Ezekiel 44:1-31

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The angel who served as Ezekiel’s guide led him back to the outer sanctuary gate that faced east, “and it was shut.” (44:1) YHWH declared that this gate should remain shut, that it should not be opened, and that no man should enter it. The reason for the gate to remain shut was that “YHWH, the God of Israel” had come through it. This refers to the earlier entrance of the “glory of YHWH” into the temple by way of the east gate. (43:4) According to the Septuagint rendering, “the Lord, the God of Israel” would be entering through it. (44:2)

The one occupying the position of prince or leader would be permitted to sit inside the gate or gateway and there “eat bread before the face of YHWH,” or in YHWH’s presence. This prince would “enter by way of the porch [ailam (LXX)] of the gate” and would leave by the same way. The highly honored position of prince in the very presence of YHWH suggests that he may be the foretold Anointed One, Messiah, Christ or, according to Ezekiel 34:24, YHWH’s “servant David.” (44:3; see the Notes section.)

The angel led Ezekiel through the north gate to the front of the temple, making it possible for him to see what had taken place there. “And, look, the glory of YHWH [glory of the Lord (P967)] filled the house [or temple] of YHWH.” The introductory “look” serves to focus on what Ezekiel saw. Overwhelmed and in expression of reverential awe, Ezekiel dropped to his knees and “fell upon his face” or prostrated himself. (44:4)

YHWH called upon Ezekiel, a “son of man” or a mortal in his service, to “set [his] heart” or to give his complete attention to what would be revealed to him. He was to “see with [his] eyes,” evidently everything that would be conveyed to him in visions, and to “hear with [his] ears” everything that YHWH would tell him “about all the ordinances of the house [or temple] of YHWH and about all its laws [judgments or decrees (P967)].” Ezekiel also was to “set [his] heart” or to give his full attention to the “entrance of the house” or temple and to “all of the exits of the sanctuary.” (44:5)

To the rebellious “house [or people] of Israel,” Ezekiel was to say, “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Enough of all your abominations [lawless deeds (LXX)], O house of Israel.” It had been far too long that the people had engaged in disgusting idolatrous practices and made themselves guilty of other serious violations of God’s commands. (44:6) Their abominations or detestable practices included granting admittance into YHWH’s temple to foreigners who were “uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh.” These foreigners would have been persons who in their “heart” or inner self had no reverential regard for YHWH and who did not even conform to any outward manifestation (represented by the circumcision of the flesh) that would have indicated a desire to be associated with his people. Besides defiling the temple complex by bringing foreigners into it, the Israelites themselves, although they presented “bread” (meaning sacrifices), “fat, and blood” (the fat and blood of the animals that had been sacrificed), profaned the temple, for they carried out disgusting practices and violated the covenant that they should have been observing faithfully. (44:7)

The people failed to discharge the duties associated with YHWH’s “holy things.” It appears that they let foreigners be in charge of sacred responsibilities for which they alone should have been caring. A number of modern translations make this significance more specific than is apparent from the extant Hebrew text. “You have not discharged the duties concerning My sacred offerings, but have appointed them [aliens] to discharge the duties of My Sanctuary for you.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Instead of keeping charge of my holy things yourselves, you have put these men in charge of my sanctuary.” (REB) “Instead of caring for the service of my sanctuary, you appointed these foreigners to care for the service of my sanctuary.” (NAB, revised edition) “Instead of following the proper ways to worship me, you have put foreigners in charge of worship at my temple.” (CEV) “They have not taken charge of the sacred rituals in my Temple, but instead have put foreigners in charge.” (TEV) (44:8) It may be that the priests and Levites delegated to foreigners the sacred duties that they considered to be unpleasant, undesirable, or too menial. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that the foreigners were given guard duty in “all” (P967) God’s holy places. (44:8; see the Notes section.)

The Lord YHWH decreed that no foreigner, no man “uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh” or one who did not identify himself as being devoted to him, would be allowed to enter his sanctuary. No foreigner of all the “sons of aliens” among the “sons [or people] of Israel” would be permitted to enter. (44:9)

The Levites who forsook YHWH when Israel strayed from him, engaging in the veneration of idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), would have to bear the consequences for being unfaithful to him. (44:10) Therefore, these Levites would function in the capacity of servants at YHWH’s sanctuary or temple. They would be stationed at the “gates of the house” or temple complex, be assigned to slaughter the animals to be offered, and serve the people who would be coming to the temple. (44:11)

In the past, the unfaithful Levites had served the people in front of their idols (literally, “dungy things”) and thus made themselves responsible for causing the “house of Israel” to stumble into sin. For this reason, YHWH raised his “hand” concerning or against them, and they would have to bear the consequences for their disloyalty to him. His raising of the hand could refer to his using it to strike or to lifting the hand when making an oath. If the reference is to expressing an oath, the thought would be that YHWH solemnly declared that the wayward Levites would have to bear their punishment. Both meanings are conveyed in modern translations. “I stretch out my hand against them — declares the Lord Yahweh — they will bear the weight of their guilt.” (NJB) “I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin.” (NIV) (44:12)

The formerly unfaithful Levites would be denied the kind of approach to YHWH that would be graned to the priests. They would not be permitted to draw near to any of YHWH’s “holy things, to the most holy things” (literally, “holies of holies”). This restriction would serve to remind them of the abominable things they did in the past and for which they bore their shame. (44:13) Nevertheless, YHWH would appoint them as caretakers, watchmen, or guards at the temple. Their role would be as men who rendered service in the temple complex and cared for everything that needed to be done there. For the proper functioning of temple service, various tasks, including maintenance work, needed to be performed. (44:14)

The Lord YHWH declared that the Levitical priests of the “sons of Zadok” who guarded his sanctuary, faithfully carrying out their duties, while the “sons [or people] of Israel” had strayed from him would be the ones who would be granted approach to him in order to serve him. These priests would be able to “stand before [his] face,” or to be in YHWH’s presence at his temple, to offer the fat and the blood of sacrifices. (44:15) They would enter his sanctuary and approach his “table,” or officiate at his altar, to render service to him. The priests of the family of Zadok would fulfill their duty to YHWH. (44:16)

Whenever they entered the “gates of the inner court,” the priests were to be attired in linen garments. They were not to wear anything that was made from wool when they served in the inner court (or inside the temple) or at its gates. (44:17) The priests were to have linen turbans on their heads, and wear linen drawers to cover their loins. Their being prohibited from girding themselves “with sweat” may be understood to refer to their not girding themselves with any material that could cause them to perspire. (44:18) Before leaving the inner court to enter the outer court where the people would be, the priests were to take off their linen garments in which they had officiated, deposit them in the holy chambers, and clothe themselves in other garments. This was so that they would avoid imparting holiness to the people with the garments they had worn in the inner court. As the people would not have been authorized to be in the presence of YHWH in the same manner as were the priests, their coming into contact with the holy garments would have been unacceptable and, therefore, would have led to adverse consequences for them. (44:19)

Priests were not to shave their heads but were to keep their hair trimmed. According to the Septuagint, they were to cover their heads. (44:20)

Priests were prohibited from drinking wine prior to entering the inner court. This assured that they would be in full control of their senses when performing their sacred duties. (44:21)

Regarding marriage, priests had stricter requirements than the people generally. They were not allowed to marry any divorced woman or any widow from the “house [or people] of Israel.” Priests could only marry Israelite virgins or widows of priests. (44:22; see the Notes section.)

Priests were responsible for teaching the people to distinguish between what is holy and what is common or profane and between what is unclean or defiled and what is clean or pure. (44:23) When functioning as judges in controversies (cases involving “blood” or the shedding of blood [LXX]), priests were to render decisions according to YHWH’s judgments. They were to observe all his “laws and statutes” regarding his appointed festivals and to maintain the sanctity of his sabbaths. (44:24)

Priests were not to approach any dead man or person so as not to defile themselves through contact with a corpse. Exceptions included a father, a mother, a son or a daughter, a brother, or an unmarried sister. (44:25) If a priest became defiled from contact with the dead body of any of these close relatives, he was required to perform the required cleansing procedure and thereafter wait seven days (44:26) before entering the “inner court” of the temple to officiate there. As YHWH required, the priest was then to present his “sin offering” for having defiled himself. (44:27)

Priests would not receive any land inheritance “in Israel” (“among the sons [or people] of Israel” [LXX]) as their possession. In view of their being granted the priesthood and exclusive service in YHWH’s temple, he was their “inheritance” or share, providing for them what they needed as did cultivated land and husbandry for the Israelites who farmed their land and raised animals. (44:28) For food, the priests could eat the grain and the meat of animals the people presented as grain, sin, and guilt offerings. Everything proscribed or devoted to YHWH “in Israel” would also become the possession of the priests. (44:29) The priests would receive the “first of all the firstfruits of all kinds” (or the first part of every crop the people harvested) and all the various contributions or gifts the people would be bringing to the temple. So that YHWH’s blessing might rest upon the individual homes of the people, they were to give to the priests a product that is called ‘arisáh in Hebrew. Lexicographers have suggested that ‘arisáh could refer to coarse meal, whole-grain flour, or bread dough. (44:30; see the Notes section.) Priests were prohibited from eating any bird or animal that had died of itself or been torn by a predator. (44:31)


In verse 3 of the Septuagint, ailam is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for porch.

Like the Hebrew text of verse 22, the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) contains the expression “house of Israel.” Other Greek manuscripts say, “seed [or offspring] of Israel.”

In verse 30, the Septuagint does not appear to have a rendering for the Hebrew word ‘arisáh. It says, “and you shall give the firstfruits to the priest that he may set your blessings upon your houses.”