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CHAP. VIII. Ezekiel, in a vision of God at Jerusalem, is shewed the image of jealousy, the chambers of imagery, the mourners for Tammuz, and the worshippers towards the sun. God's wrath for their idolatry.
Before Christ 594.
Ezekiel 8:1. In the sixth year, in the sixth month— That is, one month after the first vision, which Ezekiel had in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's captivity. See ch. Ezekiel 1:2. This chapter, and the three following, make but one vision, whereof it is proper to give a general idea, that we may not too much divide the reader's attention. Ezekiel is transported to Jerusalem, and finds himself in the Spirit near the north gate of the temple, which led on the north side into the court of the priests. There he saw the glory of the Lord, in the same circumstances as it appeared to him at the river Chebar. He was first shewn, on one side, an idol of zeal or jealousy. Hence proceeding to the court of the people, he discovered, through an opening which he made in the wall, seventy elders of the people, who worshipped all kinds of figures of animals painted upon the wall. Returning to the north gate, he saw women weeping for Adonis. As he came back again to the court of the priests, he was shewn, between the porch and the altar, men who worshipped the rising sun, with their backs turned toward the sanctuary. These are the contents of chap. 8. At the same time he sees six men enter into the court of the priests, and in the midst of them a seventh, having an inkhorn at his girdle; and immediately the Lord left his throne above the cherubims, and went and placed himself upon the gate of the temple; that is to say, at the entrance of the holy place. From this place the Lord ordered that man of the seven, who had the inkhorn, to mark, with a sign upon the forehead, those who should be spared; and the six others to put to death all who were not so marked. Instantly they begin to execute the command; and Ezekiel, having remained alone among the dead, addresses his prayer to the Lord. During this time the six men return, and inform God what they had done. These are the contents of the ninth chapter. The Lord then orders the man who was clothed in linen to take live coals from the midst of the cherubim, who till then remained in the inner court, and to strew them upon the city. He obeys, and a hand from the cherubim gave him the coals. At the same time, the chariot which bore the throne of the Lord is put in motion, rises into the air, and goes to receive the Lord, who was at the eastern gate of the temple. This is the sum of ch. 10: The prophet finds himself immediately transported to the east gate, where were five and twenty men, and among them Jaazaniah the son of Azur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah. God directs him to prophesy against them. He does so; he reproaches them with their violence and their crimes, and threatens them with the extremest calamities. In the next place, God speaks to him, and foretels that the Jews who reside in the country shall be driven thence for their iniquities; and, on the contrary, that those who were led away captive, and penitently acknowledged their faults, shall return, and re-possess the land. After this, the Lord rises with his chariot over the city, and goes and places himself upon the mountain which lies to the east of Jerusalem. Thus ends the vision, and ch. 11: All this pointed out the reasons which obliged the Lord to give up his people, his city, and his temple; the abominations of that people in public and in private; their crimes, and the violences which had merited this chastisement. But because the Jews, carried away captive with Jeconiah, called upon the Lord, and penitently owned their faults, while those of Jerusalem filled up the measure of their iniquity; God threatens the latter with approaching destruction, and promises the others a happy return to their own country. This is the whole economy of the vision before us, which has been greatly misunderstood by many interpreters. See Calmet.
Ezekiel 8:2. Appearance of fire— Of a man. Houbigant. See Ezekiel 1:26.
Ezekiel 8:3. Took me by a lock, &c.— By that time the sins of this rebellious people were ripe for the punishment of their approaching captivity: they had polluted themselves with all kinds of Egyptian abominations, as appears from this famous vision of the prophet, wherein their three capital idolatries are so graphically described. The prophet represents himself as brought in a vision to Jerusalem. And at the door of the inner gate which looketh toward the north, he saw the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. This is a prelude to the visions which describe the various idolatries of the house of Israel, where, in the noblest sketch of an inspired imagination, idolatry is itself personified, and made an idol; and the image sublimely called the image of jealousy; which the prophet explains by observing, that it was that which provoked God to jealousy. He then proceeds to the various scenery of the inspired vision. See the Divine Legation, vol. 3: Houbigant is of opinion, that this image of jealousy represented Mars, because Tammus is spoken of in the 14th verse, who was certainly the same as Adonis; for each of these idols was in the same part of the temple, and the women weep for Adonis before the image of jealousy, or Mars, who had killed Adonis by means of the boar, through jealousy: but Bishop Warburton's opinion seems preferable. Instead of door of the inner gate, we may read, door, or entry of the gate of the inner court.
Ezekiel 8:4. Behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there— To shew that this was the place of his proper and peculiar residence: though images and idols were set up in the precincts of the temple, to provoke him to jealousy. See chap. Ezekiel 5:11.
Ezekiel 8:7-12.— He brought me to the door] The first inference which may be drawn from these words is, that the superstition here described was Egyptian. This appears from its objects being the gods peculiar to Egypt: every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, Eze 8:10 which in another verse the same prophet calls, with great propriety and elegance, the abominations of the eyes of the Israelites, chap. Ezekiel 20:7-8. The second inference is, that they contain a very lively and circumstantial description of the celebrated mysteries of Isis and Osiris. For, 1. The rites are represented as performed in a secret subterraneous place, Ezekiel 8:7-9. This secret place was, as the prophet tells us, in the temple: and such kind of places for this use the Egyptians had in their temples, as we learn from a similitude of Plutarch; "like the disposition," says he, "and the ordonnance of their temples; which in one place enlarge and extend themselves in wings and fair and open isles; in another, sink into dark and secret subterraneous vestries, like the Adyta of the Thebans." 2.These rites were celebrated by the Sanhedrim, or the elders, Ezekiel 8:11. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel. Now it appears from the best accounts that we have of the Egyptian mysteries, that none but princes, rulers, and the wisest of the people, were admitted to their most secret celebrations. 3. The paintings and imagery on the walls of this subterraneous apartment answer exactly to the descriptions which the ancients have given us of the mystic cells of the Egyptians: Behold every form of creeping things, &c., Ezekiel 8:11. There is a famous antique monument, once a consecrated utensil in the rites of Isis and Osiris, and now well known to the curious by the name of the Isiac, or Bembine tables; on which, as appears by the order of the several compartments, is pourtrayed all the imagery which adorned the walls of the mystic cell. Now, if we were to describe the engravings of that table, we could not find juster or more emphatical terms, than those which the prophet here employs. The third inference which may be drawn from this vision is, that the Egyptian superstition was that to which the Israelites were more particularly addicted. And thus much may be gathered from Ezekiel 8:10. We have shewn this to have been a description of an Egyptian mystic cell, which certainly was adorned only with Egyptian gods; and yet these gods are here called, by way of distinction, all the idols of the house of Israel; which seems plainly to infer this people's more particular attachment to them. But, the words house of Israel being used in a vision describing the idolatries of the house of Judah, we may take it for granted, that in this indefinite number of all the idols of Israel, were eminently included those two prime idols of the house of Israel, the calves of Dan and Beth-el; and the rather for that the original calves held a distinguishing station in the paintings of the mystic cell, as the reader may see by viewing the Bembine table. And this by the way will lead us to the reason of Jeroboam's erecting two calves: for they were as we find worshipped in couples by the Egyptians, as representing Isis and Osiris. And what is remarkable, the calves were male and female, as appears from 2Ki 10:29 compared with Hos 10:5 where in one place the masculine, and in the other the feminine term is employed. But though the Egyptian gods are thus, by way of eminence, called the gods of the house of Israel, yet other idols they had besides, and of those good store, as will appear in the sequel; for this prophetic vision is employed in describing the three master-superstitions of this unhappy people, the Egyptian, the Phoenician, and the Persian. The Egyptian we have seen.
Ezekiel 8:12. In the dark— Hence Milton says of Ezekiel with great propriety,
By the vision led, His eye survey'd the dark idolatries of alienated Judah. PARADISE LOST, i. 455.
Ezekiel 8:14. Behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz— The prophet here refers to the Phoenician or Syrian superstition. Tammuz was an idol of Chaldee extraction, as is plain from his name; which also is used for the tenth month, reckoning from the autumnal equinox, that is to say, the month of June; and Tammuz, as the object of worship, expresses the solar light in its perfection, as it is at the summer solstice in the month of June, dispensing heat and its effects, not only to the earth and plants, but also to the bodies of animals. The Vulgate renders Tammuz by Adonis; and there is no question but Adonis, according to the physical theology of the heathens, was the same as the sun. Macrobius, indeed, expressly affirms it. Saturnal lib. i. c. 21. He says, that the tradition of Adonis's being killed by a boar, means the diminution of the sun's light and heat by winter. See Orpheus's Hymn to Adonis. This departure of Adonis, or the sun, was lamented by the Phoenician and Assyrian women in the most frantic ceremonies of grief, and by most improper and criminal actions: and thus the Jewish women are described by our prophet weeping for Tammuz on the fifth day of the sixth month, that is, of August; at which time his descent to hell, and his death by the winter boar, were drawing on apace. Tammuz was supposed to have been killed in mount Lebanon; whence flows the river Adonis, whereof Mr. Maundrel speaks thus: "We came to a fair large river, doubtless the ancient river Adonis, so famous for the idolatrous rites performed here in lamentation of Adonis. We had the fortune to see, what may be supposed to be the foundation of that opinion which Lucian relates; namely, that this stream, at certain seasons of the year, especially about the feast of Adonis, is of a bloody colour, which the heathens looked upon as proceeding from a kind of sympathy in the river for the death of Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar in the mountains out of which this stream rises. Something like this we saw actually come to pass; for the water was stained to a surprising redness, and, as we observed in travelling, had discoloured the sea a great way into a reddish hue, occasioned doubtless by a sort of minium, or red earth, washed into the river by the violence of the rain." Milton has finely touched upon each of these particulars in the following elegant and melodious lines:
————Thammuz came next behind, Whose annual wound in Lebanon allur'd The Syrian damsels to lament his fate, In amorous ditties all a summer's day; While smooth Adonis, from his native rock, Ran purple to the sea, suppos'd with blood Of Thammuz yearly wounded: The love-tale Infected Sion's daughters with like heat, Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led, His eye survey'd the dark idolatries of alienated Judah. PARADISE LOST, b. i. v. 446, &c.
See Parkhurst on the word תמוז tammuz, Univ. Hist. vol. 1: p. 342 and Lucian. de Dea Syria.
Ezekiel 8:16. And they worshipped the sun toward the east— This is a description of the Persian superstition. It is to be observed, that when the prophet is bid to turn from the Egyptian to the Phoenician rites, he is then said to look towards the north, the situation of Phoenicia with regard to Jerusalem; consequently he before stood southward, the situation of Egypt with regard to the same place. And when he is bid thence to turn to the inner court of the Lord's house, to see the Persian rites,—this was east, the situation of Persia: with so much exactness of representation is the whole vision conducted. Again; as the mysterious rites of Egypt are said, agreeably to this usage, to be holden in secret by their elders and rulers only, so the Phoenician rites, for the same reason, are shewn as they were celebrated by the people in open day. And the Persian worship of the sun, which was performed by the Magi, is here said to be observed by the priests alone; five-and-twenty men, with their faces toward the east.
Ezekiel 8:17. For they have filled, &c.— The last clause of this verse seems evidently misunderstood; the therefore in the following verse plainly pointing out that sense which the LXX, and other versions, give it. They are those who mock me, or publicly affront me. Those commentators, however, who defend the present version, suppose that it alludes to some custom among the idolaters, of dedicating a branch of laurel or some other tree to the sun, and carrying it in their hands at the time of their worship; a rite which was called among the Greeks οσχοφορια, θαλλοφορια, &c. See the lexicographers on those words, and Spencer de Leg. Heb. lib. 4: cap. 5.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The days seem now to have been expired, during which the prophet was to lie on his side; and a new vision is revealed to him, dated in the sixth year of Jehoiakin's captivity.
1. He sat in his house, and the elders of Judah before him. Probably it was a sabbath, and they were now assembled for the worship of God, or to consult the prophet in their present distressed circumstances: for affliction will often drive those to God's prophets, who in their prosperity despised their admonitions.
2. Then suddenly a divine extasy seized him, in the presence of the elders, and a glorious personage appeared, as fire from the loins downwards, and upwards bright and glittering: the same probably as chap. Eze 1:26-27 even the Lord Jesus, clothed with majesty and glory, burning with love towards his saints, and a consuming fire to his enemies.
3. The prophet is caught away in vision to Jerusalem. Swift as thought he passes through the air, and at the inner gate of the temple is let down to observe what is there transacted. This seems to have been entirely transacted in vision, and not any real or local removal of the prophet from Chaldea.
4. He records what he saw there. [1.] He beheld the same glorious vision which had appeared to him before in the plain, chap. Ezekiel 3:22-23. God had not yet deserted his temple, though he was now about to do it, provoked by their daring profaneness, impiety, and base ingratitude. [2.] He beheld the image of jealously set up close by the northern gate of the inner court, where stood the altar of burnt-offering. What this image was, we are not told; the major part of the commentators, I think, consider it as the idol Baal, 2 Kings 21:7. But nothing could be conceived more affronting to God; nor could they have contrived a more effectual method to provoke the eyes of his jealousy. Well, therefore, may he bid the prophet behold these abominations with wonder and detestation, and urge the justice of his departure from a people so desperately wicked! But greater abominations yet remained. Note; (1.) When we set up the idols of pride, lust, and covetousness in our hearts, which should be the temples of the Holy Ghost, we become criminal like those who bowed to Baal. (2.) They who provoke God by their sins to depart from them, have only themselves to blame for the ruin which ensues.
2nd, The farther the prophet goes, the more his indignation is moved.
1. He is led to the court of the priests, and behold, a hole in the wall of one of their chambers, which he is commanded to enlarge, that he might see more distinctly what was done there; and when he had opened a passage, he came to a door, at which he is bid to enter, and observe what passed within. Note; (1.) They who would know the mystery of iniquity within must dig deep into the hidden corners of their hearts. (2.) Hypocrites think often to hide their iniquities; but some unguarded place betrays their wickedness, and exposes their shame. (3.) Many make a fair shew in God's house in public, who, if followed to the secret chambers, would be found sunk in abominations.
2. A scene of shocking wickedness is here laid open. Behold, every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts: so immersed were they in idolatry, that even to the vilest reptiles, and the most odious and impure animals, they paid their adorations. On the walls around were pourtrayed all the idols of Israel; and seventy elders, the whole great sanhedrim, and in the midst of them Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, each with his censer, offered a cloud of incense to those hated deities; intimating, how entirely the whole nation was infected with idolatry, when the great men, princes and priests together, were so devoted. thereunto, and so liberal in their oblations. Note; When, they who should be examples to restrain others, are themselves ringleaders in iniquity, the corruption of a nation must needs become general.
3. God bids him observe these abominations, done indeed in the dark: but what darkness or shadow of death can hide the workers of wickedness from his all-seeing eye? And they say, the Lord seeth us not, the Lord hath forsaken the earth; as if he had deserted them, would pay no regard to them in their distress, and therefore they had recourse to the gods of the nations for help. Note; (1.) The heart of man is naturally like these chambers of imagery; abominations pass there, which the sun would blush to behold. (2.) The day will come, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed: what a day of terror and confusion to the impenitent and unpardoned! (3.) All sin is at bottom practical atheism. (4.) They who embolden themselves in iniquity by the flattering hope that the Lord hath forsaken the earth, shall find, by the judgments that he will inflict, how near he is to vindicate his injured honour.
3rdly, Farther abominations pass in review before the prophet.
1. At the north gate of the temple sat women weeping for Tammuz; probably the Adonis of the Grecians, beloved of Venus, according to the heathen fable, and slain by a wild boar. In honour, therefore, of this goddess, they observed the anniversary of his death with mourning and tears, and dared, even in the gate of the Lord's house, to appear celebrating the shameful service.
2. In the inner court, the most sacred inclosure between the porch and the altar, where the priests ministered, there stood about five and twenty men, their backs turned to the temple, their faces to the east, adoring the rising sun.
3. God bids the prophet observe with wonder what he saw, and appeals to him concerning the aggravated guilt of this abandoned people. They made light of their dreadful provocations; and even there, in God's own house, performed their idolatrous rites. They filled the land also with violence, and then returned to provoke God to anger; for, while such wickedness was committed, their very sacrifices must needs be an abomination: and lo, they put the branch to their nose, some nosegay perhaps of flowers, which they held forth or smelled to in honour of their idols; or, as some read the words, they put the branch to their wrath, or his wrath, or they are those who mock him, adding fresh fuel to the fierceness of the divine wrath which burns against them. Therefore will I also deal in fury, pouring on them the vengeance due to their iniquities, and judgment without mercy; which all their prayers and tears shall not be able to avert. When sinners have turned their backs on God, it is but just for him to turn his back on them, and be deaf to their cries in the day of their calamity.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent