1 Then he led me out into the outer court, toward the north, and he brought me to the chambers that were opposite the separate yard and opposite the building on the north. 2 The length of the building whose door faced north was a hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty cubits. 3 Facing the twenty cubits that belonged to the inner court, and facing the pavement that belonged to the outer court, was gallery against gallery in three stories. 4 And before the chambers was a passage inward, ten cubits wide and a hundred cubits long, and their doors were on the north. 5 Now the upper chambers were narrower, for the galleries took more away from them than from the lower and middle chambers of the building. 6 For they were in three stories, and they had no pillars like the pillars of the courts. Thus the upper chambers were set back from the ground more than the lower and the middle ones. 7 And there was a wall outside parallel to the chambers, toward the outer court, opposite the chambers, fifty cubits long. 8 For the chambers on the outer court were fifty cubits long, while those opposite the nave were a hundred cubits long. 9 Below these chambers was an entrance on the east side, as one enters them from the outer court.
10 In the thickness of the wall of the court, on the south also, opposite the yard and opposite the building, there were chambers 11 with a passage in front of them. They were similar to the chambers on the north, of the same length and breadth, with the same exits and arrangements and doors, 12 as were the entrances of the chambers on the south. There was an entrance at the beginning of the passage, the passage before the corresponding wall on the east as one enters them.
13 Then he said to me, “The north chambers and the south chambers opposite the yard are the holy chambers, where the priests who approach the Lord shall eat the most holy offerings. There they shall put the most holy offerings—the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering—for the place is holy. 14 When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people.”
15 Now when he had finished measuring the interior of the temple area, he led me out by the gate that faced east, and measured the temple area all around. 16 He measured the east side with the measuring reed, 500 cubits by the measuring reed all around. 17 He measured the north side, 500 cubits by the measuring reed all around. 18 He measured the south side, 500 cubits by the measuring reed. 19 Then he turned to the west side and measured, 500 cubits by the measuring reed. 20 He measured it on the four sides. It had a wall around it, 500 cubits long and 500 cubits broad, to make a separation between the holy and the common. – Ezekiel 42:1-20 ESV
I find it interesting that in the middle of all the detailed descriptions of the layout of the future temple complex, Ezekiel’s “guide” pointed to a set of rooms and designated them as being “holy.”
Then he said to me, “The north and south rooms adjacent to the open area are holy rooms where the priests who come before GOD eat the holy offerings. There they place the holy offerings–grain offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. These are set-apart rooms, holy space. After the priests have entered the Sanctuary, they must not return to the outside courtyard and mingle among the people until they change the sacred garments in which they minister and put on their regular clothes.” – Ezekiel 42:13-14 MSG
Wouldn’t the entire temple be holy? Since the whole structure would be dedicated to the worship of God, wouldn’t every room, wall, hallway, courtyard, and gateway be considered holy? Well, in a sense, yes. But the use of the word “holy” in this context gives us another important aspect of its meaning. It simply means to be “set-apart or separated.”
These rooms were dedicated or set apart for a distinct purpose.
“Here the priests who offer sacrifices to the Lord will eat the most holy offerings.” – Ezekiel 42:13 NLT
According to Ezekiel’s divine tour guide, these rooms would also be used for storage of the elements used in the various offerings.
“…because these rooms are holy, they will be used to store the sacred offerings—the grain offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings.” – Ezekiel 42:13 NLT
Even within this future temple complex, there will be places that are “set apart” and distinctive from all others. These rooms will be dedicated to a specific purpose and will not be available for any others use.
When the priests complete their job of ministering in the sanctuary, they will be required to leave their “holy” garments in one of these “holy” rooms, and change into their “street” clothes. The robes they wear in the sanctuary will be dedicated solely to use within that area of the temple. The book of Exodus describes these sacred garments.
“Make sacred garments for Aaron that are glorious and beautiful. Instruct all the skilled craftsmen whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom. Have them make garments for Aaron that will distinguish him as a priest set apart for my service.” – Exodus 28:2-3 NLT
These would not be ordinary, run-of-the-mill clothes, but acquisitive garments of great beauty and detail.
“These are the garments they are to make: a chestpiece, an ephod, a robe, a patterned tunic, a turban, and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother, Aaron, and his sons to wear when they serve me as priests. So give them fine linen cloth, gold thread, and blue, purple, and scarlet thread.” – Exodus 28:4-5 NLT
Even when ministering within the far smaller and less opulent tabernacle, the priests were required to wear God-ordained and designed garments that set them apart for His service.
“For Aaron’s sons, make tunics, sashes, and special head coverings that are glorious and beautiful. Clothe your brother, Aaron, and his sons with these garments, and then anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they can serve as my priests. Also make linen undergarments for them, to be worn next to their bodies, reaching from their hips to their thighs. These must be worn whenever Aaron and his sons enter the Tabernacle or approach the altar in the Holy Place to perform their priestly duties. Then they will not incur guilt and die.” – Exodus 28:41-43 NLT
Holiness was important to God. It’s why He told His people, “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 NLT). He had chosen them and set them apart as His own. They were His special possession and their lives were to reflect their unique status as His children. And every area of this future temple will be set apart for God’s glory and use. Each brick, decorative accent, room, doorway, wall, and ceiling will exist for one purpose only: To bring glory to God Almighty.
Even the garments the priests wore were to be considered as holy or set apart. Before they could enter the rest of the temple or go into the more public or common areas, they had to remove their “holy” clothes, because those clothes had been dedicated to God.
All this makes me think about how we have been set apart by God for His use. We are His people. We have been made holy or set apart by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. We belong to God. The apostle Paul reminds us of this unique status as His holy people.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. – Colossians 3:12 NLT
God set us apart for a purpose. We are now dedicated to Him and for His use. Our lives no longer belong to us, but to him and we should be used only in the way that He sees fit. The priests could not use the holy garments for any other purpose. They were not free to use those holy rooms for any other reason than the one that God had prescribed for them. In fact, the book of Nehemiah records an incident in which one of the priests violated this very command.
Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, the frankincense, various articles for the Temple, and the tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil (which were prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers), as well as the offerings for the priests. – Nehemiah 4:4-5 NLT
Notice that Eliashib had taken one of the “holy” rooms and turned it into an apartment for one of his relatives. When Nehemiah got wind of what had happened, he was furious and took immediate action.
When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense. – Nehemiah 4:7-9 NLT
Eliashib had taken liberties with that which belonged to God. He had the audacity to assign a new and totally different use for that which God had set apart. And, in doing so, he desecrated what God had deemed as wholly for His use.
And we can be guilty of the same thing. As God’s children, we have been set apart for His service. When God commands, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 NLT), He is telling us that we must be set apart, distinct, and different, just as He is. We must reflect His holiness. We must remain dedicated to His use. When we take what He has set apart (our bodies) and use it for some other purpose, we profane it. When we use our bodies for purposes other than those for which God has set them apart, we denigrate their God-given value. That is why Peter provides a sobering warning to live as who we are and for the purpose we have been assigned.
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. – 1 Peter 2:5 NLT
And the apostle Paul echoes Peter’s sentiments when he writes:
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.