- The Abomination of Temple Worship (chapter 8)
- a. The Image of Jealousy (verses 3-6)
- b. The Art of Idolatry (verses 7-12)
- c. The Mourning of Tammuz (verses 13-14)
- d. The Worshipping of the Sun (verses 15-16)
- The Administration of Divine Justice (chapter 9)
- a. The Lord's Servant Coming (verses 1-7)
- b. The Lord's Glory Departing (verse 3)
- c. The Lord's Mark Separating (verses 8-11)
Ezekiel chapter 8, and we're reading chapter 8 and chapter 9 this evening. I hope you have read them before you came to the meeting. Not as long tonight, these chapters, so let's begin at verse 1 of chapter 8:
"And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell there upon me. Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber. And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. Then said he unto me, Son of man, lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry. He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? Even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? But turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations. And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do. Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.
"He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand. And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar. And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side; And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city. And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord God! Wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem? Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not. And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head. And, behold, the man clothed with linen, which had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me".
Chapters 8 to 11 of Ezekiel comprise the second vision of this man of God, but in order that we deal with it we're going to look at it in two halves. We're going to look this evening at chapters 8 and 9, and then next week - God willing - at chapters 10 and 11. The date that Ezekiel received this vision is found in verse 1 of chapter 8. It says the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixth year of Jehoiachin's exile, and if we translate that into our present day calendar it was the 18th of September 592BC. Mathematically, if you work it out with all the other dates that we have in this book, and indeed comprising the 430 day lying on his side that Ezekiel went through and the fasting of a famine food, you find that 14 months had passed since Ezekiel's first vision. The 430 days that Ezekiel was lying on his side is almost now finished.
Now, we know that Ezekiel didn't lie exactly every hour of every day for those 430 days, because he had to get up and he had to make that food that was talked about within the word of God - the food of husks and dry bread that he had to bake over the dung, and eat, as a sign of the famine that would come upon the people of Judah in later years in exile. On one of those occasions, just at the end of the 430 days of Ezekiel's signing, perhaps he was up and he was making this food - but there was a group of elders, we know, in his house and they had gathered into his home to talk to Ezekiel.
Now the word of God doesn't tell us why they were there, but I think that possibly they were there looking for a favourable word from the Lord from God's prophet. If you remember, there are false prophets running around this concentration camp in Babylon, they are telling the people: 'Peace, peace', when there is no peace - they are telling them that 'the armies of God are going to come very soon and deliver you, they're going to bring you back to Jerusalem, and they're going to take with you all your riches, all your family, all your wealth, and everything is going to be OK'.
So perhaps these men, the elders, the leaders of Judah, have come to hear a favourable word of the Lord from God's prophet. If you were to turn to Jeremiah 28 tonight, you would find that in the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign the prophet Hananiah declared that within two years the Babylonian yoke would be broken. Hananiah was one of these false prophets, and I just wonder did the people in exile hear Hananiah's prophecy in Jerusalem - and now the two years were almost up, and these people listening to Hananiah's false prophecy were expecting that very soon the armies would come from Jerusalem and would deliver them, and the Babylonian yoke would be broken. They had calculated it well, as far as they were concerned the clock that had once said two years was running down to zero, and they now expected to be saved.
But what a shock they got when they got to Ezekiel's house! For the prophet had no word of comfort, but the opposite - an absolute condemnatory message from God! A message of judgement because of the people's sins, and the sins of the nation that they represented. As they are standing in Ezekiel's home, and speaking to Ezekiel and asking a request of Ezekiel, we find that the Spirit of God falls upon this man of God and he receives another vision from the Lord. What an elders meeting that proved to be! For we read that an angelic figure, that we read of in chapter 1 and verse 27 that showed Ezekiel his first vision of the chariot of God, this angelic figure comes back again. It says that it lifts Ezekiel by the hair, and transports him - in his mind, of course, it is a vision - transports him to the city of Jerusalem, and specifically to the temple of God.
That angelic figure takes Ezekiel on a journey of judgement to the house of God. The first thing that we note is the abomination of the temple worship that Ezekiel witnesses. Chapter 8 unfolds the details of what the word of God calls 'the detestable idols of vile images of Israel'. You remember in chapters 6 and 7 that we looked at last week, the condemnation and the judgement of God was upon the whole people. You remember that God told Ezekiel to face the mountains of Israel and prophesy to the mountains, and the mountains were a figure of God's home country, the border, signifying the whole of the land of Israel - Northern and Southern Kingdoms. But now it's being narrowed down in chapters 8 through to 11, and God is now specifically addressing the elders of Judah - those who are the leaders of God's people.
As this vision opens we see this glowing angelic figure corresponding to Ezekiel to tell these men who lead the children of Judah what their judgement will be. We see later, in chapter 10 - we'll see it next week - that again this angelic figure causes Ezekiel to see the glory of the Lord and the chariot of God once more. But why is this happening? Why is God showing Ezekiel this same vision again? Well, the reason is the context in which He is showing it to him. The first context in chapter 1 was in relation to the whole of the nation, the whole of the people and the people's sin. But now in chapter 10 it is specifically in relation to the sins of the elders, the leaders of Israel.
The prophet is given a tour of the temple of God. God shows him four scenes of increasing abomination and the offence that it is to God. He is shown one by one, and you see the four on your study sheet, each one becomes a greater abomination in the eyes of God - and each one brings Ezekiel and that angel nearer to the very Holy of Holies in the temple of God. So we look at the first that Ezekiel saw. The first abomination was the image of jealousy in verses 3 to 6, and here the tour begins. Ezekiel is given a vision of the idol of jealousy, and it says that it's at the North Gate of the city of Jerusalem. It seems that this idol was in the shape of a human figure, probably the Canaanite goddess Asherah that we thought about last week. Indeed in the book of Jeremiah we find that he denunciates the 'Queen of Heaven'. It's probable that the 'Queen of Heaven' that Jeremiah talks about is this specific image of the goddess Asherah that sits at the North Gate of Jerusalem. It may well be the image that Manasseh set up and erected in the temple - you remember that Manasseh did not follow the Lord, but followed Baal and the gods of the Canaanites, and he erected this idol to this goddess of fertility, Asherah, right in the very midst of the temple. When good King Josiah came he took it out of the temple, took it to the brook Kidron and burnt it. But we know from Jewish history that idol in another form reappeared, and every time men and women of Judah fell into sin this idol seemed to jump up again for their worship.
The location of the idol is, as the word of God says, at the North Gate - the outer North Gate. That was a place where guards used to stand, where men of the army used to stand and guard the city from the enemy. That seems to speak that these men, in their minds, were thinking that by setting this goddess of Asherah at the Northern gate of the city that, in some way, they would prevent attack from the enemies. Of course the message of this vision is that this woman, and this idol, will no more prevent the attack of the enemy of the Babylonians - simply because it is the Lord God that is sending them. It is the Lord God, the Jew's God, that is sending these people to come and to punish His own people - and this god, this idol of jealousy as the word of God calls it, is absolutely powerless to prevent any attack!
It's remarkable to think of the children of God even behaving in such a way, but you know that is not the strength of this statement and this vision that Ezekiel is having - but rather, the emphasis is not on the idol itself, but rather on the provocation that it causes God Almighty, the pain that it causes Him. Verse 3, look at it, it says that it provoked the Lord to jealousy! The Lord was moved with anger at this goddess that sits to guard the people of Israel from their enemies! The reason being, God says: 'I will not share my glory with another'. Now this is remarkable for us, and we must deal with this as believers - those of us who are saved in this gathering tonight, we must realise that God demands of us, God's people today, absolute and exclusive devotion. Absolute! With all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with everything that we are and have! That is what God demands, and nothing less!
You will know from the Old Testament Scriptures that time and time again the metaphor of marriage is given to symbolise the covenant relationship between Jehovah and God's people Israel. That is such a descriptive picture, isn't it? A husband who is jealous of his wife, he doesn't want his wife going around and wandering, having other loves, other affections toward other men - and God, like a jealous husband toward His people, is jealous for an exclusive affection and devotion, just like wedlock! This covenant relationship must rest upon mutual faithfulness, and you can be sure that the husband - God, Jehovah - will be faithful to His covenant, but the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures is the story of the unfaithfulness and the spiritual adultery of God's people! We must ask ourselves at the very outset - and this is such a vivid imagery, isn't it? We must ask ourselves, as God's people today, have we any idols that we are unlawfully wedded to? Is there anything in our life that we are relying on for security other than God? Are we having any illicit relationships and liaisons with things that will provoke our God to anger and to jealousy? Because He has to have our absolute, exclusive, love and affection and devotion! What an image, an image that provoked God to jealousy.
The second thing that Ezekiel sees is even worse - that's the point, everything he's going to see gets worse upon worse upon worse. Here he is led again from this image even closer to the temple itself. If you look at verses 7 to 12 you see that he's led from beside this idol of jealousy right to the very door of the inner court. In that inner court of the temple, it says that Ezekiel saw a little hole beside the door. He saw it as a way of getting in, and he started to scrape by the bricks and mortar and make the hole bigger. Eventually, as he made the hole bigger, he could see a door through the hole. He walked through the hole, and he opened the door, and when he walked through the door it says that he found a secret chamber that was full of paintings, full of murals, that were depicting all kinds of animals - probably unclean animals to the Jewish law.
Worse than that, if it wasn't enough for Ezekiel to see all this idolatrous pornographic worship all around the walls inside the temple of God, he then had his eye turned by the Spirit of God to see something even worse! Seventy elders of the house of Israel offering incense to the idols in that secret chamber! Imagine! The point is this: what was seen outside in that image of jealousy, what was done in public at a distance from the temple, has now infiltrated right into the private entrance of the temple courtyard - and they are now doing in private what they were doing outside in public. If you look at verse 11 of chapter 8: 'And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients', the elders, 'of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up'. A censer was just an offering instrument of incense to God - but these men are actually standing looking at these images on the carved wall, offering incense to these false animal gods!
As Asherah, the worship of the Canaanite goddess, was to protect the city from attack, this worship of these animal gods was expected to protect the people from demonic attack and demonic forces upon their lives. Animal worship seems to derive from the Egyptians - and the shocking contrast is this: that seventy elders of the children of Israel are standing there worshipping the gods of Egypt, and worshipping outside the temple the gods of Babylon, Asherah! It's a deep contrast, because if you go into the book of Exodus in chapter 24, you will find another seventy elders there - and do you know what God did for those seventy elders? He let them see the glory of God! Seventy elders seeing the glory of God! Later in Numbers 11 we find that those seventy elders were also endued with the same Spirit that Moses the patriarch was given. So they were able to see the glory of God, they were given the Spirit of God as Moses had been given the Spirit of God, and we see later in the Old Testament that there were seventy judges whose function was specifically to deal with all the idol worship across the land of Israel.
Seventy elders who see God, seventy elders who are endued by the Spirit of God, seventy elders who are given the responsibility to wipe out all idols from the land of God - and here Ezekiel sees seventy elders offering up incense to those gods! What was the justification for such idolatrous behaviour? We find it in verse 12, for they say, chapter 8 and verse 12: 'Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth'. 'He doesn't see us! God doesn't see what we are doing, that's why we can do this!'. These men who were once the pinnacle of what was spirituality in the whole of Judaism, are actually leading God's people into idolatry!
What is even more staggering is that Jaazaniah that you read of in verse 11, the son of Shaphan, is a descendant of the man who stood and read the book of the law for King Josiah. He is a descendant, a family member, of the one who read the book of the law - the people hearing the book of the law were moved in their spirit and started to follow God, they started to pull down all these idols and reform God's law as the law of the land again. That man, the Secretary of State in Josiah's kingdom, was in charge - in charge of godly reforms - but here is his descendant standing among these men worshipping false gods! You even find, if you go into the book of Jeremiah, that one of these men's forefathers was a defender of Jeremiah in Jerusalem. So while Ezekiel was prophesying here in captivity, and Jeremiah was prophesying back in Jerusalem, one of these men's descendants was actually guarding Jeremiah in Jerusalem! Yet this man is among these people that are secretly worshipping these idols!
Why? How can there be such a shift from godliness to absolute idolatry? 'The Lord doesn't see us! The Lord doesn't see what we're doing! The Lord God has abandoned us - we're in captivity, why should we worship the Lord? We will follow whatever gods we like, for God cannot see us!'. You might sit here tonight and say: 'That's a terrible thing, isn't it?'. You know, that's a thing we all do, for we believe that sometimes in secret - maybe we don't believe it in our head, but our heart causes us to sin in these ways. We believe that there are certain things that we do, and have committed in the dark, and we think no-one has seen us - and by thinking that we become psychological atheists! We believe that God cannot see us. We cease to believe in the attributes of God. We don't believe in His omnipresence, or His omniscience - that God is everywhere, wherever we are, that God can see whatever we are doing, whether it be sin or whether it be righteousness!
What a commentary on those words of the Lord Jesus Christ: 'Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil'. What an astounding picture - but, you know, this whole vision proves the exact opposite: that God does see them, doesn't it? God is sending a vision to Ezekiel of exactly what they are doing! What a picture to us of the wheels of the chariot that we saw in chapter 1 verse 18, those wheels in wheels that revolved and touched the earth were full of eyes - speaking of the all-seeing attribute of our God. Look at verse 6 of chapter 8, you will see God says: 'Son of man, seest thou'. Verse 12 again: 'Son of man, seest thou', again in verse 15 and verse 17 - and the Lord's response is: 'They say I don't see what they're doing, but I see absolutely everything they're doing!'. The response that God will give is in chapter 9 and verse 9, if you look at it: 'Then said he unto me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not' - but the Lord does see! The Lord will send a judgement upon them, and what a picture to us - if there are any here tonight and they are not converted, they are not covered by the blood of Christ, they are not saved by the grace of God and sure of their salvation in heaven - God sees you! God sees everything you've done, all the sins that you have committed in secret places that you think men have forgotten and no-one has seen - God sees! God is weighing up all those sins for a day of judgement, and God cannot forget.
The irony of the whole thing is that the incense that was burning in this secret chamber of the temple, and the old idol that was outside the gate of the city that was there to ward off the dangerous enemies, and ward off the dangerous spirits - do you know what it was actually doing? It was bringing upon the people the terror and anger of God. The thing it was there to do, it was doing the exact opposite!
There was the image of jealousy, and the art of idolatry, and then thirdly - verses 13 to 14 - there's the mourning of Tammuz. It gets worse still, for Ezekiel is brought to see the sight of these women weeping for Tammuz at the North Gate of the temple itself. With each new scene, do you see where we're going? The North Gate of the city, right to the gate of the temple, and now we're coming into the very inner court of the temple itself - and there's a group of women there weeping. By each movement of this vision you're coming closer and closer to the heart of Israel's worship. Weeping for Tammuz was a Babylonian ritual that marked the death and the resurrection, or better the return, of their god Tammuz. In other words, when autumn came and all the leaves and fruit started to die they believed that Tammuz was dying - the spirit of creation, the rhythm of nature, a fertility god. Therefore they believed that through this ritual of weeping for Tammuz that spring would come, then summer, and then there would be a harvest - so they believed that by crying for this god, that their tears would bring fruit.
The sad thing about it all is that not only were they worshipping the gods of Babylon in the image of jealousy - the goddess Asherah - and then they were worshipping the gods of Egypt, these animal gods, inside the temple itself, but here they are worshipping another god: the god of plant life. Isn't it amazing? The people of God are lamenting for a dead god, instead of worshipping the living God. They had substituted lamentation for the dead for worship for the living God. The Bible is so up-to-date! You could turn your television screen on and see these poor folk, Roman Catholic folk, running after St. Therese - touching these dead bones in the coffin, and they are lamenting the dead rather than worshipping the living God as they pray to saints! I heard today that they've even exhumed the body of Pope John! They've set him up in the Vatican, put a wax face on him, he's embalmed - and they're there touching him, they're practically worshipping him! They are lamenting the dead rather than worshipping the living God!
The mourning of Tammuz. Then, fourthly, you come to the worshipping of the sun in verses 15 to 16. This is the final supreme act of idolatry, for God has brought them from the gate, to the door of the temple, into the inner court of the temple, and now they've come into the very temple itself - and they can see there 25 men, it says that they are actually elders again, with their backs to the temple of God, facing eastward worshipping the sun. Verse 16, look at it, chapter 8: 'He brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east'. Elders of Judah worshipping the sun, and turning their back on the God of heaven - this was the ultimate abomination: turning their back on God, and worshipping the created order!
Now think about this, that's been quite technical, but let's really think about it all together - because what you have here are Egyptian gods, animal gods on the walls of the temple. You have Babylonian gods, Phoenician gods, Tammuz that these women were weeping for. You have sun worship, which is Zabian worship, and Persian worship. In other words, you have all these foreign gods, and it's depicting for Ezekiel and the elders the comprehensive nature of Jerusalem's sin. Now that's the gods that they worshipped, what about location, what about the journey that Ezekiel is taken on? Well, they're going from the very outside of the city gate right into the very inner courtyard of the temple. Their sin, their idolatry, covers the whole of the city and the whole of religious worship!
The elders were men; the women weeping, female. Seventy elders symbolic of the leadership, picturing the state of the whole people. You have men, women, boys and girls, leaders and servants - and what God is saying is: 'This incorporates the idolatry of the whole of the nation, they are assimilating for themselves the idolatry of Egypt, Babylon, Phoenicia, Zabia, all of these gods they are worshipping - they have turned their back on Me!'. They have worshipped male gods and female gods, human gods and gods of animals, they are even worshipping the planets, bowing down to the sun. Can you see this? This journey of judgement that abomination is being piled up on abomination, and eventually in verse 17 of chapter 8 God says to them: 'Is this trivial to you? Does this mean nothing to you? That this is the way the leaders of God's people are acting?'.
The inference is that it was trivial to some. It may seem foreign to us, we might say: 'We will never bow down to pieces of stone or pieces of wood'. But as one writer said: 'If you substitute their gods for football colours, a flag, a swastika, or even a pair of jeans, we find ourselves back in the seventh century BC'. Worse, they've even resorted to worshipping the stars once again in our nation. The Lord says: 'Because of all this idolatry I will now let loose my explosive anger. The axe is ready to fall'. Once they engage their final act of idolatry God says: 'I will be deaf to their cries, I will not spare. Unlike their cries to me, I'm not going to listen to them - but when I cry, I'm going to do it, I'm really going to do what works' - look at chapter 9 and verse 1. In verse 18 He is saying: 'I'm not going to listen to their cries', and in verse 1 of chapter 9 Ezekiel hears God's cry, and God's cry is the clarion cry that His judgement is coming!
We live in a pluralistic society, don't we? People say to us as evangelical fundamental Christians: 'Things are different now. We live in a multicultural society, you can't say that your God is an exclusive God, and your way is an exclusive way - the only way to God'. It's as if our exclusive faith is unique, that it's never been before. It's as if men and women have never ever lived in a multicultural society before, but we find that the people of God - especially in the Old Testament - were constantly finding themselves surrounded by other nations, surrounded by other gods, and they find themselves as pluralists! It was exactly what is going on today that evoked God's anger here: syncretism - where men said: 'I'll take a bit of this religion, a bit of that; a bit of this culture, a bit of that - and I'll make my own man-made way that suits me. I'll hedge my bets by having a bit of everything, I'll keep the gods happy no matter who they may be!'.
Do you know the problem with that? One of those gods they're trying to keep happy is a jealous God - a God who is only kept happy when He is worshipped exclusively with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Don't you get into your head that this is the Old Testament God that we're speaking about, because the Old Testament God is the New Testament God! This God is our God, that is why Paul said to the Christians in 1 Corinthians 10: 'Flee from idolatry' - God cannot have idolatry. He told them: 'You're not to partake of pagan sacrifices and profess Christ. You can't have this paganism, you can't have this syncretistic, pluralistic, multicultural religion. You must be all out for Christ, or nothing!'. He said: 'Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?'.
Our God has not changed, and our God is still angry, and it arouses His anger when He sees idolatry within the lives of His people. But if we miss this, we miss the fundamental point: God is addressing the leadership. God is holding the leadership of God's people responsible. Confucius was not a Christian believer, but he said some wise things, and one of them was this: 'If a ruler himself is upright, all will go well without orders'. Isn't that a fascinating statement? 'If a ruler himself is upright, all will go well without orders. But if he himself is not upright, even though he gives orders they will not be obeyed'. We find in our land today that when the integrity of a nation's leadership is gone there is no hope for the people. When our leaders are falling all around us in moral, financial, and political scandal - what hope is there for the ordinary people? What hope is there for us when we look to royalty and see adultery, and see worship of every false god you can imagine? Worse than that, is that this applies to the church as well.
It's awful to see the abomination of temple worship in this chapter. What it leads to is the administration of divine justice in chapter 9, and you see three things that I want to outline to you in the time that we have left. God says: 'That's it, I've had enough of all this idolatry, I am coming' - and the first thing He does in verses 1 to 7 of chapter 9 is: He sends some servants. Now we know these verses off by heart: 'God is patient and long-suffering, not willing that any should perish' - isn't that wonderful, that our God is a patient God? But you know, our God is not always patient, but there comes a time when His patience runs out - and when His patience runs out it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
What God does here in chapter 9 is He summons six guards with deadly weapons. Normally these guards would have been standing at the gate of the city, but there is now an idol standing at the gate of the city. Normally these guards would be fighting against Judah's enemies, but God has called these six guards to come and destroy the people of God! One of them is dressed in white linen, and he's not armed with a deadly slaughter weapon but he's armed with a writing kit - an inkhorn. We don't know whether these figures are angelic or human, and I think there's a reason for that: because what God is saying here is: 'I am sending these men, but these men will come in the form of the Babylonians. The human agent will fulfil my divine sovereign will. These enemies are coming, but it is I that is sending them, I am sending them to punish you!'.
It's amazing when you think of this, because this scene before us is a re-enactment of the first Passover. You cast your mind back to the book of Exodus, you will find that God came against the Egyptians - but the sad thing here is: God is doing exactly the same thing, but He's coming against Judah instead of Egypt. Just as the Lord passed through Egypt in Exodus chapter 12, and just as He didn't touch those who had the mark - the destroyer couldn't touch them - these six individuals with their weapons of slaughter were to pass through the city of Jerusalem slaughtering to destruction anyone who did not bear the mark as well! Whether they be young, whether they be old, male or female - even the defenceless they were told to go through - whether they be frail or innocent, they were condemned to destruction.
It's meant to evoke into the Jewish mind the Passover. It's meant to evoke into the Jewish mind that when Joshua and Caleb went into the promised land of Canaan, and they slaughtered everyone around them of the Canaanites, the Hittites, and the Jebusites - they were told to wipe them all out. This is speaking again, but the difference is that the roles are changed! It is God's people who are being slaughtered! The awful thing is that the slaughter begins in the temple with the chief idolaters, the 25 elders. In verse 6 of chapter 9 you see that they were told to go straight there to the top, straight to the ones who were bringing the idolatry in.
We read in Kings that when Queen Athaliah was dragged out of the temple and executed, that they dragged her out of the temple in order not to desecrate the temple - but God says: 'The temple has been so defiled with all your idolatry, that it's not going to defile it one more bit by killing these men right in the midst of the temple'! Do you see how contaminated God's worship had become? Now I don't know about you, but sometimes when we're reading these things, do you know what we think? 'Is that not so cruel for God to kill men, women, and children? Is it not ruthless? Is this not terrifying?' - and the answer is: yes, it is if you think in your mind that these people were innocent bystanders! But the exact opposite is true: these people had filled up wrath before God for thousands and thousands of years, they had turned their back upon God and worshipped other gods - and now they find their judgement from God!
Our problem is that we believe we're sinners, but deep down we don't really believe we're that bad. What a picture of our sin this is. We like to think of the Lord as the 'God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin' - but we forget that Moses goes on by saying that 'He will by no means clear the guilty; He will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation'. As one man said concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, and the judgement and the wrath that came upon them in fire and brimstone: 'The Lord waits long to be gracious, as if He knew not how to smite' - that's wonderful! Our God waits long to be gracious, as if He didn't know how to be angry - but when He smites, He smites at last as if He knew not how to pity! When God is a God of grace it's as if He has forgotten to be angry, but when God is angry it's as if He has forgotten to be gracious.
The Canaanites have been replaced by the Israelites as the objects of God's wrath. Do you know what that tells me? As believers we've got to take this seriously, because this God is our God. It means that just as God was ruthless with sin, we've got to be ruthless with sin in our lives too. Do you remember David and Goliath? Once he slew the big uncircumcised Philistine, he chopped his head off - do you know what one of the Puritans says? If it had been us, we would have given him a hair cut and it would have grown back - and we would have had to deal with it again. But as one man said to me recently, when he chopped the head off Goliath he was saying: 'This is a problem I've had but I'll not have it again'. What did the Lord say? 'If your hand offends you cut it off! If your eye offends you pluck it out!'. Our God is a God of judgement.
The Lord's servants came, and then secondly the Lord's glory departed - and we'll not take time tonight to look at this, but we can see how gradually, from the Holy of Holies, right to the threshold of the temple, right on to the Mount of Olives, and eventually away totally, the glory of God departed - the Shekinah glory, that cloud of glory, and we'll see that more in chapter 10. But the point is this: it is better to remove the false presence of false gods, than to lose the true presence of the living God. Is that not the point? Is it not better to cut out of our lives all those things, to look into ourselves and - as Paul said to the Corinthians: 'Judge ourselves that we would not be judged'? Is it not meet that we should begin judgement at the house of God before God does?
Then thirdly we see the Lord's mark separating them in verses 8 to 11, and this is amazing - because in the midst of all this carnage all that Ezekiel (and remember it's still a vision, it hasn't come to pass yet), but in the midst of all this Ezekiel sees all these people being slain and he can't see anyone being saved. He falls at the feet of the Lord and says in fear: 'Lord, have You forsaken the earth? Lord, have You forgotten to save this remnant that You promised?'. This is when this high priestly figure in the white linen garment is told by the Lord to come and to put a mark on the forehead of the remnant of those who are to be saved.
Did you know the Hebrew word 'mark' is literally the Hebrew letter 'tau' (sp?)? Do you know how it was done on ancient manuscripts? It was done with a cross - 'tau'. I don't know whether Ezekiel saw any significance in this, but I certainly can - because this man in white linen garments was asked to go and to mark with a cross upon the head of every child that was to be saved as the remnant. It reminds us of Revelation, where the 144,000 out of all the tribes of Israel are sealed on their foreheads with the name of the Father, and with the name of the Son. It's a picture of completeness - just before that great tribulation breaks upon the whole earth, the 144,000 are commissioned and chosen as the remnant, marked with the sign of this cross. Did you know in the Greek language that 'X', 'tau', a cross, is the first letter of 'Christos' - Christ? Here Ezekiel is marking this remnant, maybe unknown to him, with the first letter of our Lord Jesus Christ's title as Messiah.
The thing is that there are so few marked with this cross that Ezekiel didn't think there were any. Who was to be marked with the cross? Do you know who? He says: 'Those who sighed and cried. Those who saw the situation around in the nation and within the temple, those who recognised themselves for what they were and the nation - sighers and criers' - and that's what we need today! Men who will sigh, men who will cry! Suddenly, at the end of this chapter, this priestly figure appears again and says: 'I have done as thou hast commanded me'.
Do you know something? There's a day coming when a great tribulation greater than all that we have just read is going to break upon this whole world. Men and women are going to go about their business, they're going to take the kids to school, they're going to make their piece and go out to work, they're going to come in and have their dinner - and then a terror that this world has never seen hitherto will break upon them. Do you know what Ezekiel did? He fell at the feet of this angelic creature, and he cried for mercy upon them - and that's what we ought to do. We ought to be crying, just like the watchman Ezekiel, that God will spare, that God will save - and if we do that we will actually be fulfilling, in our lives, the mark of God upon us, as men and women who sigh and cry for what is going on in this old world.
Are we being marked? Oh, to be marked! Oh, to be marked by the hand of God as one who - when all the world is going to defilement, and sin, and degradation - is living spotless, and blameless, and has a heart after God's glory! Oh, to be marked. Isn't it wonderful that through the cross we are delivered? Isn't it? Through Christ we are not appointed unto wrath, but we escape. Hallelujah!
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "A Journey Of Judgement To The House Of God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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