In chapter 45 attention turns from the Temple complex (40-43) and the Levites and priests (sons of Zadok) who serve in the Temple (44), to the placement of the Temple (45:1-6), and the responsibilities and privileges of the “prince”, especially in relationship to the Temple (45:7-25).
The Lord envisions the time when the people of Israel will be back in the land and able to “allot” portions of land as the inheritance of the tribes. While the land given to specific tribes will not be detailed until chapter 48, the Lord instructs Ezekiel to section off specific areas for the sanctuary and priests (4), the Levites (5), the city (6) and the prince (7). The portions are similar in length (25,000 cubits—about 8 miles) but vary in breadth (either 10,000 or 5,000 cubits).
The mention of the prince’s allotment in verse 7 serves as the transition to a detailed discussion of the responsibility of the prince(s) as well as the privileges he is granted by God.
The Lord immediately warns the prince to break the pattern of leadership abuses that have characterized Israel’s leaders in the past: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people,” declares the Lord (9). The Lord focuses on one area of past exploitation: unjust weights and measurements in commercial transactions (10-12). As Proverbs 20:23 declares, “Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD, and false scales are not good.”
The Lord specifies the “offerings” that the people of Israel are to give to the prince (13-16). Here is both a privilege and a limitation. The prince is to receive a percentage of the crops and animals: 1.6% of the grain, 1% of the oil, 0.5% of the flock. Since the percentage/amount is quantified, there would be less opportunity for oppression (on the part of the prince) or neglect (on the part of the people). Out of the offerings given to the prince, he is to provide the animals and grain for the offerings given to the Lord on “behalf of the house of Israel” (17).
The Lord gives Ezekiel clear directions on the offerings that are to be presented to Him on behalf of the nation. On the first day of the first month, a bull is to be sacrificed to purify the sanctuary (18). On the seventh day of the same month, another bull is to be offered “for anyone who has sinned through error or ignorance” (20). In this way “atonement” is made “for the temple” (20).
On the fourteenth day of the first month, the prince is to provide another bull as a sin offering for “himself and all the people” (22). This offering is part of the “Feast of the Passover”, which launches seven more days of “unleavened bread” (21). During all seven days of this festival, a young bull and ram “without blemish” are to be offered to the Lord, along with a “male goat for a sin offering” (23). Along with the animal sacrifices provide by the prince, he will also provide a companion grain offering (24).
Half way through the year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the prince “shall make the same provision for sin offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, and for the oil” (24). So, the Lord provides what is needed, through His people, for their offerings.
Visions of God
The Lord provides a way for sinful people to live in His presence—sin offerings. Even when Israel is envisioned to be back in their land with a properly ordered Temple and leadership structure (prince and priests), they still cannot live in God’s presence without having their sins atoned for. Even restored Israel is not holy enough for a holy God. But in His kindness, the Lord provides a sacrificial system where animals die in place of humans and humans have their sins covered by sacrificial blood. As the writer of Hebrews will later explain, this was only a temporary, partial solution. The Lord would provide the perfect, final sin offering by sending His own Son to die in our place.
The Lord both endorses and limits the rights and responsibilities of human leaders. In spite of past abuses, the Lord does not eradicate the position of human leaders. Israel will still have “princes.” These princes are privileged with choice land near the temple and provisions from the people. However, the prince’s land is limited and the offerings he receives are prescribed. The princes are no longer to oppress God’s people; the people are not to neglect the prince. Human leadership is neither unnecessary nor unregulated. Rather, leaders are to serve the needs of the people.
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen speak “truth to power” by declaring the word of the Lord. While Ezekiel is not a “prince”, he instructs princes. By faithfully communicating God’s revelation, watchmen remind human leaders of their rights and responsibilities—especially in the areas of taxation and land ownership. Watchmen both promote the place of legitimate leadership and protect people from a leader’s misuse of power.
Watchmen announce how sin can be atoned. As I review the instructions Ezekiel is charged to give to the prince and priests, I am struck with the emphasis on sin offerings. Even in a world where the Temple is established as central in the life of the Israelites, there is a constant need for atonement—both for the prince and the people (including priests). Offerings are even made for those who sin “through error or ignorance” (20). In other words, if we disobey God’s will unknowingly, we are still guilty before Him. Thankfully, He provides atonement for those sins we don’t even know to confess. Under the New Covenant, the blood of Christ provides atonement for the sins we know to confess and those we don’t: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “All unrighteousness” would include even the unrighteousness we don’t see due to “error or ignorance.” We pray with the psalmist: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).