The Glory of the Lord Departs
Ezekiel 8-11 (focal Ezekiel 10:18)
We are on a journey through the life and ministry of the Prophet Ezekiel. So far Ezekiel has encountered God in a vision of the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God. God called Ezekiel to be a prophet who would deliver a hard message to God’s hard-headed people. God commissioned Ezekiel to be a watchman crying out a warning to rebellious Israel. Ezekiel proclaimed God’s judgment of his people’s sin using both words and symbolic actions.
Can you remember a day/experience that you hoped would never end? Maybe it was a special day, like Thanksgiving or Christmas? Maybe it was a vacation trip, like your first trip to Disney or Hawaii? Maybe it was just an ordinary day that was “just right” for your own special reasons. We have experienced days like this but have also experienced days that we wished had never come. Ezekiel had a vision of a day Israel had hoped would never come—the day God’s glory departed from Jerusalem.
A Vision of Sinful Jerusalem (Ezek 8:1-6)
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain.
5 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.
6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable” (Ezekiel 8:1-6 NIV).
This vision, recorded in Ezekiel 8-11, occurred 14 months after the vision of chapter 1 (cf., 1:1-2 vs. 8:1). Ezekiel received detailed information about what was going on in Jerusalem through a vision from God. Note the phrase “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable” (vv. 6, 13, 15) serves as a refrain separating four visions of the sins occurring in Jerusalem.
The first vision was of the political leadership of Israel which was corrupt and engaging in idolatry (vv. 3b-6). Ezekiel was near the north or king’s gate and saw “the idol that provokes to jealousy.” Wicked King Manasseh had placed a wooden Asherah pole in the Temple (cf., 2 Ki 21:7). Good King Josiah had removed and burned that idol along the Kidron brook (cf., 2 Ki 23:6). Apparently one of Josiah’s successors, probably Jehoiakim (cf., 2 Ki 23:37), reinstalled it.
In the second part of Ezekiel’s vision (vv. 8:7-13), the prophet digs through the temple wall into the outer rooms of the temple where the priest’s lived to see going on there in secret. Ezekiel saw seventy priests, a perfect/complete number, worshiping pictures of “crawling things” (Hb., remes = part of God’s good creation (Ge. 1:24)), “detestable animals” (Hb., seres = reptiles including snakes and scorpions) and “all the idols of the house of Israel.” The priests in private had turned away from God and were worshiping idols in secret.
In the third part of the vision Ezekiel sees the women of Israel engaged in idolatry (vv. 14-15). Ezekiel observed women just outside the temple gate bowing to Tammuz. Tammuz, meaning “true son,” was a Babylonian god who was worshiped with mourning.
In the fourth part of his vision of sin, he sees the men of Israel engaged in idol worship (vv. 16-17). The temple doors faced east toward the rising sun. As the men stood worshiping the sun, their backs were turned to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. The place where sacrificial offerings and prayers were to be lifted to the Lord as a “pleasing aroma” (Lv 3:16) had become a place where the stench of sin reached God’s nostrils.
All Israel, political leaders, spiritual leaders, men and women, were in violation of God’s commandment against idolatry (cf., Ex 20:4) and had turned away from God. Therefore, God pronounced judgment upon the people for their sins. “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” (Ezekiel 8:18 NIV).
So what does this vision say to us so far? God sees behind the closed doors of our homes and our hearts. What we do in secret reveals what we truly believe. There are many idols that we worship today—wealth, fame, pleasure. We must not turn our backs on God in pursuit of what the world offers as being good and true. When the political and spiritual leadership goes astray, the whole land is in trouble. Faith in Jesus forgives our sins, but we and others often face consequences for our sinful choices.
The Glory of the Lord Departs (Ezekiel 9-11)
In Ezekiel 9, God’s divine executioners carried out the punishment pronounced in Ezek 8:18. Those who have been unfaithful to God are killed. Only “those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things” done in the city were spared (9:4). In Ezekiel 10, the prophet again saw the thronewagon of God as he had in Ezekiel 1. God had burning coals from beneath his throne scattered over Jerusalem (Ezek 10:2). The coals represented God’s judgment upon sin; Remember Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:23)? They also represented God’s purification; Remember the coal pressed to Isaiah’s unclean lips (Is 6:7)? “The glory of the Lord” had been in the temple since its dedication by Solomon 400 years earlier. God departed from the temple which was defiled with the dead bodies of idolaters (Ezek 10:3-4). The cherubim lifted God’s thronewagon from its resting place to the temple’s threshold (Ezek 10:4). Then in Ezek 10:18, God’s presence departed from the temple pausing at the eastern gate of the city. The eastern gate of the temple mount is sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. For Jews and Muslims, it is the site of the final judgment of God. For Jews and Christians, it is the gate through which God’s Messiah will enter the city.
In Ezekiel 11 the prophet received two final words before “the glory of the Lord” departed the city. The first was a word of Judgment. In Ezek 11:1-15 God pronounced a severe judgment upon the leaders who mislead God’s people and lulled them into a false sense of security even when they were dishonoring God. The second was a word of Hope. In Ezek 11:16-21 God stated that he had been a “sanctuary” for his exiled people and promised his exiled people a future return to their land (Ezek 11:17). When they return, they will remove idolatry from the land by God’s grace (Ezek 11:19). They will have “a new spirit in them” – It will be God’s Holy Spirit. They will have “a heart of flesh” instead of stone – They will hear/obey God’s word. God renewed his covenant: “They will be my people and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:20).
So what can we learn from this vision of Ezekiel? There is no hiding from God, he knows what is in our hearts, both the good and the bad. We must be careful whom we listen to on matters of faith and obedience to God. God gives us freedom of choice in what we believe and do, but he also holds us accountable. We must follow God no matter what others do. Even though our world today may seem dark and ripe for judgment, we must not give up the faith. We must continue to follow God and honor him with our lives. God is patient, but his patience with us individually and as a church has a limit when we are unfaithful. We must choose to follow God in each moment of each day as we offer our lives to him as “. . . living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God . . .” (Ro 12:1). The glory of the Lord will never depart from us or from our church as we give him all the glory!
Jesus experienced a day that none of us would ever want to experience but which we all should have. God pronounced his judgment on us: “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Ro 6:23a). Jesus took our day of death for sin on Calvary. He was executed for our unrighteousness. God pronounced a word of hope for us: “. . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 6:23b). Because Jesus endured our day of death for sin, by placing our faith in him we experience eternal days of joy like no other. As we trust Jesus and follow him faithfully, we have no fear that the glory of his presence will ever depart from us. May we never depart from him but continue to turn toward him and follow him faithfully each day.