Ezekiel’s instructional tour of the Temple is not over. His guide leads him back to the “outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east” (1). This gate is shut tight—and for good reason. Because the glory of the Lord entered through this gate, Ezekiel is told it must remain shut and unused. Only “the prince” may come and sit in it and eat inside it, entering from inside the Temple complex (3). Next, Ezekiel is taken, via the northern gate, to the very front of the Temple. He sees the glory of God that has entered and filled the Temple itself and he falls flat, facedown (4).
In the remainder of the chapter (5-31), Ezekiel is given instructions to pass on to the Israelites about the restored worship in the Temple (remember, at this time the Temple was destroyed). The instructions are directed first to “the rebellious house” of Israel, with special emphasis on the Levites (6-14). The Israelites, and specifically the Levites, are rebuked for their failure to guard the holiness of the Temple. The Lord is fed up with their violations of His person and His house (“enough of all your abominations”—6). The Levites allowed foreigners, who were uncircumcised in both heart and body, to have unauthorized access to the Temple grounds (7-9). Because they failed to fulfill their divine assignment, they will “bear their punishment” into the future (10). While they will be allowed to resume their duties (guarding the gates and slaughtering the sacrifices), they are prohibited from coming near to God’s “holy things and the things that are most holy” (13).
The second half of chapter 44, verses 15-31, records the Lord’s instructions regarding the role of the priests. Ezekiel is told that only the sons of Zadok, the ones who remained faithful to the Lord when others went astray, will be given the honour of standing before Him and ministering to Him in the temple. This privilege comes with clear ministry and personal expectations. They must wear linen clothes while in the Lord’s presence—clothes that don’t cause them to sweat (17-18). These linen garments must be changed before they return to be with the people gathered in the outer courts (19). The priests shall trim their hair (not shaving their heads or allowing their “locks to grow long”—20). They shall not drink wine in the inner court, or marry a widow or divorcee, unless she is the widow of a fellow priest (22). They must avoid becoming defiled by touching a dead body, except in the case of a near family member (25). If defiled, they must go through a week of purification, culminating in a sin offering before returning to their ministry (26-27). In all these (and other) ways, they are to teach the house of Israel—by example and instruction—the difference between the “holy and the common” and the “clean and unclean” (23).
The priests are to serve as both teachers (23) and judges (24) for the nation, basing their instruction and rulings on God’s laws and statutes (24). They are to be provided for through the sacrifices and offerings brought to the Temple by the Israelites. Unlike the other Israelites, they receive no land inheritance: the Lord is their possession and inheritance (28).
Visions of God
The Lord is not inclusive in an indiscriminate way. While we learn from Isaiah 56:7 that God wants His house to be a house of prayer for all nations, this doesn’t mean he is indiscriminately inclusive. Ezekiel 44 reminds us that He did not want Israelites (especially the Levites and priests) in the Temple who were living compromised, idolatrous lives (44:10). Further, He did not welcome the foreigners living “among the people of Israel” to draw near to Him who were “uncircumcised in heart and flesh” (9). Those who draw near to God’s presence must come on His terms. He is holy and must not be treated in a common, profane way.
The Lord holds leaders accountable for their actions—whether good or evil. The Levites who “went far” from Him, following after their idols, must “bear their punishment” (10, 12). They are permitted to continue serving the Lord by guarding the gates and preparing the sacrifices but prohibited from taking part of the most holy things (13). Conversely, the descendants of Zadok, who remained faithful to the Lord and His house when others went astray, are given the honour of ministering to the Lord by officiating the sacrificial system (15) and instructing the people in God’s ways (23).
The Lord distinguishes between holy and common, clean and unclean. The priests from the family of Zadok are instructed to teach the Israelites “the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (23). They must change their priestly garments before returning to the outer courts, taking care not to bring the holy into the presence of the common. Because God is holy, His people must understand what it means to be holy (separate) and clean (undefiled by sin).
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen come near to the Lord but remain in awe of Him. Ezekiel is given unique access to God’s will and ways. The Lord speaks directly to him, giving him unique access to His will and ways. However, unlike the Levites who grew callous and careless in God’s presence (8-10), Ezekiel remains in awe of the glory of God. He falls facedown before the presence of the Lord (4). He pays close attention to see and record what God shows him or says to him. Watchmen do not take God or His assignments for granted. They remain in awe of the God they serve.
Watchmen are to pay close attention to all God says and shows. The Lord instructs Ezekiel to “mark well, see with your eyes and hear with your ears all that I shall tell you” (5). Those who speak for God must take care to faithfully communicate His words and will.