As we continue focusing on Ezekiel’s vision of a rebuilt temple (chapters 40–48), our attention narrows this morning (chapters 45–46) on the division of the land (chapter 45), the reinstatement of the feasts (46:1–18), and the assigned places for preparing sacrifices (46:19–24).
These chapters create a particular problem for those who wish to read this vision with wooden literalism.
On the one hand, those who read these chapters as a simple reinstatement of post-exile temple worship struggle to reconcile the sacrifices and the festivals with Mosaic law or with what we know of temple worship following Israel’s restoration. Jewish lore says that one Jewish rabbi locked himself in his study and burned three hundred barrels of oil as he struggled to reconcile these stipulations with Mosaic law, though his efforts were ultimately lost to subsequent generations. It was said that Elijah would explain the discrepancies when he came.
On the other hand, dispensationalists, who argue for a rebuilt temple with reimplemented sacrifices face their own interpretive battle. They typically argue for a rebuilt temple with the implementation of a future sacrificial system, but argue that those sacrifices will be purely memorial with no atoning value, given Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. This, however, runs explicitly contrary to the claims of the text that the sacrifices will have atoning value (45:15, 17, 20).
It appears evident, in short, that the vision is meant to communicate spiritual and symbolic, rather than literal, realities. After all, the text is vision rather than legislation. We do not always interpret visions with wooden literalism.
The question before us is, what lessons ought we to draw from these visions? Specifically, since these chapters deal with worship, what lessons can we draw from these chapters that help to inform our worship today? Consider at least three lessons.
First, these chapters highlight the kingship of God. While the “prince” (the Jewish political leader) is mentioned throughout these chapters, his power is limited from the (often abusive) powers that the earlier kings had sought to implement in worship. To be sure, the prince still occupied a place of privilege, but not to the degree that the former kings had sought to seize for themselves.
Christian worship must extol divine sovereignty. There should be no doubt in Christian worship whom we worship and who is King. Whether we are singing, praying, reading, preaching, giving, observing (the sacraments), or testifying, glory should be directed to God alone. Everything in our worship must be designed to praise the triune God.
Second, we discover in these chapters that God designed post-exilic worship to be something new. This is evident in a very different land division (chapter 45) and very different instructions for festivals and sacrifices (chapter 46). To be sure, old forms of worship would persist for a time, but they always looked forward to a new form of worship.
This may sound obvious to many, but it is not always so obvious to all professing Christians: New covenant worship should be decidedly new covenant. There are segments of the Christian world today that insist that worship is most authentic when it returns to its Hebrew roots. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with Hebrew Christians honouring aspects of their culture (in the same way that South African Christians honour aspects of South African culture), there is no need for Christians to universally embrace a Judaised form of Christianity. New covenant worship is guided primarily by the New Testament, which explicitly shows that observing Jewish festivals and rites are irrelevant. Indeed, many aspects of old covenant Judaism are contradictory to new covenant Christianity.
Third, these chapters show us, as we learned in an earlier devotion, that the world of God’s people is a decidedly temple-dominated world. Even the role of the prince himself proves to be centred on the temple. His role was to facilitate temple worship. The nation was not to be defined by its king, as in many other nations, but by its worship.
In a world of celebrity Christianity, this lesson is desperately needed. While it is often not the fault of the “celebrity,” too much of modern Christianity glorifies the preacher or pastor rather than the Christ the pastor preaches. Our favourite celebrity preachers are men at best and to give them more credence than they deserve is a form of idolatry.
As you meditate on Ezekiel 45–46 this morning, ask God to instruct your heart in true, God-honouring worship. Pray that our worship will glorify God, remain faithful to Scripture, and always point us to the ultimate worth of Christ.