Ezekiel 8-10 – The detestable practice of idolatry


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.


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.


  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.

Ezekiel 4-7 – A study guide


  1. Print chapters 4, chapter 5 and chapter 6 out from BibleGateway.com so that everyone will get a copy of ONE CHAPTER.
  2. Print off the table of the chapter 7 structure – one for each person.

Introduction question (choose one):

  1. If you knew you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do?
  2. If you were to go to meet God right now, what do you expect (in your imagination) would happen?
  3. Describe a time when you have just run out of time to do something.

Reading the text for the first time

  1. Read through the context from the online blog or ask the group to tell you what the context is so far.
  2. Break the room into three groups and give everybody a sheet of paper with ONE CHAPTER of Ezekiel 4-6 printed on it. Ask each group to read their chapter and make notes on the page. Tell them that they will have a chance to include what they’ve read in the discussion of chapter 7 later on.
  3. Call the group back together and read the summary of chapters 4-6 on the online blog.
Read Ezekiel 7 as a whole group.

Observation Questions

  1. What phrases repeat throughout the chapter?
  2. One of the phrases is “Then you will know that I am the LORD” or very similar. These appear to make up a final statement to each section of the poem. Can you see a cycle in the message?
  3. There are three cycles of the same message. Use the table worksheet to see how the text repeats the same message three times with greater detail each time.
  4. There is a lot of doom and woe in this passage. Are there any hints, even vaguely, of hope? (see verse 8 and ask if the NT has a new revelation for us).
  5. Refer to the Blog if questions arise which the group is unable to work out by themselves.


  1. How would you paraphrase the message of this chapter in one or two sentences?
  2. What would be the message to our day and age?


  1. What does this chapter teach us about God?
  2. Idolatry is one side of the key to the conduct being judged here. What does idolatry look like in our day and our culture?
  3. Look up Colossians 3:1-12 esp v 5 and see what warnings the New Testament has for those who put their trust in Christ. Which idols and sins do you need to repent of and ask God for help in?
  4. Silver and Gold make the other side of the key to the people’s conduct. This could not save the people from judgement day and would be regarded by them as worthless when the end comes. What is it that we must put our hope and trust in? How are you going with that?


Ezekiel 4-7 – “I myself am against you,” says the Sovereign LORD (5:8)

The range of text we will be covering this week is chapters 4-7 of Ezekiel instead of the scheduled 4-10. There has been a change of plans to move MEGACHURCH to later in the year and so the preaching schedule has been modified. Next week we will cover chapters 8-10 and I hope to publish an updated schedule for the rest of the year ASAP.

How do we take four chapters and focus on something specific? If we attempt that much in a Growth Group then we’ll run out of time and when that happens, the leader tends to do all the talking. We’re going to focus on chapter 7 which picks up the themes from the other three chapters. Here’s a couple of options to handle this week:

  • Ask your group to pre-read the chapters before coming.
  • Listen to the bible read aloud for you on a device (e.g. You Version). This will take about fifteen minutes to do as a group.
  • Divide your group into sections and have them read different chapters on their own. Then, when you study chapter 7, they might be able to add some input from the chapter that they read.
  • Read aloud the overview below before reading chapter 7 together.

Once the context is covered, read through chapter 7 and conduct a study as normal. Here is a link to an outline for your study. Use that study outline along with the notes below to help.


The chosen people of Israel have been rebelling against God for centuries. Even though God saved them from slavery and nurtured them into a mighty nation. Even though God gave them a great city and the Temple as the place designated by God for true worship. Even though God had sent prophet after prophet to warn the people to repent. Israel and Judah have rebelled and resisted God’s grace and promises. Now, while in a foreign land, Ezekiel is instructed on what to say and do to communicate to the people of Israel: the end is here! Ezekiel was told in chapter 3 that if he fails to warn the people, then their blood is on his hands.

Overview of chapters 4-6…

The LORD instructs Ezekiel to perform 4 things with his body. 1) He is to use clay to illustrate Jerusalem being surrounded and under siege, 2) he is to lay down on his left side for 390 days to represent the 390 years of rebellion and then on his right side for 40 days to represent the 40 years of judgement, 3) while lying down, he is to eat an incredibly small amount of food which would have tasted awful. He is told to cook the food on human dung, but protests and is allowed to cook it on cow dung! Yay! 4) He is told to take a sword and shave his beard (ouch) and with a third, burn it, another third, strike it with the sword and with the final third, scatter it into the wind. This is to communicate that the people of Israel will be subject to famine as they are caged in the city under seige, then they will be struck down by the sword of the enemy and the final third who happen to escape will be scattered but then hunted down and killed also.

They are described as worse than the nations and are being judged because they have defiled God’s sanctuary. God is against them and what is predicted to happen is from the LORD – and they will know it!

In chapter 6, the focus is on the mountains where the third who are scattered may run for protection. But they won’t find it there. The mountains were where Israel worshipped other gods and this is where the final survivers will be slain. The whole land will be deserted and it will be clear that the LORD did this. It is restated that there will be 1) famine, 2) sword and 3) scattering.

Observations on chapter 7

For the first time in Ezekiel, we see something that looks like poetry. Our English bibles tell us that this is Hebrew poetry when they lay out the text indented like poetry. You know what they say, poetry is lost in translation…or something like that!

There is a repeated cycle in the chapter which the below table highlights. Verses 12-27 take up the largest section which fleshes out the brief summary of verses 3-4.

The End has come! 1-3 5-7 10-12
I will judge you without pity for your conduct and practices 3-4 8-9 12-27
Then you will know that I am the LORD 4 9 27


The prophecy is to be directed “To the land of Israel” (1, 7, 23, 27). This is because the LORD seeks to make the land deserted waste land (see 6:14). The judgement that is coming and is at the door will leave the land of Israel looking like a holocaust – post apocalyptic! The land was one of the great promises to Israel and a clear sign of their blessing. Removal from the land is a clear message of curse and wrath.

“The end has come!” (7:2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12) This is the first of the three part message of this chapter (see table above). Doom is at the door! The urgency of this message can’t be overlooked. It is not, “the end is coming” but, “the end has come!” Those who are left living in Jerusalem are about to die. The application is more than a warning about judgement but on the fact that at some point, it will be too late. When Christ returns, or when we reach the end of our life, that is the time of judgement.

“your conduct…your detestable practices” (3, 4, 8, 9, 13, 20, 27) The cause of the end is the conduct of the people. There are clues in the verses listed here as to what their conduct was. Verse 20 describes pride in what they had which was used to create idols for false gods. See 6:11-13 for a clear image of the detestable practices and how God will react to this. Also 5:8-12 contains another summary of what is at stake here.

“[without] pity, I will not spare you.” (4, 9) See also 5:8 and 11. This is a striking phrase because it stands in defiance of a view of an all-loving God. All-loving, however, does not mean that nothing can make the LORD angry and wrathful. There is a time for patience and a time to act. When final judgement comes, the decision will be sure and decisive. This is the God whom we serve. This is only one reason why I choose to serve him and not make him my enemy – but it’s a good reason.

“Then they will know that I am the LORD” (6:7, 10, 13, 14, 7:4, 9, 27) This phrase in verses 4, 9 and 27 give off the first clue that there is a three part cycle here. When combined with the repeated theme of the end, we begin to see the repetitious structure of the chapter. You see that chapter 6 repeats this phrase also. It reminds us that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess who is LORD. Both the saint and the rebel will see clearly in the end. The difference will be a question of when you did something about it. Israel should have already known this instead of worshipping any other gods.

“the mountains” (7, 16) The significance of the mountains is that this is where the vile idolatry took place. This is where offerings were made to other gods for prosperity and food and this is exactly where the slain will lay dripping in blood. See 6:1-7.

“pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you” (3, 8, 12, 14, 19, 24) This is a terribly frightful phrase – to experience all of God’s wrath and anger being poured out and completely spent. We witnessed Ezekiel see only a vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD and that sent him crashing to the floor. This brings out the attention that God will give to judgement. He will not flick his enemies away like used toothpicks. He will give his attention to the punishment and make sure it is complete. Read Nahum 1:6. After meditating on the fear of this – the danger of God’s wrath, consider the One who was prepared to stand in the way of God’s full wrath and fury for us. Jesus Christ had the wrath of God poured out on him so that we may escape God’s wrath for our own idolatry and shame (Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 5:9; 1 Thess 5:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 1:4; 1 John 4:10). See also Ezekiel 5:13 and see that at some point, God’s wrath can be spent! This gives us confidence in trusting Jesus all the more because God’s wrath has been satisfied.

“Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them.” (11, 19-21) The things we treat as great value now will do nothing for us on the day of judgement. The people of Israel were not simply worshiping false idols but were relying on wealth. They not only trusted their riches, they even used them to make worthless idols! How the two sins are closely and even inseparably woven! See Colossions 3:5.

“Outside is the sword; inside are plague and famine.” (7:15) There is no escape for Israel. They are damned if they flee and they are damned if they remain inside the city. See 5:12; 6:12.

“desecrate the place I treasure….sanctuaries will be desecrated.” (5:11; 7:22, 24) The people had performed evil acts in the temple – the place God treasures – and this too will be desecrated by God. Since they defile it, God will make sure it is made unclean. This theme of the defiled temple will return in the book of Ezekiel.


God’s people have deserted God through idolatry and desecrating the temple with false worship. While other prophets have cried out “judgement is coming if you don’t repent!” This prophet will declare, “the end is here because you have refused to repent!” There comes a point when God’s patience is ended and the final judgement takes place.


  • Judgement day is coming.  Silver and gold will get us nowhere. If our trust is in anything other than Jesus, we will receive the full brunt of God’s wrath and anger. What is your hope and trust in? How can you tell if your trust is in Jesus and not in anything else?
  • God’s wrath has been spent! Jesus Christ was willing to stand in the way of our judgement. It is easy to say that Jesus died in my place but there is a reason why Jesus was in torment in the garden of Gethsemane – he knew what he was about to face. Thank Jesus for his sacrifice for you. We can never repay him for what he has done but we can certainly fight idolatry by acknowledging what he has done.
  • Idolatry – what does this look like for us? Israel turned to false images for fairly familiar reasons – for the hope to prosper, for good fortune, good health and the like. We may not turn to idols (although it must be noted that many cultures in Australia still do turn to idols for prosperity and health etc) but where is our trust directed? What plans, routines, purchases, and even superstitions can you identify in your life that is replacing our Sovereign LORD?
  • From chapters 4 and 5, Ezekiel was told to perform some visible signs. These were not just like a visual aid such as a Powerpoint presentation – they were emotional demonstrations to evoke emotion in others – they were affective signs. We too can do the same thing – not with weird and crazy performances but by demonstrating to people with our lives that we are for God. Let others see our lives and be rebuked.
  • God’s ultimate visible sign is Jesus. He is not just a description of God or a man who pointed us to God – he was God in the flesh who demonstrated the depths of our sin by being murdered on a cross. The cross itself is an affective sign. How clearer can we be about our race’s attitude toward God than to point to the cross and say, “see, we even want God dead!” How low can we go?

Prayer for the week

Lord of all, please help us to turn away from idols and give you our whole heart, mind and soul to trust and obey. Thank you for Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. Thank you Jesus for your visible love for us. Help us to show the world with out lives that we belong to you and that this is the only safe way to live. Amen.