Ezekiel 8:1-18

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Ezekiel happened to be in his house “in the sixth year” of the exile of King Jehoiachin, which year is commonly considered to have been 592 BCE. It was then the fifth day of the sixth month (mid-July to mid-August [fifth month (LXX)]). “Elders of Judah were sitting” before Ezekiel, possibly because of having come to him to hear a message from YHWH. At that time, the “hand of YHWH fell” upon Ezekiel, indicating that God’s spirit became operative upon him. The Targum does not use the expression “hand” but refers to the “spirit of prophecy from before the Lord God.” (8:1)

Ezekiel saw the likeness of a figure that had the “appearance of fire” or that shown brightly. According to the Septuagint, it was the “likeness of a man” or a likeness that resembled the human form. From his “loins” or waist downward, the appearance looked like fire; and from the “loins” upward, the appearance was like “electrum,” an alloy of gold and silver that gleamed brightly The Targum avoids any reference to a human form. It indicates that the “glory” was too great for the eye to see, being impossible to look upon. (8:2)

The bright likeness reached out with the “form of a hand”and took hold of Ezekiel by a lock of the hair of his head. A “spirit,” either God’s spirit or a wind for which God was responsible, lifted Ezekiel up and carried him “between the earth and the heavens,” or in midair between the land below and the sky above, and brought him to Jerusalem. This did not occur literally but “in visions of God” or in a visionary manner that had God as its source. In vision, Ezekiel arrived at the “entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north.” It was the inner court of the temple and the place where the “image of jealousy,” one “provoking to jealousy,” was located. According to the Targum, it was an object that provoked to anger, meaning that the idolatrous object incited God’s anger. As an object of the people’s defiant refusal to be exclusively devoted to YHWH, the “image of jealousy” was highly offensive to him. The Septuagint refers to it as the “stele [pillar or monument] of the buyer.” (8:3)

The vision of the “glory of the God of Israel” that Ezekiel had seen previously occurred at the location of a plain in Babylonia. (3:22, 23) Likely the plain was an uninhabited area some distance from the nearest town or city. The presence of the glory of YHWH in the proximity of the temple indicated that he had come to direct attention to the abominable practices of the people against whom he would express punitive judgment. (8:4)

In response to the divine directive to “lift up [his] eyes in the direction of the north,” Ezekiel did so. He then saw “north of the gate of the altar” the object that provoked YHWH to jealousy or anger (LXX), the image of jealousy in the entrance. The “gate of the altar” could refer to the inner temple gate that led to the altar of burnt offering. Modern translations vary in the meanings their renderings convey. “So I looked, and there to the north, beside the entrance to the gate near the altar, stood the idol that had made the Lord so jealous.” (NLT) “I saw that disgusting idol by the altar near the gate.” (CEV) “In the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.” (NIV) “There in the entry north of the altar gate was this statue of jealousy.” (NAB, revised edition) In the Septuagint, there is no mention of an idol. It indicates that Ezekiel saw the gate that led to the east. (8:5; see the Notes section.)

YHWH asked Ezekiel whether he saw the “great abominations” or detestable things (“great lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) in which the “house [or people] of Israel” engaged at his sanctuary. Their defiling practices were such as to drive him away from it, or cause him to abandon the temple as his representative place of dwelling and to let it be destroyed. Although Ezekiel had seen the disgusting “image of jealousy,” he would come to see even greater abominations (“greater lawless things” or deeds [LXX]). (8:6; see the Notes section.)

YHWH brought Ezekiel to the “door” or entrance leading into the court, apparently the inner temple court. Then Ezekiel “saw a hole in the wall,” evidently in the wall that surrounded the court. (8:7) YHWH commanded him to “dig into the wall.” Upon doing so, Ezekiel saw a door or entrance there, probably an entrance into a chamber on the perimeter of the court. (8:8; see the Notes section.) YHWH directed him to enter so that he could see the vile abominations or disgusting things (“lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) people of Israel were committing there. (8:9) Ezekiel entered and saw all kinds of crawling things and detestable beasts or unclean wild animals and idols (literally, “dungy things [an expression of contempt]) of the “house [or people] of Israel” carved on the wall of the place where he then found himself. (8:10; see the Notes section.)

Seventy elders of the “house [or people] of Israel” were standing where Ezekiel had entered. Probably the most prominent among them was “Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan,” the only one mentioned by name. Each of the elders had a censer in his hand, and smoke from the burning incense in the censer rose in the form of a cloud. When burning incense before the representations engraved on the wall, all the men made themselves guilty of idolatry. (8:11) YHWH asked Ezekiel whether he had seen what each one of the “elders of the house [or people] of Israel” was doing “in the dark in the rooms of his show piece” or idol. Perhaps the reference to rooms is to niches for the idolatrous representations to which the elders burned incense. According to the Septuagint, the rooms were private rooms — hidden bedchambers. Apparently because they saw no help coming from YHWH to deal with the serious military threat from the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, they felt that YHWH had left the land. Seemingly they reasoned that his departure from the land meant that he could not see what they were doing in secret. (8:12)

YHWH told Ezekiel that he would see even greater abominations or detestable practices (“lawless things” or deeds [LXX]) in which the people of Israel engaged. (8:13) After having been taken to the north side of the temple precincts at the “entrance of the gate of the house [or temple] of YHWH,” Ezekiel saw seated women who were “weeping for Tammuz,” a Mesopotamian fertility god. This deity is thought to have been the Dumuzi mentioned in ancient Sumerian texts. Tammuz was also the name of the month that corresponds to mid-June to mid-July. By then summer heat had dried up much of the vegetation, and worshipers of Tammuz appear to have associated this development to his death. The wailing of the women apparently was over the death of Tammuz. (8:14) YHWH is quoted as then saying to Ezekiel, “Have you seen [this], son of man? You will see still greater abominations [practices (LXX)] than these.” These words indicated that Ezekiel would witness even more shocking detestable idolatrous acts. (8:15; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)

From his position at the “entrance of the temple of YHWH” with a view of the “inner court of the house [or temple] of YHWH,” where he had been taken, Ezekiel saw twenty-five men with their backs to the temple. Located between the temple porch (ailam [LXX], a transliteration of the Hebrew word) and the altar of burnt offering, these men faced east and were bowing down, worshiping the sun. This act was a flagrant rejection of YHWH, for the temple was his representative place of dwelling. (8:16)

Again YHWH is quoted as asking Ezekiel, “Have you seen [this], son of man?” This is followed with the rhetorical question as to whether it was too slight a thing “for the house [or people] of Judah to commit the abominations [lawless things or deeds (LXX)] that they commit here,” filling the land with violence (lawless things or deeds [LXX]) and further provoking YHWH to anger. There is uncertainty about the significance of the concluding phrase in the question (“putting the branch to their nose”). The expression “their nose” in this phrase was anciently identified as a scribal emendation, with the alternate reading being “my nose.” In the Septuagint, the reference could be to those engaged in mocking as if thumbing their noses. “Putting the branch to [the] nose” appears to have been a highly offensive act, and the branch may even have been a phallic representation. Modern translations vary in their interpretive renderings. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger?” (NLT) “Look how they insult me in the most offensive way possible!” (TEV) “Look at them at their worship, holding twigs to their noses.” (REB) (8:17; see the Notes section regarding “son of man.”)

In view of the detestable idolatrous practices and the violence and injustices with which the people had filled the land, YHWH determined to express his wrath against them. His “eye” would not pity them, and he would not be compassionate. YHWH would not look upon the suffering people with any sense of sorrow or feel any compassion for them. In their distress, they would cry out to him. Although they would cry out with a loud voice in his hearing (literally, “ears”), he would not listen to them, refusing to provide any aid or relief. The Targum says that he would not hear their prayers. (8:18; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In this chapter (verses 5, 6, 8, 12, 15, and 17), as elsewhere in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is addressed as “son of man.” This served to remind him that he was an earthling or mortal with a commission from the eternal God YHWH upon whom cherubs are in attendance.

The Septuagint, in verse 7, does not mention a hole in the wall, and verse 8 also does not refer to a wall.

In verse 10, the Septuagint does not mention the wall, resulting in ambiguity. It also does not refer to crawling things and detestable beasts but refers to “vain [or worthless] abominations” and “all the idols of the house of Israel.”

In verse 18, the Septuagint does not include the phrase about crying out with a loud voice and not being heard.