This is part of a series on Ezekiel’s Temple. I’d recommend first reading Spiritualizers, Revisionists, and Ezekiel’s Temple. Or not.
After the precise temple measurements of Ezek 40-42, the glory of the God of Israel (כְּבוֹד֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל) enters the temple and fills the house. This glory has properly been called “the shekinah [שכינה] glory,” as God says that this is “where I will dwell among the sons of Israel” (אֲשֶׁ֧ר אֶשְׁכָּן־שָׁ֛ם בְּת֥וֹךְ בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל ). Feinberg comments:
Now that the temple had been described, it was necessary to signify that the building was accepted by God. This was accomplished by the manifestation of the glory of the Lord in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and in Solomon’s temple (I Kings 8:10-11; II Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3). The Shekinah glory is never mentioned in connection with the restoration (Zerubbabel’s) temple, so that temple cannot be the fulfillment of what is predicted here. In a sense 43:1-7 was the climax and culmination of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The Lord returned as the divine King to occupy the temple as the throne of His kingdom. Here is indicated that which alone could make valid and give efficacy to the structure, namely, the presence of God Himself.1
While the imperfect verb, אֶשְׁכָּן, could be used to express the present tense, this is clearly not the case in Ezek 43:7 as this phrase is followed by, “No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry” (לֹ֣א יְטַמְּא֣וּ ע֣וֹד בֵּֽית־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵל שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֞י הֵ֤מָּה וּמַלְכֵיהֶם֙ בִּזְנוּתָ֔ם). A present-time understanding of “dwell” at the beginning of the verse would urge a present-time understanding of “וְלֹ֣א יְטַמְּא֣וּ” that extends forever, which simply contradicts Jewish history, especially in light of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. The erection of Ezekiel’s temple is not a historical event that has already happened. Ezekiel did not intend for Israel to understand this prophecy as part of the temple restoration after the exile nor did Israel use Ezekiel as an instruction manual for the temple restoration. When Israel restored the temple, Ezra records that they sanctified the altar “as it is written in the law of Moses” (כַּכָּת֕וּב בְּתוֹרַ֖ת מֹשֶׁ֥ה Ezra 3:2) rather than as Ezekiel wrote (Ezek 43:18-27 as opposed to Exod 29:35-46). Likewise, the priesthood was restored “according to the writing of the book of Moses” (כִּכְתָ֖ב סְפַ֥ר מֹשֶֽׁה Ezra 6:18), rather than the priesthood that Ezekiel described (Ezek 44:15-31). As the Jews of Ezra’s day properly understood the text in a plain, inerrant, eschatological sense, so should the interpreter today.
Since Ezekiel’s temple has not yet come, the conclusion is that it will come later. Most translations render לְעוֹלָם in verse 7 as “forever,” but this word has some unique Hebraic qualities that are worthy of consideration. The word, לְעוֹלָם, comes from the word, “עוֹלָם” (“eternity”) with a lamed prefix, such that the Hebrew expression for “forever” is more literally “to eternity,” but עוֹלָם has a wider range of meaning than simply, “eternity.” The past form would be מֵעוֹלָם, which is simply the same word with a mem prefix, which would essentially be “from eternity” rather than “to eternity,”2 but the עוֹלָם from whence מֵעוֹלָם comes is not typically understood as eternity past. This word, מֵעוֹלָם, occurs in Gen 6:4, in the phrase “the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (הַגִּבֹּרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר מֵעוֹלָ֖ם אַנְשֵׁ֥י הַשֵּֽׁם), and it is the word that Joshua chose when he said in Josh 24:2, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the River in old times” (בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַנָּהָ֗ר יָשְׁב֤וּ אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ מֵֽעוֹלָ֔ם), as well as the author of 1 Sam 27:8, who wrote, “For those were the inhabitants of the land from old” (כִּ֣י הֵ֜נָּה יֹשְׁב֤וֹת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מֵֽעוֹלָ֔ם). Thus מֵעוֹלָם does not mean “from eternity past until today” but only “from a time in the past.” The cognate is visible in the Phoenician word, L-‘LM, meaning “always” or “forever” as in B’LSMM L’LM YBRKN, translated “Baalsamem bless me always!”3 The Phoenician prefix, L-, also occurs in the adverbial expressions, L-PN Z and L-PNM, meaning “in the past” or “earlier,” which Krahmalkov compares to Hebrew’s LPNY MZH and LPBYM. The Neo-Punic tended toward a beth rather than lamed, as if to think of being “in” the past, rather than “toward” the past, such that L-PN Z became byth thymmoth, meaning “in time past.”4 This indicates that perhaps לְעוֹלָם does not strictly mean, “through eternity,” but could also include, “to a time in the future.” Williams lists the lamed prefix as a “temporally terminative לְ” and translates it, “to long time” or “to eternity” in addition to “forever.”5 Further, many Septuagint manuscripts will have לְעוֹלָם in Ezek 43:7 translated as τὸν αἰῶνα, which could work as an adverbial accusative, “eternally,” (or perhaps more properly, “aeonly”),6 but there are also those that include the preposition εις, which would change the accusative from an adverbial sense to a relation to the preposition, such that a literal translation would be “to eternity” (or “to the aeon”),7 which is an excellently literal translation of לְעוֹלָם. This demonstrates that Jews from antiquity likely understood that the meaning was “to the eternal age.”
This understanding of לְעוֹלָֽם fits John’s account of the beginning of the eternal state in Rev 20. Ezekiel mentions the carcasses of the kings in their high places in 43:7 (בָּמוֹתָֽם מַלְכֵיהֶ֖ם וּבְפִגְרֵ֥י) which is a matter of much dispute, but it is likely that he is referencing Lev 26:30 ( וְהִשְׁמַדְתִּ֞י אֶת־בָּמֹֽתֵיכֶ֗ם וְהִכְרַתִּי֙ אֶת־חַמָּ֣נֵיכֶ֔ם וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ אֶת־פִּגְרֵיכֶ֔ם עַל־פִּגְרֵ֖י גִּלּוּלֵיכֶ֑ם וְגָעֲלָ֥ה נַפְשִׁ֖י אֶתְכֶֽם).8 Ezekiel 43:9 proclaims that these carcasses will be put away “unto eternity” (לְעוֹלָֽם), which could fit as a reference to their future resurrection for the final rebellion and judgement at the beginning of the eternal age. Further, understanding לְעוֹלָם in Ezek 43:7 as “forever” is problematic because there will not always be a temple. In the eternal state, God Himself will be the temple (Rev 21:22), so He will not rule in Ezekiel’s temple throughout eternity, but rather during the Millennial reign until eternity, that is, until the eternal state begins on a new earth.
That the Messianic Temple will be occupied by God Himself is something that even Jews, who reject the Messianic authority and Deity of Christ, see in Ezekiel. Solomon Fisch writes in the Soncino commentary:
In contrast to the former Temple, which was only God’s footstool, His throne being in heaven (Isa. Lx. 13; Ps. Cxxxii. 7; Lam. Ii. 1; 1 Chron. Xxviii. 2), the new Temple will become in a complete sense the abode of the Divine Presence, indicated by the combination of throne and soles of My feet.9
Ironically, while it is the Jewish agenda that is set on denying Christ, there are Christians who attribute the altar in Ezekiel’s temple to paganism. For example, Carley writes:
The altar consisted of three blocks. The lower pedestal-block (verse 14) was 2 cubits high and its horizontal surface 16 cubits square. The taller pedestal-block was 4 cubits high and 14 cubits square, while the topmost block (the altar-hearth) was the same height but 12 cubits square. This gave the altar the appearance of a series of steps (the cubit-wide ridge(s)), like a Babylonian temple-tower, quite unlike the altar of the unhewn stones that was eventually used in the post-exilic temple. The bold use of a Babylonian design is interesting. There appears to be no fear felt at the use of such a foreign article in Israel’s post-exilic worship.10
The difference in ascribing the temple to Messianic deity and ascribing it to near-eastern paganism is eschatology. Solomon Fisch sees the temple as future while Carley sees it as past. From a conservative dispensational standpoint, the Jewish interpretation that it is a future Messianic Temple that God will inhabit is entirely accurate, although the Jewish rejection of Christ is of the most fundamental questions in orthodoxy.
Just as Fisch provides great evidence for the deity of Christ, yet denies Christ, Carley brings support that Ezekiel’s temple liturgy is yet future, yet denies that it is future:
In dealing with 8:16 it was said that Ezekiel probably accused the priests of Jerusalem of pagan worship. It is therefore unlikely that the prophet himself would have exonerated the priests in the fashion of verse 15. The Zadokite priesthood may in fact have been descended from the Jebusite priests who served in Jerusalem before David’s capture of the city. The Zadokites probably claimed Levitical descent even before Deuteronomy demanded that only Levites should act as Israel’s priests. But as we have just seen in the previous section, this chapter declares all country Levites unfit for priestly service. It was under the influence of 44:6-31 that a note of the exclusive rights of Zadokites who ‘may come near to serve the LORD’ was added in 40:46; 43:19 and 48:11. After the exile, the struggle for supremacy among the priests was resolved by allowing those who traced their descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses, the privilege of serving in the sanctuary. The Zadokites claimed to be of the line of Eleazar, an elder son of Aaron (1 Chron. 6:3-8), while the other priests claimed to be of the line of Ithamar, Aaron’s youngest son. The claim on the part of the Zadokites was a fiction, but it enabled them to preserve a leading role among the priests by reason of Eleazar’s seniority of birth. The remaining Levites fulfilled a subordinate role such as that described for them in Ezekiel (see Num. 18:1-7).
The question of priestly descent – which is really a matter of authority like the later claims to ‘apostolic succession’ – was one of the problems for the Jewish community in the last centuries B.C. The murder of the legitimate high priest Onias III in about 172 B.B. (2 Macc. 4:33-8; Dan. 9:26) and the appointment then and later of non-Zadokite high priests are the indications of deep rivalries in the struggle for power.
The meanings of the regulations in verses 17-31 are not all fully understood, but most of them are paralleled in the Priestly material from Exodus to Numbers.11
The evidence is the same, but instead of writing off the Zadokite priesthood as confusing Priestly material or claiming that Ezekiel “wanted to reform existing priestly sacrifice,”12 the dispensationalist simply accepts that God said it would happen and therefore it will.
- Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 251.
- In Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1987), the entry on לְעוֹלָם is as follows: לְעוֹלָם adv. Forever, always [Construed with the negative particle , the meaning is ‘never’. This construction is used only if the predicate is in the imperfect. If the predicate is in the past tense, מֵעוֹלָם is used (q.v.). Formed from the noun עוֹלָם (=eternity) with pref. ☐לְ]
- Charles Krahmalkov, A Phoenician-Punic Grammar, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2001), 265.
- Ibid., 264.
- Ronald J. Williams and John C. Beckman, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax 3rd ed., (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 105.
- Perhaps the adverbial reading was reinforced by Jerome’s Vulgate translation, “semper,” which reinforces his theology, “He did not dwell for a short time as in the synagogue, but forever, as is shown in the church of Christ.” Jerome, Corpus Christianorum. Series Latina. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 75:626, cited by Kenneth Stevenson and Micahel Glerup, eds. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. XIII Ezekiel, Daniel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 140.
- A footnote on Ezek. 43:7 in Alfred Rahlfs ed. Septuaginta: Ids est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes, (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979) has, “A| τὸν αἰῶνα] pr. εις” where “A” means und N.T. enthaltended Bibelhss. BSA (pg. L) and “pr”. means προτασσεται (pg. XXIV).
- Daniel Block, “Beyond The Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision Of Death And Afterlife” Bulletin for Biblical Research 02:1 (NA 1992), 130-132.
- Solomon Fisch, Soncino Books of the Bible: Ezekiel, second impression, A. Cohen, general editor, (London: Soncino Press: 1960), 294.
- Keith W. Carley, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 288.
- Ibid., 296-297.
- Robert Wilson, Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988) 693.