Church of God, New World Ministries

A Look At Ezekiel’s Temple - Part 1

Do you understand Ezekiel’s description of the millennial Temple? Here, in a two-part Bible study, we examine how that Temple if it is physical - might look.

If indeed there is to be a literal millennial Temple, just what will that Temple be like? What is the style of architecture? Where will it be built? What is its purpose?

The Bible passages relating to the Temple are not always easy to understand. Therefore, many people skip over them, or read them without understanding. The description is found in the latter chapters of the Book of Ezekiel.

To understand what Ezekiel describes, we must also understand the details of Solomon’s Temple. The description of each is incomplete without the other.

This two-part Bible study, will examine the Bible’s physical description of the Temple, not spiritual analogies or the Temple service. We will examine each of the major components of the Temple, and then put everything together in one grand picture.

This Temple is sometimes referred to as Ezekiel’s Temple, as he is the one who describes it. Actually, whether literal or symbolic, it is God’s Temple, as the previous ones were. To distinguish between them they are often referred to as Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s, Herod’s or Ezekiel’s temples.

The Bible says that all nations will come to Jerusalem to worship God during the Millennium (Zech. 14:16). Most scriptural quotations we will look at in this article will be from the 1917 edition of the Holy Scriptures published by the Jewish Publication Society of America.

God is very concerned about this Temple and greatly loves even the gates: “The Lord loves the gates of Zion (at the Temple) more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps. 87:2).

We should love what God has planned to be His capital in the New World to come.

“For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand; I had rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps. 84:10). Even though these physical aspects are important, the most important part, the part that makes the Temple of God so grand and glorious, is that Jesus Christ, in all of His glory, will be there.

“Afterward he brought me to the gate, even the gate that looks toward the east; and, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth did shine with His glory. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east. And a spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court; and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house. And I heard one speaking unto me out of the house; and a man stood by me. And He said unto me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever” (Ezk. 43:1-7).

Now we begin to piece together the many parts of this “jigsaw” puzzle. There are no photographs, blueprints or drawings to go by. God caused the important details to be written down and preserved for us. We find these details “here a little, there a little” in the Bible (Isa. 28:13).

We must put together what is said in Kings, Chronicles, Ezekiel and even the book of Jeremiah to understand any one of the Temples, past or future.

Neither Solomon nor Ezekiel is the architect of the Temple God is! Notice:

“Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch (of the temple), and of the houses thereof and the pattern of all that he had be the spirit” (I Chron. 28:11-12).

Five basic sections make up the main Temple building: the porch (ulam, in Hebrew), the holy place (hekal), the Holy of Holies (debir), the side chambers and the upper chambers.

The entrance to the main Temple building is on the east. Upon entering the Temple, the porch is first traversed, then the holy place, then the Holy of Holies.

We start with that portion that is first entered, the porch. The porch is not what we today might call a porch, but is, rather, a slender and graceful tower on the front of the Temple. It is there that the biblical account as given in Kings commences.

“And the porch before the temple of the house, twenty cubits was the length thereof, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was the breadth thereof before the house” (I Kings 6:3).

Only the basic floor dimensions of the porch are given in this place. The height is not given. There is no description of the walls, no details of the ceiling, windows or exterior. These facts are found in other places.

Here is a perfect example to show that no scriptures can be understood by itself. We must look in all the other places where the Temple is described to get the full picture.

The verse does state that the porch’s width (20 cubits) is the same as the breadth of the “house,” and is 10 cubits in depth. These are inside room dimensions. Outside dimensions are given elsewhere.

The height of this porch is the first major mistake many biblical scholars have made.

“And the porch that was before (the house), the length of it, according to the breadth of the house, was twenty cubits, and the height a hundred and twenty” (II Chron. 3:4). The first-century Jewish historian Josephus gives the same height as the Bible gives, “The entire altitude of the Temple was a hundred and twenty cubits” (Antiquities, VIII, III, 2).

In spite of these clear statements, scholars have almost universally rejected this statement about the height as a “corruption” of the biblical verse. The proportions, as given here, seem completely wrong and illogical to many.

But the verse is not corrupt. It is just that some scholars are unwilling to accept what they think to be unreasonable!

Usually, 18 inches is given as the length of a cubit. This is said to be based on the approximate length of the forearm.

Many different “cubits” were used in ancient times. In Israel there were cubits of five, six and seven palms, a palm being a handbreadth of about 3.6 inches. Five palms equaled 18.0 inches, six palms 21.6 inches and seven palms 25.2 inches. Each “cubit” was used for different purposes.

The cubit of the Temple was after the ancient measure (II Chron. 3:3) and included an extra handbreadth over the cubit commonly used during Ezekiel’s time (Ezk. 40:5, 43:13).

From this it would appear likely that the basis for the Temple cubit was the palm or handbreadth and not the forearm, during the lifetime of Ezekiel. Judah went into captivity and apparently adopted a Babylonian cubit of six palms.

A shorter cubit such as one of five or six palms was apparently used in reference to Og, King of Bashan (Deut. 3:11). The cubit was “after the cubit of a man.”

In this article the seven-palm cubit of 25.2 inches will be used for Temple measurements. On the basis of this standard measurement we have a better perspective of the lofty height and impressive size of God’s Temple.

The porch of the Temple is exceedingly tall, 252 feet in height. It is narrow from the from view and slender or graceful from the side view.

Other aspects of the porch, the upper chambers and the front decorations will be discussed later.

The hekal is the largest room in the Temple. It is immediately behind the porch, to the west.

“And the house, that is, the temple (hekal) before (the Sanctuary) was forty cubits long” (I Kings 6:17). The height is 30 cubits (v. 2).

We have seen how the porch and the Temple (house) were 20 cubits broad inside. Here we have a room described as 20 cubits broad by 40 cubits long. Such a room would be about 40 feet wide by 80 feet long.

“And he built the walls of the house within with boards of cedar, from floor of the house unto the joists of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood; and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress” (v. 15).

These wallboards were engraved or carved as another scripture states: “And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers, within and without” (v. 29).

To further add to this splendor, even the floors were overlaid with pure gold” (v. 30).

There were windows near the ceiling in the hekal. They would have to be over 20 cubits above the floor level, as the exterior wall was surrounded to approximately that height on the outside by the side chambers.

These particular windows were unusual in their design: “And for the house he made windows broad within, and narrow without” (v. 4).

The debir is better known as the Holy of Holies. It consists of a smaller room of exactly 20 cubits in all of its dimensions.

“And he prepared the Sanctuary in the midst of the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. And before the Sanctuary which was twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the height thereof” (vs. 19-20).

The interior rooms of the Temple were also covered with gold. “So Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold; and he drew chains of gold across the wall before the Sanctuary; and he overlaid it with gold. And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until all the house was finished” (vs. 21-22).

No windows are mentioned in the debir, or Holy of Holies. There could be none, because the exterior side chambers would cover them up.

Most authorities come to about the same conclusions when it comes to the floor plan of the main part of the Temple. But when it comes to the height of the porch as well as the side chambers, they almost all reject the Bible description.

These side chambers are arranged around the outside of the main part of the Temple building on three sides, the north, west and south.

Here is a summary from the Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings, article “Temple”: “On every side of the house except the east, Ezekiel’s’ temple, like Solomon’s, had side chambers. The MT (Masoretic Text, or original Hebrew) gives the number of them as 33, and Smend displays much ingenuity to justifying the text, which in this connection is by universal confession very corrupt.”

The text is not corrupt, but some scholars do not understand or agree with what the scriptural account reveals. The text shows that there were stories or chambers “one over another,” or three floors (compare I Kings 6:5-6). The text also shows that the chambers were “thirty-three times” for each floor, as the previous quote admitted.

“And the side chambers were one over another, three and thirty times” (Ezk. 41:6).

Another translation reads, “And the side rooms were one over another thirty-three in order” (The Holy Bible translated by George Lamsa).

The King James Version, along with most of the others, has interpreted and not translated this particular point.

The translations by the Jewish Publication Society and George Lamsa have faithfully translated the original Hebrew scriptures at this point. The correct wording is, literally, as stated, “three and thirty times,” or 33.

These side chambers are mentioned in the books of Kings and Ezekiel, but not in Chronicles. As Isaiah said, it is “here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10). A particular truth is usually not found in just one place in the Scriptures. One must study every place in the Scriptures that speaks about a particular subject.

These rooms are arranged in an unusual way. Usually (but not always) the second and third stories of a building are either the same width or narrower. In this case, in each higher story the side chamber is larger than the one beneath.

“And against the wall of the house he built a side-structure round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the sanctuary; and he made side-chambers round about, the nethermost story of the side-structure was five cubits broad; and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad, for on the outside he made rebatements in the wall of the house round about, that the beams should not have hold in the walls of the house” (I Kings 6:5-6).

Notice that the first floor had chambers of five cubits broad, the second floor had chambers of six cubits broad and the third floor had chambers of seven cubits.

Another unusual factor in the placement of these rooms concerns the outer wall of the main part of the Temple.

There were projections in the Temple wall to support the beams that held up the successive floors and roof of the side chambers. Ezekiel 41:6 uses the word cornice. These ledges or cornices were provided so the beams for the side chambers would not project into the walls of the main Temple structure.

James Moffatt translates this, “Allowing space all round the outside wall so that the ends of the planks upholding the rows need not pierce the walls of the temple” (I Kings 6:6).

Since there could be no cutting into the wall of the house itself, the increasing width of each successive story would of necessity cut into the outside wall of the chambers.

So far, we have only seen one measurement of the side chambers, that of the breadth from the Temple wall outward. We still do not have the height of these rooms.

“And he built the stories of the side-structure against all the house, each five cubits high; and they rested on the house with timber of cedar” (v. 10).

There is still a third-dimension lacking. Kings and Chronicles do not include this dimension. We know two dimensions, and we know how many chambers there are. Ezekiel gives the answer:

“And the breadth of every side-chamber, four cubits, round about the house on every side” (Ezk. 41:5).

“The door for the lowest row of chambers was in the right side of the house and they went up by winding stairs into the middle row, and out of the middle into the third” (I Kings 6:8).

Notice: The door gave entrance to the first floor. Entry to the second and third story was by “winding (or circular) stairs.

Ezekiel adds an additional point to the description. ‘And the doors of the side-chambers were toward the place that was left, one door toward the north, and another door toward the south; and the breadth of the place that was left was five cubits round about” (Ezk. 41:11).

We now have two entrances described but where are they on the north and south sides? Ezekiel 41:11 says in “the place that was left. “This “place that was left “is said to be five cubits round about, or in both directions. This is the place left for the “winding stairs.”

Since all of the chambers are four cubits in breadth, they each take only four cubits of all space on the outside of the inner Temple wall. One could not fit properly in the corner since one chamber of four cubits’ breadth would have to match the other chamber’s length of five cubits. The side chambers must fit against the main wall, and not in the northwest and southwest corner. The corner is the “place that was left.” A five-cubit square arbitrarily set somewhere along the north or south wall is not logically the “place that was left. “This five-cubit space that was left is for the “winding stairs.”

Using the available north-south wall space, each chamber can be exactly four cubits in breadth, with one-cubit inner walls between each side-chamber. On the west the inner walls must be one half cubit (one foot) in order to fit.

The space available allows for 13 side chambers on the south side, 13 on the north and seven on the west.

The next question is how these many chambers may be entered from the north and south entrances. The Bible is completely silent on this matter. No passageways, hallways or doors are described. No space is left in the description for such a passageway or hall. Where can we find the answer to this puzzling question?

We must look elsewhere for the answer. Where the Bible is silent, about the only source left is the records of the priest Josephus. Sometimes the Jewish Mishna is of help.

“He also made passages through them, that they might come into one through another” (Josephus Antiquities, VIII, III. 2).

From this it becomes plain. There was a passageway that went the entire length of the rooms to connect them together. It was, of necessity, a part of the space allotted to each chamber.

No windows are mentioned in the Jewish Publication Society translation. But some translations of Ezekiel 41:26 seem to indicate there may be windows.

When it comes to the details of the upper chambers, we are faced with a difficult problem. The Bible nowhere specifically describes these rooms or tells where they are located.

First, let us understand that so far, when speaking of the side chambers, the Bible uses the Hebrew word tsela. This word comes from a root signifying “ribs.” These side chambers are arranged somewhat like ribs around the Temple. Now we are ready to investigate a new and different type of chamber.

“And he overlaid the upper chambers with gold”. The side chambers could not in any way be referred to as upper chambers since one third of them were “lower,” or on the ground floor.

Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible gives the literal definition for this word as a “loft” or “upper chamber,” apparently referring to something high or lifted up. This same word is used to refer to the upper chamber of Uzziah (II Kings 1:2).

There is only one logical place left! In the porch!

Did you suppose that the porch was a hollow shell? If so, why was it made so high? Just for outside appearance, or for a practical purpose also?

We have already seen that the interior of the porch was overlaid with gold (II Chron. 3:4), yet the side chambers were not. The upper chambers are also overlaid with gold (v. 9)

How many of these chambers are there? How large are they, how are they entered and what is their purpose?

Since the Bible does not say, we need to go to Josephus. He wrote about Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed almost six centuries earlier. Some of his statements about this Temple while not always agreeing with the Bible, are based on facts that he may have misunderstood.

First, let’s find out where the entrances to these rooms were. “The king also had a fine contrivance for the ascent to the upper room over the temple, and that was by steps in the thickness of its wall; it had no large door on the east end, as the lower house had, but the entrances were by the sides, through very small doors” (Antiquities, VIII, III, 2).

These rooms must have been “over the temple” in the porch, and not, as Josephus supposed, above the hekal and debir. But their entrance was through small doors on the inside of the porch, through the walls of the porch, not through the main walls of the hekal.

That solves the problem regarding the entrances, but what about the number of rooms or stories in the porch? Again, the Bible does not tell us. God nevertheless may have seen fit to preserve the key for us, this time also in Josephus.

In the same section from which the preceding passage was taken, he mentions that each of the side chambers was 20 cubits high: “Every one of these rooms had five cubits in breadth, and the same in length, but in height twenty.”

This could not possibly refer to the side chambers, as the Bible plainly and specifically states they were five cubits high. Josephus further states that those rooms were one over another, or in succession stories. It seems obvious that Josephus must have confused two different kinds of rooms, and combined details of both into one description.

The chambers must have been 20 cubits high, one over another. In 120 cubits there would be six separate chambers on separate floors.

The use of these upper chambers it not stated. The house of God contained treasuries, and possibly that is what these upper chambers were for.

Be watching for Part II.

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