Meditations from Ezekiel: 15. The Horrors of Jerusalem (2)
Ezek 8:17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here?
Four ‘horrors’: We are considering the things that Ezekiel, saw when he had been carried in the Spirit in a vision to Jerusalem where he is being shown 4 aspects of the apostasy that is taking place there. The first one we noted in the previous study, was an idol located at the northern entrance to the Temple, and the second one was a picture of the elders worshipping their own idols, hidden away from sight, which brings us to the third one.
Seeing: Perhaps before we move into this more fully, we might note that we are about to read yet again, “Do you see….” Twice in this chapter the Lord asks Ezekiel, does he see (v.6,15) and three times the expression, “You will see”. (v.6,13,15) The thing with revelation is that it is revelation, something we do not see with our ordinary eyes and it is easy to miss something of what the Lord is showing us. How often does this apply to the Bible? How often do we just skim over truths and miss the wonder of what is there? Now onto the third ‘horror’:
The Third ‘Horror’: “Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz. He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” (8:14,15) Tammuz, it is said, was a Sumerian god of vegetation who, according to popular mythology died and became a god of the underworld. He was associated with a cult that partly incorporated a mourning ritual (for his death and the death of vegetation at the end of the growing season) and partly incorporating fertility rites (highlighting rebirth). It is said of him that he was specifically worshipped in Assyria and Babylonia. The fact that Israel had been overrun by Babylonia twice already under Nebuchadnezzar now suggests that there were those in Israel who took on the worship of their oppressors, identifying more with them than with their God.
A Lesson about Belief: There is a lesson here that suggests that when our faith fails or we appear to be overcome by the world and the enemy, the human tendency is to lose faith in God and believe more in ‘other things’. In respect of the elders worshipping idols behind closed doors, we read, “They say, `The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.” (v.12) Having been overrun by Nebuchadnezzar twice, they used this to justify their falling away from the one true living God and turning to idols. The enemy would have whispered, “God is not here, He doesn’t care about you, you need to take steps to find other gods who will look after you.” Lies!
The Fourth ‘Horror’: “He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.” (v.16) Now he is taken back in this vision to the inner court. The idol (first horror) had been at the north gate of the actual temple, the men (second horror) were behind walls of the court surrounding the main building, the woman (third horror) was worshipping back at the north entrance of the actual Temple building and now these men (fourth horror) are in the ‘inner court’ that presumably surrounded the main building. i.e. two of these were at the north entrance of the main building and two, involving numbers of false worshippers were in the buildings or areas immediately surrounding the main building. One way or another, the temple was well and truly polluted with these idol worshippers.
The Sun? Who these twenty five men are is unclear. They are not described. It is an imprecise number and rather suggests, not a very large group, but a good number are here worshipping the sun! Yet another object of pagan worship for fairly obvious reasons. The sun brings life (warmth) to vegetation, animals and mankind alike. Today science tells us we get most of our vitamin D from sunshine, an essential for healthy bones, a help to warding off certain diseases and may help ward off depression. Perhaps this knowledge was instinctive to the ancients and so in the absence of the Creator God of the Bible, many turned to the sun, but that is merely another of God’s good provisions for us, not to be an object of worship.
Violence! But it wasn’t just the idol worship that upset the Lord, it was the deteriorating moral standards that followed it that was seen throughout the Land: “He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger?” (v.17) Hypocrites can exist even with believers of the Lord, but when people turn to other worship, THE key reason for holding to a firm moral base is removed.
Illegitimate Belief: Then He says something strange: “Look at them putting the branch to their nose!” Now some suggest that this is a reference to imbibing nature worship but the context doesn’t confirm that. We suggest that the ‘branch’ is in fact a shoot off the main tree, a growth from the main tree and their attitudes that were ungodly, idolatrous, and resulting in unrighteous apostasy, are an illegitimate branch of the main tree of belief that the Lord has sought to grow as the heart of Israel. It is like they relish in this new and illegitimate belief system. Because they have become so entrenched in it, the outcome will have to be certain: “Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.” (v.18)
What has this vision been doing? It has been showing Ezekiel how entrenched false worship and the rejection of the Lord is in the heart of the centre of Jerusalem, the centre of Israel. When there is talk of judgment there can be no quibbling; the reason for it is clear and certain. It is the apostasy of this people, Israel, a people who have such a testimony of the goodness of God in their midst for hundreds of years, and yet which has been rejected. The die is cast, the outcome is certain and the only thing that would change it is repentance but it has been made clear that this will not come, so entrenched is this apostasy.