Ezekiel 37-42…A New Temple.
Let us take a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of the exiles to whom Ezekiel first addressed his prophecy. These people knew their ancestral history, how God saved them from Egypt and dwelt with them in a beautiful tabernacle (Ex. 26; 40). Moreover, they remembered the glorious temple in Jerusalem, a structure so impressive and important that the Bible devotes eighteen chapters to its layout, construction, and dedication, and the appointment of its workers (2 Sam. 24; 1 Kings 5–8; 1 Chron. 21–26; 28; 2 Chron. 2–7). This temple was built at the height of Israel’s prosperity and power under King Solomon.
Now, let us put ourselves in God’s shoes as He was seeking to communicate with the exiles. Here was a disheartened people who had been told that the Lord left the temple and thus the Promised Land, enabling the Babylonians to capture Judah (Ezek. 10). Furthermore, this people had been told that their exile manifested God’s wrath (16:1–58). Because of their great loss, they believed that restoration would never come, that their suffering meant the Lord’s promises were hollow (33:10). If you were God, how would you communicate the glory of the restoration in terms this audience could understand?
Today’s passage answers this question as Ezekiel begins to describe the restored temple and city of Jerusalem. The prophet foresees a new temple that certainly would have brought the glories of Solomon’s age to the exiles’ minds. Some people today believe that Israel will one day build a structure on Mt. Zion with the precise dimensions that Ezekiel reveals in chapters 40–48. We respectfully disagree. First, as we have seen, Ezekiel’s work often uses vivid metaphors that are not meant to be exact descriptions. Second, the temple’s dimensions appear symbolic. Multiples of five appear throughout, and the temple complex is a perfect cube, unlike Solomon’s temple. This indicates that Ezekiel has the theological message of his vision chiefly in mind, not simply the size of its walls. Finally and notably, the Jews who returned to the Promised Land after the exile were never condemned for not building Ezekiel’s temple. They were rebuked for dawdling when it came to reconstructing God’s house, but they were never told to construct what Ezekiel describes (Hag. 1:1–11).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel describes the glory of the restoration in terms familiar to his original audience. God was speaking a language the exiles could understand in order to convince them of His good intentions.