Ezekiel 8–11. Ezekiel's Second Vision.
Israel's Idol Worship and Its Consequences.

Key Notes: The elders were involved in idol-worship in the Temple. Various kinds of idolatry. The selective destruction of people in Jerusalem. Idolatry in America.

Ezekiel’s second vision was devastating. The corruption of Israel had reached to the religious leaders, the elders of Israel. The consequences will be more frightening than some of our modern movies.

8:1–2 While Ezekiel sat in his house with the elders of Israel (the elders of the exiles) in front of him, he was seized by God in a vision and taken to Jerusalem. This out-of-body experience may have taken only minutes, and the elders may have sat motionless while it happened, but it was long in the telling and he was so upset, that the elders would likely have been moved at the end. In it he saw the glory of God with the cherubim as he had seen before, and the paganism of Israel, then the awesome slaughter in Jerusalem. He also saw the glory of God depart from Israel. Yet God promised hope for the future.

Being taken by a lock of the hair back to Jerusalem is an image Shagall has used in his paintings.

8:3–6 Ezekiel was shown the image of jealousy, believed to be the statue of the naked goddess Ashterte, at the entrance-way to the altar of the Temple of God! Her image was originally placed there by Manasseh (IIK 21:7), removed when he repented (II Chron. 33:15), but evidently replaced, because Josiah removed it again (IIK 23:6) along with the houses of the male prostitutes where women hung tapestries for Ashterte.

Jeremiah, Ezekiel's contemporary, described Israelite devotion to the Queen of Heaven, another name for the goddess (Jer.44:15–19), a devotion which continued among the exiles.

8:7–13 Ezekiel was shown 70 of the elders of Israel performing pagan rites within the walls of their temple chambers decorated with unclean animals and insects. It is likely that these were images of Egyptian gods, since the cobra, scorpion, crocodile, wolf, pig, dog, cat, bird, jackal, baboon and beetle are portrayed in their ancient religious images. One god even appeared to have the head of an ant-eater.

One of these elders was Jaanaziah, son of Shaphan. Shaphan had been the secretary to King Josiah. He had read a new-found copy of the Law to Josiah. (IIK.22:3,10). The King was rightly alarmed. Together the staff went to meet with Huldah the prophetess, who pronounced God’s judgment on Judah. (IIK.22:14). Later, Jaazaniah’s brother, Ahikam, protected Jeremiah from being killed by the  people of Jerusalem. (Jer.26:24). And here is Shaphan's son Jaanaziah burning incense to pagan gods!

8:14 Ezekiel saw women weeping for Tammuz, the consort of Ishtar. Ishtar / Tammuz, or Ashterte / Baal or Aphrodite / Adonis were goddess /god pairs in the religions of Babylon, Canaan, and later Greece. The legend was that the shepherd god Tammuz died in the end of the harvest time, when the vegetation dried up. Ishtar, his lover / sister descended into the underworld to find him and the two emerged back into the light in the early spring, bringing with them the greening of plant-life and the renewal of the agricultural cycle. This legend gave birth to a fertility cult that involved pornographic imagery, male and female prostitution, child sacrifice and other degrading, abominable practices.

8:16–18 In the inner court there were 25 men worshipping the rising sun. The sun is one of the most ancient objects of worship.

Comment: Israel was using God’s temple In Jerusalem for four different kinds of pagan worship:
     Ashterte of the Canaanites (“the image of jealousy”)
     Egyptian-style animal gods
     Tammuz and Ishtar of Babylon
     The sun, worshiped by Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and others.

The situation suggests absolute despair—-religious leaders clutching at whatever seemed to work for the nations around them, having given up any hope in God, the God who had freed Israel from slavery in Egypt a thousand years before and led them by the prophets.

9:1–7 Then God summoned six executioners to destroy everyone in the city--except for those who grieved over the abominations of Israel and who had a special, saving mark on their foreheads. Records were evidently kept by a seventh man in linen with a notebook. These executioners may have been angels or may represent the Babylonian army which would destroy the city. But they are God’s servants in either case.

9:6 “…and begin at My sanctuary.” The greatest evils were demonstrated there by the leaders worshiping pagan deities.
Peter picked up this idea and applied it to the church.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will the end of those who do no believe the Gospel of God. And ‘If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?’” (I Pet. 4:17–18)

9:8 So many died that Ezekiel cried out in protest, but the slaughter  continued until the recorder announced the finish.

10:1–22 The vision of the cherubim is again described in detail and the glory of God filled the Temple. God ordered the recorder to take fire from within the vehicle of the cherubim and cast it on the City. Then the glory of the Lord moved and stood over the temple.

11:1–12 He saw a group of politicians who said: “Is it not time to build houses? This city is like an iron pot and we are the stuff inside it.” The proverb is obscure but they had apparently decided that they could build houses, and that the city was safe; or they may have have been in despair: "our goose is cooked." In either case, they suppressed any idea of the judgment of God, thinking only in social and political terms. But God would drive them out of the city to die at the hands of the enemy.

11:13 One of these politicians, whom Ezekiel knew by name, fell dead as Ezekiel watched and again Ezekiel protested that no one would be left.

11:14–21 God promised that a remnant would be left and they would come back to the Land with a tender heart and a new spirit to walk with God. That is good news in an otherwise bleak horizon.

11:22 Then the glory of God moved away from Jerusalem to stand on the Mountain east of the City (?the Mount of Olives). God had left the city, an ominous portent. Once the glory of God had left the temple, it became a secular building that the Babylonians could plunder without penalty. The ark of the covenant would disappear into Babylonian hands and be cut up for its gold.

Discussion:

Israel had fallen into serious idol-worship:
*the fertility cults of Ashterte / Baal and Ishtar / Tammuz
*Egyptian polytheism
*worship of the sun.

These are all intertwined in nature-worship. A modern pagan says "The only way to reunite mankind is to reunite mankind with nature. Man will become humane toward man only when he becomes humane toward all nature. The inner nature of man has been disastrously severed from the all-enveloping nature of wilderness." (The New Pagans. Holzer, Doubleday,’72, p.92.)

Worship of the sun is practiced today at Esalen in California.

A pagan friend of mine said "Man has always worshipped the generative impulse". (His hobby was pornography.)

America has embraced the generative impulse with a vengeance.
"The US is still a long way from the rugged debaucheries of Restoration England or the perfumed corruption of the Gallant Century in France. But Greeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddess, silken and semi-nude, in a million advertisements. Indians who have seen the temple sculptures of Konarak can only marvel at some of the illustrated matter sold in American drugstores; and Frenchmen who consider themselves the world's arbiters on the subject, can only smile at the urgency attached to it by Americans. "(Time, Jan. 24,’64, p.54.) {Worse than the nations around her!}

In’78 there was a three-day extension course at Santa Cruz campus of U. of Cal. for 450 women celebrating the re-emergence of the goddess in modern life.

In Oct.’85 The Ladies' Home Journal reported that pornography was a 10 billion dollar industry.

When America turned away from God after WWII, she was seduced by the goddess. I think the "sexual revolution" caught Christians by surprise, and many have been caught in the net (the Internet). The Church has not adequately addressed this pagan religion. The goddess intrudes into many aspects of our lives. Her fruits are child abuse, divorce, fornication and adultery, venereal diseases, abortion, the cult of homosexuality, breakup of the home, violent crime among neglected children, slavery, drug abuse, etc. 

The laws on sexual conduct are spelled out (Lev.18), and include intercourse during menses, homosexuality, bestiality and incest. God warned Israel that the consequences of disobedience to these laws were especially severe.
“But you shall keep My statutes and My ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for all these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled); lest the land vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” (Lev.18:26–28).

God is now expelling Israel from Canaan as Israel had expelled the Canaanites, and for the same reasons. The only difference is that Israel will survive and come back to repopulate the Land. Ezekiel leaves them with a word of hope. God will be a sanctuary for them in distant lands and will bring them back with transplanted hearts and restored fellowship.

We must understand our own temptations and sins, then address our society and pray for victory over sexual promiscuity in all its forms. Otherwise the Glory of God may leave us too.