A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 43:13-27

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the second of four lessons from the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel has seen a vision of the return of the LORD to a future perfect temple, to dwell in the midst of His people. He’s next given a vision of the altar in this future temple and instruction concerning it.

Ezekiel 43:13 “These are the measurements of the altar by cubits (the cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth): its base shall be one cubit high and one cubit broad, with a rim of one span around its edge. And this shall be the height of the altar:

14 from the base on the ground to the lower ledge, two cubits, with a breadth of one cubit; and from the smaller ledge to the larger ledge, four cubits, with a breadth of one cubit;

15 and the altar hearth, four cubits; and from the altar hearth projecting upward, four horns.

16 The altar hearth shall be square, twelve cubits long by twelve broad.

17 The ledge also shall be square, fourteen cubits long by fourteen broad, with a rim around it half a cubit broad, and its base one cubit all around. The steps of the altar shall face east.”

This is pretty big, probably somewhat bigger than the altar of Solomon’s temple and much bigger than the original altar of the tabernacle. Unlike the original tabernacle altar, where steps were specifically forbidden (see Exodus 20:26) this is big enough to require steps to reach the top. These steps are “to face east,” the direction from which the LORD has entered Jerusalem and the temple in Ezekiel’s vision. It seems likely to me that this detail is a reminder that all of is God’s doing. It’s all at His initiative. He’s the only One really qualified to make sacrifice (to Himself) for mankind at such a perfect altar.

Now Ezekiel is given instructions for purification of this altar. What he’s shown stands in contrast to the impurity of the worship that led to the fall of Judah and the Babylonian captivity. There is to be a means of effective acceptable sacrifice, and that means will be utterly pure.

18 And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: These are the ordinances for the altar: On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it and for throwing blood against it,

19 you shall give to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, declares the Lord GOD, a bull from the herd for a sin offering.

20 And you shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the ledge and upon the rim all around. Thus you shall purify the altar and make atonement for it.

This is a bloody thing. It is serious. It is life and death. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. In this vision, the altar is to be marked and purified with blood, and in its function there are to be burnt offerings and blood thrown against it.

The “horns” are on the corners at the top of the altar and such are mentioned specifically in the consecration of the tabernacle altar. When Adonijah rebels against Solomon and fears for his life, he runs to the altar and hold onto the horns, pleading for mercy. It seems like they may represent the very focus of atoning work done at the altar.

21 You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place belonging to the temple, outside the sacred area.

22 And on the second day you shall offer a male goat without blemish for a sin offering; and the altar shall be purified, as it was purified with the bull.

23 When you have finished purifying it, you shall offer a bull from the herd without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish.

24 You shall present them before the LORD, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD.

25 For seven days you shall provide daily a male goat for a sin offering; also, a bull from the herd and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided.

26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it.

These sacrifices are a one time matter. Again, they stand in contrast to the impure unacceptable “worship” that ended in judgment and exile for God’s people. They represent a purity that is completely “other.” What Ezekiel is seeing is not just a vision where humans get it right if they get another chance and follow proper ritual. It simply has to be more than that, since it is plain that such will never suffice for any of us individually or for a people corporately. We need a purity from outside.

Christ is all of this that we desperately need. He is the Sacrifice. He is the Priest and Intermediary. He is the pure and perfect Atonement for our sin. All that is pure and acceptable about Ezekiel’s vision, about this altar He is.

27 And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer on the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, declares the Lord GOD.”

Here is the most precious and important phrase “I will accept you.” This breath-taking vision Ezekiel is having is surely one of awesome holiness and “otherness.” But God is not there simply to remind His people of their unacceptability in and of themselves. He’s there to be with them, to have fellowship with them. Christopher Wright, in his commentary on Ezekiel says of this phrase, “This is the language of love, of welcome, of warmth and of invitation. This word smiles at us and greets us with open arms. The altar was the place that actualized that invitation.”

How it is that this awesome holy God will bring this to pass must be a mystery to Ezekiel. But the real and effective altar that he sees is a picture that by His initiative, the Lord God will provide righteousness for His people and be permanently among them. Thanks be to Christ!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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