Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
…it is the duty of every man, that wishes to escape the plague and punishment of God, to declare himself an enemy to idolatry, not only in heart, hating the same, but also in external gesture…
-John Knox on Ezekiel 10:1-22
God is never soft on idolatry and hypocrisy. Our problem isn’t worshipping God, it’s only worshipping God. The lie we often believe in practice is we can worship both God and our idols. Israel believed that lie, and it resulted in one of the most shocking events in the Bible: the destruction of the first temple in 586 BC. Ezekiel’s second vision reveals not only why that happened, but also the greater spiritual loss behind it: God left the temple.
In this vision Ezekiel has exposed the reality of Israel’s love of false gods, and the audacious act of worshipping false gods in the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem. As a result, God will not only bring Babylon to destroy that very temple. He will leave it.
The day God left the temple in Jerusalem was truly a day of mourning. As we read this vision, it’s important to realize just how traumatic this would have been to those Jewish exiles in Babylon. It’s akin to September 11 in our culture, only more explicitly theological.
When God departed from the temple, he was doing so in response to Israel’s continued idolatry and hypocrisy. God’s attitude towards idolatry and hypocrisy hasn’t changed. Even in this momentous judgment, God reveals his glory and invites us to soberly assess our spiritual state.
Ezek. 10:1 Then I looked, and there above the expanse over the heads of the cherubim was something like a throne with the appearance of lapis lazuli. 2 The LORD spoke to the man clothed in linen and said, “Go inside the wheelwork beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with blazing coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.” So he went in as I watched.
Recall that “lapis lazuli” is a deep blue or purple stone indicating God’s status as king. God is acting with his universal authority. He sends an angel to take burning coals from his altar and scatter them over the city. These burning coals taken from below the throne/altar represent God’s holy judgment of Jerusalem. His judgment is pure.
Ezek. 10:3 Now the cherubim were standing to the south of the temple when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court. 4 Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherub to the threshold of the temple. The temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the LORD’s glory. 5 The sound of the cherubim’s wings could be heard as far as the outer court; it was like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
As Jerusalem is judged, God’s glory rose and went to the entrance to the temple. God is on his way out.
Ezek. 10:6 After the LORD commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from inside the wheelwork, from among the cherubim,” the man went in and stood beside a wheel. 7 Then the cherub reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took some and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out. 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of human hands under their wings.
Here the angel does what he has been commanded to do.
Ezek. 10:9 I looked, and there were four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside each cherub. The luster of the wheels was like the gleam of beryl. 10 In appearance, all four looked alike, like a wheel within a wheel. 11 When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went. 12 Their entire bodies, including their backs, hands, wings, and the wheels that the four of them had, were full of eyes all around. 13 As I listened the wheels were called “the wheelwork.” 14 Each one had four faces: one was the face of a cherub, the second the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
This description matches the one from Ezekiel’s first vision. The emphasis here is the mobility of God’s throne.
Ezek. 10:15 The cherubim ascended; these were the living creatures I had seen by the Chebar Canal. 16 When the cherubim moved, the wheels moved beside them, and when they lifted their wings to rise from the earth, even then the wheels did not veer away from them. 17 When the cherubim stopped, the wheels stood still, and when they ascended, the wheels ascended with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in them.
Ezek. 10:18 Then the glory of the LORD moved away from the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. 19 The cherubim lifted their wings and ascended from the earth right before my eyes; the wheels were beside them as they went. The glory of the God of Israel was above them, and it stopped at the entrance to the eastern gate of the LORD’s house.
God’s glory has departed the temple proper, and now is at the eastern entrance to the temple complex. Ezekiel describes the movement in detail because it is so shocking. It’s like a slow motion effect in motion pictures.
Ezek. 10:20 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Chebar Canal, and I recognized that they were cherubim. 21 Each had four faces and each had four wings, with what looked something like human hands under their wings. 22 Their faces looked like the same faces I had seen by the Chebar Canal. Each creature went straight ahead.
The Big Picture
Idolatry is incompatible with God’s presence. Israel refused to repent. They refused to tear down their idols. They refused to dedicate the temple to the worship of God alone. So God left. We must learn this simple truth: God refuses to coexist with idols.
Satan’s selling point for sin is often, “a little of this, a little of that,” but God calls us to absolute and exclusive allegiance to him. If we insist on worshipping other gods, we have to know that we’re choosing them over him. Here God’s glory departs from the temple because Israel will not say no to idolatry. The idea of “everything in moderation” won’t do with worship of God.
As shocking as God leaving the Temple was and is, that’s not the end of the story. When we continue in the story of the Bible we realize not only did God not abandon Israel, but he literally came to them. In the incarnation, Jesus came to save his people from their sins. As we observed reflecting on the beginning of this vision back in Ezekiel 8:1-18, Jesus replaces the Temple. He is God dwelling with his people.
How is this possible? Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for our idolatry. He removed the barrier between God and us. Furthermore, by his Spirit he actively leads us in saying no to idols. He will not quit until his work in us is complete. For this reason, we need never fear Jesus leaving us.
But that’s not all. The Bible also teaches us that because of Jesus, we have been made into a walking temple. In a context dealing with sexual immorality, the Apostle Paul asks, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are God’s temple, the place where he is to be cherished above all else, and that priority must influence the decisions we make every day.
Taking It Home
Ezekiel’s second vision explains why we feel far from God when we chase idols. Have you ever felt like God is distant, only to discover areas in your life where you are making sinful choices? It’s not a coincidence. What was it like? How did you respond? When feed idolatry, we will feel distant from God because we are.
This also explains why sin compounds. Many times when we feel far from God we respond by making more sinful choices. Often this is because we refuse to repent, and it’s exactly what happened with Israel in the 6th century. Why not repent and minimize the damage? That’s Ezekiel’s point to the exiles, and to us.
Repentance means acknowledging our sin before God and turning away from it in both attitude and action. It’s a commitment to walk by faith and actively fight against a temptation to worship an idol. At it’s heart, repentance is more than a feeling. It’s living in a new direction.
Finally, this explains why we must fight idolatry so hard. It turns out God did not abandon Israel, but he had to drive them to their knees. When will we learn to think of idols as God does? What will it take to convince us that loving money or drugs or sex or family or career or anything more than God simply won’t work?
- Take a few minutes and confess any sin in your life to God. Repent, and ask for God’s forgiveness based on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Praise God for his grace to us. Thank Jesus for becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we can dwell with him.
- Ask God to lead you by his Holy Spirit to walk by faith and to truly be his temple.