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Tragedy in the Temple

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Ezekiel 8–11

To elevate anything or anyone to a place in our lives that is equal to God is really to abandon Him as the one worthy of our sole worship. And this invites disaster. Ezekiel saw this all very plainly, and so should we.


Tragedy in the Temple

Ezekiel 8–11


Martin Luther, the Reformer, once wrote, “Anything you give your heart to and put your trust in is really your God.”[1]

Now the average person on the street is not going to view himself as an idol worshiper, or an idolater. But if money or pleasure or a career or a hobby takes precedence over his worshiping the Lord either privately or on the Lord’s Day, he might very well qualify as an idolater.

I know that is pretty strong language, but hang on—don’t turn the channel—let me actually add to the challenge. It is possible to be involved in religious activities but have nothing to do with God. The Lord through Ezekiel will show the exiles why Jerusalem must be destroyed and just how foolish it is to trust in Jerusalem, and not Himself. Remember the Lord is moving the exiles to repentance.  

In chapters 8 through 11, Ezekiel is given a vision, The Lord appears as a brilliant man-like figure who transports Ezekiel back to the city of Jerusalem. In fact, this vision sweeps him into the inner court of the temple there in Jerusalem, where Ezekiel 8:3 says the prophet sees “the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy.” This image of jealousy was an idol—more than likely the image of the goddess Asherah (see 2 Kings 21:7), supposedly the mistress of Baal.

Now verse 4 says Ezekiel also sees “the glory of the God of Israel.” This is the physical manifestation of the Lord’s presence, appearing here as a bright cloud.

So, obviously there is a problem: the glory of God is not going to share space in the temple with an idol. And to make matters worse, verse 10 tells us Ezekiel sees “engraved on the wall all around . . . every form of creeping things.” Tragically, the people are worshiping animals instead of the Creator.

And that isn’t all. Verse 11 tells us that seventy men are burning incense in honor of these animals; and verse 16 adds that outside in the courtyard there “were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun.” They have effectively turned the temple grounds into a circus of idolatry.  

With this vision before His prophet, the Lord says in verse 18, “Therefore I will act in wrath.” Divine judgment is coming. And the Lord begins to spell it out here in chapter 9.

The Lord says in verse 1, “Bring near the executioners of the city.” Six men appear with weapons, along with a seventh dressed in linen, who, according to verse 2, has “a writing case at his waist.”

This seventh man goes through Jerusalem, marking the foreheads, verse 4 says, of those “who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in [the city].” These are the faithful followers of the Lord who remain in the city; they will be spared.

Ezekiel is devastated by what he sees, of course, but the Lord reminds him, “The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. . . . I will bring their deeds upon their heads” (verses 9-10).

God is not going to share His glory with an idol.

Now in the midst of this vision, verse 3 tells us, “The glory of the God of Israel had gone up . . . to the threshold of the house.” This glory cloud that represents the presence of God is now moving toward the entrance of the temple building. God is effectively leaving, and chapter 10 records the departure. Here in verse 1, the cherubim reappear. The cherubim, remember, are those mighty angels who are associated with God’s presence and glory.

Verse 18 tells us, “The glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.” The cherubim’s rather strange-looking “chariot” of wheels is now transporting the Lord, as it were, to the east gate of the temple. He is symbolically departing from Jerusalem. This is a sad day, a very tragic moment in the history of Israel.

The Lord had warned Moses hundreds of years earlier (Deuteronomy 31) that there would come a time when the people of Israel would forsake Him for other gods. Well, that tragic time has come. They have abandoned God—they are worshiping mother earth and the eagle and the river and the planets—and now God abandons them to the consequences of their idolatry.

In chapter 11, Ezekiel prophesies judgment against the twenty-five “princes,” or leaders of Judah. Verse 2 describes these political leaders as “the men who devise iniquity and who give wicked counsel in this city.”

They will receive even stricter judgment from God for their immoral and ungodly influence over their city. This is a timeless truth to this day: political leaders will stand before God to answer, not only for their term in office, which they might have used to defy God, but more importantly, for the influence they had in leading people away from God. If you are a judge, a school board member, a civic leader, or business leader, if you’re a professor, or pastor, or teacher, as far as God is concerned, your influence will invite an inspection from God Himself.

The apostle James gives this warning in James chapter 3 and verse 1:

Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

Greater influence invites greater inspection.

And frankly, that is Ezekiel’s message to these false teachers and false religious leaders here in verse 6: “You have multiplied your slain in this city and have filled its streets with the slain.” In verse 11 he says, “I will judge you.” And the end result? Verse 12: “You shall know [you will find out one day] that I am the Lord.”

Now, as we have seen so often in the Bible, in the midst of these prophetic judgments, the Lord gives a ray of hope. In verses 14 to 20, with repentance for the exiles as His goal, God promises to protect the exiles where they are settled in Babylon—and He promises a future return to the promised land.

God also promises a spiritual awakening. This prophecy looks far into the future to the coming reign of Jesus Christ on earth, when God’s chosen people Israel—the entire nation—turns to their Messiah. Listen to this promise from the Lord:

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, that 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. (verses 19-20)

This is the fulfillment of the new covenant Jeremiah spoke of (Jeremiah 31:31-34), and Ezekiel will speak of it again in chapter 36. One day the nation will turn to the Lord, and the one they crucified will become the King they crown at His second coming.

Ezekiel’s vision then reveals the glory of the Lord ascending from Jerusalem and, notice, specifically from the Mount of Olives “on the east side of the city” (verse 23)

We are told in the Bible that Jesus Christ will one day return. And where will He arrive? Right here, on the Mount of Olives. To this same place where God’s glory ascended, Jesus Christ, our glorious God and Savior, will descend one day. He will touch down on this same spot—on the Mount of Olives.

The question is, will you be with Him when He comes back in that future day? Will you be with Him, descending from heaven to set up His kingdom on earth? You will be, if you make Him your Messiah—your Lord—today.

[1] Quoted in Mark F. Rooker, Ezekiel, Holman Old Testament Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 83.

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