What is That on the Wall?
In the description of the temple, there were certain things that had carvings on them. It is likely that these carvings were intended to have symbolic meaning. The carvings were not the real thing, but were intended to portray something. On the walls of the temple, there were four types of carvings. The Bible does not tell us specifically what the carvings mean, however, I believe we are given some clues. At the time Solomon’s temple was built and dedicated the carvings were part of an ideal state where God was intensely glorified and the carvings as part of the overall temple pleased Him. In the book of Ezekiel, many years later in Israel’s history, however, we are given a very different view of the carvings. The carvings in Ezekiel are depicted as having become corrupt. They are described as being disgusting instead of pleasant.
And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about.” Ezekiel 8:7-10
It is clear from this passage that the wicked abominations that these people did “here” in God’s presence in the temple are what disgusted the Lord. God’s glory left the temple at this time. God clearly was not pleased with these ugly actions being exhibited in his house.
Since the walls of the temple during Ezekiel’s time displayed the ugly spiritual condition of people who were in the temple, I think then that it is likely that the carvings on Solomon’s temple walls are also meant to display the lovely spiritual state of those who are in God’s temple. While the temple from Ezekiel’s vision displayed what totally disgusted the Lord, it appears that Solomon’s temple on the other hand displayed what totally pleased the Lord. I think that there are a couple different ways to look at this:
- The first possibility is that since God has declared that we as New Testament believers are the temple of God, it seems that during our time on earth, our hearts may take on a form that will please or displease the Lord. The subject matter that is depicted in our hearts, whether pleasing or displeasing displays the spiritual condition of our character within the spiritual temple.
- The second possibility is that the carvings which totally please the Lord are there because when He looks at us He sees Christ because we have the precious covering of Christ’s blood. Those who have not trusted Christ are the disgusting carvings. If one thinks this version is correct, then it must be explained how unsaved persons would be part of the temple. Perhaps the disgusting carvings should be looked at as people who have made a false confession of salvation and have thereby corrupted the church.
In Ezekiel’s situation, the passage makes it clear that there were people who did not believe in God who were worshipping their false gods within the temple. Therefore I tend to think the second theory is correct. There were unbelievers who were in the temple who should not have been there. Their lack of Christ’s sacrifice disgusted the Lord. When God sees the pleasant carvings He is looking at what we ultimately will be through the grace provided by Christ’s sacrifice. God presently is working at shaping each of us who have trusted in Him to be something as pleasant to Him as the walls of Solomon’s temple. He will accomplish His purposes in our lives, and he sees the completed product as He knows it someday will be.
I think we can look at the carvings on the walls of Solomon’s temple as being ideally what God is working toward in our lives to make us into something pleasant and glorifying to Him. It seems that each of the specific carvings in Solomon’s temple depicts traits that we ideally would have in order to be Christ-like since Christ depicts the ideal state.
Does it seem possible then that we can gain insight into what the pleasant carvings mean by looking at the meaning of the disgusting carvings and thinking about how the pleasant carvings would be the opposite?
“Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery?…” Ezekiel 8:12a
In the phrase “chambers of his imagery”, the word chambers means inner most, apartment or chamber1, and the word imagery means a figure as in something that is carved on something2. In other words, God is saying here that the creepy things that are carved on the wall are portraying what is actually in the inner most part of each of these men’s hearts.
God then goes on to detail why these people look like this to Him. He reveals the specific sins that have made them repulsive in His sight. We will take them one by one, and look at how each offense interestingly appears to be the opposite of one of the beautiful things that God had intended to be on the walls of the temple.
Before we do that, lets lay some groundwork. There were four types of pleasant carvings on the walls in Solomon’s temple: knops, open flowers, palm trees, and cherubim. As we mentioned, each appears to depict some aspect of what we ideally would be like in order to be Christlike. We then question which aspects of Christ do they depict? Since Christ has many aspects of admirable character, and since there are only four pleasant carvings, we think that probably the four carvings represent broad categories or themes of His character. It seems as though the four characteristics must somehow be connected to each other in some way. The carvings are all on the wall, not scattered here and there within the temple. We now look to the rest of the Bible to find four primary characteristics of Christ.
The broadest characterizations of Christ that I know of within the Bible are the gospels. Each gospel book looks at the character of Christ from a different angle. There are four gospels, which corresponds nicely with the number of carvings as well. The gospels are very much connected together as they all cover very similar information about Jesus. Each gospel has its own unique theme, however. We can theorize that each type of pleasant carving on the temple walls corresponds to the character of Chirst portrayed by the theme of one of the gospels showing what a Christ-like person ideally would be like.
There appear to be four offenses listed by Ezekiel that caused the people in the temple to look like repulsive carvings to God. We can theorize that these offenses should look a lot like the opposite of the meaning of each of the pleasant carvings.
The theme of the Gospel of Matthew is the portrayal of Christ as King. One way we know this is because the book of Matthew begins with a genealogy tracing Christ back through Abraham the father of the nation of Israel, and through David, the king. In the second chapter we see the question, “…Where is he that is born King of the Jews…?” (Matthew 2:2a)
Mark portrays Christ as a servant. We see this theme displayed in several ways. One, for instance, is the fact that there is no genealogy in the book of Mark. What servant would need to know his lineage? Secondly, we continually see Jesus as a man of action in the book of Mark. The word “immediately” or “straightway” is frequently used in describing the actions of Jesus. Such is the life of a servant, continually doing things to serve others.
The gospel of Luke portrays the Man Jesus Christ. We see this emphasis of Christ, the man, in many different ways within the gospel of Luke: It is the gospel of Luke that most fully describes the birth of Christ as a man on this earth. It is the gospel of Luke that has a genealogy of Jesus that traces his lineage all the way back to the first man, Adam. Luke is the gospel of Christ, the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, the man who loved us so much that He came to be our Savior and give his life a ransom for many. Jesus was and is a man.
John portrays Christ as God. It is in the book of John that Jesus is most often referred to as the Son of God. As we read the first chapter of John, it becomes apparent that the book of John emphasizes that Jesus is God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
The four types of pleasant carvings have some interesting characteristics. We can line them up from lowest to highest. The knop appears to refer to a knob like decoration, depicting a seedpod like a gourd bursting open to scatter seed.3 A gourd is a type of plant that would lay on the ground or maybe climb up on something else. It does not support itself. The open flower while not much higher than the knop is at least self supporting. The palm tree stands far above the knop and open flower. We don’t really know the dimensions of the cherubim, but they have wings and can fly far higher than the palm tree. It is also interesting to note that the knop, open flower, and palm tree are all plants while the cherubim is an entirely different category of life not familiar to us on earth. The cherubim are animated, conscious, and spiritual beings with power and abilities far beyond the inanimate plants that make up the other carvings.
Do you suppose we can look at the theme of the gospels and line them up from lowest to highest? When we do that, we have Christ the lowly servant, Christ the man, Christ the exalted King, and Christ our God who is above all others, and who has power and abilities far beyond ours.
Using this order then, we can match up the gospel themes with the pleasant carvings beginning with, the lowly knop which seems to correspond to Christ the servant portrayed in Mark. The open flower would correspond to Christ the man portrayed in Luke. The taller palm tree would correspond to Christ the King portrayed in Matthew. The cherubim would correspond to Christ our God portrayed in John. What evidence do we have that the carvings were actually intended to portray the gospel themes?
Let’s go back to Ezekiel, and have a look at the first repulsive offense that was listed:
“for they say, The Lord seeth us not…” Ezekiel 8:12b
Prior to this, God had asked Ezekiel if he saw what these men were doing in the chambers of their imagery. The word “for” in this verse is important because it shows that what follows is an explanation of why the images on the walls were disgusting. The statement that these men made was the direct opposite of a promise that God had made to Israel. Near the time of the dedication of the temple, God had spoken to Solomon and said:
“For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there forever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.” II Chronicles 7:16
The word perpetually means that God’s eyes and heart would be there from every sunset to sunset4, in other words it would never end. The significance of God’s statement is that His eyes would always be watching what goes on in His house. His heart would always care about what happened in His house. These men failed to believe the Word of God; otherwise they would have believed that the Lord saw them and that their actions mattered to God.
It is very important to a king that you believe his word and act in obedience to it. These men were not acting in obedience to the King. They were sneaking around thinking that the King did not see them. It is also very important to a king that you be aware of his presence and show proper respect. If they thought that God did not see them they obviously were not aware of His presence. These men were ignorant of the capabilities of the King. The King saw everything that was going on. They also lacked the boldness of the King. We see them sheepishly sneaking around hoping the King would not see them. Christ the King boldly advanced into the danger of the cross and though all appeared lost, emerged victorious. Christ the King personally sacrificed to rescue those in His kingdom. These men were quite caught up in themselves and as we will see when we look at the next offense, they were in no way sacrificing to reach out to rescue others. These men are very much the opposite of Christ the King as portrayed in Matthew.
Let’s look at the next offense that God points out:
“…for they say…the Lord hath forsaken the earth.” Ezekiel 8:12c
It is not totally clear whether this is a separate offense or whether it is part of the description of the first offense. I believe it to be a separate offense since the statement by these men that the Lord didn’t see them is not the same topic as when they said that the Lord had forsaken the earth. It is in keeping with the character of the lowly servant not to have much recognition, and so the servant does not stand out on his own. In a similar way, this offense does not stand out on its own.
The knop is a seed pod like a gourd bursting open to scatter seed. We matched it up with Christ the Servant portrayed in Mark. The word “earth” in this verse appears to mean the people of the earth. Part of the work of a servant is planting the seed. These men were not willing to go out and scatter the seed of the Word of God. They apparently kept to themselves in the house of God. They justified their inactivity and their uncaring attitude toward the lost by saying that God had given up on the earth. They blamed their sin on God, implying that he was a bad example to them. They thought they didn’t have to care about God seeing them because they said He didn’t care about the earth and had forsaken it. Their statement portrays the opposite character from that of a faithful servant. The faithful servant would be the one caring for the earth and taking care of people as his master willed even though the master might not be present. These men felt justified in not caring for the people of the earth by saying that God had forsaken the earth. The faithful servant does not blame his master for his own disobedience.
There is a movement among some today that resembles this sinful thinking. They claim that since God has predestinated those who are to be saved, there is no need to spread the seed of the gospel to the lost. God has not forsaken the earth, and neither should we. To say that there is no reason to spread the Word of God over all the earth is repulsive in His sight. To say that God has given up on what His Son died to accomplish is repulsive.
The servant would be doing something to honestly serve the master and accomplish work that was in the master’s best interests. The servant wouldn’t care if the master saw him while he performed that work. These men were ashamed of what they were doing as they hoped that God would not see them. A good servant should know his master well enough to know that his master was not the type of person who would give up.
“He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do. Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.” Ezekiel 8:13,14
Tammuz was a Phoenician false god who supposedly died every fall and was resurrected in the spring. This false god was one of Satan’s imitations of a son of god complete with a false resurrection. Weeping for Tammuz would supposedly help bring him back from the dead. That these women were weeping for Tammuz meant that their affections were for Tamuz. This action by these women seems to create a picture that is the opposite of the beautiful carving of open flowers. Christ the man as portrayed in Luke loved us so much that He was willing to die to rescue us. To weep for a false god shows that you have no love for the true God. To commit spiritual adultery is repulsive to God. The verse says that this was a greater abomination than the first two things that were discussed, lack of faith, and giving up on the lost. The greater abomination that these women committed corresponds with the greater command that was violated. When our Lord was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied as follows:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:37, 38
So we see that a violation of the greater commandment produced a greater abomination.
The next abomination that we are shown, however, was even greater in God’s eyes.
“Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.” Ezekiel 8:15, 16
There was a rule that those who went into the inner court were always to face the temple building out of respect for God and His holiness. If these men had been obeying the rule, they should have been facing toward the West. When leaving, they were to walk backwards out of the inner court, showing respect for God.5 These men had literally turned their backs on God to worship a false god. They did not do this in some obscure corner. No, they were between the porch and the altar, front and center by the main door of the temple for all to see. How utterly impudent and disrespectful!
The final beautiful carving was the cherubim. The cherubim worshipped God, devoting their attention to God, and having an awareness of the presence and the holiness of God. In contrast, these men had turned the other way to worship a false god, and in so doing became like a repulsive carving in God’s sight. Their offense was a greater abomination in God’s sight because it was a sin against God’s holiness, which is at the core of God’s character. These men not only violated the greatest commandment of God, which was to love Him, but they did not even acknowledge who He was. They gave no respect to God as being special, as being their God. There was no fear of God in their hearts, for the men had the audacity to stand in God’s presence, a few feet from His house, worshiping a false god. How opposite the attitude of these men is from the cherubim who we see announcing who God is and leading in worshipping Him. The behavior of these men who turned their back on God is completely opposite from the cherubim who constantly fixed their attention on God such that they “…went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.” (Ezekiel 1:12b). In contrast to the cherubim who had complete loyalty to God, these men had committed treachery in the very presence of God. These men are the opposite of Jesus portrayed as God in the book of John.
When we look at this passage in Ezekiel, it is exciting to see the order in which the repulsive carvings are listed. They are listed in the same order as the gospel books are ordered in the Bible. The repulsive statement, “the Lord seeth us not,” and the lack of faith it represents corresponds to the book of Matthew. The repulsive statement, “the Lord hath forsaken the earth,” and the giving up on the lost that it represents are the opposite of Jesus, the Servant, spreading the seed of the Word in Mark. The women weeping for Tamuz and the lack of love for God that it represents is the opposite of the properly placed love of the Savior shown in Luke. The men turning away from God to worship the sun as a false god is the opposite of the portrayal of Christ as God in the book of John.
If God were to look at the carving of your life today, what would He see? If God were to peer into the innermost room of your heart, would He see a bunch of creepy bugs crawling on the walls; would He see filthy beasts and idols; or would He see something pleasant and beautiful, something that looks like Christ? Those who live a lie in the church of God are repulsive in His sight. Do you have the blood of Christ’s covering making you beautiful in the sight of God?