There have been a few times when the hand of God transports Ezekiel in some kind of vision. In chapter 1, he saw the flaming lighting throne chariot of God. In chapter 8, God took him to Jerusalem to the temple to see the ways the people of Jerusalem were defaming the temple. In chapter 37, the Spirit took him to the valley of dry bones. Now, in visions, God takes him to Israel to a high mountain overlooking a city. There he meets a man who appears to be made of bronze, standing in the gateway of the city. But the man is not a bronze statue, he is alive. He is holding measuring tools, and the man tells Ezekiel to pay attention because he is about to see something that Ezekiel is then to relate to the Israelite exiles back in Babylon.
I’m concerned that I’m relating this story too casually. Pause with me and think about what is happening. Is Ezekiel at the city in person, for real? Or is he just dreaming in his bed back in home at his village in Babylon? Or is there some other way to describe this? We don’t know. I suspect that Ezekiel felt as though he was really there. But at the same time, I also believe Ezekiel knew that he was just seeing a vision, a very realistic vision. We need to see this as amazing.
We also need to read the vision as prophetic literature. Like the prophecy of Gog and Magog, which we studied last week, this vision it is almost certainly not meant to be interpreted literally, but symbolically. Let’s start with the man who has the appearance of bronze. What is the man a symbol of? I wonder if the man looked like C3PO from Star Wars? Ezekiel doesn’t ever tell us who this man is, but the bronze appearance clues us in that he is not human. Maybe he is an angel? We don’t know. Ezekiel never asks him what kind of creature he is. Ezekiel just goes with it. And the bronze man never reveals who or what he is. It’s almost like the man’s identity isn’t what is important. Otherwise, the text would tell us.
But there is something that bronze man really cares about. He tells Ezekiel to pay attention to what will happen so that Ezekiel can tell the people of Israel what he saw. Ezekiel is being given a vision experience which he needs to communicate. So what does the man show Ezekiel?
Scan through the chapters and what do you notice? The bronze man makes lots and lots of measurements of a new temple. Ezekiel sees it all, in exacting detail. That is the topic of the rest of chapter 40, and all of chapter 41 and 42. In chapter 40:5-37, the bronze man measures the outer courtyard and walls. Then in 40:38-47 he measures the rooms for preparing sacrifices, rooms for priests, and the inner courtyard. Next in 40:48-41:26, he measures the temple building and its outbuildings. In chapter 42:1-15, the bronze man measures more of the priests’ rooms, and finally in 42:16-20 he measures the outer boundary of the entire temple complex.
The bronze man is a measurement pro! It is one measurement after the other. As they visit a part of the temple grounds, the bronze man measures it.
Do any of you like measuring things? What we are reading in these chapters is basically ancient blueprints. It could be said that they are the plans for God’s dream house. What would it look like? Here is an artist’s rendering:
Other than all those measurements, the only other details mentioned in the blueprints are two decorations: palm trees and cherubim. Cherubim are angels, but the plans call for images of cherubim to be carved into the walls of the temple building, and that makes sense, at least in my mind. Angels are symbolically guarding God’s holy place. If it makes sense to decorate the temple with angels, why would God also decorate his temple with palm trees? Solomon’s temple, the original temple, also had palm tree decorations. You can read about them in 1st Kings 6. The palm trees were carved into the stone walls and overlaid with gold. But why? Some speculate that the palm trees provided a visual representation of a new Garden of Eden. The temple was the place of God’s dwelling, just as in the Garden he had walked with the first people. So the angels and the palm trees carry a theological message. God’s holiness and God’s presence among his people.
That brings us to chapter 43, and the bronze man takes a break from measuring, because he has something special to show Ezekiel. Check back to the next post as Ezekiel gets a massive surprise.