Meditations from Ezekiel: 13. God on the Retreat?
Ezek 8:6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary?
Retreat? It is an amazing thing that the almighty, all-powerful God who is Creator of everything can retreat before the sinfulness of man, and yet that is the truth, but it is simply that where He finds entrenched sin He will remove His presence and that is what we find in this present chapter. From the big picture, sweeping judgment that we have recently been observing in the previous chapters, we now have a revelation in this present chapter of the sin in Jerusalem, expressed in a variety of ways.
Dating: First the date: “In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day.” (v.1a) This is the second of thirteen dates given in Ezekiel. In chapter 1 we saw, “fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin,” the dating given according to the time from which Ezekiel, King Jehoiachin and many others had been taken into exile in 597BC and so that date had been 593BC, and so the present date is probably September of the year 592BC, fourteen months on from the previous vision.
Where: Next the situation: “while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me.” (v.1b) In those fourteen months Ezekiel had become recognized and accepted as a prophet. We saw in the first encounter with the Lord that he had been told to lie on his side twice, for a period that amounted to about fourteen months. It seems no coincidence that he comes to the end of the first task and is now given additional revelation. As we said, previously the Lord had spoken to him and, presumably, he had spoken out, judgment in respect of both Jerusalem and the whole land of Israel. This had gained the interest of the elders of Israel there in exile with him and they have presumably come to discuss what he had been doing and saying.
Transported in the Spirit: But while that is happening, “the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there.” i.e. God intervenes and Ezekiel has another vision that we might say, comes in two layers or two parts. In part 1 of the vision he sees a figure: “I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal.” (v.2) Similar to the previous ‘man’ he had seen, his function is to take Ezekiel in the vision to Jerusalem: “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem.” (v.3a)
To Jerusalem: Part 2 of the vision is where he goes and what he sees. Initially he is taken, “to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood.” (v.3b) There were three gates giving entrance, the other two being to the east and to the south. Outside the northern gate apparently stood an idol that clearly competes for the affections of the people, with the Lord. In the ongoing vision Ezekiel has his attention drawn to this idol: “And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.” (v.4,5).
Jealousy? From the outset of their years in relationship with the Lord, the Lord had declared, “I the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” (Ex 20:5) Now we may think of jealousy as a bad thing but jealousy implies the existence of a relationship which involves affection, of feelings of love for someone, which is what the Lord has for us and for His people Israel. Therefore it is right to have negative feelings objecting when a rival seeks to compete for those affections. So the first thing he is shown in this vision as he approaches Jerusalem is an idol located just outside the Temple which God’s people bow down to. No wonder it stirs jealousy in the Lord!
Detestable! The Lord describes what is going on and asks Ezekiel, still in this vision, to take note of it: “And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” (v.6) Remember he is talking about the holy people of God who had been delivered out of Egypt, given the most amazing revelation of any people on earth, then given their own Land and blessed there. Yet this people have sunk to depths of spiritual depravity that you would not think possible, and it is perhaps because of that, that the Lord wants Ezekiel to take careful note of what he sees in this revelation. The Lord’s descriptions of what is going on in Jerusalem, which Ezekiel will no doubt later proclaim and publish, twice includes the word ‘detestable’. Something that is detestable is something utterly revolting, odious, abhorrent, repellant, vile, loathsome and repulsive.
Illustration 1: Compare two pictures: in the first one, people bow down and worship blocks of rough hewn wood; in the second one people bow down and worship the One who has created all things wonderfully, the One who has come down and blessed people with signs, wonders, healings, miracles and so much more. How does the first picture compare to the second one? Well the word that comes instantly to my mind is ‘stupid’. What is happening in it is so stupid, even more when you compare it to the second one. In fact, the more you enter into the emotions of the people in each picture, those in the first picture are a childish parody of reality, a mockery of what is real and utterly foolish. I’m afraid I can’t convey ‘detestable’ because I believe it is something we can only comprehend in our spirit.
Illustration 2: Let’s try a different picture. Have you ever encountered someone who is suffering from oxygen deprivation? It happened many years ago to my mother when she contracted pneumonia and her lungs deprived her of oxygen. When we visited her, she had cups and saucers out on a table and had been having a party with relatives – except they weren’t there, it was entirely an hallucination caused by lack of oxygen. That is what this idol worship in Jerusalem was like, an hallucination, a belief is what wasn’t. And the terrible thing is that it was caused by Sin and it meant the people turning their backs on the Lord who had redeemed them and made them a people, and they were now so entrenched in it, that the Lord was retreating from before it. The even more awful thing, was that the people of Jerusalem has so taken His presence for granted and were so blind to the reality of His presence, it was only a prophet in a vision who could see what was happening, the Lord leaving! We’ll consider this more in the next study when we see more of what is going on in Jerusalem.