Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Coming to grips with our sin is never comfortable. It involves so many emotions: shame, guilt, fear, frustration, sadness, despair… But one key reason God gives us grand visions of our future is to help us repent of our sin. Not all shame is bad. There is a shame that motivates us to look to the cross for forgiveness and seek to walk in newness of life.
When God gave Ezekiel his climactic last vision, part of his purpose was to bring Israel to a place of repentance. Recall that the original audience for this vision was the nation in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC. They were in exile as a judgment of God for their sin. Perhaps they weren’t convinced yet.
We’ve broken up this long vision into six chunks, and this part contains God’s call to Israel to repentance and holiness. It includes the measurements for the altar of this visionary temple, and instructions for making sacrifice for sin.
God never wants us to wallow in shame over sin. Instead, he wants our recognition of sin to lead us to his designed sacrifice to make us holy. In short, he always provides a way for the forgiveness of sins.
Ezek. 43:10 “As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, so that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. Let them measure its pattern, 11 and they will be ashamed of all that they have done. Reveal the design of the temple to them—its layout with its exits and entrances—its complete design along with all its statutes, design specifications, and laws. Write it down in their sight so that they may observe its complete design and all its statutes and may carry them out. 12 This is the law of the temple: All its surrounding territory on top of the mountain will be especially holy. Yes, this is the law of the temple.
While this call to point out Israel’s sin might seem harsh, remember that we live in a culture allergic to the idea of sin. God wants Israel to see the seriousness of their idolatry, greed, sexual immorality, bitterness, gossip, etc. He wants them to see how holy his temple is, and how in its entirety it is dedicated to him—just like they should be.
Ezek. 43:13 “These are the measurements of the altar in units of length (each unit being the standard length plus three inches): The gutter is 21 inches deep and 21 inches wide, with a rim of nine inches around its edge. This is the base of the altar. 14 The distance from the gutter on the ground to the lower ledge is 3⁄2 feet, and the width of the ledge is 21 inches. There are 7 feet from the small ledge to the large ledge, whose width is also 21 inches. 15 The altar hearth is 7 feet high, and four horns project upward from the hearth. 16 The hearth is square, 21 feet long by 21 feet wide. 17 The ledge is 24⁄2 feet long by 24⁄2 feet wide, with four equal sides. The rim all around it is 10⁄2 inches, and its gutter is 21 inches all around it. The altar’s steps face east.”
The altar was outside of the temple proper in the courtyard. What’s so important about the altar is what happened on top of it. It was on this slab that priests would have killed sacrificial animals to atone for various sins. If we want to dwell with God, there must be atonement for our sin.
Ezek. 43:18 Then he said to me: “Son of man, this is what the Lord GOD says: These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is constructed, so that burnt offerings may be sacrificed on it and blood may be splattered on it: 19 You are to give a bull from the herd as a sin offering to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who approach me in order to serve me.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 20 “You are to take some of its blood and apply it to the four horns of the altar, the four corners of the ledge, and all around the rim. In this way you will purify the altar and make atonement for it. 21 Then you are to take away the bull for the sin offering, and it must be burned outside the sanctuary in the place appointed for the temple.
This passage echoes Exodus 27-29 where God gave Israel instructions to build and dedicate the altar for the tabernacle. The priests needed to make a sacrifice for themselves, because they couldn’t serve without atoning for their sin. Even the altar itself needed to be set apart as holy.
Ezek. 43:22 “On the second day you are to present an unblemished male goat as a sin offering. They will purify the altar just as they did with the bull. 23 When you have finished the purification, you are to present a young, unblemished bull and an unblemished ram from the flock. 24 You are to present them before the LORD; the priests will throw salt on them and sacrifice them as a burnt offering to the LORD. 25 You will offer a goat for a sin offering each day for seven days. A young bull and a ram from the flock, both unblemished, are also to be offered. 26 For seven days the priests are to make atonement for the altar and cleanse it. In this way they will consecrate it 27 and complete the days of purification. Then on the eighth day and afterward, the priests will offer your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar, and I will accept you.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.
This sacrificial dedication process lasted an entire week. They spent an entire week making purification for the altar and for the priests. Only after this thorough offering would the Lord accept the priests as his servants.
Don’t miss the overall point. Putting God first, honoring him, and obeying his law was exactly what Israel had failed to do. They ended up in exile because they didn’t treat him as holy. So if they would repent, they needed to be purified through sacrifice and dedicate themselves entirely to the Lord.
The Big Picture
Anytime we talk about the sacrificial system in the Old Testament we have to consider the New Testament book of Hebrews. Hebrews makes clear the truth that Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system by serving not only as our High Priest, but also by being the sacrifice himself. Consider Hebrews 10:11-12, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.”
If we will dwell with God, we must be made holy through sacrifice. This is what Jesus accomplished for us by his death. The OT sacrificial system was not designed to remove all sin. It was designed to temporarily remove guilt and remind the people of their need for atonement. The old system anticipated the need for Jesus, and pointed towards him.
When we consider our eternal home in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 we find that the whole city is temple, and there is no altar, but there is a Lamb. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. Atonement has been made for sin. God can dwell with his people.
Taking It Home
As we consider applying this part of Ezekiel’s fourth vision, we have to come face to face with our sin. We have so many strategies for not confessing our sin. We avoid thinking about it, distracting ourselves to the extreme. We justify our sin by comparing ourselves to a darkened culture around us. We might even try to work off our own debt by trying really hard to do good stuff.
Because of the gospel there is a safe place for us to fall on our knees and confess our wrong-doing, wrong-thinking, and wrong-speaking. We can confess our sin, confident in our Sacrifice. Maybe you struggle to take time to honestly confront your own sin. Why not take a few minutes to do so now? Consider consciously preparing for corporate worship, and especially the Lord’s Supper. While it’s tragic to acknowledge the reasons we need a sacrifice, it’s glorious when we realize Jesus is our sacrifice. The payment has been made.
We must also consider our degree of dedication. Given that the sacrifice has been made, we are dedicated to the Lord. But are we? We must ask how we go about our daily grind. Are we thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that put God first? God refuses to be marginalized in our lives. He wants his temple on the top of our hill, consuming our view.
- Ask God to show you any unconfessed sin in your life. Take a few moments to allow his Spirit to convict you of your sin.
- Praise God for the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ. Praise Jesus for being our High Priest and the sacrificial Lamb.
- Ask God to help you walk by his Spirit and live a life dedicated to him. Ask him to grow your awareness of how you can live for him today.