Ezekiel, whose name means "God strengthens," had trained for
the temple priesthood in Jerusalem, which he intended to enter at age 30.
But he was carried into captivity by General (soon to be King) Nebuchadnezzar
in 597 BC (probably at age 25, Ezek. 1:1,2)--along with a number of fellow
countrymen including King Jehoiachin. He was a contemporary of Daniel, though
a few years older at the time of their deportation. In fact Daniel, his
three friends (Dan. 1), and 10,000 Jewish hostages had been taken to Babylon
8 years earlier in 605 after Nebuchadnezzar's defeat of the Egyptian armies
at the Battle of Carchemish (Jer. 46:2). Shortly after reaching Babylon,
Ezekiel found himself called by God to awaken the remnant of the Jews in
exile, to comfort them, to make them fully aware of God's continuing purposes
for Israel. He was also to remind them also of God's dealings with all the
nations. Ezekiel's clear and dazzling visions of the glory and splendor
of the presence of God are accompanied by warnings of impending destruction
of the temple and the beloved city. His wife died in 597 as a sign from
God that the siege of Jerusalem had begun (24:16-18). The prophets words
came true in the final destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in
586 BC, however Ezekiel's work continued until his death about 570 BC.
The 8th through 12th Chapters of Ezekiel are revelations of what was malignantly wrong in Jerusalem. So serious and deep-rooted was the national idolatry that God could only move in judgment---violently destroying most of his covenant people. Ezekiel's knowledge of what was then going on in Jerusalem, several hundred miles away, came to him in a series of great visions. When he received the divine revelation described in Chapter 8, he was sitting in his house in exile with the elders of Israel with him, waiting for a prophetic word from God. There the Spirit of God caught him up by a lock of his hair and transported him to Jerusalem, so he could have a bird's eye view of what was happening in the temple itself.
The present-day equivalent of viewing the activities and idolatries at
the temple site would be for us to be enabled, as Jesus was, to see into
the hearts of men, to know their motives and to be able to read behind the
scenes men's secret conduct, to see things as God sees them rather than
forming judgments based on outward appearances. Thus, Ezekiel's vision gives
us insights that enable us to judge the inner state of our hearts before
God, and if necessary to submit ourselves to God's corrective open-heart
"In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me (Ezekiel). Then I beheld, and lo, a form that had the appearance of a man; below what appeared to be his loins it was fire, and above his loins it was like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming bronze. He put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was (located) the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes (God) to jealousy. And behold, the (Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain."
We are given the year of this vision, it was the fifth day of the month
of Elul, or September 592 BC. God has exact dates on His calendar of world
events, though He does not reveal them to us in advance. The name most frequently
used for God in this passage is Adonai Yahweh, which means "Lord Jehovah."
The impressive figure of a man seen in this vision was probably the Angel of the LORD, that is, the Son of God, in one of his Old Testament preincarnate appearances which are known as "theophanies." The vision may be compared, for example, to that given in Revelation 1:12-16 where Jesus Christ in His present glory is pictured for us in similar imagery. The symbolism of gleaming bronze from the man's waist upwards speaks of judgment, and the fiery appearance of the rest of his body suggest the actual flames of destruction taking place.
The Shekinah, or Cloud of Glory, is here shown as the outshining Presence which accompanied the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings---a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day. The awesome Presence of the majesty and ineffable splendor of God at the time of the dedication of the First Temple by Solomon, 373 years earlier, is recorded in II Chronicles 7:1-3. In Ezekiel's time, the manifested presence of God as the Shekinah departed from the Temple (Ezekiel 10ff), to leave Jerusalem in stages, obviously with great reluctance.
However, in a yet-future day, the glowing cloud of the Shekinah will rest once again over Jerusalem marking the return of Messiah and the fulfillment of Israel's final destiny as chief among the nations, (Matthew 24:29-31, Isaiah 4:2-6).
The image which provoked (God) to jealousy described was probably an obscene statue or image indicating the nation's open tolerance of sexual immorality. The "pillars" of Baal in the Old Testament were carved phallic symbols to remind the worshiper of unrestrained male virility associated with that pagan God. That such a symbol should be found anywhere near the temple, which was carefully marked off in zones of increasing holiness, should have been unthinkable to God's people. The worship of pagan deities such as Baal allowed the people of Israel to become sexually indulgent and permissive, to rational selfish behavior that was prohibited by the Law of Moses. God continues to give Ezekiel a personal tour around the Temple Mount:
"Then he said to me, 'Son of man, lift up your eyes now in the direction of the north.' So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.'"
A holy God can not have fellowship and remain in communion and intimate
relationship with an unclean and profaned people. The Apostle Paul instructs
"What partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What accord does Christ have with Belial?...What agreement has the temple of God (our bodies) with idols?" (2 Corinthians 6:14,15)
Proverbs admonishes, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for out
of the heart are the springs of life." (4:23) Jesus elaborated on this
principle teaching that, "...out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder,
adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile
a man..."(Matthew 15). Whatever we set our affections upon becomes
our god---whether it be a girlfriend, a sports car, a challenging career,
a football star we admire, love of money and power, or the girl in the Playboy
centerfold. Romans Chapter One says that idolatry sets in when we cease
to worship and serve the true and living God with all our hearts and minds
and souls and might. Next Ezekiel gets a look into the "inner life"
of the leaders of the land:
"And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, and behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, dig in the wall': and when I dug in the wall, lo, there was a door. And he said to me, 'Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.' So I went in and saw; and there, portrayed upon the wall round about, were all kinds of creeping things, and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah, ("Yahweh hears"), the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the cloud of incense went up. Then he said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, every man in his room(s) of pictures? For they say, "The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land."' He also said to me, 'You will see still greater abominations which they commit.'"
The modern equivalent to these "rooms of pictures" would surely
be television and movies. Taken together with pornographic literature, our
secret fantasies, and the American macho male mythologies we live by today,
these captivate us more fully than any statue of a golden calf ever could.
In Ezekiel's day, "every man" had his "room of pictures"---his
secret world of lustful fantasies, and inner idolatries which, though hidden
largely from public view, reflected the condition of the hearts of the people
towards personal and holy devotion to God. This passage is a reminder that
whatever enters the "eye-gate" of man can have a special power
to gain a grip on his mind and imagination. Jaazaniah's name ("Yahweh
hears") implies he was aware that God hears all things, but evidently
he had forgotten that God also sees all things, including the thoughts and
intentions of the heart, (Hebrews 4:13). In his commentary, Ezekiel,
(Intervarsity Press, 1969) John B. Taylor notes that Shaphan is probably
to be identified with Josiah's secretary of state, and Ahikam, another of
Shaphan's sons was an influential supporter of Jeremiah. Thus Jaazaniah
evidently "was the black sheep of a worthy family."
"Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD; and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.'"
The heart of all false religion in the world traces back to Nimrod and
the Babylonian mystery religion. Tammuz was the divine child who died and
was raised again, mentioned in connection with Semiramis, his mother, the
wife of Nimrod.
Tammuz seems to have been virgin born without benefit of normal sexual intercourse in marriage. The cult of the mother-and-child was perpetuated in Egypt as Isis and Osiris, in Greece as Venus and Cupid, in Rome as Aphrodite and Eros, etc. Worship of the Great Mother and the nature/fertility rites of Canaan (Baal worship) are variations on this central idolatry of Babylon. Temple prostitution was common among the Canaanites whom the Israelites were supposed to have totally destroyed upon entering the land under Joshua. Instead the Israelites accommodated and incorporated Canaanite idolatries into the worship of Yahweh. The scene of women weeping for Tammuz seems to suggest the unfulfilled feminine longings of the women of Israel---their husbands and brothers and fathers were preoccupied elsewhere. The worship in the temple and its courts was not centered around marriage, family and interpersonal relationships, but around the private idolatries of individuals split off from God and from one another---to each his own. Left to himself man (and woman) seem to seek their sexual fulfillment everywhere else except in the one God-given relationship of marriage which God designed for our happiness and wholeness. The result is a sexual brokenness and confusion of sexual roles at all levels of society.
"And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; and behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces towards the east, worshiping the sun to the east. Then he said to me, 'Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too slight a thing for the for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence, and provoke me further to anger? Lo, they put the branch to the nose. Therefore I will deal in my wrath; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry in my eyes with a loud voice, I will not hear them.'"
The Temple in Jerusalem faced east to symbolize that hope and light and
the eventual appearing of the Messiah would come from the direction of the
rising sun. Open and deliberate sun worship (which was central to the Egyptian
religion, for example) was a flaunting of the law of Moses forbidding the
worship of the "host of heaven," that is the sun, moon, stars,
or the angelic beings they symbolize. In turning their backs to the Holy
of Holies in order to bow to the east, the twenty-four representative temple
elders were turning their backs to God and to the sanctuary where God was
to be served and revered. By their actions they were denying the very purpose
for which the temple was built. The true temple of God today is the body
of every believer, and true and proper service to God is to allow Him to
put His temples to the holy uses He has made us for. Scripture reveals that
violence and lawlessness in a nation are the results of spiritual decline
and rejection of God and His ways. Taylor says, "When church leadership
becomes corrupted there is no end of chaos that is caused to the life of
The euphemistic expression "to put the branch to the nose" perhaps is somewhat equivalent to our modern expression, "to thumb one's nose at someone." It probably means something even more vulgar, literally it is "to put forth a stench before the nose (of God)."
After ignoring repeated warnings from a long-suffering and patient, merciful God, there do come times in all our lives, and in national and corporate life as well, when judgment can no longer be averted. Ezekiel is given to see God's prompt action of judgment against all Jerusalem which is to be carried out for Him by angels sent for that purpose. The year, the month, the day, and the hour for judgment had arrived.
Our attention is called to the fact that judgment begins at the sanctuary. Perhaps this is the inspiration for Peter's word to the church, "The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God. And if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the sinner and ungodly appear?'" (1 Peter 4:17,18, Prov. 11:31)
The text in Ezekiel continues:
"Then he (the Lord) cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, 'Draw near, you executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.' And lo, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, every man with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.
"Now the (Shekinah) glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherubim on which it rested to the threshold of the house; and he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side. And the LORD said to him, 'Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.' And to the others he said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.' So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, 'Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go forth.' So they went forth, and smote in the city. And while they were smiting, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, 'Ah Lord GOD! Wilt thou destroy all that remains of Israel in the outpouring of thy wrath upon Jerusalem?' "Then he (God) said to me, 'The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see' As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity, but I will requite their deeds upon their heads.'
"And lo, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his side, brought back word, saying, 'I have done as thou didst command me.'" (Ezekiel, Chapters 8 and 9)
The six men referred to are six angels. "Executioners of the city"
is taken from a Hebrew verb meaning "to visit," i.e. with punishment.
They are accompanied by a seventh recording angel who is instructed to mark
the forehead of all in Israel who were sighing and moaning over her sins.
The mark was Tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, probably written
as an "X", that is, as a cross. Those so marked were to be protected
from destruction since they were a remnant who lived in repentance and sorrow
over the apostasy of their nation (Taylor).
Ezekiel's lament (that all of his people would surely be destroyed if God persists in his slaughter of men, women and children without pity or without sparing) continues, "Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel?" (Ezekiel 11:13) According to the Bible judgment is "God's strange work." God is long-suffering and reluctant to judge, yet as a Just God, He must inevitably deal with human evil:
"For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve. Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:30-39)
In response to his prayers, an answer from God comes, granting a great promise which would come to pass in the distant future to bless all of Israel,
"And the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, your brethren, even your brethren, your fellow exiles, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, 'They have gone far from the LORD; to us this land is given for a possession.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary in small measure (or, "for a little while"), in the countries where they have gone.' Therefore say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples, and I will assemble you out of the countries where they have gone.' And I will give you the land of Israel.' And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things, and all its abominations. And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will requite their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 11:14-21)
December 1988, Revised May 8, 1991