For the Love of God, Volume 2/September 5
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 29—30; 1 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 8; Psalms 46—47
EZEKIEL 8—11 CONSTITUTES one long vision.
The opening verse of Ezekiel 8 establishes the time at exactly fourteen months after the prophet’s inaugural vision, and therefore after the 390 days when he was lying for some part of each day on his left side denouncing the northern tribes already taken into captivity, and during the 40 days when he was lying on his right side denouncing the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. By this point he has established his credentials as a prophet, so the elders of the exilic community come and consult him (8:1). Probably they are troubled by his symbol-laden actions, and are asking him what will happen to Jerusalem, and if and when they will get home.
Ezekiel does not respond off the top of his head. Rather, he waits, and is granted another vision, the content of which he ultimately transmits to the exiles (11:25). In this vision, he sees something of God in categories reminiscent of those in the inaugural vision (chap. 1). Within the visionary world, Ezekiel is transported by the Spirit to Jerusalem, near the north gate. He is shown several horrible examples of idolatry and syncretism.
First, he witnesses the idol that provokes God to jealousy (8:3-6). If it is by the north gate, it is by the gate the king and his retinue would use on their way to the temple. The king whose responsibility it is to lead the people in covenantal faithfulness is the leader in compromise and syncretism—and in line with his covenantal conditions, God is rightly jealous (see Ex. 20:1-17). Second, Ezekiel sees seventy elders actually worshiping creatures that were, according to the Mosaic covenant, unclean even for eating and touching (8:7-13). Third, he sees women profoundly engaged with Tammuz (8:14-15). The Tammuz cult was a fertility cult, ascribing agricultural bounty to a dying and rising god. Some of these cults were also terribly promiscuous. Finally, Ezekiel sees priests (for only they could be between the portico and the altar) with their backs to the temple, worshiping the sun—not only cherishing the created thing above the Creator (Rom. 1:25), but violating the covenant (Deut. 4:19), influenced perhaps by the Egyptian sun god Ra.
Modern forms of idolatry are different, of course. Most of us have not been caught mourning for Tammuz. But do our hearts pursue things that rightly make God jealous? Do we love dirty and forbidden things? Do we ascribe success to everything but God? We may not succumb to fertility cults, but doesn’t our culture make sex itself a god?
Corrupt worship invariably replaces and relativizes God and ends up dulling moral vision (8:17).