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
One of the daily challenges we face as Christians is putting God first in every area of our lives. Often we will succeed in treating God as holy in our workplace only to fail at home or vice versa. We’ll succeed in our marriage, but fail in our finances. Sometimes we fall into a long term bad habit of not honoring God in an area of our lives. God calls us to more. He calls us to a consistent lifestyle of dedication to him in the details.
As we continue to part four of Ezekiel’s fourth vision we read about access to the temple and the requirements for priests who will serve the Lord. These priests, especially the last group described, are a model of devotion to the Lord for all of Israel in exile. Israel had failed to believe the Lord and put him first, so God gives Ezekiel an instructive vision. He wants dedication in the details.
Ezek. 44:1 The man then brought me back toward the sanctuary’s outer gate that faced east, and it was closed. 2 The LORD said to me: “This gate will remain closed. It will not be opened, and no one will enter through it, because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it. Therefore it will remain closed. 3 The prince himself will sit in the gate to eat a meal before the LORD. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gate and go out the same way.”
Even the gate that the Lord’s glory passed through to enter the temple was considered holy unto him, and therefore unusable to anyone else. This included the prince. It’s unusual for a prince or king to function in a priestly way, but here the prince is envisioned eating a sacrificial meal before the Lord. There’s not much to say about this, other than in Ezekiel’s vision ideal leadership is directly linked with worship of and dedication to the Lord.
Ezek. 44:4 Then the man brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked, and the glory of the LORD filled his temple. And I fell facedown. 5 The LORD said to me: “Son of man, pay attention; look with your eyes and listen with your ears to everything I tell you about all the statutes and laws of the LORD’s temple. Take careful note of the entrance of the temple along with all the exits of the sanctuary.
Once again Ezekiel sees the glory of God fill the temple, and once again he falls down to worship God. The angelic guide instructs him to pay attention to the commands, especially regarding who is to have access to the temple.
Ezek. 44:6 “Say to the rebellious people, the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: I have had enough of all your detestable practices, house of Israel. 7 When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in both heart and flesh, to occupy my sanctuary, you defiled my temple while you offered my food—the fat and the blood. You broke my covenant by all your detestable practices. 8 You have not kept charge of my holy things but have appointed others to keep charge of my sanctuary for you.’
The Lord makes clear another area of sin that led to the exile: allowing ceremonially unclean people access to the temple. This wasn’t just about ethnicity, these were foreigners in both “heart and flesh.” Their hearts were foreign to the Lord. Israel had allowed Canaanite religious practices to influence theirs, probably by inviting pagan priests to observe and even advise them. They didn’t treat the holy instruments of the temple as holy. They didn’t treat the Lord as holy.
It’s important to keep in mind that access to the temple was supposed to be strictly limited to those who had kept the law and had been purified by rituals and sacrifice. This breach of the temple’s holiness was an attack on God himself.
Ezek. 44:9 “This is what the Lord GOD says: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, may enter my sanctuary, not even a foreigner who is among the Israelites. 10 Surely the Levites who wandered away from me when Israel went astray, and who strayed from me after their idols, will bear the consequences of their iniquity. 11 Yet they will occupy my sanctuary, serving as guards at the temple gates and ministering at the temple. They will slaughter the burnt offerings and other sacrifices for the people and will stand before them to serve them. 12 Because they ministered to the house of Israel before their idols and became a sinful stumbling block to them, therefore I swore an oath against them”—this is the declaration of the Lord GOD—“that they would bear the consequences of their iniquity. 13 They must not approach me to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or the most holy things. They will bear their disgrace and the consequences of the detestable acts they committed. 14 Yet I will make them responsible for the duties of the temple—for all its work and everything done in it.
In the vision, the Levites who had committed these sins by allowing foreigners access to the temple would still be allowed to serve the Lord, but only as guards at the doors. They were relegated to edges of the temple, barely being allowed access themselves. They were forbidden from offering sacrifices or serving in any other capacity. This was the consequence of their sin. This downgrade was another way for the Lord to warn the people to treat him as holy. If the Levites weren’t immune from God’s judgement, who was? Even so, this judgment wasn’t without grace.
Ezek. 44:15 “But the Levitical priests descended from Zadok, who kept charge of my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, will approach me to serve me. They will stand before me to offer me fat and blood.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 16 “They are the ones who may enter my sanctuary and approach my table to serve me. They will keep my mandate. 17 When they enter the gates of the inner court they are to wear linen garments; they must not have on them anything made of wool when they minister at the gates of the inner court and within it. 18 They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They are not to put on anything that makes them sweat. 19 Before they go out to the outer court, to the people, they must take off the clothes they have been ministering in, leave them in the holy chambers, and dress in other clothes so that they do not transmit holiness to the people through their clothes.
In this vision, only a particular line of priests was permitted to serve the Lord by offering sacrifices. The family of Zadock had produced faithful priests, albeit as a minority. Thus they would be allowed to serve once again, assuming they followed the Lord’s prescribed rules. They were to serve in complete dedication to the Lord. Even their clothes were holy, and could not be worn for another purpose.
Ezek. 44:20 “They may not shave their heads or let their hair grow long, but are to carefully trim their hair. 21 No priest may drink wine before he enters the inner court. 22 He is not to marry a widow or a divorced woman, but may marry only a virgin from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. 23 They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and explain to them the difference between the clean and the unclean.
The priest’s entire life was to be lived in dedication to the Lord. This impacted who he could marry, when he could drink alcohol (he couldn’t risk serving the Lord drunk), and even how he could cut his hair. He should teach Israel how to treat the Lord as holy.
Today this sounds silly. Dress codes, dating rules, dietary restrictions, and hair style limitations. Israel didn’t like it either. They wanted to do whatever they wanted, or at least whatever the other nations around them were doing. Does this sound familiar?
This kind of holiness is exactly what God was calling Ezekiel’s audience to. They had profaned the Holy One. They needed to be taught again what it meant to put God first in everything—including diet, fashion, hair styles, and dating. We push back against this because on many days we just want to be our own god. Have you ever asked how God wants you to dress? Who God wants you to date? This is exactly the kind of detailed dedication to the Lord that he calls us to.
Ezek. 44:24 “In a dispute, they will officiate as judges and decide the case according to my ordinances. They are to observe my laws and statutes regarding all my appointed festivals, and keep my Sabbaths holy. 25 A priest may not come near a dead person so that he becomes defiled. However, he may defile himself for a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, or an unmarried sister. 26 After he is cleansed, he is to count off seven days for himself. 27 On the day he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he is to present his sin offering.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.
The priests had to maintain their holiness, it wasn’t a one time dedication. God called them to a lifestyle of holiness. This was the only way Israel could live in relationship to the Lord. It’s the only way we can live in relationship to the Lord.
Ezek. 44:28 “This will be their inheritance: I am their inheritance. You are to give them no possession in Israel: I am their possession. 29 They will eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Everything in Israel that is permanently dedicated to the LORD will belong to them. 30 The best of all the firstfruits of every kind and contribution of every kind from all your gifts will belong to the priests. You are to give your first batch of dough to the priest so that a blessing may rest on your homes. 31 The priests may not eat any bird or animal that died naturally or was mauled by wild beasts.
The priests did not receive an inheritance of land because the Lord himself was their inheritance. The offerings of Israel to the Lord were shared with the priests. They were a set apart tribe. Their provision was secure in the dedication of the rest of Israel to the Lord.
It’s easy to get distracted by the blessings God gives us. Here, the Levites are called to be fulfilled by their inheritance being not land, or money, but the Lord himself. In the vision, these Levites are functioning as an ideal for all Israel. Yes, they will be given land, but it’s the Lord who is their inheritance.
The Big Picture
Ezekiel’s fourth vision not only shows us a dedicated priesthood, but it offers a model for how believers should live. Jesus himself embodied this priestly role. He was entirely dedicated to his mission and the glory of God in every detail of his life and death.
When we read the New Testament, we find out that every Christian is called to function as a priest. Peter, writing to Christians who were a minority in Asia Minor in the 1st century Roman empire, calls them to be priests. He writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
As Christians we must be set apart. We are a royal priesthood—royal because we are part of God’s family, priests because we are now dedicated to him in life and death. So often Christianity is presented in terms of salvation from damnation, which it is. But it’s so much more. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ we are not only gifted eternal life, we are given the privilege of living holy lives for the glory of God.
Taking It Home
As we think about this part of Ezekiel’s fourth vision, we must ask how are we living lives dedicated to God’s glory in the details. It’s helpful to think about different areas of your life: work or school, family relationships, sexual purity, finances, use of your speech, entertainment choices, political views, fashion choices, dietary decisions, and community involvement.
Don’t just ask if you’re putting God first in all those areas, ask how am I putting God first. What does a Christian fashion choice look like? How should it be different from our culture? What does Christian dating look like? How should it be different from our culture? Everyone has particular areas where we struggle to be dedicated to the Lord. Be specific about yours.
As you identify areas where you may be failing in holiness, don’t despair. Look to our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice means that you are forgiven for your failures. His faithfulness is the basis of your eternal security. Get up, dust yourself off, and get back to it. Imagine what our world would look like if everyone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus was dedicated to him in the details.
- Ask God to show you areas where you may be failing to live in holiness. Be ready to confess sin.
- Praise God for sending Jesus to be our High Priest and our sacrifice. Praise Jesus for being a model of living dedicated to God’s glory.