Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. Ezekiel 10:18
This is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. After centuries of God’s glory living with the people of Israel in Tabernacle and Temple, the glory of God departed from the Temple.
Ezekiel lived in Babylon along with many other Jews who the Babylonians had taken captive from Judah in the early part of the 6th century BC. Ezekiel would have started his priestly duties at the age of 30, but he no longer lived in Jerusalem. He lived in a foreign land along with thousands of other Jews who had been captured by the Babylonians.
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. Ezekiel 1:1-3
Even though Ezekiel had no temple duties to perform since he lived in another country, God called him to the office of prophet by means of a vision.
And He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.’ Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. And He said to me: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 2:1-5
God called Ezekiel to be a watchman to warn His people.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me. Ezekiel 3:17
Those warnings included what was going to happen to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah had prophesied years earlier that God was going to allow invading armies to destroy the Temple.
Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these’… Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched. Jeremiah 7:4, 20
Jeremiah also reminded Judah (Southern Kingdom) of what God had done to Israel (Northern Kingdom) decades earlier when he allowed the Assyrian army to remove Jews to other countries and bring Gentiles into the Northern Kingdom to take their place. God was going to allow another empire to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple (house which is called by My name, in which you trust).
But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works,’ says the Lord, ‘and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim. Jeremiah 7:12-15
God showed Ezekiel how King Nebuchadnezzar would lay a final siege against Jerusalem and destroy the city and Temple (beginning in Ezekiel 4). One of the visions Ezekiel saw was of terrible abominations inside the Temple (Ezekiel 8). The men committing those abominations were the elders and priests of Judah.
And He said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence; then they have returned to provoke Me to anger. Indeed they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them. Ezekiel 8:17-18
God then showed Ezekiel that He would remove Himself from His Temple, which meant God removing His presence and protection from the city of David. However, God did give Ezekiel hope for Israel’s future.
Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. ’ And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:17-20
After giving Ezekiel that promise, God’s glory left the Temple and the city of Jerusalem — “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain, which is on the east side of the city (Ezekiel 11:23).” Ezekiel then revealed what he had seen in the visions “to those in captivity” (Ezekiel 11:25)
We find the first mention of God’s glory in Exodus 16:6-7 ..
Then Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord; for He hears your complaints against the Lord.
Just as promised, the glory of God appeared in the morning:
Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. Exodus 16:10
We see God’s glory again in Exodus 24:16-17
Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israe
God’s glory inhabited the Tabernacle He instructed Moses to build:
And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:33-35
God’s glory remained in the Tabernacle for centuries until King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem about 977 BC. Even though Israel was unfaithful to God, God was faithful to Israel.
When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying: ‘For He is good, For His mercy endures forever. 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
God’s glory remained in the Temple until shortly before the Babylonians destroyed it in 587 BC. That means God’s glory was with Israel (Tabernacle and Temple) for almost 900 years, even though the people were disobedient the majority of that time. How faithful and long-suffering is our God!
2nd Temple Glory?
Did God’s glory return to the 2nd Temple? Let’s see if we can find it in Scripture.
Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed Jews to return from exile in Babylon to Judah in about 538 BC. Cyrus took a large amount of the gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem decades earlier and gave it to Sheshbazzar, “the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:8). Some of the exiles returned to Judah with Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah and other leaders. That was not the same Nehemiah who wrote the Book of Nehemiah, as we will see shortly.
Those Jews who returned to Judah in 538 BC started the process of restoring worship of God and rebuilding the Temple. They were able to lay the Temple’s foundation. However, their Samaritan neighbors to the north (the former Northern Kingdom of Israel) opposed the rebuilding of the Temple. They sent a letter to a new king of Persia and received a letter from the king that the Jews should stop the rebuilding (Ezra 4). Two Hebrew prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, urged Zerubbabel and Jeshua to rebuild the Temple. Opposition arose again, but a new king of Persia granted the Jews permission to complete the project. The second Temple was rebuilt in about 516 BC.
Our question is when the glory of God returned to the new Temple. The people of Judah celebrated the dedication of the Temple with joy. They offered sacrifices at the dedication of the Temple, assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, “over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses” (Ezra 6:17-18). However, what we don’t see is a return of God’s glory to the Second Temple as we did in Solomon’s Temple. Maybe that will come later in the story.
Ezra was a priest and scribe living in Babylon in the 5th century BC. He received permission from the king of Persia to lead a second return of exiles from Babylon to Judah. That was about 458 BC. Those returning exiles included more priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants (Nethinim) along with “some of the children of Israel” (Ezra 7:7). Ezra’s purpose for returning was “to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).
Nehemiah, author of the Book of Nehemiah, also lived during the 5th century BC. Another man named Nehemiah was among the first group of Jews living in Babylon to return to Israel in about 538 BC. You’ll read about him in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7.
We read about a great revival that happened under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah. He lived in Babylon and served as cupbearer for Persian king Artaxerxes. He had a strong desire to return to Judah to help his fellow Jews rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked the king’s permission to return to Judah and the king granted his request. That was about 445 BC. Nehemiah joined with Ezra to help guide the process of rebuilding the city and people spiritually and physically.
Nehemiah took charge of rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem. He faced a lot of opposition, but was able to complete that huge task in fifty-two days. Ezra stood before the people and read and explained the Law of God. The people responded to the words of the Law by weeping. Nehemiah, who was the governor of Judah, Ezra, and the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep” (Nehemiah 8:9).
Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:10-12
Ezra and Nehemiah continued to lead the people in reading and learning the Law of God. They kept the feast days and worshiped according to the prescribed manner (Nehemiah 8:17-18). The people also confessed their sins and placed their seal on an agreement (covenant) to obey God. That included separating themselves from their foreign wives which was forbidden by God’s Law. They also agreed that one-tenth of the people would live in Jerusalem and nine-tenths of the people would live outside Jerusalem. You can read the details in Nehemiah chapters 9 – 11. You’ll find Nehemiah’s dedication of the Jerusalem wall and a list of Temple responsibilities in chapter 12.
What you won’t find, however, is any mention of God’s glory coming to the Second Temple. You won’t find it mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah or any of the post-exilic prophets (e.g. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). As far as we can tell from the Old Testament, God’s glory did not come to the Second Temple in the same way it had to the First Temple.
Temple Glory After Malachi?
The Old Testament writings end about 400 BC (Malachi). Could it be that God’s glory came into the Second Temple sometime after that? If so, how would we know? Do we need to look to the intertestamental period writings? How about something in the New Testament?
The “intertestamental period writings” are also known as “deuterocanonical.” You may known them by the name “apocryphal.” They were written in the period between the writings of Malachi and Matthew. You can read about them in our Faith and Self Defense Series, Can I Trust The Bible? (Parts 4, 5 & 6).
If you’ve read the apocryphal writings, you know that they are either historical or fanciful. None of them claim to be written by a prophet, which means they do not qualify as inspired Scripture.
“Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:44-45
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1-2
Even if apocryphal books mentioned the glory of God returning to the Second Temple (which they don’t), it wouldn’t matter from the perspective of that coming from a prophet of God.
I believe we do find insight into God’s glory present in the Second Temple as well as a promise of God’s glory in a future Temple. We’ll look into that as our series continues.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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