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Artist's interpretation of the first temple in Jerusalem by Israel Truths (2012)

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day (mid-September, 592 BC), Ezekiel was sitting in his home with the elders of Judah when the hand of God came over him. Ezekiel described what he witnessed.

“I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down was like fire and from the waist upward looked as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head.”

The Spirit lifted Ezekiel up between heaven and earth and in visions of God, took him to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court of the temple.

“And there before me was the glory of God as in the vision I had seen in the plains. He said to me, ‘Son of man, look toward the north.’ “

The route God took Ezekiel through the Great TempleEzekiel looked and saw in the entrance north of the gate of the altar, an idol of jealousy. God told Ezekiel,

“Son of man, do you see what they are doing – the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.”

Ezekiel was taken to the entrance to the court where he saw a small hole in the wall. God told Ezekiel,

“Son of man, dig into the wall.” Ezekiel dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. God said, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing there.”

Ezekiel entered the court and saw, portrayed all over the walls of the court, all kids of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. In front of the drawings stood seventy elders of Israel. Jaazaniah, son of Shaphan, was standing among them. Each held a censer in his hand and a fragrant cloud of incense rose from it. Gold told Ezekiel,

“Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’ You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.’”

Then God took Ezekiel to the entrance of the north gate of the Temple where he saw a woman sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. God told Ezekiel,

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“Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.”

Ezekiel was then taken into the inner court of the Temple. At the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of God and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. God said to Ezekiel,

“Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! Therefore, I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen.”

What the story means to us today

Corrupt leaders poison societies and harm the people they are responsible for protecting

Ezekiel receives this vision about fourteen months into his symbolic siege vision of Jerusalem. At the time, he is likely still laying on his right side. The elders (who were the leaders of the exiles) are visiting him daily, probably to see what Ezekiel will do next. During one of their visits, Ezekiel reveals his new vision to them.

The purpose of Ezekiel’s vision is clear – to divulge the reason behind Jerusalem’s coming judgement. The spiritual corruption of the people and more importantly, their leaders, has struck God deeply.

Leaders carry a special responsibility. In addition to directing the people, they are to set the example the people should follow. History has proven repeatedly that nothing can harm a culture or nation more deeply than corrupt, immoral leadership. Like a creeping plague, the leader’s moral fabric unfurls and entwines itself throughout the society. The onslaught of immorality can appear suddenly – or so slowly that the people fail to see it coming. But always, the behavior of the leader will impact the people who by nature seek to mimic the ones they look up to.

The leader’s responsibility is more critical when the leader is a religious beacon. The damage from a corrupt religious leader not only harms the spirit of the congregation but can seriously damage souls. It’s a weighty responsibility, but one that all leaders agree to accept as a condition of their assignment.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Asherah idols

What was the idol of jealousy seen at the entrance of the north gate of the inner court?

The entrance at the north gate of the inner court is also known as the altar gate because the sacrifice altar is located just inside the gate. Ezekiel’s tour of the Great Temple begins just outside the inner court. Ezekiel looks northward into the entrance north of the gate of the altar and sees the “idol of jealousy”. In Exodus 20:1, God tells us that we should put no other god before him. Idolatry in particular is specifically prohibited. Violation of this law, people turning from the religious doctrine God assigned them, prompt’s his anger.

We do not know specifically the identity of the “idol of jealousy” but other references in the Bible mention idols being removed from the temple. Potential idols that Ezekiel witnessed include the idol of Asherah (mother goddess of the Canaanite pantheon) mentioned in 2 Kings 21:7 and the “Queen of Heaven” mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18.

Ezekiel is taken to the court entrance and shown a hole in the wall

Next, Ezekiel is directed to a hole in the wall at the court entrance. He is told to dig through the wall. In the inner court, Ezekiel sees seventy elders standing in front of walls adorned with pictures of unclean animals and idols. The verses tell us that Jaazaniah, son of Shaphan, was among the 70 elders. He was leading the offering of the incense to the idols depicted on the wall.

The scriptures say the elders were conducting their ritual in the dark, each “at the shrine of his own idol”. It is believed each man may have had his own chamber or cubicle where he could privately worship his chosen idol. Alternatively, there may have been niches carved into the walls around the temple complex for each to burn incense in. There is not much information about the inner courts of Solomon’s temple, so we cannot be sure if smaller chambers existed throughout.

Israelite’s belief that God has forsaken them

In times of peril, or when man does not get his way, God is often assigned blame. Ezekiel hears the elders say, “The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.” They are referring to the loss of their homeland (about 597 to 605 BC). Since God allowed their deportation from the land, they have given up on God and seek other gods in the form of idols. It is not a difficult scenario to imagine, one that still happens to Christians today. When things get back, some blame God for their misfortune.

The god TammuzEzekiel sees women mourning the god Tammuz

The god Tammuz (aka Dumuzi) was an ancient Akkadian and Sumerian deity, the husband of Ishtar. It was considered a god of agriculture and vegetation. Idols dedicated to Tammuz have been found that date back to 2,600 BC. Tammuz was said to die in the fall and return to the underworld. In the spring, Tammuz revived.

The verses tell us it was September when Ezekiel saw the women weeping about the idol of Tammuz, about the time Tammuz was said to annually die. In an attempt to encourage Tammuz to rise again, it is believed the women wept each year during the month known as Tammuz on the Jewish calendar.

Ezekiel sees twenty-five men facing east, bowing to the sun

Ezekiel sees twenty-five men facing east, worshipping the sun with their backs turned to the temple of Yahweh, a great sign of disrespect. We can presume the men were priests since only priests were allowed access to the inner court of the temple. If the twenty-five men were not priests, and normal temple regulations were being ignored at the time, they were still violating the sanctity of the ancient Jewish temple itself.

Sun worship was of course, forbidden, but the practice became popular on more than one occasion – the Bible tells us both Hezekiah and Josiah had to stifle the practice during their reigns.

Men committing violence in the land

The vision concludes with God asking Ezekiel, “Must they also fill the land with violence? Look at them putting the branch to their nose!”

The violence God refers to may be social violence (e.g. discrimination, servitude) or physical violence. What “branch to their nose” refers to is unknown. It may refer to the practice of worshippers touching their nose with a twig during sun worship (see discussion below).

Jaazaniah, son of Shaphan

The Jaazaniah mentioned in this story is believed to be the son of Josiah’s secretary of state, Shaphan. Shaphan is mentioned several times in earlier biblical passages.

The science and history behind the story

The sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day

The date of Ezekiel’s vision is clearly specified. It refers to the years of exile imposed on King Jehoiachin (also known as Hehoiachin, Jeconiah, or Coniah). Ezekiel similarly provides the date in Ezekiel 1 referring to that time as the “fifth of the month, the firth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin”.

Jehoiachin was a king of Judah who was dethroned by the King of Babylon and taken into captivity. Records of Jeconiah’s existence, such as the Jehoiachin’s Rations Tablets, have been found in Iraq near the Ishtar.

Jeconiah reigned three months and ten days, beginning December 9, 598. This lets us date Ezekiel’s story nearly to the day. The events Ezekiel described took place in mid-September 592 BC, a year and two months after his vision in Ezekiel 1.

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Holding branches to the nose

In disgust, God tells Ezekiel, “Look at them putting the branch to their nose!” The exact meaning is not specified in the biblical texts but depictions of Assyrian kings kneeling before idols show them holding a branch in front of their faces. Other Syrian reliefs have been found showing a king worshipping the stars while holding a flower to this nose. Cedar branches were associated with Tammuz too. To “hold the branch near their nose” was likely a Mesopotamian religious practice.

Bible Text

The Temple Vision and the Destruction of IsraelNIV

8 In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign LORD came on me there. 2 I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. 3 He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. 4 And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain.

5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.

6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.”

7 Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. 8 He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.

9 And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” 10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. 11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising.

12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’ ” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.”

14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.”

16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.

17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! 18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The ritual of TammuzThe NET Bible

8:1 In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth of the month, as I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting in front of me, the hand of the sovereign LORD seized me. 8:2 As I watched, I noticed a form that appeared to be a man. From his waist downward was something like fire, and from his waist upward something like a brightness, like an amber glow. 8:3 He stretched out the form of a hand and grabbed me by a lock of hair on my head. Then a wind lifted me up between the earth and sky and brought me to Jerusalem by means of divine visions, to the door of the inner gate which faces north where the statue which provokes to jealousy was located. 8:4 Then I perceived that the glory of the God of Israel was there, as in the vision I had seen earlier in the valley.

8:5 He said to me, “Son of man, look up toward the north.” So I looked up toward the north, and I noticed to the north of the altar gate was this statue of jealousy at the entrance.

8:6 He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the great abominations that the people of Israel are practicing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see greater abominations than these!”

8:7 He brought me to the entrance of the court, and as I watched, I noticed a hole in the wall. 8:8 He said to me, “Son of man, dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and discovered a doorway.

8:9 He said to me, “Go in and see the evil abominations they are practicing here.” 8:10 So I went in and looked. I noticed every figure of creeping thing and beast—detestable images—and every idol of the house of Israel, engraved on the wall all around. 8:11 Seventy men from the elders of the house of Israel (with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them) were standing in front of them, each with a censer in his hand, and fragrant vapors from a cloud of incense were swirling upward.

8:12 He said to me, “Do you see, son of man, what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in the chamber of his idolatrous images? For they think, ‘The LORD does not see us! The LORD has abandoned the land!’ ” 8:13 He said to me, “You will see them practicing even greater abominations!”

8:14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the LORD’s house. I noticed women sitting there weeping for Tammuz. 8:15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see even greater abominations than these!”

8:16 Then he brought me to the inner court of the LORD’s house. Right there at the entrance to the LORD’s temple, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the LORD’s temple, facing east—they were worshiping the sun toward the east!

8:17 He said to me, “Do you see, son of man? Is it a trivial thing that the house of Judah commits these abominations they are practicing here? For they have filled the land with violence and provoked me to anger still further. Look, they are putting the branch to their nose! 8:18 Therefore I will act with fury! My eye will not pity them nor will I spare them. When they have shouted in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

8 And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell upon me there. 2 Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire—from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain.

5 Then He said to me, “Son of man, lift your eyes now toward the north.” So I lifted my eyes toward the north, and there, north of the altar gate, was this image of jealousy in the entrance.

6 Furthermore He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here, to make Me go far away from My sanctuary? Now turn again, you will see greater abominations.” 7 So He brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, there was a hole in the wall. 8 Then He said to me, “Son of man, dig into the wall”; and when I dug into the wall, there was a door.

9 And He said to me, “Go in, and see the wicked abominations which they are doing there.” 10 So I went in and saw, and there—every sort of creeping thing, abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed all around on the walls. 11 And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in their midst stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan. Each man had a censer in his hand, and a thick cloud of incense went up. 12 Then He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.’ ”

13 And He said to me, “Turn again, and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.” 14 So He brought me to the door of the north gate of the LORD’s house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.

15 Then He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Turn again, you will see greater abominations than these.” 16 So He brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house; and there, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east, and they were worshiping the sun toward the east.

17 And He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence; then they have returned to provoke Me to anger. Indeed they put the branch to their nose. 18 Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”

Thew New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1–4 8 In the sixth year, in the sixth month and the fifth day, while I was sitting at home meeting with the leaders of Judah, it happened that the hand of my Master, GOD, gripped me. When I looked, I was astonished. What I saw looked like a man—from the waist down like fire and from the waist up like highly burnished bronze. He reached out what looked like a hand and grabbed me by the hair. The Spirit swept me high in the air and carried me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the Temple’s inside court where the image of the sex goddess that makes God so angry had been set up. Right before me was the Glory of the God of Israel, exactly like the vision I had seen out on the plain.

5 He said to me, “Son of man, look north.” I looked north and saw it: Just north of the entrance loomed the altar of the sex goddess, Asherah, that makes God so angry.

6 Then he said, “Son of man, do you see what they’re doing? Outrageous obscenities! And doing them right here! It’s enough to drive me right out of my own Temple. But you’re going to see worse yet.”

7 He brought me to the door of the Temple court. I looked and saw a gaping hole in the wall.

8 He said, “Son of man, dig through the wall.”

I dug through the wall and came upon a door.

9 He said, “Now walk through the door and take a look at the obscenities they’re engaging in.”

10–11 I entered and looked. I couldn’t believe my eyes: Painted all over the walls were pictures of reptiles and animals and monsters—the whole pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses—being worshiped by Israel. In the middle of the room were seventy of the leaders of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing in the middle. Each held his censer with the incense rising in a fragrant cloud.

12 He said, “Son of man, do you see what the elders are doing here in the dark, each one before his favorite god-picture? They tell themselves, ‘GOD doesn’t see us. GOD has forsaken the country.’ ”

13 Then he said, “You’re going to see worse yet.”

14–15 He took me to the entrance at the north gate of the Temple of GOD. I saw women sitting there, weeping for Tammuz, the Babylonian fertility god. He said, “Have you gotten an eyeful, son of man? You’re going to see worse yet.”

16 Finally, he took me to the inside court of the Temple of GOD. There between the porch and the altar were about twenty-five men. Their backs were to GOD’s Temple. They were facing east, bowing in worship to the sun.

17–18 He said, “Have you seen enough, son of man? Isn’t it bad enough that Judah engages in these outrageous obscenities? They fill the country with violence and now provoke me even further with their obscene gestures. That’s it. They have an angry God on their hands! From now on, no mercy. They can shout all they want, but I’m not listening.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

8 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain.

5 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. 6 He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even uuthe 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. 7 And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. 8 Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. 9 And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. 10 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. 11 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. 12 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, eThe LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth. 13 He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do.

14 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. 15 Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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