Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
EZEKIEL'S `JOURNEY' TO JERUSALEM (Ezekiel 8-11)
Ezekiel's prophecy in these four chapters "form a connected whole." (1) There is presented in chapter 8 a detail on the horrible defilement of God's temple by apostate Israel, which God forewarns will cause the removal of his presence from it (Ezekiel 8:6). (2) The supernatural ministers of instruments of Israel's punishment appear in Ezekiel 9. (3) The cherubim make preparatory movements to depart the Temple in Ezekiel 10; and (4) the actual departure of God's presence from the Temple occurs in Ezekiel 11:22-25. The one topic here is the defilement of the Temple and God's removal from it.
THE TEMPLE DEFILED AND THE WARNING OF GOD'S REMOVAL OF HIS PRESENCE FROM IT
God revealed to Ezekiel the abominations and detestable things going on within the precincts of the sacred Temple itself. Some have mistakenly interpreted this chapter as a composite of all of the various idolatries practiced previously to the times of Ezekiel; but the better understanding of it indicates that all of the abominations and detestable things going on in this vision were actually being practiced in both the Temple and throughout Israel right up until the very capture and destruction of the city.
Of course, there had been reforms under Josiah; but Jehoiachim had quickly restored all of the abominations of Manasseh's evil reign. It would frustrate the very purpose of the vision to apply it to Israel's past history and not the current conditions when the city fell.
"And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord Jehovah fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and, lo, a likeness as the appearance of fire; from the appearance of his loins and downward, fire, and from his loins and upward, as the appearance of brightness, as it were glorying metal. And he put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoked to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the image that I saw in the plain."
"In the sixth year ..." (Ezekiel 8:1). "This date appears to be August-September, 592 B.C." For a list of all the dates given in Ezekiel, see our introduction. Beasley-Murray calculated the interval from the first vision that came to Ezekiel at the river Chebar as "fourteen months"; however, Plumptre stated that it was only thirteen months. There are too many uncertainties regarding ancient dates to leave much room for dogmatism. Cooke explains how these different calculations are made.
Moshe Greenberg, a very able scholar, has calculated that the long period when Ezekiel lay upon his side ended just "three weeks before the date given here."
"And the elders of Judah sat before me ..." (Ezekiel 8:2). "This indicates that Ezekiel did indeed have a certain amount of prestige with the exiles. Here he sits in his own home, and before him the elders of Judah have come apparently for counsel and information."
Watts has outlined what he believed to be the reason for this visit of the elders to Ezekiel.
Ezekiel's prophecies had reached Jerusalem, leading to the outright despisal of all the exiles. The exiles were separated from the privileges of the Temple; the remainder of the people in Jerusalem told the exiles to forget about their confiscated property which then belonged to the remnant in Jerusalem, who in their own estimation were the favored of the Lord (11:15). This arrogant attitude of the citizens of Jerusalem had reached the exiles, who were grieved and distressed by it. Therefore they presented themselves before the prophet Ezekiel to learn what he had to say about the situation.
"A likeness as of the appearance of fire ..." (Ezekiel 8:3). Although the word "man" does not appear in this text, it is clearly a human figure in the vision, as indicated by the mention of the likeness of a hand, and of "his loins." This is what the marginal reference here has, "the appearance of a man enthroned," of course, a representation of God Himself.
"In the visions of God ..." (Ezekiel 8:3). All of the things mentioned here were seen "in this vision." Ezekiel was not bodily transported to Jerusalem. His vision was possibly like that of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, where it is recorded that the apostle was caught up into the third heaven, "whether in the body or out of the body," he did not know. Apparently the elders of Judah were in Ezekiel's house when this vision occurred to him, and presumably they were there when it ended, and Ezekiel explained it to them.
"The image of jealousy ..." (Ezekiel 8:3). We do not know exactly what that image was; but it makes no difference. Any image whatever would have served to provoke God to jealousy over his apostate people. It was here called "the image of jealousy," because of God's reaction to it.
"Behold, the glory of the God of Israel ..." (Ezekiel 8:4). How surprising it is that the image of God's glory Should have been visible at all in the Temple. It is a comment upon the mercy and forbearance of God that even at this late date and in spite of the horrible apostasy of the rebellious people, God still allowed this image of himself to appear in the house dedicated to his name.
There are four abominations mentioned in the balance of the chapter, where they appear in an ascending order of offensiveness to God.
"Then said he unto me, Son of man, Lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entrance. And he said unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel do commit here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? But thou shalt see yet again other abominations."
THE IMAGE OF JEALOUSY
"The image of jealousy in the entrance ..." (Ezekiel 8:5). There are almost as many guesses as to the identity of this idol as there are authors discussing it; but we should not overlook the fact that the identity of the idol is immaterial. Any idol, made contrary to the Mosaic Law was offensive to God; and the placement of such an abomination within the sacred precincts of the Temple itself was an outrageous desecration.
The guess as to the idol's identity which is most popular among the writers we have consulted is that it was an idol with an altar to the Ashera, Ashteroth, Astarte, or some other female fertility goddess of the ancient Canaanites. The worship of such idols was vile, licentious, depraved and disgusting.
"That I should go far off from my sanctuary ..." (Ezekiel 8:6). A better rendition of this was given by Eichrodt. "They are committing great abominations here to drive me from my sanctuary." God's removing his presence from the Jewish Temple is the principal theme of Ezekiel 8-11. Here the reason for that removal is clearly tied to the abominations practiced there by the apostate children of Israel.
"And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold, a door. He said unto me, Go in, and see the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold, every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the house of Israel; and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, every man with his censor in his hand; and the odor of the cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark? every man in his chambers of imagery? for they say, Jehovah seeth us not; Jehovah hath forsaken the land. He said also unto me, Thou shalt again see yet other great abominations which they do."
THE WORSHIP OF BEASTS; REPTILES AND CREEPING THINGS
The best comment we have found on this is in Romans 1:22-23. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
That was Paul's comment on what took place among the pre-Christian Gentiles; and here we find that ancient Israel had fallen into the same wickedness.
All of these animal figures, worshipped as idols, were derived from ancient Canaanite paganism, from Baylonian, and from Egyptian sources.
"Elders ... censors ... cloud of incense ..." (Ezekiel 8:11). It was unlawful for the elders to offer incense in the Temple, a function belonging only to the sons of Aaron; and even they were forbidden to offer the sacred incense to a pagan idol.
"Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan ..." (Ezekiel 8:11). There were a number of men of this name in the Bible, and one of them had aided in the reforms of Josiah. If this was the same man, he had failed to remain loyal to the Lord.
This vision of so many elders offering incense to pagan gods is thought by some to be a "Representation of the widespread guilt of the whole nation in their clandestine worship of pagan idols." Nevertheless, it appears in this vision that the worship was taking place in the Temple.
"The paganism visible in this vision does not appear to be any kind of blending of paganism with the true worship of God; but, on the other hand, "It was unalloyed idolatry practiced by the defectors from the true faith in God."
"Then he brought me to the door of Jehovah's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O Son of man? thou shalt again see yet greater abominations than these."
THE WORSHIP OF TAMMUZ
"Behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz ..." (Ezekiel 8:14). The worship of this ancient god reaches back into antiquity as far as 3,000 B.C.; and it featured numerous combinations, contradictions and uncertainties. The cult apparently had its variations in several nations. Among the Greeks it was the worship of Adonis and Aphrodite; among the Egyptians it was known as the religion of Osiris and Isis; and in Babylon, it went under the names of Ishtar and Tammuz.
Tammuz, a very attractive and beautiful shepherd was killed by a wild boar; and he was featured as the spouse of Ishtar, the sister of Ishtar, the son of Ishtar, or the lover of Ishtar. Upon his death, Ishtar (or Aphrodite, or whoever) went to the underworld to reclaim him from death. The period of mourning, usually forty days, ended with Tammuz' triumphant return to life. The mythological basis of this tale was the death of vegetation in winter and its return in spring. The time of celebrating his return was usually observed at the time of the summer solstice (June 21). Because of this the fourth Babvlonian month was named Tammuz, the name that was adopted into the Jewish calendar for their fourth month (June-July).
Plumptre has commented upon the prominent part women had, especially in the corrupted worship of the Jews. They wove hangings for the worship of Ashera (2 Kings 23:7), and they also burned incense to the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:9; 15-19). "This goddess was probably Ashteroth."
The mourning period, whether long or short, was always followed by the most uninhibited, wildest celebration, amounting to as vulgar an orgy as could be imagined. "Human sacrifice, castration, sexual indulgence, etc. formed part of the rites." The weeping women, gazing upon the naked statue of Tammuz (or Adonis), in time worked themselves into a frenzy of passionate desire. John Milton penned these lines regarding it.
The love-tale infected Zion's daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch
Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led,
His eyes surveyed the dark idolatries
Of alienated Judah. - Paradise Lost, 1:446.
Canon Cook stated that "The great popularity of this ancient cult rested in the fact that it inevitably led to unbridled license and excess." Feinberg added that, "The worship of this god was connected with the basest immoralities. With the greatest abandon, women gave themselves up to the most shameful practices. Immorality and idolatry are inseparable twins throughout the history of the world."
One might have wondered if Ezekiel could have seen anything else more shameful than this group of women weeping for Tammuz; but Ezekiel 8:15 at once warned Ezekiel that "greater abominations than these" he would yet behold.
(Note: we have not cited our source for every statement in this glimpse at the worship Tammuz; but we have given a composite of the opinions of F. C. Cook, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, C. L. Feinberg, Anton T. Pearson, G. A. Cooke, E. H. Plumptre, and others).
"And he brought me into the inner court of Jehovah's house; and behold, at the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of Jehovah, and their faces toward the east; and they were worshipping the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O Son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abomination which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have turned again to provoke me to anger: and lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in wrath; mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them."
WORSHIP OF THE SUN BY THE PRIESTS
Here is the climax of the abominations witnessed by Ezekiel in the vision. The heads of the twenty-four courses of the sacred priesthood, led by the High priest, making up the "twenty five men" mentioned here, were not only worshipping the sun, but they were doing so in the very temple of God, with their backs turned upon the sacred temple of Jehovah! Keil pointed out that this was not the worship of Adonis, or any other sun-god, but, "The worship of the heavenly bodies, against which Moses had warned the people (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3)."
"They put the branch to the nose ..." (Ezekiel 8:17). "Assyrian reliefs identify this gesture as an act of reverence and worship." "Sun worshippers held branches or bundles of twigs from certain trees to their mouth, that they might not contaminate the sun with their breath." From this, it appears that the fallen Israelites had adopted sun-worship with all of its variations and embellishments. Cook understood Ezekiel's use of "nose" instead of "mouth" here as designed to represent the practice, "In contemptuous and derogatory terms." "Many scholars favor the translation of this place as, `They send a stench to my nostrils.'"
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