June 8 Explore the Bible: Idols in the church
Jun 5, 2014
By MARK A. RATHEL
Ezekiel 8:1-12; 14:1-6
The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel described the religious practices that led to the destruction of the southern kingdom of Judah. God’s people practiced idolatry. The religious leaders and people thought the worship of the nations surrounding Judah more attractive. They continued worship of Yahweh God, albeit in an impure form. False worship existed in two forms. First, the worshipers incorporated worldly, ungodly worship practices in the temple. Second, the religious leaders and people practiced idolatry in secret.
What did the prophet Ezekiel teach about the dangers of idolatrous worship?
First, believers need to examine themselves for potential idols (Ezek. 8:1-4). Since receiving his vision of the glory of God, the prophet proclaimed God’s message by word and lifestyle. The prophet confined himself to his house as a symbol of the siege of Jerusalem (3.24). He acted out the bondage of the people by lying bound on his side (Ezek. 4). His symbolic actions functioned as object lessons about God’s judgment. Now God communicated the reason for the coming judgment through the vision of chapters 8 through 11.
In a vision, God transported the prophet located in Babylon to the temple in Jerusalem. The vision communicated four important truths. First, God is a God of glory that manifests His glory in the place of worship. Ezekiel saw the glory of God in the place of worship (8:4). Second, idolatrous worship provokes the jealous wrath of God.
The prophet found himself by the northern gate, also referred to as the “altar gate” because the location of sacrifice was located nearby. Near the location of sacrifice, the prophet observed the “statue that provokes jealously” (v. 3). Most biblical scholars interpret the statue as the reestablishment of the idol of Asherah erected by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:7). Asherah was the Canannite goddess of fertility and sex. God promised to depart from worship involving idols, particularly sexual idols (v. 6), a promise fulfilled as the glory of God departed from the temple and city (11:22-23). The end of Ezekiel depicts the return of the glory of God.
Second, God knows the secrets of our heart (Ezek. 8:7-12). God instructed the prophet to dig a hole in the wall of the temple to allow him to see the secrets of the leaders. The leaders of the people worshiped “at the shrine of his idol” in the secret darkness (v. 12). Ezekiel mentioned a key ring leader—Jaazaniah son of Shapan. Ironically, the man’s name means “God hears.” His faithful father Shapan served under the godly king Josiah. Religious corruption may occur quickly within one generation.
Third, idolatry creates an obstacle in our relationship with God (14:1-5). The elders in Jerusalem worshiped physical idols (Ezek. 8:3). The elders in Babylon worshiped idols in the heart (Ezek. 14:3). God sent the people into Babylonian exile because of idolatry, yet in Babylon they practiced a new form of idolatry.
The people violated the second commandment against “having other gods” in His face (Ex. 20:3). Idolatry places sinful stumbling blocks before the face of worshipers (14:3). Idolatry then blocks communion with God.
The elders approached Ezekiel to inquire about guidance into God’s plans. God inquired, “Why should you consult Me since you worship other gods in your heart?” (v. 3). God refuses to give direction to idol worshipers; the idolatry of the worshipers causes them to stumble. God gives people over to the idols within their hearts. Ultimately, God’s purposes are redemptive rather than vindictive. God wants the heart of the worshipers (v. 5).
Fourth, idolaters remove the stumbling block through repentance (v. 6). Like Jesus, Ezekiel preached an urgent message, “Repent!” Turn from other gods and turn to the True God.
What idols need destroying in your life?
Mark Rathel is a professor of theology at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.
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