Sunday, October 05, 2014

Rules for the Temple - Ezekiel 44

The Gate for the Prince

This chapter deals with access to the holy places. That is the significance of noting the entrances and exits. Who can enter the inner court?

In the Old Testament, God restricted access to his presence. When God gave the covenant to Israel, he did not allow the people to come up on the mountain or even to touch it. (Exodus 19:12) When the covenant was confirmed, the Lord instructed Moses to bring Aaron and his sons along with 70 elders up onto the mountain. (Exodus 24:9) They beheld an image of God and ate a communal meal in his presence. (Exodus 23:11) But only Moses went up into the cloud of God’s glory. (Exodus 24:18)

The tabernacle and the temple both had strict rules about who could enter the holy places. Here in Ezekiel’s temple, the rules are more strict. They are based on past faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

Psalm 24:3-4 dealt with this problem. It says:

Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in is holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift us his should to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

First, in our passage, there is an absolute prohibition of entrance via the eastern gate. Ezekiel’s guide took him Ezekiel’s guide took him from the inner court back out to the eastern gate. (44:1)

Ezekiel had seen the glory of the LORD enter via this gate. (43:5)

This time the gate was shut. (44:1) The LORD spoke then and told Ezekiel the gate shall remain shut and no one shall enter by it. Why? Because the LORD entered by it. By this he means that the gate, having been used by the LORD, is sacred and cannot be used by anyone common. It is similar to the vessels made for the tabernacle. They were holy, set aside for the worship of God, and could not be used for common things. For example, a priest could not take the lamp stand from the tabernacle and use it to light his home at night.

Yet, there is one who can enter the gate. The LORD told Ezekiel that only the prince may sit in the gate. Who is the prince? This passage does not explain, but we have seen other references to a prince. Ezekiel 34:24 says “And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” in 37:25, the LORD said “David my prince shall be their prince forever”. Of course, David had been dead a long time when this was spoken. So, we take it to mean a descendant of David. Specifically, we take it to mean the messiah. Matthew 1:1 begins by stating that Jesus Christ is the son of David. He did this to show Jesus was the Messiah.

Even the prince does not use the gate for access to the inner parts of the complex. He only sits in the gate to eat bread before the LORD. (44:3)

Condemnation of Israel for Covenant Breaches

Ezekiel again saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple. Ezekiel again fell on his face in the presence of God. This is a proper response to God’s holiness.

God then instructs Ezekiel to note the laws of the temple and to note the entrances and exits. The continued presence of the Lord is conditioned on the proper control of access to the holy areas, so the Lord’s name and presence is not profaned.

In contrast to God’s holiness,the LORD pointed out the lack of holiness in Israel and called on them to stop it. They had allowed uncircumcised foreigners into the temple. They had consigned the care of the sanctuary into the hands of foreigners. Only the Levitical priests were to handle the sacred objects and tend to the temple. Evidently, they had subcontracted this out to foreigners, nonbelievers, and profaned the temple. The Carites, who helped guard the temple, were one such group. This allowed all of the abominations to occur which we studied earlier. God’s presence left the temple because his holiness was not protected.

Rules for the sanctuary

In this passage, the Lord reiterated the rules of the temple, or sanctuary. No foreigners who were uncircumcised were to enter the sanctuary. Circumcision was the sign of the LORD’s covenant with Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-14)Those who were not part of the covenant were not to enter the temple complex.

Herod’s temple had a court of the Gentiles. They were only allowed in that court and could proceed no further. There was even a sign telling them this. The penalty was death. The Jews of the first century took the LORD’s instruction in this matter seriously. Paul was accused of violating this law in Acts 21. He was almost killed. A Roman commander rescued him. (Acts 21:27-32)

In verse 10, the LORD reminded Israel that only the Levites were to minister in the sanctuary or to guard it. The people could not assign that job to non-Jews or even non-Levites. Even though the Levites had abandoned God and their duties to pursue idols, he kept them in their jobs. (11-12) They would not be allowed in God’s presence as punishment for their sins, but would still be responsible of the care of the temple. (14)

The Levites were ordained to serve the LORD because they supported Moses in destroying the golden calf and restoring order to Israel when they broke out against the Lord while Moses was on the mountain. (Exodus 32:29) In Numbers 1:47-54, the LORD set out the duties of the Levites toward the tabernacle. Then Numbers 3-4 specifies their duties by their claims, the Gershonites, Kohathites and Merarites. No one else was authorized to care for the tabernacle.

Because of their sin, they could not enter the inner court. But, because of the sin of the people, they could not slaughter their own animal for sacrifice. Instead the Levites would do it. (11)

The Sons of Zadok

Since Zadok and his sons remained faithful to the LORD, they were given the high priesthood. They were commissioned to present the offerings. They were allowed in the inner court and holy place. (16) They offered the sacrifices on the altar. (15-16) But even they are not allowed in the most holy place

Since they were holy, they were required to maintain the symbols of holiness. They were only allowed to wear linen, because it did not make them sweat. (17-18) They had to change their holy garments when they went among he people. (19) They had extra rules to follow, above those of the common people and even above those of the Levites. because they were holy to the Lord and charged with ministering in the holy places.

Just as the walls protected the holiness of God, these rules protected his holiness as well.

The Inheritance of Zadok’s Descendants

These priests would have no land, for the Lord was their inheritance. He provided their food through the offerings. They did not feed themselves from their labor on the land as the common people did.

The New Testament tells us that the church is now a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9) The Lord is our inheritance. He does not give us an inheritance in land on this earth. Rather, we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us. (1 Peter 1:4) Ultimately, we will inherit the new earth, as the book of Revelation 21 shows us.

This chapter shows us that the holiness of God is to be protected and the presence of God valued and enjoyed.

As New Covenant believers, we have no physical walls to protect God’s holiness. We protect it by living holy lives. 1 Peter 1:15 says “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. Peter called us a “holy nation”. (1 Peter 2:9) We reflect God’s holy nature. When we live unholy lives, we profane his holiness.

Also, as New Covenant believers, we enjoy the presence of God. The book of Hebrews taught us that, in Christ, we have access to the Father. This is a great blessing. We value it and do not take it lightly. But we enjoy it, for in his presence is great joy.

Psalm 16:11 says:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

We not only have joy in God’s presence, we have “fullness” of joy. We have all the joy we can ever need or want.
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