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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ezekiel 8

Here begins the second section (Ezekiel 8-11) of the second main section (Ezekiel 4-24) that deals with the fall of Jerusalem. Its division is as follows:
1. The idolatry in the temple (Ezekiel 8).
2. The judgment on the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9).
3. The glory of the LORD leaves the temple (Ezekiel 10).
4. Jerusalem, a pot (Ezekiel 11:1-13).
5. The sanctuary of those taken away into exile (Ezekiel 11:14-25).

Verses 1-6

The Idol of Jealousy

In August/September of the year 592 BC – that is fourteen months after his calling vision (Eze 1:1) – Ezekiel is visited by the elders of Judah (Eze 8:1). He sits in the house, as the LORD has commanded him. Those who want to hear the word of the LORD should come to him. Ezekiel appears to be known to the people. The leaders of the exiles have come to him to hear if he has a message from the LORD for them. They have sat down before Ezekiel to listen to him.

The fact that they are called “the elders of Judah” may indicate that they were already this when they were taken away and that they have a certain position of authority even now in exile. They have been in exile for over six years now, and they probably want to know from Ezekiel how things are going in Jerusalem. The vision Ezekiel receives offers no hope for a soon return, for the city sins heavily. As a result, the inhabitants of Jerusalem who are still there will also be driven out of the city. This is quite different from what the false prophets say, who predict the exiles a soon return to Judah and Jerusalem.

When the elders sit before Ezekiel, the hand of the LORD, that is the Spirit of God, falls on him, putting him in a visionary state. That the hand of the LORD falls on him indicates that it happens suddenly, unexpectedly. It also makes it clear that he does not command the Spirit to come to him or even have any influence over Him. God’s Spirit is sovereign and He has authority over Ezekiel.

Ezekiel is given a message for these leaders of God’s people. That message comes to him through “a likeness as the appearance of a man” (Eze 8:2). There is no doubt that this is an appearance of the Lord Jesus before His incarnation. Like the description of the appearance in Ezekiel 1, this description is vague. It is also just as impressive as the one in Ezekiel 1. His loins get extra attention. It is the part of the body in which there is the power to walk. It recalls the Lord Jesus walking in the midst of the seven lampstands to judge (Rev 1:12-16).

His loins are connected to the earth (“downward”) and to heaven (“upward”). Downward, there is “the appearance of fire”, and upward, there is “the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal”. The judgment, of which the fire speaks, He executes below, on earth. He does so because, as the Man from heaven, He is the radiance of heaven and brings everything on earth into conformity with heaven. Judgment must be carried out to accomplish that goal because sin reigns on earth. Through the judgment, He will ensure that the prayer is fulfilled that God’s will will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).

This Person catches him by a lock of his head with what has the form of a hand (Eze 8:3). This gives him the sense that what he sees in the vision is really happening. Then the Spirit lifts him up between earth and heaven and brings him in the visions of God to Jerusalem and there to the temple, God’s dwelling place in Jerusalem. While Ezekiel is physically in his house with the elders, he experiences in the vision how the Spirit brings him to the entrance of the gate of the inner court that faces north.

The inner court is the place where the altar of burnt offering stands on which the burnt offerings are offered to the glory of God. That place, however, shows a different scene. There is located “the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy”. Having such an abomination in this place does offend God in a particularly repulsive way. It evokes His jealousy. His jealousy relates to both His majestic holiness and His overwhelming love. Both are defied. This abomination is a deeply defamatory treatment of “the glory of the God of Israel” which still dwells there (Eze 8:4).

God tells Ezekiel that he, son of man, should raise his eyes in the direction of the north (Eze 8:5). Ezekiel does so. Then he sees what God sees. What he perceives, “the idol of jealousy”, is something repulsive to a priest who wants to serve God in His house (cf. 2Kgs 23:6). What he sees is an idol that provokes the LORD to jealousy. He cannot allow His people to love other gods besides Him.

The LORD asks Ezekiel if he sees what they are doing (Eze 8:6). He emphatically points out that Ezekiel must take it in. The reason is that he will feel what the LORD feels at this great insult. He is telling Ezekiel that the great abominations of the house of Israel are forcing Him to move far away from His sanctuary. Here the LORD announces that He must leave His sanctuary. He must, as it were, go into exile Himself. Nor are what Ezekiel has seen the only abominations committed by the people. He will have to see still greater abominations.

Verses 7-13

Idolatry by the Elders

In the vision, the LORD brings him to the entrance of the court, where he sees a hole in the wall (Eze 8:7). He is commanded to dig through the wall, probably because the hole is too small to crawl through (Eze 8:8). When he has done so, he sees an entrance. The LORD tells him to go in through that entrance and adds that he will see “the wicked abominations” that happen in that room (Eze 8:9). Ezekiel enters and sees that on the wall, all around, are carved “every form of creeping things and beasts [and] detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel” (Eze 8:10).

Then he sees that seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel are standing in front of them (Eze 8:11). The number seventy is not without significance. It is the full council of elders. They represent the whole people. Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan, plays the leading role among these apostate leaders. His name is the only one mentioned. It is also mentioned that he stands “among them”, indicating his central place in this event. He is looked to, he sets the example.

His father Shaphan was a faithful man who played an important role in the revival under King Josiah (2Chr 34:14-20). Jaazaniah also has brothers and cousins who are faithful to the LORD (Jer 26:24; Jer 29:3; Jer 36:10-11; Jer 40:7). Shaphan means ‘Yahweh listens’, but he does not live according to the meaning of that name. He is a deeply sad example of one who belongs to a family where the Lord is served, but deliberately turns away from Him to serve the world and even becomes a leader of apostasy in it. It shows the serious truth that faith is not something you can inherit. Each person is himself responsible to God.

Each elder has a censer in his hand, from which the fragrance of the cloud of incense, the symbol of worship, rises. They are fully engaged in practicing their idolatry. The LORD asks Ezekiel if he has seen what the elders of the house of Israel are “committing in the dark” (Eze 8:12). What they are doing cannot bear the light of day. They are there as a group, but each one is in his own dark way in his own room, his own heart and thoughts, preoccupied with his own carved image.

In their blindness and foolishness, they even believe that the LORD does not see them. After all, He has forsaken the land, they say. Perhaps they used as an argument that He would have delivered them from the Babylonian siege if He were still in the land. Thus they accuse Him of unfaithfulness and justify their idolatrous practices. While they are talking and practicing their idolatry, the LORD is watching them and even shows what they are saying and doing to Ezekiel in a vision. What follies can a man fall into when he excludes God!

This scene recalls the “unfruitful deeds of darkness”, the things that “are done by them in secret”, of which God’s Word says that they are to be judged (Eph 5:11-12). Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but we may harbor sinful thoughts in the secret corners of our hearts. Through His Spirit, God wants to break through that wall. He wants to make sin clear to us, so that we may judge it.

What Ezekiel has seen is not yet all the abominations. He will see still greater abominations (Eze 8:13).

Verses 14-15

Tammuz Worship by Women

The LORD brings Ezekiel to the entrance of the gate of the house of the LORD which is on the north side (Eze 8:14). There he sees women sitting and weeping. They are sad because Tammuz has died. Tammuz is a nature god, the patron god of crops and flocks. The belief in Tammuz says that he dies every year in the fourth month (June/July), which explains the weeping of the women here. It is also believed that he becomes alive again every spring. Therefore, the sorrow is not deep.

These women weep over a dead god in the place where the true God dwells and should be honored. They are giving nature the honor that only the true God is due. We see this in our time in the environmental movement which is gaining more and more religious traits and calling for “back to nature”. The New Age movement is the spiritual bearer of this ideology. In it, demonic powers and forces are at work in the background and they receive the worship that is due only to God.

What Ezekiel has now seen is very shocking: women whining because of the so-called death of a so-called idol. That is a special defiance of God. God emphatically draws Ezekiel’s attention to it by asking if he has seen it (Eze 8:15). He wants to involve him in His great abhorrence of this. And even with that, Ezekiel has not seen all the abominations. He will see more, and even greater ones than this.

Verse 16

Worship of the Sun

Then Ezekiel is brought by the LORD into the inner court of His house to see the fourth abomination. At a precisely defined location – at “the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar” – he sees about twenty-five men. They are standing with their backs to the temple of the LORD.

Turning their backs on Him is also a clear attitude of contempt for the LORD (2Chr 29:6). They provoke Him further by doing so in the very place where He so desires to receive His people with their faces turned toward Him. They stand with their backs to Him and their faces to the east. In that direction they prostrate themselves toward the sun. God and His statutes, in which He has decreed that they are not to worship any part of His creation (Exo 20:4-5; Deu 5:8-9), are rejected.

Verses 17-18

The Judgment of the LORD

Again the LORD asks Ezekiel if he, son of man, has seen it (Eze 8:17). He involves him in His observation. He also involves him in His judgment when He asks him if the house of Judah can make it worse than what they are doing now with these abominations. Surely this beats everything, doesn’t it? Surely it can’t get any worse, can it? If Ezekiel may have had some hesitation in announcing the judgment, surely what the LORD has shown him convinces him of its justice.

The violence that fills the land was caused by them. They have provoked the LORD to wrath, not just once or occasionally, but again and again, continuously. In addition, they also put “the twig to their nose”. Its meaning is unclear. Given the connection and the LORD’s indignation at this custom, we might think of it as an extremely offensive and reprehensible gesture toward Him. We might compare this to expressions we are familiar with, such as contemptuously sticking out the tongue at Him, thumbing their noses at Him, or making obscene gestures with hands and fingers at Him.

The LORD cannot but deal with them in His wrath (Eze 8:18). That will be a fully justified action. He will have no pity and will spare no one. They caused it themselves. If they cry out loud to Him then, He will not listen to them. The time for Him to listen is over because they never listened to Him.

In this chapter the diagnosis has been made. It has been established how terribly the people have fared. God has to judge His People. There is no alternative. Judgment is presented in the next chapter. It is not yet the actual judgment. Ezekiel is still in a visionary state. The actual judgment will come when Nebuchadnezzar destroys the city of Jerusalem.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ezekiel 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.