Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD's house which was toward the north; and, behold…
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north, etc.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.