This eighth chapter begins a new stage of Ezekiel's prophecies and continues to the end of the eleventh chapter. The connected visions at Ezekiel 3:12-7:27' comprehended Judah and Israel; but the visions (Ezekiel 8:1-11:25') refer immediately to Jerusalem and the remnant of Judah under Zedekiah, as distinguished from the Babylonian exiles.
1. sixth year--namely, of the captivity of Jehoiachin, as in Ezekiel 1:2 , the "fifth year" is specified. The lying on his sides three hundred ninety and forty days ( Ezekiel 4:5 Ezekiel 4:6 ) had by this time been completed, at least in vision. That event was naturally a memorable epoch to the exiles; and the computation of years from it was to humble the Jews, as well as to show their perversity in not having repented, though so long and severely chastised.
elders--namely, those carried away with Jehoiachin, and now at the Chebar.
sat before me--to hear the word of God from me, in the absence of the temple and other public places of Sabbath worship, during the exile ( Ezekiel 33:30 Ezekiel 33:31 ). It was so ordered that they were present at the giving of the prophecy, and so left without excuse.
hand of . . . Lord God fell . . . upon me--God's mighty operation fell, like a thunderbolt, upon me (in Ezekiel 1:3 , it is less forcible, "was upon him"); whatever, therefore, he is to utter is not his own, for he has put off the mere man, while the power of God reigns in him [CALVIN].
2. likeness--understand, "of a man," that is, of Messiah, the Angel of the covenant, in the person of whom alone God manifests Himself ( Ezekiel 1:26 , John 1:18 ). The "fire," from "His loins downward," betokens the vengeance of God kindled against the wicked Jews, while searching and purifying the remnant to be spared. The "brightness . . . upward" betokens His unapproachable majesty ( 1 Timothy 6:16 ). For Hebrew, eesh, "fire," the Septuagint, &c., read ish, "a man."
colour of amber--the glitter of chasmal [FAIRBAIRN],
3. Instead of prompting him to address directly the elders before him, the Spirit carried him away in vision (not in person bodily) to the temple at Jerusalem; he proceeds to report to them what he witnessed: his message thus falls into two parts: (1) The abominations reported in Ezekiel 8:1-18 . (2) The dealings of judgment and mercy to be adopted towards the impenitent and penitent Israelites respectively (Ezekiel 9:1-11:25'). The exiles looked hopefully towards Jerusalem and, so far from believing things there to be on the verge of ruin, expected a return in peace; while those left in Jerusalem eyed the exiles with contempt, as if cast away from the Lord, whereas they themselves were near God and ensured in the possessions of the land ( Ezekiel 11:15 ). Hence the vision here of what affected those in Jerusalem immediately was a seasonable communication to the exiles away from it.
door of the inner gate--facing the north, the direction in which he came from Chebar, called the "altar-gate" ( Ezekiel 8:5 ); it opened into the inner court, wherein stood the altar of burnt offering; the inner court ( 1 Kings 6:36 ) was that of the priests; the outer court ( Ezekiel 10:5 ), that of the people, where they assembled.
seat--the pedestal of the image.
image of jealousy--Astarte, or Asheera (as the Hebrew for "grove" ought to be translated, 2 Kings 21:3 2 Kings 21:7 , 2 Kings 23:4 2 Kings 23:7 ), set up by Manasseh as a rival to Jehovah in His temple, and arresting the attention of all worshippers as they entered; it was the Syrian Venus, worshipped with licentious rites; the "queen of heaven," wife of Phoenician Baal. HAVERNICK thinks all the scenes of idolatry in the chapter are successive portions of the festival held in honor of Tammuz or Adonis ( Ezekiel 8:14 ). Probably, however, the scenes are separate proofs of Jewish idolatry, rather than restricted to one idol.
provoketh to jealousy--calleth for a visitation in wrath of the "jealous God," who will not give His honor to another (compare the second commandment, Exodus 20:5 ). JEROME refers this verse to a statue of Baal, which Josiah had overthrown and his successors had replaced.
4. The Shekinah cloud of Jehovah's glory, notwithstanding the provocation of the idol, still remains in the temple, like that which Ezekiel saw "in the plain" ( Ezekiel 3:22 Ezekiel 3:23 ); not till Ezekiel 10:4 Ezekiel 10:18 did it leave the temple at Jerusalem, showing the long-suffering of God, which ought to move the Jews to repentance.
5. gate of . . . altar--the principal avenue to the altar of burnt offering; as to the northern position, see 2 Kings 16:14 . Ahaz had removed the brazen altar from the front of the Lord's house to the north of the altar which he had himself erected. The locality of the idol before God's own altar enhances the heinousness of the sin.
6. that I should go far off from my sanctuary--"that I should (be compelled by their sin to) go far off from my sanctuary"--( Ezekiel 10:18 ); the sure precursor of its destruction.
7. door of the court--that is, of the inner court ( Ezekiel 8:3 ); the court of the priests and Levites, into which now others were admitted in violation of the law [GROTIUS].
hole in . . . wall--that is, an aperture or window in the wall of the priests' chambers, through which he could see into the various apartments, wherein was the idolatrous shrine.
8. dig--for it had been blocked up during Josiah's reformation. Or rather, the vision is not of an actual scene, but an ideal pictorial representation of the Egyptian idolatries into which the covenant-people had relapsed, practising them in secret places where they shrank from the light of day [FAIRBAIRN], ( John 3:20 ). But compare, as to the literal introduction of idolatries into the temple, Ezekiel 5:11 , Jeremiah 7:30 , 32:34 .
10. creeping things . . . beasts--worshipped in Egypt; still found portrayed on their chamber walls; so among the Troglodytæ.
round about--On every side they surrounded themselves with incentives to superstition.
11. seventy men--the seventy members composing the Sanhedrim, or great council of the nation, the origination of which we find in the seventy elders, representatives of the congregation, who went up with Moses to the mount to behold the glory of Jehovah, and to witness the secret transactions relating to the establishment of the covenant; also, in the seventy elders appointed to share the burden of the people with Moses. How awfully it aggravates the national sin, that the seventy, once admitted to the Lord's secret council ( Psalms 25:14 ), should now, "in the dark," enter "the secret" of the wicked ( Genesis 49:6 ), those judicially bound to suppress idolatry being the ringleaders of it!
Jaazaniah--perhaps chief of the seventy: son of Shaphan, the scribe who read to Josiah the book of the law; the spiritual privileges of the son ( 2 Kings 22:10-14 ) increased his guilt. The very name means, "Jehovah hears," giving the lie to the unbelief which virtually said ( Ezekiel 9:9 ), "The Lord seeth us not," &c. (compare Psalms 10:11 Psalms 10:14 , 50:21 , Psalms 94:7 Psalms 94:9 ). The offering of incense belonged not to the elders, but to the priests; this usurpation added to the guilt of the former.
cloud of incense--They spared no expense for their idols. Oh, that there were the same liberality toward the cause of God!
12. every man in . . . chambers of . . . imagery--The elders ("ancients") are here the representatives of the people, rather than to be regarded literally. Mostly, the leaders of heathen superstitions laughed at them secretly, while publicly professing them in order to keep the people in subjection. Here what is meant is that the people generally addicted themselves to secret idolatry, led on by their elders; there is no doubt, also, allusion to the mysteries, as in the worship of Isis in Egypt, the Eleusinian in Greece, &c., to which the initiated alone were admitted. "The chambers of imagery" are their own perverse imaginations, answering to the priests' chambers in the vision, whereon the pictures were portrayed ( Ezekiel 8:10 ).
Lord . . . forsaken . . . earth--They infer this because God has left them to their miseries, without succoring them, so that they seek help from other gods. Instead of repenting, as they ought, they bite the curb [CALVIN].
14. From the secret abominations of the chambers of imagery, the prophet's eye is turned to the outer court at the north door; within the outer court women were not admitted, but only to the door.
sat--the attitude of mourners ( Job 2:13 , Isaiah 3:26 ).
Tammuz--from a Hebrew root, "to melt down." Instead of weeping for the national sins, they wept for the idol. Tammuz (the Syrian for Adonis), the paramour of Venus, and of the same name as the river flowing from Lebanon; killed by a wild boar, and, according to the fable, permitted to spend half the year on earth, and obliged to spend the other half in the lower world. An annual feast was celebrated to him in June (hence called Tammuz in the Jewish calendar) at Byblos, when the Syrian women, in wild grief, tore off their hair and yielded their persons to prostitution, consecrating the hire of their infamy to Venus; next followed days of rejoicing for his return to the earth; the former feast being called "the disappearance of Adonis," the latter, "the finding of Adonis." This Phoenician feast answered to the similar Egyptian one in honor of Osiris. The idea thus fabled was that of the waters of the river and the beauties of spring destroyed by the summer during the half year when the sun is in the upper heat. Or else, the earth being clothed with beauty, hemisphere, and losing it when he departs to the lower. The name Adonis is not here used, as Adon is the appropriated title of Jehovah.
15, 16. The next are "greater abominations," not in respect to the idolatry, but in respect to the place and persons committing it. In "the inner court," immediately before the door of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, where the priests advanced only on extraordinary occasions ( Joel 2:17 ), twenty-five men (the leaders of the twenty-four courses or orders of the priests, 1 Chronicles 24:18 1 Chronicles 24:19 , with the high priest, "the princes of the sanctuary," Isaiah 43:28 ), representing the whole priesthood, as the seventy elders represented the people, stood with their backs turned on the temple, and their faces towards the east, making obeisance to the rising sun (contrast 1 Kings 8:44 ). Sun-worship came from the Persians, who made the sun the eye of their god Ormuzd. It existed as early as Job ( Job 31:26 ; compare Deuteronomy 4:19 ). Josiah could only suspend it for the time of his reign ( 2 Kings 23:5 2 Kings 23:11 ); it revived under his successors.
16. worshipped--In the Hebrew a corrupt form is used to express Ezekiel's sense of the foul corruption of such worship.
17. put . . . branch to . . . nose--proverbial, for "they turn up the nose in scorn," expressing their insolent security [Septuagint]. Not content with outraging "with their violence" the second table of the law, namely, that of duty towards one's neighbor, "they have returned" (that is, they turn back afresh) to provoke Me by violations of the first table [CALVIN]. Rather, they held up a branch or bundle of tamarisk (called barsom) to their nose at daybreak, while singing hymns to the rising sun [STRABO, 1.15, p. 733]. Sacred trees were frequent symbols in idol-worship. CALVIN translates, "to their own ruin," literally, "to their nose," that is, with the effect of rousing My anger (of which the Hebrew is "nose") to their ruin.