Ezekiel 8-10 – The detestable practice of idolatry

Context

The Biblical Context: God called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to live in a land given to them by God – the promised land. In this land was built a temple by the instructions of God. This is where worship was to happen. God’s people would worship their one true God and pay no attention to the religious practices of the world around them – of the neighbouring nations. In fact, when they entered the land, then were instructed to totally remove all traces of foreign religion in their boundaries. Since Solomon, king after king repeated the same error: they lead the people to worship other gods for prosperity and protection. The exile which the book of Ezekiel promises is God’s response to the nations rebellion.

“The Lord waits long to be gracious, as if he knew not how to smite. He smites at last as if he knew not how to pity.” (Robert Candlish, 1979).

Context in Ezekiel: The LORD has come to Ezekiel by the Kebar River in Babylon. He has commanded Ezekiel to do the work of a watchman and communicate to the people of Israel that judgement is coming and is upon them. They will be under siege. One third will die of famine, one third by the sword and one third will flee to the mountains only to be cut down by the sword. All this will be by the hand or command of the LORD because of their detestable practices.

Observations in chapter 8.

“the sixth year” v1. – See chapter one for a similar reference. This places chapter 8 in late 592BC. It is 6 years into the exile of King Jehoiachin. It has been fourteen months since the opening vision of the book. Ezekiel is probably toward the end of completing his visual testimony described in chapter 4.

“a figure like that of a man” v2. – compare the description of verses 2-3 with 1:26-27.

“the Spirit lifted me up between heaven and earth and in visions of God, he took me to Jerusalem.” v3. We are given a description of what is happening to Ezekiel – taken to Jerusalem in a vision. Not actually taken there. I have an image of Eboneza Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” being shown things but not truly there.  What he sees in the passage are not to be taken as literally happen as if it is a historic event, but that the vision makes a very clear point. Let’s hope we get the point that is made!

“…where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen on the plain.” vv3-4.  Just consider this contrast right here: a dumb idol that is made by men with wood or metal and carried to its place where it doesn’t move unless carried by men – and the living God with his glory represented in a vision because it is too brilliant to be revealed actually.

There stands an object which provokes jealousy in the true God (Ex 20:5; Dt 31:16; Ps 78:58). This jealousy shouldn’t be considered the same as a person’s jealousy which shows insecurity. It should be understood as a rightful position of the one who created and cares. When God sees our devotions given to senseless objects, it provokes a righteous jealousy. We may feel jealous because we desire to be loved more but God displays jealousy because he deserves our devotion.

It’s a pathetic comparison. A small object declaring fale religion as better versus the great LORD of heaven and earth. It’s like a comedy although it’s tragic.

“see what they are doing, the utterly detestable things.” v6. It’s the practices that uncover the heart of the people. The detestable practices was the theme of chapters 4-7. See 5:11.

“you will see things that are even more detestable.” v6. Chapter 8 takes Ezekiel further and further into the temple to show more and more detestable practices.  The lowest point is in verse 17 where 25 men have their backs to the temple and are facing the sun in the east. The imagery is obvious. They turn away from the creator and serve what he has created. They have been given the Temple to express their love and devotion to the one true God and they turn their backs on it. They turn their backs on God.

“all the idols of Israel.” v10. In the darkness and hidden area of the temple were dedications to all sorts of creepy crawlies and all the idols of Israel. The Temple, of course, was empty of any idols in its construction because it was not the structure that was worshipped but the presence of Yahweh which gave them their focus of devotion, their hope and remembrance of all the promises. They worshipped this living God. But Israel had adopted the same practices of the nations around them – see 11:5.

“They say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.” V12. This is the true heart of idolatry. More than the presence of idols and false gods to focus on, the lies about God form the root of all idolatry. “The essence of idolatry is not so much denying the reality of God but the relevance of God.” (Iain Duguid, 1999). Many would confess their belief in the existence of God and even the belief that the bible is the word of God, but denying its relevance is idolatry. The people were not stating that the LORD is not real but that he has lost interest in Israel. The lie is: the LORD has forsaken the land. The fact is: the people of Israel have forsaken their God. We see at the end of the chapter that it’s not just religious idolatry that the people are guilty of but also forsaking their call to be holy (8:17)

“I will deal with them in anger…no pity…I will not listen to them.” v18 There is a point when God’s righteous judgement is poured out with no more time for mercy. We don’t live in this time. God is holding back his wrath with great resistance while we are given time to turn to Christ. But when his forbearance is over, the judgement will come.

“Look at them putting the branch to their nose.” v17. This phrase is an odd one which many writers have struggled with. The majority view says that it’s ether an insulting gesture, or is a final act of idolatry. Whatever the meaning, the context suggests that it is not acceptable.

Meaning

Despite the devotion of God to bless Israel above all other nations, Israel are determined to fashion themselves after the other nations. Israel is devoted to all forms of false religion while turning their backs on the one true God.

Application

  1. Our idolatry. Consider these examples of idolatry:
    1. Money. Having it is not idolatry but turning our backs on God in the pursuit of getting it or growing it or keeping it or spending it is. Make sure God is the owner of your wallet. Remember Ezekiel 7:19.
    2. Sexuality. God created us as sexual beings. But he didn’t create us for the purpose of sex. When we elevate sex as our right to be handled our way, we turn our backs on the creator who understands what is good and evil. Yes, it is your body, but who owns your body? Remember 1 Cor 6:18-20.
    3. Power and authority. The culture we breath in is one of progress. We know more than people did in previous generations. This is just true. Our world is smaller because we have the internet. The scientific revolution has revealed so much about our world that we just didn’t know before. The universe is so much bigger than we can imagine and we have scientific data to prove that. But does data equate to wisdom? Of course not. As our culture appears to progress in inovation, communication, understanding and tolerating others – let’s never leave the word of God behind. Who is it that has the final word on life and death? Which truths about God, humanity, sin, judgement, love, faith, hope and the cross of Christ are no longer relevant? God have mercy on us if we turn our backs on him. Who has the ultimate power and authority in your life?
  2. Our devotion to the true God. In the positive, how are we practicing true religion? Elijah said in 2 Kings: if Baal [money, sex, self-identity, etc] is God, then worship that! But, if the LORD is God, then worship Him! How can you cultivate your faith and love of God? Fellowship and the word of God? Be careful to worship God the way that he commands us.
  3. Inside the church and outside the church. This chapter is to the people of Israel  and not to the nations around it. Israel had adopted the idolatry of the nations. The warning is to us in the church to keep true to God in our faith and worship and not adopt the false teaching of this age. It is inevitable, however, that we will see idolatry everywhere we go because the world rejects the LORD of all and the one he has sent – Luke 10:16. We live in a world  which thinks it is wise and that God followers are fools. Don’t be deceived. It is the other way around – see 1 Cor 1:18 following.

Observations on 9 and 10?

These two chapters are a great read and I won’t spend the time to unpack them. The highlights of chapter nine are verses 1, 4, 6-7, 9 and 11. Chapter ten brings back the vision of chapter one t our minds and tells us that God is leaving the temple..

Prayer for the week

Father God, protect us from idolatry. Call us back from the idolatry that we are aware of and show us the idolatry that we cannot see. Give us the eyes to see your greatness that surpasses anything else in this world. May those who see us know that we are yours and believe with all out hearts that you are the true God of all. Amen.

For next week:

The passage covered will be found somewhere in chapters 11-21. Your group could be challenged to read through that section before then. The study will focus on one part of this.