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Jewish Destiny and the Book of Ezekiel

A Vision of Jewish Destiny

Further thoughts on Parashat Emor

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

[ Note: The following is related to this week's Haftarah reading for parashat Emor. Please understand that this entry provides only a brief overview of this amazing prophecy... ]

Ezekiel (i.e., Yechezkel: יְחֶזְקֵאל) was a Jewish priest and Hebrew prophet who lived through the devastating time of the destruction of the First Temple (586 BC) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. The prophet was actually exiled some eleven years before the Temple was destroyed, and joined the other exiles who were taken when King Jehoiachin of Judah was removed by Nebuchadnezzar. While he was in exile at the River Kebar, Ezekiel had the astounding vision of the "Chariot of the LORD" (merkavah) with four wheels guided by the cherubim, upon which the LORD sat upon a sapphire throne (Ezek. 1). This vision marked the beginning of Ezekiel's prophetic ministry to the exiles, which consisted primarily of a series of visions regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple, along with prophecies regarding the downfall of surrounding nations, the vision of the "dry bones" coming back to life (i.e., the resurrection of future Israel), the great prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog, and the climactic vision of the future Temple during the Messianic era...

Jewish tradition has tended to regard the Book of Ezekiel (סֵפֶר יְחֶזְקֵאל) as difficult to understand (and even objectionable) for a variety of reasons. First, the sages were troubled by apparent contradictions between Ezekiel's vision of the Temple Service and the laws given in the Torah. For example, various Temple rituals and rules described in the book appear to have been changed from the laws given earlier in the Book of Leviticus. Second, the sages thought Ezekiel took a "backward step" by reemphasizing the role of the Temple. Didn't Micah the prophet write: "With what should I come before the Lord? With burnt offerings and year-old calves? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6, 8). Third, other sages objected to mystical visions found in the book (especially the vision of the Chariot), and warned that encouraging mysticism would lead the people astray. Despite these objections, however, the Book of Ezekiel was eventually accepted into the canon of the Jewish Scriptures, and today portions are publicly read (for the weekly Haftarah) no less than ten times a year. Part of the credit for the inclusion of the book is said to go to a first-century sage named Hananiah ben Hezekiah (c. 70 AD), who was reputed to have used "three hundred measures of oil" (to keep his lamps lit) as he tirelessly studied the prophecy and harmonized it with the laws Torah: "Were it not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been hidden" (Sabbath 13b). Today Jewish tradition makes "peace" with Ezekiel by understanding that the need for ritual is a part of Jewish life, just as is the study of the Torah, the practice of tzedakah, and so on. Among Orthodox Jews, however, the Book of Ezekiel foretells the time when the Messiah will come to the Jewish people and establish the Kingdom of Zion as the center of the earth.

Most modern commentators divide the Book of Ezekiel into four main divisions: (1) chapters 1-24 provide prophetic warnings before the destruction of the Temple; (2) chapters 25-32, provide prophecies during Jerusalem's fall, including prophecies of judgment upon the surrounding nations; (3) chapters 33-39, prophecies after Jerusalem's destruction, including promises of future restoration and blessing for Israel; and (4) chapters 40-48, the great vision of the coming Temple and its glory in the world to come (i.e., the Millennial Kingdom).

Our Haftarah portion this week (Ezek. 44:15-31) comes from the last section of the book (chapters 40-48) that foretells the glory of the future Temple that will be built after the Final Redemption, during the 1,000 year Kingdom of Zion. This Temple, it should be noted, will be built by the Messiah Yeshua after His second coming and is better understood as the "Fourth Temple," since the "Third Temple" will be destroyed at the end of the Great Tribulation period....


 

The connection between our Torah portion (Emor) and the haftarah clearly centers on the role of the priests and the continuation of the Jewish holy days in the world to come. The opening phrase of the parashah (Lev. 21:1), "Say to the priests" is therefore linked with the service described by the priests in the coming Millennial Temple. Like the instructions given in the Torah portion, Ezekiel declares that the priests "shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean." In a dispute, they shall act as judges, and they shall judge it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall keep my Sabbaths holy" (Ezek. 44:23-24, cp. Lev. 10:10-11). Note that besides teaching the people the difference between the holy and the profane, the priests will judge the people and teach them about Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and the other festivals (especially Passover and Sukkot: Ezek. 45:17-25).

Interestingly, the priests of the Millennial Temple will only be those who are direct descendants of Zadok (צָדוֹק), who was the first High Priest in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 2:35). Zadok demonstrated loyalty to King David during the insurrection of Absalom (2 Sam. 15) and later anointed King Solomon to be the king of Israel after the failed attempt of Adonijah to seize the throne (1 Kings 1:32-ff).  Zadok was also said to be a direct descendant of Pinchas (Phinehas), the grandson of Aaron, who had been promised a "covenant of priesthood for all time" (Num. 25:13). Therefore the LORD says, "The Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok (בְּנֵי צָדוֹק), who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord GOD" (Ezek. 44:15). In other words, other descendants of the Levites would be forbidden from the sacred service in the Holy Place of the future Temple....

Some of the Jewish commentators (i.e., Radak) note that the spiritual level of the Zadokite priests will rise to be equal to that of the High Priest as described in the Torah portion of Emor. For instance, all the priests would wear the linen garments the High Priest wore during Yom Kippur (Ezek. 44:17-19), and the more stringent rules for holiness demanded of the High Priest are now applied to all the Zadokite priests. In other words, all the priests would be held to the higher standards of holiness formerly required for the High Priest alone. The priests will eat the meal offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, first fruits, and terumah (special contributions) brought by the people to the new Temple.

Some people are troubled by the idea of a Jewish priesthood operating in the world to come, and especially with the idea that the various sacrifices described in Ezekiel will be offered after the cross of Yeshua. Indeed, Ezekiel describes sacrificial offerings (given by the regent of King David) for the Sabbath day (46:1-5), the New Moon (46:6-8), the appointed feasts (46:9-12), as well as the daily (tamid) sacrifices (46:13-15). Because all this seems inconsistent with the message of the gospel, many Christian interpreters attempt to "allegorize" the Book of Ezekiel and apply its message as a vision of the triumphant church in heaven (this is characteristic of many who hold to some for of "ammillennialism," as well as to most "covenant" theologians). It should be noted, however, that what is being described in Ezekiel pertains to a coming "dispensation" or age that follows the "church age." The language of Ezekiel's description of the Temple is too precise to warrant such allegorization, nor do the detailed descriptions of the sacrifices, the appointed times, the description of the "city of the LORD" and the inheritance of the tribes hint at any kind of metaphor. It is better, then, to understand the future Temple to be the way a redeemed Israel will commemorate (or memorialize) the sacrifice of Yeshua as Israel's true High Priest and King. After all, if the sacrifices offered in the Levitical system before the cross looked forward to the sacrifice of Yeshua, it is logical that the sacrifices in the coming Kingdom of Zion will commemorate His sacrifice as Israel's Lamb of God...

When we consistently read the Scriptures using the historical-grammatical method, the Book of Ezekiel strongly refutes the error of "replacement theology," and indeed the Jewish sages understand it to be the ritual expression of the words of other Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and so on.  So you see why the study of the Hebrew language (i.e., the "language of the Kingdom") and the study of the Jewish holidays is so important to us, chaverim. God's purposes remain the same, and the Torah is part of our heritage as followers of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and our Savior.... Those who ignore (or "interpret away") the literal reading of the Book of Ezekiel will likely be scandalized with the clear message of the Book of Esther as well. 

The name Ezekiel means "God [אֵל] will strengthen [יֶחֱזַק]" and his message is one of hope and strength (chazak) for the Jewish people... As the apostle Paul foresaw, one day all Israel will be saved and the promises of the Hebrew prophets will be completely fulfilled (Rom. 11:26). God is faithful, chaverim, and He will do as He promised for the Jewish people.... May that day come soon!


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