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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

11.4 The Contemporary Relevance Of Ezekiel's Temple

Ezekiel shewed Judah the general picture of the temple; if they were obedient, then God promised to give them more details so they could build it in reality (Ez. 43:10). In the same way as the Angel-cherubim were to be followed back on earth by Judah from Babylon to Jerusalem, so in the same way as the Angel is described as measuring the new temple, so Judah were to "measure the pattern" and build accordingly (Ez. 43:10). There is a congruence between the style of address found in Ez. 40-48 and the earlier part of the prophecy. This is because Ezekiel is addressing the same audience- those who had heard his criticisms and appeals for repentance were the same group who were now being commanded to build a temple according to the dimensions given. Thus "Thou shalt say to the rebellious house..." (44:6) is the same rubric used earlier (2:5; 3:26; 12:2,25; 17:12; 24:3). The new temple was "to make a separation between that which was holy and that which was common" (Ez. 42:20 RV)- alluding back to Ezekiel's earlier lament that Judah had not made that very separation (Ez. 22:26). Time and again, the new system is described in terms which allude to the bad practices in the old system- e.g. the stress of Ez. 42:4 etc. that the doors of the new chambers were "toward the north" connects with how Ezekiel had earlier seen women weeping for Tammuz "towards the north" in the temple (Ez. 8:14; Ez. 9:2). Ezekiel himself was to provide the sons of Zadok with a bullock for a sin offering (Ez. 43:19), as if he himself could have been present in the work of the building and dedication of this temple. The Zadok of Ez. 43:19 may well be the very Zadok of Neh. 13:13. Ezekiel himself, as a priest, was to inaugurate the altar by sprinkling blood upon it and making an offering (Ez. 43:20-25). Ezekiel personally was to give the priests a bullock to offer on the new altar and to cleanse it (Ez. 43:19,20)- as if the temple was intended to be built during Ezekiel's lifetime. Ezekiel’s temple prophecies are described as “the law of the house” (Ez. 43:12). They were a law, a commandment to be fulfilled. This explains the commandment style of the instructions, e.g. 44:2: “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened”. Some of the commandments about giving the Gentiles inheritance amongst the tribal cantons (47:23) are understandable in the light of the fact that the Samaritans were living in the land at the time of the restoration.  

The description of Ezekiel's Temple was to be given to the captives in Babylon by Ezekiel, to lead them to repentance and to assure them of what could be if they repented. Then when the invitation to leave Babylon and return came in the time of Ezra, they ought to have been motivated to return to the land and build the temple which Ezekiel had explained to them. But sadly most of them weren’t very deeply motivated at all; they wanted to build a temple, but not to the extent Ezekiel had outlined. Consider in this light Ezek 43:10-11: “Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them”. Then, when the temple was built, they were to be obedient in all the ways in which they hadn’t been obedient in the past, with the result that they were now sitting in captivity (44:24). This was the tragedy felt by Ezra, when he realized the exiles were not living as they should be: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased” (Ezra 9:6). Israel would only be able to build the temple properly if they were “ashamed of their iniquities” (Ez. 43:10). And Ezra knew they weren’t. And thus he sought to take upon himself that shame, believing that God would accept his shame on behalf of the people. Note in passing how he speaks of blushing before God. You only blush in someone’s presence. And this was how close and real Ezra felt his God to be.  Perhaps this repentance of a remnant explains why in fact the record of Ezekiel's temple was written down at all- for Ez. 43:11 seems to say that it would be written down if Judah were ashamed of their sins. Ezekiel's opening chapters record him being forewarned by God that they would not generally be responsive to his ministry; and yet some were, Ezra e.g., and maybe this was eagerly seized upon by God as the basis for allowing the writing down and preservation of the specifications we have in Ez. 40-48.

“My princes [in this new temple system] shall no more oppress my people” as they did in the recent past (Ez. 45:8 cp. Jer. 22:3; Ez. 18:7,12,16; 22:7,29; Zeph. 3:1, where the same Hebrew word for “oppress” is found). Thus there was to be repentance for the ‘oppression’ which Ezekiel had earlier had to criticize Israel for. They were to have “just” balances (Ez. 45:10), as opposed to the “unjust” [s.w.] balances which they had in the lead up to the captivity (Jer. 22:13, AV “unrighteous”). In the past, they had brought strangers into the temple; but in the new system, they were not to do so (44:7 cp. 9). The statements that “they shall put on other garments: and they shall not sanctify the people with their garments...neither shall any priest drink wine, when they enter into the inner court. Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her that is put away” (44:18-23) may all be hinting that these things were done by Israel before the captivity; but they were not to be done in the new temple (1). They are commands rather than simple predictions. Yet the tragedy is, the Jews did, e.g., trade on the Sabbath in Nehemiah’s time, when this was exactly the reason they went to Babylon in the first place (Am. 8:5). They went into captivity because the princes and priests oppressed the people (Jer. 21:12; 22:3,17); in the new temple, this was not to be so (Ez. 45:8). And yet, in Nehemiah’s time the princes of the people did again oppress them, e.g. through making them mortgage their lands to them. This is the tragedy of Israel’s refusal to learn… The intention was that they would “bear the punishment of their iniquity…that the house of Israel go no more astray” (Ez. 14:11).   

“Moreover the prince shall not take of the people's inheritance by oppression, to thrust them out of their possession; but he shall give his sons inheritance out of his own possession: that my people be not scattered every man from his possession” (Ezek 46:18). This and the surrounding verses are admittedly hard to understand if they really are to be literally fulfilled in relation to Jesus at His second coming. But it is so understandable within the framework of interpretation here advocated. They had gone into captivity for these kind of abuses, and they were to return and rebuild the temple after the pattern of Solomon’s, repent of their sins, and live righteously, and they would have the possibility of bringing in the Messianic Kingdom. But they chose to be satisfied with a semi-revival, a quasi repentance- just as we can be so easily. And Nehemiah records how the princes did oppress the people, taking their land / possessions away from them. 

Mic. 7:11-13 RV outlines the basic thesis that we are presenting in this study. “In the day that thy walls are to be built [the restoration under Nehemiah], in that day shall the boundary [of Israel] be far removed [the boundaries of Israel would be extended, as noted in several prophecies of the Kingdom]. In that day shall they come unto thee from Assyria [Babylon] and the cities of Egypt…even to the river [Euphrates- i.e. all of scattered Israel, including those who went down to Egypt with Jeremiah 70 years beforehand, would return to the land]…Notwithstanding, the land shall be desolate”. Despite all this being made potentially possible (“notwithstanding…”), the wonderful Messianic Kingdom was disallowed from coming into existence at that time because of “the fruit of their doings” (Mic. 7:13). Neh. 7:4 obliquely comments on the tragedy: “Now the city was large and great: but the people [who returned from Babylon] were few therein, and the houses were not builded”. When “the time to favour Zion” came, at the end of the 70 years, God’s servants Israel were to “take pleasure in her stones, and favour [even] the dust thereof”; and then, “when the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory” (Ps. 102:13-16). But the few Jews who returned chose not to live in Jerusalem, preferring to carve out for themselves farmsteads in the countryside (Neh. 11:1), and the strength of those that shifted the rubble in Jerusalem decayed…they saw her dust and scattered stones as a nuisance, and didn’t take pleasure in them (Neh. 4:10). And so the Lord could not then appear in glory.  

It was Ezekiel, as he sat with the exiles in Babylon, who was to divide the land by lot unto the various tribes (Ez. 48:29). The tragedy of all the details recorded in Ezekiel 40-48, and the very reason for their being preserved to this day, is to show us to what great extent God has prepared potential things for His people, and yet they can be totally wasted if we don’t respond. In fact according to Mic. 4:10, it was God’s purpose to exile His people to Babylon, “and there shalt thou be delivered; there the Lord shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies”. And yet they preferred to side with their enemies and to prefer non-deliverance from Babylon. The tragedy of it all is almost unthinkable, and yet this is what we do if day by day we chose the things of this world against the deliverance from this world which there is in Christ.

The Relevance Of Malachi and Haggai

All this explains why Malachi and Haggai so bitterly complain at the way the priests didn’t serve God properly in the restored temple. They offered blemished sacrifices, when it had been prophesied / commanded in Ezekiel that Israel were not to do this (Mal. 1:8). The priests married divorced women (Mal. 2:14-16), even though Ez. 44 commanded they should not do this. They were to use just measures (45:9-14), unlike what they had previously done. But they robbed God in their sacrifices in the restored temple (Mal. 3:8). The priests were to shut the gates (Ez. 44:2; 46:2,12); but they refused to do this unless they were paid for it (Mal. 1:10). The abuses against “mine altar” of Mal. 1:7,10 refer to the much-mentioned altar of Ez. 40-48, which was to be used in a way unlike the previous abuses of the pre-captivity period. Judah had made no difference between clean and unclean, and therefore had gone into captivity (Ez. 22:26); and therefore the temple was a command / prophecy to divide the clean from the unclean in the whole way the building was designed and was to be built and operated (42:20). It was a “law” that the top of the house be “holy” (43:12). Even within Ezekiel, Israel are criticized for oppressing the stranger / Gentile who lived with them (22:7,29); and now they are told that in the new temple system, the stranger must be generously given an inheritance in the land, he must be counted as actually belonging to one of the tribes (47:23). 

It could be pointed out that the temple which Cyrus commanded the Jews to build in Jerusalem was of different (smaller) dimensions to that of Ezekiel (Ezra 6:3,4). Two possibilities arise here. Either Israel chose to listen to the words of man rather than those of God through Ezekiel; or (more likely) God reduced the dimensions, knowing that this was within the capability of Israel to achieve. In any case, Israel were encouraged by Divine prophesy in the work of building according to the pattern which Cyrus had given (Ezra 6:14). God is so eager to work with men that He will work with us on our lower level, even if it is a level lower than what we are capable of. And so we should treat our weaker brethren. 

God likewise had redefined the boundaries of the land in accordance to what Israel had the strength to subdue; He made account for their weakness. Thus Ephraim were given some cities within the inheritance of Manasseh (Josh. 16:9), presumably because Manasseh wouldn’t drive out the tribes living there. And the Lord seems to have alluded to this by saying that we will be given cities, the number of which depends upon our zeal to possess them. God had clearly promised: “Your God, he shall expel them from before you…and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised unto you” (Josh. 23:5). But this promise was conditional upon them making the effort, even though that condition is not specifically mentioned. Ultimately, God will “enlarge all the borders of the land” (Is. 26:15 RV) because Israel will finally rise up to the spiritual ambition He desires of them.  

All this helps make sense of the fact that there are many details in Ez. 40-48 which seem very hard to apply to a future Kingdom under the rulership of Jesus. The offering of animal sacrifices in order to gain forgiveness seems to flatly contradict the teaching of Hebrews concerning the one time nature of the Lord’s offering. The existence of animals who will have been “torn” by other animals (Ez. 44:31) seems hard to square with the Kingdom prophecies of Isaiah 9 and 11 about the animals living at peace with each other. The language used about “the prince” also seems impossible to understand about an immortal being [see later]. Indeed the whole style of Ez. 40-48 would appear to be relevant to Ezekiel’s own time- note how the borders of the land are described as “Sibraim, which is between the border of Damascus…on the north northward is the border of Hamath” (Ez. 47:16,17 RV). Even the idea that Jerusalem will become the city where “the Lord is there” (Ez. 48:35) must be connected with Ezekiel’s early use of the phrase to describe how the Lord “was there” in the land of Israel before the Babylonian invasion (Ez. 35:10); all these details could have come true in Ezekiel’s time. Yet they have been given a deferred or re-interpreted fulfilment because of Israel’s unwillingness to allow them to come true for them.


(1) If we insist that every part of Ez. 40-48 is going to have a literal fulfilment in the Millennium, then we have to accept that Jesus will accept divorce and remarriage in His Kingdom- it’s just that the priests won’t be able to marry divorcees, but others will. And this ought to exercise the minds of those who so strongly refuse to fellowship divorced and remarried folk. The Lord will accept it amongst the mortals in His Millennial Kingdom- if we are going to apply these passages literally to that time. This is not to mean that the sin of divorce is in any way minimised. My point is simply that the tolerance and restorative fellowship of the Lord ought to be reflected in our judgments.