1-3. What did Jehovah want Ezekiel to see at the temple in Jerusalem, and why? (See Section 2 opening spread.)
AS THE son of a priest, the prophet Ezekiel is well-versed in the Mosaic Law. So he is familiar with the temple in Jerusalem and the pure worship of Jehovah that should be carried out there. (Ezek. 1:3; Mal. 2:7) But now, in 612 B.C.E., what is happening at Jehovah’s temple would shock any faithful Jew, including Ezekiel.
2 Jehovah wants Ezekiel to see the deplorable conditions at the temple and then to tell “the elders of Judah,” fellow Jewish exiles gathered in his house, what he sees. (Read Ezekiel 8:1-4; Ezek. 11:24, 25; 20:1-3) By means of holy spirit, Jehovah transports Ezekiel (in vision) from his house in Tel-abib, near the river Chebar in Babylon, hundreds of miles west to Jerusalem. Jehovah sets the prophet down in the temple, at the north gate of the inner courtyard. Starting here, Jehovah takes him, by means of a vision, on a tour of the temple.
3 Ezekiel now observes four shocking scenes that reflect the utter spiritual collapse of the nation. What has happened to the pure worship of Jehovah? And what meaning does this vision have for us today? Let us join Ezekiel on his tour. First, though, we need to consider what Jehovah rightly expects of his worshippers.
“I . . . Am a God Who Requires Exclusive Devotion”
4. What does Jehovah require of his worshippers?
4 Some nine centuries before Ezekiel’s day, Jehovah clearly stated what he requires of his worshippers. In the second of the Ten Commandments, he told the Israelites:a “I, Jehovah your God, am a God who requires exclusive devotion.” (Ex. 20:5) By the expression “exclusive devotion,” Jehovah indicated that he would not tolerate the worship of any other gods. As we saw in Chapter 2 of this publication, the first requirement of pure worship is that the recipient of our religious devotion must be Jehovah. His worshippers have to give him the first place in their lives. (Ex. 20:3) Put simply, Jehovah expects his worshippers to keep spiritually clean by not mixing true worship with false. In 1513 B.C.E., the Israelites willingly entered into the Law covenant. By so doing, they agreed to give exclusive devotion to Jehovah. (Ex. 24:3-8) Jehovah is loyal to his covenants, and he expected similar loyalty from his covenant people.—Deut. 7:9, 10; 2 Sam. 22:26.
5, 6. Why did Jehovah deserve exclusive devotion from the Israelites?
5 Was it reasonable for Jehovah to require exclusive devotion from the Israelites? Yes, indeed! He is Almighty God, the Universal Sovereign, and the Source and Sustainer of life. (Ps. 36:9; Acts 17:28) Jehovah was also the Israelites’ Deliverer. When giving them the Ten Commandments, he reminded the people: “I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2) Clearly, Jehovah deserved the exclusive place in the hearts of the Israelites.
6 Jehovah does not change. (Mal. 3:6) He has never wavered in his insistence on exclusive devotion. Imagine, then, how he must have felt about the four disturbing scenes that he now showed to Ezekiel in vision.
First Scene: The Idolatrous Symbol of Jealousy
7. (a) What were apostate Jews doing at the northern gate of the temple, provoking what reaction from Jehovah? (See opening picture.) (b) In what sense was Jehovah incited to jealousy? (See footnote.)
7 Read Ezekiel 8:5, 6. Ezekiel must have been shocked! At the northern gate of the temple, apostate Jews were worshipping an idolatrous symbol, or image. It was perhaps a sacred pole representing Asherah, the false goddess that the Canaanites viewed as the wife of Baal. Whatever it was, those idolatrous Israelites violated the terms of their covenant with Jehovah. By giving to an image the devotion that rightfully—and exclusively—belonged to Jehovah, they incited God to jealousy; they provoked him to righteous anger.b (Deut. 32:16; Ezek. 5:13) Just think: For over 400 years, the temple sanctuary had been associated with Jehovah’s presence. (1 Ki. 8:10-13) But now, by bringing idolatry right into the temple area, those idolaters made Jehovah “go far away from [his] sanctuary.”
8. What meaning does Ezekiel’s vision of the symbol of jealousy have for our day?
8 What meaning does Ezekiel’s vision of the symbol of jealousy have for our day? Apostate Judah certainly reminds us of Christendom. Idolatry is widespread in the churches of Christendom, which makes invalid any devotion that the people claim to give to God. Since Jehovah does not change, we can be sure that Christendom, like apostate Judah, has provoked his righteous anger. (Jas. 1:17) Surely, Jehovah is far away from this distorted form of Christianity!
9, 10. What warning lesson can we learn from the idolaters in the temple?
9 What warning lesson can we learn from those idolaters in the temple? To render exclusive devotion to Jehovah, we must “flee from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14) We might think, ‘I would never use images or symbols in my worship of Jehovah!’ But idolatry comes in various forms, some more subtle than others. One Bible reference work puts it this way: “One may think of idolatry as a metaphor for other goods—anything of value, worth, or power that becomes our ultimate concern to the exclusion of God.” Idolatry, then, can include material possessions, money, sex, entertainment—really, anything that could take first place in our lives and thus replace the exclusive devotion that is due Jehovah. (Matt. 6:19-21, 24; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5) We must guard against every form of idolatry because Jehovah has exclusive claim to our hearts—and our worship!—1 John 5:21.
10 The first scene that Jehovah showed Ezekiel involved “terrible, detestable things.” Yet, Jehovah told his faithful prophet: “You will see detestable things that are even more terrible.” What could be more terrible than the worship of that idolatrous symbol of jealousy in the temple area?
Second Scene: 70 Elders Offering Incense to False Gods
11. What disturbing things did Ezekiel see after entering the inner courtyard near the temple altar?
11 Read Ezekiel 8:7-12. Boring through a wall and entering the inner courtyard near the temple altar, Ezekiel now saw disturbing wall carvings of “creeping things and loathsome beasts and all the disgusting idols.”c Those wall carvings represented false gods. Even more disturbing is what Ezekiel saw next: “70 of the elders of the house of Israel” were standing “in the darkness” and offering incense to the false gods. Under the Law, the burning of sweet-smelling incense represented the acceptable prayers offered up by faithful worshippers. (Ps. 141:2) However, the incense that those 70 elders offered up to false gods was an unholy stench to Jehovah. Their prayers were like an offensive odor to him. (Prov. 15:8) Those elders fooled themselves into thinking: “Jehovah is not seeing us.” But Jehovah did see them, and he showed Ezekiel exactly what they were doing in His temple!
12. Why must we remain faithful even “in the darkness,” and who especially should set a good example in this regard?
12 What can we learn from Ezekiel’s account of those 70 Israelite elders who offered incense to false gods? For our prayers to be heard by God—and to keep our worship pure in his eyes—we must remain faithful even “in the darkness.” (Prov. 15:29) Let us keep in mind that Jehovah’s all-seeing eyes are ever upon us. If Jehovah is real to us, we will not do anything in private that we know is displeasing to him. (Heb. 4:13) Especially must congregation elders set a good example in Christian living. (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Those in the congregation rightly expect that an elder who stands before them and leads them in worship at a meeting is living by Bible principles even “in the darkness,” that is, when others may not see him.—Ps. 101:2, 3.
Third Scene: “Women . . . Weeping Over the God Tammuz”
13. What did Ezekiel see apostate women doing at one of the temple gates?
13 Read Ezekiel 8:13, 14. Following the first two scenes of detestable practices, Jehovah again told Ezekiel: “You will see detestable things that are even more terrible that they are doing.” What, then, did the prophet see next? At “the entrance of the north gate of the house of Jehovah,” he saw “women sitting and weeping over the god Tammuz.” A deity of Mesopotamia, Tammuz is called Dumuzi in Sumerian texts and is thought to have been the consort of the fertility goddess Ishtar.d The Israelite women were evidently weeping as part of some religious ritual connected with the death of Tammuz. By weeping over Tammuz in Jehovah’s temple, those women were carrying out a pagan ritual in a center for pure worship. But a false religious observance was not sanctified by being carried out in God’s temple. Why, from Jehovah’s standpoint, those apostate women were doing “detestable things”!
14. What lesson can we learn from Jehovah’s view of what the apostate women were doing?
14 What lesson can we learn from Jehovah’s view of what those women were doing? To keep our worship pure, we must never mix it with unclean pagan practices. Hence, we must have nothing to do with observances that have pagan religious origins. Does origin really matter? Yes! Today the practices associated with certain observances, such as Christmas and Easter, may seem harmless. But let us not forget that Jehovah saw firsthand the pagan religious practices that eventually have become modern-day observances. In Jehovah’s view, pagan practices do not become less detestable with the passage of time or through efforts to mix them with pure worship.—2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:2, 4.
Fourth Scene: 25 Men “Bowing Down to the Sun”
15, 16. What were 25 men doing in the inner courtyard of the temple, and why did their actions deeply offend Jehovah?
15 Read Ezekiel 8:15-18. Jehovah introduced the fourth and final scene with the now familiar words: “You will see detestable things that are even more terrible than these.” Perhaps the prophet wondered: ‘What could be more terrible than the things I have already seen?’ Ezekiel was now in the inner courtyard of the temple. There, at the entrance of the temple, he saw 25 men bowing down to worship “the sun in the east.” Those men could hardly have found a way to offend Jehovah more deeply. How so?
16 Picture the scene: God’s temple was built with the entrance facing east. Worshippers entering the temple would be facing west, with their backs to the rising sun in the east. But the 25 men in the vision turned their “backs to the temple” and faced east so that they could worship the sun. In so doing, they turned their backs on Jehovah, for that temple was “the house of Jehovah.” (1 Ki. 8:10-13) Those 25 men were apostates. They ignored Jehovah, and they violated the command recorded at Deuteronomy 4:15-19. How they offended the God who rightly deserves exclusive devotion!
Jehovah deserves exclusive devotion from his worshippers
17, 18. (a) What lesson can we learn from the account of the sun worshippers in the temple? (b) The apostate Israelites damaged what relationships, and how?
17 What can we learn from the account of those sun worshippers? To keep our worship pure, we must look to Jehovah for spiritual enlightenment. Remember, “Jehovah God is a sun,” and his Word is “a light” for our path. (Ps. 84:11; 119:105) Through his Word and Bible-based publications from his organization, he illuminates our hearts and minds, showing us how to follow a course that leads to a satisfying life now and to everlasting life in the future. If we were to look instead to this world for enlightenment on how to live, we would be turning our backs on Jehovah. Such a course would deeply offend him, causing him much pain of heart. We would never want to do that to our God! Ezekiel’s vision is also a warning for us to avoid those who turn their backs on the truth, namely, apostates.—Prov. 11:9.
18 As we have seen thus far, Ezekiel witnessed four shocking scenes of idolatry and false worship that revealed the depth of apostate Judah’s spiritual defilement. By becoming spiritually unclean, those Israelites damaged the relationship between the nation and God. But spiritual uncleanness and moral defilement go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, then, the apostate Israelites committed all manner of moral wrongs that undermined not just their relationship with God but also their relationship with fellow humans. Let us now see how the prophet Ezekiel, under inspiration, described the moral decay of apostate Judah.
Moral Uncleanness—“Obscene Conduct in Your Midst”
19. How did Ezekiel describe the moral bankruptcy of Jehovah’s covenant people?
19 Read Ezekiel 22:3-12. The nation was morally corrupt from the rulers on down. “The chieftains,” or leaders, used their authority to shed innocent blood. The people in general evidently followed their leaders in disregarding God’s Law. Within the family, children treated parents “with contempt,” and incest was commonplace. Within the land, the rebellious Israelites defrauded the foreign resident and mistreated the fatherless child and the widow. Israelite men violated their neighbors’ wives. The people gave way to unrestrained greed by practicing bribery, extortion, and usury. How it must have pained Jehovah to see his covenant people trampling on his Law and ignoring the loving spirit behind it! Jehovah took their moral bankruptcy personally. He directed Ezekiel to tell the immoral people: “You have entirely forgotten me.”
20. Why do Ezekiel’s words about the moral uncleanness of Judah have meaning for our day?
20 Why do Ezekiel’s words about the moral uncleanness of Judah have meaning for our day? The corruption in apostate Judah reminds us of the morally bankrupt world we live in today. Political rulers have abused their power and oppressed the common people. Religious leaders—in particular, the clergy of Christendom—have blessed the wars of the nations that have caused the loss of countless millions of lives. The clergy have watered down the Bible’s pure and clear standards regarding sexual morality. As a result, the moral standards of the world around us keep sinking ever lower. Surely Jehovah would say to Christendom what he said to apostate Judah: “You have entirely forgotten me.”
21. What can we learn from the moral uncleanness of ancient Judah?
21 What can we as Jehovah’s people learn from the moral uncleanness of ancient Judah? To worship Jehovah acceptably, we must keep our conduct clean in all respects. That is no small challenge in this morally corrupt world. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) However, we know how Jehovah feels about moral corruption in all its ugly forms. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) We obey Jehovah’s moral standards because we love him and his laws. (Ps. 119:97; 1 John 5:3) To become morally unclean would be unloving toward our holy and clean God. We would never want to give Jehovah just cause to say to us: “You have entirely forgotten me.”
22. (a) After reviewing Jehovah’s exposé of ancient Judah, what are you resolved to do? (b) What will be discussed in the next chapter?
22 We have learned some valuable lessons from reviewing Jehovah’s exposé of the spiritual and moral decline of ancient Judah. Surely we are strengthened in our resolve to give Jehovah the exclusive devotion that he so richly deserves. To that end, we must guard against all forms of idolatry and keep morally clean. What, though, did Jehovah do about his unfaithful people? At the conclusion of Ezekiel’s temple tour, Jehovah plainly told his prophet: “I will act in rage.” (Ezek. 8:17, 18) We want to know what action Jehovah took toward unfaithful Judah, for a similar judgment will be executed on this wicked world. The next chapter will discuss how Jehovah’s judgments against Judah were fulfilled.
b The use of the term “jealousy” shows how seriously Jehovah views the matter of faithfulness to him. We may think of the jealous indignation a husband would feel if his wife were to become unfaithful. (Prov. 6:34) Like such a husband, Jehovah rightly became indignant when his covenant people proved unfaithful by taking up image worship. One reference work notes: “God’s jealousy . . . proceeds from His holiness. Because He alone is the Holy One . . . , He will tolerate no rival.”—Ex. 34:14.
c The Hebrew term rendered “disgusting idols” may be related to a Hebrew word for “dung” and is used as an expression of contempt.
d There is no factual basis for the claim that Tammuz is another name for Nimrod.