Monday, August 23, 2010

Happy is a Yuppy Word

Ezekiel 8 is a kind of tour of Israel's idolatry and syncretism.

While sitting with the elders of Judah in his house in Babylon, Ezekiel is shown a vision of those who are still in Jerusalem.  The first is some vague vision of an "image of jealousy" outside the north gate of the Temple complex.  It's not clear what this image is exactly but we are told it is an abomination which threatens to drive God away from his sanctuary.

The next stop on the tour is a hole in the wall which Ezekiel is commanded to dig through.  When he does, he sees images of "creeping things" and "loathsome beasts" having been engraved on the Temple wall, precisely the kind of images that God had forbid Israel to worship.  Meanwhile, seventy of the elders of Israel are offering incense before these images.  This could well have been an imitation of some kind of Egyptian religious ritual in hopes that the gods of Egypt (who at times had been a political ally of Israel's against Babylon) might save Israel from destruction by Babylon.  Whether this is specifically Egyptian in nature or not, it is made very clear that these rituals exhibit a lack of trust in Yahweh since the elders say "The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land."

But Egyptians gods are not enough of an idolatry for Israel.  In the next few verses, Ezekiel sees a vision of women "weeping for Tammuz".  Tammuz was an Assyrian God of vegetation who was thought to have died every dry season and only to be resurrected every year when the vegetation returned and begin to blossom and bud with new life.  It was a rite of Tammuz worship to weep for him every dry season when he died.  Add Assyrian religion to Israel's eclectic worship.

Finally, Ezekiel is brought into the inner court of the Temple between the porch and the altar.  There are a group of twenty-five men gathered there worshiping.  Surely in this mostly holy of places at least these men will be worshiping Yahweh?  No, they have literally turned their backs on God, facing away from the Temple to worship the rising sun in the east.

As a result, God promises to act in his wrath and to not have pity.  In the past God has heard the cries of Israel when they have cried out to God for mercy but this time he promises that he will not.  Chapter nine begins by saying that God cried into Ezekiel's ears "Bring near the executioners of the city...".  God is about to put a stop to this.

As I read Ezekiel 8, I pondered what our idols, our acts of syncretism might be.  Of course, the obvious things came to mind: money, status, power, politics, nationalism, etc.  These are all things that too often we give more importance, more glory, more worship to than we give to God.  But then I ran across this blog post which perhaps states it best.

We may be in little danger of bowing down to Egyptian or Assyrian gods in our churches but there can be little doubt that most of us have mixed our faith in God with a gospel of self-fulfillment and self-centeredness which is really no gospel at all.  For the most part, those other idols of money, politics, etc are probably just extensions of of our belief that we have an "inalienable right" to the "pursuit of happiness".  But what course does that pursuit take when it meets the shadow of the cross?  We should make no mistake: God wants to slay any part of us that still submits to our own happiness as if it were a god.  Images of slaughter like those contained in Ezekiel 9 are surely disturbing... perhaps they will disturb us enough to wake us up from our own happy, idolatrous sleep.

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