Putting the Twig to the Nose

When my daughter Lindsay, home for the Thanksgiving break, asked me a question the other day, at first I wondered what they were teaching her at college. “Dad, what does ‘putting the twig to the nose’ mean?” she asked.

Then she told me she was reading Ezekiel for her Bible class, where the angel of God points out in Ezekiel 8:17 that men in Judah were guilty of “putting the twig to their nose.” Considered the family’s resident Bible expert, I enjoy it when my children ask me questions. Yet I had to admit to being a bit baffled by the expression, as I had not thought about it before. As our family happened to be traveling at the time, we discussed the context a bit, I told her it sounded like a pagan ritual to me, and then promised to look it up later.

What I found was interesting and (not surprising with the Word of God) fear-producing.

This verse with its expression is from a scene where the angel of God is showing the prophet why destruction is about to come upon Jerusalem. In the vision Ezekiel is shown 25 men worshiping in the courtyard of the temple. The problem is, however, that they are prostrated with their backs against the temple, praying to the sun in the east (Ezekiel 8:16). The angel then says,

“Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to the nose. Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath.”

My research showed that my hunch was right. Often found in pagan worship was the practice of gathering a branch or bundle of twigs and then the worshiper would put them before his face near the mouth and nose as he prostrated himself and prayed to his idol. For these Jews worshiping the sun, it could have served as a type of veil to show respect to the sun-god, and it may have been a symbol of their recognition that life was dependent upon the light of the sun.

However, there is a powerful double entendre in this expression that only the Hebrew reveals. The word for “nose” in the Hebrew (אַף -“aph”) can also be translated as “anger” or “ruin.” The snort of emotion from the nose and the flaring of the nostrils provide the reason for this association. Sometimes scholars in different English versions can translate a verse using these two different meanings with the same effect, as in Job 4:9.

  • “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of His nostrils they are consumed” (KJV).
  • “By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end” (NASB).

With this in mind, John Calvin said that by God describing them as putting the twig to the nose, they were in effect putting the twig to their ruin. In other words, by putting the twig to their nose, they were putting the twig to His nose. They were arousing His burning anger, which is why He follows this expression with these words, “Therefore, I will indeed deal in wrath.”

How careful we must live! These Jews who thought they were being trendy by using a worldly worship practice were in reality putting more wood on the fire of God’s anger by the very act. As Paul said in Romans 2:5, “Because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

Perhaps from this we could develop a new proverbial warning when we see a believer pursuing evil things or churches turning their back on God’s Word as they embrace worldly goods? “Don’t put the twig to your nose!”

12 Comments

  1. # 47 December 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that Mr. York. It’s a good reminder that what we think we can mindlessly get away with, God often notices and is displeased with.But also how thankful we should be that there is one who bore the worst blast of God’s nostrils in our place!

    • Jean August 23, 2016 at 9:49 am #

      I belive . It is speaking about people who peirce theire nose with wood. People do it to this day. He also talked about Egyptians and theire neighbors with large genitalia. Who they listed for spiritually to mix with the truth of god. Those who put the branch to theire nose was people in West Africa original guinea. Whe. Africa had only four countries in it. They are the people who went out to sea got lost and created theire own civilization.. they put branch to theire nose the most numerous people.had to have mixed with them. For it was egypt that gave them the tech of Reid boats. This is a time when Judah owned land in Africa called negro land or Judah land. Ethiopia was the largest land mass. Covering almost all the continent. But there is no people who smell plants
      . They use plants but u telling me they would simply ell the plant and praise a false god. Don’t even sound smart. . But now is the awakening so that was a very good guess. But now we see what is hidden

      • Ty August 24, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

        Through careful bible study you will discover that at the time of its writing each book pertained directly to Israel specifically. Not converts in Sheba aka Ethiopia.

  2. Barry York December 10, 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    Amen to that last sentence, Candace!

  3. beavoicefororphans February 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    Thank you, friend. I am studying this today and have found the larger context to also be convicting. The word tumult in chapter 5:7 and chapter 7:11 in the Hebrew carries the idea of noise, disquietude, wealth… The Jews had multiplied in the land, but it was wickedness and violence that had risen, budded, and blossomed. Seeing God judge their idolatry and His glory departing from the temple and found coming in the storm of His zeal / wrath, I asked the Lord, what are my idols? He spoke three to me, one of which being negative emotions. He showed me how the glory of God once filled my heart and mind, my thoughts and feelings consumed with His Word. But now, my temple was filled with negative emotions. It will be to my ruin if I do not repent. I am pressing into God to return to my first love. I want my only tears to be shed at His feet in ministering to Him. I want my heart and mind not to be filled with the news and troubles of our world and of my little world, but filled with His beauty and glory. God help us all. Blessings, tami

    • Barry York February 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      Glad it was helpful. Thank you for sharing from the heart.

  4. Ty November 10, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    It’s more sinister than you think. The pagans used evergreen branches to the nose to mask the smell of the burning flesh of the children they sacrificed to pagan gods. That is why it is considered a “greater abominations” Eze 8:15

    (Leviticus 18:21)

    • Gregory November 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

      Wow Ty I think you have something, because one of the ritual was allowing the children to pass over the first. Also there are many types of abominations

  5. Mark March 7, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Thank you Barry, for hosting a forum that helped me more understand this portion of God’s Word

    • Barry York March 7, 2016 at 9:26 am #

      You’re welcome, and glad this article was an encouragement to you.

  6. Want to learn June 6, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Mr. York
    Thank you for your explanation of this scripture. I want to dig deeper into scripture but don’t know how. My question is where did you find this answer and how can you be sure it is not just someone’s opinion? Do you need to know Greek and Hebrew?
    Thanks for your time.

    • Barry York June 6, 2016 at 11:50 am #

      Dear Want to learn,

      Thank you for your question about understanding the Bible. Let me give you a few thoughts to help you.

      First, though it’s great if you can know Hebrew and Greek, it’s not necessary for every believer to be able to do so. However, if possible you should be in a good church where a faithful preacher who has been trained in the Bible and its languages can teach you. Being taught by other godly men is how I have learned much about the Bible (Romans 10:17)

      Secondly, be sure to read the Bible every day. You need to personally meditate on its truths (Revelation 1:3; Psalm 119:9-11)

      Thirdly, study it with others. Hopefully you can have a Bible study with others at your church where you can dig more deeply into God’s Word. This then answers in part your first question. Part of studying the Bible comes from reading what other godly saints through the ages have taught. You can see in my article that I quoted from John Calvin and looked at another commentator or two to understand this text. It’s important to study to make sure what we are thinking is true (Acts 17:11).

      Finally, remember that if you are a believer in Christ, he gives you the Holy Spirit as your greatest teacher to guide you into the truth. He will confirm in your heart the truthfulness of an interpretation or teaching (John 16:13-15).

      Hope that helps,

      Barry

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