Idolatry Denounced and Punishment Promised
I. Introductory Comments.
A. Ezekiel chapter six is transitional.
B. It moves from the purely dramatic forms of the messages in chapters 4 and 5, combines dramatic and vocal elements, and anticipates the visions and messages that follow.
C. This message also contains a thematic transition from the sins of the nation in general (chs. 4-5) to the mountains and high places and detestable practices (6:11) that were associated with pagan worship.
D. Thus the focus of chapter 6 is on the individual responsibility of the people and prepares the way for the subsequent spoken messages.
II. Message to the Mountains.
A. Ezekiel commanded to preach to the mountains of Israel –prophetic dramatization of the end of false worship. (6:1-2.)
1. Although this was a spoken message, it also was accompanied by the symbolic action of setting his face against the mountains of Israel.
a) This was a symbolic gesture of judgment. (See 13:17; 21:2, 7; 25:2; 28:21; 29:2; 35:2; 38:2.)
2. After his first oracle of judgment addressed to Jerusalem (5:5-17), Ezekiel was directed to announce judgment on the “mountains of Israel,” a phrase that occurs 16 times in Ezekiel and nowhere else. (The singular occurs in Josh. 11:16.)
a) He was instructed to prophesy against the mountains as though they were a ready audience to hear God’s message (v. 2).
b) As the mountains received this message of judgment, they would later receive one of blessing. (36:1-15.)
3. The mountains were especially centers of idolatrous worship, representing Israel’s apostasy and perversion of the good and holy things of God (cf. 6:13; 18:6, 11-12; 22:9).
a) Shrines dedicated to Canaanite deities were built in groves on the hills and mountains.
b) The Hebrews tried to produce an amalgamation of elements of Canaanite worship and Jehovah worship.
B. Warning of approaching destruction of places of idolatry. (6:3-7.)
1. The words of 6:3 were used in the later message of 36:4 to describe the devastation of Israel’s pagan shrines.
a) These high places characteristically consisted of several basic elements.
(1) There was an altar for offering sacrifices, usually built of stone or mud brick.
(2) There was a wooden pole to represent the female goddess of fertility called Asherah.
(3) There was at least one stone pillar to represent the male deity Baal.
(4) There was a smaller incense altar with a tent for use in eating sacrificial meals, practicing sacred prostitution (1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 21:3; Isa. 57:3-12), and storage of cultic vessels.
b) Ezekiel forecasted the systematic destruction of these worship centers that attempted to combine Jehovah worship with pagan practices.
(1) What they had made was to be wiped out (v. 6).
(2) This was significant because Ezekiel was not describing judgment of the heathen but judgment of God’s own people.
(3) He rejected their pagan altars as idolatrous and unclean (cf. ch. 8).
(4) As a result they would know by experiencing judgment that he, Jehovah, is God and that he does not accept adulterated worship (v. 7).
2. This was a clear indication that the reform measures that Josiah initiated in 622 BC had failed.
a) After Josiah’s death the people reverted to their former practice of worshiping idols.
b) Ezekiel used his favorite word for idols (39 times, 9 times elsewhere), which may have been created to sound like “detestable things.”
c) It also has been associated with “dung.”
3. Judgment was described in graphic terms depicting the destruction of the sacrificial altars, incense altars, and idols (vv. 4-6).
a) Whereas these worship centers usually had animal bones scattered about, Ezekiel said that their bone would be scattered around the pagan altars.
b) Through the passage the emphasis is shifted from the mountains, to the worship centers, to the people who are directly responsible.
(1) Their pollution was moral and their religion was filth – the worst kind of pollution.
(2) It is not an oil slick that is a reproach to any people. (Prov. 14:34.)
4. The message reaffirmed the sovereignty of God by his rejection of pagan worship -- you shall know that I am the Lord.
a) The exclusiveness of God is not an easy thing to learn.
(1) It took Pharaoh a 10 lesson correspondence course, and even then he wasn’t completely educated.
(2) Israel had more lessons than Egypt and hadn’t yet learned it.
b) 72 times in this book the phrase occurs.
(1) Ye Shall Know that I Am Jehovah.
(2) All doubts gone; all idols ripped up and ruined; all iniquity punished and holiness vindicated.
(3) The chariot of God rumbles across the soul of Israel, leaving a trail of broken idols and fully taught corpses.
C. A brief interlude of hope – a repentant remnant will be preserved in exile. (6:8-10.)
1. A word of encouragement and hope followed the hopelessness and despair presented in vv. 3-7.
a) Some people would be spared although they will be scattered among the nations (v. 8).
b) This message, which came before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, revealed that the final destruction would leave a small remnant that would be the hope for the future.
2. When the scattered remnant were among the nations, they would remember God in anticipation of their repentance (v. 9).
a) Remembrance as used here was more than mental recall of the facts but also included the idea of a new openness to God.
b) Idolatry is spoken of elsewhere in the prophets (e.g., Hosea) as spiritual adultery, but was further developed by Ezekiel.
c) Ezekiel saw a future time when a repentant Israel would “know him” again, turn from idolatry, and return to Jehovah (v. 10). (This idea is developed again in 16:59-63; 23:1-49; and 36:1-38.)
D. A mocking lament of the devastation Israel’s idolatry will have caused. (6:11-14.)
1. The three forms of judgment mentioned – sword, famine, and plague – are repeated from 5:1-3, 12.
a) Ezekiel was told to clap his hands, stomp his feet, and cry “Alas” as signs of excitement and emotion used to decry the abominations and idolatrous practices of the Jewish people (v. 11).
b) The three forms of judgment are repeated in v. 12 with the message that the judgment will be all-inclusive and therefore inescapable.
2. Diblah has not been identified with certainty.
a) It may be a reference to Riblah, which is not mentioned elsewhere in the book, but was a border city.
b) Nebuchadnezzar captured Zedekiah and blinded his eyes at Riblah (2 Kings 25:5, 7; Jer. 39:6-7; 52:8-11, 26-27).
3. The closing formula (v. 14) specified the aim of the judgment.
a) This phrase was used throughout the message in chapter 6 and illustrated the longing of the prophet for all people to know the God of Israel as the one true God.
b) The point was that people will know him either through response to his loving attempts of salvation and fellowship or through judgment; God’s preference was the former.
III. Prophetic Dramas of Judgment in Summary. (7:1-27.)
A. Judgment announced. (7:1-4.)
1. Ezekiel announced that the end had come – the Day of Jehovah’s judgment was imminent (vv. 1-2, 7-10, 19.
a) This is an example of prophetic past tense.
b) It proclaimed the absolute certainty of a future event.
2. The end was to come upon all the land – four corners – suggesting that no city would be spared (v. 3).
a) The end of Jerusalem was expanded to encompass the end of Judah.
b) God promised to punish the entire nation.
(1) The end that was upon them was of their own doing – God would feed them on their own ways.
(2) There is in every nation and individual a self-destruct button – sin.
(3) Part of the punishment that God lays on the wicked is to let them have their own way – to give them up (Rom. 1) and permit them to practice without obstacle from him all that their heart desires.
(4) The Jews had asked for, had begged for what God was now about to give them.
3. The purpose of this judgment was to bring a new knowledge of God (v. 4).
a) He never judged people capriciously or for the enjoyment of judging.
b) His goal was always redemptive – to open a way for mercy and grace.
B. Calls for judgment. (7:5-9.)
1. This passage is punctuated by the use of the word “come” (five times in vv. 5-12).
2. This unheard of disaster (lit., “an evil which is one”) is an unprecedented or singular disaster.
3. The doom mentioned in vv. 7 and 10 results in the loss of joy of the mountains – those high places where the fertility rites and harvest celebrations of joy took place would not be filled with cries of anguish and pain.
4. Vv. 8-9 repeat the ideas expressed in vv. 3-4.
a) The fruit of judgment had ripened.
b) The fact that this idea was repeated several times with no response from the people bears testimony to the deadening power of sin.
(1) It is amazing how easily messages of judgment are forgotten.
(2) The messages must constantly be reinforced.
c) At the conclusion of this section God stressed the redemptive purpose of judgment – then you will know that it is I, the Lord (v. 9).
(1) Judgment often brings renewed interest in spiritual things.
(2) The tragedy is that this usually happens after judgment has befallen a nation or an individual.
(3) Tragedy usually rekindles interest in God.
C. Certainty of judgment. (7:10-13.)
1. After announcing the end had come (vv. 1-4) and stressing the unprecedented nature of this judgment, Ezekiel pointed out that the judgment was imminent, permanent, fixed and irreversible.
a) God would use the Babylonians as the rod of his anger to judge Israel.
b) The rod that blossomed (v. 10) may be a reference to Aaron’s rod in Num. 17:8. (The almond rod that budded suggested God’s choice of Aaron as high priest but also was a sign of his displeasure with the arrogance of the people (Num. 17:10-11), who had just witnessed the awesome judgment of Korah (Num 16:1ff.))
2. Buying and selling, like rejoicing and grieving, suggest activities of normal business, social, and personal life.
a) Ezekiel announced the cessation of those normal activities (v. 11).
(1) The people had heard the prophets, but they went about their business, they heard, but they didn’t hear.
(2) They half believed, but didn’t believe – the judgment was at most for another generation.
b) Divine wrath wiped away all the regular elements of human stability.
(1) There were also overtones of the law of the Sabbath Year (Deut. 15:1-2) and the Jubilee Year (Lev. 25:1-6).
(a) In the Sabbatical Year all slaves were set free, and in the Jubilee Year all property was restored to its original owner.
(b) Land was a sacred trust from God that the Hebrews had received at the conquest under Joshua.
(c) Therefore property was only sold in cases of extreme need.
(d) Such sales were regarded as temporary and redeemable.
(2) In the day of judgment prophesied by Ezekiel the seller would not recover his land, and the individual judgment of the coming bondage of the exile would not be reversed (v. 13).
c) Material things would be of no value in a time of divine judgment.
(1) Unbridled materialism and secularism that divorces God from human society tends only to intensify judgment.
D. The concluding verses of this message contain three elements to underscore the picture of the total destruction of the nation.
1. Destruction announced. (7:14-18.)
a) The alarm would be sounded, but defense would be useless since the knowledge of the invasion would paralyze and terrorize the populace (v. 14).
b) The three scourges of war previously mentioned – sword, plague, and famine (cf. 5:12; 6:11-12)) were divided between the city and the country (v. 15).
(1) This was not so much to identify the location of each scourge as it was to proclaim that the entire nation would be affected.
(2) The people would respond like doves mourning in the valleys (v. 16).
(3) They would seek remote hiding places to escape the invading armies.
(4) They would be overwhelmed with the terror, suffering, and shame brought upon them because of their inequities.
c) Limp hands and weak knees describe a complete paralysis of strength and ability to resist the invading army (v. 17).
d) Sackcloth and shaved heads were traditional elements of mourning and appropriate to the contest of judgment (v. 18).
(1) These were not signs that resulted from true repentance, but mourning over the catastrophe of destruction and the resulting famine and plague.
(2) The people were not sorry for their sin so much as they were sorry that they were having to cope with the discomforts and horrors of the invasion.
2. Uselessness of physical resources. (7:19-22.)
a) Their silver and gold were useless for averting judgment (v. 19).
(1) This was a sobering reality for a materialistic society.
(2) When the invading armies came, the silver and gold would be abandoned like an unclean object, signifying the repulsiveness of materialism.
b) They had misused their jewelry by making and adorning places of worship (v. 20), and it would now be given to foreigners (v. 21).
(1) Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and took the golden and silver vessels to Babylon where they were profaned in the temple of his pagan gods.
(2) Belshazzar used these same objects as objects of pagan worship and as a means of ridiculing the Hebrews and their God.
(3) Rather than letting the Hebrews profane the temple while pretending to worship, God would profane it by turning it over to the heathen.
c) V. 22 seems to anticipate the departure of God’s Spirit from the temple in Jerusalem and the temple’s desecration and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.
(1) Ezekiel carefully chronicled all the basic elements of the sins of the people to show that they deserved the impending judgment of God on the nation.
(2) These elements included pride (7:10, 20, 24), self –confidence (7:14), materialism (7:19), and superficial worship (7:20-22).
3. Fall of Jerusalem announced. (7:23-27.)
a) Ezekiel depicted the violent overthrow of Jerusalem with its inhabitants taken captive.
(1) Chains were a sign of captivity (v. 23).
(2) The kind of chain mentioned was used as a fetter for captives in transport to Babylon (cf. 1 Kings 6:21; Isa. 40:19).
(3) The word for “bloodshed” was literally “judgment of bloodshed” (v. 23), signifying that the captives were guilty of crimes punishable by death.
(4) Violence often characterizes a sinful society as a manifestation of self-inflicted judgment.
b) Capture of houses was part of the warning given by Moses as he described the penalties of disobedience (see Lev. 26:31-32).
(1) The search for comfort and guidance in the midst of the destruction of the nation would be futile, like Saul’s attempt to seek counsel from the deceased prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 28:1-5).
(2) Instead of the peace, prosperity, and solidarity that should have characterized Hebrew society, the exile brought pain, loss, and confusion (vv. 24-27).
(a) Neither the prophets, priests, nor elders would be able to make sense of the situation, leaving the people with no direction from their national leaders (cf. Jer. 18:18).
(b) Ezekiel envisioned a time of desperation in which people would return to the usual methods of revelation.
(i) They would seek a vision from a prophet, a teaching of the law from the priests, and counsel from the elders, all to no avail (v. 26).
(ii) Finally, such desperation would be the experience of all, even those at the top of society (v. 27, cf. “the pride of the mighty,” v. 4).
c) By judging Judah in accordance with the standards and punishments declared to them from the beginning in the Mosaic covenant, the Lord would cause them to recognize him as different from the gods of the nations, a God not to be manipulated or taken for granted, but rather obeyed and trusted wholeheartedly.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)