Summary: Ezekiel prophesies to the mountains and uses some strong language to describe the false gods and idolatry of God
In Ezekiel chapter 6, Ezekiel’s dramatic visual aids are lessened. Except for his facing the mountains of Israel in a symbolic fashion, this text is pretty much proclamation of God’s message without much dramatization. The message, however, remains strong and powerful. This was a message that the exiles needed to hear.
VERSES 1-2 Don’t just look at the mountains!
To set your face against someone was a symbolic gesture of judgment and strong disapproval. One analogy I might use stems from when my son, Joshua, was about two years old. Sitting in the Sunday evening service he would begin to get restless and eventually would distract me from the proclamation of the Word. Without saying anything to him, I would not-so-subtly raise one finger or simply shake my head disapprovingly in his direction. He was a good kid and responded well to that sort of parental warning. The Israelites and Jews had not, thus far, responded well to God’s Face being against them, and in this chapter Ezekiel faces the mountains of Israel with stern disapproval in a symbolic fashion as he declares the message that God has given him.
By prophesying to the mountains of Israel, Ezekiel is declaring that the message is for the whole house of Israel and not just the Jewish part of the divided kingdom. While this passage is a statement of judgment, in chapter 36 a message of blessing was later offered to all of Israel. The mountain had been centers of idol worship, mixing the worship of Jehovah with pagan worship. In order to compete religiously with Jerusalem, in Judah, one Israelite King had even commissioned the construction of golden calves that were placed strategically in order to discourage his people from going down to Judah to worship. The shrines dedicated to false Canaanite gods were placed in groves on the hills and in the mountains. Elijah had confronted the false prophets on Mount Carmel because that’s where most of the idol worship was taking place.
However, as we will see as we read Ezekiel further on, we will discover that the idolatry that started in the mountains had spread even into the temple. The pagan worship had spread, like a disease, over the whole house of Israel. Even though the Assyrians had already destroyed the nation of Israel, the message was for the whole nation, not just the Jewish remnant. One of the key factors of the falling away of God’s people was the worship of false deities in the mountain shrines. This wilderness worship was also condemned by the prophets Amos and Hosea.
VERSES 3-7 What exactly are those idols made out of?
Ezekiel prophesies of the certain destruction of these false worship centers. God promises to destroy these centers with the sword. These locations are going to be “wiped out.” The graphic details of the destruction of these centers of pagan worship included those involved in this false worship. Their bones would be scattered about the pagan altars (a demonstration that their faith in false gods was misplaced) This is especially important because God is not talking about destroying heathens, but those who were supposed to be his people but had become unfaithful and defiled.
The Old Testament has a number of Hebrew words used for idols. Teraphim is a word often used for household idols. Pesel is often used meaning “graven” or “cast” idols. Ezekiel prefers the word gillulim which has a root that means “dung.” Ezekiel uses it to denounce these false gods as “detestable” things. In modern slang, we might say that they are “crappy” gods because Ezekiel is suggesting that they are made from unclean materials (dung) and worth about as much as dung. One commentator describes this as Ezekiel’s “favorite” word for idols and while I don’t go quite that far I will suggest that at least it appears to be the most commonly used word. My Hebrew scholar brother Johnny attempted to assist me with this and suggested that a bold interpretive rendering of verse 5 would be “I will throw down your corpses in front of your crappy gods.” Ezekiel uses strong language in order to pronounce strong judgment against that which is utterly detestable. Even in our explanation we are being crude and perhaps offensive. Ezekiel was being crude and offensive to get his message across. I apologize to those of you who are a bit sensitive about such crudeness, but it had a purpose in Ezekiel’s message. By his use of the dung connotation he is stating the both the source and the value of these false gods is dung.
VERSES 8-10 Okay, there’s some hope, isn’t there?
This section offers some hope. First, that there will be a remnant that survives. That remnant will be scattered among the nations. There, that people would remember God (Jehovah) and turn their hearts back to Him. The idea of remembering isn’t so much a recollection of ideas that were lost, but rather an active choice of being open to getting right with God.