Flowing uninterrupted from the previous chapter, Ezekiel 48 carries on the theme of the coming divisions of the land for the tribes of a united Israel. At the time Ezekiel receives the vision, the Jews are in exile and their land has been taken over by the Babylonians. This vision gives hope that the present grim reality will not always remain. The Lord “swore to give to your fathers” the land of Canaan (47:14) and intends Israel to possess it, even though currently dispossessed by foreign powers. God will once again make sure His people have the land in order to fulfill His promise.
This envisioned partitioning of the Promised Land differs in some striking ways from the way the land was given to the tribes of Israel under Joshua. Here are seven notable contrasts.
- While there are once again twelve portions for twelve tribes (with Joseph receiving two allotments—one for Ephraim and one for Manasseh), the specific tribal assignments are not given by the casting of lots but the decision and declaration of the LORD. He assigns each of the tribes its location in the Promised Land.
- The portions of land are all equal in size (see 47:14). Under Joshua, larger tribes received larger tracts of land. Now all tribes receive the same acreage.
- The land allotments all are given in strips of property that run from the western border (Mediterranean Sea) to the eastern border. The previous allotment of property left a patchwork of uniquely sized tribal territories. Now, the shape of each allotment is roughly identical (except for the fact the northern, eastern and southern boundaries of the Promise Land are not straight lines).
- The positioning of the twelve tribes varies from their relative locations in the first allotment of the land under Joshua.
- The “prince” is given a specific portion of land that bookends the area assigned to the priests, Levites, and city property (which combines to form a perfect square in the midst of the Promised Land).
- The Levites, instead of being assigned cities within the other tribes, are given their own territory near the Temple.
- The Temple is no longer located within one of the tribal portions (Judah), but is now in a separate district (think Washington DC) that belongs to the priests. Further, the Temple is also no longer located within the walls of the city Jerusalem.
Ezekiel is also given clarification about the layout of the portion of land set apart for the Temple, the city, and the prince’s property. The Temple land set aside for the priests, Levites, Temple, city and “common area” constitutes a perfect square (25,000 deep and wide: 8.5 miles). Both the priests and Levites receive a strip of this land, 25,000 cubits in breadth by 10,000 cubits in length (9-13). The Temple itself seems to be located within the tract given to the priests. South of this land lies the city, which is laid out as a square (4,500 cubits [@1.5 miles] in length and breadth—15-16). Beyond the walls of the city lies a perimeter of “open land” (250 cubits on each side—17). Outside the open land, stretching east and west for the remainder of the 25,000 cubits is farmland. This farmland is to be worked by those living in the city to provide food for their families (18).
The city wall has three gates on each of its four sides (30-34). To the north (facing the Temple) are gates for Reuben, Judah and Levi. On the east side, we find gates for Joseph, Benjamin and Dan. To the south are gates for Simeon, Issachar and Zebulun. Finally, on the west side are gates for Gad, Asher and Naphtali.
The final sentence in the revelation given to Ezekiel, the closing words of the book, reports the best news possible: “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, ‘The Lord Is There’” (35). While it goes without saying that the city is the rebuilt Jerusalem, and while the Temple no longer resides within its wall, the city can still be defined by the Lord’s presence. He is among His people again. They are secure in their land and ordered as a united group of tribes. The priests from Zadok’s line are faithfully installed to oversee the worship in the Temple, assisted by a chastened group of Levites. Best of all, the Lord who had departed from His Temple and people is now at the center of their national life. The Lord Is There.
Visions of God
The Lord is both transcendent and immanent. The book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of God coming on his heavenly chariot to the Cebar canal in Babylon; it ends with God in the midst of His people in the restored land of Israel. The opening vision Ezekiel sees highlights God’s transcendence; the closing words (“The Lord Is There”) reminds of His immanence. While He is still unspeakably great, He chooses to dwell in the midst of His people.
The Lord remembers those who serve Him faithfully. Once again, the Lord singles out the sons of Zadok for commendation: “the sons of Zadok, who kept my charge, who did not go astray when the people of Israel went astray, as the Levites did” (11). No matter what others do, stay true to the Lord’s instructions and directions. He remembers!
Words to Watchmen
Watchmen remind God’s people to keep worship at the centre of life. Ezekiel is given the privilege and responsibility of helping God’s people structure their lives and land around the Temple. God sets forth their land allotments in a way that geographically and graphically points to the most fundamental truth of all: God is at the centre of all life and so life revolves around Him. His presence (“The Lord is There”) gives hope and meaning to His people.
Watchmen remind God’s people of the glorious future He has planned. Ezekiel’s ministry often involved confronting the sinful attitudes and actions of God’s people as well as the surrounding nations. However, his calling was not only about giving rebukes and calling for repentance. He also had the joy of helping God’s people envision the glorious future God had in mind for them. Watchmen today have a similar charge: confront and console. We remind God’s people of what God demands but also of what God has planned. Like Ezekiel and like John, we point to a glorious future—a gathered, united company of God’s people, a restored city where God dwells (see Revelation 21-22).