As in the previous chapter, Ezekiel 46 gives primary focus to the role of the prince of Israel, the leader of the nation. The Lord prescribes ways the prince must be an example for the people in the ongoing worship life of the nation. While the prince is given special privileges, the Lord limits his power to ensure that people are not oppressed or disposed as had happened so frequently in Israel’s history. In addition to the instructions for the prince, Ezekiel is taken to the chambers on the western end of the northern side the Sanctuary and to the courtyards in the four corners of the outer court. He is told that in these two places the priests will boil meat and bake grain for the “sacrifices of the people” (24).
The prince enjoys special access when it comes to approaching God in the temple; however, he is not allowed the access given to the priests. On the Sabbath, the prince is to enter the eastern, inner gate, whose doors are normally shut the other six days (1). The prince stands near the “post of the gate” while the priests at the altar (directly in front of him, between the inner gate and the sanctuary), offer the sacrifices brought by the prince: “six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish” (4). Along with the animals, the prince is to bring grain offerings (an ephah of grain for each ram [22 liters] and “as much as he is able” for each lamb (7). From what we learn later in the chapter (20), the grain is baked by the priests using the oil the prince brings (one hin of oil to each ephah—7). On the Sabbath corresponding to the new moon, the prince is to add a bull (with an ephah of grain and hin of oil) to the ram and lambs (7).
While this rhythm of weekly sacrifices is prescribed for the prince, he is also able to offer “freewill” offerings at the times of his choosing. These freewill offerings—whether burnt offerings or peace offerings—cause the eastern, inner gate to be opened during the week, when it was normally closed (12).
Additionally, the prince (or, perhaps the priests) is to provide for a daily burnt offering of a one-year old lamb without blemish, accompanied by a smaller grain offering (1/6 of an ephah cooked with 1/3 of a hin of oil to “moisten the flour”—14). As with the Sabbath and new moon sacrifices, the lamb chosen for the daily burnt offering is to be “without blemish” (13). This sacrifice, offered each morning, is to be a “perpetual statute” (14-15).
The Lord has Ezekiel communicate specific instructions to the prince and people regarding entering and exiting the Temple grounds when they come to worship on the appointed festivals and feasts. The prince and people enter from either the north or south gates. The prince alone enters the inner eastern gate; the people come to the entrance of it but stay outside in the outer court. When the people leave the Temple, they are to exit using the opposite gate from with they entered; if they came in through the northern gate they go out “straight ahead” through the southern gate (9). Prince and people enter and exit together (10).
The prince also is given “regulated freedom” to distribute his portion of the land. (The prince’s land stretched out on both sides of the Temple grounds to the eastern and western borders of Israel; see illustration in the notes on chapter 45). The prince was permitted to give portions of his property to his sons or his servants. The sons retained ownership of the land they received indefinitely; the servants could use the portion given to them until “the year of liberty” (17). At this time, the land would revert back to the prince’s family. Further, the prince is prohibited from using his power to evict Israelites from their allotted land; he must not confiscate someone’s property for himself as Ahab and Jezebel did to Naboth (1 Kings 21).
Beginning in verse 19, Ezekiel’s tour of the Temple grounds resumes. He is “brought” to the “north row of the holy chambers for the priests”, to a place “at the extreme western end of them” (19). Here, in an extremity of the grounds, Ezekiel is shown the place where “the priests shall boil the guilt offerings and the sin offering” and “bake the grain offering” (20). These kitchens are intentionally removed from the public places of the Temple grounds in order to keep the holy sacrifices away from the people. The priests are “not to bring them out into the outer court and so transmit holiness to the people” (20). God protects what is holy from being mixed with what is common. Here is another reminder of God’s holiness and our inherent unholiness, even when we are “clean” (44:23). Amazingly, there will come a day when the holy Son of God tabernacles among common people (John 1:14). There will also come a day when holiness touches all the common things of the life of God’s people (Zech. 14:20).
The final stop on Ezekiel’s tour takes him to the corners of the outer court. Here he is shown four courts within the court. These small, rectangular (40 x 30 cubits; not square!] courts contain a row of hearths where “those who minister at the temple shall boil the sacrifices of the people” (24). Here the sacrificial meat is not cordoned off from the people; instead, it would seem the sacrificial meat is boiled in order to be eaten by the worshippers in a communal meal before the Lord.
Visions of God
The Lord wants worship built into the rhythm of life for his people. Regardless of whatever else the prince or people wanted to do, each Sabbath they were to come together in God’s Temple to offer sacrifices of consecration (burnt and peace offerings). While I don’t know how long the weekly or new moon sacrifices would take to burn, I imagine this was not a quick, in-and-out experience. Time in the Lord’s presence was the priority for the day. This day was the priority for the week. By application, we should see our Sunday, community worship times as of top priority. Worship should regulate the rhythm of our lives.
The Lord wants leaders to lead by example in prioritizing worship. The prince was to lead the way in the worship of God. He provided the sacrificial animals. He stood at the front of the people while the sacrifices were offered (2). While he did not offer the sacrifices (done by the priests from the line of Zadok), he was the lead worshiper. Leaders lead by their worship of God. They show others that God is over them and over all.
Leaders do more than what’s required to worship God. The price was commanded to present burnt and peace offerings each Sabbath. When offering the lambs, he is told to bring a grain offering of “as much as he is able” (5). In addition, he was encouraged to offer freewill sacrifices at other times as well (12). While there was a minimum threshold required when it came to his offerings, there was no maximum. The Lord’s words imply that the prince will do more than the minimum. Leaders are to demonstrate by their lives that worship is not just a religious duty but also a personal desire.
The Lord wants worship to be regular, reorienting, costly and impactful.
Life is to revolve around the worship of God. The prince and people came together to offer sacrifices each Sabbath. In addition, an unblemished lamb and grain offering was presented to the Lord each morning (13-14). The Sabbath sacrifices, during which the people would bow down before the Lord (3), was meant to reorient hearts to God’s greatness and lordship. The presentation of the unblemished animals (bull, ram and lambs) evidenced the worthiness of God. Worship required offering of both time and resources; God is worth the best we have. The Israelites were told to exit the Temple grounds using the opposite gate (north or south) from the one through which they entered. While this may have been a way to help traffic flow on crowded feast days, it also illustrates that God’s people are to leave “changed” by the time they spend together worshiping God.
The Lord gives privileges, responsibilities, and limitations to His leaders. The prince is given access to God that is more than the people (he enters the inner, eastern gate) but less than the priests (he does not offer the sacrifices or enter the Temple). He is expected to provide the animals for the sacrifices, but receives animals from the people (45:15). He is given prime property on either side of the Temple, but he cannot evict Israelites from their allotted land (46:18).
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen teach God’s people how to worship the Lord as He desires. Ezekiel was God’s spokesman to the nation (both prince and people) of how God wanted to be worshiped. Watchmen have the important role of communicating God’s will in the area of worship. Worship is not a free-form activity. We don’t worship the Lord in our own way but in the way He chooses.
Watchmen remind leaders of their rights, responsibilities, and restrictions. God’s watchmen play an important role by calling leaders to utilize their power, carry out their assignments, and enjoy their privileges according to God’s revealed will. Watchmen, by their faithful communication of God’s word, set healthy boundaries for those in powerful positions. They remind the leaders of God’s people that they cannot acceptably worship God (2) while oppressing his people (18). In this way, watchmen help direct God’s leaders and protect God’s people.