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11. The exiles who returned

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple || 11-2 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-2-1 Conditional Prophecy || 11-2-2 Human Response || 11-2-3 Tyre in Ezekiel 26 || 11-2-4 Delayed Prophecies || 11-2-5 Prophecies With Changed Fulfillment || 11-2-6 The Nature Of Prophecy || 11-3 Command More Than Prediction || 11-4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple || 11-5 The Restoration: Potential Kingdom Of God || 11-6 The Potential And The Reality || 11-6-1 The Weakness Of Judah Under Nehemiah || 11-6-2 Isaiah's Prophecies Of Restoration || 11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-4 Ezekiel's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-5 The Cherubim And The Restoration || 11-6-6 Zechariah's Restoration Prophecies || 11-6-7 The Restoration Psalms || 11.7 “The prince" in Ezekiel || 11-7-1 " The prince" : Potential Messiah || 11-7-2 Zerubabbel- Potential Messiah? || 11.8 The Potential For The Surrounding World || 11-8-1 Haggai 2 || 11-8-2 Meshech And Tubal || 11-8-3 Joel Chapter 3 || 11-9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment || 11-10 Zechariah And Malachi: More Chances || 11-11 The Returned Exiles

CHAPTER 11: The Exiles Who Returned

The return of Jewry from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah is perhaps one of the largest themes of the Old Testament, in terms of the amount of Scripture which relates to it. This is because the whole concept of the ‘Gospel’ as have it in the New Testament is based upon it. The Old Testament (Septuagint) background of the word euangelion, ‘Gospel’, is in the Isaiah passages which proclaim the good news of a return from captivity into an Israel which will then be transformed into the Kingdom of God. These passages all have their primary reference to the return from captivity in Babylon; which means that we who have heard and responded to the Gospel are all foreshadowed by the exiles who returned under Ezra and Nehemiah. In this life we are as exiles, separated from all that is near and dear to us, pining for the release, consumed by the aching loneliness of the exile, the sense of loss of connection. It's a sobering parallel. The Hebrew word for “return” is that translated “repent”; repentance is tied up with the image of the returning exiles.  

The submission of this study is that the return could have led to the establishment of the Kingdom on earth, replete with a Messiah figure and a temple according to the pattern showed to Ezekiel in Ez. 40 - 48. Parts of many of the prophets looked forward to this time, as did the restoration prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah 40-66. All of these could have had their fulfilment in the return under Ezra, but this was disabled by the poor response to the call to return. Under Nehemiah and then even in Malachi’s time, these Kingdom prophecies could have had their fulfilment, but time and again Judah failed to live up to the necessary preconditions. In all this lies abundant exhortation for us; so much could happen but doesn’t, because of our failure to live out and fulfil prophecy...instead, like Judah, we tend to assume that the time for its’ fulfilment will inexorably arrive some day, regardless of our effort. 

11-1 Ezekiel’s Temple: Based Upon Solomon’s Temple

We begin with a consideration of the temple detailed in Ez. 40-48. I would submit that the temple described by Ezekiel was to be part of the re-establishment of the Kingdom of God as it existed in the days of Solomon, and that “the law of the house” was in fact the details of the temple which Judah were to return and build.  The details of the temple were so detailed- Ezekiel was to “mark well…every going forth”- in order to inspire in Judah repentance for how they had abused the previous temple (Ez. 44:5,6). There are many links between Solomon’s temple and that described by Ezekiel. The repeated stress on the cherubim / palm tree decor in both the records of Solomon’s temple and also Ezekiel’s encourages the idea that the prophesied temple was to be seen as a re-establishment of Solomon’s (1 Kings 6:29,32,35; 7:36 cp. Ez. 40:16,22,26,31,34,37; 41:18-20, 25,26). There were “thick planks” upon the porch of Solomon’s temple; and the same word is only used elsewhere in describing how this would feature in Ezekiel’s temple too (1 Kings 7:6 cp. Ez. 41:25,26). Even the “windows of narrow lights” (1 Kings 6:4) were to be replicated (Ez. 40:16; 41:16,26). Solomon’s system of “chambers” was likewise copied (1 Kings 6:5,8,16 cp. Ez. 41:5-11 s.w.). The glory of Yahweh was to fill Ezekiel’s temple as it had done Solomon’s (Ez. 43:5 cp. 1 Kings 8:10). Both temples were to be ready for operation on “the eighth day” after their consecration (Ez. 43:27 cp. 1 Kings 8:66). I suggest that contrary to how it is often presented, Ezekiel’s temple was to be of a similar size to that of Solomon’s. Even the statement that finally, the Lord would be there in the temple, is alluding back to how Yahweh came and dwelt in Solomon’s temple. For of that temple it was true that “the Lord dwelleth at Jerusalem” in that He could bless His people out of Zion, the temple mount (Ps. 135:21). 

The following table sums up the similarities: 

Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6-7)

Ezekiel’s Temple (Ez. 40,41)





6:31-35; 6:32 AVmg.; 6:34














Tselaot, ribs

41:5 s.w.









Further, Ezekiel himself was to make a 7 day dedication of the altar (Ez. 43:26) just as had happened in Solomon’s time (2 Chron. 7:9).  

It's easy to assume that the temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The fact a new foundation stone was laid doesn't actually mean that the entire structure was razed to the ground. Jer. 41:5 refers to 80 people coming to offer offerings and perform some kind of worship there even after the Babylonian destruction. There's ample historical reference to the essential ground plan and some structure still standing even after the Babylonians had effectively destroyed it and rendered it useless (1). This makes it more appealing to consider Ezekiel's vision as a blueprint for the exiles' reconstructing the existing temple, rather than a totally new structure. It's even been suggseted that Ezekiel 40-42 was intended as an architectural record of the 'old' temple upon which a new one was to be reconstructed. Zerubbabel is pictured as bringing forth "the premier stone" for the temple (Zech. 4:7). This is a technical term, used in Mesopotamia about "a unit of building material removed from the former temple ruins and then incorporated into the new building" (2). This demonstrates how the projected new temple was a rebuilding of Solomon's temple. The "shouts" with which it was laid (Zech. 4:7) were the "shouts" of the foundation ceremony described in Ezra 3:10-12.

The Size Of The Temple

The confusion has been in deciding whether to take some of the measurements in reeds or cubits (which are much smaller), seeing that the Hebrew text strangely omits the measurement unit. The “oblation”  would be about 60 miles square if we measure it in reeds. This area would encroach either upon the Mediterranean or the Dead Sea, and it seems contextually more likely that a smaller area measured in cubits is intended (see map). If measured in reeds, this large area somewhat disrupts the distribution of land amongst the tribes as detailed later in Ezekiel. If the missing measurement unit here is cubits and not reeds, it is likely that it is in the dimensions of the temple itself. The holy oblation described in Ez. 45:1 is to be “the length of five and twenty thousand”. “Reeds” in the AV is in italics. The following verse speaks of cubits as the measurement unit. Only the context can decide whether cubits or reeds is meant in many of the Ezekiel passages- although the LXX, RSV etc. give cubits rather than reeds in 42:16 and other passages. If it is going to be thousands of reeds, then it would be over 1 mile square. However, Jer. 30:18 RSV prophesies: “the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall be where it used to be”. And passages as varied as Zech. 1, Ps. 68 and Micah 4 all insist that the temple of the restored Kingdom was to built within the city of Jerusalem. If the temple is 500 reeds square, there will be no room for a city, assuming the city will be of the same size as the previous old city of Jerusalem.  

It has been argued that the temple must be large in order to accommodate world-wide worshippers. But the sacrifices offered there are to atone for “the house of Israel”. The temple is primarily for the worship of Israel, “the people of the land”, therefore a large building isn’t required. Ez. 44:9 stresses that no uncircumcised will be allowed to worship in it, although those Gentiles living in the land and who chose to be circumcised would be permitted to. In passing, let it be said that this all sounds far more appropriate to the situation at the time of the restoration, with the Samaritans living in the land, than to the Millennium. “Strangers” who have settled in the land (Ez. 47:22,23) surely refer to God’s willingness to give the Samaritans who then lived in the land a place in the Kingdom which potentially could then have been established.  “The people of the land” were to have a part in the new system of things (Ez. 45:16,22; 46:3,9), and yet this very phrase is repeatedly used concerning the Samaritan people who lived in the land at the time of the restoration (Ezra 4:4; 10:2,11; Neh. 9:24; 10:30,31). God’s intention was that they should eventually be converted unto Him; it was His intention that Ezekiel’s temple be built at the time of the restoration under Ezra. And yet Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5  criticize the Jews who returned and bult the temple for continuing to oppress the stranger / Gentile. Israel would not. Is. 56:6 defines what is meant by “a house of prayer for all nations”- it is for those of all nations who “join themselves to the Lord, to serve him and to love the name of the Lord...every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant”. The idea that so many people will need to use the temple seems to have been the basis for imagining a huge structure. But the limited clientele implied within Ezekiel means that a large structure would be unnecessary. The altar was to be of similar size, if not a bit smaller, than that in Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 4:1 cp. Ez. 43:13-16).  

Assuming a smaller temple, the measurements based around the cubit rather than the reed enable the reconstruction of a rectangular [not circular] temple, based on the pattern of Solomon’s. The following diagrams are taken from Peter Southgate, God’s Temple: Past, Present & Future (Sutton Dawn Ecclesia, 1975). Attention must be drawn to the manner in which this scheme places the altar where the text says it should be, “before the house”, whereas the popular view places it, without justification, in the Most Holy Place. Likewise there is no evidence that the temple will be circular. The temple can hardly face East, as we are told it will, if it is circular. And neither is there any reason to think that there will be eleven gates on the West side, as the popular view insists. Only one is mentioned on each side. Ezekiel commanded that the priests were not to wear their holy garments in the outer courts; and yet if as the popular view suggests they wear them in a central area, at the altar, and then go into their chambers on the edge of the temple, they would have to wear them in the outer courts. Note too that the holy waters start from the altar- not from the threshold of the house, as the popular view  requires. His claim that the city will be built 30 miles away from the temple is another example of pure imagination- not wrong in itself, but if it contradicts the implications of Scripture, we must reject it. Likewise the suggestion that the sons of Zadok refer to immortal priests is evidently a misreading of Scripture- they will sweat, marry, are commanded to not drink wine, have no inheritance (cp. Mt. 22:28-30), can go astray (Ez. 44:10-14) and will minister in the inner court “and within”. The popular view’s desire to see everything as symbolising things and people on the highest level possible, rather than reading the text as literally as possible, leads to further such problems in thinking that “the prince” is the Lord Jesus. A priest must make an offering for this “prince”, and he offers a bullock  for himself as a sin offering, which the priest offers. This surely shouts out against an application to the Lord Jesus. He is subject to death (Ez. 46:17,18); and  has a wife and sons (Ez. 46:16) who will succeed him (Ez. 45:8). I mention these problems with the ‘large temple’ view because it seems to have been unquestioningly accepted by many, and the above difficulties with it have gone unanswered. 

Much thinking about the temple seems to have gotten confused because of an assumption that Ezekiel’s temple will be in order to observe parts of the Mosaic law. But consider the following studied differences between the two. Clearly the system described by Ezekiel implied  a change of the Law at the re-institution of the temple; the temple he speaks of was not in order to obey the Mosaic Law: 

Sin offering:

  • Ez: blood daubed, parts burned outside, day 1-1bull, days 2-7-1 kid, 2 bulls, 1 ram

  • Law: blood poured, parts burned inside, day 1-1bull + 2 rams, days 2-7-1bull

Sabbath offering:

  • Ez: 6 lambs, 1 ram (gate open)

  • Law: 2 lambs

New Moon offering:

  • Ez: 1 bull, 1 ram, 6 lambs

  • Law: 2 bulls, 1 ram, 7 lambs

Daily sacrifice:

  • Ez: 1 lamb (in a.m.)

  • Law: 2 lambs (1 a.m., 1 p.m.)


  • Ez: 1bull, (daily thru 7 days: 7 bulls burnt, 7 rams    burnt), 1 kid? (sin offering)

  • Law: 1 lamb, (daily thru 7 days: 2 bulls burnt, 1 ram burnt), 1 kid? (sin offering)

Feast of Booths:

  • Ez: 7 bulls + 7 rams (burnt daily, 7 days), 1 kid

  • Law: day 1: 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 kid; day 2: 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 kid; The number of bulls is reduced by 1 each 7: 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 kid

In Ezekiel’s system there is:

  • No Laver (see Ezekiel 36:24-27, John 15:3) ;

  • No Table of Shewbread (see Micah 5:4, John 6:35);

  • No Lampstand or Menorah (see Isaiah 49:6, John 8:12);

  • No Golden Altar of Incense (Zechariah 8:20-23, John 14:6) ;

  • No Veil (Isaiah 25:6-8, Matthew 27:51) ;

  • No Ark of the Covenant (Jeremiah 3:16, John 10:30-33).

Also, there is no Day of Atonement mentioned in Ezekiel's later chapters. And the altar will have steps leading up to it (Ez. 43:17), whereas this was forbidden in Ex. 20:26. The priests were to live in one specific area near the temple (Ez. 45:4), whereas under the Mosaic Law, the priests were given land to live on in each of the various tribes of Israel. And yet the record of the restoration stresses that the priests lived not around the temple, but in various cities throughout Judah (Ezra 2:70; Neh. 7:73; 11:3,20; 12:44). The commands relating to the rebuilt temple are expanded upon in Zechariah 3. There we read that Joshua the high priest was to be dressed first with the headpiece and then with the rest of the priestly garments (Zech. 3:5). This is the reverse order to the Mosaic commands in Ex. 29:5-7 and Lev. 8:7-9- implying that this was to be a new kind of high priest. Likewise the two onyx stones and the twelve gemstones of the Mosaic breastplate are replaced by a singular stone for the restored high priest (Zech. 3:9). And again, the inauguration of the new high priest in Zech. 3 doesn't feature any anointing, whereas this was a major part of the Mosaic ritual.

The layout of the land of Israel according to Ezekiel 40-48

Plan of Ezekiel's temple showing similarities with Solomon's temple


Personally I am completely satisfied with the above diagrams, taken [with kind permission] from the publication of Peter Southgate concerning Ezekiel’s temple. He demonstrates quite convincingly that the temple prophesied by Ezekiel was of broadly similar dimensions to that of Solomon (3), 500 cubits square (see RSV), and that it’s primary intention is / will be for “the people of the land”, i.e. Israel (Is. 66:20; Ez. 20:40; 44:9; 46:3,9). However, the purpose of this study is to explore the links between Ezekiel 40-48 and the minor prophets, and the whole record of the restoration of Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah. My thesis is that Bible prophecy is often more conditional upon human response than we may think. God’s prophecies are sure of fulfilment from His point of view, but they are dependent upon human co-operation with the Divine will; and this He will not force. Thus the power and intensity of prayer, the effort of the preacher, can all affect how things turn out ultimately- even though God may have prophesied certain things, some of them still depend upon our prayer and freewill effort to come to fruition. This thesis has been developed at some length elsewhere. And so it was with the temple prophesied by Ezekiel. In the same way as Solomon could have been the Messiah [as perhaps could men like Eliakim, Is. 22:20-25- the language is later transferred to the Lord Jesus), for all God’s foreknowledge otherwise, so the Messianic Kingdom could have come at the time of the restoration from Babylon. Indeed, Ez. 43:19 suggests it could have been built within Ezekiel’s lifetime, for he was to give the animals to the sons of Zadok to offer in the temple; Ezekiel was to prepare the daily sacrifice (46:13). But due to the Jews’ selfishness and lack of spirituality, it didn’t happen. This accounts for the many links between the Ezekiel prophesies and prophets like Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. What was theoretically possible, what potentially could have been, simply wasn’t- because of their self-centredness and lack of effort. The prophecy of Ezekiel 40-48 was therefore primarily command rather than prediction. This was how it should have been, but the Jews failed to obey it all. They were minimalists, satisficers, rather than rising up to their full potential.



(1) See R.S. Foster, The Restoration Of Israel (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970) p. 28; John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981) p. 325; Martin Noth, The History of Israel (London: SCM, 1983) p. 291.

(2) C.L. & E.M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2004) p. 270.

(3) Peter Southgate, God’s Temple: Past, Present & Future (Sutton Dawn  Ecclesia, 1975). Sadly, and to me inexplicably, the size of Ezekiel’s temple has been a source of sore disagreement in some sectors of our community. In his well known article True Principles And Uncertain Details, Robert Roberts places this matter well and truly in the ‘uncertain details’ category- and elsewhere, disagrees with aspects of the ‘large temple’ view propounded by  Henry Sulley. The matter should be left as something which is ‘uncertain’ and not be dogmatized upon. Other studies which have come to similar conclusions as Peter Southgate relating to the size of the temple, i.e. the measurements being in cubits rather than reeds, include Mark Allfree, Worship In The Age To Come and Philip Hinde & Ivan Sturman, Ezekiel’s Last Vision.