the Lord manifests His presence in our midst. One point further. A cross-section of the wall made a square, six cubits by six. Thus we are taught that the separation and reverence of which we speak must lead to consistency of practice in all things of life. The standards of divine holiness are to govern domestic, industrial and assembly affairs equally; “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”.
The Gates. The sides of the wall face the four points of the compass directly. At the middle of the north, south and east sides the covered gateways were placed. They were not simply openings, but structures that projected into the courts, 40. 20-23. The east gate is reserved for the returning glory, and the use of the prince, 43. 4; 44. 3. At the north are situated the slaughtering tables, 40. 39. For us, the gates declare plainly that access to the divine presence has been made. In dependence upon the sacrifice (the slaughtering tables); under the scrutiny of God (the guard chambers); in the light of understanding (the windows); and in overcoming grace (the palms), can we approach God. The law of the use of the gates for the worshipper, “he shall not return by the way … he came in, but shall go forth over against it”, 46. 9, may denote that one must allow all the penetrative influences of the divine presence in the soul. Full experience is to be desired.
The House. Out of the many details, we select one for our present purpose relative to the side chambers for the priests. Round about the wall of the house the side chambers were built in three stories, thirty chambers in each story. “The chamber on the ground floor was four cubits wide, but in the second story the width was greater than the first, and the third story greater than the second”. The reason for this greater width of the upper stories was that the wall of the house on which the chambers were built diminished in thickness as it ascended. “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house”, exclaimed the Psalmist. The presence of God is satisfying, providing shelter, rest and provision.
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