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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 8

 

 


Introduction

Chapter 8. Ezekiel Is Transported to Jerusalem And Sees the Situation For Himself.

In this chapter Ezekiel is transported in Spirit to Jerusalem and shown many of the abominations which would result in judgment. We must remember that we are here dealing in vision. Thus it may be that what Ezekiel ‘saw’ included an element of spiritual interpretation, of ‘seeing’ what was not apparent on the surface.

The abominations seen include an abominable image, probably Canaanite (Ezekiel 8:3-5), a secret chamber of idolatrous representations, possibly Egyptian (Ezekiel 8:6-12), weeping for Tammuz (previously Dumuzi, the Sumerian god of vegetation who was lord of the underworld - Ezekiel 8:13-15) and sun worship (Ezekiel 8:16-18).


Verse 1-2

‘And so it was 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 Yahweh fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo, a likeness of 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 the colour of shining metal.’

This occurred fourteen or fifteen months after his first call (Ezekiel 1:1-2) in or around September 592/1 BC. His first prophetic ordeal was probably over and he was now sat in his house with the elders of Judah gathered before him. This is only the second mention of Judah (see Ezekiel 4:6) to this point. Ezekiel’s message was generally to the whole of ‘Israel’ seen as one people. But the description was technically correct. These elders were elders of the southern kingdom.

They ‘sat before him’. They had come to seek advice or to hear what word he had from Yahweh. They had begun to recognise him as a prophet of God.

‘That the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell there upon me.’ This is regularly in Ezekiel evidence of some remarkable event which will follow. He was taken over by God. It is probable that the elders saw nothing except that he was clearly in some ecstatic state.

‘Then I beheld, and lo, a likeness of 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 the colour of shining metal.’ Compare Ezekiel 1:27. There this was a description of Yahweh, and we have no reason therefore to doubt that this too was Yahweh in vision, in the same glorious splendour as in chapter 1.


Verse 3

‘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 the earth and the heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court which looks towards the north, where there was the seat of the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy.

It is in vain to question whether this was bodily or only in vision. We are not told and do not know exactly what happened. The main point, however, is clear, that God by His Spirit transported him in some way to Jerusalem ‘in the visions of God’.

‘The form of a hand.’ As always when speaking of God Ezekiel’s description is indefinite. It appeared like a hand but was more than a hand. It was the ‘hand’ of God.

‘And took me by a lock of my head.’ This indicated that his hair had grown again after being cut (Ezekiel 5:1 - although he may have left some locks in place). Possibly there is the idea that having borne the punishment of Israel and Judah he was now restored, and again usable by God (compare Samson - Judges 16:22).

‘And the Spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven.’ This was probably to indicate not just the atmosphere but a kind of earth-heaven state of experience. Compare Jacob’s ladder joining earth and heaven (Genesis 28:12).

‘And brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem.’ We must stand in awe and not enquire too closely, for we do not know exactly what happened, nor what he experienced. It was unique.

‘To the door of the gate of the inner court which looks towards the north, where there was the seat of the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy.’ The inner court of the Temple was entered from the outer court by one of three gates, the northern, the eastern and the western. The northern was called the altar gate because sacrifices were offered at the northern side of the altar (Leviticus 1:11), and it would have been the entrance mainly used by the royal house. There is significance in that Yahweh in vision had come from the north (Ezekiel 1:4). Thus between the inner court and the heavenly dwellingplace of Yahweh was the image of jealousy. Also the means of judgment would come from the north.

‘The image of jealousy.’ This was some prominent religious artefact with idolatrous connections which stood outside the northern gate, which provoked Yahweh to ‘jealousy’, that is to a righteous concern in respect of His covenant relationship with Israel. It not only dishonoured Him but destroyed His relationship with His people, for its earthy worship was in direct contrast with the spiritual relationship He wanted with them. It may have been a wooden asherah-image representing the Canaanite goddess (see 2 Kings 21:7, compare 2 Kings 23:6, but it may have been subsequently replaced), or it may have been a figured slab engraved with mythological and cultic scenes, as witnessed at excavations at Gozan and Carchemish.


Verse 4

‘And behold the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the appearance that I saw in the plain.’

This was in stark contrast to the image of jealousy outside the gate. The presence of the glory of God (revealed in fire - compare Ezekiel 8:2) vividly contrasted the abominable activities of Israel with the purity and holiness of their Creator-God. It also contrasted the living, moving God with the static lifeless image. God had not yet deserted His Temple. That was to come. But these events explain why He did so. We too must choose between the indwelling in power of the Holy Spirit, or looking off to lesser gods, to the idols of Mammon, Sex, and bawdy Entertainment.


Verse 5-6

‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now the way towards the north.” So I lifted up my eyes the way towards the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar, this image of jealousy in the entry. And he said to me, “Son of man. Do you see 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 you will again see yet other abominations.” ’

As Ezekiel gazed at the splendour of Yahweh, God turned his attention to the false idol just outside the northern gate. Let him consider it well, for this was one reason why He was deserting His Temple. If it was an Asherah image, mother goddess and reproductive wife of Baal, it would be the cause of sacred prostitution within the Temple surrounds, and of subsequent sacrifices and offerings, to rouse the reproductive powers of nature.

‘Do you see what they do?’ This may refer simply to the placing and replacing of the idol after every reform, or it may refer to the activities of its devotees taking place in full view. ‘Abominations’ is a word regularly applied to idols and idol worship. It included the greatest of all abominations, the demand for the sacrifice of their children to Molech and to Baal in the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35).

‘That I should go far off from my sanctuary?’ Their behaviour was what was driving Him away. God wanted Ezekiel to be aware of why He was about to act as He would. We too can turn God away by the disgracefulness of our behaviour in terms of His demands.

‘But you will again see yet other abominations.’ There was not just one but many abominations. Compare Ezekiel 8:13; Ezekiel 8:15.


Verses 7-9

‘And he brought me to the door of the court, and when I looked behold a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, “Son of man, now dig in the wall.” And when I had dug in the wall, behold there was a door. And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked abominations that they do here.” ’

‘The door of the court.’ A vague description which us to us conveys little information. Thus we do not know which wall it would be.

But Ezekiel was still in vision. These were visionary activities. Whether there really was a large secret chamber (holding at least seventy men) connected with the Temple court, or whether it was simply depicting the idea of secret and abominable behaviour throughout Jerusalem, which was in vision here seen as connected with the Temple because these men did also pretend to worship Yahweh in the temple (see Ezekiel 8:12), we cannot be certain.

‘A hole in the wall.’ Possibly a breaking down of the fabric of the building which humanly speaking sparked off the thoughts in Ezekiel’s mind, or possibly simply a visionary hole.

‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, now dig in the wall.” And when I had dug in the wall, behold there was a door.’ We would not expect to find a door hidden behind masonry, although the hole in the wall may suggest that the door was there and had been hidden behind a covering of stone and earth. If it was so, the fact that it was so hidden would point to the degradation taking place in the room behind in that it had to be kept secret even from the debased worshippers in the Temple, and was possibly only used at night (‘in the dark’ - Ezekiel 8:12). But the secret activities may have taken place in secret chambers elsewhere in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:12) and be connected with the Temple simply in a visionary way for Ezekiel’s benefit.

(But we can certainly not rule out the idea that such a secret chamber did exist in Solomon’s Temple, known only to the few, possibly initially for use as a treasure room).


Verse 10-11

‘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, engraved on the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand. And the odour of the cloud of incense went up.’

The depictions were not specifically of animals and creatures unclean in themselves. ‘Creeping things’ (things that slither or scuttle along the ground) were simply in contrast with domestic animals, wild beasts, birds and fish (compare Romans 1:23). It would include snakes, scorpions, dung beetles (scarabs) and vermin. Possibly mostly in mind here were the serpent deities, sacred dung beetles and other hideous creatures of religions well known in Egypt, Canaan and Mesopotamia cults. The abomination was mainly in the fact that they were depicted and worshipped, likening the heavenly to the earthly, degrading the idea of God. They were graven images, seemingly graven on the walls for the purpose of worship.

The ‘seventy elders’ were probably intended to indicate the rulership of Israel. That is not to say that they necessarily in person comprised all the actual seventy leading elders holding that position at the time - compare Numbers 11:16 - only that they represented them in vision).

Indeed Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan, may well have been the son of the Shaphan who helped Josiah in his reforms and was his ‘scribe’ (2 Kings 22:3), and whose brother supported Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). These men were therefore important people who had ‘gone wrong’, for they came to offer incense to their graven images in the dark, and symbolised the total deterioration of Israel’s leadership. Seven indicates perfection in the divine sphere and thus ‘seventy’ (seven intensified) worshipping elders may be intended to represent the whole of the leadership engaged in idolatry.

‘And the odour of the cloud of incense went up.’ Possibly in the mention of this there is the thought that it not only went up, but that it ‘went up’ and was noted in heaven and that Yahweh was aware of it, and was angry.


Verse 12

‘Then he said to me, “Son of man, you have seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in his own chambers of imagery, for they say, “Yahweh does not see us. Yahweh has forsaken the earth.” ’

Here we get the impression that each of the elders has his own ‘chamber of imagery’, a room with engravings of graven images on the walls, where they secretly worshipped in the dark. The fact that it was ‘in the dark’ may indicate attempts to contact evil forces through the occult. This reinforces the idea that what Ezekiel saw was a vision which indicated practises occurring throughout Jerusalem, in vision depicted as connected with a secret chamber in the Temple symbolising their connection with the Temple. We must remember that they saw Jerusalem as ‘the holy city’ and thus that what went on there was very much connected with the Temple.

Others have suggested that their worship was performed in secret as the gods being worshipped were Egyptian gods because these men were in secret alliance with Egypt. If so there may be the hint that once again ‘the seventy’ have gone down into Egypt (Genesis 46:27), returning to bondage.

‘For they say, “Yahweh does not see us. Yahweh has forsaken the earth.” ’ This cry from the heart might support an Egyptian connection. They needed help against Assyria, and as Yahweh had in their eyes forsaken them and was no longer bothering about events on earth (which Ezekiel’s presence there disproves), where else were they to obtain it? This would be a particular insult to God. They blamed Yahweh for deserting them, rather than the other way round.


Verse 13

‘And he said also to me, “You will again see yet other great abominations which they do.” ’

Compare Ezekiel 8:9; Ezekiel 8:15. Jerusalem was being depicted as full of idolatry.


Verse 14

‘Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the house of Yahweh which was towards the north, and behold there sat there the women weeping for Tammuz.’

This may have been the gate of the outer court. Here were gathered, probably regularly, women ‘weeping for Tammuz’. Little is actually known about the Mesopotamian cult of Tammuz and any detailed suggestions are merely suppositions. Tammuz was originally a prediluvian Sumerian shepherd (Dumuzi) and ruler who married the goddess Ishtar (Inanna). When he died she followed him into the underworld to seek his release and all fertility ceased on earth. But she did not succeed and returned alone, on which fertility was renewed. What, however, she does seem to have achieved was that Tammuz, and others, were permitted visitations to earth as ‘shades’ to smell incense offered to them. The weeping for Tammuz appears thus to be connected with his death and non-return and possibly with the worship of, or contact with, through offering incense, ‘shades’, shadows from the underworld.


Verse 15

‘Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will again see yet greater abominations than these.” ’

The piling up of abominations continues, and the true state of Jerusalem religiously is revealed.


Verse 16

‘And he brought me into the inner court of the house of Yahweh, and behold at the door of the temple of Yahweh, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men with their backs towards the temple of Yahweh, and their faces towards the east, and they worshipped the sun towards the east.’

Entering further into the temple precincts Ezekiel is shown ‘about five and twenty’ men in the very courtyard where the sacrifices were offered. Indeed they stood between the altar, where the sacrifices were offered, and the gate of the temple through which at times the blood would be taken to be sprinkled on the mercy seat, and through which the priests would pass into the outer chamber. It was the place where the priests and the servants of Yahweh should have wept as they prayed to Yahweh to spare them for their iniquities (Joel 2:17). It was the place where they could have found mercy.

‘About five and twenty.’ This may be a hint that we are to see here representatives of the twenty four courses of priest plus the high priest. The inner court was mainly restricted to the priesthood. Furthermore five is the number of covenant. Thus five squared may depict them as representatives of the whole covenant community, which makes their crime even greater.

But in this sacred place they had ‘their backs to towards the temple of Yahweh’. Their posture reflected their attitude, and addition of ‘of Yahweh’ stresses the dreadfulness of what was happening. This was in His own house! But they were ignoring His worship and their posture revealed what they thought of Him. They had their backs to Him. They had not thought or time for Him. Their thoughts were on sun worship. They had turned their backs on the covenant.

‘Their faces towards the east’, towards the rising sun (forbidden in Deuteronomy 4:19). They were sun worshippers welcoming the Sun god. The worship of the sun was widespread in most religions. It had been prominent among the Canaanites. Bethshemesh meant ‘the house of the sun’. Mount Heres meant ‘the mountain of the sun’. (Compare here 2 Kings 23:11). Here such worship was now being practised in the most sacred precincts of the temple. And all thoughts were on the Sun god with their backs to Yahweh. It depicted their true state. No wonder He was angry.


Verse 17

‘Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations that 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.” ’

God’s continual questioning of Ezekiel brings out His great concern over these things (see Ezekiel 8:6; Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 8:15; Ezekiel 8:17). He wants Ezekiel to know that it is no light thing that has brought such severe judgment on His erstwhile people. Their behaviour has been outrageous. Does not Ezekiel agree?

‘For they have filled the land with violence.’ This probably refers to the violence resulting from their idolatrous worship and its total lack of morality. They were ignoring God’s covenant requirements, and thus violence abounded. There was little restraint. Such is often the result when men turn from God to sin.

‘And have turned again to provoke me to anger.’ That is have turned back to the old gods with their non-existent morals.

‘And lo, they put the branch to their nose.’ Putting a slip or branch to the nose was possibly part of the ritual practise of sun worship. Pictorial designs on some Assyrian reliefs show people holding branches to their noses in reverence and worship. But the emphasis of its mention here suggests a little more than just an ordinary act of worship. It suggests something that could be seen as especially insulting to Yahweh. Possibly it suggested that the Sun god, and not Yahweh, was responsible for the benefits of creation and was the source of life. Compare how the ‘planting with pleasant plants and setting with strange slips’ is connected with the Asherim and sun-images in Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 17:10-11.

Another suggestion is that zemora means ‘stench’ per early Jewish commentators and that the text be slightly altered to read ’appi (my nose) rather than ’appam. This would then make it read ‘they put forth a stench to My nose’ (compare Isaiah 65:5). But both changes lack evidence.


Verse 18

“Therefore will I also deal in fury. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.”

The chapter finishes with Yahweh’s again repeated statement that whatever they now do it will be too late. Because of their behaviour His great anger is directed towards them. There will be no mercy and no pity. It is too late for that. Even though they plead with Him in a loud voice, He will not hear. The end is inevitable.

The whole passage reminds us that there is another time coming when God will call ‘the end’. Then too, at the second coming of Jesus Christ, it will be too late to cry for mercy. There will only be judgment to come. And it will be as inexorable as at this time in Jerusalem. Thus we need to be ready.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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