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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 8

 

 

Verse 1

1. The hand of the Lord God fell there upon me — This is not only Ezekiel’s ordinary name for the prophetic ecstasy, but it involves the thought of divine control and compulsion. Whenever this expression is used it is evident that some heavy task is laid upon the prophet against which the natural man revolts. (See Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:22.) The expression being stronger here than elsewhere shows how impossible it would have been for Ezekiel of his own will to report the awful crimes and abominations of his countrymen, with the equally awful penalties which he is now compelled to picture to the elders.


Verses 1-4

THIRD “VISION OF GOD” (IN JERUSALEM), Ezekiel 8:1-4.

The dates at which the “word of the Lord” came to Ezekiel are not always given; but when the vision of God’s glory appears the time is carefully mentioned (Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 3:16; Ezekiel 3:22, etc.). This date shows that a little more than a year has passed since he for the first time looked upon the glorious manifestation of Jehovah. He has now finished his symbolical representation of the siege of Jerusalem and the years of captivity (Ezekiel 4:5). He is now sitting in his house instead of lying upon his side. The heaviest task of his life, so far, has been accomplished and once more there is granted him the vision of glory to comfort him for his past trials and prepare him for the fearful vision of his people’s guilt, which was so closely to accompany it. And now the “elders of Judah” visit him. The prophet’s picture-sermon has not been without its influence. The elders, some of them at least (Ezekiel 14:1), now look upon the silent prophet as a true seer of Jehovah, and sit before him waiting for a revelation from the prophet’s Lord.


Verse 2

2. As the appearance of fire — Literally, as the appearance of a man (Ezekiel 1:26). The Hebrew words for “man” and “fire” are very nearly alike and have been mistaken here by some copyist. Here again we notice how guardedly the prophet speaks. He does not dare to say that he saw a man possessing Jehovah’s glory (see notes Ezekiel 1:26-27), but he sees a “likeness as the appearance of a man,” who had the “appearance of brightness” and put forth the “likeness of a hand,” etc. This is evidently the same One formerly mentioned as the appearance of “a man upon the throne.” Whether the throne chariot accompanies him now is not stated.


Verse 3

3. Took me by a lock of mine head — This also was an appearance. This was a part of the vision. Ezekiel does not only see God, but feels his touch upon his head and can never forget it. Ezekiel does not suppose himself to be carried by a lock of hair; he distinctly says that it was a “spirit” that lifted him up and brought him to Jerusalem “in the visions of God.”

Visions of God — See notes Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 10. All great souls have moments of supernatural ecstasy. Handel said he did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body when composing the Hallelujah Chorus of “The Messiah.” “The heavens are nearer to us than we think, and may open to pious souls in moments of transcendent spiritual exaltation more frequently than we imagine.” — Geikie.

To the door of the inner gate — Literally, to the door of the gate of the inner court. This probably means that he was set down in the outer court, just in front of the gateway leading into the inner court. “In front of the gateway in the outer court stood the image of jealousy, near the entrance. Having seen this the prophet is next brought into the gateway (Ezekiel 8:7) where he enters the chambers of imagery, some one of the cells in the gateway building.” — Davidson.

The image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy — It is not certain what this statue was. It was, no doubt, some idol; perhaps the pillar of Asherah (2 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 23:6), which certainly had previously been set up in the temple and may have been there again in this day of apostasy. “Jealousy” was not the name of the idol, but it was called “image of jealousy,” because in a peculiar manner this particular image seems to have been drawing the people from the worship of Jehovah and therefore provoking him to jealousy. (See note Ezekiel 5:13.) The Polychrome Bible freely renders, “the image which provoked the just indignation of Jhvh.”


Verse 4

4. The glory of the God of Israel was there — See notes chaps. i and 10. Jehovah in his omnipotent and omniscient splendor was present and saw all these insults to his majesty. Whether this “glory of Jehovah” had accompanied the prophet from Babylon and entered the temple with him is not distinctly stated, but Ezekiel 8:2-3 (compare Ezekiel 1:15-28) would suggest this. Although heretofore on various occasions Jehovah’s glory has left his temple for short periods, he still abides there until the final farewell, in chap. Ezekiel 10:1 to Ezekiel 11:23. There is a special aptness in the name “God of Israel” (compare Ezekiel 3:23) as used here. They have forsaken their own God, glorious as he is, for strange deities of the most beastly character.


Verse 5

EZEKIEL SEES IN VISION THE WICKEDNESS OF THE CITY, AND HEARS THE SENTENCE OF JEHOVAH UPON IT, Ezekiel 8:5-18.

5. Lift up thine eyes… toward the north — “The northern entrance was the most frequented, partly because the royal palace and buildings lay to the south and east, and the west was inclosed by the buildings of the temple itself.” — Davidson. It was the north gate which Ezekiel had entered (Ezekiel 8:3) and he is now commanded to pause and look back to the gate through which he had just come and once more consider the heinousness of the abomination of placing within the sacred precincts that which Jehovah had expressly forbidden (Exodus 20:2).

The gate of the altar — This probably was a technical name for the northern gate. The altar was within the next court, but from this gate the view would perhaps be unimpeded. The law provided that the sacrifices should be slain on the north side of the altar (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 1:11), and probably it was through this gate that the victims were brought into the temple. (See Temple Plan, p. 209.)

In the entry — It was in the most prominent place and in full view. There was an “entry” connected with each court (Jeremiah 38:14).


Verse 6

6. Turn thee yet again, and thou shall see greater abominations — Or, thou shalt see again greater abominations. The gradation of crime indicated here is a help in determining the location and nature of the worship now to be described. The increased desecration is seen, if our exegesis is correct, first, in the place where the worship is offered; second, in the character of the worshipers; and, third, in the nature of the worship. The image was set up “at the gate” (of the outer court, Ezekiel 8:5); the “chambers of imagery” were in the gate, or in an adjoining chamber at the very entrance to the inner court; the women “weeping for Tammuz” were at “the door of the gate of the Lord’s house,” which we suppose to be a special title designating the door of the holy place, just as the priests’ court seems to be called “the court of the Lord’s house” (Jeremiah 19:14; Jeremiah 26:2). The sun worshipers were “at the door of the temple of the Lord,” which evidently locates them on the steps of the court leading to the holy of holies; for it is distinctly stated, as if to increase the enormity of the offense, that they were “between the porch and the altar” (Ezekiel 8:16), and the Mishna also declares that this particular space was especially holy (Chelim, 1-9). The priests would naturally speak of the priests’ court as the court, and of the gate of the inner court as the gate (2 Chronicles 20:5; Jeremiah 19:14; Jeremiah 26:2, and Ezekiel passim). The character of the worshipers and the kind of worship, if our explanation is correct, show a growth in shamelessness: elders (Ezekiel 8:11), women prostitutes (Ezekiel 8:14, compare Deuteronomy 23:17); men prostitutes (Ezekiel 8:16); the Egyptian Mysteries (Ezekiel 8:10); the Tammuz Festival (Ezekiel 8:14); the worship of the sun with special reference to its fructifying influence (Ezekiel 8:16-17).

That I should go far off from my sanctuary — These abominations drive Jehovah from his temple. Jerusalem and the temple have always been called sacred to Jehovah, and the comrades of Ezekiel in exile thought it blasphemy for anyone to suggest that the temple could be captured and profaned by the heathen; but in the vision it is made plain that the temple is already profaned. The elders, the common people, and even the priests — the chief ministers of the temple — have already brought into it the worst forms of heathen worship. It is already polluted. The Chaldean army can do no worse. Let the siege begin! It is Jehovah’s temple no longer, and he will no longer protect it. This is a syncretism which even the heathen have not been guilty of (Jeremiah 2:10).


Verse 7

7. The door of the court — He could see this gate before (Ezekiel 8:5) and had probably come through it; he now returns and looks within, and discovers a secret entrance.

A hole in the wall — The gates were wide. This may have been a hole in the gate or in a chamber opening from it (xliv, 4). That the entrance was effected through a hole rather than a door symbolizes the secrecy of the worship; but it also shows antagonism to the God to whom the gateway was sacred. These idolatrous worshipers would have been afraid to enter the consecrated doors of the temple. Even the doors of oriental houses can be left unlocked with impunity. The threshold is sacred, protected by the god of the house. No thief will go through the door. (See Trumbull, Blood Covenant.) These adherents to the secret mysteries do not dare to openly defy the God of Israel by boldly crossing his threshold; they come in stealthily, like thieves.


Verse 8

8. Dig now in the wall — The wall had merely seemed to be damaged, but closer inspection and a little effort proved it to contain a secret entrance.


Verse 10

10. Every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts — Literally, every likeness of creeping things and beasts, abominations (Davidson). (Compare Ezekiel 8:3; Deuteronomy 14:19; Leviticus 11:10-11.) This certainly does not refer, as Professor W.R. Smith supposed (followed by Toy, etc.), to an ignorant and debased form of vermin worship which had lingered in the obscure depths of society for centuries, and now comes to the surface in days of skepticism and despair (The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p. 366; The Religion of the Semites, pp. 272, 338). The worship of vermin was an ancient cult which had been banished for centuries from respectable heathen worship. It is inconceivable that the highest class of Israelites, distinguished by birth and education and office (Exodus 24; Numbers 11), could have fallen to these depths; and, if they had so done, it is inconceivable that Tammuz and sun worship should have been considered so much worse than this (Ezekiel 8:13; Ezekiel 8:15). The fact that there were pictures upon the wall indicates some culture and refinement of worship, and points to the Egyptian or Greek mysteries as the most probable explanation of this secret gathering. These mysteries were often held in caverns. Belzoni discovered one in Egypt to which there was no entrance except through a narrow hole. The inner chambers of Egyptian temples had no windows, and the walls were covered with figures which a Hebrew prophet would have described just as Ezekiel describes this secret chamber. More than this, it is now known that the Greek mysteries — which even Herodotus acknowledges came from Egypt — experienced a revival 600-500 B.C., and it was probably this revival which was making itself felt in Jerusalem; for the Greeks, as well as the Egyptians, had great influence in Palestine just at this era. (Introduction to Daniel, III, 4, and Duruy, 2:374.) The mysteries, when compared with Tammuz worship, etc., agree perfectly with the prophet’s statement (Ezekiel 8:13; Ezekiel 8:15). There was no kind of ancient heathenism less objectionable than the mysteries in their purest form. This was the esoteric religion of the most cultured people. It encouraged reverence and self-restraint. It taught that there was an eternal unity pervading all things; a “golden chain” connecting heaven and earth. It sought to explain the deep secrets of life and death, and plainly taught that there was a life beyond the grave. Noble sentiments and sublime truths were mixed with the follies contained in the mysteries, as even the early Christian fathers were constrained to acknowledge, and it seems that St. Paul himself may have referred to these with no sign of disrespect. (Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 50:613.)


Verse 11

11. Seventy men of the ancients [elders]… and… Jaazaniah — Here we see those who represent the whole nation of Israel apostate from the national worship (Exodus 24:1; Numbers 11:16; Numbers 11:24-25). Jaazaniah — The Lord is listening — was either the leader of this company or else he was particularly guilty because of his good parentage and training (2 Kings 22:10; Jeremiah 39:14; Jeremiah 36:10), or he is mentioned because of the peculiar inappropriateness of his name when thought of in connection with their words (Ezekiel 8:12).


Verse 12

12. Chambers of his imagery — Has this reference to the pictures on the wall (Ezekiel 8:11), or does it intimate that all this is merely a symbolic picture representing the hearts of the leaders of Israel? It is hard to believe that all these forms of worship were actually being carried forward in Jehovah’s temple. Ezekiel may possibly only mean that in his heart every man in his “chambers of imagery” is an idol worshiper.

The Lord hath forsaken the earth — Or, land. Jehovah is here placed in the thought of these chief men on a level with the heathen gods, who were only powerful over a limited territory, and who, if they left the land for any cause, lost sight of what was transpiring there. (Compare Ezekiel 9:9; 1 Kings 18:27.) As Jerusalem and Israel were losing pre-eminence, the faith in the power of the local God became fainter and fainter. “Though the name of the leader of the band might have warned them that the Lord was listening, they boasted in their blindness that Jehovah did not see them; he had forsaken the temple and gone elsewhere.” — Plumptre.


Verse 14

14. Women weeping for Tammuz — Women were very prominent in idolatrous worship (2 Kings 23:7; Jeremiah 44:9; Jeremiah 44:15-19). Perhaps it was for this reason that women, in later Hebrew history, were ritualistically repressed (Peritz, Women in the Ancient Hebrew Cult, and Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pp. 312, 313). Tammuz was the youthful sun god who perished after a brief season of illicit love with the amorous and wanton goddess Ishtar, but who received life again through the tears of his paramour. It is but another form of a sun myth common among many ancient peoples, symbolizing the yearly marriage of earth and heaven. “The earth is thrilled by the breath of the spring and abandons herself without shame to the caresses of heaven; she welcomes him to her arms, is fructified by him and pours forth the abundance of her flowers and fruits. Then comes summer and kills the spring; earth is burned up and withers, she strips herself of her raiment and her fruitfulness departs, till the gloom and icy numbness of winter have passed away, and spring brings the resurrection of the buried life.” (See Maspero, Dawn of Civilization, pp. 639, 640; Struggle of Nations, p. 174, etc.) The distinguishing and most common names for Tammuz in the cuneiform texts are “shepherd” and “lord” (adoni). An old Akkadian hymn speaks of him (W.A.I., 4:271): —

Shepherd, lord Tammuz, spouse of heaven’s queen!

King of Aralu, king of Dusibba!

Willow that in a garden bed hath not drunk water,

Whose buds have borne no shoot (or bloom) in a field! etc.

Society Biblical Archaeology, Ezekiel 16:7.

We know the very hymns sung in this most voluptuous and popular drama and the musical instruments which were in most common use. One hymn says: —

On the day of Tammuz, play for me on the flute of lapis lazuli.

Together with the lyre of pearl, play for me.

Together let the professional dirge singers, male and female play for me,

That the dead may arise and inhale the incense of offerings.

(See Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 575; also, for the obscurity of the worship, pp. 475, 485, and for the influence of the festival, even to modern times, p. 682.)

The fourth Assyrian month (June-July) was named Tammuz (Duzu), the fifth month, which may have been the very month in which this vision came (LXX., Ezekiel 8:1), was sacred to Ishtar, and the sixth month was designated as the “mission of Ishtar,” and in this month the Tammuz festival was celebrated in Babylonia.

If this actually represents a scene which occurred in the temple in the month Tammuz, there had been abundance of time in the two months past (or one month — LXX., Ezekiel 8:1) for all the details of the sacrilegious festival to reach the ears of the exiles. It might well be that such news as this would bring the elders to the prophet’s house (Ezekiel 8:1). Indeed these “elders” might possibly have been visitors from Jerusalem (Dean Plumptre) to whom the seer now proves that he knows what is passing in the city from which they came.


Verse 15

15. Greater abominations — It is suggestive that while the “weeping for Tammuz” in the heat of summer or beginning of winter seems to have been marked by some self-restraint; in the spring, when Tammuz with all nature was supposed to come back again to passionate life, there was scarcely any limit to the licentiousness permitted and even probably prescribed by the ritual. The lascivious worship of Tammuz (Adonis) including the wailing, etc., dates back to the Gilgamish epic — 2300 B.C. — in which the passion of Ishtar is set forth with many disgusting details. Even much earlier than this, the unchaste worship of Ishtar was popular at Erech and Niffur. In some ruins entire walls have been found built of phallic emblems. (Zeits. fur Assyriologie, 6:3339. Yet, against this, see Jastrow, p. 673.) Many prayers to Ishtar are in existence like that of Nebuchadnezzar (B.C. 605-562), “Enlarge my seed, multiply my offspring in the midst of my harem.” The texts have encouraged the belief that the ancient tradition was all too true, that no woman could expect the favor of the deity without the sacrifice of her chastity. In Ezekiel’s day, as in the days of Herodotus, it is probable that every native woman had to enter, at least once in her life, the temple of the unchaste goddess, and must there sit down and unite herself to any stranger who should throw her a silver coin and lead her away. (Maspero, Dawn of History, 1896, p. 640.) And this unspeakable abomination Ezekiel now sees in vision in Jehovah’s temple! Compare Milton’s description: —

Thammuz came next behind,

Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured

The Syrian damsels to lament his fate

In amorous ditties all a summer’s day;

Whose wanton passions on the sacred porch

Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led,

His eyes surveyed the dark idolatries

Of alienated Judah.

Paradise Lost, 1:446, etc.


Verse 16

16. With their backs toward the temple — “The very act was symbolical of their apostasy (2 Chronicles 29:6; Isaiah 1:4; Jeremiah 7:24). And they did this in order that they might look to the east and worship the rising sun. That, and not the temple (Daniel 6:10), was the Kiblah of their adoration.” — Plumptre.

They worshiped the sun — No worship was so widespread as this in the ancient world. Almost every god of Egypt, Babylon, and Canaan can be traced back to some primitive sun deity. The five and twenty men mentioned here were engaged in the worship of the sun at its rising, which was at this time perhaps the most popular form of heathen worship with the educated classes, and which continued in Palestine far down in the Christian era. Since Manasseh the temple of Jehovah had been a place of worship for the constellations of heaven, which were adored by their political lord at Nineveh. It would seem at this time to have become part of the state worship at Jerusalem. The “queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:17) was the popular name for Astarte, the morning and evening star (Zeits. fur die alt. Wiss., 1890, p. 130). This worship took place in the court of the priests, and there need be no doubt that these twenty-four men, led by some foreign hierophant or the Jewish high priest, are intended to symbolize the entire priesthood, or at least a representative from each priestly course (1 Chronicles 24:4-18; 2 Chronicles 36:14; Ezra 10:15). The mention that these priests “put the branch to their nose” while they adored the sun, perhaps shows one particular in which their worship was more abominable than the last. The flower or branch in many ancient rituals is the symbol of life and fructification, and suggests all the orgies of the spring festivals. (See notes Ezekiel 8:14-15.)


Verse 17

17. They put the branch to their nose — This seems to be the particularly objectionable feature connected with the sun worship just described, which may indicate that it was a debased and impure form of such worship. The gesture referred to is one common to ancient rituals and was the symbol of life and fructification. Flowers and trees played a great part in the religious symbolism of all ancient religions. (See Fraser’s Golden Bough.) In the tombs of Egypt almost every deceased person and the mourning friends are represented smelling the lotus. Even to-day the lotus is the most favored religious emblem in Japan. Tell a Buddhist that his heart is corrupt and cannot be cleansed, and he will answer, “The lotus springs from the mud” (Asiatic Quarterly Review, viii, p. 441). The custom of holding a bundle of twigs to the nose by the Magi during prayer is reported by Strabo (xv, 3, 14). This is the beresma of the Avesta, and is still done by the Parsi priests. Astarte-Aphrodite or Tammuz-Adonis is represented on an ancient vase in front of the Asherah tree with flowers in both hands, one bouquet of which is held to the nose. On the Assyrian monuments earlier than Ezekiel’s day the priests are represented carrying a spray in one hand, and in one case at least the priest is seen lifting the spray to his nose just before he offers sacrifice. This same gesture is seen in another representation of a priestess or goddess who stands before the symbol of the sun; it is common everywhere in the adoration of the flower god Tammuz-Adonis. Max Ohnefalsch-Richter points out that the smelling of a flower or a flowering branch or the holy tree itself was a most solemn ceremonial in the ancient ritual in Cyprus. In various statues the priest or worshiper is represented adoring the sun, while in his left hand he holds the flowering spray to his nose (Kypros, Bible, and Homer, 1893, p. 136, etc.). Perrot and Chipiez describe thus a Phoenician temple: “The air was full of perfume, of soft and caressing sounds… the voluptuous cooing of the dove mingled with the rippling notes of the flute.… Here sat the slaves of the goddess covered with jewels and dressed in rich stuffs with bright-colored fringes… necklaces of gold, amber, and glass hung between their swelling breasts; with the pigeon, the emblem of fertility, in one hand and a flower or myrtle branch in the other, these women sat and waited” (Phoenicia and Cyprus, ii, pp. 108, 138, 332). A class of male prostitutes were connected with the Baal worship, and a class of priestess prostitutes (Kadishti) with the Ashtoreth, Ishtar, and Tammuz cults. “The recent revelations concerning the hideous meaning of this seemingly inoffensive symbol and the ritual connected with it perfectly explain the strong words contained in the Bible text. This ‘fills the cup!’ God is now determined to punish, and the following chapter brings before the eyes of the seer the judgment according to its various phases.” — Orelli.


Verse 18

18. Mine eye shall not spare — See notes Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 7:4; Ezekiel 7:9; Ezekiel 9:5; Ezekiel 9:10. There comes a time when a cry to God for help is too late (Isaiah 1:15; Jeremiah 11:11; Proverbs 1:28). The symbolic meaning of this vision of Israel’s sin is apparent. The prophet only visited Jerusalem “in the visions of God” (Ezekiel 8:3). That these various abominable practices were literally taking place in the temple is difficult to believe. This vision may have been given to show to Ezekiel and his countrymen in exile the hopeless condition of the hearts of the whole nation, elders, women, priests. In their hearts they were idolaters, grasping every ancient and modern form of unbelief. Their presence defiled the temple and accounts for Jehovah’s leaving it (Ezekiel 8:6; Leviticus 15:31; Leviticus 20:3; Numbers 19:13; Numbers 19:20).

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ezekiel-8.html. 1874-1909.

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