Series: Thru the Bible
Jewish idolatry during Zedekiah’s reign
Now you may remember that Ezekiel was already in Babylonian exile when he began his prophetic ministry. Yet, both last week and this week we continue to see references back to Jerusalem and its future destruction.
Why and how is that?
Well, you may remember that when we were in the book of Jeremiah, there were a total of three deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar.
You remember one of the really good kings of Judah was King Josiah. After his death, his son Jehoahaz took his place in about 609B.C. His reign didn’t last a year before Pharaoh Neco took Jehoahaz captive and placed Eliakim, his brother in his place. Pharaoh Neco renamed Eliakim to Jehoiakim.
Pharaoh Neco also imposed a levy on Judah, which Jehoiakim paid by placing a burdensome tax on the people.
During his reign, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and he placed Jehoiakim as his vassal for three years. After these three years he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, in response to which, the Babylonians attacked Judah, and with the help of God they took over.
Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin in about 598B.C., but his rule lasted only a year when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem and deported young Jehoiachin, along with his mother and the royal officials to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10–12). This was the second deportation to Babylon during which Nebuchadnezzar also took ten thousand others into exile, leaving only the poorest of the people behind.
Ezekiel’s book begins 5 years after this capturing of King Jehoiachin and during the reign of King Zedekiah whom Nebuchadnezzar places as king in Jerusalem in his place.
This is also when Nebuchadnezzar raided the temple (2 Kings 24:13–14; 2 Chronicles 36:10) of its treasures which King Hezekiah had shown a former king of Babylon.
Zedekiah was an evil king and rebelled against God and eventually against King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:12–13) as well. It was during this time that Jeremiah, who was still in Jerusalem was persecuted and largely silenced by King Zedekiah.
After eleven years of Zedekiah’s rule, Jerusalem fully fell to Nebuchadnezzar which instituted the third and final deportation of Jewish exiles to Babylon. That is when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem’s walls and burned the temple and the palaces (2 Kings 25:9–10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:13–14).
So it is that these visions refer to the final fall of Jerusalem and its destruction.
You will see greater abominations…
“(1) In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting in front of me, and therethe hand of the Lord GOD came down on me.
(2) I looked, and there was a form that had the appearance of a man. From what seemed to be His waist down was fire, and from His waist up was something that looked bright, like the gleam of amber.
(3) He stretched out what appeared to be a hand and took me by the hair of my head. Then the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and carried me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the inner gate that faces north, where the offensive statue that provokes jealousy was located.”
The entrance mentioned is a term that is normally used as an architectural term in describing the pattern of the tabernacle.
“(4) I saw the glory of the God of Israel there, like the vision I had seen in the plain. (5) The LORD said to me,
“Son of man, look toward the north.”
I looked to the north, and there was this offensive statue north of the altar gate, at the entrance.
(6) He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel is committing here, so that I must depart from My sanctuary? You will see even greater abominations.”
The location is now confirmed here in that the location of the offensive statue was at the northern entrance of the altar gate of God’s holy temple in Jerusalem.
No one knows for certain what this statue was of or whether it was even literal. It is possible that this was simply a statue which symbolized the pagan worship of Israel in general which provoked God to jealousy. Some believe it was a specific mythological god which was a known symbol of jealousy. In brief, there is no shortage of ideas, but whether the statue was literal or not, the Jealousy of God for the adulterous hearts of His people was VERY real and that is the real point!
Dig to uncover what is hidden
“(7) Then He brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked there was a hole in the wall. (8) He said to me,
“Son of man, dig through the wall.” So I dug through the wall, and there was a doorway.
(9) He said to me, “Go in and see the terrible abominations they are committing here.”
(10) I went in and looked, and there engraved all around the wall was every form of detestable thing, crawling creatures and beasts, as well as all the idols of the house of Israel.
(11) Seventy elders from the house of Israel were standing before them, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had an incense burner in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising up.
(12) Then He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his idol? For they are saying: The LORD does not see us. The LORD has abandoned the land.”
(13) Again He said to me, “You will see even greater abominations, which they are committing.”
“(14) So He brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the LORD’s house, and I saw women sitting there weeping for Tammuz.
(15) And He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see even greater abominations than these.”
This may be a confirmation of one of the suggested mythological deities suggested for the statue which provoked God to Jealousy above. Tammuz was a fertility god of the Mesopotamian religions who embodied the powers for new life – usually represented by spring as opposed to fall and winter.
Tammuz is Syrian for Adonis, a young hunter loved by Venus the goddess of love. According to the legend he was killed by a wild boar, and subsequently permitted to spend half the year on earth, and obliged to spend the other half in the lower world.
An annual feast called the disappearance of Adonis was recognized in memorial to him in June, when Syrian women would tear out locks of hair in tokens of grief and give themselves over to prostitution in consecration to the goddess Venus. Following this were days of rejoicing for Adonis’ return to the earth in a festival called “the finding of Adonis.”
Since the Jewish women seen here in this vision were weeping for Tammuz it would seem that they may have also been prostituting themselves as well in homage to Venus over her lost lover. All of this was done as representing the seasons of winter leading into springtime for harvest – thus, the connection to fertility.
In brief, these were heavily symbolized pagan celebrations which sought to honor pagan deities in hopes of procuring their favor for blessings of a bountiful harvest in spring. This was a monstrous substitution of idolatry for faith in God.
Yet, the Lord assures Ezekiel the worst is yet to come so this offers us a window into the mind and soul of God. For though all sin is punishable by death, not all sins carry the same offense to God.
“(16) So He brought me to the inner court of the LORD’s house, and there were about 25 men at the entrance of the LORD’s temple, between the portico and the altar, with their backs to the LORD’s temple and their faces turned to the east.
They were bowing to the east in worship of the sun.
(17) And He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? Is it not enough for the house of Judah to commit the abominations they are practicing here, that they must also fill the land with violence and repeatedly provoke Me to anger, even putting the branch to their nose?
(18) Therefore I will respond with wrath. I will not show pity or spare them. Though they cry out in My ears with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.”
So what is this placing the branch to the nose in worship of the Sun?
These branches were possibly bundles of Tamarisk which they held to their noses at daybreak, while singing songs to the rising sun. Heathen idol worship often involved the carrying of branches in sacred ceremonies honoring pagan gods.That this was in worship to the sun is possibly again a reference to harvest.
That these men had turned their back to God in His temple, facing the rising sun in the east was all the more of an abomination. The turning of the back is a clear sign of defiance and rejection. East of the temple was the eastern gate which was the main entrance into the courtyard of the temple and to pass through this gate one had to pass through the tribe of Judah and under the banner of their tribe which was the Lion. This eastern orientation of this tribe relative to the temple was a picture of Messiah and they were turning it into the worship of the sun itself, rather than a worship of the Messiah, the sun is a representation of! In keeping with the words of Paul, “they worship the creation rather than the Creator Who is blessed forevermore!”
“(1) Then He called to me directly with a loud voice,
“Come near, executioners of the city, each of you with a destructive weapon in his hand.”
(2) And I saw six men coming from the direction of the Upper Gate, which faces north, each with a war club in his hand. There was another man among them, clothed in linen, with writing equipment at his side. They came and stood beside the bronze altar.”
So 6 men of war and one scribe – 7 men in total came. They stood beside the bronze altar which was the altar for sacrifice and thereby represented the cross of Jesus.
“(3) Then the glory of the God of Israel rose from above the cherubim where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man clothed in linen with the writing equipment at his side.
(4) “Pass throughout the city of Jerusalem,” the LORD said to him, “and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations committed in it.”
(5) To the others He said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him and start killing; do not show pity or spare them! (6) Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, as well as the older women and little children, but do not come near anyone who has the mark.
Now begin at My sanctuary.”
So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.
(7) Then He said to them,
“Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!”
So they went out killing people in the city. (8) While they were killing, I was left alone. And I fell facedown and cried out,
“Ah, Lord GOD! Are You going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when You pour out Your wrath on Jerusalem?”
(9) He answered me:
“The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is extremely great; the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity. For they say: The LORD has abandoned the land; He does not see. (10) But as for Me, I will not show pity or spare them. I will bring their actions down on their own heads.”
(11) Then the man clothed in linen with the writing equipment at his side reported back, “I have done as You commanded me.”
“(1) Then I looked, and there above the expanse over the heads of the cherubim was something like sapphire stone resembling the shape of a throne that appeared above them.”
This is the firmament or blue crystal platform upon which was the throne of God and beneath which were the Cherubim.
That the platform is a sapphire blue yet crystalline would seem to indicate that it is at least translucent if not transparent, so one might imagine that through the floor one would see the fiery coals and lightning flashes between the Cherubim who occupy that space below the throne. From beneath and looking above one can imagine the sight through that same sapphire blue crystal Ceiling – the glory of the Lord, the cloud, the emerald bow of light around His throne along with the flashings of lightning and the brightness of His person. From either side of the firmament, it must all be an awe-inspiring sight to behold!
“(2) The LORD spoke to the man clothed in linen and said,
“Go inside the wheelwork beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with hot coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.”
So he went in as I watched. (3) Now the cherubim were standing to the south of the temple when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court.
(4) Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim to the threshold of the temple. The temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the LORD’s glory.
(5) The sound of the cherubim’s wings could be heard as far as the outer court; it was like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks.
(6) After the LORD commanded the man clothed in linen, saying,
“Take fire from inside the wheelwork, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood beside a wheel.
(7) Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took some, and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. (8) The cherubim appeared to have the form of human hands under their wings.
(9) I looked, and there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside each cherub. The luster of the wheels was like the gleam of beryl. (10) In appearance, all four had the same form, like a wheel within a wheel.
(11) When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went.
(12) Their entire bodies, including their backs, hands, wings, and the wheels that the four of them had, were full of eyes all around.
(13) As I listened the wheels were called “the wheelwork.”
(14) Each one had four faces: the first face was that of a cherub, the second that of a man, the third that of a lion, and the fourth that of an eagle.
(15) The cherubim ascended; these were the living creatures I had seen by the Chebar Canal. (16) When the cherubim moved, the wheels moved beside them, and when they lifted their wings to rise from the earth, even then the wheels did not veer away from them. (17) When the cherubim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when they ascended, the wheels ascended with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.
(18) Then the glory of the LORD moved away from the threshold of the temple and stood above the cherubim.
(19) The cherubim lifted their wings and ascended from the earth right before my eyes; the wheels were beside them as they went. The glory of the God of Israel was above them, and it stood at the entrance to the eastern gate of the LORD’s house.
(20) These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Chebar Canal, and I recognized that they were cherubim. (21) Each had four faces and each had four wings, with the form of human hands under their wings.
(22) Their faces looked like the same faces I had seen by the Chebar Canal. Each creature went straight ahead.”
“(1) The Spirit then lifted me up and brought me to the eastern gate of the LORD’s house, which faces east, and at the gate’s entrance were 25 men.
Among them I saw Jaazaniah son of Azzur, and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people.
If you remember in chapter 8, these are the same 25 men who had turned their backs to the temple and their faces towards the eastern gate to worship the sun at its rising. In chapter 8 verses 17 & 18 it told us that these men were also “filling the land with violence and repeatedly provoke Me to anger, even putting the branch to their nose?
(18) Therefore I will respond with wrath. I will not show pity or spare them. Though they cry out in My ears with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.”
So now in chapter 11 we are being told what violence they were filling the land with.
“(2) The LORD said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who plan evil and give wicked advice in this city. (3) They are saying:
Isn’t the time near to build houses? The city is the pot, and we are the meat.”
The city here is Jerusalem and they are most likely talking about establishing families in the city, thus the analogy that the city is the pot and they are the meat. This same analogy is made later in the 25th chapter of Ezekiel.
“(4) Therefore, prophesy against them. Prophesy, son of man!”
(5) Then the Spirit of the LORD came on me, and He told me,
“You are to say: This is what the LORD says: That is what you are thinking, house of Israel; and I know the thoughts that arise in your mind. (6) You have multiplied your slain in this city, filling its streets with the dead.”
(7) “Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says: The slain you have put within it are the meat, and the city is the pot, but I will remove you from it. (8) You fear the sword, so I will bring the sword against you.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.
(9) “I will bring you out of the city and hand you over to foreigners; I will execute judgments against you. (10) You will fall by the sword, and I will judge you at the border of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.
(11) The city will not be a pot for you, and you will not be the meat within it. I will judge you at the border of Israel, (12) so you will know that I am the LORD, Whose statutes you have not followed and Whose ordinances you have not practiced. Instead, you have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you.”
(13) Now while I was prophesying, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. Then I fell facedown and cried out with a loud voice:
“Ah, Lord GOD! Will You bring to an end the remnant of Israel?”
(14) The word of the LORD came to me again:
(15) “Son of man, your own relatives, those who have the right to redeem you, and the entire house of Israel, all of them, are those the residents of Jerusalem have said this to: Stay away from the LORD; this land has been given to us as a possession.”
That 15th verse reads poorly in the Holman, so I will read it in the NET for you. It says,
“(15) Son of man, your brothers, your relatives, and the whole house of Israel, all of them are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘They have gone far away from the LORD; to us this land has been given as a possession.’” ~ Ezekiel 11:15 NET
“(16) “Therefore say: This is what the Lord GOD says:
Though I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.
(17) “Therefore say: This is what the Lord GOD says:
I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. (18) “When they arrive there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. (19) And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, (20) so they may follow My statutes, keep My ordinances, and practice them. Then they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
This serves as a dual reference both to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in their return to the land, but more specifically to the time of the New Covenant. These words are nearly the exact same as those given to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:3-34 which reads like this…
“(31) Indeed, a time is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.
(32) It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the LORD.
(33) “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the LORD. “I will put My law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.
(34) “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know Me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know Me,” says the LORD. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.”
“(21) But as for those whose hearts pursue their desire for detestable things and abominations, I will bring their actions down on their own heads.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.
(22) Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, lifted their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. (23) The glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city.
(24) The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to Chaldea and to the exiles in a vision from the Spirit of God. After the vision I had seen left me, (25) I spoke to the exiles about all the things the LORD had shown me.”
“(1) The word of the LORD came to me:
(2) “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.
(3) “Son of man, pack your bags for exile and go into exile in their sight during the day. You will go into exile from your place to another place while they watch; perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.
(4) During the day, bring out your bags like an exile’s bags while they look on. Then in the evening go out in their sight like those going into exile.
(5) As they watch, dig through the wall and take the bags out through it. (6) And while they look on, lift the bags to your shoulder and take them out in the dark; cover your face so that you cannot see the land. For I have made you a sign to the house of Israel.”
(7) So I did just as I was commanded. I brought out my bags like an exile’s bags in the daytime. In the evening I dug through the wall by hand; I took them out in the dark, carrying them on my shoulder in their sight.
(8) Then the word of the LORD came to me in the morning:
(9) “Son of man, hasn’t the house of Israel, that rebellious house, asked you: What are you doing?
(10) Say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says:
This oracle is about the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are living there.
(11) You are to say: I am a sign for you. Just as I have done, so it will be done to them; they will go into exile, into captivity. (12) The prince who is among them will lift his bags to his shoulder in the dark and go out. They will dig through the wall to bring him out through it. He will cover his face so he cannot see the land with his eyes. (13) But I will spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare.
I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he will not see it, and he will die there.
(14) I will also scatter all the attendants who surround him and all his troops to every direction of the wind, and I will draw a sword to chase after them. (15) They will know that I am the LORD when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them among the countries. (16) But I will spare a few of them from the sword, famine, and plague so they can tell about all their abominations among the nations where they go. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”
The “prince” God is referring to here is King Zedekiah, that evil king whom Nebuchadnezzar put in Jehoiachin’s place. Zedekiah had placed Jeremiah in jail, so to speak, and so was not hearing the voice of the prophet. So God has Ezekiel act out, as a drama, the future events which will take place in regard to Zedekiah and Jerusalem.
Here is the account of those future events which we read about in the book of Jeremiah chapter 52.
“(1) Zedekiah was 21 years old when he became king; he reigned 11 years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah.
(2) Zedekiah did what was evil in the LORD’s sight just as Jehoiakim had done. (3) Because of the LORD’s anger, it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that He finally banished them from His presence. Nevertheless, Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. (4) In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem with his entire army. They laid siege to the city and built a siege wall all around it. (5) The city was under siege until King Zedekiah’s eleventh year. (6) By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that the people of the land had no food.
(7) Then the city was broken into, and all the warriors fled. They left the city by night by way of the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans surrounded the city. They made their way along the route to the Arabah.
(8) The Chaldean army pursued the king and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. Zedekiah’s entire army was scattered from him. (9) The Chaldeans seized the king and brought him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him.
(10) At Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes and also slaughtered the Judean commanders. (11) Then he blinded Zedekiah and bound him with bronze chains.
The king of Babylon brought Zedekiah to Babylon, where he kept him in custody until his dying day.”
“(17) The word of the LORD came to me:
(18) “Son of man, eat your bread with trembling and drink your water with shaking and anxiety. (19) Then say to the people of the land: This is what the Lord GOD says about the residents of Jerusalem in the land of Israel:
They will eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water in dread, for their land will be stripped of everything in it because of the violence of all who live there.
(20) The inhabited cities will be destroyed, and the land will become a desolation. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”
(21) Again the word of the LORD came to me:
(22) “Son of man, what is this proverb you people have about the land of Israel, which goes:
The days keep passing by, and every vision fails? (23) Therefore say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says:
I will put a stop to this proverb, and they will not use it again in Israel. But say to them: The days draw near, as well as the fulfillment of every vision. (24) For there will no longer be any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel. (25) But I, the LORD, will speak whatever message I will speak, and it will be done. It will no longer be delayed. For in your days, rebellious house, I will speak a message and bring it to pass.”
This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. (26) The word of the LORD came to me:
(27) “Son of man, notice that the house of Israel is saying: The vision that he sees concerns many years from now; he prophesies about distant times.
(28) Therefore say to them:
This is what the Lord GOD says: None of My words will be delayed any longer. The message I speak will be fulfilled.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.”