Chapter 2 Section D
The Temple of Ezekiel’s Vision
In the twenty-fifth year of the Babylonian captivity, while yet the people of Israel were in exile in a strange land, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Ezekiel; the power of God rested upon him; and he saw in vision a glorious Temple, the plan of which he minutely described. As to whether the prophet himself considered the design so shown as one to be subsequently realized, or as but a grand yet unattainable ideal, is not declared. Certain it is that the Temple of the vision has not yet been builded.
In most of its essential features Ezekiel’s ideal followed closely the plan of Solomon’s Temple; so close, indeed, is the resemblance, that many of the details specified by Ezekiel have been accepted as those of the splendid edifice destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. A predominant characteristic of the Temple described by Ezekiel was the spaciousness of its premises and the symmetry of both the Holy House and its associated buildings. The area was to be a square of five hundred cubits, walled about and provided with a gateway and arches on each of three sides; on the west side the wall was to be unbroken by arch or portal. At each of the gateways were little chambers regarded as lodges, and provided with porches. In the outer court were other chambers. The entire area was to be elevated, and a flight of steps led to each gateway. In the inner court was seen the great altar, standing before the House, and occupying the center of a square of one hundred cubits. Ample provision was made for every variety of sacrifice and offering, and for the accommodation of the priests, the singers, and all engaged in the holy ritual. The main structure comprised a Porch, a Holy Place, and an inner sanctuary or Most Holy Place, the last named elevated above the rest and reached by steps. The plan provided for even greater exclusiveness than had characterized the sacred area of the Temple of Solomon; the double courts contributed to this end. The service of the Temple was prescribed in detail; the ordinances of the altar, the duties of the priests, the ministry of the Levites, the regulations governing oblations and feasts were all set forth.
The immediate purpose of this revelation through the vision of the prophet appears to have been that of awakening the people of Israel to a realization of their fallen state and a conception of their departed glory. The prophet was thus commanded:
“Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern.
“And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them.
“This is the law of the house; Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.”
The Temple of Zerubbabel
For three score years and ten the Jews had grieved and groaned under Babylonian rule. The greater part of the once proud Kingdom of Judah had been carried away captive, and such as remained in the land of their fathers had lost their national status and had become largely merged with the Gentiles. With dreadful exactness had been fulfilled the dire prediction of Jeremiah. Through that prophet the Lord had spoken, saying:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations around about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.
“Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle.
“And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
However, the gloom of the saddening prophecy had been lightened by one ray of hope and promise-the assurance that when the seventy years of the Lord’s chastisement had been completed, the people should return to the land of their inheritance, and once again be recognized as the Lord’s own. In the encouragement of that hope the people had lived; by its inspiration their prophets, even while in captivity, had sought the Lord, and declared His will to the people; by its light Ezekiel had seen in the vision of seership the re-establishment of his people and the possibility of a Temple greater and grander than the first. In due time the God of Israel made good His word, and vindicated anew His power as King of kings; He ruled and overruled the passions of nations and the acts of earthly rulers, and once again brought His people from the land of their bondage. Persia had become the controlling power among the nations, and by decree of the Persian king, Judah was emancipated. Behold the power of God in directing the rulers among mortals:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
“Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
“And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
Under this gracious permission the people returned to the land of their fathers, and set about the work of building anew a House to the Lord. Cyrus had issued his royal decree that the structure be worthy the great Name to which it was to be reared-the foundations were to be strongly laid; the height was to be three score cubits, and the breadth the same; there were to be set three rows of great stones and a row of new timber; moreover, the expenses were to be met by the royal treasury. The king restored to the people the vessels that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the first Temple,-all these, numbering many thousands, were formally delivered by the king’s treasurer.
So great was the enthusiasm of the people, so strong their desire to have individual part in the holy undertaking, that many who had been careless of their heritage now claimed priestly standing; but, as their genealogy had not been preserved, they were debarred from the priesthood, though permitted to return with the rest. The prerogatives of the priestly order were denied them until one would arise with power to declare their genealogy through Urim and Thummim.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua had charge of the work; and without delay they builded anew the altar of the God of Israel and re-established the ritual of sacrifice, and the observance of the sacred festivals. Masons and carpenters, workmen and artisans of all kinds and degrees were brought into service; again were Tyre and Sidon put under friendly tribute, and once more the wealth of the forests of Lebanon was brought to Jerusalem. Priests and Levites were marshalled in order as of old, and the sound of trumpets and cymbals was mingled with the voices of the singers. Is there cause for wonder that as the foundations were laid, old men who remembered the first House and its glory wept aloud and shouted in their tearful joy?
But adversaries arose who put obstacles in the way of the builders. The people of Canaan-Israelites who had forgotten their allegiance to God, and had mingled with idolaters, took offense at the activity of the returned Jews. At first they offered to assist in the work, but being refused recognition because of their idolatrous associations, they became obstructionists, and “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building; and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The claim was made that of old the people of Judah had been a trouble to other nations, and that with the restoration of their Temple they would again become seditious. At last the protests and charges reached Darius, the reigning monarch; and he, having investigated the whole matter, issued a decree, that not only should the Jews be free from interruption in the building of the Temple, but that a portion of the king’s tribute, the regular taxes of the land, should be devoted to the work; and, said the king:
“Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.”
With such support the people soon completed the building. Though nearly twenty years elapsed between the laying of the foundation and the finishing, the greater part of the labor was done during the last four years. The dedicatory services were solemn and inspiring. For seven days the Feast of Unleavened Bread was observed; the Passover was eaten by those who had returned from captivity and by such others as had “separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel.”
This, the second Temple, was finished in the year 515 B. C.; it is known in history as the Temple of Zerubbabel. In general plan it was patterned after the Temple of Solomon, though in many of its dimensions it exceeded its prototype. The court was divided into a section for priests only and another for the public; according to Josephus the division was effected by a wooden railing. An alter of unhewn stone was erected in place of the great brazen alter of old. The Holy Place was graced by but one candlestick instead of ten; and by a single table for the shew-bread instead of the ten tables overlaid with gold which stood in the first Temple. We read also of a golden altar of incense, and of some minor appurtenances. The Most Holy Place was empty, for the Ark of the Covenant had not been known after the people had gone into captivity.
In many respects the Temple of Zerubbabel appeared poor in comparison with its splendid predecessor and in certain particulars, indeed, it ranked lower than the ancient Tabernacle of the Congregation-the sanctuary of the nomadic tribes. Critical scholars specify the following features characteristic of the Temple of Solomon and lacking in the Temple of Zerubbabel: (1) the Ark of the Covenant; (2) the sacred fire; (3) the Shekinah, or glory of the Lord, manifested of old as the Divine Presence; (4) the Urim and Thummim, by which Jehovah made plain His will to the priests of the Aaronic order; (5) the genius or spirit of prophecy, indicative of the closest communion between mortals and their God. Notwithstanding these differences the Temple of Zerubbabel was recognized of God and was undoubtedly the site or seat of Divine revelation to duly constituted prophets.
The inferiority of the second Temple as compared with the first is generally conceded; the difference, however, was rather in matter of splendor than in point of size. But even such glory as it did possess was not to be long maintained. Again the people became recreant to their God, and the voice of the prophet was unheeded. Again did Jehovah permit the heathen to oppress Judah. Of the later history of this Temple the Biblical record gives but few details; but from other sources we learn of its vicissitudes. In connection with the Maccabean persecution the House of the Lord was profaned. A Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, captured Jerusalem (168 to 165 B. C.) and perpetrated blasphemous outrage against the religion of the people. He plundered the Temple and carried away its golden candlestick, its golden altar of incense, its table of shewbread, and even tore down the sacred veils, which were of fine linen and scarlet. His malignity was carried so far that he purposely desecrated the altar of sacrifice by offering swine thereon, and erected a heathen altar within the sacred enclosure. Not content with the violation of the Temple, this wicked monarch had altars erected in the towns and ordered the offering of unclean beasts upon them. The rite of circumcision was forbidden on pain of death, and the worship of Jehovah was declared a crime. As a result of this persecution many of the Jews apostatized, and declared that they belonged to the Medes and Persians-the nations from whose dominion they had been delivered by the power of God.
Among those who remained true to the religion of their fathers was Mattathias, who was a priest, and a man of prominence. He was besought to offer heathen sacrifice; not only did he refuse but in righteous indignation he slew those who did attempt the sacrilege. This act led to further strife and for three years the struggle continued. Judas, son of Mattathias, came into prominence and is known as Judas Maccabeus,-the first of the Maccabees. Under his leadership the people returned to Jerusalem and found the Temple deserted, as it had been left by the army of Antiochus. Its gates had been broken down and burned; and within the walls weeds were growing. Judas tried to cleanse and rehabilitate the House; he brought in new vessels, and replaced the candlestick, the altar of incense, the table of shewbread, and the veils, and built a new altar for burnt offerings. Then in the year 163 B. C. the House was rededicated; and the occasion was remembered in annual festival thereafter under the name of the Feast of Dedication.
In the interest of self-preservation the Jews entered into an alliance with the Romans, who eventually became their masters. During the reign of the Maccabees the Temple fell into decay, and when the last of that dynasty had been succeeded by Herod the Great, the House was little more than a ruin. Nevertheless the priestly orders had been maintained; and some semblance of ritualistic worship had continued. The history of the Temple of Zerubbabel is merged with that of the Temple of Herod.