“And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.” Ezekiel 8:16 ESV
Ezekiel 8 is all about the corruptions of temple worship. In a vision, God brings Ezekiel to the Temple. God shows Ezekiel idols that are set up in the inner court (v 5-6). And God essentially says, “But wait. It gets worse.”
Then God shows Ezekiel seventy elders burning incense within the temple. But rather than the smoke of the incense rising up to God, the elders are in the dark, “each in a room of pictures” (v 12). In other words, offering incense to graven images. And again, God says in verse 13, “It gets worse.”
Next, God shows Ezekiel a room full of weeping women. This sounds like a good thing. Maybe they’re repenting. Sadly, no. They are weeping for Tammuz, a fertility God.
And for the third time, God says, “It gets worse” (v 15).
Finally, God shows Ezekiel 25 men (24 priests + the high priest) standing between porch and altar, but with their backs to the Lord and worshiping the rising sun.
In all this, there’s the appearance of doing what you are supposed to do in the Temple, but with completely and utterly the wrong focus. Elders with censers—yay! God set that up in Numbers 11:16-17. But though they have the title and the equipment, they are offering their incense to idols. They are literally just blowing smoke.
The women in the temple are weeping. Good! But they are weeping over Tammuz. Bad! They have the right emotion, but in service to the wrong thing.
The priests are in the right place. Between porch and altar, which is where they would have stood to make intercession for the people. Awesome! But they are turned away from the only One who could hear their prayer. Not awesome.
What a word as we get ready to worship on Sunday. We can be in the right place but with the wrong focus. We can have all the appearance of doing godly, pious, religious things, but in reality, we are in the dark, each in our room of pictures, or weeping over our idols.
We can be dressed for worship, show up at church, yet still turn our backs on God. And when that’s the case, we face the same judgment as the people of Ezekiel’s day:
“Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.””
Ezekiel 8:18 ESV
God, have mercy on us. Let us turn our faces to you and not away. Bring us out of the darkness and into your marvelous light, and receive our worship. Amen.