The Setting of the Vision
While Ezekiel took a meeting with the elders of Judah, God gave Ezekiel a vision. The same person came to him that appeared to him with the glory of God in chapter 1. The description is the same: fire at his waste and gleaming metal in his upper body. (8:2)
Who was this person? He is a representation of God. He referred to “my sanctuary” in verse 6. In verse 17, he speaks of Israel “provoking me still further to anger”.
This person took Ezekiel to Jerusalem in the vision. He placed him at the entrance to the inner court and showed him an idol he called the “image of jealousy which provokes jealousy”. (3) Ezekiel does not tell us what the idol was. But it would be really bad to put an idol, the image of a false god, in the place dedicated to the worship of Yahweh. It was placed at the entrance to the inner court, in which God’s presence dwelt between the cherubim. It was evidently seated, as if to copy the mercy seat where God sat enthroned between the cherubim. It was as if it were a direct challenge to God.
God described himself in the Old Testament as a jealous god. God command that we cannot make idols and cannot worship them. (Exodus 20:4) The reason is that Yahweh is a jealous god. This means he wants all of our worship. In Isaiah 48:11, he said “My glory I will not give to another”. Yahweh claims that either he is Israel’s only god, or is not their god at all.
As bad as this is, God told Ezekiel he would see greater abominations. (6)
The Elders Worshipping Idols
Next, Ezekiel was shown 70 elders worshipping in a secret room. It may have been a store room but had been converted to a place of idol worship. They were worshipping images of different beasts and insects. There was one elder attending each of the 70 images. Each one offered incense offerings to the carved picture of the supposed deity. They were trying to please these deities with the incense and seek their protection. They had lost faith and hope in Yahweh.
They claimed the Lord could not see them because he had forsaken the land. (12) This statement is ironic, for the Lord would in fact leave the temple.
These men were elders. They were likely those who led he city after the king and his advisors were taken to Babylon. They were not priests, but were acting as priests in the worship of idols. They included a descendant of Shaphan whose family were important advisors to kings. One of his brothers had helped Jeremiah. This means the perversion of true worship had even corrupted important families.
Still, as bad as this is, God will show Ezekiel greater abominations.
Third, Ezekiel was shown women worshipping the god Tammuz at the north gate of the temple. Tammuz was a Sumerian king who was elevated to deity. There are stories of Tammuz leaving the earth for the netherworld, and he was mourned by women. Maybe these women thought Yahweh and Tammuz were the same, or they just were involved in the cult.
God said Ezekiel would still see greater abominations. (15)
In addition to the worship of idols, Ezekiel is shown 25 men worshipping the sun. He was taken to the inner court of the temple to observe the ritual performed between the porch and the altar. These men may have been priests since they were near the altar. They turned their backs on the temple, and therefore on God, and faced the east to worship the sun god.
God had forbidden the making and worshipping of any images. Deuteronomy 4:19 specifically forbid the worship of the stars, the sun or the moon. Yet, Manasseh, who is referred to as Judah’s most evil king, built altars for “all the host of heaven” in the two courts of the temple. 2 Kings 21:5. Someone also built a statute of the horses and chariots of the sun at the entrance to the temple. 2 Kings 23:11. King Josiah destroyed all these, but the worship of these things returned.
So, how does God react to all this? He said, in verse 17, that they provoke him to anger. The statement about the branch is uncertain. But, it appears to be a gesture of disrespect. We might say they have thrown this in God’s face.
God reacted by saying he will act in wrath. But not only will he act in wrath, he will have no pity. Even when they cry out to him, he will not hear them.
In chapter 9, he will set out his reaction in detail.
Our idols are usually more abstract today. Certainly there are those in the world who worship other gods. But Christians themselves can be tempted to go astray. Ideas and philosophies about today, even in the context of the church.
Money, fame, glory, sex, beauty, success all are potential idols.
God does not change. He still demands exclusive worship. Examine yourself today and make sure God is in first place in your life.