Ezekiel 8:17-18:17 Then he said to me, "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too
light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here,
that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold,
they put the branch to their nose. 18 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
This week, we were exposed to what some have described as the greatest scandal in
the history of college sports. And it happened to a most storied program in Penn State
University, coached by the winningest college head football coach in history. This was
more than a sports issue but a story that dominated national headlines. Many of us
were outraged to hear that boys were allegedly sexually abused by an assistant coach
and just as outraged that the head coach and university as a whole did not take swifter
and more decisive action. Members of the media and the public called for and got the
dismissal of the head coach and president of the university among others. We are
outraged by heinous acts and rightfully so and will demand swift and strong action when
we sense injustice. The very thought of witnessing such a situation makes us upset.
And rightfully so.
That is the nature of abominations. Sin is an utter abomination and abominations are
sin. Israel is guilty of heinous crimes before God. Ezekiel is a witness to the crimes.
And I want to challenge us to be outraged by the things that outrage God. I would
argue that we are not outraged enough. Today, we see God provoked to anger over
the sins of Israel.
What provokes God to anger? In this passage, we see the wrath of God over things
the “abominations” of the house of Judah. What are these abominations? This
particular word for abomination comes up 9 times in the Old Testament, 5 of which are
found in Ezekiel, and 3 times in this vision from chapters 8 and 9.
For a further expounding what is an abomination, Ezekiel says in Ezekiel 18:10-13:
10 "If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things
11 (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains,
defiles his neighbor's wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does
not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends
at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these
abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
In summary, they are acts of idolatry and rebellion to God and his ways by the people
of God. In this chapter, Ezekiel sees a vision of the people of God committing acts of
idolatry in the temple of Jerusalem. The house of God is progressively more heinously
desecrated. First, the abomination begins with an idol at the entrance gate of the
temple. Then entering the temple, 70 elders are burning incense to various images.
Going further, women are mourning for Tammuz, a foreign god. And to top it off, in the
porch and altar where only priests can come to bring their offerings to God, men are
there turning their backs on God and turning to the sun. In the house that God built,
among the people that God saved, God is being profaned. Is this not outrageous?
Let me illustrate the vision this way: we just received the CO to use the Education
Center. Imagine on our first Sunday there, as we come to church, we see at the
entrance a roasted pig’s head with an envelope with money in it; you are to bow and
put your offering there. Then as you walk downstairs, you hear noises in some of the
many classrooms that we have, so you look inside to find the elders, pastors, deacons,
and officers smoking cigars, drinking some good hard liquor, and engaged in a game
of Texas hold’em (and for those who don’t like poker, there are other classrooms
with blackjack, slots, and even a room for online stock trading). Then you proceed to
toward the sanctuary and find a nice meeting room, perhaps nursery, where the women
– deaconesses, kwonsas, samo’s are gathered and they are talking, gossiping and
slamming the men in their lives – husbands, boyfriends, etc. And as they mourn the
men their husbands could have been and the boyfriends they don’t have, they comfort
themselves by looking at the flatscreen where they’re playing Winter Sonata with Bae
Yong Joon, surrounded by pictures of Goo Jun Pyo, Edward of Twighlight, and other
great men. Finally, you get to the sanctuary, and, instead of people faced toward the
front to begin praise and worship, people are crowded around an iphone or ipad with an
NFL mobile app. And if you don’t like this, you can go to bright, sunny upstairs, where
the children’s pastor is leading the children in transcendental meditation and yoga. And
praise? How about "Hotel California"?!
On the one hand, this is outrageous. On the other hand, we are saying: Not bad! The
mentioned image doesn't sound all that bad. And this is a picture and power of idolatry.
We are enticed by idols and we cherish things more than God. Our hearts are idol
factories. The way one Bible commentator puts it: “The essence of idolatry is not so
much denying the reality of God but the relevance of God.”
Romans 1:18-25 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all
ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the
truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown
it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have
been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not
honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and
their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and
exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds
and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts
to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they
exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather
than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
A second thing to observe is the degree of God’s anger. God is not one to displease.
Here he says enough is enough; he will not spare. He will judge; he will unleash his
In this vision of Ezekiel, he will go on to see the exercise of divine judgment. Apart
from those who are marked for mourning over these abominations, the house of Israel
is slaughtered. Some see this vision as a foreshadowing of the final destruction of the
Temple that will take place. But more importantly, this vision exposes the reality of the
heart of Israel that has led to Israel’s exile to Babylon.
And yet, for some of us, we may not sense that outrage. We may even be bold enough
to say, what’s the big deal? Why can’t God forgive – isn’t he supposed to be so loving?
Let me ask, who of us would dare say, “What’s the big deal about the Penn State
scandal?” To say, “It’s not a big deal” is not an option. Yet, how dare we not care about
the honor of God?
And here’s my point: we can be so comparatively less outraged by the desecration of
God and his glory. Yet, apart from God, we don’t have a real basis for being outraged.
Why are we outraged? Can it really just be a violation of a law? What were people
saying? – Joe Paterno might be legally exonerated but he did not do what any decent
human being would do. Where does the worth of humans come from? – God! We are
all image bearers of the Creator God. We have a sense of divinity working within us –
where we are innately repulsed by such abuse. What’s more, the moral law that forbids
sexual immorality clearly shows that abusing boys (or anyone) is a heinous violation on
multiple counts. We will even invoke the justice of God in matters as Penn State. Thus,
as a body of Christ, who have a true foundation for knowing right and wrong, let us be
stirred up with a passion for the honor of God.
And for us, though it seems that God does not see, there will come a final judgment.
When that final judgment does come, it will be too late. Even before the final judgment,
for some, if we die as those whose backs have turned against God, we must be warned
that we face judgment. This death of those in the house of Israel was a picture of final
judgment – it was final judgment for those who were turned away from God. God’s
judgment is real. Recognizing the reality of that final judgment will change the way we
The reality is that God has been forbearing. Yet, his people kept turning away from
him. And this adds to the greatness of offense. It’s not the Babylonians turned away
from God but the people of God, the Israelites. They have thumbed their noses at God.
As bad as idolatry is, we’re talking about the equivalent of idolatry inside the church,
among God’s people. Our attitude toward idolatry inside and outside the church will
be different. It’s one thing to have different beliefs, and we can respectfully disagree.
However, if we are for the promotion and propagation for the unity and purity of the
church in doctrine and practice, we need to come down hard on idolatry.
And that leads us to a final point is that God’s anger here has a purpose. It is for
purging purposes. God gets rid of evil.
This passage calls us to speak out and mourn over the evil and impurity among us,
in this church, as a nation, and beyond. Do we pray for the purity of the church in
doctrine and in practice? More generally, in what ways are God’s image-bearers
being exploited? Take something like human trafficking. Here are some notes about
trafficking and South Korea:
"South Korea ranks third as the point of origin for trafficking cases in the U.S., according
to the National Immigrant Justice Center, behind Mexico and China and ahead of
the Philippines and Thailand. Though exact numbers are impossible to come by, it is
estimated at least 10,000 Korean women are doing sex work in the U.S.
In 2006 the U.S. Attorney General’s office reported almost a quarter of sex trafficking
into the U.S. was from South Korea, with Thailand, Peru, Mexico and El Salvador also
comprising the top five points of origin."
How is God being profaned? Do we cry out in prayer for these people and causes?
This passage further calls us to examine ourselves. We do a great job of pointing out
the evil in others and coming down hard on the idolatry of others. Yet, do we recognize
the evil in ourselves? We can easily label Jerry Sandusky a monster but do we know
that there is a monster within each of us? Apart from the grace of God, you do not
know the full extent of the atrocities you are capable of! Do you really presume to
be more morally upright that someone like Joe Paterno? We can demand the justice
of God upon others and yet, for ourselves, insist on mercy. Yet some of us have
committed heinous acts ourselves. Still others don't realize how grievous our sins
are. All of us have sinned. We need to repent of the narrowness and shallowness of
our hearts. And as we confess our need for the grace of God, we seek to be vitally
connected to him.
And here lies the offense of Christianity – even the most wicked of monsters can be
forgiven. Even little monsters can find grace in Jesus. Jesus took that unspeakable
wrath for the unspeakable abominations of humanity. But, to be clear, we do not come
to Jesus just so that we can continue to live abominable lives.
In God’s purging, he sets the stage to establish a new Israel, an obedient Israel. They
will have a new heart and a new spirit. This is fulfilled in the true Israel, Jesus Christ. In
him, we receive that spirit of salvation that convicts us of sin and sanctifies us. We can
know that we are marked with the Spirit that we will not face judgment. And when all is
done, we will be worshipping God purely in the new Jerusalem.
In The Reason for God,Tim Keller quotes C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce: “In each of
us there is something growing, which will BE HELL unless it is nipped in the bud.” What
is the idolatry in us and growing in us? Be zealous for God and the things of God!