It had been 14 months since Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God. In chapter 8, the Man-God Ezekiel had seen on the chariot-throne was now a tour guide (8:2-3). Ezekiel found himself on a visionary journey across the Arabian desert to the temple in Jerusalem. On his arrival, he was greeted by the glory of the Lord (8:4)—but there was “an elephant in the room,” that is, an “image of jealousy” that was driving God away from his sanctuary (8:3-6). Although the idol is not identified, it was likely a statue of the goddess Asherah, the queen of heaven, the mother (and mistress) of Baal (cf. Jer 7:18; 44:17-19, 25).
The queen was everywhere. On every hill and every street corner of Jerusalem Asherah’s image was carved in trees near Baal’s altar on the high places (often translated “Asherah pole” or “sacred tree” or “wooden pillar”). She stood naked on her sacred lion, holding lotus blossoms in her right hand, and serpents in her left. Serpents, lotus blossoms, and a sacred tree … this can’t be good. God’s people openly worshipped her on the rooftops of their homes (cf. Jer 19:13; Zeph 1:5). They even baked raisin-cakes in her image—not for potlucks—but for unholy rituals (cf. Jer 7:16-20; 44:17-21; Hos 3:1; Isa 16:7).
It gets worse (Ezek 8:6-13). Leaving that scarlet hag behind, Ezekiel’s tour guide leads him to a hole in the wall where he’s told to dig toward a secret room being used for secret rituals by seventy men. The graffiti carved on the walls seemed to come alive with images of creepy crawlers—which Ezekiel describes as “disgusting droppings of excrement” (8:10, literal translation)—likely a disturbing reminder of that lunch mime a few chapters back. In their delusion, the creepy men burn incense hoping that God could not see them performing their rituals in the dark.
Outside the temple, women sat weeping for the god, Tammuz, to rise from the underworld, while men bowed to the sun god, Shamash, with their backs to the temple (Ezek 8:14-17). Talk about a pitiful magical mystery tour! Asherah, the queen of heaven, secret rituals, a cult of death, and nature worship, all within Jerusalem’s temple compound. God’s temple had become a pot of religious pluralism. No wonder the Lord’s glory-chariot departed (11:3, 22-23). The Lord was being driven out of his own temple by his own people.
Religious pluralism affirms all forms of spirituality as equally valid paths to God. Religion for the pluralist is not about truth-claims; it’s more like a lovefest parade in which everyone pretends that their beliefs are the same or that they don’t really matter. This is where Jesus gets us into trouble. He’s the one with all the exclusive truth-claims—not us. We believe him. We can’t pretend that all beliefs are the same. Truth exists and it really matters. Logic requires that contradictory religious truth-claims cannot be simultaneously true. God’s exclusive claims are the same today as they were in the days of Ezekiel.