Chapter 8 begins an extended vision in which Ezekiel is moved by the Spirit (“lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem”—8:3) to see the “abominations” (6, 13, 15, 17) committed in and near the Temple.
The opening verse of the chapter describes this vision as taking place while Ezekiel is sitting in his own house, surrounded by “the elders of Judah” (8:1). He sees a fiery vision of a man (Son of Man) coming into his house and grabbing him by the hair (3), transporting him by the Spirit to Jerusalem. In his vision, Ezekiel is given a guided tour of what is happening at the Temple.
Ezekiel sees the same glory of God that had appeared to him “in the valley” (4), the man of fire guides him to observe four scenes of spiritual abomination taking place at the Temple. First, at the entrance of the “the gateway of the inner court that faces north” he is shown “the image of jealousy which provokes to jealousy” (5-6). Second, he is instructed to dig through the wall of the Temple and look inside. Here he sees “seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel” burning incense to images of “creeping things and loathsome beasts” on the Temple walls (7-13). Third, Ezekiel is taken to the entrance of the north gate where he sees a group of women “weeping for Tammuz” 14-15). Fourth, he is taken in the “inner court . . . between the porch and the altar” where he sees about twenty-five men bowing to the east to worship the sun (16).
The repeated refrain after each of the first three scenes is “you will see still greater abominations” (6, 13, 15). After the fourth scene the fiery man declares that these abominations have “provoked him to anger (“put the branch to their nose”—17). The tragic result is that they are driving him from His sanctuary (6) and leading Him to “act in wrath” (18), without pity and without regard for their cries for help.
The narrative contains several revealing comments about the Israelites (and human nature). Ezekiel is told by the Lord that the elders of Israel have turned to detestable idols because they have concluded “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land” (12). They blame the Lord for abandoning them, when the reverse is true. Sadly, He will be “leaving” as a result of their actions. Also, the Lord tells Ezekiel that idolatry has been compounded by violence: “Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger” (17). When we forsake God, we become prone to violence towards other people.
Visions of God
God sees what is done in the dark. The Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark . . . ?” (12). Ezekiel had not seen (until the Lord showed him), but the Lord had. Nothing escapes his eyes or his notice.
God is jealous for the worship of his people. The Lord refers to an idol set up by the Israelites as the “image of jealousy” (3, 5). He does not take lightly our spiritual infidelity. Like a wounded lover, he is grieved and angered (17-18) by our disloyalty.
God judges the idolatry of his people. His anger over idolatry (17) leads to his wrath (18). His wrath is expressed in his spiritual “departure” (6), lethal judgment and unwillingness to listen to his people’s prayers for help.
God reluctantly abandons his covenant people—for a time. The Lord brings Ezekiel to see what is taking place so that he will understand the reason for the coming judgment on Judah. The judgment will not just be the destruction and death brought by invading armies. More tragic will be the departure of God’s glory from the nation. In verse 6, the Lord speaks of the abominations that will “drive me far from my sanctuary.” Later in this extended vision, Ezekiel will witness the Lord departing from the Temple and city (10:18). Later in the book, we learn that God’s departure is not permanent. He plans to institute a new and better covenant that will result in a true fidelity among his people (chapter 11, 36).
Words to Watchman
God does not want his watchman to be in the dark about what his people do in the dark. Ezekiel is instructed to do some “digging” (8), to discover what the leaders of Jerusalem are doing in the dark (12). They suppose the Lord does not see them, but he does and so does his watchman, Ezekiel. Through Ezekiel’s writings, what whispered in the dark would be shouted from the rooftops.
Watchman come to know God’s heart in a deeply personal way. Ezekiel is not only given a guided tour of the abominations taking place in Jerusalem, but he is also given a guided tour of what is taking place in God’s heart. He sees God’s glory and hears God’s heart—the grief, anger and amazement God expresses to him. Here is a great privilege of those who serve and speak for God—they come to know him in intimate ways. May that be true of me.