The Answer is No

“… do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” (Ez. 8:6)


This is the supernatural invitation the prophet Ezekiel receives, six years into Israel’s expulsion from their homeland and captivity in Babylon. And it continues in ever more gruesome fashion as the Lord leads him through a series of shocking exposures to her people’s sins. In a masterstroke of imagery, every step through the Temple structure and toward the Holy of Holies uncovers a deeper level of spiritual treason. Drawing nearer to God’s holiness provides no refining measure to their actions. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Verse 17 brings us to the point of the vision, where Ezekiel is asked to consider: “Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here?”

The answer, of course, is no.

Trivial? Not in the least.

Worship of other gods is the central element of Israel’s fall and disgrace. Everything else stems from it. Violence. Injustice. Cruelty toward the impoverished. Bribery. Sexual sin. Debauchery.

Because when the center is lost, all manner of distortion follows.

Israel’s failings were many but her presenting, foundational problem was a worship problem. Not just a sacred acts worship problem but the underpinnings of trust and belief that allowed her to traverse the line of the first commandment so easily and often. At the very deepest level, her loyalties and affections became an item for sale or transfer, dependent on the whims and desires of her leadership and people. Her identity as God’s alone was traded for a pauper’s wage, and for a time, took on the image of decay, judgment, and death.

The tragedy is breathtaking.

God set them up to flourish, to be His standard bearers among the nations. He planned them as both the place of His dwelling and the poster child for godly living, until such a day when His presence would flow to all who believe and sin be cast down by the prophesied seed of Abraham. Yet, here they are, bowing to the sun and sprawling animal figures on the walls of the Temple. And soon, Ezekiel is told, a literally merciless bill will come due on their choices.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. He is also the God who cannot—and will not—be mocked.

Most of us are not voicing allegiance to foreign gods and lying prostrate before idols made of precious metals. I would wager it would be difficult if not impossible to find a North American church building emblazoned with artwork actually intended to direct our eyes from Christ.

But neither did Israel start where they ended up. The history of the matter is one of subtlety and sequence before it turns brazen and irredeemable.

So there is likely a measure of reflection and caution here for us as well. For, who has God’s favor, blessing, and plan in this age? His presence? His commission, that all nations might seek and respond to His grace and call? The very extension of His hand into a world of pain and lack of every kind?

Us. You. Me. The Church.

Worship is the primary, lifestyle response that shows we are His and on His mission together. Not just the sacred acts, but the everyday. Our deepest convictions and loyalties, surfacing in words, choices, and actions. Neglect it and even our very best efforts fall short. Keep it at the center and we have a shot at walking and leading in grace, in a world needing exactly that.

A pastor friend of mine often says that, despite her failings, the Church is still the hope of the world. He’s absolutely right. And Ezekiel reminds us how far we can drift if we do not exercise care at the very core of our being.

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