The temple: outer and inner courts (40:1-47)
It was now twenty-five years since Ezekiel had been taken to Babylon, and fourteen years since the fall of Jerusalem. One day he had a vision in which he imagined himself back in Israel where, from a high hill, he saw a huge temple. To help him understand its size and details he had a heavenly guide, who carried a linen tape for measuring long distance, and a reed (just over three metres long) for measuring shorter distances. The exactness of the measurements no doubt indicated that God does everything to perfection (40:1-4).
The first thing Ezekiel saw was the wall that surrounded the temple complex (5). This complex was square in plan and was entered through a huge tunnel-like gate in the eastern wall. To pass through this gate a person had to go up a flight of steps, cross a threshold (6), walk along a passage (on each side of which were three small rooms, or alcoves, for the temple guards), cross another threshold, then pass through a larger room (called the vestibule, or portico) into the outer court of the temple (7-9). The measurements of the various rooms within the gateway are given (10-15). They all had light and ventilation openings, and were decorated with carvings of palm trees (16).
Built around the inside of the outer wall were thirty rooms (probably for the use of worshippers) which opened on to the outer court (17-19). There were gates in the north and south sides of the main outer wall. These gates were similar to the main gate in the eastern wall that has just been described (20- 27).
Inside the outer court was a smaller, inner court. This inner court was on a higher level than the outer court (cf. v. 18) and was entered on either the south, east, or north sides by ascending a flight of steps and passing through a gate similar to those in the outer walls (28-37). The vestibule (or portico) of each gate to the inner court had eight tables for slaughtering the sacrificial animals (38-41), and four tables on which the various utensils used in the sacrifices were kept (42-43).
On the inside of the walls enclosing the inner court were rooms for the priests. Rooms on the north were for those priests responsible for the daily routines of the temple. Rooms on the south were for those priests responsible for the sacrifices. The altar of burnt offering was positioned in the centre of the inner court (44-47).
The temple proper (40:48-41:26)
From the inner court the way into the temple proper was up a flight of steps on the western side of the court, between two pillars at the top of the steps, and through a vestibule or entrance room (48-49). From the vestibule an entrance led into the nave or Holy Place (the outer sanctuary). From the nave a narrower entrance led into the Most Holy Place (the inner sanctuary) (41:1-4).
Attached externally to the sides and rear of the temple proper were three storeys of storerooms, probably used for storing the tithes and offerings brought by the people. The side and rear walls of the main building were reduced in thickness for the middle storey, and reduced further for the top storey. This created ‘steps’, or ledges, in the outer face of the main walls. The timber beams that formed the floors of the middle and top storeys rested on these steps (5-7). Access to the storerooms was through two doors in the bottom storey. These doors, one on the north side and one on the south, opened on to the raised platform, or terrace, on which the temple stood (8-11).
To the sides and rear of this paved platform was an open area called the temple yard (or courtyard). At the rear of this yard, backing on to the western outer wall, was another building. Referred to simply as the west building, it was possibly an additional storehouse (12). The measurements of the temple and its immediate surroundings demonstrated the perfection of the whole. Everything was carefully planned; nothing was left to chance (13-15a).
Windows were positioned high in the side walls of the temple so as to open above the lean-to roof of the attached storerooms. The inner walls of the temple, extending from the floor up over the doors to the underside of these high windows, were panelled with richly carved wood (15b-20).
The doors of the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place were in two halves, each of which could be folded. In front of the doors that led into the Most Holy Place was a piece of furniture that looked partly like an altar and partly like a table (21-26).