Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ezekiel 8

I gave a talk on Ezekiel 8 the other day. It didn't come out at all like I had thought: I had a lot of trouble expressing what I was thinking. So I thought I'd give it another try here.

The book of Ezekiel starts with Ezekiel standing on the banks of the Chebar, in Babylon. There he sees a vision of the glory of the Lord. He sees what looks like a man made of burning brass on a throne, with four "living creatures" under the throne, and four "wheels within wheels" with the living creatures. He describes this vision in some detail in the first two chapters. Ezekiel sees this same vision three more times, or four times in total. He sees it again seven days later "in the valley" in chapter 3, then in Jerusalem in chapters 8--11. Finally, he sees the same vision in chapter 43.

These four appearances of the glory of the Lord form a simple outline of the book. Each appearance of this vision is followed by specific messages. We might think of these as "sections" of the book:

  1. chapters 1--3:31 Following the vision on the banks of the Chebar (vv. 1:1--3:15), the Lord speaks to Ezekiel and gives him the rules of the watchman (vv. 3:16--3:21). That is, He tells Ezekiel his duty as a prophet. This section closes at v. 3:21, after essentially only one message from God.
  2. chapters 3:22--7 The second section begins with the Lord revealing Himself "in the valley" (vv. 3:22--3:27). Ezekiel notes (v. 23) that this is the same vision he saw on the banks of the Chebar. Ezekiel's vision is followed by messages specifically for Jerusalem and her inhabitants (ch. 4--7). The key verse in this section is v. 5:5, "this is Jerusalem". All the messages God gives Ezekiel in this section are about Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
  3. chapters 8--39 The third section begins with the same vision Ezekiel saw "in the valley" (v. 8:4) and "by the river Chebar" (v. 10:20). The Lord takes Ezekiel "in the visions of God" to Jerusalem (v. 8:3). I assume this means he wasn't looking at the literal Jerusalem, but a spiritual vision of it. The vision that begins in v. 8:2 continues through chapter 11. Following the vision in ch. 8--11, the Lord gives Ezekiel several messages. Unlike the previous section, these messages address not only Jerusalem, but the captives in Babylon, and the nations as well. This section is the largest in the book.
  4. chapters 40--48 The fourth and final section is millenial: it starts with the Millenial temple and describes the nation and its worship under the Son (cf. Psalm 2). Ezekiel sees a vision "like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar" (v. 43:3). It's in this section that he sees the glory of God return from the mountains in the east back into the Temple.
There is a clear moral symmetry between the vision in ch. 11 and that in ch. 43. In chapter 11, he sees the glory of the Lord leave them Temple and head east into the mountains. In chapter 43 he sees it come back from the mountains through the east gate and into the Temple.

Ezekiel is characterized by conversations between the Lord and his prophet. Unlike Isaiah (largely composed of the messages the Lord has for His people) or even Jeremiah, Ezekiel is mainly the Lord telling Ezekiel what to tell the people. It doesn't really record that he actually passed the messages on. It's not a book about the prophet speaking to the people, it's a book about the Lord speaking to the prophet.

The characteristic title of Ezekiel is "son of man". He's one of two men called that in the Old Testament: the other is Daniel. This gives us a hint of where we'd look to see Christ in this book. Isaiah and Daniel describe the One who is coming: Ezekiel doesn't. In Ezekiel, the prophet himself stands in the place of the coming Son of Man. In type, Ezekiel is a book where the Father talks to the Son.

This brings us to chapter 8. Chapter 8 comes a little more than a year after the vision in Chebar (cf. v. 1:1--2; v. 8:1). Ezekiel is brought by the Lord into Jerusalem "in the visions of God" (v. 8:3). The story starts outside the Temple, by the gate (vv. 8:3--6). There is an image in the gate of the Temple, which Ezekiel describes as "the image of jealousy" (v. 8:3). Next the Lord has him dig a hole through the Temple wall, and he finds a chamber full of men burning incense to idols (vv. 8:7--13). Then the Lord brings him into the court of the temple, where women are wailing for Tammuz (vv. 8:14--15). Finally, the Lord takes him into the inner court, where 25 men are worshipping the sun, with their backs to the altar (vv. 8:16--18).

The first thing we notice in this sequence is the transitions between the visions. After the first three visions, the Lord asks Ezekiel if he sees what he people are doing, and He says Ezekiel will see something even worse (vv. 8:6, 13, 15). So we understand that these visions are actually a progression. It's not just that there are four different idolatrous practices going on, but each is worse than the one before. We also notice that the trend is inward from the Temple gate toward the sanctuary.

I'm not sure what the "image of jealousy" is (v. 3), but it seems to be an idol. That is, there was an idol in the entrance to the Temple. If we remember our Sunday School lessons, we recall that at least two kings of Judah set up idols in the Temple itself: Ahaz built an altar modelled after the idolatrous altar he saw in Damascus, and put it into the Temple, moving the brazen altar out of the way to make room for it (2 Kings 16:10--16). Manasseh also set up his idols in the Temple (2 Kings 21:1--9). No doubt there are others: these two spring to mind.

There's an enormous difference between going to bow down to an idol in its temple, and bringing the idol into the house of God. But that's exactly what these two kings did.

There are four steps from the "image of jealousy" in the gate to the sun-worshippers inside the Temple:

  • the image of jealousy
  • burning incense in the room of idols
  • wailing for Tammuz
  • worshipping the sun
These four steps form a sort of progression: inward into the Temple, as we mentioned earlier; but also a progression of the heart. First, there is an image in the gate (v. 3). No one is worshipping the image: it's just there. We might think of this as passive idolatry. Second, we have active worship on the part of Jaazaniah and the seventy elders of Israel (v. 7). Then we have emotional idolatry, the women wailing for Tammuz (v. 14). Finally, we have complete obeisance in the twenty-five men bowing with their backs to the altar (v. 16).

It's interesting there are four steps here. They remind us of the four downward steps in Romans 1:21--32 and those in Proverbs 30:11--14.

But the main point is the progression not only towards to the center of the Temple, but in the hearts of the idolaters. And we notice again that this is all in the Temple: in the center of the worship God Himself established. We might remember the last verse of 1 John: "Children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). There is a danger--- a very real danger--- of dabbling in idolatry, especially in the house of God. God doesn't have an house anymore, "The God who has made the world and all things which are in it, *he*, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24). But the Scripture tells us that God has chosen the Church as "a habitation of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). So there is a parallel, isn't there? The Israelites brought idolatry into God's habitation, and it offended Him. We ought not do the same. We need to be careful that we aren't dabbling in idolatry.

There's another thread in this story: it's the thread of God looking for a man He can confide in. The whole book of Ezekiel is characterized by the idea the God is baring His heart to the prophet, but it's particularly brought out here in chapter 8. At every step, the Lord asks Ezekiel, "Do you see what they're doing?" There's a sense where God is looking for someone to take His side against His people.

It's significant that the prophet who is so intimate with God's heart should be the prophet most particularly called "son of man". Really, God has found exactly one Man to whom He could completely pour out His heart. The Son of Man walked on this earth, and He saw exactly what grieved God. And there were conversations between the Father and the Son about it, although we only read one explicitly (John 17) and catch other small glimpses (John 5, etc.). The Lord Jesus, while eternally God, was here as the Man that God was looking for. He was the Man that God could take completely into His confidence.

And it's a sobering thought that He was the one Man who actually understood exactly how evil this world is. I will never know just how bad my sin is, because I'll never be required to pay its price. The Lord Jesus knows exactly how bad my sin is, because He suffered for it.

Can we imagine what it must have been like for the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father to walk down here in this wicked world? The Pharisees said, "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2), which indicates just how seared their consciences were. Yes, this Man did eat with sinners: and had He eaten with the Pharisees, He wouldn't have been in any better company. He was the Son of God, He had come down from Heaven. To imagine there's any significant difference between different degrees of fallen men in comparison with Him is sheer foolishness.

And once again, we remember the God has found the Man He was looking for. Indeed, He had to provide the Man He was looking for, because there's no other man, woman, or child that is good enough. And now that God has found Him, He's not looking for another. He has found what He wanted, and He is content in Him. We ought to be content in Him too.

Well, that's more or less what I ought to have said the other day. What I actually did was go on long digressions through the histories of Ahaz and Manasseh, as well as a diversion through the identity of Tammuz. It was frankly a bit of a mess. Hopefully I'll be a little more to the point next time.

1 comment:

frostymug said...

I just wanted to say that I enjoy most all posts on this blog. My perspective is similar to the one found here. I also wanted to share with the readers some Brethren literature that is hard to find on the internet or anywhere for that matter. The works of J. B. Stoney and C. A. Coates. I recently acquired digital files of their works and have been busy recompiling them into downloadable documents. I have them posted on www.scribd.com
The J. B. Stoney material is quite massive. Everything has links in the table of contents so no one has to wade through from the beginning to get to later portions. You can find all of this here:
I will be posting volumes 6 and 7 of J. B. Stoney's Ministry shortly.
Enjoy and be blessed. Praise the name of Jesus forever!