In our study of Ezekiel chapter eight, we look at the charges presented against Israel prior to her judgment at the hand of God. In our world today, this list of charges against the accused is called an indictment.
In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal.
We see the timing of the events of this chapter and are reminded that there is significance in the details of the numbers. Throughout the Bible, the number six is associated with man's works and the number five is associated with grace (God's work on our behalf). In the timing of this vision, we see that there was a battle going on between works and grace. We also see that some of those that are going to be indicted were sitting with Ezekiel in his house. That reminds us of the fact that our relationship with God is not about our physical location but about the condition of our hearts. Ezekiel saw a vision of Jesus Christ and the top part was light which comes from the very words of God (see Genesis 1:3). The bottom half was like fire which is a symbol of the holiness and presence of God. In this vision of Christ, we see that this indictment is being handed down by God Himself as the Creator of the world.
He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain.
Jesus grabbed Ezekiel by the hair and lifted him up to take him to Jerusalem. Why would Jesus lift him up by the hair? We have probably all seen a parent grab their child by the hair and it is not a good thing as it is usually done as a last resort to get their attention. We saw that some of the people that were taking part in Israel's idolatry were sitting with Ezekiel in his house. This grabbing him by the hair to take him to see what they were doing was a last resort to get Ezekiel to see them as they were and not as they appeared to be. The first charge against Israel is presented by the fact that they had a graven image set up in the temple with the very presence of God.
Then he said to me, 'Son of man, look toward the north.' So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. And he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what they are doing - the utterly detestable things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.
What was this "idol of jealousy"? In 2 Kings 21, we see that Manasseh had set up an Asherah pole in the temple which was removed by Josiah. This idol is probably that Asherah pole that they had kept and now brought out like Manasseh had done before.
Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. He said to me, 'Son of man, now dig into the wall.' So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. And he said to me, 'Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.' So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel.
Now, Ezekiel is taken to a basement area where there were all kinds of pictures of animals and idols on the wall. This would have been like a secret sanctuary but, as we see, God knew that it was there even though the common people may not have.
In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. He said to me, 'Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, "The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land."' Again, he said, 'You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.'
We see that the leaders of Israel were in this little secret sanctuary bowing down to idols. These were the same elders that were sitting with Ezekiel in his house. They were saying in their hearts that they would replace God with all kinds of animal gods because He had abandoned them.
Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. He said to me, 'Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.'
Tammuz was the Babylonian god of spring vegetation and supposed died in the fall only to be resurrected in the spring. These women were the nature worshippers of the time and worshipped the creation instead of the Creator. Today, there are the same type of people that praise the creation while denying the hand of the Creator.
He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.
The lowest was when they drew near the entrance to the temple and saw men worshiping the rising sun. They had their back to the temple and this was like a slap in the face to God. The equivalent today would be those that do all of the astrology stuff.
He said to me, 'Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.'
The sins of the people did not even bother them as they would take part in their idolatry and then attend the temple worship. Putting the branch to their nose was a ceremonial gesture of honoring idols. This was also a reminder that God's people had become a stench to Him. Israel was supposed to be a blessing and a light to the world but now they have sunk even lower than some of the nations around them.