Idolatrous Worship

Ezekiel 8 – 9.

The images concerning Judah’s judgment, which occurred 14 months after Ezekiel’s initial visions about Israel’s adjudication, surfaced suddenly while he was in exile in the presence of the elders of Judah (Ezek 8:1). For the sake of interpretive brevity due to the complexity of Ezekiel’s associated visions, we will just focus on two chapters here. It is pertinent to realise that although most did not perceive the spiritual reality within God’s Temple, Ezekiel saw its glory, its idolatry and its condemnation. ‘The idol of jealousy’ that provoked God was erected at the entrance to the north gate (viz., the gate where the king would normally enter from his palace, which adjoined the temple compound), and although the narrative did not describe the idol, it implied a form of syncretism that was prevalent in Israel at the time (c.f., 2Kings 21; 2Kings 23; 2Chron 33; Ex 20:2-6; Ex 34:14). Their idolatry deeply compromised their covenantal relationship with God, where all the trappings of Yahwistic ceremonies were in place but their hearts were divided and their reverence insincere. Further, as Ezekiel moved into a room off the court, where the elders of Israel were offering incense, he saw evidence of symbolic carvings of beasts and other detestable entities around its walls (Ezek 8:7-13). Next, he was taken into the inner temple precinct and witnessed women ritual mourners displaying their devotion before the Egyptian underworld god, Tammuz (Ezek 8:14-15). In the inner court between the porch and the altar, the priests had their backs turned away from the Presence of God (viz., the altar) and towards the sun, worshipping the Egyptian sun god (Ezek 8:16; c.f., 2Kings 23:11). Idolatry presupposes a veneration of the creation instead of the Creator. Although we may not succumb to the same gods as the Israelites in Ezekiel’s days, there are sufficient modern equivalents that would tempt us to relativize our God. Nominal commitment to God, nevertheless, remains the bane of our post-modern environment!

The spiritual dimension in any society prognosticates its trajectory either towards rectitude in its governance or potential chaos and moral turpitude. Not unlike the Old Testament days, a godless society where one pays only lip-service to Yahweh is perennially in a state of moral turbulence and mayhem and, in due course, inevitably attracts His judgment (Ezek 8:17-18). Our worship of God will never rise above the secret idols in our hearts as we allow these objects to structure our lives. The fact that the king and the ecclesiastical authority of a covenant nation were deeply involved in idolatrous celebrations is illustrative of how sin, accepted and practised by the upper echelons in public life, will eventually be habituated by ordinary people, and in time to come, accepted as a norm in society. God will judge those who denigrate Him and His relationship with them, as they had become a stench in His nose.

RA, the Egyptian Sun God

In response to idolatrous worship, God acts implacably. Firstly, He initiates judgment on the religious leaders of the nation, beginning at the Temple, through His messengers or angelic beings, and eventually throughout the city (Ezek 9:1-2, 5-10). Despite Ezekiel’s pleas for mercy, the unrelenting sins of the nation over countless years had eroded Yahweh’s patience and lovingkindness. And although it was only a vision, it is significant to note that the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar was less than six years away. Secondly, a seventh being – “the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case,” was to put a mark on the foreheads of those who mourned over the sins of the nation (Ezek 9:2b-6; c.f., Rev 13: 16-17); these will escape the slaughter because they were genuinely engaged with God’s holiness. Similarly, when we remain silent in the face of sin and evil, we become complicit in its practice, thereby losing our moral high ground in Christ and inadvertently compromising our values. Worship is never confined to a couple of hours each Sunday, but to worship God is to offer our whole being to Him as living sacrifices, acknowledging Him as Lord over our lives for the rest of life here and thereafter (Rom 12:1-2).