Monday, 1 December 2014

(336) December 2: Ezekiel 44-46 & 2 Peter 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note what principles lie behind the regulations.

To ponder:
The man now takes Ezekiel to the entrance to the temple – ie. the outer room. The door is shut and to remain shut because God has entered. In context, it seems this is to ensure no-one goes in and so defiles the place of God’s presence. Only the “prince” could, and he only to the outer room and in order to eat in God’s presence – presumably having made a sacrifice. (Priests could enter too, v16). Next Ezekiel is taken to the north gate of the inner court from which he sees God’s glory in the temple and falls face down, stressing the reverence with which the reality of God’s presence should be considered (44v1-4). God then tells Ezekiel to listen carefully to the regulations he is about to give regarding the entrance and exits. These are the regulations the people are to follow (see 43v11). First, where the Israelites rebelliously allowed foreigners in and permitted them to carry out the priests’ duties, desecrating the temple, no foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh is now to enter. The point is that those who can draw close to God must be from amongst his people, and truly love him. Second, the Levites who committed idolatry are required to bear the consequences of their sin. So, they may serve in the temple, having charge of the gates (caring for and guarding them) and slaughtering offerings, but are not allowed to serve as priests or come near the holy things or most holy offerings. This downgraded their duties, meaning that they could only stand before the people and not before the LORD. The sense is that worship in the new order will protect against the compromises of the past, to ensure they are not repeated. Third, only the descendents of Zadok who were faithful in their duties when Israel went astray are to stand before God offering sacrifices in the sanctuary (44v5-16). The point is that order is re-established to the temple, with only those qualified able to draw close to God.
            Regulations for the clothes, hair and marital allowances of the priests follow that are similar to those in the law (44v17-27, Lev 21v1-9). The point is that they are to teach the difference between the holy and common, helping the people distinguish between clean and unclean. And they do this in part by their own set-apartedness. They are to judge disputes, keep God’s laws and feasts, and regulations about going near dead bodies. It all stresses that God is so holy that those who serve him up close must be fit to do so, ensuring nothing merely normal (common) or imperfect and so unacceptable (unclean) is allowed in his near presence. This highlights just what Christ has achieved in making us holy and clean.
            Next God declares he is to be the priest’s inheritance, providing for them from the offerings and whatever is devoted to God. So they are not to be given any inheritance in the land. The best of the people’s firstfruits are to be theirs, which will bring blessing on the people’s households. Yet the priests are not to eat what will make them unclean (44v28-31).
            45v1-8 records how a section of the land is to be kept as a sacred space. In the center is to be the sanctuary/temple with an area of open land around it. The wider area is for the priests and Levites who serve at the temple to live in. Alongside this will be a section of land for the city, and so for all Israel to live in. And adjacent to the sacred space and city land will be land given to the princes. It is added that they will no longer oppress the people but allow them to posses the land according to their tribes. The sense is that they will no longer be taking the people’s land to themselves. What follows is an exhortation for the princes to give up violence and oppression in order to do what is just and right, engage in honest commerce. It seems the outline of the temple and land for the new order is expected to be a motivation for the rebellious princes to make a new start of their practices (45v9-12). Knowing we are destined to be glorified should be its own motivation to us, to live accordingly in the present.
            45v13-17 record the princes’ responsibility to provide the offerings to atone for Israel’s sins at the feasts, but notes that the people are to provide what is necessary for them to do this. What this entails for New Year’s Day (atoning for the temple and altar), Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles follows (45v18-25). All this highlights the king’s responsibility for worship, looking to Christ giving himself to atone for his people’s sins.
            Chapter 46 includes further regulations. Only on the Sabbath and day of the new moon is the eastern inner court gate to be open. On these days the prince would enter from the outside, present his offerings at the gatepost as detailed, worship at the threshold in sight of the sanctuary and then leave. Critically, he is not permitted to enter the sanctuary itself. On these days the people are also permitted to come up to the entrance to the gateway, standing just outside it in the outer court (46v1-8, see here). 46v9-10 explain that there is to be an orderly flow of worshippers, including the prince, from the north gate to the south or vice-versa. No doubt, this too expresses something of the order that should mark worship. The offerings the prince must offer at festivals and feasts is then outlined, noting they are to be offered as his offering on the Sabbath. The daily morning sacrifice is then detailed – a reminder of the need of constant atonement if God is to dwell amongst a sinful people (46v11-15).
            Regulations on property given by the prince (from his inheritance) to his sons or to servants follow (46v16-18). The former belongs to his descendents and so should be passed on. The latter can be kept, but must be returned at the year of freedom (probably Jubilee, Lev 25v10-13). The prince is not to take property from the people for his sons. The point is that whatever God has allotted as an inheritance for the princes or the people should be maintained. It all reminds us that the land, indeed, the earth, is the LORD’s. It reassures us too, that he will ensure we receive our inheritance.
            Next the angelic man took Ezekiel to the priests’ sacred rooms facing north, to see where the sin and guilt offerings would be cooked and the grain offering baked. He then took him around the outer court, where Ezekiel saw an enclosed rectangular court in each corner. The man explained that they were kitchen’s for cooking the people’s sacrifices (46v19-24). As with the layout of the land (above) we see order highlighted again. But we also see God’s concern to keep the holy and common apart, lest by coming into contact with the holy, God’s wrath breaks out against the people (46v20). Yet, what is most striking is God’s grace in welcoming people to his table to eat with him – something pictured in the Lord’s Supper, and that looks to the heavenly banquet.
            Throughout this section we see the assumption that rather than being a spiritual picture of something that will mark a perfect future kingdom, Ezekiel’s vision presupposes the people are still sinful and so seems intended for those returning from exile. Protections are not only put in to keep the people from holy things, but reminders are needed so foreigners are not again brought into the temple and the prince refrains from oppressing his people. Indeed, rather than being a messianic figure, the prince is severely limited in the degree to which he can approach God, having to stop at the gate to the sanctuary, and so being third in importance behind the priests and Levites.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his gift of Christ who offers himself as the sufficient sacrifice for sin. Pray that the church would shape its worship in a way that acknowledges the holiness of God.
Thinking further:
None today.

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