Today’s reading begins with three messages of doom. These messages remind Judah that their forthcoming destruction was not some random act but an act of the Lord’s judgement. The Lord uses the term son of man in reference to Ezekiel 93 times in this book. As Ezekiel begins his message the scope of destruction continues to expand, like the ripples made when you drop a rock into a pond or lake. But now the judgement is for everyone, not just Judah and Jerusalem. There is no hope that God will change His mind, and the people will get exactly what they deserve. The second message (5-9) speaks of the personal nature of the coming judgement. And, the Lord who once showed Himself as the one who heals now becomes the Lord who strikes. The end has come and God will pour out His wrath and judgement on the people. They were blossomed to full flower... ripe for the picking. Their violence had grown into a rod that will beat them, God using their own violence to punish them. Nothing, not even wealth or prestige could save them against the coming torrent of destruction. Verses 12-27 complete this chapter and we see two parallel panels of judgement, 12-18 and 19-27. Both begin with the futility of material gain. They move on to the arrival of war and its associated horrors to a declaration of universal ineffectiveness, terror, and mourning. Buyers and sellers alike would face the Lord’s wrath. Worse yet, when Israel sounded the trumpet in holy war, the troops would not rally and the enemy would not be afraid. Gold and silver would have no more value than trash like you would throw away. Their precious idols and gods were contaminated and contaminating because they were used to make vile images and detestable idols. It was so bad God would hand over His treasured land, the home of His sanctuary. The centers of pagan worship would be destroyed as well as His own temple. No one could bring peace, not religious authorities or civil leaders. Status did not matter. All would face judgement.
The rest of today’s reading, chapters 8-11 depict the defilement of the Jerusalem temple which led to its being abandoned by the Lord and then destroyed. For those already in exile this was good news because the Lord was coming to dwell with them. In visionary form Ezekiel was shown four ways in which the people were engaged in practices that defiled their land. This explains why the presence of the Lord left the temple. We see that chapters 8-9 depict in visions the same defilement and consequent judgement that chapter 7 lays out in oracles. In this case Ezekiel directed the message to the leaders of Judah who had gathered at Ezekiel’s home. They most likely came seeking a word of encouragement. There would be none. Instead they received a denunciation of the sins of their respective communities. While these leaders were gathered Ezekiel saw in a vision what appeared to be a man. This man is similar to the one in 1:26-27. But this time Ezekiel was lifted up into the sky and transported to Jerusalem. What he saw defied human description. The four scenes were of increasing abomination from the false worship the people were practicing in the temple of the Lord.
The first abomination was a large idol that had been placed at the gate to guard the city from attack. This was probably an image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah. Since most of Judah’s enemies came from the north it made some sense that this idol would be in the north gate. This idol made God very jealous because the people turned to it for protection. In reality the Lord deserved all the honor and praise as 🇮Israel’s protector. This first abomination was public but the second was very private. In this vision Ezekiel had to dig access into the wall of the temple to find a hidden doorway. Ezekiel saw the walls covered with engravings of all sorts of crawling animals and detestable creatures. Worshiping these idols most likely came from Egypt. Seventy of Israel’s leaders were there. Compare these 70, worshiping idols and detestable creatures to the 70 leaders of Moses day who were given the unique privilege of seeing God. The leader of this group was the son of Shaphan, who was a godly leader in the time of Josiah. The incense they burned was intended to ward off dangers from demonic spirits, but it only served to help God bring judgement on the land. God could see what these leaders were doing. The third abomination was that women were weeping for Tammuz at the north gate of the Lord’s temple. This was a Babylonian ritual that marked the death and descent into the underworld of the god Tammuz. They believed that he lost his power every year, and then regained it. This death and rebirth followed the natural rhythms of nature. Ritual mourning for Tammuz was thought to speed up the return of fertility to natural order. This had been substituted for the worship of the one true God, Yahweh. Each abomination got worse and the fourth was worst of all. This took place in the inner courtyard of the Lord’s temple, as close to entering the temple as you could get. These 25 men might have been priests although they could have also been non priests who were flaunting the rules of access to the temple. They may have been close to entering the holy place but they had also turned their backs on the sanctuary of their Creator. Instead of worshiping Him, they were worshiping His creation.
The abominations that the Israelites were committing in the Temple complex were tantamount to thumbing their noses at the Lord, literally putting the twig or branch to the Lord. This gesture was both defiant and vulgar.
Ezekiel didn’t have to wait long for judgement to come. The Lord summoned His angelic warriors to punish the city, and 7 men appeared in response. Six carried deadly weapons and the seventh was dressed in linen and carried a writers case. Six were executioners and the other represented the presence and purity of the holy God, who is worthy to mark out some for judgement and to omit others. These seven stood ready for action in the temple courtyard, next to the bronze altar where sacrifices were normally offered. Now things really got serious because the glory of God that normally dwelt in the holy of Holies began to move. This was the visible manifestation of His presence, now departing the defiled temple. First it rose up from between the cherubim and then moved to the entrance to the temple, ready to leave its former throne. The marking of the people to keep them safe was very similar to the painting of blood on the door posts of the houses of the Israelites just before they left Egypt in the first Passover. This time old and young, girls, women, and little children would fall dead. Anyone who didn’t have the mark of one who mourns for the city would be destroyed.
Unlike Queen Athalaih, who was dragged out of the temple before she was executed so that her blood would not define the temple, these idolaters would be killed in the temple. It no longer mattered because the temple was already defiled. God was no longer present. After seeing and hearing God’s wrath Ezekiel was concerned he might be the only one left. Again God repeated that He would fully repay Israel’s sins. But the remnant had been successfully marked so they would not be harmed. The central blessing of the covenant could only be maintained if the people were holy and the majority were not.
Almost the same vision of fearsome glory Ezekiel had seen earlier in Babylon now appeared to him in the Jerusalem temple. Ezekiel was certain the living creatures he had seen earlier were cherubim, the enforcers of divine judgement. The burning coals the priestly figure was to gather showed that the defiled Jerusalem was to be burned by fire, just like Sodom had been. It seemed that the glory of the Lord was a bit reluctant to leave. The glory moved slowly, in stages, from the holy place to the entrance of the temple and on to hovering above the cherubim. Next it moved to the east gate of the courtyard where it paused. And then it left the city. The elders of Jerusalem maintained all along that the Lord didn’t see them but that was foolish and false. The vision Ezekiel sees is much like the one in chapter one. Keep in mind that all these unbelievable things Ezekiel is describing are being described by the best words Ezekiel has. He is trying to describe heavenly wonders with earthly words. Once the cherubim arrived to mete out judgement, the city was doomed.
Having given Ezekiel a glimpse of the divine perspective on Jerusalem, the Spirit brought him back to overhear the words of the city inhabitants. The wicked counselors believed that though the Babylonian assault…the fire…was troublesome…hot…the defenses of the city…the iron pot…were sufficient to protect them…the meat. God had once rescued His people from foreigners in Egypt but now God would hand them over to foreigners for judgement. Ezekiel wondered out loud if the Lord was planning on killing everyone. After all, if all those who were destined for such horrific destruction, who would be God’s people. The people who still resided in the land believed the exiles were far from God and there was no one to protect their family holdings. There were precious few left in Jerusalem to guard inherited properties. God said the exile Babylon would only last until He had exercised His judgement. After this there would be a new exodus of His people from the nations where they had been scattered back to the land of Israel.
There would be an external change in the fortunes of Israel and that would be matched by an internal change. No longer would they have divided loyalties. God would take their hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. In place of the old idolatrous spirits the people had, now they would receive a new spirit. This would enable the people to be obedient, living in the covenant promises they made with the Lord. Those who remained in the land would reap what they had sown. God would repay them fully for their sins. This vision end with the chariot bearing the glory of God away from the temple. The glory of the Lord would depart from defiled Jerusalem and go east to Babylon and the exiles. God would identify with the sufferings of His people in exile.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W