Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE OCCASION. The occasion arose out of a visit made to Ezekiel by the elders of Israel. Genuine inquiry on the part of men is always pleasing to God. If men ask after truth from righteous motive, God is prepared to meet them. The response from heaven may not be in the mode men expect, yet some response there will be. On this occasion, too, God was honoured in the person of his messenger. It becomes us to use those channels for information which God has opened. If we are at our Sovereign's footstool, we shall not have long to wait.
II. GOD'S GRACIOUS MANIFESTATION. It was an act of grace that God should reveal himself to his prophet, so that through the prophet he might reveal himself to the elders. In every age God has chosen the most fitting agencies through which to manifest himself to men.
1. It was an exact repetition of a former appearance. This was to intimate that God's designs had in no respect changed. There were the same splendours of majesty - the unchangeable glory - of Jehovah; there was the same appearance of radiant fire in the loins and feet, to indicate that he was about to march through the land in righteous indignation. "Verily, a fire goeth before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about." "For he cometh to judge the earth."
2. A mighty energy was put forth. There was the form of a hand, by which the prophet was lifted up. From first to last we need Divine assistance. So feeble is human nature, that at every step we need gracious succour, both to learn and to do God's will. We must be separated from earthly scenes - have elevation of mind - if we would see things as God sees them.
3. Personal effort. There was place and scope for the prophet's exertion. Man must cooperate with God. "I beheld." Ezekiel must use his eyes. In that state of ecstasy to which he had been raised there is need for special activity. Human nature at present cannot long endure the ecstatic state. Golden opportunities such as these are brief. Therefore note well the precious lessons.
III. THE GRADUAL DISCLOSURES OF ISRAEL'S GUILT. The glory of God was manifest in the temple.
1. In the clear light of Jehovah's presence we see the real character of sin. The eye of man needs the medium of light through which to discern objects; and a special revelation of God is required in which to discover the turpitude of sin. It was when God came near to Job that this exemplary man exclaimed, "I abhor myself." It was when Christ first revealed his glory to Peter that he put up the prayer, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
2. All forms of idolatry provoke God's jealous anger. We take this "image of jealousy" as an allegorical representation of the many sided idolatry of Israel. Whatever forms their idolatries assumed, they all had this in common - they usurped Jehovah's place; they supplanted his authority. In stupendous condescension, God speaks to us after the manner of a man. As the strongest passion which fallen man knows is jealousy, so God represents this as the picture of indignant sentiment in his own breast. He sets high value on our human love. It is the most precious thing we can give him. Hence, we wound him in the tenderest part when we erect a rival in his place. This is a root sin.
3. Sin becomes most heinous of all sin when committed in the temple. God's dwelling place on earth is designed to be a fount, whence streams of blessing may flow to every province of our human life. To defile this fount is to send a stream of pollution into the domestic, commercial, and political life of the nation. If there be idolatry in the temple, there will be idolatry in the home; there will be disorder everywhere. The sanctuary will always be a source of life or of death to the whole empire.
4. God's disclosures of our sin are gradual. This method has two advantages:
(1) It gives us a clearer conception of the magnitude and the degrees of sin.
(2) It serves to deepen impression, while it does not overwhelm us with despair. If we desire to know the truth respecting our sin, God's Spirit will lead us from point to point, so that we may have an ever-deepening sense of our iniquity.
IV. THE HEINOUSNESS OF ISRAEL'S OFFENCE.
1. Its secrecy. The prophet had to break through the wall in order to discover it. Men will often indulge secretly in sins which they are ashamed to commit openly. The censure of our fellow men is often a useful deterrent. The opinion of others is a mirror, in which we see ourselves. Every man has his "chamber of imagery" within. Idolatry in the heart precedes the idolatry of temple worship. Can we not find some image of evil painted on the wails of our imagination - some form of mammon, or pleasure, or self? Therefore "keep thy heart with all diligence."
2. The deceitfulness of sin. It had blinded men's eyes to the fact of God's presence - to the fact of certain discovery and certain retribution. A growing acquaintance with sin convinces us of its many wiles to deceive. Few men venture to sin until they forget God's omniscience; and the habit of forgetfulness leads swiftly to atheism.
3. The sin was spread by most pernicious example. The men who ought to have been beacons and bulwarks against idolatry were pioneers in iniquity. Men holding high rank, whether in Church or in state, cannot sin as others do. Their influence is enormous, and it is inevitable that they lead others to heaven or to hell. Every station has its responsibilities. If, in Israel, the princes and elders had set a high example of pious obedience, in all likelihood the fortunes of the nation had been retrieved. If the helmsman be blind, there is small chance for the safety of the ship.
4. This sin is seminal; it soon produces a brood of other sins. Idolatry blossomed into sensual lust - into vice, disorder, and violence. The idolatries of the heathen suited the popular taste, because they did not curb natural inclination; gave a dangerous licence to every sensual and selfish passion. They who have driven from the heart the love of God are soon filled with every vile affection. They who have ceased to fear God soon cease to have any regard for others' weal. Sin rapidly generates a swarm noxious vices. The women who wept for Tammuz at the door of the temple were, without doubt, living in shameless prostitution. To depart from God is to run into every excess of iniquity. The more we examine the matter, the more flagrant and aggravated human sin appears. Superficial observers may talk of sin as a mere bagatelle; but they who search out the matter conclude that language is too poor to describe the cursed thing. It is the heaviest calamity that can rest on a human being; worse than poverty, or pain, or ill-repute, or desertion, or death: "He is in danger of eternal sin. - D.
I. THE ELDERS SEEKING COUNSEL OF THE PROPHET OF THE LORD. "I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me." It has been suggested that this was on the sabbath day, and that the elders were accustomed to meet thus on that day to hear the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel, and to unite in the worship of the Lord their God. But others are of opinion that the occasion was an extraordinary one, and that they were assembled to seek counsel or comfort from the prophet. Whatever the occasion might have been, there can be but little doubt that they were endeavoring to obtain some communication of the Divine will. Thus in the troubles of their captivity, when removed from their temple, and deprived of the regular ordinances of religion, these elders of Judah seem to have been more attentive to the prophet of Jehovah than they were when they had their religious privileges in fall. When the vision had become rare, it was prized. It is our sin and loss that our blessings are often not justly and adequately valued until we have lost them wholly or in part.
"What we have we prize not to the worth,
II. THE DIVINE INSPIRATION OF THE PROPHET OF THE LORD. Ezekiel had been inspired previously. The Spirit of God had moved him mightily before; but now the hand of the Lord came again upon him. New services require new inspirations. Fresh duties demand for their worthy discharge fresh impartations of strength. Each day we need the renewal of grace and strength from above. We discover in the prophet a triple effect of Divine inspiration.
1. Strengthening him. "The hand of the Lord God fell there upon me." (We have spoken of this in our remarks on Ezekiel 1:3.)
2. Exalting him. "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." While Ezekiel was sitting there amidst the elders of Judah, his spirit was exalted and carried away to Jerusalem. The inspiration of God raises the human spirit above its ordinary level, stimulates it into greater and nobler activities, and renders it more capable of receiving Divine impressions and communications.
3. Enlightening him. The Spirit enlightened the prophet by quickening his spirit to perceive Divine visions, and by unfolding those visions unto him. (See our remarks on Ezekiel 1:1, "The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.")
III. THE SPIRITUAL VISIONS GRANTED UNTO THE PROPHET OF THE LORD.
1. A Vision of the glory of the Lord God. "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... as the colour of amber Aria, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain." Thus the prophet himself informs us that this vision of the glory of God corresponds with one which he saw before, and which we have already noticed (on Ezekiel 1:26-28).
2. A vision of the dishonour done to the Lord God. The prophet was transported in spirit "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... 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." Many have thought that this was an image of Baal. Lightfoot concluded that it was an image of Moloch. Others are of opinion that it was an image of Asherah or Astarte, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 23:4, 7, and incorrectly translated in the Authorized Version "grove." It has been suggested that it was an image of the Tammuz or Adonis mentioned in ver. 14, "and called 'the image that provoked to jealousy,' with special reference to the yonthful and attractive beauty of the object it represented." The view of Fairbairn seems to us the most probable. "We are disposed to think," he says, "from the ideal character of the representation, that it should not be limited to any specific deity. The prophet, we are persuaded, purposely made the expression general, as it was not so much the particular idol placed on a level with Jehovah, as the idol worship itself, which he meant to designate and condemn. So sunk and rooted were the people in the idolatrous feeling, that where Jehovah had an altar, there some idol form must have its 'seat - a fixed residence, to denote that it was no occasional thing its being found there, but a regular and stated arrangement. And whatever it might for the time be - whether it was Baal, or Moloch, or Astarte, that the image represented - as it was necessarily set up for a rival of Jehovah, to share with him in the worship to which he alone was entitled, it might justly be denominated 'the image of jealousy,' as it provoked that jealousy, and called for that visitation of wrath, against which the Lord had so solemnly warned his people in the second commandment." "The image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy," is an expression which looks back to Deuteronomy 32:16, 21: "They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger." Thus Ezekiel beheld the Lord Jehovah dishonoured by his own people, and at the gate of his own altar. And being thus dishonoured, Jehovah abandons his temple. "He said 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?" When that sanctuary has been grossly polluted with idols he will no longer dwell there. And this is applicable to the Church of Jesus Christ. If a spirit of pride, worldliness, or selfishness become predominant in any Christian community, he departs far off from it. If any idol of creed, or ritual, or fashion, or popularity be established therein, he will go far away. And this is applicable also to the human heart. If we give the devotion of our hearts to another object or objects, he will leave us. He claims our supreme affection. He will not have any rival for our love. - W.J.
I. THE GLORY OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL. The prophet beheld an appearance of splendour, such as he had previously beheld in the plain, and had described in an earlier passage of iris prophecies.
1. This appearance was emblematical of the Divine attributes; alike of God's power to punish and to save, and of his moral excellences, justice and truth, mercy and love.
2. This appearance was peculiarly suitable to the place where it was discerned: the temple of Jehovah was his dwelling place, and the scene of his peculiar presence, who giveth not his glory to another.
3. This appearance was a reminder that for the Jewish people there was one, and only one, proper Object of adoration and worship.
II. THE IDOLATROUS IMAGE.
1. This was doubtless a figure of one of the false gods worshipped by one of the nations in the neighbourhood of Palestine, by whom Judah had been corrupted and seduced. Which of the several idols was at that time worshipped by the Jews we are not told; and, indeed, this does not signify.
2. Whatever this imaginary deity may have been, it is certain that the attributes assigned to it were opposed to those belonging to Jehovah. Cruelty and impurity were certainly qualities attributed to this false god.
3. Thus moral degradation was involved in the worship of this image; degradation all the more signal because the Jews forsook a God of righteousness and clemency, and fashioned or accepted an imaginary deity embodying their own worst faults and vices.
III. THE INDIGNATION WITH WHICH JEHOVAH REGARDED JUDAH'S PREFERENCE. The image was an "image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy." The reasons why the idol should be so designated, why such should be the way in which it was regarded, are obvious enough.
1. Jehovah had enjoined upon the posterity of Abraham abstinence from the idolatries from which the great forefather of the chosen people had been delivered. Monotheism was the very stamp and seal of their election.
2. The very first and second commandments of the first table of the moral Law prohibited idolatry.
3. The history of Israel had been one long rebuke of idolatry, and one long warning against falling into this seductive snare.
4. The ordinances and institutions of the nation were expressly designed to act as a check and dissuasive against the sin of the surrounding and heathen nations.
APPLICATION. Apostasy from the service of the one living and true God is rendered inexcusable, and is worthy of severe condemnation, when, as in the case of Judah, and in our case, light is clear, privileges are many, and opportunities and inducements abound to be faithful and diligent in the practice of pure religion. - T.
I. THE MOST HEINOUS SINS ARE GENERALLY COMMITTED IN SECRET, These chambers of imagery, in which the elders of the house of Israel did their wicked abominations, were concealed and difficult of access. The secrecy with which their vile sins were committed is graphically set forth in the text. "He brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall," etc. The idolatry practised in these chambers of imagery was the animal worship of the Egyptians. The prophet beheld "every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall." Such idolatry indicates deep spiritual degradation, and by its influence it increases that degradation. It is fitly characterized as "the wicked abominations that they do." Hengstenberg well says, "Every thing created, however good it may be in itself, becomes an abomination as soon as it stands with man beside, or quite about, God." What a fall for the elders of Israel, from the elevating worship of the true and holy God to the debasing adoration of cattle and creeping things! And they must have felt the wrongness of this, or they would not have so carefully striven to conceal it. There are secret sins in the lives even of good men - sins of thought and feeling that are hidden from our fellow men. Who could bear to have everything that transpires in his mind and heart exposed to the gaze of even his tenderest and best human friend; or, indeed, to any one except the merciful and holy One?
"Or what if Heaven for once its searching light "Who would not shun the dreary uncouth place? "Then keep the softening veil in mercy drawn, II. THE MOST HEINOUS SINS ARE SOMETIMES COMMITTED SECRETLY BY THOSE WHO ARE UNDER THE STRONGEST OBLIGATIONS TO ESCHEW THEM. "And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel," etc. (ver. 11). (On the "seventy men of the ancients," cf.; Exodus 24:1, 9; Numbers 11:16, 24, 25.) 1. The seventy elders may be viewed as representing the whole people, and thus indicating the general corruption. In accordance with this view, the entire nation is represented as having fallen from its high and holy calling into this grovelling superstition. And with comparatively few exceptions the whole house of Israel had departed from the pure worship of the Lord Jehovah. 2. The seventy elders may be viewed as showing the corruption of those who should have been most incorruptible. They were the representatives and counsellors of the people, and as such they were morally bound by advice and example to have endeavoured to keep the people from idolatrous associations, and to have main ailed in its integrity the worship of the true God; yet they fell themselves into abominable idolatries. More than once, persons standing highest in religious position have been amongst the lowest in their real character. Such was the case with the scribes and Pharisees during the time of our Lord's life upon earth (cf. Matthew 23:13-33). Exalted religious position or office is no guarantee of exalted spiritual excellence. III. THE PRACTICE OF SECRET SINS SPRINGS FROM PRACTICAL ATHEISM. "For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." Here is a twofold denial. 1. Denial of the Divine observation of human life and conduct. "The Lord seeth us not." The attempt at concealment implies the fact that they ignored the all-seeing eye. The practice of sin generally involves the overlooking or ignoring of the presence and observation of God. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." Let this become a conviction, let it be realized as a solemn fact, and sin would become an impossibility, at any rate with most persons. 2. Denial of the Divine interest in human life. "The Lord hath forsaken the earth." Their feeling seems to have been this: "God does not care for us; he is indifferent to what we do, or what becomes of us." "As he does nothing for them, they must help themselves as well as they can." This practical atheism is the prolific parent of secret and other sins. If man realized the deep concern of God for his well being, in that realization, he would have a most effectual restraint from sin. IV. THE FACT OF THE EXISTENCE OF SECRET SINS DEMANDS THE EARNEST CONSIDERATION OF THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD. "He said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here .... 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?" Thus the prophet was summoned to consider the secret idolatries which were being practised by the elders of Israel. It is important that the faithful servants of God should consider the existence and practice of secret sins: 1. To qualify them for battling with such sins. The reformer must become acquainted with the full measure and force of the evils which he would abolish, if he would succeed in his mission. And the physician, if he would overcome disease, must know it in its inner workings as well as in its outer manifestations. So also is it with him who would wage war against sin. 2. To qualify them for estimating the righteousness of God's treatment of sinners. To appreciate how just and true he is in all his dealings with men, it is necessary to consider the sins of mind and heart which are committed against him, as well as those of the tongue and hands. V. THE MOST CAREFULLY CONCEALED SINS WILL ASSUREDLY BE MADE MANIFEST. God is perfectly acquainted with every one of them. Our secret sins are set in the light of his countenance (cf. Psalm 90:8). The revelation to the prophet of the wicked abominations practised in the dark in the chambers of imagery, is suggestive of the unveiling of all secret sins. 1. In the present life circumstances sometimes arise which occasion the revelation of hidden sins. Afflictions sometimes strip off the mask from the face of the hypocrite. Or the near approach of death leads to the acknowledgment of concealed vice or crime. 2. In the future life there will be an awful revelation of human character and conduct. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts." CONCLUSION. 1. "Create in me a clean heart, O God;" "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." 2. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." - W.J.
"Who would not shun the dreary uncouth place?
"Then keep the softening veil in mercy drawn,
II. THE MOST HEINOUS SINS ARE SOMETIMES COMMITTED SECRETLY BY THOSE WHO ARE UNDER THE STRONGEST OBLIGATIONS TO ESCHEW THEM. "And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel," etc. (ver. 11). (On the "seventy men of the ancients," cf.; Exodus 24:1, 9; Numbers 11:16, 24, 25.)
1. The seventy elders may be viewed as representing the whole people, and thus indicating the general corruption. In accordance with this view, the entire nation is represented as having fallen from its high and holy calling into this grovelling superstition. And with comparatively few exceptions the whole house of Israel had departed from the pure worship of the Lord Jehovah.
2. The seventy elders may be viewed as showing the corruption of those who should have been most incorruptible. They were the representatives and counsellors of the people, and as such they were morally bound by advice and example to have endeavoured to keep the people from idolatrous associations, and to have main ailed in its integrity the worship of the true God; yet they fell themselves into abominable idolatries. More than once, persons standing highest in religious position have been amongst the lowest in their real character. Such was the case with the scribes and Pharisees during the time of our Lord's life upon earth (cf. Matthew 23:13-33). Exalted religious position or office is no guarantee of exalted spiritual excellence.
III. THE PRACTICE OF SECRET SINS SPRINGS FROM PRACTICAL ATHEISM. "For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth." Here is a twofold denial.
1. Denial of the Divine observation of human life and conduct. "The Lord seeth us not." The attempt at concealment implies the fact that they ignored the all-seeing eye. The practice of sin generally involves the overlooking or ignoring of the presence and observation of God. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." Let this become a conviction, let it be realized as a solemn fact, and sin would become an impossibility, at any rate with most persons.
2. Denial of the Divine interest in human life. "The Lord hath forsaken the earth." Their feeling seems to have been this: "God does not care for us; he is indifferent to what we do, or what becomes of us." "As he does nothing for them, they must help themselves as well as they can." This practical atheism is the prolific parent of secret and other sins. If man realized the deep concern of God for his well being, in that realization, he would have a most effectual restraint from sin.
IV. THE FACT OF THE EXISTENCE OF SECRET SINS DEMANDS THE EARNEST CONSIDERATION OF THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD. "He said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here .... 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?" Thus the prophet was summoned to consider the secret idolatries which were being practised by the elders of Israel. It is important that the faithful servants of God should consider the existence and practice of secret sins:
1. To qualify them for battling with such sins. The reformer must become acquainted with the full measure and force of the evils which he would abolish, if he would succeed in his mission. And the physician, if he would overcome disease, must know it in its inner workings as well as in its outer manifestations. So also is it with him who would wage war against sin.
2. To qualify them for estimating the righteousness of God's treatment of sinners. To appreciate how just and true he is in all his dealings with men, it is necessary to consider the sins of mind and heart which are committed against him, as well as those of the tongue and hands.
V. THE MOST CAREFULLY CONCEALED SINS WILL ASSUREDLY BE MADE MANIFEST. God is perfectly acquainted with every one of them. Our secret sins are set in the light of his countenance (cf. Psalm 90:8). The revelation to the prophet of the wicked abominations practised in the dark in the chambers of imagery, is suggestive of the unveiling of all secret sins.
1. In the present life circumstances sometimes arise which occasion the revelation of hidden sins. Afflictions sometimes strip off the mask from the face of the hypocrite. Or the near approach of death leads to the acknowledgment of concealed vice or crime.
2. In the future life there will be an awful revelation of human character and conduct. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts."
1. "Create in me a clean heart, O God;" "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
2. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." - W.J.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THIS IDOLATRY.
1. It was the worship of living creatures.
2. And of the lowest forms of life. This we know to have been especially characteristic of the religion of ancient Egypt.
II. THE VILENESS AND ABSURDITY OF THIS IDOLATRY.
1. It was the elevation of the creature above the Creator.
2. It was the glorification of animal in preference to spiritual life.
3. It manifested itself in the most irrational and indefensible forms which so called religion could possibly assume.
4. It lowered the worshippers to a moral level of degradation below which it was scarcely possible to sink.
III. THE GUILT OF THE JEWS IN PRACTISING THIS IDOLATRY.
1. They forsook the pure and elevating worship of the living and true God, preferring the vile to the precious, the disgusting to the sublime.
2. They acted in a manner contrary to all the lessons of their past history.
3. They rebelled against the authoritative admonitions of the Lord's faithful prophets. In all these respects the Hebrew people were far more blamable than the surrounding nations who had been trained in idolatrous practices, and had never declined from a purer and nobler faith and worship. - T.
I. THE ELEMENTS OF ATHEISM. There are many who are not professedly and openly atheists, who are such in reality. They may not cast aside the Name of God, they may not openly repudiate the Law of God; but in their hearts they believe not in him. There may be recognized on their part:
1. Disbelief in the Lord's omniscient observation of men. "They say, The Lord seeth us not."
2. Disbelief in the Lord's presence and activity. "They say, The Lord hath forsaken the earth." Whoever they may be who make these assertions, and whatever their standing among their fellow men, they are practically and really atheistic.
II. THE OPERATION OF ATHEISM. It is impossible that such disbelief as that described should be without influence upon the moral nature and conduct.
1. Atheism removes the restraints from sin which belief in the Divine presence imposes. This is not the highest view to take of the question, but it is a just one; and many natures are largely influenced by the knowledge that an all-seeing God regards all their ways and thoughts.
2. Atheism removes the inspiration to goodness which belief in the Divine presence furnishes. The knowledge that a holy and omnipotent Father is ever with us, is ever ready to encourage and assist us in all our endeavours to realize our highest ideal, must needs be a factor of great importance in our spiritual life. Let this be withheld or contradicted, and how much that is best must be withdrawn along with it!
III. THE FRUITS OF ATHEISM.
1. Among these Jews at Jerusalem disbelief in Jehovah led to superstition and idolatry - no unusual conjunction.
2. Very generally, atheism leads to self-indulgence and vice.
3. And it is destructive of all higher national life. Fidelity to God is fidelity to principle, fidelity to society, fidelity to the highest conception formed of human life. Infidelity to God involves the opposite of all these virtues, and abandonment to the life of interest, of ease, of pleasure; it gives power to every temptation to sin, to every evil tendency of society. Under its influence man sinks to the merely animal life, and to such mental activity as subserves that life.
APPLICATION. We are sometimes told that in speculative atheism there is no great harm; that without belief in God men may be good citizens, and may discharge honourably the several relationships of life. Without denying that, in certain instances, the influence of Christianity may for a time abide after Christianity itself has been abandoned, we have yet to look at the proper and inevitable consequences of a general abandonment of belief in God. We shall find these so terrible, that we may well watch and pray against the first loosenings of belief in the most fundamental and precious of all truths. - T.
I. THAT IT SUBSTITUTED FICTION FOR TRUTH.
II. THAT IT CONCENTRATED ATTENTION UPON NATURE INSTEAD OF UPON THE AUTHOR OF NATURE.
III. THAT IT SUBSTITUTED AN IMAGINATIVE AND FANCIFUL FOR A REAL AND LEGITIMATE CAUSE OF EMOTION.
IV. THAT IT PROMOTED VICE INSTEAD OF MORAL PURITY.
V. THAT IT CONSEQUENTLY DEGRADED THE NATION THAT SUFFERED ITSELF TO BE SEDUCED BY IT.
APPLICATION. No nation and no individual is superior to the necessity of watchfulness against the contaminating influence of neighbours upon a lower moral platform, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." instead of the good leavening the evil, and so purifying the mass, the contrary may happen, and the defiling influence of error and impurity may spread. In this case there is every likelihood of the fulfilment of the proverb, "The companion of fools shall be destroyed." - T.
I. MAN'S PROVOCATIONS OF GOD. In ver. 17 it is said, "They returned to provoke me to anger." The sins mentioned in this paragraph were not the only provocations of the Most High, as the words of the clause imply. Professor Cheyne translates, "provoke me to anger again and again." And Ewald, "exasperated me repeatedly." The various idolatries and other sins committed by the people were so many provocations of the Lord. But as to those mentioned in the text, notice:
1. The foul idolatry of the women. "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." The meaning of Tammuz is not certain, but the conjecture which is by far the most probable is that it is the Hebrew and Syriac name for the heathen god Adonis, who, according to the fable, was the beautiful paramour of Venus. He was said to have been killed by a bear in the chase, and afterwards to have returned to life. The worship of Adonis took its rise at Byblos, in Phoenicia. "From Byblos it spread widely over the East, and was thence carried to Greece." It was probably introduced to the Jews front Syria. The festival of Adonis was celebrated in the fourth month (corresponding to portions of our June and July). This celebration "was of a twofold character: first, that of mourning, in which the death of Adonis was bewailed with extravagant sorrow; and then, after a few days, the mourning gave place to wild rejoicings for his restoration to life. This was a revival of nature worship under another form - the death of Adonis symbolized the suspension of the productive powers of nature, which were in due time revived. Accordingly, the time of this festival was the summer solstice, when in the East nature seems to wither and die under the scorching heat of the sun, to burst forth again into life at the due season" ('Speaker's Commentary'). For seven days the women gave themselves up to this lamentation, chanting mournful songs to the accompaniment of pipes, cutting their breasts with knives, and either cutting off their hair as a sacrifice to the god, or presenting to him the more costly and shocking sacrifice of their chastity. Well does Fairbairn say, "This Phoenician abomination had become one of the festering sores of Judah's disease."
2. The idolatry of the men. "And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord's house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord," etc. (ver. 16). Most expositors follow Lightfoot in regarding these five and twenty men as the presidents of the twenty-four orders into which the priesthood was divided (1 Chronicles 24.), with the high priest at their head; and thus they look upon them as representing the entire priesthood. This, however, is by no means certain. As a matter of fact, the priesthood as a whole had never given themselves up to idolatry. Professor Cheyne says, "The number (twenty-five) is a round one, as in Ezekiel 11:1. Had it been stated that the men were priests, we might have supposed that they were the heads of the twenty-four courses, together with the high priest. But no; they were 'elders' (Ezekiel 9:6), i.e. laymen. The inner court was not closed to the laity till after the return from exile (see 1 Kings 8:22, 64; 1 Kings 9:25; 2 Kings 11:4-15)." But to whatever class these men belonged, they were offering provocation to God by worshipping the sun. This form of idolatry was of very ancient origin. Job declares his innocence of it (Job 31:26). It is distinctly prohibited in the Law given by Moses (Deuteronomy 17:3). In its earliest form, among the Arabians, the worship was addressed directly to the heavenly bodies, without the intervention of images. In times preceding those of the prophet this idolatry had been introduced into Jerusalem, and abolished by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:5, 11). But by some means it had been revived or reintroduced, and now in the days of Ezekiel was openly flourishing again. Moreover, their worship of the sun was aggravated by the posture in which it was practised. "With their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east." The sanctuary of the Lord God was behind them, as a thing they were renouncing, while they were looking to the new object of their hope and adoration rising in the east. A still further aggravation of their sin is mentioned: "And, lo, they put the branch to their nose." We are not certain as to the meaning of this expression. But the opinion of Hengstenberg seems to us the most probable: "The Persian sun worshipper, according to Strabo and others, held in his hand a bunch of shoots, called barsom, when praying to the sun, and applied it to the mouth when uttering prayer. This quite agrees with the rite here." And Professor Cheyne says of this rite, "It appears to be of Persian origin; only this qualification must be made that, considered as a Persian practice, it has reference not to the worship of the sun, but to that of the sacred fire. In the Avesta we read of a bundle of branches called baresma (later writings call it barsom), which occupied as important a place in Zoroastrian worship as in the worship of these 'five and twenty men.' The twigs preferred for this sacred object were those of the date, the pomegranate, and the tamarisk, and the words of the Zoroastrian Scripture (Vendidad, 19:64) are rendered as follows by the latest translator: 'Let the faithful man cut off a twig of baresma, long as a ploughshare, thick as a barleycorn. The faithful one, holding it in his left hand, shall not leave off keeping his eyes upon it.' Thus it is not expressly stated by the Zoroastrian authorities (nor yet is it by Strabo) that the baresma was to be held to the mouth (or the nose). This, however, was the way of holding the veil called paitidana, the object of which was to prevent the impurities of the breath from passing into the sacred fire. Professor Monier Williams informs me that this at least is still in use among the Parsee priests." By this heathenish and idolatrous practice the Lord Jehovah was insulted by his own people.
3. The social injustice and oppression. "They have filled the land with violence." Unfaithfulness to God and cruelty to man were sins that went hand in hand amongst the people of Israel (cf. Ezekiel 7:23; Ezekiel 9:9). "State oppression and Church corruption go together," says Greenhill; "in the temple were pollutions, and in the land violence. The princes and judges, they wronged men; the priests and prophets, they wronged God (Zephaniah 3:3, 4) If there be violence in a land, there will be corruptions, pollutions, abominations in the sanctuary; if there be superstition, idolatry in the Church state, there will be oppression, injustice, and spoil in the civil state: when the temple is a den of thieves, the land will be a den of oppressors and murderers (Jeremiah 7:9-11)." Thus the people provoked the Lord to anger by their oft repeated and much aggravated sins and crimes.
II. GOD'S PUNISHMENT OF MAN. "Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare," etc. (ver. 18). The nature of the punishment is not stated here; but it has already been set forth at length by the prophet, and is still further indicated in the next two chapters. Two remarks concerning it are suggested by this verse.
1. It will be the expression of his righteous anger. "Therefore will I also deal in fury." The "therefore" indicates the close connection between the sin and the punishment. They are related as cuisse and effect (see our remarks on Ezekiel 7:4).
2. It will be inflicted without any relenting. "Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them." The former of these clauses we noticed on its occurrence in Ezekiel 7:4. And as to the loud cries of the wicked in their distress, they are generally the mere outburst of selfishness, without a particle of true penitence or prayer (cf. Proverbs 1:24-31). "When Nebuchadnezzar came, besieged the city: when plague and famine increased, then they fell upon their knees and cried to God for help; as malefactors, when the judge is ready to give sentence, cry out, and importune him to spare their lives. Such prayers are the voice of the flesh, not of the spirit: forced, not free: faithless and unseasonable prayers, coming too late, and therefore unacceptable. Let men therefore not defer seeking of God till necessity puts them upon it" (Greenhill). And let us seek him, not with the selfish cries of terror, but with penitent and believing hearts. "It is not the loud voice, but the upright heart, that God will regard." - W.J.
I. THE SUN WORSHIP ITSELF. Of this it is enough to say that it is creature worship, and is therefore dishonouring to the Creator who kindled the sun in the firmament, and who is himself the eternal, uncreated Light.
II. THE SUN WORSHIPPERS.
1. They included the priesthood; for the five and twenty here mentioned were doubtless the heads of the twenty-four courses, with the high priest presiding over them.
2. Their attitude was indicative of profanity and defection; they are depicted as turning their backs towards the temple of Jehovah that they might face the sun as he rose in the east.
III. THE EFFECTS OF SUN WORSHIP.
1. This superstition estranged the minds of those who practised it from the God who is Light, and in whom is no darkness at all; it rendered them indifferent to the Divine Law, and inattentive to the Divine service and worship.
2. It was the means of filling the land with abominations and violence, and this was especially the case when conjoined with the worship of the Phoenician sun god.
3. It thus became one of the many occasions for the arousing of the anger of God, and led to the retributions and chastenings which speedily came upon the ungrateful, unspiritual, and apostate people. - T.
I. GOD GIVES US, IN STAGES, HIS VIEW OF HUMAN GUILT. Without question, we should take very low and imperfect conceptions of sin, unless God revealed to us the facts in the moral department of existence. By such means, God condescends to train us for companionship with himself, and for high office in his realm. "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?"
II. GOD SHOWS US FURTHER THE MANIFOLD EFFECTS OF HUMAN SIN.
1. Its inexcusableness. It is not committed from want of knowledge. Those in Judaea who had the clearest access to knowledge respecting God yielded to idolatry.
2. Its effect upon others. All sin is contagious; and when exhibited in the lives of learned and official personages, it has peculiar fascination. The mystic force of influence diffuses it far and wide.
3. Its penetrative power. It touches and taints every part of man's nature - body, soul, and spirit. It defiles every department of human life and interest - agriculture, commerce, literature, legislation, the household.
4. Its cumulative energy. It grows worse and worse, until every restraint is broken down, and all sense of shame is destroyed. Open defiance of God is the last phase of iniquity.
III. GOD SUMMONS OUR JUDGMENT TO ASSESS THE GUILT. God appeals to his prophet for his estimate of the case. "Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is this a light thing?' Our judgment, our reason, our moral sensibility, our conscience, have been conferred upon us for this selfsame purpose, viz. that we should condemn what is evil and approve what is good. Under certain circumstances it is our duty not to judge; as, for instance, when all the facts of the case are not within our possession, or when sympathetic help is better than critical examination, or when our judging faculty is better exercised about ourselves than about others. Our good, and the world's advantage, must be our guide when to judge and when not to pass a judgment.
IV. GOD DESIRES TO HAVE OUR ACQUIESCENCE IN HIS DECISIONS. He puts great honour upon men in making them partners with him in the highest offices of the heavenly state. God is no lover of monopoly. As his creatures become fitted for eminent office and honour, he promotes them. To give them pleasure is to give himself pleasure. If any of his creatures become as wise and pure and good as he is, he will not repine. He calls us his sons and daughters; and inasmuch as the relationship is real, he loves to have our companionship, ay, and our hearty approval of all that he does. When Christ shall sit as Judge, in glorious state, we are told that all the holy angels shall sit with him. And if he will come to "be admired by his saints," he will desire to have admiration for his deeds as well as for his Person. "He shall be justified" by his people "as often as he judges." - D.