The elders of Israel are reminded of the idolatry in Egypt. (1-9) In the wilderness. (10-26) In Canaan. (27-32) God promises to pardon and restore them. (33-44) Prophecy against Jerusalem. (45-49)
1-9. Those hearts are wretchedly hardened which ask God leave to go on in sin, and that even when suffering for it; see ver. ( 32 ) . God is justly angry with those who are resolved to go on still in their trespasses. Cause the people to know the evil deeds of their fathers, that they may see how righteous it was with God to cut them off.
10-26. The history of Israel in the wilderness is referred to in the new Testament as well as in the Old, for warning. God did great things for them. He gave them the law, and revived the ancient keeping of the sabbath day. Sabbaths are privileges; they are signs of our being his people. If we do the duty of the day, we shall find, to our comfort, it is the Lord that makes us holy, that is, truly happy, here; and prepares us to be happy, that is, perfectly holy, hereafter. The Israelites rebelled, and were left to the judgments they brought upon themselves. God sometimes makes sin to be its own punishment, yet he is not the Author of sin: there needs no more to make men miserable, than to give them up to their own evil desires and passions.
Verses 27-32 The Jews persisted in rebellion after they settled in the land of Canaan. And these elders seem to have thought of uniting with the heathen. We make nothing by our profession if it be but a profession. There is nothing got by sinful compliances; and the carnal projects of hypocrites will stand them in no stead.
Verses 33-44 The wicked Israelites, notwithstanding they follow the sinful ways of other nations, shall not mingle with them in their prosperity, but shall be separated from them for destruction. There is no shaking off God's dominion; and those who will not yield to the power of his grace, shall sink under the power of his wrath. But not one of God's jewels shall be lost in the lumber of this world. He will bring the jews to the land of Israel again; and will give them true repentance. They will be overcome with his kindness: the more we know of God's holiness, the more we see the hateful nature of sin. Those who remain unaffected amidst means of grace, and would live without Christ, like the world around them, may be sure it is the way to destruction.
Verses 45-49 Judah and Jerusalem had been full of people, as a forest of trees, but empty of fruit. God's word prophesies against those who bring not forth the fruits of righteousness. When He will ruin a nation, who or what can save it? The plainest truths were as parables to the people. It is common for those who will not be wrought upon by the word, to blame it.
Ezekiel 20:1-49 . REJECTION OF THE ELDERS' APPLICATION TO THE PROPHET: EXPOSURE OF ISRAEL'S PROTRACTED REBELLIONS, NOTWITHSTANDING GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING GOODNESS: YET WILL GOD RESTORE HIS PEOPLE AT LAST.
1. seventh year, &c.--namely, from the carrying away of Jeconiah ( Ezekiel 1:2 , 8:1 ). This computation was calculated to make them cherish the more ardently the hope of the restoration promised them in seventy years; for, when prospects are hopeless, years are not computed [CALVIN].
elders . . . came to inquire--The object of their inquiry, as in Ezekiel 14:1 , is not stated; probably it was to ascertain the cause of the national calamities and the time of their termination, as their false prophets assured them of a speedy restoration.
3. The chapter falls into two great parts: Ezekiel 20:1-32 , the recital of the people's rebellions during five distinct periods: in Egypt, the wilderness, on the borders of Canaan when a new generation arose, in Canaan, and in the time of the prophet.
I will not be inquired of by you--because their moral state precluded them from capability of knowing the will of God ( Psalms 66:18 , Proverbs 28:9 , John 7:17 ).
4. Wilt thou judge? . . . judge--The emphatical repetition expresses, "Wilt thou not judge? yes, judge them. There is a loud call for immediate judgment." The Hebrew interrogative here is a command, not a prohibition [MAURER]. Instead of spending time in teaching them, tell them of the abomination of their fathers, of which their own are the complement and counterpart, and which call for judgment.
5, 6. The thrice lifting up of God's hand (the sign of His oath, Revelation 10:5 Revelation 10:6 , Exodus 6:8 , Margin; Numbers 14:30 ; to which passages the form of words here alludes) implies the solemn earnestness of God's purpose of grace to them.
made myself known unto them--proving Myself faithful and true by the actual fulfilment of My promises ( Exodus 4:31 , 6:3 ); revealing Myself as "Jehovah," that is, not that the name was unknown before, but that then first the force of that name was manifested in the promises of God then being realized in performances.
6. espied for them--as though God had spied out all other lands, and chose Canaan as the best of all lands ( Deuteronomy 8:7 Deuteronomy 8:8 ). See Daniel 8:9 , Daniel 11:16 Daniel 11:41 , "the glorious land"; see Margin, "land of delight," or, ornament"; "the pleasant land," or "land of desire," Zechariah 7:14 , Margin.
glory of all lands--that is, Canaan was "the beauty of all lands"; the most lovely and delightful land; "milk and honey" are not the antecedents to "which."
7. Moses gives no formal statement of idolatries practised by Israel in Egypt. But it is implied in their readiness to worship the golden calf (resembling the Egyptian ox, Apis) ( Exodus 32:4 ), which makes it likely they had worshipped such idols in Egypt. Also, in Leviticus 17:7 , "They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils (literally, seirim, 'he-goats,' the symbol of the false god, Pan), after whom they have gone awhoring." The call of God by Moses was as much to them to separate from idols and follow Jehovah, as it was to Pharaoh to let them go forth. Exodus 6:6 Exodus 6:7 and Joshua 24:14 , expressly mention their idolatry "in Egypt." Hence the need of their being removed out of the contagion of Egyptian idolatries by the exodus.
every man--so universal was the evil.
of his eyes--It was not fear of their Egyptian masters, but their own lust of the eye that drew them to idols ( Ezekiel 6:9 , 18:6 ).
8, 9. then I said, I will . . . But, &c.--that is, (God speaking in condescension to human modes of conception) their spiritual degradation deserved I should destroy them, "but I wrought (namely, the deliverance 'out of . . . Egypt') for My name's sake"; not for their merits (a rebuke to their national pride). God's "name" means the sum-total of His perfections. To manifest these, His gratuitous mercy abounding above their sins, yet without wrong to His justice, and so to set forth His glory, was and is the ultimate end of His dealings ( Ezekiel 20:14 Ezekiel 20:22 , 2 Samuel 7:23 , Isaiah 63:12 , Romans 9:17 ).
11. which if a man do, he shall . . . five in them--not "by them," as though they could justify a man, seeing that man cannot render the faultless obedience required ( Leviticus 18:5 , Galatians 3:12 ). "By them" is the expression indeed in Romans 10:5 ; but there the design is to show that, if man could obey all God's laws, he would be justified "by them" ( Galatians 3:21 ); but he cannot; he therefore needs to have justification by "the Lord our righteousness" ( Jeremiah 23:6 ); then, having thus received life, he "lives," that is, maintains, enjoys, and exercises this life only in so far as he walks "in" the laws of God. So Deuteronomy 30:15 Deuteronomy 30:16 . The Israelites, as a nation, had life already freely given to them by God's covenant of promise; the laws of God were designed to be the means of the outward expression of their spiritual life. As the natural life has its healthy manifestation in the full exercise of its powers, so their spiritual being as a nation was to be developed in vigor, or else decay, according as they did, or did not, walk in God's laws.
12. sabbaths, . . . a sign between me and them--a kind of sacramental pledge of the covenant of adoption between God and His people. The Sabbath is specified as a sample of the whole law, to show that the law is not merely precepts, but privileges, of which the Sabbath is one of the highest. Not that the Sabbath was first instituted at Sinai, as if it were an exclusively Jewish ordinance ( Genesis 2:2 Genesis 2:3 ), but it was then more formally enacted, when, owing to the apostasy of the world from the original revelation, one people was called out ( Deuteronomy 5:15 ) to be the covenant-people of God.
sanctify them--The observance of the Sabbath contemplated by God was not a mere outward rest, but a spiritual dedication of the day to the glory of God and the good of man. Otherwise it would not be, as it is made, the pledge of universal sanctification ( Exodus 31:13-17 Isaiah 58:13 Isaiah 58:14 ). Virtually it is said, all sanctity will flourish or decay, according as this ordinance is observed in its full spirituality or not.
13. in the wilderness--They "rebelled" in the very place where death and terror were on every side and where they depended on My miraculous bounty every moment!
15. I swore against them ( Psalms 95:11 , 106:26 ) that I would not permit the generation that came out of Egypt to enter Canaan.
16. The special reason is stated by Moses ( Numbers 13:32 Numbers 13:33 , 14:4 ) to be that they, through fear arising from the false report of the spies, wished to return to Egypt; the general reasons are stated here which lay at the root of their rejection of God's grace; namely, contempt of God and His laws, and love of idols.
their heart--The fault lay in it ( Psalms 78:37 ).
17. Nevertheless--How marvellous that God should spare such sinners! His everlasting covenant explains it, His long-suffering standing out in striking contrast to their rebellions ( Psalms 78:38 , Jeremiah 30:11 ).
18. I said unto their children--being unwilling to speak any more to the fathers as being incorrigible.
Walk ye not in . . . statutes of . . . fathers--The traditions of the fathers are to be carefully weighed, not indiscriminately followed. He forbids the imitation of not only their gross sins, but even their plausible statutes [CALVIN].
19. It is an indirect denial of God, and a robbing Him of His due, to add man's inventions to His precepts.
20. ( Jeremiah 17:22 ).
21. Though warned by the judgment on their fathers, the next generation also rebelled against God. The "kindness of Israel's youth and love of her espousals in the wilderness" ( Jeremiah 2:2 Jeremiah 2:3 ) were only comparative (the corruption in later times being more general), and confined to the minority; as a whole, Israel at no time fully served God. The "children" it was that fell into the fearful apostasy on the plains of Moab at the close of the wilderness sojourn ( Numbers 25:1 Numbers 25:2 , Deuteronomy 31:27 ).
23. It was to that generation the threat of dispersion was proclaimed ( Deuteronomy 28:64 ; compare Ezekiel 29:4 ).
25. I gave them . . . statutes . . . not good--Since they would not follow My statutes that were good, "I gave them" their own ( Ezekiel 20:18 ) and their fathers' "which were not good"; statutes spiritually corrupting, and, finally, as the consequence, destroying them. Righteous retribution ( Psalms 81:12 , Hosea 8:11 , Romans 1:24 , 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ). Ezekiel 20:39 proves this view to be correct (compare Isaiah 63:17 ). Thus on the plains of Moab ( Numbers 25:1-18 ), in chastisement for the secret unfaithfulness to God in their hearts, He permitted Baal's worshippers to tempt them to idolatry (the ready success of the tempters, moreover, proving the inward unsoundness of the tempted); and this again ended necessarily in punitive judgments.
26. I polluted them--not directly; "but I judicially gave them up to pollute themselves." A just retribution for their "polluting My sabbaths" ( Ezekiel 20:24 ). This Ezekiel 20:26 is explanatory of Ezekiel 20:25 . Their own sin I made their punishment.
caused to pass through the fire--FAIRBAIRN translates, "In their presenting (literally, 'the causing to pass over') all their first-born," namely, to the Lord; referring to the command ( Exodus 13:12 , Margin, where the very same expression is used). The lustration of children by passing through the fire was a later abomination ( Ezekiel 20:31 ). The evil here spoken of was the admixture of heathenish practices. with Jehovah's worship, which made Him regard all as "polluted." Here, "to the Lord" is omitted purposely, to imply, "They kept up the outward service indeed, but I did not own it as done unto Me, since it was mingled with such pollutions." But English Version is supported by the similar phraseology in Ezekiel 20:31 , the fire; but he names the first-born, in aggravation of their guilt; that is, "I had willed that the first-born should be redeemed as being Mine, but they imposed on themselves the cruel rites of offering them to Molech" ( Deuteronomy 18:10 ).
might know . . . the Lord--that they may be compelled to know Me as a powerful Judge, since they were unwilling to know Me as a gracious Father.
27-29. The next period, namely, that which followed the settlement in Canaan: the fathers of the generation existing in Ezekiel's. time walked in the same steps of apostasy as the generation in the wilderness.
Yet in this--Not content with past rebellions, and not moved with gratitude for God's goodness, "yet in this," still further they rebelled.
blasphemed--"have insulted me" [CALVIN]. Even those who did not sacrifice to heathen gods have offered "their sacrifices" ( Ezekiel 20:28 ) in forbidden places.
28. provocation of their offering--an offering as it were purposely made to provoke God.
sweet savour--What ought to have been sweet became offensive by their corruptions. He specifies the various kinds of offerings, to show that in all alike they violated the law.
29. What is the high place whereunto ye go?--What is the meaning of this name? For My altar is not so called. What excellence do ye see in it, that ye go there, rather than to My temple, the only lawful place of sacrificing? The very name, "high place," convicts you of sinning, not from ignorance but perverse rebellion.
is called . . . unto this day--whereas this name ought to have been long since laid aside, along with the custom of sacrificing on high places which it represents, being borrowed from the heathen, who so called their places of sacrifice (the Greeks, for instance, called them by a cognate term, Bomoi), whereas I call mine Mizbeaach, "altar." The very name implies the place is not that sanctioned by Me, and therefore your sacrifices even to ME there (much more those you offer to idols) are only a "provocation" to Me ( Ezekiel 20:28 , Deuteronomy 12:1-5 ). David and others, it is true, sacrificed to God on high places, but it was under exceptional circumstances, and before the altar was set up on Mount Moriah.
30. The interrogation implies a strong affirmation, as in Ezekiel 20:4 , "Are ye not polluted . . . ? Do ye not commit?" &c. Or, connecting this verse with Ezekiel 20:31 , "Are ye thus polluted . . . and yet (do ye expect that) I shall be inquired of by you?"
31. through the fire--As "the fire" is omitted in Ezekiel 20:26 , FAIRBAIRN represents the generation here referred to (namely, that of Ezekiel's day) as attaining the climax of guilt fire, which that former generation did not. The reason, however, for the omission of "the fire" in Ezekiel 20:26 is, perhaps, that there it is implied the children only "passed through the fire" for purification, whereas here they are actually burnt to death before the idol; and therefore "the fire" is specified in the latter, not in the former case (compare 2 Kings 3:27 ).
32. We will be as the heathen--and so escape the odium to which we are exposed, of having a peculiar God and law of our own. "We shall live. on better terms with them by having a similar worship. Besides, we get from God nothing but threats and calamities, whereas the heathen, Chaldeans, &c., get riches and power from their idols." How literally God's words here ("that . . . shall not be at all") are fulfilled in the modern Jews! Though the Jews seemed so likely (had Ezekiel spoken as an uninspired man) to have blended with the rest of mankind and laid aside their distinctive peculiarities, as was their wish at that time, yet they have remained for eighteen centuries dispersed among all nations and without a home, but still distinct: a standing witness for the truth of the prophecy given so long ago.
33. Here begins the second division of the prophecy. Lest the covenant people should abandon their distinctive hopes and amalgamate with the surrounding heathen, He tells them that, as the wilderness journey from Egypt was made subservient to discipline and also to the taking from among them the rebellious, so a severe discipline (such as the Jews are now for long actually undergoing) should be administered to them during the next exodus for the same purpose ( Ezekiel 20:38 ), and so to prepare them for the restored possession of their land ( Hosea 2:14 Hosea 2:15 ). This was only partially fulfilled before, and at the return from Babylon: its full and final accomplishment is future.
with a mighty hand, . . . will I rule over you--I will assert My right over you in spite of your resistance ( Ezekiel 20:32 ), as a master would in the case of his slave, and I will not let you be wrested from Me, because of My regard to My covenant.
34. The Jews in exile might think themselves set free from the "rule" of God ( Ezekiel 20:33 ); therefore, He intimates, He will reassert His right over them by chastening judgments, and these, with an ultimate view, not to destroy, but to restore them.
35. wilderness of the people--rather, "peoples," the various peoples among whom they were to be scattered, and about whom God saith ( Ezekiel 20:34 ), "I will bring you out." In contrast to the literal "wilderness of Egypt" ( Ezekiel 20:36 ), "the wilderness of the peoples" is their spiritual wilderness period of trial, discipline, and purification while exiled among the nations. As the state when they are "brought into the wilderness of the peoples" and that when they were among the peoples "from" which God was to "bring them out" ( Ezekiel 20:34 ) are distinguished, the wilderness state probably answers partially to the transition period of discipline from the first decree for their restoration by Cyrus to the time of their complete settlement in their land, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. But the full and final fulfilment is future; the wilderness state will comprise not only the transition period of their restoration, but the beginning of their occupancy of Palestine, a time in which they shall endure the sorest of all their chastisements, to "purge out the rebels" ( Ezekiel 20:38 , Daniel 12:1 ); and then the remnant ( Zechariah 13:8 Zechariah 13:9 , Zechariah 14:2 Zechariah 14:3 ) shall "all serve God in the land" ( Ezekiel 20:40 ). Thus the wilderness period does not denote locality, but their state intervening between their rejection and future restoration.
plead--bring the matter in debate between us to an issue. Image is from a plaintiff in a law court meeting the defendant "face to face." Appropriate, as God in His dealings acts not arbitrarily, but in most righteous justice ( Jeremiah 2:9 , Micah 6:2 ).
36. ( Numbers 14:21-29 ). Though God saved them out of Egypt, He afterwards destroyed in the wilderness them that believed not ( Jude 1:5 ); so, though He brought the exiles out of Babylon, yet their wilderness state of chastening discipline continued even after they were again in Canaan.
37. pass under the rod--metaphor from a shepherd who makes his sheep pass under his rod in counting them ( Leviticus 27:32 , Jeremiah 33:13 ). Whether you will or not, ye shall be counted as Mine, and so shall be subjected to My chastening discipline ( Micah 7:14 ), with a view to My ultimate saving of the chosen remnant (compare John 10:27-29 ).
bond of . . . covenant--I will constrain you by sore chastisements to submit yourselves to the covenant to which ye are lastingly bound, though now you have cast away God's bond from you. Fulfilled in part, Nehemiah 9:8 Nehemiah 9:26 Nehemiah 9:32-38 , 10:1-39 ; fully hereafter ( Isaiah 54:10-13 , Isaiah 52:1 Isaiah 52:2 ).
38. ( Zechariah 13:9 , 14:2 ).
purge out--or, "separate." Hebrew, barothi, forming a designed alliteration with "berith," the covenant; not a promise of grace, but a threat against those Jews who thought they could in exile escape the observation and "rule" of God.
land of Israel--Though brought out of the country of their sojourn or exile (Babylon formerly, and the various lands of their exile hereafter) into the literal land of Palestine, even it shall be to them an exile state, "they shall not enter into the land of Israel," that is, the spiritual state of restored favor of God to His covenant people, ,which shall only be given to the remnant to be saved ( Zechariah 13:8 Zechariah 13:9 ).
39. Equivalent to, "I would rather have you open idolaters than hypocrites, fancying you can worship Me and yet at the same time serve idols" ( Amos 5:21 Amos 5:22 Amos 5:25 Amos 5:26 ; compare 1 Kings 18:21 , 2 Kings 17:41 , Matthew 6:24 , Revelation 3:15 Revelation 3:16 ).
Go ye, serve--This is not a command to serve idols, but a judicial declaration of God's giving up of the half-idol, half-Jehovah worshippers to utter idolatry, if they will not serve Jehovah alone ( Psalms 81:12 , Revelation 22:11 ).
hereafter also--God anticipates the same apostasy afterwards, as now.
40. For--Though ye, the rebellious portion, withdraw from My worship, others, even the believing remnant, will succeed after you perish, and will serve Me purely.
in mine holy mountain--( Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 2:3 ). Zion, or Moriah, "the height of Israel" (pre-eminent above all mountains because of the manifested presence of God there with Israel), as opposed to their "high places," the worship on which was an abomination to God.
all--not merely individuals, such as constitute the elect Church now; but the whole nation, to be followed by the conversion of the Gentile nations ( Isaiah 2:2 , "all nations;" Romans 11:26 , Revelation 11:15 ).
with--rather, "in all your holy things" [MAURER].
41. with--that is, in respect to your sweet savor (literally, "savor Or, I will accept you (your worship) "as a sweet savor" [MAURER], ( Ephesians 5:2 , Philippians 4:18 ). God first accepts the person in Messiah, then the offering ( Ezekiel 20:40 , Genesis 4:4 ).
bring . . . out from . . . people, &c.--the same words as in Ezekiel 20:34 ; but there applied to the bringing forth of the hypocrites, as well as the elect; here restricted to the saved remnant, who alone shall be at last restored literally and spiritually in the fullest sense.
sanctified in you before . . . heathen--( Jeremiah 33:9 ). All the nations will acknowledge My power displayed in restoring you, and so shall be led to seek Me ( Isaiah 66:18 , Zechariah 14:16-19 ).
43. there--not merely in exile when suffering punishment which makes even reprobates sorry for sin, but when received into favor in your own land.
remember--( Ezekiel 16:61 Ezekiel 16:63 ). The humiliation of Judah ( Nehemiah 9:1-38 ) is a type of the future penitence of the whole nation ( Hosea 5:15 , 6:1 , Zechariah 12:10-14 ). God's goodness realized by the sinner is the only thing that leads to true repentance ( Hosea 3:5 , Luke 7:37 Luke 7:38 ).
44. The English Version chapter ought to have ended here, and the twenty-first chapter begun with "Moreover," &c. as in the Hebrew Bible.
for my name's sake--( Ezekiel 36:22 ). Gratuitously; according to My compassion, not your merits. After having commented on this verse, CALVIN was laid on his death bed, and his commentary ended.
45-49. An introductory brief description in enigma of the destruction by fire and sword, detailed more explicitly in Ezekiel 21:1-32 .
46. south . . . south . . . south--three different Hebrew words, to express the certainty of the divine displeasure resting on the region specified. The third term is from a root meaning "dry," referring to the sun's heat in the south; representing the burning judgments of God on the southern parts of Judea, of which Jerusalem was the capital.
set thy face--determinately. The prophets used to turn themselves towards those who were to be the subjects of their prophecies.
drop--as the rain, which flows in a continuous stream, sometimes gently ( Deuteronomy 32:2 ), sometimes violently ( Amos 7:16 , Micah 2:6 , Margin), as here.
forest--the densely populated country of Judea; trees representing people.
47. fire--every kind of judgment ( Ezekiel 19:12 , 21:3 , "my sword"; Jeremiah 21:14 ).
green tree . . . dry--fit and unfit materials for fuel alike; "the righteous and the wicked," as explained in Ezekiel 21:3 Ezekiel 21:4 , Luke 23:31 . Unsparing universality of the judgment!
flaming flame--one continued and unextinguished flame. "The glowing flame" [FAIRBAIRN].
faces--persons; here the metaphor is merged in the reality.
49. Ezekiel complains that by this parabolic form of prophecy he only makes himself and it a jest to his countrymen. God therefore in Ezekiel 21:1-32 permits him to express the same prophecy more plainly.