Ezekiel was now in Babylon; but the messages of wrath he had delivered in the foregoing chapters related to Jerusalem, for in the peace or trouble thereof the captives looked upon themselves to have peace or trouble, and therefore here he has a vision of what was done at Jerusalem, and this vision is continued to the close of the 11th chapter.
I. Here is the date of this vision. The first vision he had was in the fifth year of the captivity, in the fourth month and the fifth day of the month, Ezek. 1:1, 2. This was just fourteen months after. Perhaps it was after he had lain 390 days on his left side, to bear the iniquity of Israel, and before he began the forty days on his right side, to bear the iniquity of Judah; for now he was sitting in the house, not lying. Note, God keeps a particular account of the messages he sends to us, because he will shortly call us to account about them.
II. The opportunity is taken notice of, as well as the time. 1. The prophet was himself sitting in his house, in a sedate composed frame, deep perhaps in contemplation. Note, The more we retreat from the world, and retire into our own hearts, the better frame we are in for communion with God: those that sit down to consider what they have learned shall be taught more. Or, he sat in his house, ready to preach to the company that resorted to him, but waiting for instructions what to say. God will communicate more knowledge to those who are communicative of what they do know. 2. The elders of Judah, that were now in captivity with him, sat before him. It is probable that it was on the sabbath day, and that it was usual for them to attend on the prophet every sabbath day, both to hear the word from him and to join with him and prayer and praise: and how could they spend the sabbath better, now that they had neither temple nor synagogue, neither priest nor altar? It was a great mercy that they had opportunity to spend it so well, as the good people in Elisha’s time, 2 Kgs. 4:23. But some think it was on some extraordinary occasion that they attended him, to enquire of the Lord, and sat down at his feet to hear his word. Observe here, (1.) When the law had perished from the priests at Jerusalem, whose lips should keep knowledge (Ezek. 7:26), those in Babylon had a prophet to consult. God is not tied to places or persons. (2.) Now that the elders of Judah were in captivity they paid more respect to God’s prophets, and his word in their mouth, than they did when they lived in peace in their own land. When God brings men into the cords of affliction, then he opens their ears to discipline, Job 36:8, 10; Ps. 141:6. Those that despised vision in the valley of vision prized it now that the word of the Lord precious and there was no open vision. (3.) When our teachers are driven into corners, and are forced to preach in private houses, we must diligently attend them there. A minister’s house should be a church for all his neighbours. Paul preached in his own hired house at Rome, and God owned him there, and no man forbad him.
III. The divine influence and impression that the prophet was now under: The hand of the Lord fell there upon me. God’s hand took hold of him, and arrested him, as it were, to employ him in this vision, but at the same time supported him to bear it.
IV. The vision that the prophet saw, Ezek. 8:2. He beheld a likeness, of a man we may suppose, for that was the likeness he saw before, but it was all brightness above the girdle and all fire below, fire and flame. This agrees with the description we had before of the apparition he saw, Ezek. 1:27. It is probably that it was the same person, the man Christ Jesus. It is probable that the elders that sat with him (as the men that journeyed with Paul) saw a light and were afraid, and this happy sight they gained by attending the prophet in a private meeting, but they had no distinct view of him that spoke to him, Acts 22:9.
V. The prophet’s remove, in vision, to Jerusalem. The apparition he saw put forth the form of a hand, which took him by a lock of his head, and the Spirit was that hand which was put forth, for the Spirit of God is called the finger of God. Or, The spirit within him lifted him up, so that he was borne up and carried on by an internal principle, not an external violence. A faithful ready servant of God will be drawn by a hair, by the least intimation of the divine will, to his duty; for he has that within him which inclines him to a compliance with it, Ps. 27:8. He was miraculously lifted up between heaven and earth, as if he were to fly away upon eagles’ wings. This, it is probable (so Grotius thinks), the elders that sat with him saw; they were witnesses of the hand taking him by the lock of hair, and lifting him up, and then perhaps laying him down again in a trance of ecstasy, while he had the following visions, whether in the body or out of the body, we may suppose, he could not tell, any more than Paul in a like case, much less can we. Note, Those are best prepared for communion with God and the communications of divine light that by divine grace are raised up above the earth and the things of it, to be out of their attractive force. But, being lifted up towards heaven, he was carried in vision to Jerusalem, and to God’s sanctuary there; for those that would go to heaven must take that in their way. The Spirit represented to his mind the city and temple as plainly as if he had been there in person. O that by faith we could thus enter into the Jerusalem, the holy city, above, and see the things that are invisible!
VI. The discoveries that were made to him there.
1. There he saw the glory of God (Ezek. 8:4): Behold, the glory of the god of Israel was there, the same appearance of the living creatures, and the wheels, and the throne, that he had seen, Ezek. 1:1-28 Note, God’s servants, wherever they are and whithersoever they go, ought to carry about with them a believing regard to the glory of God and to set that always before them; and those that have seen God’s power and glory in the sanctuary should desire to see them again, so as they have seen them, Ps. 63:2. Ezekiel has this repeated vision of the glory of God both to give credit to and to put honour upon the following discoveries. But it seems to have a further intention here; it was to aggravate this sin of Israel, in changing their own God, the God of Israel (who is a God of so much glory as here he appears to be), for dunghill gods, scandalous gods, false gods, and indeed no gods. Note, The more glorious we see God to be the more odious we shall see sin to be, especially idolatry, which turns his truth in to a lie, his glory into shame. It was also to aggravate their approaching misery, when this glory of the Lord should remove from them (Ezek. 11:23) and leave the house and city desolate.
2. There he saw the reproach of Israel—and that was the image of jealousy, set northward, at the gate of the altar, Ezek. 8:3, 5. What image this was is uncertain, probably an image of Baal, or of the grove, which Manasseh made and set in the temple (2 Kgs. 21:7; 2 Chron. 33:3), which Josiah removed, but his successors, it seems, replace there, as probably they did the chariots of the sun which he found at the entering in of the house of the Lord (2 Kgs. 23:11), and this is here said to be in the entry. But the prophet, instead of telling us what image it was, which might gratify our curiosity, tells us that it was the image of jealousy, to convince our consciences that, whatever image it was, it was in the highest degree offensive to God and provoked him to jealousy. he resented it as a husband would resent the whoredoms of his wife, and would certainly revenge it; for God is jealous, and the Lord revenges, Nah. 1:2.
(1.) The very setting up of this image in the house of the Lord was enough to provoke him to jealousy; for it is in the matters of his worship that we are particularly told, I the Lord thy God am a jealous God. Those that placed this image at the door of the inner gate, where the people assembled, called the gate of the altar (Ezek. 8:5), thereby plainly intended, [1.] To affront God, to provoke him to his face, by advancing an idol to be a rival with him for the adoration of his people, in contempt of his law and in defiance of his justice. [2.] To debauch the people, and pick them up as they were entering into the courts of the Lord’s house to bring their offerings to him, and to tempt them to offer them to this image; like the adulteress Solomon describes, that sits at the door of her house, to call passengers who go right on their ways, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither, Prov. 9:14-16. With good reason therefore is this called the image of jealousy.
(2.) We may well imagine what a surprise and what a grief it was to Ezekiel to see this image in the house of God, when he was in hopes that the judgments they were under had, by this time, wrought some reformation among them; but there is more wickedness in the world, in the church, than good men think there is. And now, [1.] God appeals to him whether this was not bad enough, and a sufficient ground for God to go upon in casting off this people and abandoning them to ruin. Could he, or any one else, expect any other than that God should go far from his sanctuary, when there were such abominations committed there, in that very place; nay, was he not perfectly driven thence? They did these things designedly, and on purpose that he should leave his sanctuary, and so shall their doom be; they have hereby, in effect, like the Gadarenes, desired him to depart out of their coasts, and therefore he will depart; he will no more dignify and protect his sanctuary, as he has done, but will give it up to reproach and ruin. But, [2.] Though this is bad enough, and serves abundantly to justify God in all that he brings upon them, yet the matter will appear to be much worse: But turn thyself yet again, and thou wilt be amazed to see greater abominations than these. Where there is one abomination it will be found that there are many more. Sins do not go alone.