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
“When the believer enters heaven I believe his imagination will be thoroughly satisfied. All he has ever thought of he will there see; every holy idea will be solidified; every mighty conception will become a reality, every glorious imagination will become a tangible thing that he can see. His imagination will not be able to think of anything better than heaven; and should he sit down through eternity, he would not be able to conceive of anything that should outshine the luster of that glorious city.”
-C. H. Spurgeon
Since Genesis 3, every community on earth has been stained with sin. This means theft, deception, murder, inequality, injustice. This means there is a daily reminder for the need of law and law enforcement. There is an ever present demand for judges to render fair decisions. Likewise, there is an ever present need for protection for those accused from corrupt judges. The evidence of our brokenness is all around us.
In Ezekiel’s climactic 4th vision we get a glimpse of the ideal community. This week we will consider the 5th part of this vision, in which God shows Ezekiel portions of the city that should be set aside for the priests, and portions that should be set aside for princes (or rulers).
The major theme of this section is civic leadership that protects the people and facilitates worship of God at the renewed temple. The people will have access to God at the new temple, they will have a functioning and sanctified priesthood enabling worship, and they will have leaders who promote and provide for worship.
As you read, note the stark contrast between this ideal and the reality on the ground. Ezekiel’s first readers and hearers, Israelites in exile in Babylon, didn’t even have access to the temple. Sinful corruption and worship of false gods had led to the destruction of their culture. They needed a vision of a better community, what their city would be like when God finally removed the problem of sin. We need this vision just as much as they did. Our headlines remind us on a daily basis of just how much sin has stained our cities. Thankfully, by God’s grace and power, we have something to look forward to.
Ezek. 45:1 “When you divide the land by lot as an inheritance, set aside a donation to the LORD, a holy portion of the land, 81⁄3 milesc long and 62⁄3 miles wide. This entire region will be holy. 2 In this area there will be a square sectiona for the sanctuary, 875 by 875 feet, with 871⁄2 feet of open space all around it. 3 From this holy portion, you will measure off an area 81⁄3 miles long and 31⁄3 miles wide, in which the sanctuary, the most holy place, will stand. 4 It will be a holy area of the land to be used by the priests who minister in the sanctuary, who approach to serve the LORD. It will be a place for their houses, as well as a holy area for the sanctuary. 5 There will be another area 81⁄3 miles long and 31⁄3 miles wide for the Levites who minister in the temple; it will be their possession for towns to live in.
This space would ensure that priests had adequate room to live with their families. They would need this space to function effectively as priests, living in close proximity to the temple.
Ezek. 45:6 “As the property of the city, set aside an area 12⁄3 miles wide and 81⁄3 miles long, adjacent to the holy donation of land. It will be for the whole house of Israel. 7 And the prince will have the area on each side of the holy donation of land and the city’s property, adjacent to the holy donation and the city’s property, stretching to the west on the west side and to the east on the east side. Its length will correspond to one of the tribal portions from the western boundary to the eastern boundary. 8 This will be his land as a possession in Israel. My princes will no longer oppress my people but give the rest of the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes.
Most important here is the command to princes- they must no longer take advantage of the people, but provide rest for God’s people. This is a great snapshot of what quality government does: it facilitates the peaceful dwelling of people under the authority of God.
Ezek. 45:9 “This is what the Lord GOD says: You have gone too far, princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Put an end to your evictions of my people.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 10 “You are to have honest scales, an honest dry measure, and an honest liquid measure. 11 The dry measure and the liquid measure will be uniform, with the liquid measure containing 51⁄2 gallons and the dry measure holding half a bushel. Their measurement will be a tenth of the standard larger capacity measure. 12 The shekel will weigh twenty gerahs. Your mina will equal sixty shekels.
The Lord gives Ezekiel more specifics regarding the princes—they must no longer care about their own profit or status more than the people. They were responsible for honest business practices (fair measures). Sin demands constant oversight and accountability for leaders, but in Ezekiel’s vision corrupt leaders will be a distant memory, not a present reality.
Ezek. 45:13 “This is the contribution you are to offer: Three quarts from five bushels of wheat and three quarts from five bushels of barley. 14 The quota of oil in liquid measures will be one percent of every cor. The cor equals ten liquid measures or one standard larger capacity measure, since ten liquid measures equal one standard larger capacity measure. 15 And the quota from the flock is one animal out of every two hundred from the well-watered pastures of Israel. These are for the grain offerings, burnt offerings, and fellowship offerings, to make atonement for the people.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 16 “All the people of the land must take part in this contribution for the prince in Israel. 17 Then the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings for the festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths—for all the appointed times of the house of Israel—will be the prince’s responsibility. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and fellowship offerings to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel.
The people must make a sacrifice on behalf of the prince, and the prince will provide certain offerings for the people. Note the mutual concern here—neither taking advantage of the other, but rather each making provision so both the leadership and people are in a right relationship with God.
Ezek. 45:18 “This is what the Lord GOD says: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you are to take a young, unblemished bull and purify the sanctuary. 19 The priest is to take some of the blood from the sin offering and apply it to the temple doorposts, the four corners of the altar’s ledge, and the doorposts of the gate of the inner court. 20 You are to do the same thing on the seventh day of the month for everyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance. In this way you will make atonement for the temple.
Not only are the priests to be dedicated to the Lord’s purposes, but even the temple building itself is to be atoned for. Every aspect of this visionary city must be set apart for God alone. This theme reverberates throughout this entire fourth vision: the ideal community, the heavenly reality, is when every single aspect of our lives is entirely dedicated to the Lord.
Ezek. 45:21 “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you are to celebrate the Passover, a festival of seven days during which unleavened bread will be eaten. 22 On that day the prince will provide a bull as a sin offering on behalf of himself and all the people of the land. 23 During the seven days of the festival, he will provide seven bulls and seven rams without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD on each of the seven days, along with a male goat each day for a sin offering. 24 He will also provide a grain offering of half a bushel per bull and half a bushel per ram, along with a gallon of oil for every half bushel. 25 At the festival that begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, he will provide the same things for seven days—the same sin offerings, burnt offerings, grain offerings, and oil.
Instead of forgotten rituals or money making opportunities, Israel’s feasts would be observed as they designed to be. God’s people would make the appropriate sacrifices, remembering God’s remarkable provision for them.
Ezek. 46:1 “This is what the Lord GOD says: The gate of the inner court that faces east is to be closed during the six days of work, but it will be opened on the Sabbath day and opened on the day of the New Moon. 2 The prince should enter from the outside by way of the gate’s portico and stand at the gate’s doorpost while the priests sacrifice his burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He will bow in worship at the gate’s threshold and then depart, but the gate is not to be closed until evening. 3 The people of the land will also bow in worship before the LORD at the entrance of that gate on the Sabbaths and New Moons.
The prince will prioritize worship and the Sabbath day. He will lead the people as an example of faith in action and worship. The people will stand and worship with the prince, observing the Sabbath law as God intended. In Ezekiel’s time Israel violated the Sabbath principle often. Rather than trust God for provision, they focused on making more profit. Rather than prioritize worship, they prioritized self.
Ezek. 46:4 “The burnt offering that the prince presents to the LORD on the Sabbath day is to be six unblemished lambs and an unblemished ram. 5 The grain offering will be half a bushel with the ram, and the grain offering with the lambs will be whatever he wants to give, as well as a gallon of oil for every half bushel. 6 On the day of the New Moon, the burnt offering is to be a young, unblemished bull, as well as six lambs and a ram without blemish. 7 He will provide a grain offering of half a bushel with the bull, half a bushel with the ram, and whatever he can afford with the lambs, together with a gallon of oil for every half bushel. 8 When the prince enters, he is to go in by way of the gate’s portico and go out the same way.
Once again, the prince is pictured providing sacrifices. In this case, it’s the Sabbath day sacrifices. This is not only a sacrifice of time, it is a sacrifice of money as well. Every aspect of Israel’s government will be dedicated to God’s purposes.
Ezek. 46:9 “When the people of the land come before the LORD at the appointed times, whoever enters by way of the north gate to worship is to go out by way of the south gate, and whoever enters by way of the south gate is to go out by way of the north gate. No one may return through the gate by which he entered, but is to go out by the opposite gate. 10 When the people enter, the prince will enter with them, and when they leave, he will leave. 11 At the festivals and appointed times, the grain offering will be half a bushel with the bull, half a bushel with the ram, and whatever he wants to give with the lambs, along with a gallon of oil for every half bushel.
We aren’t totally clear on the reason for this traffic direction, other than simple crowd control. Think about the fact that so many people will be coming to worship the Lord, there has to be a well thought out plan of access.
Ezek. 46:12 “When the prince makes a freewill offering, whether a burnt offering or a fellowship offering as a freewill offering to the LORD, the gate that faces east is to be opened for him. He is to offer his burnt offering or fellowship offering just as he does on the Sabbath day. Then he will go out, and the gate is to be closed after he leaves.
Ezekiel’s vision continues to focus on the prince as a lead worshipper. This instruction is distinct from the other sacrifices he was to make. Freewill offerings were just that, made at the discretion of the worshipper.
Ezek. 46:13 “You are to offer an unblemished year-old male lamb as a daily burnt offering to the LORD; you will offer it every morning. 14 You are also to prepare a grain offering every morning along with it: three quarts, with one-third of a gallon of oil to moisten the fine flour—a grain offering to the LORD. This is a permanent statute to be observed regularly. 15 They will offer the lamb, the grain offering, and the oil every morning as a regular burnt offering.
How often would the prince be actively making sacrifices to the Lord? Daily. Worship will be a daily priority for the leaders of the people.
Ezek. 46:16 “This is what the Lord GOD says: If the prince gives a gift to each of his sons as their inheritance, it will belong to his sons. It will become their property by inheritance. 17 But if he gives a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, it will belong to that servant until the year of freedom, when it will revert to the prince. His inheritance belongs only to his sons; it is theirs. 18 The prince must not take any of the people’s inheritance, evicting them from their property. He is to provide an inheritance for his sons from his own property, so that none of my people will be displaced from his own property.”
Crucially, in this vision of the restoration of Israel to their home, they cannot lose their tribal inheritance. Even the prince himself cannot permanently give away his land inheritance. Why is this so important? Because God had promised the land blessing to his people. Each tribe having a place was evidence of God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises.
Ezek. 46:19 Then he brought me through the entrance that was at the side of the gate, into the priests’ holy chambers, which faced north. I saw a place there at the far western end. 20 He said to me, “This is the place where the priests will boil the guilt offering and the sin offering, and where they will bake the grain offering, so that they do not bring them into the outer court and transmit holiness to the people.” 21 Next he brought me into the outer court and led me past its four corners. There was a separate court in each of its corners. 22 In the four corners of the outer court there were enclosed courts, 70 feet long by 521⁄2 feet wide. All four corner areas had the same dimensions. 23 There was a stone wall around the inside of them, around the four of them, with ovens built at the base of the walls on all sides. 24 He said to me: “These are the kitchens where those who minister at the temple will cook the people’s sacrifices.”
Finally, God shows Ezekiel where much of priestly work would happen. Again, the focus is on holiness: dedication to the Lord. The kitchens were designed to be protected from contamination by any who might be ritually impure. The sacrifices and sacrificial meals will be holy, set apart as God directed.
The Big Picture
Ever since the garden in Eden sin has been the problem. Ever since God gave Israel his law, they have broken it. Every nation, people, community, and city knows the heartache that sin produces in a culture. Yet one day the city will be made right. All human culture will literally be devoted to God and his agenda. He will be the center focus. Worship will be the daily agenda of the government. People will live at peace, putting God first.
Some commentators think the prince in this vision is Jesus the Messiah. This is unlikely, however, because this prince is clearly offering sacrifices. He stands for human government. It is important to note that he’s a prince, or leader, and not a king. The King Jesus will reign. The prince here represents the redemption of human government functioning under the ultimate authority of Jesus.
Jesus himself embodies what government should be: holy, focused on God’s glory, protecting the people, leading the people in worship. Imagine a society where every person made daily sacrifices to the Lord a priority. Imagine a society where God’s agenda was everyone’s agenda. We call that society heaven, the dwelling of God with man.
In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This vision captures that sentiment. In short, human culture will be what God designed to be: holy. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in mind in Philippians 1:27 when he commands us, “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Taking It Home
So what? This vision is relevant for us in three clear ways. First, it is relevant when we see the brokenness and corruption of our culture/society/government. We see this in many different ways- both on corporate and individual levels. When we are overcome with despair at how things are, we need to remember that God has promised this is not how things will be.
Second, we need this vision to understand how we should live in our present less-than-ideal communities. Yes, they’re not holy, but we can be. Our government may not be dedicated to worship every day, but we can be. By focusing on God’s purposes for our daily lives, we can actually make a difference in our little corner of the world.
Third, when our government fails, we must be reminded that it always will until Jesus sets up his government on earth. This is where theology and politics must mix. Our greatest hope isn’t in a political party, or even a political system. It’s in the person of Jesus Christ. The prince who leads under Jesus’ reign, with a focus on worshipping the risen Lord, is the one who will lead God’s people to do the same.
- Pray for our leaders and government. Ask God to grant them wisdom to make just decisions that enable us to live at peace, worshipping God.
- Pray for our communities to be impacted by the growth of churches. Pray that people would come to faith in Jesus, and as they do so that our towns and cities would provide a measure of relief from the destruction of sin.
- Praise Jesus for being the leader we need, and pray that he would return soon. Praise him that because of his death, we can prioritize his kingdom over ours.