For those of you who have thought that God doesn’t really expect you to study this protracted description (because, after all, it’s symbolic of something or other), here’s a great chance to correct the deficiency.I am a big believer in the utility of Ezekiel’s Temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 for dealing with those brethren who want to disbelieve what the Bible says while claiming to believe it. I especially like to call out those who will not be honest enough just to state the obvious truth that they spiritualize the text (as in they claim a concrete depiction of a named entity should be thought of as a spiritual picture of a different concrete entity). In Ezekiel 40ff. you cannot use the “Apocalyptic” card.
Sometimes people reveal more about themselves than they intend. Henebury is such a proud, self-congratulatory bigot.
Moreover, one of the problems with his statement is the implication that he’d lose his faith if God didn’t fulfill the vision according to Henebury’s stipulative preconception.
Therefore, those who cannot bring themselves to believe that Ezekiel is really referring to an actual physical Temple, whether they be dispensational or covenant theologians, should be pinned down on these chapters and asked to explain a). what they are supposed to really mean; b). what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved, and c). why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?Surely these are good questions?I tried in vain to deal with a gainsayer on these specific issues but to no avail. He was more interested in telling me what it didn’t mean than what it did.
Henebury dissimulates about our conversation. But let’s respond one more time. And let’s take his questions in reverse order:
c) why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?
i) That’s not a real question. That’s a loaded question. An accusation couched as a faux question. A question that builds a tendentious premise into the formulation. As if those who dare to differ with Henebury don’t think God said what he meant.
ii) Moreover, Henebury’s way of framing the issue is foolish and silly. One might as well ask, Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 37:1-14, instead of that strange business about reassembling and reanimating skeletons? Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 29:3-4, instead of comparing Pharaoh to a Nile crocodile? Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 4:2, instead of directing the prophet to play with a clay model of Jerusalem (Ezk 4:1-2)?
b) what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved?
i) The grammatico-historical method. One element of that hermeneutic is audiencial meaning. Bible writers (and speakers) generally intend to be understandable to their immediate audience. So meaning is to that degree anchored in the potential understanding of the original audience. What the audience would be able to grasp.
ii) In the case of prophecy, a further distinction may be in order. The audience to whom the oracle is originally addressed may not be the same as the audience for whom the oracle is fulfilled. There can be a considerable time lapse. In that respect, a prophecy can be intended for a future audience.
How or when we apply that distinction depends on the context. Some oracles are short-term prophecies. Other oracles are long-term prophecies. For instance, Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the end of the exile is a fairly short-term prophecy (Jer 29:10).
a) what they are supposed to really mean?
Before we answer that question, we need to lay down some ground rules.
i) We need to distinguish between literal events and literal depictions. For instance, Ezk 37:1-14 depicts a literal event in symbolic terms. It depicts the restoration of Israel. That’s a literal event. But the depiction is symbolic.
ii) We need to distinguish between pictures and propositions. Images aren’t meaningful in the same way that sentences are meaningful. Unlike sentences, images don’t make assertions.
a) An image needn’t mean anything. For instance, an artist can paint a scene from his imagination. The scene doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t represent something he saw. Rather, he paints the imaginary scene because he finds it pleasant or interesting.
b) Of course, some images are referential. They stand for something else. Ezk 40-48 contains prophetic images.
c) Ezk 40-48 is an extended word-picture. A series of images. The images don’t contain dates. An image, all by itself, doesn’t point to the past, present, or future. An image, by itself, is chronologically indefinite or indeterminate.
Suppose you’re shown a picture of a river valley. You can’t tell from the picture when that was taken or where that was taken.
Ezk 40-48 is a record of what the prophet saw. There’s nothing in the imagery itself to say when it happens.
d) Of course, when imagery is embedded in a text, the text can supply a chronological or geographical frame of reference. A literary image signifies whatever the writer assigns to it.
e) Ezekiel is addressing the exilic community. What could this mean to them? I think chaps. 40-48 present pictorially what Ezk 36:22-38 & 37:26-27 present more prosaically. Same message, different medium. Likewise, I think Ezk 37:1-14 and Ezk 40-48 are different imaginative depictions of the same reality.
The regathering of the diaspora. Repatriation to the land of Israel. In that respect, the vision had reference to the near future.
f) However, because mere imagery isn’t time-indexed, the same images, or modified images, can refer to more than one event. Bear a one-to-many correspondence.
That’s why Revelation can see parts of Ezk 40-48 fulfilled in a different setting than the postexilic restoration of Israel. Here the themes of God’s compresence with his people, shalom, and the Davidic messiah, take place in the world to come. The consummation. In that respect, the vision had reference to the distant future.
John isn’t reinterpreting Ezekiel’s vision, for pictorial scenes have no intrinsic interpretation. What they represent is determined by the author. Their representative significance is assigned.
Of course, certain kinds of images are more naturally suited to represent certain kinds events than others. The historical referents aren’t imposed on the images arbitrarily.
g) From our position in church history, I think Ezk 40-48 is both past and future. To some extent the vision pictures the aftermath of the Babylonian exile. That lies behind us.