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There is no doubt that a prophetic vision is here narrated; for the Prophet was not carried to Jerusalem, nor had he changed his place, nor were the elders of Judah before him, but he seemed to himself to be seized by the Spirit of God, that he might perceive the pollutions by which the Jews had profaned the temple. For he says, that he was at home when this vision occurred to him, and yet it was possible for him to be walking in the field. He does not, therefore, relate the thing as done, but simply teaches how God appeared, and adds the circumstances. By elders of Judah I do not understand captives, but those who were then dwelling at Jerusalem, that they should be witnesses of this prophecy, and so all excuse and pretense of mistake was taken away from them. He also expresses the time at which this vision happened, namely the sixth year, which he numbers from the exile of Jechoniah, as we saw in the first chapter. Hence an interval of a year and two months has elapsed since the first vision which was then unfolded, and the present which is now to be treated. Since, therefore, fourteen months had elapsed, God appeared again to his Prophet. This circumstance of the time is by no means superfluous, for this shows the great obstinacy of the people. The Prophet, as I have said, numbers the years from the exile of the king. But they were accustomed to count from the jubilee year; but he now renews the grief for that slaughter, when the king was treated ignominiously as a vile captive, and was harassed as a slave by the enemy. Since, therefore, the Prophet humbles the Jews by this computation of years, hence it appears how hardened was their obstinacy, as they did not grow wise though so severely chastened. But we shall see that they were seized with a prodigious madness, so that they cast aside the worship of God, they heaped together on every side new idolatries, and infected the temple with their abominations. We saw in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:17, and Jeremiah 44:17) that the worship of God was overthrown in the city Jerusalem, and in the temple itself; for they poured out libations to the workmanship of heaven — others translate, the queen of heaven, but we have shown that those places ought to be understood of all the stars — since, therefore, they offered incense to the workmanship of heaven, then they afterwards took to themselves idols and polluted themselves with the superstitions of all the nations. Our Prophet shows that they were not touched with any sense of their punishment, but that they became worse from the time when God began to raise his hand against them; for it was just as if he had begun to show himself from heaven the avenger of their superstitions. Hence we have a reason why the Prophet here mentions years and months, and even the fifth day of the month, namely, that the Jews may be held more convicted of their obstinacy, since no punishments recalled them into the way, but they wrestled with diabolical obstinacy against God. He says, the hand of God fell; by hand I do not simply understand prophecy as some do, but strength; for the sense seems too restricted to say, God’s prophecy fell — the phrase is too cold. But this is properly said of the power of God. It is just as if he professed that he did not bring forward anything of his own, because he put off, as it were, the man whilst Gods power reigned in him. Thus the power of God is opposed to all human faculties. It follows —
Some translate the last word angel, but in my opinion erroneously: for
The Prophet here relates that he was carried to Jerusalem that he might behold the foul superstitions by which the Jews had defiled the temple. But first he says, that the form of a hand was put forth Whence again we collect that the body was not solid or substantial which the Prophet had seen; but was only a visible figure as a symbol of God’s presence. This explains the word likeness or figure, for it was not a real hand which seized the Prophet by the locks or hair of the head, but it was the likeness of a hand, and therefore he adds, in the visions of God it was done. He says indeed that he was carried up between heaven and earth, but let no one imagine that this was really done, for he explains himself and says, in the visions of God By visions of God he understands a revelation free from all doubt: for there is a silent opposition between these divine revelations and the spectres which often deceive men’s senses. Those who interpret “visions of God” simply as prophecy weaken what the Prophet wished to express emphatically; and those who think God’s name used here as an epithet, (as the Hebrews call anything remarkable, divine,) also depart from the genuine sense of the Prophet. There is no doubt, therefore, that he opposes the visions of God to all spectres: for Satan as we know deludes men’s senses with his prodigies and his wonderful arts of fascination: for it happens that the children of God are sometimes deluded: hence the Prophet, to take away all doubt from his teaching, says that he was carried to Jerusalem in visions of God, and adds, that he was carried to the northern gate. We know that there were many gates of the large area, so that the people’s entrance should be more commodious. For if there had been only one gate open, they would have been more tumultuous, as a multitude usually is. The area of the temple then had an eastern and a northern gate: then it had other gates, which gave an easy entrance to the people as well as to the priests. The priests indeed had an inner area which was distinct, but when they offered victims on the altar, they mingled with the people. This therefore was the reason why the floor of the temple had different gates. Now the Prophet says, that he was carried to the porch of the gate, so that he did not penetrate directly into the secret part of the temple, but seemed to himself to be standing before the doors, till God informed him of what was doing within. He says, there was the seat of the idol. We know not what the idol was, except that the Prophet says it was abominable. He first calls it the idol of jealousy, and then adds the participle, provoking God to jealousy But although the noun as well as the verb is often taken in a bad sense, yet God transfers the affection of jealousy to himself, and in this sense he says in Deuteronomy,
“They provoked me: they made me jealous with what is not God: therefore will I make them jealous,” (Deuteronomy 32:21.)
He alludes to the jealousy of husband and wife, for if the woman prostitutes herself, the husband burns with indignation, and that outbreak of his anger is most flagrant, So also when the wife in her turn knows that her husband is an adulterer, she is carried away with intemperance and excess. Hence God, when he shows how he esteems his glory and worship, compares himself to a jealous man, when we turn aside to idolatrous and adulterous worship. In this sense the idol which was in the porch or entrance of the temple is called the idol of jealousy, and the idol which causes jealousy. Although we may also translate, it was the seat of the idol causing jealousy, since the noun,
Now he only says that he saw God’s glory as he had formerly beheld it near the bank of the river. This was as it were the seal of his prophecy: for the holy man ought to be so strengthened, that he should boldly restrain the furious audacity and obstinacy of the people. Hence he had to strive with hard heads, and God did not arm him in vain; and to this end again a new vision was offered. He knew that to be the glory of God. Hence he was again made more certain that the whole action was under divine direction, and that it was neither human nor fictitious, nor deceptive nor doubtful. It follows —
Here one profanation of the temple, is shown to the Prophet, namely, the idol erected at the entrance of the area near the altar. It may happen that the worship of God is but slightly vitiated, so that the corruption is scarcely apparent. But while the Prophet repeats that the idol was that of jealousy, lie points out the gross and shameful disgrace of that spectacle, so that they could not gloss over their impiety by any pretense, after they had so openly and confessedly revolted from the law of God. But when he is ordered to raise his eyes to the way of the north, this also avails for the confirmation of his teaching. For if the Prophet had turned his eyes that way of his own accord, his looking that way would have been of less moment, but when God directs his eyes by express command, the reproach which afterwards follows has more weight. This, therefore, is the reason why the Prophet did not cast his eyes of his own accord towards the idol, as he might have done, but was admonished by God to do so. Meanwhile it appears with what docility he obeyed God’s commands. He puts these two things together, that he was ordered to raise his eyes, and that he immediately did so We see here that he was so obedient to God’s command, that he did not delay but instantly obeyed it. He says, the idol was near the gate of the altar, which circumstance exaggerates the crime. If the idol had been erected in any remote corner it would have been an intolerable sacrilege, though the modesty of the Jews had been greater: but when they erected the idol before the altar they flew as it were in the very face of God. If an immodest woman runs after an adulterer, her husband is justly enraged; but if she brings him before her husband, and wantons with him before his eyes, and prostitutes herself to all crimes, then certainly such wanton lust cannot be endured. But such was the audacity of the people, that when the idol was erected before the gate of the altar it seemed like wishing to dethrone the Almighty, and to contaminate his altar by the sight of the idol. It follows —
Now God complains with his Prophet; and we must always mark the object and consider God’s design, because at the end of the chapter we shall see how severe a vengeance God was about to take on the people. Hence the Prophet prevents those obstreperous reproaches with which the people loaded him through envy, when he chastised them according to their deserts. Hence he doubtless wished the exiles to be persuaded of what they could scarcely conceive, namely, that the destruction of Jerusalem was near. For we have said that those who had been drawn into captivity had displeased him, and wished to return to their country. Since therefore their condition was too grievous and severe, for this reason God wished to testify to them that the last overthrow of Jerusalem was at hand. He does this while he shows the great abominations which reigned in the very temple, whence the Almighty must of necessity appear as the avenger of his glory and worship. The rest to-morrow.
Here now the Prophet is brought to another place, where another kind of abomination is shown. If an idol had been erected in some recess of the temple only, even that impiety when joined with sacrilege could not have been borne. But when all parts of the temple were contaminated with such filth, hence we collect that the people was utterly desperate. For the Prophet says, that he was led into a more secret place, and since there was a hole there, he dug it by God’s command, so that it became a door by which he could enter. This only ought to be understood of a vision. For the Prophet had brought nothing with him with which he could so dig a wall, but when he could only behold that hidden abomination through a chink, God opened the wall. But the Prophet seems to himself to make a door of entrance by his own hand. But he says, there were painted birds, reptiles, and animals: then he adds, an abomination and all the idols of the house of Israel We see that there was not only one idol, but a great number. And in truth as soon as the true worship of God is neglected, men place no bounds to themselves: they are not content with one or two errors, but they heap to themselves numberless delusions. So the children of Israel fell away from one idol to a great multitude. Meanwhile it must be remarked, that the idol which he has mentioned was detestable beyond all others. For it was not called a provocative of jealousy without reason, since it inflamed God to jealousy. It is therefore probable that this idol was more noble than others, and held in greater price and veneration, since the unbelievers had greater and lesser deities. But now the Prophet refers to common idols, of which there was a great abundance, but not such great honor. For he says, that part of the temple was full of pictures all around It is indeed certain, that the use of painting was always plentiful, but God wished his temple to be pure from images, lest men, being taken with such enticements, should turn aside directly to superstition. For if we see a man or an animal painted in a profane place, a religious feeling does not creep into our minds: for all acknowledge it as a painting: nay idols themselves as long as they are in taverns or workshops, are not worshipped. If the painter’s workshop is full of pictures, all pass them by, and if they are delighted with the view of them they do not show any sign of reverence to the paintings. But as soon as the picture is carried to another place, its sacredness blinds men and so stupifies them, that they do not remember that they had already seen that picture in a profane dwelling. This therefore is the reason why God did not admit any pictures into his temple, and surely when the place is consecrated, it must happen that the painting will astonish men just as if some secret divinity belonged to it. Although the Prophet here does not say simply that the walls were full of pictures, yet he says, that an abomination and the idols of the house of Israel were there We see therefore not only that the walls were so decorated for the sake of ornament, but because the people desired to celebrate all the deities whose names it knew to be famous among the profane nations.
Now as to the Prophet’s being ordered to dig through the wall, we gather from this that superstitions are sometimes so hidden in secret places, that they escape our eyes even while we look at them. For such is the weakness of the human mind, that it does not easily perceive how abominable it is to vitiate the worship of God. Thus the Prophet only looked through a chink, so that he could not form a correct judgment concerning those pollutions; hence he is ordered to dig through the wall, just as if God assured him that a thin and obscure view was not sufficient, but that a door must be opened by which he should look in and thoroughly consider what would otherwise be concealed beneath those coverings. Now he says that he entered and saw the likeness of everything, and we must remember what I have lately touched upon, that the Jews are here condemned for heaping to themselves a multitude of gods: for it was very disgraceful to worship reptiles and brutes. The worship of a human figure has a specious pretext, for the Greeks, who always seemed to themselves wise above others, and thought the rest of the world barbarians, were deceived in idols referring to the human figure, but it was too base and gross for them to worship an ox, a dog, or an ass, as a god. We see therefore how basely the Jews were blinded who mingled brutes and reptiles for gods. But it is no wonder that they were so deluded, because Egypt was near, where we know that dogs and oxen, and even cats, were considered deities: nay they worshipped all kinds of herbs. Since therefore the Egyptians imagined that the deity resided in reptiles and unclean animals, as well as in herbs, it is no wonder that the Jews were drawn into these delusions through neighborhood. But since heavenly teaching had shown them the way, such blindness was inexcusable, because they could not err so basely without suffocating and so extinguishing the light which had been set before their eyes. But we see how men’s audacity breaks forth, when they do not restrain themselves within obedience to God’s teaching. He says that pictures were painted all round on the wall, which again confirms our observation, that the Jews were inflamed with such desires that they left no space empty, because they wished their eyes to fall upon those figures, which more and more inflamed their superstition.
He says also, that seventy elders of the house of Israel made incense for their idols I do not think that the seventy who were chosen for ruling the people are referred to here, though I suppose the Prophet to allude to this number. For we know that from the beginning seventy were set over the people, and were chosen from each tribe, and were united together. But with regard to this place, I think the number seventy is used of those whom, although they were not prefects, they called seniors in respect to their office, not through their age only. Meanwhile we must remember that the Prophet looks to that order, because from the beginning God had wished the seventy to bear rule and hold the government. (Numbers 11:16.) Thus the Prophet signifies that the leaders of the people, who ought to rule others by their counsel, were remarkable for corrupting the worship of God. He puts Jezaniah, the son of Saphah, who was probably a man of great repute. Since therefore he excelled in the reputation for prudence and piety, the Prophet wished to exaggerate his crime, because he also, among others, offered incense to idols. What then could remain pure among the people, when he who was esteemed a holy man, so profaned himself among the rest! Hence we see that the Prophet means, that the whole people, from the least to the greatest, was so corrupt, that those who were superior to the rest prostituted themselves to idolatry. He says, then, that he stood before them, and each had a censer in his hand Incense was the sign of the greatest veneration, and even this was retained for common use. Hence at the outset of Christianity, when the impious wished to seduce the Christians to idolatry, they only gave two or three grains of frankincense: (181) that was a sign of apostasy: they did not order them to bend the knee before idols, nor to offer sacrifices, but only to smell to a few grains of incense. In sign, therefore, of veneration, the seventy men are said to bear censers or incense dishes. The Prophet adds, and the incense ascended in a thick cloud. Here understand the particle of likeness. The incense ascended as a thick cloud. I do not doubt that they were profuse, or rather prodigal, in their madness, so as to spare no expense: since idolaters rashly squander all things, when the intemperance of their zeal seizes upon them. And this was not considered with sufficient prudence. The Prophet therefore says that it was not common incense, but was dense like a cloud, since they threw it forth in great abundance, so that the offering might be fatter and richer: just as if he had said, that they were so intemperate in their superstitions, that they threw away an abundance of incense, and had all their expense for nothing, and only to satisfy their idols. Now it follows —
(181) Plin., lib 10, ep. 2,
Again God questions his servant: we have explained the reason — that he may pass sentence as a judge on his own people, whence it may be more clearly evident that those who had provoked God were unworthy of any pardon. Thou seest, says he, what the elders do? Through a feeling of honor he does not here name these elders of the house of Israel, but rather reproves their ingratitude, because they so drive others with them into alliance with their impiety. For elders ought to show the way to others. Since, therefore, the profanation of the worship of God took its origin from them, hence their disgrace is increased, and they were worthy of greater reproach. Seest thou, says he, what they do in darkness? From this word I gather that the place was remote from public observation; for there were near the floor of the Temple many cells and many chambers, as we see in Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 20:2; 1 Kings 6:5.) Since, then, the ciders had their apartments there, it is not surprising that a place was shown to the Prophet which they had so stained with their paintings. But he says that they did it in darkness, because they kept secret their sacred rites; as also there were mysteries among profane nations, which were not open to any but the initiated. Since therefore the multitude was not thought worthy of those mysteries, it is therefore probable that the place among the Jews of which the Prophet speaks was like a small chapel, which the elders, and those who had authority among the people, retained to themselves. he adds,each within the recesses Some translate — in the chambers of their painting; but I take the word
Now, therefore, we see in what sense the Prophet mentions hiding-places of their imagination, namely, because they reckon such pictures the mark of the greatest and rarest prudence. This was again prodigious, that the elders so gave themselves up to foul defilements. For among profane nations no religion held the leaders and heads of the people. We shall not find, either among the Greeks or the Latins, any of the higher classes, and of the chief governors, involved in the errors of the common people, but they pretended religion, that they might hold others in obedience. They instituted, indeed, great pomp; they pretended no small degree of reverence; but when they passed their time as friends at home, they laughed at all these trifles. Since, therefore, all the ceremonies of the Gentiles were a laughing-stock to sensible men, this was indeed a detestable prodigy that the elders of the people of Israel, in a secret place, in the very recesses of their thoughts, fabricated idols for themselves. Now the cause is expressed why they heaped to themselves that multitude of gods, namely, because they thought that God no longer regarded them This passage is badly explained when interpreters think that the elders were epicureans, who dreamt that God enjoyed case and indulgence in heaven. They bring forward other passages, which seem similar but in words only, as where, in the book of Job, the impiety of the multitude is described, he says they think that God walks upon the hinges of heaven. (Job 22:14.) But the Prophet speaks more within bounds. Hence those who take this passage generally, extenuate the force of the doctrine which ought to be elicited from these words. Why, then, had the Jews fabricated so many idols for themselves? because they thought that God no longer regarded them, as I have already explained it; and this was the sign of their gross depravity; for God had chastised them in various ways: they ought to have returned into the way, yet they were so far from repenting, that they rather champed the bit, and thus persuaded themselves to seek other deities. And this impiety has occurred in all ages. At this time it clearly appears in the Papacy; nay, even the blind may even feel it with their hands. For when God afflicts these wretched ones, at first they suppliantly ask pardon; but. when he presses upon them more severely, then they begin to rage and look hither and thither, and have a common proverb — “I know not to what saint I ought to pay my vows.” Boys learn this proverb in the Papacy, and old men always have it on their lips in perplexity. Hence Ezekiel reproves this fault, when he gives this as a reason for the aged heaping up this multitude of deities — that they thought themselves overlooked by God —Jehovah, they say, does not see us here: they do not speak simply of God’s providence, but indignantly complain of his disregard, because he did not relieve their miseries, and had deserted the land, as they afterwards explain themselves; for they immediately assert that God had deserted the land We see, therefore, that they did not speak simply against God’s providence, as if he despised human things, but that they were inflamed with fury, because God’s hand pressed them heavily, and they did not feel any help in him. Hence they descended to brutes, reptiles, various painting’s, and all kinds of abomination, because they thought that they were worshipping in vain the one true God. It follows —
He now mentions the third kind of idolatry by which the Jews polluted the temple; for this was a kind of sin peculiar to females; and we know that they were always more addicted to such wickedness. Satan, indeed, fascinates men always more than enough, but in women recklessness reigned more than superstition. They had therefore a female worship in bewailing Thammuz. Who Thammuz was is uncertain. Jerome translates it Adonis, and Adonis was beloved by Venus, as the poets trifle; and when torn to pieces by a boar, he was turned into a flower of sweetest odor; and in honor of Venus women yearly solemnized by lamentations the death of that beautiful youth; but it is not probable that this rite prevailed in Judaea, because we do not read that this lamentation was practiced in the neighboring regions, but in Greece and Asia Minor I refer it rather to Osiris, for, as we said before, the Jews were neighbors to the Egyptians — hence they adopted various rites from them; but we know that Osiris was yearly wept for by the Egyptians, and that great pollution occurred; for they carried the virile member on a pole in procession, and called it Phallus; (185) and women also showed their parts to the idol, as if offering themselves to debauchery. This was a most disgraceful spectacle. But I conjecture that the Jews had adopted this rite when the women bewailed Thammuz. Here also we perceive, that when once Satan has prevailed, and cast men into deep depravity, they despise all moderation, nay, are reduced to more than brutal stupor. Who would think this could occur, that women should be reduced to such a pitch of defilement, when they had been taught in the doctrine of the law from their early childhood. But when God’s temple was open to such pollutions, we see the Jews so blinded by madness, that God already was showing signs of his extreme vengeance, since he had endured them up to this point.
(185) Herod. 2, c. 48. — Ed.
Here the Prophet refers to another profanation of the temple, since the chief citizens of Jerusalem and those who ought to point out the way to others, prostituted themselves to impious worship, lie says, therefore, that he saw about five and twenty men, and it is probable, that there were as many as this among the first rank of citizens. But a certain number is put for an uncertain, and I think that the Prophet. was not so scrupulous on this point, or rather the Spirit of God, who showed that number in the vision; whatever it was, they not only worshipped the sun in private houses, but in the temple itself, and that not without gross and pointed contempt of God. For when they turned their back upon the sanctuary, they made a laughing-stock of God. It hence appears, that they were of so daring a front, that they openly boasted in their superstitions, and purposely polluted God’s temple. This, indeed, was monstrous, to see the elders of the city, and those practiced in the teaching and worship of the law, so alienated from all piety as to worship the sun. For this could not happen through either error or ignorance. For God in his law when he forbids the worship of the sun and stars, adds as a reason, that the whole celestial host was created for our use. (Deuteronomy 17:3.) Since, therefore, the sun is our servant and the moon our handmaid, and the stars also were created to serve us, it is preposterous to depart from the divinely ordained order, that the sun which was given us to spend his time in our service should be to us a god. Since, therefore, God has borne witness to this in his law, there was no excuse for error when the Jews adored towards the east.
Now he adds also another grosser dishonor done to God, when they turned their backs upon his sanctuary. They could, as I have said, pollute themselves at home and in conceal-merit with such defilements. But while they came of their own accord into the temple, it is just as if they provoked God by open daring, Now, when they turn their back, this is not only a foul denial but a contempt of God, as if they had said, that he was unworthy of their respect. Now, therefore, we see the whole force of the passage. But he says, turn yet again, and thou shalt see great abominations: some translate greater, as I have formerly mentioned, but I do not think it suitable. I do not contend for it, but if a reason is asked why this abomination is greater than others, it is not clear to me; hence I prefer to take it more simply in the positive degree. Nor is it an objection to this that
God complains as formerly of the wickedness of the people, especially of their perfidious and wicked revolt, because they so defiled the temple which ought to be sacred to God alone. He adds besides another complaint, that they were not content in their wickedness, which tended to violate human society and common rights, and the pursuit of mutual equity, unless even religion should be weakened by them. For under the word
As to the latter part of the verse, some, as I have said, take
This seems to me a confirmation of the last clause. For he had said, that they sent forth their boughs or east them forth, but yet to their destruction. He now repeats the same thing in other words. Therefore I will also act in, my turn — that is, as they now boldly increase their superstitions, and so continually provoke me, at length I will act, says he. There is a tacit contrast, since God forsooth had ceased for a long time, because there is a certain form of rest when he ceases from his judgments: God seems to rest when he does not take vengeance on man’s wickedness, when he indulges them and passes them by for a time. Since, therefore, he had so suspended his judgments against the Jews, he seemed to cultivate ease in heaven: with this view he says, that he would do it in his anger, and he adds, that his vengeance would be so dreadful that there would be no place for pity. This ought indeed to strike us when God pronounces himself implacable. For what is more formidable than to have God hostile, and to be verily without any hope of pardon? As often as God withdraws his mercy he shows us material for trembling, nor is it wonderful that he threatened the Jews so harshly, because he had proved by all methods that they were desperate in their wickedness. For truly nothing had been omitted towards curing them, unless they had been of an abandoned disposition and of most obstinate manners. Since, therefore, they were such, it is not surprising that God was extremely enraged against them, so that he left them no hope of pardon. But this ought to be referred generally to the whole body of the people: meanwhile it is by no means doubtful, as we shall afterwards see, that God excepts his elect from the ordinary multitude. If any one object, that God always hears prayers, I reply that he never rejects prayers which spring from faith: but here that tumultuous clamor is alluded to which necessity occasions to unbelievers. For although they fly to God as their natural sense impels them, yet they do not this with composed minds, nor even relying upon the promises of God: but because the torture of their minds does not suffer them to rest, so that by a natural impulse they are carried to God and cry to him without any faith or sincere affection. He speaks, therefore, concerning that kind of ejaculation which is described to us in the case of Esau, and hence he says with a loud voice, (Genesis 27:34; Psalms 3:4; Psalms 22:2; and Psalms 32:3, and elsewhere often.) Although the faithful also raise their voice: nay even cry out loudly, as David testifies of himself, yet it is peculiar to the incredulous to utter their clamor with full cheeks though the mind is void of faith, and is even obstinate in its wickedness. Hence they do not open the heart when they thus cry to God. Hence it is not wonderful if God rejects them and is deaf to their complaints. Now it follows —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany