Why Wasn’t It Built?

I’ve been reading Ezekiel for my daily quiet time, and I’m on the part about the new temple. In Ezekiel 43:11, God tells Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel the dimensions and features of the proposed temple so that they will build it after their return from exile.

But why didn’t they build it? Here was a command, and they didn’t follow it. Why not?

I’ve not combed through the writings of modern biblical scholars on this issue, but I have a hunch about what they might say. I can picture them saying that Ezekiel was not necessarily seen as the infallible word of God immediately after the exile, at least not in the way that many Christians and Jews have traditionally viewed it. Rather, there were a variety of post-exilic voices with their own versions of what God wanted the Jews to do. Some expected God to restore the Davidic dynasty, while others called Cyrus the Messiah. Over time, their writings became authoritative within Jewish and Christian circles, but they were not necessarily accepted as such soon after they were written. So why didn’t the post-exilic community build Ezekiel’s temple? One proposed explanation is that not everyone believed in Ezekiel’s message.

Another possibility is that the post-exilic community did not see its restoration as the subject of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Ezekiel associated certain events with the Jews’ restoration, such as the renewal of the Davidic dynasty and the defeat of Israel’s enemies, most notably Gog of Asia Minor. These things did not happen under Cyrus of Persia, for Israel was “restored” to become a subjugated puppet of the Persians, without a Davidic monarch. As a result, many Jews probably concluded that the restoration predicted by Ezekiel was not what occurred under Cyrus, but was rather to be fulfilled in the future. So the Ezekiel temple was postponed until the time of real restoration.

Rashi has an interesting explanation of Ezekiel 43:11. He says: “The second aliyah [to the Holy Land] through Ezra was merited to be like the first entry through Joshua, to come about by force and through a miracle, as expounded (Ber. 4a, Exod. 15:16): ‘until… pass.’ This Building would then have been fit for them as of then, when they emerged from exile, to an everlasting redemption. But [their] sin caused [this not to happen] for their repentance was not suitable, [i.e.,] they did not resolve to stop sinning. [Therefore,] they emerged to freedom [only] through the sanction of Cyrus and his son. Some say that in Babylon they stumbled regarding gentile women.” For Rashi, God wanted to restore the Jews of the sixth-fifth centuries B.C.E. in a glorious fashion, which would have included Ezekiel’s temple, but the Jews hindered God’s plan through their sins.

I’m not sure if I buy this explanation entirely. The Jews’ sins were not a problem for God, since Ezekiel predicted that God would give them new hearts and turn them away from sin. At the same time, perhaps God expected them to make the first move through repentance before he circumcised their hearts. But that goes back to my Ezekiel and Monergism series.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Why Wasn’t It Built?

  1. Christopher Heard says:

    Perhaps they didn’t build it for the same reason that post-exilic Jerusalem wasn’t laid out as a 4500-by-4500-cubit square with 12 gates (Ezek 48:30ff.) in the center of a 4750-by-4750-cubit square of pastureland, for the same reason that Yehud was not laid out as 13 strips of equal latitude from Damascus down to Kadesh (Ezek 47-48): none of these scenarios were ever politically, topologically, or architecturally possible. Ezekiel40-48 deals in theological ideals, translated into visualizations in the form of an idealized but physically unrealistic land, city, and temple.


  2. James Pate says:

    Yeah, there always is the practical dimension. I’m not sure if Ezekiel was intending his temple to be anything other than physical, however, since he expected the restored Israelites to get more land than they actually did in post-exilic Yehud. And, you’re right, Yehud was small. I remember looking at it on a Bible map, and I thought “That’s it?!”


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