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Ezekiel 8:6 is translated in the ESV:

And he said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations."

The bolded part I'm having a hard time with:

לְרָֽחֳקָה מֵעַל מִקְדָּשִׁ֔י
lĕrāḥŏqâ mēʿal miqdāšı̂

The first word is a verb with a prefixed preposition so an infinitive construct, apparently qal, although the spelling is odd. I would expect this to mean "in order to be far away". Missing are the causative idea "to drive away"* and the external object "me" (in context, Yahweh).

How is it that this indicates driving Yahweh from his temple? Is there any possibility of it meaning something different?


*Interestingly (although probably irrelevantly), a few verses later in 9:1, the opposite verb קרב --"to draw near" -- is used in the qal with a translation "to bring near", i.e. the normal value of the hifil, at least if the ESV is to be trusted. On the other hand, the Greek translator apparently understood a normal qal in 8:6: τοῦ ἀπέχεσθαι ἀπὸ τῶν ἁγίων μου·

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The events of chapter 8 occur in a vision, so that the events are not real, as explained by Benson's Commentary: "This, and all that follows, to the end of Ezekiel 8:16, was done in vision only, as appears from the expression here used: and brought me in the visions of God, &c." The vision could be regarded as an allegory that allowed Ezekiel to speak for God, as a divine vision or simply as a dream.

With the Deuteronomistic reforms of Josiah, king of Judah from 641 to 609 BCE, the monotheists were in the ascendency and must have believed that the other gods in the Hebrew pantheon were gone forever. Ezekiel, who would have grown up during the reign of Josiah with the expectation of becoming a priest of Yahweh, must have thought it his birthright to be at the forefront of Judahite religion. The untimely death of Josiah ended this, with the partial restoration of polytheism under Josiah’s successors:

2 Kings 23:31-32: Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months in Jerusalem... And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.
2 Kings 23:36-37: Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.

These passages do not say that Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim (and their successors) were worshipping foreign gods but that they worshipped as their fathers had done. Every misfortune that befell Jerusalem, Ezekiel blames on the affront caused to Yahweh by the open worship of other gods. This helps place chapter 8 in context.

The great abominations are the images of gods, and Ezekiel says they so offend God that he feels obliged to leave the temple. No one is forcing or driving God from his sanctuary, but it is revulsion at the worship, in his presence, of other gods that will cause him to leave. At this stage, God is not yet omnipresent. Chapter 8 continues, to discuss other 'abominations', the worship of Ishtar and Tammuz (8:14) and of the sun god (8:16).

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  • Agreed that this occurs within the context of a vision, and this answer provides helpful context, but it's vague on the issue that has me perplexed, which has to do with the "subject" +/- object of this verb. This seems to conclude that Yahweh is the subject who has left of his own accord but does't provide the rationale for rejecting the ESV's rendering with Yahweh as object. It's a somewhat tedious grammar question, I realize, and no doubt the overall sense of the passage is clear regardless of how one handles this syntax, but I think it matters. – Susan May 19 '16 at 9:03
  • I'd contest the phrasing of "Ezekiel, who would have grown up during the reign of Josiah to become a priest of Yahweh". By the common dating, Ezekiel would have been no more than 13 when Josiah died, and so wouldn't have attained to the priesthood for another twelve years, around the time of his Exile. Given the prophetic tradition Ezekiel follows and the way he describes it, I'd be surprised if "his birthright" was really a big issue - the progressive revelations seem to be expressed as a surprise rather than something expressed as stored up from a past angst or understanding. – Steve Taylor May 19 '16 at 11:29
  • @SteveTaylor Perhaps I should be clearer with the chronology; I'll look at my wording as you suggest. Ezekiel states that he is a priest, and priesthood was hereditary. So, around the time of his Exile, Ezekiel became a priest, as was his birthright. He is described as having a 'forceful' style, which comes through in this chapter. – Dick Harfield May 19 '16 at 21:26
  • Sure - I've never read him from the text as a forceful character, though - his words and images are dramatic, but not often flamboyant in their presentation. In most of the narrative he's portrayed as more silent and broody, only talking on occasion. In nearly every instance he does silent signs and prophecies, and only usually speaks when spoken to. Jeremiah is a bit more openly dramatic, but even then similarly broody in much of the text. – Steve Taylor May 19 '16 at 21:33
  • @Susan As you know, I can't help with the grammar. Since the question seems to be at least as much about meaning as about syntax, I answered it in terms of meaning and context, with the hope that someone else can offer an answer on the issue of grammar. – Dick Harfield May 19 '16 at 21:34
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1. Question Restatement:

Is there any possibility that Ezekiel 8:6 could mean something other than God being driven away from his temple?


2. Answer:

I believe there is ample evidence to interpret it differently - mostly because Ezekiel itself clarifies the text, (v.11:15-17) - and many other factors constrain the meaning of the verb, "לְרָֽחֳקָה֙ to separate", to mean:

It was Israel who separated themselves from the Temple of God :

Literal Translation: of Ezekiel 8:6 - And He said to me, “Son of man, do you see (הֲרֹאֶ֥ה) what they are causing? Great abominations which the House of Israel causes here [in order] to separate from my sanctuary [and holiness?]. Moreover, you will return again to see (תִּרְאֶ֔ה) greater abominations."

And, It was only because Israel distanced itself - that the text states that God would gather them back. :


3. Context - The People Were Distanced from the Temple :

The Book of Ezekiel repeatedly states that Israel drove itself away from God:

NASB, Ezekiel 11:15 - “Son of man, your brothers ... and the whole house of Israel ... the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord ...’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Though I had removed them far away among the nations ... 17 Therefore say, ‘ ... “I will gather you ...”

NASB, Ezekiel 22:29 - The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice.

NASB, Ezekiel 36:15 - “I will not let you hear insults from the nations anymore, nor will you bear disgrace from the peoples any longer, nor will you cause your nation to stumble any longer,” declares the Lord God.’”

NASB, Ezekiel 45:9 - ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Enough, you princes of Israel; put away violence and destruction, and practice justice and righteousness. Stop your expropriations from My people,” declares the Lord God.


4. Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic Analysis:

I haven't found anything in the Syntax, or Context - not even in the Bible - that Israel ever attempted to drive God out of the Temple:

  1. "To Distance" is Synonymous with: "To Depart, and "To Separate", (see Job 28:28: "To depart from Evil is understanding");
  2. Hebrew, Infinitive Construct, (Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar/114f): Is to express: "The Purpose", or "Aim", specifically: "they caused great abominations [for the purpose or aim] to separate from my holiness, [temple]; B.) Injecting "God" as a direct object is atextual: "The caused great abominations to cause [me] to separate from my temple, [holiness]; this cannot be adduced from that context, or parallel texts;
  3. Hebrew Qal Stem: Brown-Driver-Briggs - indicates that the Qal stem - implying an Infinite, Active Verb - which also indicates Israel acting - TO: A.) The Passive Voice Could not Apply: "I, [God], was distanced", (Passive); B.) The Reflexive Middle Voice Could not Apply: "I, [God], distanced myself"; C.) And, a Direct Object Would be Required: "They distanced [me]" - which is not in the text;
  4. Ezekiel 8:6, The Greek Septuagint: A.) ποιοῦσιν ... ἀπέχεσθαι, (causing ... to separate) - is a participle construction, considered infinitive and plural - indicating that a plural subject [Israel] was the "acting in order TO separate";
  5. Passive/Reflexive in Aramaic: A.) In Targum Onqelos, "to distance" is לְאִתרַחָקָא in Aramaic; B.) Because it is either Passive or Reflexive in Aramaic - it does not exclude the plausibility of Israel acting to distance itself, from God;
  6. Pronominal Suffix: A.) The verb "לְרָֽחֳקָה֙" cannot be both an Infinite Absolute AND ALSO have a pronominal suffix, (Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, 113g); B.) Qal Infinitive Construct with Pronominal Suffix: The Infinitive Construct could indicate its direct object through its suffix - but if so, there should be some agreement in Gender or Number; C.) The Masculine first person suffix would likely be, "לִי" as in "קָּטְּלִי / Killing me"; D.) In this text, the suffix "קָה֙" could be indicative of a feminine direct object; E.) But, that Gender disagreement would introduce a completely different - which could only be reconciled if "Israel" was the direct object of "to separate", and understood as God's "Bride"; F.) In other words - besides this suffix, there don't seem to be any indications of that "to separate" is referring to a Direct Object - which renders it highly improbable that "To separate" was referring to "God", as the Direct Object.
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  • I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that the verb is feminine. It's an infinitive construct, not a finite verb, so it has no gender itself. It could have a pronominal suffix, but if so there's is generally a dot (mappiq) in the ה, because it's a consonant. In any case, "house", "Israel", and certainly "house of Israel" are masculine. – Susan May 20 '16 at 15:36
  • @Susan - I absolutely agree with you: A.) The problem is - IF "God" is the direct object of "לְרָֽחֳקָה֙ / distance" - there should be some indication of a direct object in that verse; B.) The only indication I can find - is if that suffix is pronominal, and indicates a direct object; C.) And even IF so - it introduces a gender disagreement, like you said; D.) So - that conclusion, (which you seem to agree with) - excludes "God" as a direct object - no matter what; E.) I clarified that argument, and de-emphasized it; F.) Thanks for the constructive comment! – elika kohen May 20 '16 at 23:23

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