God’s people are a tormented people.
To understand what is meant by this, we need to consider Lot, Abraham’s nephew who lived in Sodom, as the apostle Peter describes him in II Peter 2:7. Speaking of God’s judgment of sin, the apostle portrays Lot as one "who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked." He continues in verse 8 to say: "For that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds."
Peter’s description is really quite interesting. Lot was not tormented as if by demons or by fiendish persecutors at all, but it was what he saw and heard in the streets, homes, and businesses of the perverse and depraved city of Sodom that bothered Lot. He knew the inevitable consequences of sin or lawlessness, and it distressed him significantly.
A prophet of God has no pretty job. Of all God’s people, the prophet may be the most tormented because he has insight into what is happening around him beyond what the average person understands. Out of so many examples in God’s Word, we will concentrate on just one, the prophet Ezekiel.
We will consider a few of the visions that God gave to Ezekiel. What did he see? How did he respond? Reading the scriptures, can we catch the same vision? Can we respond in the same way? We had better! We must, like Ezekiel and Lot, become tormented people—tormented by what we see and hear in the day-to-day activity around us.
Visions of Greater Abominations
As most students of the Bible know, the prophet Ezekiel was among the first group of captives to be taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, and more captives would follow later. In the following passages, he is in his home in the area by the River Chebar where the Jews had been exiled, and the elders of Judah, he writes, are "sitting before me" (Ezekiel 8:1).
He recounts in verse 3 that he is "lifted . . . up between earth and heaven in visions of God to Jerusalem." Remember that the prophet and his audience are representatives of an early group of deportees, so we can certainly say that Jerusalem still exists as a functioning city. It had not yet been destroyed.
Carried there in vision, he sees a series of scenes:
In verse 5, he sees the "image of jealousy" that had been set up in the Temple, an image that had caused God to go far away from the sanctuary (verse 6). This is probably some type of abomination that makes desolate, a pagan idol that had actually been set up in the gate of the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem.
At the end of verse 6, God tells Ezekiel he will see "greater abominations." He spies a hole in a wall in the court of the Temple (verse 7) and obeys God’s command to dig around that hole (verse 8). Behind it, lo and behold, he finds a doorway. The door admits him into a very private, hidden inner chamber, the walls of which are engraved with pagan idols, which are, as it says in verse 10, "all the idols of the house of Israel."
In this idol-bedecked room are seventy elders of Israel, "each man had a censer in his hand." Ezekiel is witnessing some kind of pagan worship service going on behind closed doors right there in the Temple! It is very clandestine. Note that the worshippers are not extremists on the fringes of Israelite society, but they are the elders, the leaders of the land! They might be considered the preachers of Judah.
Did Ezekiel witness the movers and shakers of American society in a satanic Skull-and-Bones-type service attended by the President of the United States? That would be a modern, contemporary version of this type of vision, for the leaders of Ephraim and Manasseh today are deeply involved in the occult, witchcraft, and pagan practices to this day. They are all abominations, all very furtive, secret, and surreptitious.
In verse 14, Ezekiel expresses his "dismay" at yet a greater abomination: "women . . . weeping for Tammuz." This is another pagan practice, a very sexual one involving ritual prostitution. Ezekiel saw them involved in a rite in which they were mourning the death of a Mesopotamian god whose myth said he was resurrected to new life, a mockery of the redeeming death and life-giving resurrection of the true Son of God. This vision reveals that paganism had deeply affected the women in Israelite society as well.
In verse 16, the prophet sees a fourth vision in the inner court of the Temple—"about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple and their faces toward the east, and they were worshipping the sun toward the east." This is obviously some sort of pagan sunrise service, in which they honor the sun more highly than God, to whom they contemptuously show their backsides.
Each abomination is described as being greater in wickedness than the one before. In verse 17, God asks, "Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit abominations which they commit here [in the Temple!]? For they have filled the land with violence; then they have returned to provoke Me to anger."
These leaders displayed no social responsibility whatsoever. They led their society to become one of rape and rapine, murder and violence in every quarter. Yet these hypocritical leaders dared to return to God’s Temple, retiring furtively to its inner rooms to practice their pagan rites "in the dark" (verse 12).
Ezekiel’s blood must have run cold when he heard God’s judgment, which appears in verse 18: "Therefore I also will act in fury. 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."
Continuing the vision in Ezekiel 9, it relates a partial execution of that judgment. It is important to note here that the prophet witnesses God actually leaving His portable throne (described in detail in Ezekiel 1). At this point, "the glory of the God of Israel" actually demounts from it and removes, as verse 3 records, "to the threshold of the temple." So He has taken His place in the Temple, but not on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. He is, in effect, in the gate, a place of judgment.
And this is a momentous judgment. In verses 5-6, God commands some of the angels, "Go . . . through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women." This is a summary judgment on the entire populace of Jerusalem!
When Ezekiel heard this command, how did he respond? Certainly not in a self-righteous, I-told-you-so manner. When he is alone with God, the angels having left on their mission, he falls on his face in apparent anguish, crying out: "Ah, Lord God! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?" (verse 8).
This is a vital question. Ezekiel is concerned about the people and about the scope of God’s judgment. Like Lot, he lived in his own kind of Sodom, in his own type of Gomorrah, and he felt anguish over the sin that he saw and heard and over its consequences—as it were, tormented by what was happening around him. Ezekiel was emotionally and spiritually tormented or tortured, not by what the pagans were doing around him, but by what the leaders and the people of Israel were doing in his immediate environment—and even in the Temple! Their wickedness and what they were about to suffer for it are what tormented this righteous man. In vision, he must have witnessed a terrible slaughter, and the trauma and shock of that vision affected him most acutely. Indeed, a prophet of God has no pretty job.
Moreover, this does not end the visions God gave him! Moving into Ezekiel 10, God is still in the Temple’s court, and in verses 6-7, He commands an angelic being:
"Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim." . . . And the cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed with linen, who took it and went out.
This is a very interesting passage. It makes no mention of the Babylonian troops who would later descend upon and lay siege to Jerusalem, who were going to slay and burn. Spiritually speaking, those who died in that catastrophe died at the hands of the angels whom God had sent, and Jerusalem burned with the fire of God!
Herbert Armstrong taught that the book of Ezekiel is for modern Israel, which is presently led by the United States of America. Truly, it is a vision, but it points to a reality: that America’s fall will be the greatest of any nation in the history of the world. Yes, and the vision seems to tell us that when she burns, America will burn with the very fire of God.
Ezekiel, as verse 19 indicates, watches as the cherubim "mounted up" and left the earth. God returns to His throne in heaven, but the impact of the visions remain on Ezekiel’s psyche. Thousands in Jerusalem had perished, and the city was in flames. Ezekiel must have been absolutely terrified to see God leave, to see such utter devastation in advance and probably in living Technicolor, to witness the destruction of God’s Temple, the slaughter of myriads of people, and the end of his homeland as he and his forefathers had known it for centuries.
He may have asked, "Could Israel have become so decadent? Could this happen to the city of God?" He must have wondered, but he knew the answer. He had seen it in visions from God Himself.
Similarly, we could ask today, "Could America drift so far from the principles of its founding?" and "Can the destruction of America as we have known her really be happening right before our eyes and her final dissolution be so relatively close?"
We, too, know the answer, for we have seen it in God’s Word.
The Inkhorn Vision
Are we tormented by what we see around us? Are we spiritually tortured by the evil that we hear and see?
Ezekiel 9 contains a few matters that were skipped over previously. One of the spirit beings who had "charge over the city" (verse 1) carried, not a battle-axe like his fellows, but a writer’s inkhorn (verse 2), and he was also dressed differently, in linen. His is a different purpose. God charges him to go ahead of his fellows, saying in verse 4: "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it."
The others follow him, obeying God’s command to go through the city killing and not having pity (verse 5), but in verse 6, God warns, "but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark."
Those people who sighed and cried somehow found a place of safety from the conflagration and the terror. They had God’s mark on them, protecting them from His judgment. Sighing and crying over the abominations and the sins of the larger society, then, must be enormously important to us too, as we also stand on the brink of similar tribulation. We will see just how important it is in Part Two.