Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Here begins a fresh series of prophecies, extending through Ezekiel 19. This is introduced as before, by a remarkable vision which with its accompanying messages, occupies Ezekiel 8-11. The date (Ezekiel 8:1) shows that this series began just a year and two months after Ezekiel’s call to the prophetic office (Ezekiel 1:1-2), while the next date (Ezekiel 20:1) allows eleven months and five days for its completion. As in the former case, it is probable that its several prophecies, twelve or thirteen in all, were uttered at short intervals, allowing time for each to produce its impression upon the people. The previous series of prophecies was directed against the whole nation, including alike those already in captivity, and those who remained behind in Jerusalem; but that the exiles might understand the reason, and therefore the certainty of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, it was necessary that the extreme sinfulness of the people remaining there should be especially set forth. Accordingly, the vision of Ezekiel 8-11, and the following prophecies of Ezekiel 12, are directed to Jerusalem exclusively. Afterwards they again become more general, and there are some especially relating to the exiles; but still this whole section, to Ezekiel 19 inclusive, is mainly occupied with the people still remaining in their own land.
The prophet is transported in vision to Jerusalem, and to the Temple itself (Ezekiel 8:1-4), where he is first made to see the various idolatries of Israel (Ezekiel 8:5-18), and then the consequent judgment whereby all who have not received the mark of God upon their foreheads are to be destroyed (Ezekiel 9); he sees the city itself given over to fire, and the glory of the Lord depart from the Temple (Ezekiel 10); after this he is charged to pronounce judgment, especially upon certain leaders of the people (Ezekiel 11:1-13), with God’s mercy and blessing upon a repenting remnant (Ezekiel 11:14-21); then the glory of the Lord leaves the city altogether (Ezekiel 11:22-23), and the prophet is brought back in vision to declare what he has seen to his fellow-captives (Ezekiel 11:24-25). This closes the vision, after which he is directed to set forth the impending captivity by a symbolical action interpreted to the people by a plain prophecy, and this is followed by two short further prophecies, meeting the objection that there is no reason to fear the judgment because its coming is delayed (Ezekiel 12). Ezekiel 13 is directed against false prophets. The first half of Ezekiel 14 is called out by an inquiry from the elders, but is made general against any attempt to combine asking counsel of the Lord with alienation of the heart from Him, recurring again (Ezekiel 8:9-10) to the case of the false prophets; the latter half of the chapter is another prophecy, showing the certainty and terribleness of the judgment upon Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 15 the same thing is set forth under the parable of the vine; and in Ezekiel 16 still the same is declared with a recounting of Israel’s strange history, under the figure of matrimonial unfaithfulness. Still another parable is employed in Ezekiel 17 for the purpose of showing that Zedekiah and his court shall utterly fail to deliver them, and shall themselves be carried captive, while there shall again be prosperity under his descendant. Ezekiel 18 is occupied with showing that God’s punishments come upon the people for their own sins, and not for those of their fathers; while Ezekiel 19 closes this whole series of prophecies with a lament over the captivity and the desolated country.
And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me.(1) The elders of Judah sat before me.—It is plain from this that Ezekiel, as a priest, and now already known as a prophet, was held in consideration among the captives. It also appears that he lived in his own house. Judah is not used in contradistinction to Israel; but as the captives were chiefly of the tribe of Judah, so their elders were known as “the elders of Judah.”
Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber.(2) A likeness as the appearance of fire.—This is not, as often supposed, a reappearance of the vision of Ezekiel 1. That vision bursts again on the prophet after he has been carried in the spirit to the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:4). This is not expressly described as a human form, but from the mention of the loins, and of “the form of an hand,” in Ezekiel 8:3 it is implied that it was so. No further description is given, except that it was something bright and glorious like fire; and by the repetition of the words “likeness,” “appearance,” and “form of an hand,” the prophet here, as in Ezekiel 1, takes pains to show that it was only a vision, not an outward reality. It is also to be remembered that this and the subsequent vision occurred while the elders were sitting before the prophet. They saw nothing themselves, but must have witnessed his ecstasy, and thus have been prepared for his telling them at its close (Ezekiel 11:25) “all the things that the Lord had showed” him. “The colour of amber” is the same as in Ezekiel 1:4, where see Note.
And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.(3) Took me by a lock of mine head.—Not, of course, literally, in the body, but in vision. Ezekiel did not actually leave Chaldæa at all, as is shown by Ezekiel 11:24.
The door of the inner gate.—This is one of the gates which led from the court of the people to the court of the priests which was on a higher level. In the account of the building of the temple there is no mention of gates leading from the one to the other, but they would naturally have been placed there, as we know they were in the later temple of Herod. The particular gate was the one “which looketh toward the north,” as the one by which the priests went directly to the great altar.
The image of jealousy is explained in the following clause, “which provoketh to jealousy.” It is not necessary to consider “jealousy” as a proper name—the name of any particular heathen divinity—but rather as a descriptive name, an image which aroused the Divine indignation. It has even been thought that it is not meant to indicate any particular idol, but is only a picture to set forth the prevailing idolatry. It is, however, altogether probable that at this time there actually were heathen idols set up in the temple, and nothing could give a more vivid picture of the corruption of priests and people alike than the mention of their presence. Idolatry had been growing more general and more bold from the time of Solomon. He built places of worship for the various idols of his wives “in the hill that is before Jerusalem” (1Kings 11:7); but Ahaz, under the influence of the Assyrian king, had placed an idolatrous altar in the temple itself, removing the brazen altar to make room (2Kings 16:10-16), and Manasseh afterwards did the same (2Kings 21:4). All the subsequent kings of Judah, except Josiah, were wicked men, and although this particular sin is not distinctly recorded of Zedekiah, yet it seems altogether likely that he too made use of the temple for idolatrous worship, and that Ezekiel in vision now saw his idols standing in the court.
And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain.(4) The glory of the God of Israel was there.—Not the glory of the Lord filling the temple as in the days of old, but the glory “according to the vision that I saw in the plain”—i.e., the same vision which had before appeared to the prophet now in his vision—a vision within a vision—appeared to him again in the temple. The identity of the vision is again particularly mentioned in Ezekiel 10:15; Ezekiel 10:22, and even without this would be plain from the description given of it in Ezekiel 10. At the same time, various particulars are mentioned (as in Ezekiel 10:12) which were omitted in Ezekiel 1, and others are mentioned there which are omitted here, as the cloud and the firmament (Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 1:22); and there are also some entirely new features introduced, as the “six men” and “the man clothed in linen” (Ezekiel 9:2), for which there was no occasion in the former vision. “The God of Israel” is emphatic, the God who had loved and chosen Israel, and Whom Israel should have served, in contrast with the idol which they had placed in His temple.
Then said he unto me, Son of man, lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry.(5) The way toward the north.—This shows that Ezekiel in his vision was within the court of the priests, as otherwise he could not have looked toward the north to see the idol in the north gate. He had already seen this; but now his attention is directed to it particularly. It was not enough that he should see it; it was to be especially pointed out as a part of the reason for the Divine judgments. The expression, “Gate of the altar,” may find an additional explanation in the fact mentioned in 2Kings 16:14, that Ahaz removed the altar towards the north, and thus would have placed it very near this gate.
He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations.(6) That I should go far off from my sanctuary.—In the original this is simply an infinitive, without any subject expressed, “for the removing far off,” and may therefore be understood either of the removing of the people or of the Divine abandonment of the sanctuary. The latter sense, however, which is that given in the Authorised Version, is more probable and more in accordance with the whole teaching of the vision. There was a strong feeling among the people that they were safe at Jerusalem; God, Whom they still regarded, notwithstanding their idolatries, as a powerful national God, would certainly protect His temple. It is the office of the prophet to show that, the transgressions of the people led, as their natural consequence, to his giving over the city to desolation. The “great abominations” spoken of are the constant refrain of this chapter (Ezekiel 8:9; Ezekiel 8:13; Ezekiel 8:15; Ezekiel 8:17). The people’s own acts make necessary the judgments impending over them. Still worse is in store.
And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall.(7) To the door of the court.—This is clearly a different place from that in which the prophet had hitherto been in his vision, and yet is not so described that its locality can be certainly fixed. He had been inside the inner court near its north gate; in Ezekiel 8:14 he is taken to the north gate of the outer enclosure of the temple precincts. It is probable, therefore, that this was between them. We do not know from the description of Solomon’s temple that there were any other than the inner and the outer courts; but as there were others in the temple of Herod built upon the same area, it is altogether likely that there was a further division, and that it was to such a dividing wall, with chambers attached, that the prophet was now brought. Here he finds a hole, or window, too small for entrance, and is directed to enlarge it that he may go in. Having done so, he finds a door which he is told to enter. The object of this part of the vision is to show the extreme secrecy of what he is now to see—a, secrecy made necessary by the connection of this idolatry with Egypt, the foe of Chaldæa. Any question in regard to the way the idolaters themselves entered is out of place, as all is only in vision.
So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.(10) Every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts.—The description of the idolatrous rites here practised clearly indicates their Egyptian origin. Creature worship was indeed practised among other nations, and the painting of idolatrous objects upon walls is expressly mentioned in Ezekiel 23:14-16, as introduced by the Jews from Chaldæa; yet the combination is so thoroughly Egyptian, and the political relations of the time also point so strongly in the same direction, that the origin seems settled. It was during this period that Jeremiah was obliged to contend strenuously against the desire of a considerable part of the court to enter into an alliance with Egypt against Chaldæa. The party among the Jews who sought an Egyptian alliance, as abundantly appears from Jeremiah, was also the party most unwilling to submit to the Divine commandments. They were the persons who engaged in this creature-worship; and they are here represented as constituting the leaders of the nation. As if this were not enough, “all the idols of the house of Israel,” gathered from every quarter, were also portrayed upon the walls.
And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up.(11) Seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel.—There may have been no enclosed chamber about the courts of the temple capable of actually containing so large a number; but again we are to remember that as this is in vision and for purposes of instruction, it is not necessary that all the details should be actually possible. The seventy elders were not the sanhedrin, which was not constituted until after the return from Babylon; but the number has probable reference to the seventy chosen to enjoy with Moses the Theophany of Exodus 24:9-10, and the other seventy selected to share with him in the gifts of the Spirit (Numbers 11:16). In contrast with those selected for especial nearness to God, these seventy are engaged in abominations most abhorrent to Him.
Jaazaniah, the son of Shaphan.—Son is perhaps used here, as often in Scripture, in the sense of grandson. In this case he may have been the same with “Jaazaniah, the son of Azur,” mentioned in Ezekiel 11:1 as one of the wicked princes of the people, against whom Ezekiel was directed to prophesy. It is hardly probable that two persons of the same character and the same (not very common) name should have been among the leaders of the people at the same time. The mention of his grandfather here would be appropriate, as bringing out the contrast in their characters, and showing the change for the worse that had been going on among the people. Shaphan was an officer of the court of King Josiah, and active in the reformation instituted by him (2Kings 22:3; 2Kings 22:14); while his son (Elasah) was one of the messengers by whom Jeremiah sent his prophecies to the Captivity (Jeremiah 29:3); and another son, Gemariah, was a scribe, having a chamber “in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the Lord’s house,” in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:10). At the same time his grandson, Michaiah, was sufficiently prominent at court to join in the intercession of the princes against the destruction of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 36:11; Jeremiah 36:25); and a little later, in the general captivity of the ninth year of Zedekiah, another grandson, Gedaliah, had the person of Jeremiah given into his charge (Jeremiah 39:14; Jeremiah 40:5), and was made governor over the remnant of the people (Jeremiah 40:11). Such being the family connections of Jaazaniah, the corruption which could make him a leader of idolatry is strongly shown.
With every man his censer in his hand.—The burning of incense was the exclusive function of the priesthood (Numbers 16; 2Chronicles 26:16-18); and it was alike the necessity and the choice of the idolaters of Israel to devolve this office upon those who were not of the Aaronic family. (Comp. 1Kings 12:31.) When the seventy elders offered incense to their idols they claimed thereby to be the priests of those idols.
Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.(12) Do in the dark, i.e., in secret. Hence the difficulty of access to the place of their worship. The ordinary idolatries of Israel, as of most heathen, consisted in the worship of the true, or of a supposed spiritual Deity, by means of sensible images (comp. Exodus 32:8). This was open and public enough at Jerusalem at this time; but the peculiar sin here portrayed was the actual worship of the creature by means of images and paintings. This, although joined in by the chief people of the nation, was practised secretly, perhaps, not only for the purpose of concealing its Egyptian tendencies from the Chaldæans, but also to throw over it the charm of mystery, as was so common among the heathen.
Every man in the chambers of his imagery.—By “chambers of imagery” (the same word as in Leviticus 26:1) is intended chambers painted with images like the one now shown to the prophet. This was not a solitary case; on the contrary, it was but an example of what was done everywhere. The people stifled the voice of conscience then, as in every age, by saying “The LORD seeth us not,” comp. Psalm 10:11; Psalm 94:7, &c. Yet, besides this, they argued, doubtless from the calamities that had already fallen upon their country, “the LORD hath forsaken the earth,” or. rather, the land; and therefore they must have recourse to other help. But the prophet was to see yet worse things.
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD'S house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.(14) Women weeping for Tammuz.—The prophet is now taken to the north gate of the outer enclosure of the Temple courts, and there sees a new and exceedingly corrupt form of idolatry. Tammuz is nowhere else mentioned in Scripture, but is identified by ancient tradition (incorporated into the Vulg.) with the Greek Adonis, the beloved of Venus. The name Adonis could not well have been used, because in its Hebrew form it means Lord, and is frequently used of God. His worship is first heard of in Phoenicia, and was wide-spread throughout Syria and the adjacent countries. As the creature worship before mentioned was undoubtedly connected with political reasons, while aid was being sought from Egypt, so the worship of Adonis may have been affected by the league which Zedekiah attempted to form (Jeremiah 27:1-11) with the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Philistines against Nebuchadnezzar. The annual feast of Adonis consisted of a mourning by the women for his death, followed by a rejoicing over his return to life, and was accompanied by great abominations and licentiousness. The myth of Adonis was also closely associated with the worship of nature. This festival did not fall in the “sixth month,” but the description is not necessarily of what was actually occurring at the moment; there is brought before the prophet’s vision a representation of the wickedness practised at various times in Jerusalem. Women engaged in the service of idolatry near the Temple are mentioned in 2Kings 23:7. (Comp. Jeremiah 7:18.)
Thus far, the prophet has seen in the different courts of the Temple the general image worship of the people, then the creature worship of their elders, and now the corrupt and debasing rites of their women.
And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.(16) Between the porch and the altar.—Ezekiel now returns to the court of the priests, and there sees—not about, but as it were (referring to the nature of the vision)—“twenty-five men.” These are probably the high priest and the heads of the twenty-four courses, representing the whole body of the priests, as the elders represented the whole body of the people. They were standing between the altar and the Temple, therefore in the most sacred part of the court, and there, turning their backs upon the Temple of the Lord, worshipped the sun. The adoration of the sun, probably the earliest form of false religion, was the especial worship of Persia, but had been long since practised by the kings and people of Judah (2Kings 23:5; 2Kings 23:11). Thus all classes of the nation are seen to be involved in common sin; and the priests particularly, the especial guardians of true religion, are found practising this sin under circumstances of peculiar insult to God. That the “chief priests” did pollute the sanctuary at this time is expressly asserted in the history at 2Chronicles 36:14.
Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose.(17) For they have filled the land with violence.—Corruption in religion here, as always, bore its proper fruit in moral deterioration. A people who go astray from their duty to God are always found to neglect also their duty to man. Israel had before fallen into great and grievous sins. Within the memory of those still living, the good king Josiah, supported by the prophet Jeremiah and many others, had made great effort at reformation, and had purged the Temple of its abominations; hence God says the people “have returned to provoke me to anger.”
Put the branch to their nose.—This is an obscure expression, on which the learning and ingenuity of commentators have been spent in vain. It is an allusion to some custom well known at the time, but now lost. The simplest explanation seems to be in a reference to the habit of the Parsees (mentioned by Strabo) in their worship to hold twigs of the tamarisk, palm, and the pomegranate before their mouths.
Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.(18) Will I not hear them.—The time for prayer was past. They had rejected God. and when His wrath came upon them it was too late to turn to Him. (See Proverbs 1:24-28; Matthew 7:22-23.) The possibility of sinning beyond the term of the day of grace is one of the most important lessons of this chapter.