Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Man Dressed in Linen (Eze. 8-9)


Do you remember that once before, we spoke about the dangerous vision of the Chariot:  the chapter in the Bible that is so dangerous, it’s not permitted to be read in the synagogue?  Do you remember which chapter that was?  It was Ezekiel 1, the first vision of Ezekiel.  And do you remember what was in the Chariot?  A radiant man that glowed like glowing metal.  And who did we say that radiant man was?  Jesus, Yeshua, the Son of God.  Today we’re going to talk about another of Ezekiel’s visions, about a year later, when he saw the Chariot and the radiant man again.

At the time of these visions, Ezekiel was an exile in what is today the nation of Iraq.  Why was he here, hundreds of miles from home?  Because Israel had rebelled against God and been conquered by the Babylonians, the growing new super-power in the Middle East.  But rather than submit to the Babylonians, as God told them to do through the prophet Jeremiah, King Jehoiakim of Judah decided to rebel against the Babylonians and ally himself with the Egyptians.  This was not a good idea.  The days of Egyptian power were declining, as Jeremiah had warned the king.  But the king refused to listen to the word of the Lord. 

So the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, besieged and conquered Jerusalem.  He took King Jehoiakim and all the leading men of the nation into exile, around 10,000 people.  One of these exiles, a priest, was Ezekiel.  This was in 597 BC.    

One of the places that Nebuchadnezzar settled the exiles was along the river Chebar, as it’s called in our Bibles, though this was actually a huge canal (the Babylonians called it the “Grand Canal”) that took water from the Euphrates River right through the city of Nippur and beyond.  It was so large, it looked like a river.  Without these ancient canals, life would have been impossible in this dry region.  But because of them, huge areas of land were opened up for irrigation, which made cities possible, cities surrounded by abundant water, and filled with greenery. 

The canal system of ancient Mesopotamia was a marvel of ancient engineering.  It dated back thousands of years, and was developed and improved over the years.  Many of those canals are still there today, though most no longer contain any water.  Even the rivers themselves, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, are drying up.  Large marsh areas have disappeared.  Today much of Iraq has returned to desert. 

But in Ezekiel’s day, it was still green and beautiful.  But this didn’t impress the exiles from Judah that were forced to live there.  As they wrote in Psalm 137:1:  “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”  One of those living there and weeping was Ezekiel. 

Five years later, when he was about thirty years old (592 BC), Ezekiel had his first vision, the vision of the Chariot, right there by the river Chebar, in which God appeared in a storm of the Spirit, a sign that God was still alive, and was with them in their exile (Eze. 1:4).  This is the vision we talked about last time.

This is when God called Ezekiel to be a prophet.  Eze. 2:3-4:  “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 And I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children; and you will say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.”’”  Why did God call Israel a rebellious people?  The reason they had been defeated, the reason they were in exile, was because of their spiritual rebellion against God. 

We can get an impression of the scale of their rebellion by the list of abominations that Josiah cleansed from Jerusalem when he became king.  This was about twenty years before the time of Ezekiel.  “Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the Temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel” (2 Kings 23:4).  This tells us that Baal and Asherah, two pagan gods, were being worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem itself, along with the “host of heaven,” that is, the stellar deities of Babylon! 

They were also being worshipped at “high places” (places of worship) all over the country:  “And he did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 23:5). 

2 Kings 23:6: “And he brought out the Asherah from the House of the LORD outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the common people.”  This means there was an idolatrous statue of Asherah right in the Temple itself!  Scholars think these Asherahs might have been wooden poles or even trees dedicated to the goddess Asherah.  This was a form of nature worship.  They would plant sacred trees in pots and worship them as Asherahs.  This was their way to worship what today we would call Mother Nature or some call Gaia (the Greek name for the earth goddess).  Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with taking care of our environment.  This is what we should do as responsible members of humanity.  But they had turned this into a worship of the earth, denying the Creator God that made us, just as some do today, worshipping the environment and rejecting the God of the Bible. 

There were also cult prostitutes working in the Temple.  “He also broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes which were in the House of the LORD, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 23:7).  What was this?  Pagan worship at the time sometimes involved prostitution in the name of religion, which was done right in their temples, both of male (in other words homosexual) and female prostitutes.  There are still places in India where temple prostitution continues today, although it’s illegal.  This practice, totally opposed to the covenant and the will of God, had been brought right into the Temple in Jerusalem—adultery, homosexuality, and fornication in the name of religion!  You know what they called these religious prostitutes?  Qedeshim, which is a variant of qadosh, which means holy.  They called them holy ones! 

Now it’s true, as some scholars have recently pointed out, that this probably wasn’t technically prostitution at all, but rather sex being done for what they considered religious purposes.  But money changed hands (probably given as “offerings”) and sexual acts took place.  So from the Bible’s point of view, this was prostituting yourself to false gods and false religion. 

And isn’t this what’s happening in the churches today, as homosexuals are being brought in as religious professionals, and so many are excited and happy to have homosexual religious leaders?  They think it is so bold, and good and right.  Reverend Mr. Homosexual, Pastor Homosexual, right in the holy place.  Mr. Holy.  Mrs. Holy.  But it’s nothing new.  It’s the same anti-God religious spirit that was in Jerusalem so long ago. 

There was also Topheth in the Gehinnom Valley.  This is the valley that gave its name to Gehenna, the place of eternal punishment.*  Why was this valley considered so evil?  Right in the middle of it there was a place of worship, Topheth, with an idol of the wicked god Molech, the god of the Ammonites.  Here they passed their sons and daughters through the fire to Molech, as it says in 2 Kings 23:10:  “He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.”  What does this mean?  It means that they burned their children to death there as ritual offerings to this evil god.  This was child sacrifice, murder, in the name of religion!


Isn’t that just what people are doing today?  They murder their children through abortion in the name of truth and justice.  A woman’s right to choose!  It sounds so noble!  So dignified!  “Abortion providers save women’s lives!”  Sounds so good.  That’s just how the people felt in ancient times, gathering down at Topheth for a religious ritual.  They felt so holy as they watched the young babies being burned in the flames.  They had not only rationalized their actions as legitimate, they had rationalized them as holy!  It’s just amazing what the human mind can do under the leading of the Deceiver of our souls.  We can totally deceive ourselves that right is wrong and wrong is right.  It’s just amazing how that works. 

Josiah also destroyed horses and chariots dedicated to the sun:  “And he did away with the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the House of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire” (2 Kings 23:11).  Hopefully you can understand this better now because of our previous teaching in which we saw that chariots, spiritual chariots, were a religious symbol in Israel, including the Chariot of God himself.  These chariots dedicated to the sun were a paganized version of this belief. 

Then there were the temples Solomon had built for his foreign wives on top of the southern part of the Mount of Olives:  “And the high places which were before Jerusalem, which were on the south of the mountain of corruption which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled” (2 Kings 23:13). 

There were also mediums and spiritists and idols everywhere:  “Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim (private household idols) and the (public) idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem...” (2 Kings 23:24).  And there was even more than what we’ve mentioned here.  We’re talking about a culture that was in full scale rebellion against God. 

When King Josiah died, many of these abominations were brought back by the kings of Judah that followed him.  As the Bible says, each of them did “evil in the sight of the LORD according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:32,37; 24:9,19).  Josiah’s reforms had not really changed the hearts of the people.  They continued in their wickedness and sin.  And as a result, God brought the Babylonians to conquer the city and take the leaders into exile, including Ezekiel. 

But at the time of the visions of Ezekiel that we’re talking about, his early visions, Jerusalem and the Temple had not yet been destroyed.  There were still many people living there.  It was still possible for them to repent and turn back to God. 

This brings us to the vision of Ezekiel that we want to talk about today, in Ezekiel 8.  What did the prophet see from his exile in Babylon?  “Then I looked, and behold, a likeness as the appearance of a man; from his loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from his loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal” (Eze. 8:2).  The radiant man appeared to Ezekiel again.  And what did the radiant man do? 

Ezekiel 8:3a:  “And he stretched out the figure of a hand and he took hold of me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me between the earth and the heavens and brought me towards Jerusalem in the visions of God.”  The radiant man lifted him up by a lock of his hair to take him to Jerusalem.  That sounds like a pretty painful way to travel.  And in the vision, he brought him to Jerusalem, into the Temple of God. 

Ezekiel was brought “to the opening of a gate, the inner one that faces northward, where the place of the idol of jealousy is that arouses jealousy” (Ezek. 8:3b).  Where was this exactly?  There were two rectangular courts in the Temple, the inner court in front of the Sanctuary building and the outer court that surrounded it (see the diagram above).  Access to both courts was through gates, in the middle of the north, the east, and the south sides.  These gates were not simple doorways, but large, roofed buildings with inner chambers.  They also had large doors at either end of the building that could be closed.  The “opening” of the gate would be one of the entrances to the gate building, in this case the north (outer) side of the northern gate of the inner court (north is to the right in the diagram).  Somewhere there by the entrance to this gate, or perhaps inside the gate itself, there was an idol.  We know that statues were sometimes put inside gates both from the Bible and from archeology.  A little idol platform was found, for example, in the gate at the city of Dan, up in the north of Israel.  Ezekiel doesn’t tell us which god this was an idol of, but most likely it was Baal, who was associated with the north.

Here Ezekiel sees the Glory of God again, which is his name for the radiant man (as in Ezek. 1:28 and Heb. 1:3).  This is the same radiant man that we identified earlier as an appearance of the Son of God.  “And look!, there was the Glory of the God of Israel like the vision that I saw in the valley” (Eze. 8:4). 

Eze. 8:5:  “And he said to me, son of man, now lift up your eyes to the way going northward and I lifted up my eyes to the way going northward and look!—on the north side of the Altar Gate was this idol of jealousy, at the entrance.”  The radiant man calls his attention to the idol by the north gate (called here the “Altar Gate”). 

Eze. 8:6:  “And he said to me, son of man, are you seeing what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are doing here in order to make themselves distant from my sanctuary?  And yet again you will see great abominations.”  It was because of abominations like this that God was taking them into exile.  But as shocking as this idol was, it was only the start.  

Eze. 8:7:  “And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and I saw and look!, a hole in the wall.”  The radiant man brings Ezekiel into the inner court, where he saw a hole in the wall along the side of the court.  For there to be a hole in the wall in such a holy place was pretty shocking in itself.  It indicates how run down and neglected the Temple had become. 

Eze. 8:8:  “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, now dig through the wall.’ So I dug through the wall, and behold, an entrance.”  After crawling through the hole in the wall, Ezekiel came to the entrance of an inner chamber, one of the rooms in the buildings built along the walls of the inner court. 

Eze. 8:9:  “And he said to me, ‘Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.’”

Eze. 8:10:  “So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around.”  Here, on the walls, were carved images (in relief) of not just one false god, but dozens of them:  insects and all kinds of creatures and abominations, like in the temples of Egypt. 

Eze. 8:11:  “And seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniahu the son of Shaphan standing in their midst, were standing before them, each man with his censer in his hand, with the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising.”  Here worshipping these detestable gods were seventy of the elders of Israel.  The number seventy may indicate that they were the leaders of the nation, successors to the seventy elders appointed by Moses in the desert, the same group that was later known as the Sanhedrin Council in the time of Jesus.  Though they were worshiping in the right place—the Temple of God—they were no longer worshipping the right god.  Their hearts had turned to idols and false religion.

God never asked for these idols and images to be in his House.  In fact, he forbid it!  But they, in the rebellion of their hearts, unashamedly brought these things right into the Temple of God!  Why?  They had given up on God.  As it says in verse 12:  "For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land'" (Eze. 8:12).  These men still looked religious, going up to the Temple to pray.  But in fact they had abandoned the God of the Bible in favor of false religion.  Being in the right building doesn’t guarantee that you are right with God.  What’s important is that you worship the right God, and that you worship him the right way.

Eze. 8:13:  “And he said to me, ‘Yet again you will see great abominations that they are doing.”

Eze. 8:14:  “And he brought me to the opening of a gate of the House of the LORD which is on the north and look!—there the women were sitting, weeping for Tammuz.”  What is this?  Tammuz was a Babylonian nature god that represented the vegetation that blossoms in the spring.  In the Middle East, much of this quickly disappears in the hot, dry summer.  This drying up of the vegetation was symbolized by the death of Tammuz.  This was when people would weep for Tammuz, at the beginning of the hot, dry summer months.  Did it bother these women that they were worshipping a false god right beside the Sanctuary of the Living God?  It doesn't seem so.  They had become so accustomed to mixing false religion with true that they didn't even notice it anymore.  The same thing has happened over the years in many churches.  First you let in a little pagan thinking, and then a little more, and before you know it, without even realizing it, you’re not worshipping the true God anymore, but a god of your own creation. 

Eze. 8:16:  “And he brought me to the inner court of the LORD's House. And look!, at the entrance of the Temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the Temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun.”  What was this?  Sun worship in the Temple.  This was being done right in front of the main entrance of the Sanctuary building (the “porch”).  This is another of the things that God told them never to do (Deut. 4:19, 17:3).  This insult to God was remembered in Jesus' day in a special ceremony at the Feast of Tabernacles.  Two priests blew trumpets as they faced the Sanctuary and said, "Our fathers, when they were in this place, turned with their backs toward the Sanctuary of the Lord and their faces toward the east...; but as for us, our eyes are towards the Lord" (Mishnah, Sukkah 5:4). 

Eze. 8:17:  “And he said to me, ‘Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to their nose.”  This “putting the twig to their nose” was similar to our expression ‘thumbing the nose’ at someone, taunting them. 

Eze. 8:18: “And so I, too, will deal with them in wrath.  My eye will have no pity and I will not spare; and though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.”  All of this false worship was too much, and God had to do something about it. 

Eze. 9:1,2:  “And he called out in my hearing with a loud voice saying, ‘Draw near, officers of the city, and each with his weapon of destruction in his hand.’  And look, six men were coming from the way of the gate, the upper one that faces northwards, and a lone man in their midst clothed in linen with the inkwell of a scribe at his loins; and they went and they stood beside the bronze altar.”  The bronze altar, the altar of sacrifice, was directly in front of the Sanctuary of the Temple, right in the center of the inner court. Why were these officers brought here? The altar of sacrifice is a reminder of the penalty God requires for sin:  death (Rom. 6:23). 

Eze. 9:3:  “And the Glory of the God of Israel was taken up from over the cherub on which he was to the threshold of the House (the threshold of the Sanctuary building); and he called to the man, the one clothed in linen with the inkwell of a scribe at his loins.”  What is this all about?  The Glory of God is Ezekiel’s name for the radiant man.  The cherub on which he was riding (which we hadn’t seen before) was an animal-like angel.  This is how people pictured angels at the time, as powerful animals, quite different and much more frightening than modern ideas about angels.  From there he was “taken up” (the language makes it sound like he flew) to the threshold of the Sanctuary building, the entrance of the building.  And from there, he gives his orders to the angelic officers.  What does this mean?  God is reclaiming his Temple.  The Sanctuary building held both the Holy Place and at the back the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God had once dwelt.  From here, from the Sanctuary, the radiant man gives his orders for the destruction of the city.  But first, he speaks to the man clothed in linen, with the inkwell of a scribe. 

Eze. 9:4:  “And the LORD said, ‘Pass through the midst of the city, in the midst of Jerusalem, and mark a mark (a tav) on the foreheads of the men sighing and lamenting over all the abominations being done within her.”  What is this?  The radiant man instructs the man with the inkwell to go through the city and mark those who are upset about the abominations taking place in Jerusalem.  The word for a “mark” here in Hebrew is the word tav.  In addition to meaning a mark, this is also the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, still occasionally written in Jesus' day, as it was in the time of Ezekiel, as an equal-armed cross.  In other words, the man with the inkwell is to mark people with the sign of a cross on their foreheads. 

Eze. 9:5:  “And to the others he said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and smite; do not let your eye take pity and do not spare.'”

Eze. 9:6:  “‘Old man, young man and virgin and child and women you will kill for destruction, and every man on whom is the mark (the tav), you will not come near.  And from my sanctuary you will begin.’  And they began with the elders that were before the House.”   The twenty-five elders worshipping the sun were the first to be destroyed.  Notice the language used here:  in Hebrew it says that those who are not marked are to be killed “for destruction.”  What does that mean, to be killed for destruction?  They were being killed for the purpose of eternal destruction in Gehenna (the place of eternal punishment).

No wonder this man dressed in linen was seen as a symbol of the Messiah:  every person he marked with the sign of a cross was spared.  All the others were killed.  What an incredible foreshadowing of the earthly ministry of Jesus!  He, too, came to "mark" those who sigh and groan over the abominations taking place in our world, this time with an inner cross, which also serves as a memory of the cross on which he gave his life.  Those he marks will be spared the wrath of God.  Those he does not will be destroyed eternally. 

What about us?  Do we sigh and groan over the wickedness in the churches and in the world today?  Are we disturbed by the sinful things we see going on around us?  Or do we blindly participate in those deceptions like everyone else?

The work of the destroyers started from the Sanctuary (Eze. 9:6).  As Peter put it:  "For it is time for the judgment to begin with the house of God:  but if first with us, what will be the end of those who are disobedient to the good news of God?" (1 Pet. 4:17).  God’s judgment begins with the Church.   

This prophecy of Ezekiel was fulfilled eleven years later, when the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians.  All that was left was a pile of rubble.  God permitted the destruction of his own people and his own holy city of Jerusalem.  Why?  Because of their sins.  If he did this to his chosen people Israel because of their sins, do you think he will do any less to the Church when it compromises and corrupts the gospel?

It's difficult to be the chosen people of God, because we must see the world the way it really is.  We must keep our eyes open to the reality of sin.  And that’s not pleasant.  It causes us to moan and mourn over the sins taking place around us.  But because of this, we have been marked with the blood of the lamb, and will be spared the final and most horrible judgment, when God condemns the wicked to eternal destruction. 

What about you?  Do you see the world with the eyes of God?  Do you weep over what he weeps about?  Do you groan over what he groans about?  Do you see the sin in your own life and weep about it before the Lord?  It's much harder to fight against the stream of the world than to flow with it.  But God has given us a higher calling:  to be different than the world, to be a holy people, set apart from the rest.  And though this is sometimes a difficult calling, it will be well worth it in the end.

Let’s pray:  Father God, we thank you for sending Jesus to mark us and call us to yourself.  Help us to be faithful to that calling.  Help us to be faithful to your Word, and faithful to you as our God.  Purify us, Lord, purify our hearts, purify our lives.  Help us to cleanse our lives of every false belief and every unrighteous action, so that we will be ready for the things that are coming on the world.  In Jesus’ name.  

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