Ezekiel 8 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Ezekiel 8
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - And it came to pass, etc. We begin with a fresh date. One year and one month had passed since the vision of Chebar, and had been occupied partly by the acted, partly by the spoken, prophecies of the preceding chapters. In the mean time, things had gone from bad to worse in Jerusalem. In the absence of the higher priests, idolatry was more rampant, and had found its way even into the temple. It is probable that tidings of this had reached Ezekiel, as we know that frequent communications passed between the exiles and those they had left behind (Jeremiah 29:1-3, 9, 25). Directly or indirectly, Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Genesisariah the son of Hilkiah. may have conveyed a message, orally or written, from Jeremiah himself. Some such report may have led to the visit from the elders of Judah, if we understand by that term the exiles of Tel-Abib. I venture, however, on the conjecture that possibly those who came to the prophet were actually visitors who had come from Judah. Elsewhere, as in Ezekiel 14:1 and Ezekiel 20:1, those who thus came are described as "elders of Israel," or the captives (Ezekiel 1:1), "they of the Captivity" (Ezekiel 3:15). In either case, the visions that follow gain a special significance. The prophet becomes the seer. It is given to him to know, in a manner which finds a spurious analogue in the alleged mental travelling of the clairvoyant of modern psychology, what is passing in the city from which the messengers had come - and to show that he knows it. With such facts before his eyes, what other answer can there be than that evil must meet its doom? And so we pass into the second series of prophecies which ends with Ezekiel 13:23. It would seem as if the enquirers had kept silent as well as the prophet. We are not told that they asked anything. His look and manner, perhaps also attitude and gesture, forbade utterance. The hand of the Lord - the trance state - was in the act to fall on him (see notes on Ezekiel 3:14, 22). When the trance state was over, we may think of him as reporting and recording what he had thus seen in vision..
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.
Verse 2. - I beheld, and lo a likeness, etc. The vision opens with a theophany like that of ch. 1; but here, as there, Ezekiel uses the word which emphasizes the fact that what he had seen was but a "likeness" of the ineffable glory, an image of the Unseen. (For "amber," see Ezekiel 1:4, 27.) In this case we note the absence of the cherubic figures. It is simply the "appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah," seen now in the glow of fire, without the milder, more hopeful brightness of the rainbow (Ezekiel 1:28).
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.
Verse 3. - The form of an hand (comp. Ezekiel 2:9; Daniel 5:5). For the mode of transit, see Bel and the Dragon, ver. 36. as probably a direct imitation. The touch of the "hand" was followed by the action of the Spirit, in visions which he knew to be more than dreams, visions that came from God (comp. Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 40:2). The word is not the same as that commonly used by Daniel (chazon), and often by Ezekiel himself (Ezekiel 7:13; Ezekiel 12:22, 23, et al.), but mareh, which implies a more direct act of intuition. The word appears again in Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 43:3, and in Daniel 8:26, 27, et al. To the door of the gate, etc. From the first we trace the priest's familiarity with the structure of the temple. He is brought, as it were, after his journey in the spirit, to the door of the gate of the inner court that looketh towards the north (Revised Version). This is identified in ver. 5 with the "gate of the altar." It may probably also be identified with the "upper gate" of Ezekiel 9:2; the "high gate" of Jeremiah 20:2; the "higher gate" of 2 Kings 15:35, built by Jotham; the "new gate" of Jeremiah 36:10. Obviously it was one of the most conspicuous portions of the temple, where the people gathered in large numbers. And here the prophet sees what he calls the image of jealousy. The words that follow probably give his explanation of the strange phrase, not found elsewhere, though it might naturally be suggested by Deuteronomy 32:16, 21; Psalm 78:58. What this image was we can only conjecture. The word for "image" is a rare one, and is found only here and in Deuteronomy 4:16; 2 Chronicles 33:7, 15. It may have been the Asherah (the "grove" of the Authorized Version), or conical stone, such as Manasseh had made and placed, with an altar dedicated to it, in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chronicles 33:3), or one of Baal, or of Ashtaroth, or even of Tammuz (see ver. 14). As the word "grove" does not occur in Ezekiel, it may be sufficient to state that the Ashera was a pillar symbolical either of a goddess of the same name, or, as some think, of the Phoenician Astarte. The worship seems to have first become popular under Jezebel (1 Kings 18:19), and took deep root both in Israel and Judah. The cultus, as in 2 Kings 23:7, seems to have been connected with the foulest licence, like that of the Babylonian Mylitta (Herod., 1:199; Baruch 6:43). The work of Josiah had clearly had but a temporary success, and the people had gone back to the confluent polytheism of the reign of Manasseh. In such a state of things the worst was possible. For recent discussions on the Ashera, see Kuenen. 'Relig. Isr.' (Eng. transl.), 1:88; Schrader; Robertson Smith, 'Relig. of Semites,' p. 172; and T.K. Cheyne, in the Academy of December 14, 1889.
And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain.
Verses 4, 5. - And, behold, etc. In appalling contrast with that "image of jealousy," Ezekiel saw what he had not seen, as he first became conscious that he was in the court of the temple - the vision of the Divine glory, such as he had seen it on the banks of Chebar (Ezekiel 1:4-28). He was to look first on this picture and then on that, and the guilt of Judah was measured by that contrast.
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.
Verse 6. - That I should go far off, etc. The lesson taught was that already implied in the fact that the glorious vision and come to him from the north (Ezekiel 1:4). The temple was already as a God-deserted shrine. His return to it now was but the coming of the Judge and the Destroyer. We are reminded of the Μεταβαίνωμεν ἔντευθεν, ("Let us depart hence"), which was heard in the darkness of the night before the later destruction of Jerusalem (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.' 6:05.3) Bad begins, but worse remains behind. The prophet is led onward as through the successive stages of an inferno of idolatries.
And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall.
Verse 7. - To the door of the court. What follows suggests that the prophet was led to the gate that opened from the inner to the outer court. This gas surrounded by chambers or cells (Jeremiah 35:4). The term for "wall" (kir) is that specially used for the wall which encloses a whole group of buildings (Numbers 35:4). Behold a hole in the wall. The fact was clearly significant. The worship here was more clandestine than that of the "image of jealousy." We are not warranted, perhaps, in insisting on minute consistency in the world of visions, but the question naturally arises - How did the worshippers enter the chamber if Ezekiel had to enlarge the hole in the wall in order to get in? We may surmise that the entrance from the temple court had been blocked up all but entirely in the days of Josiah, that the idolaters now entered it from without or through some other chamber, while Ezekiel thinks of himself as coming upon them like a spy in the dim distance of the covered passage through which he made his way.
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, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.
Verse 10. - Every form of creeping things. The words obviously paint the theriomorphic worship of Egypt, the scarabseus probably being prominent. The alliance between Jehoiakim and Pharaoh (2 Kings 24:33-35), and which Zedekiah was endeavouring to renew, would naturally bring about a revival of that cultus. Small chambers in rock or tomb filled with such pictured symbols were specially characteristic of it (Gosse, 'Monuments of Egypt,' p. 6; 'Ammian. Marcellin.,' 22:15).
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.
Verse 11. - Seventy men, etc. The number was probably chosen with reference to the "elders" who had seen the Divine glory in Exodus 24:9, 10. The Sanhedrin, or council of seventy, did not exist till after the Captivity. The number can scarcely have been accidental, and may imply that the elders were formally representative. Another Jaazaniah, the son of Jeremiah, appears in Jeremiah 35:3; yet another, the son of Azur, in Ezekiel 11:1. If the Shaphan mentioned is the scribe, the son of Azaliah, under Josiah (2 Kings 22:3), the father of Ahikam (2 Kings 22:12), of Elasah (Jeremiah 29:3), and of Gemariah (Jeremiah 36:10, 11, 12), and the grandfather of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 39:14, et al.), all of whom were prominent in the reform movement under Josiah, or as friends of Jeremiah, and no other Shaphan appears in history, the fact that one of his sons is the leader of the idolatrous company must have had for Ezekiel a specially painful significance. He could scarcely have forgotten the meaning of his name, "The Lord is listening," and probably refers to it in ver. 12. As the climax of this chamber of horrors, the seventy elders were all acting as priests, and were offering to their pictured idols the incense which none but the sons of Aaron had a right to use, and which they offered to Jehovah only.
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.
Verse 12 - Every man, etc. And this, after all, was but a sample of the prevalence of the Egyptian influence. Other elders had, in the dark, a like adytum, a like chamber of imagery, like the Latin lararium, filled. with a like cloud of incense. And 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 had fiche elsewhere. They thought of Jehovah as of a local deity who had abdicated. They were free to do as they liked without fear. The words are worth noting further as the first of a series of popular half proverbs, in which the thoughts of the people clothed themselves (see Ezekiel 11:3; Ezekiel 12:22; Ezekiel 18:2, 19; Ezekiel 33:10; Ezekiel 37:11). All these imply some personal knowledge of what was passing in Jerusalem.
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.
Verse 14. - Behold, there sat women wailing for Tammuz. The point of view is probably the same as that of ver. 3, but the women were apparently in the outer porch of it, as he has to be brought to the gate in order to see them. We are led to note two things:

(1) the general prominence of women in the later idolatry of Judah;

(2) the specific character of the Tammuz worship.


(1) we have the women who wove hangings for the Ashera (2 Kings 23:7), those who had burnt incense to other gods, especially to the queen of heaven (Jeremiah 44:9, 15-19), probably, i.e., to Ashtaroth.

(2) The name Tammuz does not meet us elsewhere in the Old Testament. All interpreters, however, agree that it answers to the Adonis of Greek mythology. So Jerome translates it, and expressly states (in loc.) that what Ezekiel saw corresponded to the Adonis festivals. It may be enough to state, without going into the details of the story, that Adonis, the beautiful youth beloved of Aphrodite, was slain by a wild boar; that after his death he was allowed to spend six months of each year with her, while the other was passed with Persephone in Hades. The cultus thus became the symbol of the annual decay and revival of nature; but the legend rather than the inner meaning was in the thoughts of the worshippers. The emotions of women poured themselves out in lamentations over the waxen image of the beautiful dead youth who had perished in his prime, and in orgiastic joy over his return to life. Milton, deriving his knowledge, probably, from Selden's 'De Diis Syris,' has painted the whole atone in words which may well be quoted -

"Thammuz next came behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer's day;
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded: the love-tale
Infected Sion's daughters with like heat;
Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch
Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led,
His eyes surveyed the dark idolatries
Of alienated Judah."

(Par. Lost,' 1:446, etc.) The chief centre of the Tammuz-Adonis worship was Byblos, in Syria. but it spread widely over the shores of the Mediterranean and was fashionable both in Alexandria and Athens. One of the practices of the festival, that of planting flowers in vases for forced cultivation, has been perpetuated by Plato's allusion to "the gardens of Adonis" as the type of transitoriness ('Phaedr.' p. 376, b). Cheyne, following Lagarde, finds a reference to the cultus in Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 65:3: 66:17. The festival of Ishtar and Tammuz (or Tam-zi) at Babylon presented a marked parallel. Adonis is, with hardly a doubt, identical with the Hebrew Adonai (equivalent to "Lord"). Tammuz has been explained as meaning "victorious," or "disappearance," or "burning;" but all etymologies are conjectural. Lastly, it is not without interest to note

(1) that when Jerome wrote, the Cave of the Nativity at Bethlehem was overshadowed by a grove of Tammuz ('Ep. ad Paul.'); and

(2) that the later Jewish calendar included the month of Tammuz, which corresponded to July. The festival seems to have been celebrated at the summer solstice. The time of Ezekiel's vision was in the sixth month, sc. about the time of the autumnal equinox (see 'Dict. Bible,' art. "Tammuz"). Mr. Baring-Gould, treating the legend as a solar myth, finds the old Phoenician deity represented in the "St. George of Merrie England" ('Curious Myths,' pp. 277-316). An exhaustive monograph, "Tammuz Adonis," has been published by Liebrecht, in his 'Zur Volkskunde' (1879), reprinted from the Zeitschrift Deutschen Morgen-Gesellschaft, vol. 17. pp. 397, etc.
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.
Verse 16. - He brought me into the inner court. The last and the worst form of desecration follows. It was the "inner court" (Joel 2:17) which, after the exile, was entered only by the priests. During the monarchy, however, it seems to have been accessible to kings and other persons of importance, as in the case of Solomon (1 Kings 8:22, 64; 1 Kings 9:25) in the revolution against Athaliah (2 Kings 11:4-15), and Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:14), and Josiah (2 Kings 23:2). Ezekiel does not say that the men whom he saw were priests, though the number twenty-five suggests that they were taking the place of the high priest and the heads of the twenty-four courses of the priesthood (1 Chronicles 24:4-19), and so symbolized the whole order of the priesthood as the seventy elders represented the laity. In 2 Chronicles 36:14 the chief of the priests is spoken of as having been prominent in "polluting the house of the Lord." They were seen turning their backs to the temple of Jehovah, i.e. the sanctuary. 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. The sun worship here appears to have had a Persian character, as being offered to the sun itself, and not to Baal, as a solar god. Of such a worship we have traces in Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Job 31:26; 2 Kings 23:5, 11.
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.
Verse 17. - For returned read, with the Revised Version, turned again. The wind seems chosen with special reference to the attitude of the idol worshippers. It may be noted that even here the prophet speaks not only of the idolatry of Judah, but of its violence also, as bringing down the judgments of Jehovah. Lo, they put the branch to their nose. The opening word expresses the prophet's burning indignation. The act described probably finds its best explanation in the Persian ritual of the Avesta. When men prayed to the sun, they held in their left hands a bouquet of palm, pomegranate, and tamarisk twigs, while the priests for the same purpose held a veil before their mouth (Spiegel, 'Iran. Alterth.,' 3:571, 572, in Smend), so that the bright rays of the sun might not be polluted by human breath. And this was done in the very temple of Jehovah by those who were polluting the whole land by their violence. The LXX. gives, as an explanation, ὡς μυκτηρίζοντες, as though the act was one of scornful pride (comp. Isaiah 65:5), the sign of a temper like that of the Pharisee as he looked upon the publican (Luke 18:11). Lightfoot takes the "nose" as the symbol of anger, and looks on the phrase as proverbial: "They add the twig to their anger, fuel to the fire;" but this has little to commend it. The word for "branch" is used in Ezekiel 15:2 and Numbers 13:23 for a vine branch.
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.
Verse 18. - The verse serves as a transition to ch. 9. The unpitying aspect of the Divine judgments is again prominent. Such sins deserved, and could only be expiated by, the judgments to which we now pass.

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