[God, this passage is daunting. I’m afraid I won’t have anything insightful to say about it. I don’t pretend to be a Bible scholar. I’m just an ordinary person. Will you open your word to my heart and my heart to your word? Forgive me for the pride of feeling like I need to say something important. Help me to hear your words and to share them.]
Ezekiel sees a third vision. As in other visions, he’s aware of the exact date and what he was doing at the time and records it. This time, he’s sitting in his home with the exiled elders of Judah in front of him. A figure that looks like a man appeared to him, the same figure he’d seen twice before.
From the waist up, the figure looked like glowing metal, and from the waist down he was “like fire.” This is the same description of the figure in the first and second visions. He takes Ezekiel to the temple in Jerusalem where he sees the glory of God, just as he’d seen it before (For the story of his first vision, read “Ezekiel” section of iwantmore.blog/2020/11/01/november-1/). Though Ezekiel isn’t physically in Jerusalem in his vision, he sees the “idol that provokes to jealousy” that is there in his present day–so called because it provokes God to jealousy for his people, 8:1-5.
This idol is thought to be the same kind of idol that King Manasseh had set up in the same place years before, an idol of Asherah, a fertility goddess whose worship consisted in public sexual activity. Asherah poles were common in Judah during the years when their kings allowed them, (2 Kings 21:3, 7, http://www.gotquestions.org/who-Asherah.html).
It was one thing to worship false gods all over the hilltops and valleys; it was another thing to bring them into God’s own place of worship. Manasseh wasn’t content with just one idol in the temple: he instituted a whole host of them there, 2 Kings 21:5-9. His zeal for idol worship was so great that God said many times he would judge the people for the sins of Manasseh, the face-of-idolatry in God’s book, 2 Kings 24:3-4. King Josiah later cleaned up the idol worship in Judah and burned Manasseh’s idol, but here it is again. Obviously the people want it back. My stomach hurts.
One of the reasons for the vision is to to show Ezekiel what the people are doing that will drive God away from his temple. When Ezekiel sees this idol in the outer court of the temple, God says, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary?” 8:6. God proceeds to show him these four “detestable things,” each one worse than the one before.
The idol in the inner court of the temple was thought to be associated with the king since it was put near the gate he used when he came in and out from his palace. If he hadn’t wanted it there, he would have ordered it removed. Having it there implied his approval, which meant that idolatry at God’s temple wasn’t a problem for King Zedekiah.
God tells Ezekiel to dig through the wall, and he sees a room decorated with “crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel” on its walls. Seventy elders of Judah are there, offering incense. God says these men are worshipping in the dark at “the shrine of his own idol,” telling themselves that God doesn’t know because he’s not around to see. So Judah’s leaders are idol worshippers, too, though their idolatry is in secret. They go through the motions of worshipping God, but it’s only pretend. God sees and knows, whether they believe he’s there or not.
Outside, God points out the women sitting at the inner court gate who mourn for the idol Tammuz. He was believed to be a god of fertility who died in the fall and was reborn each spring. Weeping over him was thought to help bring him back to life and was inspired by the weeping of Ishtar, another goddess. The women’s presence there would have been offensive because only priests were allowed in this area of the temple, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-8/).
Women worshipping at this gate would mean that the Levites assigned to monitor the doors and gates were falling to do their jobs, likely because they don’t see a problem with idol worship at the temple, either, or having people where God’s said they shouldn’t be. The fact that these women are emotional to the point of weeping over an idol’s purported death tells me they’re way beyond a little dabbling with the idea of idolatry. They’ve fallen into the rabbit hole.
Lastly, God brings Ezekiel back to the front of the temple to its main entrance where 25 men stand with their backs to its doors, facing east. They’re bowing to the sun. It’s thought that these men are priests, responsible for worship. While the Levite’s tended to the routine tasks involved in the temple and its music, the priests actually performed the duties of worship. Their idol worship is the most egregious of all to God because their entire lives were to revolve around the temple and God’s true worship. Worshipping God was their job, but they’re worshipping the sun instead.
God’s message to Ezekiel and his people is clear: idolatry has permeated Judah in all of its highest levels, from king to priest, from civil leaders to musicians and mothers. And God knows. There’s no place where it’s not embraced, and if the folks at the highest levels are affected, it’s not hard to imagine that everyone else in Judah is, too. Monkey see, monkey do. God’s already said through Jeremiah that he holds the priests and false prophets accountable for the sin of his people because they’ve deliberately lied and misadvised them. But the people are accountable, too.
After the temple was first built and dedicated, God’s presence, his “cloud,” is said to have filled it. The cloud of his presence was so thick, the priests had to stop what they were doing because they couldn’t see, 2 Chron5:13-14. His presence had been there ever since (except for a time when the ark was captured). For all the sin through all of the generations, he remained with the ark in the temple. But here God’s saying that the idolatry of his people is so offensive, it’s driving him out of his temple.
We no longer have a temple where we go to find God. Because of our faith in Jesus, our hearts are his temple where he lives as the Holy Spirit inside us. We take him everywhere we go. While his place of residence has changed, he’s still the same God. I want to understand what drives God out of his temple. I don’t want to do the same stupid stuff.
I wonder if the king’s idolatry sneaked in with the demands of daily living. He was going in and out the doors of the temple, consumed with his own busyness. He had more important things to worry about than worship, for goodness sake. He had Nebuchadnezzar breathing down his neck. He had to come up with tribute by the end of the quarter or explain himself in Babylon again.
He also had more important things to worry about than what other folks were involved in. An idol in the inner courtyard of the temple? Well, it’s not technically inside the holy place, is it? If it makes people happy. If it’s aesthetically pleasing. If it doesn’t upset Babylon…what harm can it do?
I wonder if the elders’ idolatry was hidden because it was an idolatry that can’t be seen, an idolatry of the heart. God said they’re each worshipping at the “shrine of his own idol.” I wonder if that means at the shrine-of-self? Pride is a subtle, deceitful idol, a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothes, camouflaging itself as goodness and righteousness, while hiding “crawling things and detestable animals.”
Ezekiel had to scratch through the wall to see it because pride isn’t evident to the eye like regular idolatry. But God sees. The incense censors they held might’ve blown smoke that fooled everyone else, but God knew. They pretended to serve the people, but they did so to make themselves look good. They went through the motions of faith, but inside their hearts, they served themselves. And they rationalized the way they lived by saying God doesn’t see–he’s not even here! 8:12. Taking God out of the picture, it’s easy to do exactly what they please.
People-pleasing? Proud do-gooding? I need some relief. So far I’m 0-2.
Worship of the god Tammuz included sexual promiscuity. Being attractive and sensual were only the beginning. Commentators say they held fertility festivals that celebrated, well, fertility. (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-8/) I’m interested to see their hearts and minds are compromised along with their bodies by their idolatry. Weeping in order to produce a god’s rebirth sounds idiotic. He’s not much of a god if he dies every year and depends on tears. And these people aren’t uneducated. They live on this side of Moses’ law and Solomon and all his wisdom. Idolatry has done what God’s said it does: it’s turned them into the thing they worship: deaf, dumb, and stupid, Ps 135:18.
Which brings me to the next group of worshippers: the priests themselves. The text doesn’t say priests, but it’s thought these men bowing to the sun are priests because they’re standing where the priests normally stand to bless and instruct the people: in front of the main doors. But these priests have no words for the people, the folks they’re in office to serve. They’re busy with self care–sun yoga class, 10 a.m., temple steps. There’s also some detail about the number 25 as a sign of priesthood here, but it’s academic, so I won’t bother.
Bottom line: idolatry turned these men from folks who’ve devoted their lives to leading people in the worship of God to those who have their backs to his temple, aren’t with the people, and worship the sun, everything but the God who made them. It’s such an about face, I wouldn’t believe it possible, if I hadn’t lived through it myself.
Idolatry sneaks in with the cat. It teflon coats the heart. It says only my life matters. It doesn’t bother with others. It pretends. It lies. It connives. It makes the deal and doesn’t care who gets hurt. It thrives in “this minute” and “right now.” It dulls the mind. It devours the will. It deadens the soul. It turned me inside-out and upside-down. Before I knew it, I was doing exactly the opposite thing from what I always wanted.
Worship of man, of the self, of the flesh, and of creation…all these sneak in with the cat. The result is much the same as it was in ‘Zeke’s day. There’s just not much room for a holy God. Do we really expect him to stay?
Dig deep, God. Un-hurry my life. Soften my eyes. Expose my walls. Give me courage to confess what I see. Show me what I can’t. Scrub me clean. I’m still just as prone as I’ve always been to living as if you don’t see, as if you’re not alive, just like the elders did. But you do see.
Jesus’ prayer is the topic today. “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission…” 7.
Jesus’ prayers were full of “loud cries and tears”? I immediately think of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as the time he prayed like that, but the verse says, “During the days…,” meaning more than one day, implying many days—a lifetime.
I’m glad loud cries and tears are acceptable ways to communicate with you, God. And not just “acceptable,” they’re preferred. Jesus was perfect, after all. His prayers were, too.
Because sometimes loud cries and tears are all I have. Sometimes I don’t have words, but I have how I feel, and I hope you can hear the words in me, because at times like those, I can’t find them. Those are prayers, too, I think. If you’re the father who starts running to us the minute we turn our hearts to you, before any words are said at all, then I’m thinking you can hear the words of my heart that I can’t say, Luke 15.
Thank you for accepting me as I am and not needing special words or good words–or even words.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” 8-9.
Jesus “learned obedience” from his sufferings? I remember a sermon that said his learning obedience had to do with learning the steps obedience must take. In doing this learning, he could help us in our temptations as one who’s been there and dealt with them. He’s one who’s been there and not done that.
Jesus has already gotten the inside scoop on humanity and on facing everything we face. Yesterday’s reading in Hebrews 4 said we don’t have a Savior who is unsympathetic with our weaknesses, “but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin,” 4:15.
So we can go to God boldly in our prayers. We don’t have to hem and haw with our hats in our hands. We can speak confidently. We can expect to receive mercy and grace every time we need it.
You accept any and all prayers. You want them, even. If you’ll accept the loud whiny ones, you’ll accept any kind. And Jesus gets it about this life and how hard the temptations are. He’s sympathetic. He knows just the kind of help we need. And he tells you exactly what that help should be. Jesus prays for me! And the Spirit joins my support team and “intercedes for [me] through wordless groans,” Ro 8:26. It sounds like prayer is a win-win-win.
Even if I blow it, you guys have my back.
It’s not all about me?
This psalm reminds me who it’s about and says to…
–give thanks to you
–call on you
–make known to others what you do
–sing praise to you
–glory in your name
–rejoice in you
–look to you and your strength
–seek your face always
–remember your acts
And buy inference, it says not to…
–give thanks to me
–call on me
–make known to others what I do (oops)
–sing praise to me
–glory in my name
–rejoice in me
–look to me and my strength
–seek my face always
–remember my acts
In the interest of not making this psalm all about me, I won’t describe all the ways the “not list” nails me, but it does.
It also reminds me that there are really only two ways to go in life–my way or your way. There are only two kingdoms–mine or yours. There are only two gods–me or you. Ridiculous as that sounds, I see that it is also kind of true. And I am no god. Only you are God. I tsk-tsk the Israelites for forgetting that fact and fall off of it myself. Forgive me.
With this new blog, I’ve gotten lost in my stats, but they don’t do me any good, even when they’re good. It’s your “attagirl” that matters, God. Keep my eyes on you.
My take away today is that YOU are God. You are GOD! Help me to choose everyday to live in this reality, that you are God and that your way is the only real choice I have. Keep me from the insanity of the Israelites who became like the idols they worshipped. Thank you for the lifeline of prayer that pulls me out of me and tethers me to you.
You’re the God of glorious visions (Ezekiel), who hears loud whiny prayers, who knows what I need, who cares (Hebrews). The one who reminds me that the only life worth living is the one lost in you (Psalms).
Help me get there.
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