Ezekiel 8:1 - 11:25
September 7, 2014
Sin separates us from God.
I. The idolatry of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8)
II. The judgment of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9)
III. The glory of the Lord (Ezekiel 10)
IV. Departs (Ezekiel 11)
So I’m trying something a little bit crazy today. Normally I preach 10 or 12 verses, sometimes as many as 25 or a whole chapter if we are in the Old Testament. Today I’m going to try to preach four chapters, 76 verses. Why, you ask? Because these four chapters relate one account, one vision of Ezekiel and they tell one story, that because of sin God’s glory has departed from his people. They remind us of the crucial Biblical truth that sin separates us from God.
I’ve said almost every week in Ezekiel that this book is meant to communicate God’s truth through patient layering and repetition. These chapters aren’t a succinct Romans 3:23 ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ though the message is the same. They aren’t Isaiah 59, which teaches that your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you. That’s the truth communicated here, but here it is done through an extended and detailed picture. Nonetheless what we need to have layered onto our souls through that picture is that sin separates us from God.
We obviously won’t be able to read every verse. I’m going to summarize, and then land on certain verses which show the flow of the account. Ezekiel 8:1 sets the stage In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. This vision takes place about 14 months after Ezekiel first vision of the glory of the Lord. For much of this time Ezekiel has been lying on his side among the exiles in Babylon symbolically enacting the judgment on Jerusalem. Now the reason for that judgment will be made clear.
He sees the same ‘form of a man’ that he saw in the original vision, and he is lifted in this vision by his hair and taken to Jerusalem. There he sees the idolatry of God’s people. Chapter 8 shows four scenes of idol worship in God’s temple, at the center of what was supposed to be the dwelling place of his glory. Ezekiel 8:4-6 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley. 5Then he said to me, “Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. 6And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.”
At this point the glory of God, the visual expression of all his perfections, is in the temple, where he had promised to be present with his people in a special way.
But, verse 6, that these great abominations drive God far from his sanctuary. This is the Bible’s message: sin separates from God. He longs to be our God, present with us, but sin drives him away. This is true before we are saved in the most profound, eternal sense. Whether we have an idolatry of false gods, an idolatry of self, an idolatry of stuff or an idolatry of pleasure, our sins separate us from God and others and this isolation is I think, the central truth of Hell.
But even as believers, when we give in to sin, when we allow temptation to draw us away, we are being drawn away from the intimacy with God that is our birthright. Even for the redeemed, the awful truth about sin is that it separates us from God. Not permanently, not eternally, but profoundly, so that we need to take sin in our own lives seriously. As Paul says in Romans, are we to go on sinning that grace may increase? May it never be!
So in the first of the four scenes, Ezekiel sees some unspecified group worshipping what is called an image of jealousy in the inner court. It’s not clear what idol this is, but God had said that any false worship roused him to holy jealousy. In the second scene the 70 elders of Jerusalem are worshipping idols in the holy place, offering incense to images of unclean animals and loathsome beasts. In the third scene the women of Jerusalem are worshipping the god Tammuz, an ancient Akkadian deity who was supposed to die each year in the fall and be brought to life in the spring through the weeping of Ishtar, symbolized by the weeping of these women. Finally, in the inner court, the court of sacrifice, Ezekiel sees 25 men, probably priests neglecting their priestly sacrifices and worshipping the sun god, facing east to the sunrise.
Between each of these scenes God says ‘now I’ll show you an even greater abomination,’ and when the four have been shown he says ‘not only are they worshipping these idols, but they further provoke me to anger by filling the land with violence,’ that is with injustice and oppression. And for these things, he says, I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare. I will not have pity.
Chapter 9, then, is a vision of the judgment itself, the judgment due to these who shake their fists in the face of a holy God. Here we see the first movement of the Glory of God away from his dwelling with his people. Ezekiel 9:3 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity.
So the glory Ezekiel had seen in the holy place now moves to the threshold of the house. It is beginning to depart from its rightful place as God brings judgment. Seven men, probably angelic beings, present at this moment. Six have swords to execute judgment, but the seventh, clothed in linen, is a messenger of mercy. His task is to put a mark on the forehead of every person who sighs and groans over the abominations that are being committed. These people, those who repent and agree with God about the rebellion all around them, will be spared. I love the phrase ‘sigh and groan.’ They have learned to see sin for the abomination it is. It makes them heavy of heart, mournful in spirit.
This mourning of sin has to start with us, with each of us examining ourselves. God has a name for the person who points the finger at others’ sins but will not see their own sin. That name is hypocrite. But God also has a name for those who see their sin and mourn and weep and turn. That name is righteous. Psalm 51 is the beautiful record of King David’s recognition of his sin: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” David knew that his own sin had separated him from his shepherd/savior whose presence he longed for.
In chapter 10 it becomes clear that this glory which is departing is in fact the same glory that Ezekiel had seen in his first vision. Ezekiel 10:3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. 4And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.
Ezekiel sees the same vision, with the cherubs who were called ‘living creatures’ in Chapter 1, and the wheels, called here the ‘whirling wheels,’ and the throne above them. We’re not surprised that Ezekiel takes another opportunity to describe the indescribable. But this full vision of the Glory of the Lord is seen as it departs. Verse 18: Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
Now the glory has moved from the threshold, the doorway of the holy place and it has perched on or above the east gate of the temple itself. His glory is departing. God is separating himself from the sin that is rebellion against him.
Back in the last days of the Judges, during the time of Eli and Samuel, some of the people of Israel got the bright idea of taking the Ark of the Covenant out of the Tabernacle and taking it into battle against the Philistines. And it was captured, which was a disaster, though God ended up using it. But Eli, when he heard of it, dropped dead. His daughter in law was pregnant. But when she heard of it, and that her husband Phineas had been killed in the battle, she went into labor. And before she died, she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” Cavod means glory. I-cavod negates that: ‘not-glory; the glory has departed.’ That’s what’s happening here: ‘Ichabod.’ The glory of God, the sign of his presence, the radiance of the perfection of his character has departed.
That’s a little what it’s like when we sin, or especially when we fall into habitual sin, or characteristic sin or get pre-occupied with sin. The glory departs, the brightness of God’s presence is gone. Not that we can separate ourselves from the love of God. We can’t. But we can destroy the sense of that presence, the intimacy of our walk with him by sin. I’ve been wanting to go see the movie that is out now, ‘The Giver,’ but I haven’t had time. But I made time to read the book because I had heard that in the world created by the author people no longer saw color. It was closed off to them by their choices, the sameness of their dystopia. But two people, the giver and the receiver pass along the memory of that glory, and desire to bring it back to their people. That reminds me so much of what we see here: the glory departs. The color is gone.
In his vision, in the first part of chapter 11, Ezekiel prophecies to some of those left in Jerusalem, a prophetic word that someone would probably carry back to them. He sees 25 more people, probably this time the movers and shakers, the princes of the people as they would have been called. These leaders had given the people false and evil counsel, urging them, in particular, to sneer at the prophecies of Jeremiah about building houses in exile, and about Jerusalem as a seething pot. The leaders of Jerusalem will not accept from Jeremiah or from Ezekiel that God has decreed exile. They would rather die in the city. They pick up Jeremiah’s image of a seething pot and say ‘we’d rather boil in the pot than leave.’ And Ezekiel’s prophecy to them is ‘you are not going to have the opportunity. You are going to die, but you are going to die outside the city, on the way to exile, whether you believe it’s God’s plan or not.
Babylon was God’s instrument of judgment, slaying or exiling the remaining people of Judea, as shown in 2nd Kings 25. When Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., the Judean leaders and their subjects would know that the Lord was truly God. They would observe that he faithfully executed the righteous judgment he had declared would come if his people embraced idolatry.
Verse 13: And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel? This death, and its timing represent in miniature the fulfillment of these prophecies. But as Ezekiel sees even this small judgment, he trembles. He fears that God will destroy in his wrath even the remnant of faithful people, those who, as we saw in chapter 9, sigh and moan over their sins. But utter judgment is not God’s plan. It is not the story of Scripture. Judgment may be deep and pervasive, as it is here, as it was for the northern kingdom, as it is portrayed in the book of Revelation, but it is never complete. There is always a remnant saved by God’s mercy for God’s glory.
God tells Ezekiel that the exiles in Babylon who are that remnant. 14And the word of the Lord came to me: 15“Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession.’ Do you hear what God is saying? The true Israel, the recipients of the promise are not those left behind in Jerusalem, despite the temple still being there. God’s people are now the exiles, those in Babylon.
Let me read the rest of Chapter 11, which completes the story of the departure of God’s glory but makes the promise of his faithfulness to those who sign and groan. Ezekiel 11:16-25 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
21But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God.” 22Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. 23The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city. 24And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me. 25And I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me.
They will be my people and I will be their God. I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. This is the good news of the Bible, God’s constant refrain from Abraham to Revelation. Despite man’s rebellion and idolatry which deserves judgment, the God of mercy will not utterly destroy but will ultimately rescue. The hard and fallen heart of man makes idolatry of false gods, and of pleasure and of sin and of stuff and of self. But God who is rich in mercy does not forsake us. He rescues, returns, redeems and restores. He does so ultimately, in Jesus.
Notice that this is a long term promise. The first restoration from exile did not have all these elements, did not have the renewal of heart that is key, did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit that is promised. Those things didn’t come until Jesus came, and we, the church, are the first beneficiaries of these promises. But there will come a time, when Jesus comes again that he will keep these promises for all people. Scattered and persecuted though they have been for millennia, these promises to Israel still stand.
But that’s really a side note, a glimpse of promise in the midst of a great warning that separates us from God. Ichabod. The glory of the Lord rises up from the place of his promised dwelling, the city of promise, and it goes out to the east over the Mount of Olives. Not until Ezekiel 43, at the other end of the book, in the middle of God’s revelation of his ultimate plan for Jerusalem, does the glory return. But notice the role played by the mountain to the east. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday it’s down the slope of that mountain. That’s a preview of him returning in glory. When he departs for heaven it is from that same Mount of Olives. And His disciples are told that he will return just as he departed. The glory of the Lord will return in the person of Jesus, to keep all God’s promises to Israel and to the nations.
All of God’s promises are, in fact, yea and amen in Jesus. Those who sigh and groan over their sins find their healing and redemption in Jesus. Those whose hearts are hard find a new heart in Jesus. Those whose sins are too numerous to count find forgiveness in the work of Jesus on the cross. Our sins do separate us from God. But Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live for Righteousness. By his wounds we are healed.