A new idea comes to the forefront in Ezekiel 14: the matter of Israel setting up idols “in their hearts.”
We forget sometimes that, in the Old Testament, religion was as much a matter of the heart as it is in the New Testament. Israel was told to seek the Lord with all her heart (Deuteronomy 4:29). She was to love the lord with all her heart (Deuteronomy 6:5) and give generously to Him from the heart (Deuteronomy 15:10). God was concerned Israel would forget Him in her heart (Deuteronomy 8:14).
Only here, however, will you find God addressing the matter of idolatry in the heart.
What did He mean?
What we do outwardly may be totally different from what we desire to do. Israel may have performed the commanded rituals by God, while wishing all the while she could serve other gods, perhaps gods who were less onerous in their expectations – or their ethics. Amos has spoken of Israel’s desire to get the Sabbath over that she might return to her business of making money and cheating others (Amos 8:5).
When we “do” our religion as a matter of obligation rather than desire, we’ve already placed something in front of God – if only ourselves. Doing that sets up an idol in the heart, and robs God of His rightful place. When this happens, it places one so far away from God that nothing – not even the presence of the most righteous people – can save. That’s the point God was making to Judah in captivity, and the one He is making to us today.