“He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.” — Ezekiel 42:20
Our focus verse describes the outer wall that surrounded the entire Temple complex of Ezekiel’s vision, separating the Temple and courtyard from the “profane” or common things outside the wall. Reading this reminded me that there is a difference between ordinary buildings — no matter how beautiful or well-constructed — and buildings that have been dedicated to God and set apart for His service.
Over the years of my career as a tradesman, one of my great privileges has been having a part in construction projects in our branch churches and the Portland headquarters church. I marvel how these sites — just common construction sites to casual observers — have become sacred places where God’s Spirit dwells.
Of course, we know that His Spirit is not confined to a building. For example, think of the burning bush where Moses met God, the site on the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, or the road to Jericho where Zacchaeus climbed down from the sycamore tree and met Jesus. While God’s Spirit was present at each of those places, there is something special about a sanctuary built and dedicated as a dwelling place for Him.
Even during construction, surrounded by the sounds and sights that are a normal part of a job site, there is an expectation that God will come into the completed building and inhabit it with His Spirit. I have worked on church projects with unbelievers who shared in the anticipation of the building being completed and used for a godly purpose. They recognized that a church was a special place! In fact, once a man working on a secular construction site urged another worker to speed up, saying, “We’re not building a church!” The implication was that a church would require extra care unnecessary in an ordinary building.
What makes a house of worship sacred? What sets it apart from surroundings that are “common,” as the wall around Ezekiel’s Temple did? That separation does not happen because of the materials used, or the people who build it, or because the location itself is significant for some reason. A house of God becomes sacred when it is dedicated and set apart for God and His use. It is different from other buildings! There is anticipation that God will come there and dwell with man. And when He does, God receives glory and praise. Souls are rescued from a lost eternity, spiritual victories are won, and God’s blessings are experienced.
There are many houses in the world where famous people have lived or notable events have taken place. Some have been turned into shrines. Some become designated World Heritage sites or national treasures. But secular places, no matter how elaborate or famous, cannot compare with a structure that has been set apart for God.
A house of worship is a holy place. Let’s be sure that we reverence God’s sanctuary, because it is where the God of the universe comes to meet with us!
Chapter 42 concludes the description of the Temple complex that began in Ezekiel 40. In this chapter, Ezekiel’s divinely appointed guide took him away from the Temple building and back to the outer court.
The two priests’ chambers in the outer court are described in verses 1-14. These three-story structures were mirror images of each other, and were located between the outer and inner courts. Some of the architectural details recorded are difficult to visualize, so commentators differ as to the precise appearance of these buildings.
According to verses 13-14, the priests’ chambers had two functions. They were where the priests would eat their portions of the offerings brought by the worshippers. Also, this was where they would change into their priestly garments, which were to be worn only when they were serving in the inner court; they could not profane consecrated garments by wearing them when mingling with people in the outer courtyard. As a priest, Ezekiel had been taught that there must be a separation between that which is profane and that which is holy. To maintain that separation in Ezekiel’s Temple, priests could not directly pass from the outer court to the inner court, but would be required to go through a narrow passage at the east end of each chamber complex where they would change into their priestly garments before ministering.
In verses 15-20, Ezekiel’s guide led him out through the east gate, where he proceeded to measure the outer perimeter of the Temple complex. The four sides of the complex were equal in length, making it a perfect square. Some versions of the Bible give the length of each side as “500 reeds,” inferring that the word reed alluded to the increment of measure used. However, other translations give the length as “500 cubits” per side (about 875 feet). Commentators are divided on what the actual interpretation should be, as there are good cases for both.
Regardless of exact measurements or architectural details, the familiar form of the Temple complex and the separation of the holy from the profane allowed for forms of worship that an observant priest like Ezekiel would have recognized.
IV. The consolation of Israel
B. Prophecies of the millennial kingdom
1. The restoration of the Temple
b. The measurement of the Temple
(3) The chambers in the outer court (42:1-14)
(4) The total Temple area (42:15-20)
God is holy, and His house must be treated with honor and respect.