Having been given a tour of the Temple grounds, Ezekiel is led by his guide to the eastern gate. Here he sees a stunning sight he’s witnessed before: the coming of the glory of God (2-3). The bright-shining glory of the Lord arrives through the eastern gate to the sound of “many waters” (2). Ezekiel recognizes this vision of God as identical to what he had seen by the Chebar canal when he was called first into ministry as God’s prophet (chapter 1-3). This same appearance of God’s glory had been seen when God came to “destroy the city” (3). The vision is overwhelming; Ezekiel falls on his face (3).
The glory of God enters the eastern gate and proceeds to fill the sanctuary itself, a reversal of the path the Lord took when he departed from the temple (chapter 8). Ezekiel, who is prostrate, is lifted up and brought into the inner court by the Spirit (5). He hears a voice coming from the temple with a message for him to deliver to the Israelites (6-12).
The message from the glorious God who has returned to His Temple begins with an announcement and a command for the Israelites (7-9). The Lord declares this place is “the place of my throne and the place of the souls of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever” (7). It will be a holy place, never again defiled by those who go “whoring” after other gods or erect monuments to their dead kings in its precincts (7-8). In light of this, the Lord commands His people to be completely done with their adulterous liaisons with false gods and with elevating humans in His presence (through memorial offerings or pillars for their kings placed in God’s Temple). If they do this, the Lord says He will “dwell in their midst forever” (9).
The Lord continues with instructions for Ezekiel (“As for you, son of man”—10). Ezekiel is to “describe to the house of Israel the temple” (10) in order that the Jews may “be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan” (10). If the Israelites do respond with an appropriate repentance (“ashamed of all that they have done”—11), Ezekiel is to go into great detail about the temple grounds and structures, including “its statutes and its whole design and all its laws” (11). The purpose of this detailed explanation is so the Israelites “may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out” (11). The message from God concludes with “the law of the temple” (12): “the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy.”
Just when you would expect the vision of the Temple to be complete (now that the glory of God has returned), Ezekiel is given measurements and purification instructions for the altar that sits between the east gate and the Temple entrance. Considerable detail is given to the shape and size of the altar for the Lord has expectations that this altar will be built as designed: “On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it . . . .” (18). This is notable since the Lord does not explicitly command Ezekiel or the Jews to build the Temple according to the measurements provided in the vision.
After the description of the altar—a large, square structure that ascends in levels or layers—Ezekiel is given specific instructions on how the altar is to be purified for use (20-27). A week-long series of sin offerings are to be completed, followed by burnt offerings and peace offerings, beginning on the eighth day (27). If done according to God’s commands, He promises the Israelites that he will “accept” them; their relationship with Him will be restored (27).
Visions of God
The Lord is holy and those who dwell near him must be as well. The Lord makes it clear that, not just the Temple proper, but the “whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy” (12). The Israelites must put away their past proclivity towards idolatry and king worship. They must rebuild an altar and purify it with blood sacrifices (sin, burnt and peace offerings) before the Lord will consider them restored and “accepted” again as His holy people.
The Lord requires repentance and sacrifice to be accepted by Him. For the Israelites to be restored to close fellowship with the Lord, they must repent of their sinful ways (idolatry and king worship) and bring blood sacrifices (sin, burnt and peace offerings). Since the coming of Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice for sin, those who would come to God still need to repent and trust in Christ’s atoning death. It still is no small thing to accepted by a holy God.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen proclaim God’s revelation in order to see spiritual transformation. Ezekiel is told to bring this vision of the Temple to the Jews so that they might experience a deep-level heart change. God wants to see them be ashamed of their past idolatry and recommitted to observe His laws and statutes (11). In short, He wants His people to be holy—set apart for Him alone (12).
Watchmen warn against idolatry—elevating anything to God’s place. Ezekiel calls the Israelites to be ashamed and to repent of their idolatry. They had defiled God’s holy name by whoring after other gods and by elevating their kings in an inappropriate way. Idolatry occurs whenever we substitute something or someone for God. He alone is to be the One we worship. Here is a warning to guard against trusting in other supposed “saviours”, including human leaders. We can honour the king (1 Peter 2:17) but dare not elevate the king to God’s place. Watchmen continue to warn God’s people of the danger of idolatry in any form (1 John 5:21).