Judah Judged [Chapters 4-24]
The Abominations in the Temple
Ezekiel now moves from his prophetic sermons to a series of visions he had concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. The visions were given the prophet about fourteen months after his captivity, specifically dated to let us know Ezekiel began receiving them two to three weeks before the end of his 430-day model siege.
The visions take up the next four chapters of Ezekiel (chapters 8-10) and can be divided into four sections:
Chapter 8: The Wickedness in the Temple
Chapter 9: The Slaughter of the City
Chapter 10: God's Glory Departing the Temple
Chapter 11: Rulers Judged
Vision Introduced (1-5)
Ezekiel was sitting in his home with some elders from the captives of Judah. While he was teaching them, the hand of Yahweh fell down on him (1). He looked in the spirit and saw the form of what appeared to be a man. This was the same vision he had of Yahweh in Ezekiel 1:27—not Yahweh directly but a vision of the appearance of Yahweh (2).
Yahweh put out what was a form of His hand, grabbed Ezekiel by the hair, and lifted him into the heavens—in vision, in his spirit—carrying him to Jerusalem. His body remained in his home in Babylon while his vision soared to Jerusalem.
He was taken to the north gate of the inner court, where he looked in from the outer court. There in the inner court, Ezekiel saw, in his vision, the "image of jealousy.”
During his reign, King Manasseh had placed an image of Asherah in the temple (2 Kings 21:7) and then later removed it during a time of his own personal repentance (2 Chronicles. 33:13,15). After Manasseh’s death, the Asherah pole made its way once again to the temple, only to be removed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:6). Now again, idols were found in the temple. In a shameless act of idolatry, and right before the city's destruction, Ezekiel became witness to this offensive image of idolatry in vision form.
Any form of idolatry was forbidden and was further seen as an act of driving God to jealousy (Deuteronomy 4:23-24).
For Yahweh, jealousy meant He was filled with a burning passion to preserve the fidelity of covenant relationship with the people He loved, no matter what it cost Him.
Human jealousy is to want the affection or attention of another so badly that we are willing to destroy anyone or anything to get it.
Yahweh's jealousy means He is so stirred by His sense of holiness that He is willing to do whatever is necessary to restore the covenant relationship, no matter what it costs Him.
You could view jealousy this way:
As a human, I will make someone else pay whatever is necessary for me to keep what I love.
In God, He will pay whatever is necessary to keep covenant love pure.
The image provoking jealousy was an idol, and the idol provoked God to a holy zeal. He would pay whatever it cost Him to preserve His people (3).
While the glory of Yahweh had left the Holy Place, His presence remained in the inner court in Ezekiel's vision. The vision he had in the valley when he had been told to go and shut himself up in his home, tied with ropes, was the same vision Ezekiel is having of Yahweh here (3:23).
Ezekiel was then told to lift up his head and look toward the north, toward the altar gate. There he saw an image, an idol, a cause for God's jealousy to be stirred (4-5).
Abominations Witnessed (6-16)
[I have included a diagram of the temple and where Ezekiel was in the vision when he saw all the abominations in the temple Yahweh had revealed to him. Refer to end of chapter review.]
Then Yahweh asked Ezekiel if he was seeing what God was seeing. The idolatry was so abominable that it was driving Yahweh from His sanctuary. Although we do not know what idol Ezekiel saw, we do know the Asherah, a fertility goddess, alone would have been enough to push Yahweh aside. What is mostly known to have taken place in worship around that corrupt pole must be left without description. It was a lewd and obscene series of every vulgar act imaginable. God then told Ezekiel this opening scene of idolatry would simply lead to more and more perverse abominations (6).
Ezekiel was then brought to the entrance of the court where he saw a hole in the wall (7). Ezekiel was told to dig into the wall, and to his surprise he discovered the door to the holy place had been sealed shut. He dug into the hole until he uncovered the entrance. Ezekiel was told to enter what once was the Holy Place of Yahweh, and there he was told to look upon all kinds of vile abominations being committed there (8-9). As he entered the Holy Place, he saw every form of creeping animal and beast carved on the walls and every imaginable idol—all this in what was once the Holy Place of Yahweh. In this vision, Ezekiel was being shown that the leaders of Israel, while trying to wall off their monstrous acts of worship from God, were all along being watched by Him (10).
In the Holy Place, surrounded by beastly images and every known idol, were seventy elders worshiping. Among them was Jaazaniah, a holy man of high regard who had intimate association with Jeremiah. Even the most righteous had fallen victim to the obscenity of idol worship (11).
Each elder had a private room to worship in—each elder practicing explicitly lewd worship in utter secrecy, seeking to justify it in their own minds. They claimed first that Yahweh did not see and second that Yahweh had forsaken.
These were accursed excuses. The first denied Yahweh's omniscience, and the second revealed their utter moral bankruptcy. They were seeking to convince the people of Israel that Yahweh was with them and would never allow the temple to be destroyed (12).
Reading all this is so hurtful to the heart that it can't be fathomed how suffocating it must have been for Ezekiel to watch it in vision form.
Worshiping the beastly, the instinctual, and the soul adrift without impulse control is watching humanity sink to its lowest depravity. Then, unthinkably, Ezekiel learned that it would get even worse (14).
Ezekiel was next taken to the entrance of the north gate of the temple, and there he saw women who were designated for nurturing weeping for Tammuz. Tammuz was the god of fertility, embodying the powers for new life in nature blooming forth in the spring. It was believed that he would resurrect in the spring and bring the rains and vegetation with him. The worst imaginable immoralities, in what could be called sex worship, were used to bring new life forth in the spring. The women were weeping the loss of such a practice of worship in the temple.
Those who should have been worshiping the true Giver of rain were debasing their persons in the shameful adoration of this false god. Yet Ezekiel would see even worse (15).
Finally, Ezekiel was brought out to the inner court of the Temple. There he saw at the entrance of the temple itself, between the porch of the temple and the altar, twenty-five men, elders, no doubt priests. Instead of acting as priests and weeping for the nation and themselves, they were, with their backs in contempt to Yahweh's Temple, facing the east, worshiping the sun god Shamash (16). The entire picture of false worship rips the soul to shreds and then grips one with fear as our own culture is considered.
Judgment Proclaimed (17-18)
Ezekiel was then led to ponder the full effect of idol worship. Not only was the temple full of the decadent and the abominable, but the land was also full of violence because the lust for idolatry leads to the human heart and spirit's complete insensitivity. Doing savage acts to another to appease a lust was nothing to those consumed in lustful pursuit of idols.
Yahweh declared to Ezekiel that putting the "branch," or literally the stench of idolatry, to their nose and saying it smelled good was all the provocation necessary to know Judah was beyond the potential to turn again to Yahweh (17). They would not be spared, nor shown pity, no matter how loud they cried out. The nation was lost, the city destroyed, and God's own temple doomed. He was so jealous to keep His covenant and His people that He was willing to lose anything to save them (18).
Model of temple area in Ezekiel’s time adapted from http://jacobcherians.blogspot.com/2013/12/ezekiel-46.html
The Slaughter of the City
Ezekiel was going to see a vision of the overthrow of Jerusalem in two parts:
The Execution of Jerusalem (9:1-11)
The Burning of Jerusalem (10:1-2)
[At the bottom of this review is again a diagram of the temple and locations of events in Ezekiel’s vision of chapter 9]
The Guards Sent (1-7)
Ezekiel then heard a loud voice calling for six executioners to come forth with swords or clubs in tow. The word “executioner" is probably too strong a translation for this Hebrew word. A better word might be “guard," although the word was used for those who execute vengeance (1).
Six guards came forward from the direction of the upper gate, and to make sure there was no mistake, it was the gate facing the north. Clothed in linen, they carried weapons to be used for slaughter. The linen clothing separated them as being on a mission of righteousness or a mission justified by Yahweh. With them came a man with a writing kit bound around his waist. The writing kit would have included an assortment of reed pens and an inkhorn. They all then stood by the bronze altar (2).
Ezekiel, again, saw the glory that had been on the cherub of chapter one. As Ezekiel watched, the glory of God lifted from the cherub and hovered over the threshold of the Temple. God called out to the scribe with the writing kit and directed him to pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark the foreheads of all men (all people) groaning with sorrow and sickness over the idolatry and abominations in Israel (3-4).
The guards with execution weapons were called by God to follow after the scribe and strike, without pity, all who were not marked.
None was to be spared. Not the old, not the young, not the children, nor their mothers. Any untouched by the scribe were to be executed without hesitation. No distinction was to be rendered for age or sex.
Those untouched by the scribe implies those who were not, by nature, people sensitive to what God's scribes had written down in God's Word. Those touched by God's Word would have been weeping over the lustful, cultic practices of Israel.
The guards were to begin with the elders before the house of God, or those mentioned in chapter eight who had been worshiping the sun god (5-6).
So Ezekiel, in vision form, watched as the temple was defiled a second time (the first was with idolatrous worship), this time with dead corpses. The fulfillment of this prophecy was recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:17-18. After they had executed the elders in the temple, they headed for the city (7).
Ezekiel Weeps (8-11)
While the guards were headed out to go through the city, Ezekiel began to weep and call out to Yahweh. He entered into deep intercession for the remnant of Israel who had been marked by the scribe. Ezekiel was wanting more marked, more claimed. There were too few; the breadth of the execution was too great for Ezekiel (8).
Yahweh responded to Ezekiel by telling him the guilt of the city was not slight. It was far more widespread and massively gross than Ezekiel could imagine. There were not just spots of cold-hearted wickedness and injustice leading to the death of some, but the land was full of people being exploited and destroyed for the lust and prosperity of others.
They justified their dirty deeds by claiming Yahweh had withdrawn from the land and was no longer directly sovereign—"other gods must be counseled." They further made the excuse that God had no interest nor was He aware of what was being done because, having left, He was also practicing selective omniscience (9).
Yahweh informed Ezekiel that there was no other way to save the nation, and His promises to save the world meant He would need to purge Israel. To purge Israel meant He would need the nation destroyed as it had been known. In its place, Yahweh would raise up a remnant through whom He would keep His promises of salvation alive (10).
The scribe returned, having marked every person of the Word who was deeply grieving over the vast idolatry claiming the nation's passions (11).
Model of temple area in Ezekiel’s time adapted from http://jacobcherians.blogspot.com/2013/12/ezekiel-46.html