We have here a further discovery of the abominations that were committed at Jerusalem, and within the confines of the temple, too. Now observe,
I. How this discovery is made. God, in vision, brought Ezekiel to the door of the court, the outer court, along the sides of which the priests’ lodgings were. God could have introduced him at first into the chambers of imagery, but he brings him to them by degrees, partly to employ his own industry in searching out these mysteries of iniquity, and partly to make him sensible with what care and caution those idolaters concealed their idolatries. Before the priests’ apartments they had run up a wall, to make them the more private, that they might not lie open to the observation of those who passed by—a shrewd sign that they did something which they had reason to be ashamed of. He that doth evil hates the light. They were not willing that those who saw them in God’s house should see them in their own, lest they should see them contradict themselves and undo in private what they did in public. But, behold, a hole in the wall, (Ezek. 8:7), a spy-hole, by which you might see that which would give cause to suspect them. When hypocrites screen themselves behind the wall of an external profession, and with it think to conceal their wickedness from the eye of the world and carry on their designs the more successfully, it is hard for them to manage it with so much art by that there is some hole or other left in the wall, something that betrays them, to those who look diligently, not to be what they pretend to be. The ass’s ears in the fable appeared from under the lion’s skin. This hole in the wall Ezekiel made wider, and behold a door, Ezek. 8:8. This door he goes in by into the treasury, or some of the apartments of the priests, and sees the wicked abominations that they do there, Ezek. 8:9. Note, Those that would discover the mystery of iniquity in others, or in themselves, must accomplish a diligent search; for Satan has his wiles, and depths, and devices, which we should not be ignorant of, and the heart is deceitful above all things; in the examining of it therefore we are concerned to be very strict.
II. What the discovery is. It is a very melancholy one. 1. He sees a chamber set round with idolatrous pictures (Ezek. 8:10): All the idols of the house of Israel, which they had borrowed from the neighbouring nations, were portrayed upon the wall round about, even the vilest of them, the forms of creeping things, which they worshipped, and beasts, even abominable ones, which are poisonous and venomous; at least they were abominable when they were worshipped. This was a sort of pantheon, a collection of all the idols together which they paid their devotions to. Though the second commandment, in the letter of it, forbids only graven images, yet painted ones are as bad and as dangerous. 2. He sees this chamber filled with idolatrous worshippers (Ezek. 8:11): There were seventy men of the elders of Israel offering incense to these painted idols. Here was a great number of idolaters strengthening one another’s hands in this wickedness; though it was in a private chamber, and the meeting industriously concealed, yet here were seventy men engaged in it. I doubt these elders were many more than those in Babylon that sat before the prophet in his house, Ezek. 8:1. They were seventy men, the number of the great Sanhedrim, or chief council of the nation, and, we have reason to fear, the same men; for they were the ancients of the house of Israel, not only in age, but in office, who were bound, by the duty of their place, to restrain and punish idolatry and to destroy and abolish all superstitious images wherever they found them; yet these were those that did themselves worship them in private, so undermining that religion which in public they professed to own and promote only because by it they held their preferments. They had every man his censer in his hand; so fond were they of the idolatrous service that they would all be their own priests, and very prodigal they were of their perfumes in honour of these images, for a thick cloud of incense went up, that filled the room. O that the zeal of these idolaters might shame the worshippers of the true God out of their indifference to his service! The prophet took particular notice of one whom he knew, who stood in the midst of these idolaters, as chief among them, being perhaps president of the great council at this time or most forward in this wickedness. No wonder the people were corrupt when the elders were so. The sins of leaders are leading sins.
III. What the remark is that made upon it (Ezek. 8:12): “Son of man, hast thou seen this? Couldst thou have imagined that there was such wickedness committed?” It is here observed concerning it, 1. That it was done in the dark; for sinful works are works of darkness. They concealed it, lest they should lose their places, or at least their credit. There is a great deal of secret wickedness in the world, which the day will declare, the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. 2. That this one idolatrous chapel was but a specimen of many the like. Here they met together, to worship their images in concert, but, it should seem, they had every man the chamber of his imagery besides, a room in his own house for this purpose, in which every man gratified his own fancy with such pictures as he liked best. Idolaters had their household gods, and their family worship of them in private, which is a shame to those who call themselves Christians and yet have no church in their house, no worship of God in their family. Had they chambers of imagery, and shall not we have chambers of devotion? 3. That atheism was at the bottom of their idolatry. They worship images in the dark, the images of the gods of other nations, and they say, “Jehovah, the God of Israel, whom we should serve, seeth us not. Jehovah hath forsaken the earth, and we may worship what God we will; he regards us not.” (1.) They think themselves out of God’s sight: They say, The Lord seeth us not. They imagined, because the matter was carried on so closely that men could not discover it, nor did any of their neighbours suspect them to be idolaters, that therefore it was hidden from the eye of God; as if there were any darkness, or shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves. Note, A practical disbelief of God’s omniscience is at the bottom of our treacherous departures from him; but the church argues justly, as to this very sin of idolatry (Ps. 44:20, 21), If we have forgotten the name of our God, and stretched forth our hand to a strange god, will not God search this out? No doubt he will. (2.) They think themselves out of God’s care: “The Lord has forsaken the earth, and looks not after the affairs of it; and then we may as well worship any other god as him.” Or, “He has forsaken our land, and left it to be a prey to its enemies; and therefore it is time for us to look out for some other god, to whom to commit the protection of it. Our one God cannot, or will not, deliver us; and therefore let us have many.” This was a blasphemous reflection upon God, as if he had forsaken them first, else they would not have forsaken him. Note, Those are ripe indeed for ruin who have arrived at such a pitch of impudence as to lay the blame of their sins upon God himself.
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