Ezekiel — Lesson 6

Ezekiel 8 & 9

1. Introduction to Chapter 8

A. The vision in this chapter occurred 14 months after his first vision in Chapter 1.

1. 14 months is approximately 420 days. Ezekiel was told to lie on his side for at least 390 days and possibly 430 days (depending on whether the final 40 days is concurrent with or subsequent to the 390 days). Thus, he may have still been lying on his side (at least part of each day) during the events in this chapter.

2. In the intervening weeks since the first vision, Ezekiel had become recognized and respected as a prophet.

3. The elders of the exiled Judeans had apparently come to his house for consultation or to await another message from God.

B. Ezekiel is at this time caught up in a trance that lasts from 8:2 until 11:24.

C. The vision begins with his transportation to Jerusalem. He then sees the same vision of God's chariot that he had seen in the first vision.

D. Then in four separate movements he is shown four abominations that are taking place within the temple.

E. These visions show that a complete disintegration of the Jewish worship had taken place.

2. Transported to Jerusalem (8:1-4)

A. The elders have come to Ezekiel, possibly for assurance. The context suggests that Ezekiel may have been reluctant to tell the elders of the judgment that was coming.

1. After all, they aren't bowing down to idols. We learn in 14:1-3 that the idols these elders worshipped were inside their own hearts.

B. In the vision, Ezekiel is taken to Jerusalem and set down at the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north.

1. Note that Ezekiel specifically says that this trip was not an actual trip but was taken in a vision. This seems to suggest that the activities in Chapters 4-5 were actually undertaken since Ezekiel did not say he did them in a vision.

2. There is a stress in these verses on "north."

a) The filth in Jerusalem poured out toward the North, and it was as if God followed the stream of garbage back to its source.

b) God's judgment in the form of the Babylonian army would also come from the North.

C. The Image of Jealousy had been erected nearby.

1. This image is called an image of jealousy because it provokes God to jealousy.

2. Its description is vague; it cannot be identified with certainty.

3. Some commentators link it with the "queen of heaven" that was denounced by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:17-30.

D. "It is remarkable that, despite all the corruptions that existed, Ezekiel should say that the glory of God of Israel was there."

1. Ezekiel may have wanted to stress the difference between the God who belonged in the temple and the deviations that were being practiced there.

2. This may also be an indication that God would stay with His people until the very last moment of their rejection of Him.

E. The cherubim reappear in verse 4. "They are the protectors of God's holiness; they are his war-wagon!"

F. Ezekiel is taken to Jerusalem.

1. Jerusalem was the city of David. The people of God lived there. God's temple was located there. Jerusalem was therefore the center of truth and purity and a beacon of light to the heathen. Right? Wrong!

2. Jerusalem was a center of rot. It led the nations, but it led them away from God.

3. God wants Ezekiel to know that his own people are driving him from their midst.

3. The Image of Jealousy (8:5-6)

A. This image of jealousy blocked the way into God's own house. You could not enter the temple without stumbling over it.

B. Manasseh had put a wooden image of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess, in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 21:7).

C. Although 2 Chronicles 33:15 tells us that Manasseh later removed the image, it must have reappeared because Josiah later had it taken out and burned (2 Kings 23:6).

D. From Ezekiel's description, one of Josiah's successors must have made another one and set it up by the northern gate.

1. The northern gate was the most honorable of the three gateways because the royal palace was on the north side of the temple and thus the king used the northern gate when he went in to worship.

2. It is called the altar gate in verse 5 because the sacrificial animals were slaughtered 'on the north side of the alter before the Lord.' (Lev. 1:11).

E. "Great abomination" in verse 6 is translated "utterly detestable" in the NIV.

1. One commentator: "A more serious or devastating evaluation is unimaginable than to have one's behavior judged 'utterly detestable' by the Lord of Life."

4. Animal Worship (8:7-13)

A. The exact location of this scene is not identified.

B. It was something that was done in secret, and Ezekiel is told how to gain access to surprise the elders in the very act. Why were they doing this is secret?

1. One commentator said that this "secret" door was a door for hypocrites!

2. Another explanation is that these men were worshipping Egyptian gods, which would have been offensive and possibly illegal under Babylonian rule.

a) If this view is correct, then these men were no doubt worshipping Egyptian gods in hope that those gods would save them from the Babylonians! We know for a fact that Judah sought alliances with Egypt against the Babylonians.

3. You can almost see the horror spreading across Ezekiel's face as he enters this secret room.

C. Engraved on the walls were all kinds of creeping things, loathsome beasts, and idols.

1. The Egyptian, Canaanite, and Babylonian religions all worshiped serpent-deities.

2. No doubt many of these foreign cults were incorporated into the worship for political rather than religious motives.

D. Ezekiel saw 70 elders engaged in the false worship.

1. Why 70?

a) This is not the Sanhedrin from the New Testament; it was not around yet.

b) It is a representative number. 7 is the number of perfection and 10 is the number of completion. Their product 70 stresses that this represents the whole group. Also, see Numbers 11:16ff. These 70 elders represent the whole nation.

2. The size of this group indicates that the majority of those left behind were now worshipping the false gods.

a) Only two times in the history of the world have God's people been in the majority on this earth -- at creation and after the flood.

3. The naming of Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan suggests a direct indictment of a man whose family had been prominent in Jerusalem's public life.

a) Shaphan is probably Josiah's secretary-of-state from 2 Kings 22:3.

b) Ahikam, another of Shaphan's sons, was an influential supporter of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24).

c) Jaazaniah appears to have been the black sheep of a very worthy family. It would also be an indication to the exiles of the extent of the decline.

4. God tells Ezekiel in verse 12 that he has seen what every man does in his chamber of imagery. What does this mean?

a) Perhaps it means that this vision was typical of what all of the people were doing individually.

b) Or perhaps these chambers were built into the wall of the temple, which fits the context a little better since the focus here is on activities in the temple.

5. Nature Worship (8:14-15)

A. Ezekiel next sees women weeping for Tammuz.

B. Tammuz was a Sumerian god of vegetation who in the popular mythology died and became god of the underworld.

1. Ishtar was his wife and she went after him into the underworld, which caused the vegetation to die in the summer and winter.

2. The mourning was a longing for the return of earthly abundance.

3. The eventual revival of Tammuz was marked by the return of spring and fertility of the land.

4. The cult associated with him included mourning rituals (which we see here) and licentious fertility rituals celebrating the return of spring.

5. It became very popular in the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean areas, where it was linked with the Greek gods Adonis and Aphrodite.

6. It is also mentioned in Isaiah 17:10f, which refers to the planting of Tammuz-gardens.

7. After the exile, the fourth month of the Hebrew calendar was called Tammuz. It was during that month that it was time to harvest the grapes.

6. Sun Worship (8:16-18)

A. The crowning abomination was to take place at the very door of the temple of the Lord.

1. Verse 15 tells us that what Ezekiel is now seeing is a greater abomination that what he had previously seen.

2. The other abominations are said to be "other great abominations" in verses 6 and 13, but this one is said to be greater.

3. This abomination would be particularly horrific to a young and idealistic priest like Ezekiel.

B. The priests were deliberately turning their backs on God.

1. They faced east toward the rising sun.

C. By its east-west orientation, the Temple lent itself to solar worship, as is indicated by the fact that Josiah in his reformation had to destroy 'horses dedicated to the sun' and 'the chariots of the sun' (2 Kings 23:5, 11).

1. Hezekiah also dealt with this problem. (2 Chronicles 29:6-7)

2. The events recorded in this chapter show that these were not one time events. Pagan worship had become a regular event in the temple.

D. Why 25 priests?

1. First, these men are assumed to be priests because only priests were allowed in the inner court (2 Chronicles 4:9; Joel 2:17). Also, that would explain why this was a greater abomination.

2. The number 25 may represent the entire priesthood. David divided the priesthood into 24 courses (1 Chronicle 24:7-18 and Isaiah 43:28). Those 24 plus the high priest results in 25 priests.

E. "They put the branch to their nose"?

1. Perhaps a reference to an obscure ritual. Fire worshipers held bunches of twigs called barsom in their hands as they worshipped the sacred fire. They held the twigs up to their mouths as the prayed.

2. Early Jewish commentators translated it as "they put forth a stench before my nose."

3. One commentator said it may simply mean the people were thumbing their noses at God!

F. Notice how this chapter stresses that it was the elders of the people who were leading this false worship.

1. We should thank God every day for the strong elders we have at this congregation.

2. The biggest problem facing the church today is weak elderships. The other problems can be dealt with if a congregation has strong elders.

3. Another lesson we learn here is that big departures start out as small departures.

a) The pagan worship pictured here began in 1 Kings 11:1-8, where we read that Solomon allowed his pagan wives to build altars to their own gods in Jerusalem.

b) God had told the people not to intermarry with the nations around them, but Solomon did not listen. We are reading now about the end result of that initial departure from God's word.

G. In verse 17 God asks Ezekiel if this is a light thing.

1. God appears to be trying to convince Ezekiel of the justice and necessity of the judgment that is coming.

2. We may not like the idea that God's patience can run out, but it can.

3. Isaiah 55:6 ("Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.")

7. A Modern Tour

A. When God asked Ezekiel if what he saw was "a light thing," what might a modern response have been?

1. "Oh yes. It is a light thing because the people have no doubt set aside a corner of the temple in which God was still worshiped."

a) If you start with a vat of sewage and add a spoonful of fine wine, what do you have? A vat of sewage.

b) If you start with a vat of fine wine and add a spoonful of sewage, what do you have? A vat of sewage.

2. "Oh yes. It is a light thing because there is some good in all religions."

a) There is nothing good about a false religion! If you disagree, then reread Chapter 8 and also look at Acts 4:12.

b) We must see false religions as God sees them, not as the world sees them.

B. A Tour Through "Christendom" at Large

1. In addition to twisting the gospel, have some denominations also mixed Christianity with these same false religions that we see in Ezekiel?

2. Sun worship? How many "Christians" read their horoscopes each day?

3. Worship of Tammuz? How many "churches" mix Christianity with New Age practices?

4. Child Sacrifice? How do many of the denominations view abortion?

C. A Tour Through the Lord's Church

1. Where had these abominations in Chapter 8 come from? They had come from the surrounding religions.

2. We all know that the church today is facing a number of problems. Where are those problems coming from? Aren't they coming from the denominations that surround us just as surely as the perversions in Chapter 8 came from the false religions that surrounded Jerusalem? We are bringing many of the problems in from the outside just like the Israelites brought in the false gods!

8. Introduction to Chapter 9

A. The punishment that was pronounced in 8:18 upon the people of Jerusalem is now executed in the vision.

1. The time for talk has ended.

9. Punishment by Slaughter (9:1-7)

A. The seven executioners appear from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, which is the same gate we saw earlier. They are coming from where the image of jealousy stands.

B. Six of the seven have destroying or slaughter weapons in their hands.

1. The word used here is almost identical with the word translated "war-club" in Jeremiah 51:20.

C. Beside them was a man clothed in linen. The linen clothing was a mark of dignity, as befitted a priest (Exodus 28:42) or a messenger of God (Dan. 10:5). He is the one element of mercy in this vision.

1. Linen often denotes the purity and holiness of God.

D. At his side was an ink-horn. This word translated "ink-horn" denotes a writing case that would have included a pen, an ink-horn, and a wax writing tablet.

E. The seven figures enter the inner court and stand waiting beside the bronze altar.

1. The bronze altar was the altar of burnt offering. See Exodus 27:1-8.

F. The glory of the God of Israel moves from the cherubim (verse 3) to the threshold of the house.

1. The cherubim were in the holy of holies. This movement of the glory of God was the preliminary movement before the final departure of God from his temple in 11:23.

2. From this new vantage point, God gives instructions, first to the recording angel in verse 4 and then to his six companions in verses 5-6.

G. The mark that was to be put on men's foreheads is "taw," the final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

1. Early Christian commentators were quick to point out that in the oldest Hebrew script the letter was written as X, a sloped cross.

2. Ellison: "This is one of the many examples where the Hebrew prophets spoke better than they knew."

3. Others have noted that the same mark is used elsewhere as a signature (Job 31:35) and was used as an asterisk for marginal notations in some of the Dead Sea scrolls. (This latter usage has caused some to conclude that the Qumran community was a Judeo-Christian group.)

H. Those who have the mark are not punished.

1. That some people in the city received this mark tells us that there are a number of righteous people in Judah.

2. John uses the same symbolism in Revelation 7:3, where the mark is referred to as a seal of God.

I. The punishment is selective, which is in keeping with the principle of 18:4 that "the soul that sins shall die."

1. But what about the children? One commentator says that this stresses the severity of the judgment and is not an indication of what God thinks of babies.

2. Indeed, one reason for this judgment was that the people had been sacrificing their own children to their false gods. See Jeremiah 32:35 ("nor did it come into my mind that they should do this abomination").

3. Also, there is an important difference between suffering due to your own punishment and suffering due to the punishment of others.

a) All suffering isn't punishment! The faithful in the city suffered greatly when the Babylonians came, but they were not be punished.

b) But if both groups suffered, what difference does it make what group you were in? A big difference! The difference is whether they died in the Lord or out of the Lord.

c) Children died in the flood without being punished by the flood.

J. The basis for exemption from the slaughter was having a deep concern ("men who sigh and groan" in verse 4) over the city's apostasy.

1. This was the same attitude that Amos had looked for among the luxury-loving revellers of Jerusalem and Samaria. Their sin was that they 'did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.' (Amos 6:6)

2. God was not looking for an outward sign, but for an inward attitude -- a passionate concern for God and for His people.

a) As we look around us at the state the church is in today, what is our attitude? Do we "sigh and groan" over the false teaching that is coming into the church? Do we care?

3. Without this mark, judgment followed just as it had for those households in Egypt without blood on their doorposts during the first Passover.

4. The first to be slain were "the elders who were before the house."

a) Their slaughter [in the temple] meant defilement of the holy place, but that was a small price to pay for the vindication of God's name.

10. The Prophet's Plea and God's Response (9:8-11)

A. The phrase "while they were smiting" in verse 8 is a chilling statement!

B. Ezekiel appeals to God not to destroy "all the residue of Israel."

1. Ezekiel, like God (18:23), had no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

C. The appeal is not successful. Israel's sin had gone too far for any intercession. "I will have no pity" (verse 10).

D. One commentator notes:

1. "For all Ezekiel's outward appearance of severity, beneath the hard shell there was a heart that felt deeply for and with his people. He did not relish the message of judgment that he had to give, still less the reality that followed when the message was rejected. This was one of the secrets of his greatness. Though his forehead was made as hard as flint (3:9), his heart was always a heart of flesh (36:26)."

E. When the judgment came, the people blamed it on God. They said it was because Jehovah had forsaken the land (verse 9).

1. They may have thought God was missing or may have even hoped that he was missing, but he was not missing. He was right there punishing Judah for its iniquity!

F. The chapter ends with a report from the man in linen that he had done what God had commanded.

G. Chapters 8 and 9 teach us some very important lessons.

1. Our worship service is very important. The pattern for our worship is found in the word of God. God wants us to follow that pattern -- without addition or subtraction.

2. There is nothing good about false religions. They are utterly detestable to God, and they should be to us as well.

3. Toleration may have become the greatest virtue of our own modern age, but it is not one of God's attributes. He does not tolerate sin, and neither should we.

4. God's people should love his church and be concerned about his church.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)