Good morning! Today in Ezekiel 42-45, the prophet continues to describe the revelation he received of the “new Jerusalem”, which he is instructed to share with the exiles who continue to suffer in Babylon. Throughout these descriptions of the temple region (42), the return of God’s spirit (43), and the ways of a new Torah (44-45), what strikes me most is the resonance with earlier “holiness codes” from Leviticus. Unfortunately, this is most evident in codes of exclusion, reserving the divine “real estate” only for priests and turning everyone else away.
Emphasis on a renewed “separation between the holy and the common” caught my attention throughout today’s passage. In chapter 42, descriptions of the temple include a place set aside for the most-holy offerings, accessible only to priests. When they pass over the threshold from a priest space to that which is more commonplace, priests have to leave holy garments behind lest they “communicate holiness to the people with their vestments” (44:19). The imagined architecture of a renewed temple includes a large wall around the holiest of holies to keep most people out. Foreigners, the uncircumcised, and Levites were especially forbidden from participating in holy thing. Even when God’s spirit is seen returning to the temple in Ezekiel 43 from the east, we then hear that nobody can pass through that East Gate any more, and only the prince can enter it at all. The guiding principle behind all these restrictions is that of exaltation through separation. The more inaccessible something is, the more valuable and set apart it is.
It won’t surprise you to hear that underlying assumptions in this arrangement trouble me deeply. To exclude foreigners from the temple is to exclude Moabites like Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David. Uncircumcised outsiders were sometimes the vehicles through which God’s spirit worked to persuade people in power to do something else, like the servant who suggests that arrogant Naaman simply wash in the Jordan like Elisha says, even though it’s not as impressive as the rivers back home. I’m of the fundamental orientation that religious barriers between who’s welcome and who’s turned away are created for the comfort of their human creators, rather than to satisfy divine mandates. Remember that this is a vision—Ezekiel was undoubtedly motivated by the values that he had received growing up as a priest. Were such a temple to be built again, I’m convinced that God would once more work outside those barriers to reach the whole earth. As my pastor in college put it, every time somebody draws a line between who’s in and who’s out, the ones drawing the line are always on the inside. And you can bet that God is with those who are on the outside. The continuing evolution of faith is to keep drawing the circle so wide that all who bear the image of God—which is to say creation itself—are recognized as possible manifestations of God’s spirit. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ezekiel 46-48. Thanks for reading!