Ezekiel 6 – Judgment and Restoration from Idolatry
A. The prophecy against the mountains of Israel.
1. (1-3) A word against the high places.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD! Thus says the Lord GOD to the mountains, to the hills, to the ravines, and to the valleys: “Indeed I, even I, will bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places.
a. Set your face toward the mountains of Israel: This prophecy was directed against the mountains because they helped define the geography of Israel, and more importantly, they were centers of idol worship – the infamous high places mentioned many times in the Old Testament.
i. “Probably in any part of Palestine at this time you would have found some mountain or hill crowned with an altar, one or two standing stones, a wooden pillar, and a clump of evergreen trees (Jeremiah 3:6-9); They were flourishing centres of the old Canaanite religion which should have been destroyed (Deuteronomy 7:5).” (Wright)
ii. “Each high place would have its altar for sacrifice, and perhaps a pillar (Heb. masseba), which may well have been regarded as a phallic symbol, and an image of the Canaanite goddesses, Asherah or Ashtoreth.” (Taylor)
iii. “Because hilltops often served as sites on which cultic rituals were performed, bama could serve as a designation for any open cultic installation, regardless of location.” (Block)
iv. To the ravines, and to the valleys: “There must have been some similar worship in the ravines and valleys (Isaiah 57:5,6; Jeremiah 2:23; 7:31), perhaps sometimes cave worship of an earth-mother, or, as Isaiah and Jeremiah suggest, child sacrifice.” (Wright)
b. A sword against you, and I will destroy your high places: Altars to pagan gods were often set on the tops of hills and mountains in ancient Israel and the broader region. This idolatry on the high places was inherited from the Canaanites and often practiced by the Israelites. God promised the judgment of the sword against these places and their idolatries.
i. “Ezekiel the watchman was warning the people that an invasion was coming because God had seen their sins and was about to punish them.” (Wiersbe)
2. (4-7) The complete destruction to come.
Then your altars shall be desolate, your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the corpses of the children of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones all around your altars. In all your dwelling places the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate, so that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, your idols may be broken and made to cease, your incense altars may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. The slain shall fall in your midst, and you shall know that I am the LORD.
a. I will cast down your slain men before your idols: God promised to bring His strong judgment against the altars of idolatry and those who worshipped there. God would desecrate those places set aside to pagan gods with the bones of unfaithful Israel.
i. Matthew Poole noted that God called them your altars; “God’s altar was only at Jerusalem, these were their altars.”
ii. “This oracle announces that the time has come for Yahweh to clean house, to rid the land of its pagan worship once and for all.” (Block)
iii. “The ‘scattering of bones’ is a phrase used for judgment in which uncleanness and shame are conveyed (cf. Psalm 53:5; 141:7). The bones would be those of the Israelites who had become engrossed in these pagan practices.” (Alexander)
iv. I will scatter your bones: “This was literally fulfilled by the Chaldeans. According to Baruch, Bar 2:24, 25, they opened the sepulchres of the principal people, and threw the bones about on every side.” (Clarke)
b. The cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate: The armies of Babylon would destroy both the cities and the country regions.
i. “Desolate; no priest to attend, no sacrifice offered, nor a votary come to them.” (Poole)
c. Your idols may be broken and made to cease: This promise was fulfilled. The devastating judgment did come, and when Israel came again into the land, they never had the same problem with idolatry as before.
i. “Because the land had been defiled by idols, the idols themselves would now be defiled by the corpses of the worshipers, a retribution in kind. This would be the height of desecration, replacing the fragrance of incense with the odor of putrefaction.” (Feinberg)
d. You shall know that I am the LORD: This is the first use of a phrase repeated many times in Ezekiel. It shows that God worked in His judgments and His restorations to reveal Himself to Israel and the world.
i. You shall know that I am the LORD: “This so-called recognition formula, which occurs some sixty times in the book, captures the theme of this prophet. God’s motive in all that he does is that he might be recognized as the only God.” (Smith)
B. The promise of a remnant.
1. (8) A remnant who escapes the sword.
“Yet I will leave a remnant, so that you may have some who escape the sword among the nations, when you are scattered through the countries.
a. Yet I will leave a remnant: The remnant was illustrated in the acted-out parable of the cut hair (Ezekiel 5:3-4). Here God specifically promised to leave a remnant that would be the basis of a later restoration.
b. When you are scattered: Some of the remnant would be among those scattered, and some would remain in the land.
2. (9-10) The spiritual renewal of the remnant.
Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would bring this calamity upon them.”
a. Those of you who escape will remember Me: God promised that one day some of those who had been exiled out of the land of Israel would remember their covenant God and call upon His name.
i. Will remember Me: “My precepts which they violated, my mercies which they abused, my threats which they despised, my promises which they refused, my prophets whom they persecuted, my judgments which have executed; and shall consider and return, and seek me in their affliction.” (Poole)
b. Because I was crushed by their adulterous heart: This is a startling statement. Using a human analogy, God expressed the depth of the grief He felt over Israel’s idolatry by likening Himself to a husband with a constantly unfaithful wife.
i. “The strongest figure possible is used to portray the Divine suffering. God is represented as broken.” (Morgan)
ii. “The amazing truth is most vividly brought out in the prophecy of Hosea, a man who was brought into an understanding of the suffering of God, by his own domestic tragedy. That is the force of these words.” (Morgan)
iii. “Our sin can give God the heartbreak, because He loves us so. Indeed, on the Cross the Lord died of a broken heart; of this the issuing stream of blood and water was the sign. O heart of stone, thou too must break and loathe thyself, when thou seest thy Lord broken by thy sin!” (Meyer)
c. After their idols: Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh was all the worse because of whom they forsook Yahweh for – empty, filthy, disgusting idols. Ezekiel’s choice of word for idols reflects that.
i. After their idols: “The word for idols (Heb. gullulim) is a favourite with Ezekiel, occurring no less than thirty-eight times, as against nine times in the rest of the Old Testament. Its derivation is uncertain but it is quite likely that it is a home-made word consisting of the vowels of Hebrew siqqus, for which the dictionaries give the polite translation of ‘detested thing’, and the consonants of a noun meaning ‘a pellet of dung’. The final combination carries about as much disdain and revulsion as any word could do.” (Taylor)
d. They will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed: First they would remember the LORD; then they would be deeply ashamed of their sin. It was a terrible but necessary step in their restoration.
i. Understanding the grief expressed by “I was crushed by their adulterous heart” is connected to they will loathe themselves. On both a divine and human level, it could be said, one day you will realize how your sin broke the heart of those who loved you the most and you will hate yourself for it.
ii. They will loathe themselves: “They shall bleed inwardly, and blush outwardly, deeply detesting their former abominations, and not waiting till others condemn them, they shall condemn themselves.” (Trapp)
iii. They would loathe themselves for all their abominations, not merely some of them. “It is a hypocrite’s repentance which is but for some; this of the reserved remnant shall be sound, it is for all abominations, for all kinds of their abominations.” (Poole)
e. They shall know that I am the LORD: After their repentance, they would be restored to a relationship with Yahweh again. The calamity God brought upon them, as severe as it was, would fulfill its corrective purpose in the people.
i. We can see a progression that is often still evident:
· Remembrance of God.
· Repentance from sin.
· Relationship restored.
ii. “Those that escape the sword, the pestilence, and the famine, and shall be led into captivity, shall plainly see that it is God who has done this, and shall humble themselves on account of their abominations, leave their idolatry, and worship Him alone. And this they have done from the Babylonish captivity to the present day.” (Clarke)
iii. “The escapees will emerge from their dispersal among the nations a transformed people. The process of transformation is not without its ironies. First, the spiritual renewal will occur on foreign soil, which most Israelites considered unclean or defiled. Second, to many Israelites, contact with Yahweh depended on residence in his land. Now they would learn that the very opposite was the case—continued presence in the land signified God’s rejection. The future lay with the exiles.” (Block)
C. God revealed to Israel through His judgment upon them.
1. (11-12) A call to anger and mourning over Israel’s great sins.
‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Pound your fists and stamp your feet, and say, ‘Alas, for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. He who is far off shall die by the pestilence, he who is near shall fall by the sword, and he who remains and is besieged shall die by the famine. Thus will I spend My fury upon them.
a. Pound your fists and stamp your feet: God told Ezekiel to say the following words with these strong gestures. He needed to arrest the attention of Israel because they regarded their idolatry as a light thing; God saw them as evil abominations.
i. “‘Clap your hands, and stamp your foot’ are instructions that intend both to draw attention and to convey a premonition of threat and defiance.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. They shall fall by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence: The coming judgment would be complete and devastating. As Ezekiel had said in the previous chapter, God would spend His fury upon them.
i. “Emphatic warning was directed to them in the light of the three dread calamities predicted: sword, famine and pestilence. There would be no escape when these somber horsemen began their ride of death.” (Feinberg)
2. (13-14) God revealed in His judgment against Israel for their idolatry.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when their slain are among their idols all around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every thick oak, wherever they offered sweet incense to all their idols. So I will stretch out My hand against them and make the land desolate, yes, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblah, in all their dwelling places. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.’”’”
a. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when their slain are among their idols: The fulfillment of these prophecies would demonstrate to Israel that Yahweh was their God, and worthy of their repentance. They would (and did) reject their idols after these severe judgments.
i. Stretch out My hand: “This noteth the greatness of the blow, God striketh hard when he stretcheth out his hand, and therefore you find a mighty hand joined with outstretched arm.” (Poole)
b. More desolate than the wilderness toward Diblah: There are some ancient texts that read Riblah instead of Diblah. This may be due to an error in copying the text. We know Riblah as a place in Syria; the exact meaning or place of Diblah is unknown.
i. “In Ezekiel 6:14 the received Hebrew text reads not ‘Riblah’ but ‘Diblah.’ This is undoubtedly due to a scribal confusion of the Hebrew letters ‘d’ and ‘r,’ a thing that has occurred several times over in the transmission of the biblical text.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “Some Hebrew manuscripts read ‘Riblah,’ a city in Syria, and this seems to fit. God promised to devastate the land ‘from the desert to Riblah [Diblah]’ (NIV), that is, from the south to the north. It’s like saying ‘from Dan to Beersheba,’ from the north to the south.” (Wiersbe)
iii. “Riblah was to be the fateful site where Nebuchadnezzer would seal the doom of Jerusalem and Judah after the debacle of 587/6, which Ezekiel is here prophesying (2 Kings 25:20–21). It was already a site fraught with significance for Ezekiel’s fellow exiles.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
c. Then they shall know that I am the LORD: This declares the corrective purpose God had even in this terrible judgment. God would do good for His people even in the midst of the coming desolation.
i. Then they shall know that I am the LORD: “The words typify Ezekiel’s message and longing, that Yahweh may be known by all men, Israelite and non-Israelite, for what he is—the one true God, the God of the world, the God of history, the God who speaks and does not speak in vain.” (Taylor)