Lately I’ve been reading through the book of Ezekiel. There are parts of this book that are often quoted because they are so readily applicable to our twenty-first century lives. God’s promise in chapter 34 to be Israel’s shepherd comes to mind—we know that Christians, too, have been made part of God’s flock, and so we read the chapter to find out exactly what that means for ourselves. However, there are other chapters that I have never, ever heard read in a church service, and very much doubt that I ever will. Chief among these are chapters 40 through 43, which describe the dimensions of the renewed temple. I suspect that many earnest readers of the Bible have groaned when they have come to these chapters and seen page after page detailing how many cubits wide this door is, and how many cubits long that courtyard. We don’t even use a temple. Why is this important to us? Why is it even in the Bible?
Well, to answer this question, we need to first ask what this passage meant to the first hearers. It had to have been important, or no one would have cared enough to preserve it so it could last for thousands of years since the time of Ezekiel. So let’s do a thought experiment. Remember what it was like when the World Trade Center was destroyed? The loss of life was tragic, of course, but what makes us remember 9/11 more than any natural disaster is that it struck at our national identity. No longer could we believe that the United States was invulnerable. Now imagine that it hadn’t just been the World Trade Center that was destroyed, but the White House—not just a symbol of our nation, but the symbol. Finally, imagine that this same building was not just a national symbol, but a religious building—the last church in the world. Imagine that with the destruction of this building you are no longer able to worship in the way you have been accustomed. It is hard for us to imagine this, because a church works in such a different way than did the temple, but try.
Then, finally, imagine that God gives you a message. This building that was razed to the ground, that you had feared was destroyed forever, will be rebuilt. Imagine how you would feel. You wouldn’t be content to just hear this dry statement; you would want more. What will it look like? How big will it be? How will it be decorated? All the details aren’t just boring fluff to make the book longer; they are signs that God has a concrete plan, that he’s just as committed to rebuilding the temple as any of his people. He won’t simply let them wait and wait in exile; he is already thinking about how to restore them, in meticulous detail.
And this means that all the measurements of courtyards and doorways tell us something very important, not just about the courtyards and doorways, but about God. If he is the kind of God who would comfort his heartbroken people so deeply and entirely, even after they abandoned him and were justly punished for it, then he is the kind of God who will comfort us deeply and entirely. We don’t have to fear that we will be left hanging in the void; he will always bring us hope.