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B. The vision of the departure of Yahweh’s glory chs. 8-11
These chapters all concern one vision that Ezekiel received, which the chiastic structure of this section reinforces. [Note: See Block, The Book . . ., p. 272, for a diagram of the chiasm.] Chapter 8 exposes the abominable idolatry of the people of Jerusalem, and chapters 9-11 describe God’s judgment on this idolatry.
"Ezekiel was first confronted with the wickedness of the people in the temple (chap. 8); then he was shown the slaughter of the people of Jerusalem (chap. 9). Jerusalem was so wicked that God’s glory departed from the temple (chap. 10), and as it left the city, judgment was pronounced on her rulers (chap. 11)." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1242.]
1. The idolatry of the house of Israel ch. 8
This chapter contrasts the glory of God with the idolatry of Judah’s leadership and citizens back in Jerusalem.
"The purpose of the visions of chapter 8 was twofold: to show the Jews in Babylon the righteous judgment of God upon His people for their sins and to forewarn that continuance in these outrages would result in a final and complete exile of Israel from the promised land. The present chapter amplifies the reason for the threatenings found in Ezekiel 7:20-22." [Note: Feinberg, p. 49.]
The following prophecy came to Ezekiel on September 17 or 18, 592 B.C. as he was sitting in his house with the elders of Israel. [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28, dated it on September 17, 592 B.C. Taylor, p. 36; W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1, p. 236; and Greenberg, p. 166, dated it on September 18.] This would have been during the time when he was lying on his right side for part of the day dramatizing God’s judgment on Judah for her iniquity (cf. Ezekiel 1:1-3; Ezekiel 3:16; Ezekiel 4:4-8). The elders were the leaders of the Judean exiles in Babylonia who had been deported in 605 and 597 B.C. This verse describes the single vision that Ezekiel wrote about in chapters 8-11.
The image of jealousy 8:1-6
Ezekiel had another vision of God. The description of God is the same as what the prophet wrote that he saw by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:27). The description of God stresses His holiness.
In his vision Ezekiel saw God reach out and pick him up by his hair and transport him to Jerusalem by the Spirit. The Lord placed him down at the north gate of the inner court of the temple where there was an image of an idol (cf. Deuteronomy 4:16). King Jotham (750-732 B.C.) had built this gate, which apparently did not exist when Solomon first constructed the temple (2 Kings 15:35). Other names for it were the upper Benjamin gate (Jeremiah 20:2), the new gate (Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:10), the altar gate (Ezekiel 8:5), and the upper gate (2 Kings 15:35; Ezekiel 9:2). This idol provoked the Lord to jealousy.
The prophet also saw the glory of the Lord manifested there, as he had seen it in his initial vision of God (Ezekiel 1:28). The glory of God sets the idolatry of the people, which Ezekiel next saw in more detail, in striking contrast.
At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel looked north from where he was in his vision and saw the idol that provoked the Lord to jealousy north of the north entrance into the inner court of the temple near the bronze altar of burnt offerings. Many expositors believe that this may have been an image of Asherah because King Manasseh had erected such an idol and then destroyed it (2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Chronicles 33:15), and King Josiah had destroyed a later rebuilt version of it (2 Kings 23:6). The people could have raised it up again after Josiah’s death. Any idol provoked the Lord to jealousy because He is the only true God (cf. Exodus 20:1-4; Deuteronomy 4:23-24). God is jealous in the sense that He does not want people to pursue idols because idols divert people from the true God and destroy them eventually (cf. Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 32:16; 1 Kings 14:22; Psalms 78:58).
The Lord asked Ezekiel if he saw the great abominations that the people were practicing in Jerusalem by worshipping this image. It was so bad that the Lord had removed Himself from His temple. Yet He told the prophet that he would see worse abominations than this one.
The Lord then brought Ezekiel, in his vision, to some entrance to the temple courtyard. There Ezekiel saw a hole in the wall. At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel dug in the wall and discovered an entrance.
There are no other references to a solid wall between the outer and inner courtyards of Solomon’s temple much less to a room or rooms within that wall. Visionary experiences frequently did not correspond to reality in every particular, and this may be one example of this phenomenon. Perhaps what Ezekiel saw was a wall of the temple proper.
The idolatry of the elders 8:7-13
Also following the Lord’s instructions, Ezekiel went through the entrance and found himself in a chamber full of images carved on the wall that the Judahites were worshipping. There were pictures of many types of insects, animals, and other detestable things (cf. Leviticus 11:40-42; Deuteronomy 4:16-19).
Ezekiel also saw 70 of the elders of Israel (cf. Numbers 11:16-17), including Jaazaniah (lit. "Yahweh hears") the son of Shaphan, with censers containing burning incense in their hands worshipping these images (cf. Romans 1:23). These "laymen" were acting like priests. Jaazaniah appears to have been the son of Josiah’s godly Secretary of State, Shaphan (cf. 2 Kings 22:8-14; 2 Chronicles 34:15-21; Jeremiah 26:24; Jeremiah 29:3; Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 40:5; Jeremiah 40:9; Jeremiah 40:11; Jeremiah 41:2; Jeremiah 43:6). If so, this would indicate the spiritual deterioration of leadership in Judah. Another of Shaphan’s sons, Ahikam, was a defender of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). [Note: See the diagram of Shaphan’s descendants near my comments on Jeremiah 26:24 in my notes on Jeremiah.] Some commentators believed that the gods they were worshipping were Egyptian in view of what these gods were and since the men were worshipping in secret. [Note: E.g., Craigie, p. 61; Feinberg, p. 50.] Some of Judah’s leaders advocated reliance on Egypt. If they were Egyptian gods, it was ironic that 70 elders of Israel had earlier confirmed the Mosaic Covenant after God delivered them from bondage to the gods of Egypt (Exodus 24:1; Exodus 24:9). Now Israel’s leaders appear to have been appealing to those same gods for help against the Babylonians.
The Lord explained that the elders were secretly worshipping idols believing that the Lord did not see them because He had forsaken the land. The terminology used suggests that they were worshipping idols in their homes as well as in the temple precincts. [Note: Ibid., p. 51; Taylor, p. 99.]
"What people do when they think no one else can see them reveals their true character." [Note: Cooper, p. 122.]
Yet the prophet would see even greater abominations than these.
The Lord then brought Ezekiel to the north entrance to the inner temple courtyard, in his vision (cf. Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 8:5). There the prophet saw women weeping for Tammuz (cf. Isaiah 17:10-11). Tammuz was an ancient Sumerian and then Akkadian fertility deity, the husband and brother of Ishtar. The Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations preceded the Babylonian civilization in Mesopotamia. Tammuz had ties to the Canaanite Baal and the Greek Adonis and Aphrodite gods. [Note: See Edwin Yamauchi, "Tammuz and the Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965):283-90.] Since Ezekiel saw this vision in September (Ezekiel 8:1), these women may have been weeping for Tammuz because he was thought to die at the end of the summer but to rise again each spring. [Note: See T. Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, pp. 25-73.] Another view is that "Tammuz" denotes a special genre of lament. [Note: Block, The Book . . ., pp. 294-96.]
"After the exile the Hebrew calendar included a month called Tammuz, the fourth month (June-July). This was the time for grapes to be harvested. The preservation of the name Tammuz in the calendar suggests the impact this form of pagan worship had on Jewish life and worship, both during and after the exile." [Note: Cooper, p. 123.]
The idolatry of the women 8:14-15
The Lord made sure Ezekiel saw the women, but He also assured him that he would see even greater abominations than these things.
The Lord next took Ezekiel to the main entrance into the temple, to a place between the altar of burnt offerings and the temple porch. There Ezekiel saw about 25 men bowing down to the ground with their backs to the temple facing east worshipping the sun. The Mosaic Law forbade sun worship (Deuteronomy 4:19), but King Manasseh had promoted it in Judah (2 Kings 21:5). [Note: See H. G. May, "Some Aspects of Solar Worship at Jerusalem," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 55 (1937):269-81.] Many interpreters assume that these men were priests, perhaps the high priest and a representative of each of the 24 courses of priests (1 Chronicles 23), because of their number and where they were standing. Normally only priests went into the inner court of the temple (2 Chronicles 4:9; Joel 2:17). This seems likely.
"Worship of the sun was widespread in the ancient Near East and was deeply rooted in Canaan. In Israelite thought the sun was a member of the ’host of heaven,’ which was viewed as the Lord’s heavenly assembly (compare Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 23:5 with 1 Kings 22:19). This may explain why these men could worship the sun in the Lord’s temple." [Note: Chisholm, p. 240. See also Helmer Ringgren, Religions of the Ancient Near East, pp. 64-66; Greenberg, p. 171; and Block, The Book . . ., pp. 294-96.]
"The sun would thus have to be considered part of the host of heaven, subordinate to Yahweh. As such one might argue that the worship of the sun in Yahweh’s temple would have been seen by those who participated in it as, so to speak, all ’part of the package’, just as Catholics would regard veneration (not worship) of Mary as not being incompatible with worship of Christ." [Note: John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, p. 158.]
The idolatry of the priests 8:16-18
The Lord explained that not only had the Judahites committed all these abominations but they had also filled the land with violence and provoked Him repeatedly. Putting a twig to the nose was evidently part of the ritual practice of sun worship. [Note: See H. W. F. Saggs, "Notes and Studies: The Branch to the Nose," Journal of Theological Studies NS11 (October 1960):318-29.] Another interpretation views this expression as describing some gross insult against God, something like creating a stench in God’s nose. [Note: Taylor, p. 100. See also Greenberg, pp. 172-73; Zimmerli, pp. 244-45; R. Gordis, "The Branch in the Nose," Journal of Theological Studies 37 (1936):284-85; and Block, The Book . . ., p. 299.] Perhaps both meanings are correct.
"The Akkadian expression appa labana denotes a gesture of worship involving both hand and nose. Sometimes the hand holds an object to the nose, as in the Bavian sculpture of Sennacherib worshiping the Assyrian gods, in which the object held by the king is perhaps a branch . . ." [Note: Allen, p. 146.]
The Lord promised to deal with the Jerusalemites in His wrath and not to pity or spare them even though they would cry to Him loudly for mercy. He would not listen to them.
We must remember that what Ezekiel saw he saw in a vision (Ezekiel 8:3). Therefore it may not be that the abominations he saw were really taking place in Jerusalem just as he saw them in his vision. The practices he saw represented to him the rampant idolatry of all the people, the civic leaders, the women, and the priests. The exclusive worship of Yahweh had broken down completely in the "holy" city.
"The principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry." [Note: Tertullian, "on Idolatry," in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 3:61.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20