“The Temple” and “the Chieftain” Today
“As regards the chieftain in their midst, when they come in, he should come in; and when they go out, he should go out.”—EZEKIEL 46:10.
1, 2. What key truth helps us to unlock much of the meaning of Ezekiel’s temple vision?
SOME ancient rabbis were not entirely comfortable with the book of Ezekiel. According to the Talmud, some of them even considered excluding the book from the canon of the Holy Scriptures. They had a particularly hard time with the temple vision and pronounced it beyond human comprehension. Other Bible scholars have been baffled by Ezekiel’s vision of Jehovah’s temple. What about us?
2 Since the restoration of pure worship, Jehovah has blessed his people with many flashes of spiritual insight, including the discernment of what God’s spiritual temple is—Jehovah’s templelike arrangement for pure worship.* This key truth helps us to unlock much of the meaning of Ezekiel’s temple vision. Let us consider more closely the four components of this vision—the temple, the priesthood, the chieftain, and the land. What do these mean today?
The Temple and You
3. What do we learn from the lofty ceiling and the wall carvings in the entryways to the temple?
3 Imagine that we are on a tour of this visionary temple. We approach and climb seven steps to one of the huge gates. Inside this entryway, we look up in awe. Its ceiling is over 100 feet [30 m] above us! We are thus reminded that standards for entering Jehovah’s arrangement for worship are lofty. Shafts of light from the windows illuminate wall carvings of palm trees, used in the Scriptures to picture uprightness. (Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 40:14, 16, 22) This sacred place is for those who are morally and spiritually upright. In harmony with that, we want to remain upright so that our worship is acceptable to Jehovah.—Psalm 11:7.
4. Who are denied entry to the temple, and what does this teach us?
4 Along each side of the passageway, there are three guard chambers. Will the guards allow us inside the temple? Jehovah tells Ezekiel that no foreigner who is “uncircumcised in heart” may enter. (Ezekiel 40:10; 44:9) What does that mean? God accepts as worshipers only those who love his laws and live by them. (Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29) He welcomes such ones into his spiritual tent, his house of worship. (Psalm 15:1-5) Ever since pure worship was restored in 1919, Jehovah’s earthly organization has upheld and progressively clarified his moral laws. Those who willfully refuse to obey are no longer welcomed into association with his people. Today, the Bible-based practice of disfellowshipping unrepentant wrongdoers has served to keep our worship clean and pure.—1 Corinthians 5:13.
5. (a) What similarities are there between Ezekiel’s vision and John’s vision recorded at Revelation 7:9-15? (b) In Ezekiel’s vision, who are pictured by the 12 tribes worshiping in the outer courtyard?
5 The passageway opens onto the outer courtyard where the people worship and praise Jehovah. This reminds us of the apostle John’s vision of the “great crowd” worshiping Jehovah “day and night in his temple.” Palm trees figure in both visions. In Ezekiel’s vision they decorate the entryway walls. In John’s vision the worshipers have palm branches in their hands, symbolizing their joy in praising Jehovah and in welcoming Jesus as their King. (Revelation 7:9-15) In the context of Ezekiel’s vision, the 12 tribes of Israel picture the “other sheep.” (John 10:16; compare Luke 22:28-30.) Are you too one of those who find joy in praising Jehovah by proclaiming his Kingdom?
6. What was the purpose of the dining rooms in the outer courtyard, and of what privilege may this remind those of the other sheep?
6 As we tour the outer courtyard, we see the 30 dining rooms where the people partake of their voluntary offerings. (Ezekiel 40:17) Today, those of the other sheep do not offer animal sacrifices, but they do not come empty-handed to the spiritual temple. (Compare Exodus 23:15.) The apostle Paul wrote: “Through [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15, 16; Hosea 14:2) It is a great privilege to offer Jehovah such sacrifices.—Proverbs 3:9, 27.
7. Of what does the measuring of the temple assure us?
7 Ezekiel watches as an angel measures this visionary temple. (Ezekiel 40:3) Similarly, the apostle John was told: “Get up and measure the temple sanctuary of God and the altar and those worshiping in it.” (Revelation 11:1) What does this measuring mean? In both cases this evidently served as a guarantee, a sign that nothing can stop Jehovah from fulfilling his purposes regarding pure worship. Likewise today, we may be assured that nothing—not even fierce opposition from powerful governments—can stop the restoration of pure worship.
8. Who enter the gates into the inner courtyard, and of what do these gates remind us?
8 As we walk across the outer courtyard, we see that there are three gates leading into the inner courtyard; the inner gates line up with and are the same size as the outer gates. (Ezekiel 40:6, 20, 23, 24, 27) Only priests may enter the inner courtyard. The inner gates remind us that the anointed must measure up to divine standards and laws, but the same standards and laws guide all true Christians. But what is the work of the priests, with what meaning today?
A Faithful Priesthood
9, 10. How has the “royal priesthood,” as foreshadowed by the priestly class in Ezekiel’s vision, provided spiritual instruction?
9 In pre-Christian times, the priests did hard work at the temple. Slaughtering the sacrificial animals, offering them on the altar, and serving fellow priests and the people was a physically demanding job. But they had other important work. Jehovah commanded regarding the priests: “My people they should instruct in the difference between a holy thing and a profane thing; and the difference between what is unclean and what is clean they should cause them to know.”—Ezekiel 44:23; Malachi 2:7.
10 Do you appreciate the hard work and humble service that the anointed as a body, “a royal priesthood,” has done in behalf of pure worship? (1 Peter 2:9) Like the Levitical priesthood of old, they have taken the lead in giving spiritual instruction, helping people to understand what is clean and acceptable in God’s eyes and what is not. (Matthew 24:45) Such instruction, coming through Bible-based publications and Christian meetings and conventions, has helped millions to become reconciled to God.—2 Corinthians 5:20.
11. (a) How did Ezekiel’s vision emphasize the importance of cleanness on the part of the priests? (b) In the last days, how have the anointed been cleansed in a spiritual sense?
11 However, the priests must do more than teach others to be clean; they must be clean themselves. Thus, Ezekiel foresaw a refining process for the priesthood of Israel. (Ezekiel 44:10-16) Similarly, history shows that in 1918, Jehovah sat “as a refiner” in his spiritual temple, examining the anointed priestly class. (Malachi 3:1-5) Those deemed spiritually clean or who repented of former idolatry were allowed to continue in the privilege of service in his spiritual temple. Still, like everyone else, individual anointed ones can become unclean—spiritually and morally. (Ezekiel 44:22, 25-27) They have had to work hard to remain “without spot from the world.”—James 1:27; compare Mark 7:20-23.
12. Why should we appreciate the work of the anointed?
12 Each of us might ask, ‘Do I appreciate the example set by the anointed over their many years of faithful service? Do I imitate their faith?’ It is good for those of the great crowd to remember that they will not always have the anointed with them here on earth. Of the priests in Ezekiel’s vision, Jehovah said: “No possession [of land] should you people give them in Israel: I am their possession.” (Ezekiel 44:28) Similarly, the anointed have no everlasting place on earth. They have a heavenly inheritance, and those of the great crowd view it as a privilege to support and encourage them while they are still here on earth.—Matthew 25:34-40; 1 Peter 1:3, 4.
The Chieftain—Who Is He?
13, 14. (a) Why must the chieftain be of the other sheep? (b) Whom does the chieftain picture?
13 Now an intriguing question arises. Whom, then, does the chieftain represent? Since he is spoken of both as an individual and as a group, we may assume that he represents a class of men. (Ezekiel 44:3; 45:8, 9) But who? Surely not the anointed. In the vision, he works closely with the priesthood, but he is not one of them. Unlike the priestly class, he is given an inheritance in the land and thus has a future here on earth, not in heaven. (Ezekiel 48:21) Further, Ezekiel 46:10 says: “As regards the chieftain in their midst, when they [the nonpriestly tribes] come in [to the temple’s outer courtyard], he should come in; and when they go out, he should go out.” He does not enter the inner courtyard but worships in the outer courtyard, entering and exiting the temple with the people. These factors decidedly place the chieftain among the great crowd of the other sheep.
14 Clearly, the chieftain has some responsibility among God’s people. In the outer courtyard, he sits in the porch of the East Gate. (Ezekiel 44:2, 3) This would indicate a position of oversight, similar to that of the older men in Israel who sat at the gate of the city and rendered judgment. (Ruth 4:1-12; Proverbs 22:22) Who among the other sheep hold offices of oversight today? Elders with an earthly hope who have been appointed by holy spirit. (Acts 20:28) So the chieftain class is now being groomed with the prospect of later serving in an administrative capacity in the new world.
15. (a) How does Ezekiel’s vision shed light on the relationship between elders who are of the great crowd and the anointed priestly class? (b) What lead have anointed elders taken in God’s earthly organization?
15 What, though, is the relationship today between the anointed priestly class and such older men who, as part of the great crowd, are serving in positions of oversight? Ezekiel’s vision suggests that the elders who are members of the great crowd have a supportive and subordinate role, while the anointed take the spiritual lead. How so? Remember, the priests in the vision were given the responsibility to instruct the people in spiritual matters. They were also told to act as judges in legal cases. Additionally, the Levites were assigned to “posts of oversight” in the temple gates. (Ezekiel 44:11, 23, 24) Clearly, the chieftain was to submit to the spiritual services and leadership of the priests. It is fitting, then, that in modern times the anointed have taken the lead in pure worship. For example, the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been chosen from among them. Such faithful anointed elders have been training the developing chieftain class for decades, preparing prospective members of this class for the day when they will be delegated their full measure of authority in God’s new world to come.
16. According to Isaiah 32:1, 2, how must all elders act?
16 What kind of overseers are these prospective members, who are in line for enlarged responsibilities as the chieftain class? The prophecy found at Isaiah 32:1, 2 says: “Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself. And each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” This prophecy is being fulfilled today as Christian elders—anointed and other sheep—work to protect the flock from such ‘rainstorms’ as persecution and discouragement.
17. How should Christian shepherds view themselves, and how should the flock view them?
17 The words “prince” and “chieftain,” which have similar meanings in Hebrew, are not used as titles designed to exalt men. Rather, they describe the responsibility these men bear in caring for God’s sheep. Jehovah sternly warns: “That is enough of you, O chieftains of Israel! Remove the violence and the despoiling, and do justice and righteousness themselves.” (Ezekiel 45:9) It is good for all elders today to take such counsel to heart. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) The flock, in turn, recognizes that Jesus has provided shepherds as “gifts in men.” (Ephesians 4:8) Their qualifications are set down in God’s inspired Word. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) Christians therefore follow the elders’ lead.—Hebrews 13:7.
18. What are some responsibilities of the prospective chieftain class now, and what will be its responsibility in the future?
18 In Bible times some chieftains had much authority, others less. Today, elders of the great crowd have widely varying responsibilities. Some serve in one congregation; others serve many congregations as traveling overseers; others serve whole countries as Branch Committee members; others directly assist various committees of the Governing Body. In the new world, Jesus will appoint “princes in all the earth” to take the lead among Jehovah’s worshipers on earth. (Psalm 45:16) No doubt he will select many of these from among the faithful elders of today. Because these men are proving themselves now, he will choose to entrust many with even greater privileges in the future when he reveals the role of the chieftain class in the new world.
The Land of God’s People Today
19. What does the land of Ezekiel’s vision represent?
19 Ezekiel’s vision also portrays the restored land of Israel. What does this aspect of the vision represent? Other restoration prophecies foretold that the land, Israel, would be a paradise like Eden. (Ezekiel 36:34, 35) Today, we enjoy a restored “land,” and it too is, in a sense, Edenic. In a similar vein, we often speak of our spiritual paradise. The Watchtower has defined our “land” as “the realm of activity” of God’s chosen people.* Wherever a servant of Jehovah may be, he is in that restored land as long as he is endeavoring to uphold true worship by walking in Christ Jesus’ footsteps.—1 Peter 2:21.
20. What principle might we learn from “the holy contribution” in Ezekiel’s vision, and how might we apply this principle?
20 What about the portion of land called “the holy contribution”? This was the people’s contribution for the support of the priesthood and the city. Similarly, “all the people of the land” were to contribute a portion of land for the chieftain. What does this mean today? Not, of course, that God’s people should be burdened with a salaried clergy class. (2 Thessalonians 3:8) Rather, the support given to the elders is primarily spiritual. It includes assisting in the work at hand and showing a cooperative, submissive spirit. Yet, as in Ezekiel’s day, this contribution is made “to Jehovah,” not to any man.—Ezekiel 45:1, 7, 16.
21. What may we learn from the dividing of the land in Ezekiel’s vision?
21 It is not only the chieftain and the priesthood who have assigned places in this restored land. The dividing of the land shows that each one of the 12 tribes has a secure inheritance. (Ezekiel 47:13, 22, 23) So those of the great crowd not only have a place in the spiritual paradise today but will also receive an assignment of land when they inherit a place in the earthly realm of God’s Kingdom.
22. (a) The city in Ezekiel’s vision represents what? (b) What might we learn from the city’s having gates on all sides?
22 Finally, what does the city in the vision represent? It is no heavenly city, for it lies in the midst of “profane” (nonsacred) land. (Ezekiel 48:15-17) So it must be something earthly. Well, what is a city? Does it not convey the idea of people coming together as a group and forming something structured and organized? Yes. Hence, the city appears to picture the earthly administration that benefits all who will make up the righteous earthly society. It will operate in its fullness in the coming “new earth.” (2 Peter 3:13) The city’s gates on all sides, one for each tribe, well illustrate openness. Today, God’s people are not under some secretive, clandestine administration. Responsible brothers are to be approachable; the principles that guide them are well-known to all. The fact that people from all tribes cultivate the land that supports the city reminds us that the other sheep support, even in a material way, the administrative arrangements made for God’s people worldwide.—Ezekiel 48:19, 30-34.
23. What will we consider in the following article?
23 What, though, about the river flowing from the temple sanctuary? What that represents today and on into the future will be the subject of the third and final article in this series.
See the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, page 64, paragraph 22, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Points to Review
◻ What does the temple in Ezekiel’s vision picture?
◻ Whom do the priests serving at the temple picture?
◻ What is the chieftain class, and what are some of its responsibilities?
◻ What is the land in Ezekiel’s vision, and in what sense is it allotted to the 12 tribes?
◻ What does the city picture?
[Diagram/Map on page 15]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
The allotment of land as depicted in Ezekiel’s vision
THE TWELVE TRIBES
The Great Sea
Sea of Galilee
ENLARGEMENT OF HOLY CONTRIBUTION
A. “Jehovah Himself Is There” (Jehovah-Shammah); B. city’s productive land
Sanctuary of Jehovah
B A B