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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 20

The Third and Fourth Cycles: The Third—Chapters 20-23

WE have here the third cycle. The prophet takes occasion for a new beginning, from the visit of men from the elders of the people. These are here, as in ch. Ezekiel 14:1, representatives, not of the totality of the exiles, but of the great mass of those only externally fearing God, but internally addicted to the spirit of the world and the age. The embassy had probably a special occasion in the circumstances of the time, in a favourable turn which the affairs of the coalition had taken. They wish to obtain confirmation of their joyful hopes from the mouth of the prophet. As long as he remains in the former position, things do not stand well with them. The prominent question is not about salvation in general, but whether there can be salvation without judgment and without repentance—salvation for the people as they now are. They do not consider that a total revolution must take place in them, if they are to be capable of salvation.

The direct answer to the embassy is contained in ch. Ezekiel 20; the further details are given in ch. Ezekiel 21:1 to Ezekiel 23:49. In ch. Ezekiel 20 the prophet sets their sins before Israel till Ezekiel 20:20. The description has four paragraphs: Israel in Egypt—the first station in the wilderness—the second station—Israel in Canaan. With a people so obstinately persevering in their sins, from their origin, through all times down to the present, God must hold a great reckoning, which is at the same time a purification ( Ezekiel 20:30-39). Yet the judgment will be followed by grace for those who are purified thereby ( Ezekiel 20:40-44).

Verses 1-4

Ezekiel 20:1-4. And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day, came men of the elders of Israel to inquire of the Lord; and they sat before me. 2. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 3. Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Are ye come to inquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you. 4. Wilt thou judge them, wilt thou judge them, son of man? Make known to them the abominations of their fathers.

The question, repeated in the liveliness of emotion, “Wilt thou judge them?” is a question of impatience, to which things go too slowly, and shows how little right they have to look for grace, or expect a pleasing answer. The son of man cannot go soon enough for the Lord to the work of judgment and punishment for sin, which is here alone announced, and is to be executed in His name. Those who wish to have another answer, must repent beforehand. The summons to make known to them the sins of their fathers, points to this, that the evil is deep-seated, and a radical cure is to be desired, which can only be effected by a judgment of inflexible rigour.

First, Israel’s sins in Egypt. God made Himself known to Israel in Egypt by wonders and signs; said to them, in fact, “I am your God,” and held out to them the land of promise. But they requited His kindness with ingratitude; yet God brought them out of Egypt.

Verses 5-9

Ezekiel 20:5-9. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up my hand to the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, and lifted up my hand to them, saying, I am the Lord your God; 6. In that day I lifted up my hand to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into the land which I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is an ornament for all lands. 7. And I said unto them, Cast away every man the idols of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the abominations of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 8. And they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not cast away every man the idols of his eyes, nor forsake the abominations of Egypt; and I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, I will accomplish my anger upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt. 9. And I did it for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known to them, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.

There can be no doubt that the lifting up of the hand in Ezekiel 20:5-6 is the gesture of the oath; for so it undeniably occurs in Ezekiel 20:15, Ezekiel 20:28, and in the fundamental passage, Exodus 6:8. Now in the last the oath refers solely to the leading out of Egypt, and to this we must here also adhere. The hand is here lifted up beforehand, to warrant this assurance. The expressions, “I made myself known to them,” and “I said, I am the Lord your God,” serve only to bring the oath impressively before their minds. It takes place, as it were, while the hand is lifted up to this oath, to give a practical foundation for faith in it. Both refer to the wonders and signs in Egypt. By these God made Himself known to His people, and said to them, “I am the Lord your God; “comp. Exodus 6:2, according to which, God by these facts made Himself known by His name Jehovah. “Into the land which I had espied for them:” God, as it were, spied out this land for them, sought it out with the greatest care as the best. No gift of God without obligation ( Ezekiel 20:7). How should they not truly serve Him who had exerted Himself so signally for them? The words, “I am the Lord your God,” point to the ground of obligation. In Ezekiel 20:8 we are told how badly the people in Egypt responded to His call. History does not expressly mention such a revolt of the people in Egypt; yet we are led indirectly to this by the statements of the books of Moses concerning the perpetual tendency of the people in the wilderness to the customs of Egypt. To this belongs, for ex., the making of the golden calf, in which there is an imitation of the Egyptian worship of the brute; further. Leviticus 17:7, according to which Israel in the wilderness served he-goats. The worship of a deity under the form of a he-goat was peculiar to Egypt; Leviticus 18:3, where the people are admonished: “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do.” That the Israelites generally served idols in Egypt, is attested by Joshua 24:14; and this being so, it is to be expected beforehand that this inclination would not immediately cease after the true God had made Himself known to them. The murmuring also of the people in Egypt against Moses and Aaron ( Exodus 5:21), implies an under-current of Egyptian tendencies. “And I did” ( Ezekiel 20:9): namely, what I did—the well-known fact to be afterwards more exactly defined, that I, notwithstanding their infidelity, led them out of Egypt. The ground which determines God to this—respect for His name, His honour—is further amplified in Numbers 14:13-16. [115] God’s name and call would be desecrated, degraded into the sphere of impotence and falsehood, if He did not perform what He had proposed.

[115] החל , infinitive in Niphal, from חלל (comp. 7:24)

Verses 10-17

Ezekiel 20:10-17. The sin of the first generation of Israel in the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:10. And I led them forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. 11. And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, by which, if a man do them, he shall live. 12. And also my sabbaths I gave them, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the Lord do sanctify them. lo. And the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, by which a man lives, if he do them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted; and I said I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. 14. And I did it for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I led them out. 15. And also I lifted up my hand to them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is an ornament for all lands. 16. Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, and polluted my sabbaths; for their heart went after their abominations. 17. And my eye spared them that I should not destroy them, and I did not make an end of them in the wilderness.

The precepts which God gave His people bring ( Ezekiel 20:11) life and salvation with them to him who does them. What grace in God, who gives such precepts! what a summons to true obedience! These precepts also imply before all things, that they shall confess their sins, and seek forgiveness in the blood of atonement. This is required by the laws concerning the sin-offerings, which in the Mosaic law form the root of all other offerings; the Passover, which so strictly requires us to strive after the forgiveness of sins, and connects all salvation with it and the great day of atonement. The Sabbath, instituted by God, and altogether peculiar to Israel ( Ezekiel 20:12), is a weekly recurring confession of God to His people, and of the people to their God,—a sign that God sanctifies this people, and separates them from the mass of other nations as His own people. How careful must they be to keep holy an institution so rich in grace! Whosoever violates it, transgresses against his existence. “My Sabbaths they greatly polluted” ( Ezekiel 20:13): history records nothing of an external violation of the Sabbath during the journey through the wilderness. Numbers 15:32 f., where the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath was brought before the congregation, and stoned by them after formal sentence, is rather a proof that in this respect they were not wanting in zeal. But the prophet, in accordance with Isaiah 58:13-14, and with Moses himself, who commanded to sanctify the Sabbath, to consecrate it in every respect to God, and withdraw it wholly from the region of self-interest, of personal sinful inclination, according to which the festival cannot possibly be observed with indolent repose, forms a deeper and more spiritual idea of the Sabbath. “Thou shalt cease from thy doing, that God may have His work in thee:” in this sense the truly God-fearing only can celebrate the Sabbath; so that all that in the books of Moses attests the want of true godliness among the people in the wilderness, involves at the same time the charge of desecrating the Sabbath. For His name’s sake God destroys not the people ( Ezekiel 20:14); but He excludes the present generation from the possession of Canaan, in just retribution for that which they have practised against Him. To this just retribution points the “and I also.” It depends on the will of every one what position he will take towards God; but he must be prepared for this, that his act will be attended with a corresponding divine act. That the lifting up of the hand here has the import of an oath, is shown by Numbers 14:28-30; Psalms 106:26, “And He lifted up His hand to them, that He would overthrow them in the wilderness.” Ezekiel 20:17 reverts to Ezekiel 20:14. Although the present generation was condemned to perish, God did not give over the whole people to the destruction they deserved.

Verses 18-26

In Ezekiel 20:18-26 are the sins of the second generation in the journey through the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:18. And I said unto their children in the wilderness. Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their abominations. 19. I am the Lord your God: walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; 20. And hallow my sabbaths, and they shall be a sign between me and you, that it may be known that I am the Lord your God. 21. And the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, by which the man that does them lives; and they polluted my sabbaths: and I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the wilderness. 22. And I turned back my hand, and did it for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I led them forth. 23. I also lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, to scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them in the countries; 24. Because they did not execute my judgments, and despised my statutes, and polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ abominations. 25. And I also gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. 26. And I polluted them by their own gifts, in that they caused all to pass through that openeth the womb, that I might lay them desolate, that they might know that I am the LORD.

To the “ children” ( Ezekiel 20:18) belongs, among other things, the whole second law-giving, with its impressive admonitions, as it was promulgated in Arboth-Moab, and is recorded in Deuteronomy. God, for His name’s sake, has not destroyed the apostate generation in the wilderness ( Ezekiel 20:21-22); but He has in just retribution, before the entrance into the promised land, set before their eyes the impending dispersion among the heathen ( Ezekiel 20:23-24). The prophet refers to the passages in the books of Moses, in which the exile was held out in prospect to apostate Israel, as Deuteronomy 28, Deuteronomy 30:1. In Ezekiel 20:25-26, a second retribution. We may compare here Romans 1:24, according to which God, in just retribution for their revolt, gave over the heathen to vile affections; Acts 7:42, where it is traced back to God, that the heathen served the host of heaven; and 2 Thessalonians 2:11, where God sends the apostates strong delusions. God has so constituted human nature, that revolt from Him must be followed by total darkness and disorder; that no moderation in error and sin, no standing still at the middle point, is possible; that the man, however willing he might be to stand still, must, against his will, sink from step to step. Revolt from God is the crime, excess in error and moral degradation the merited doom, from which all would willingly escape if this were in their power. Grotius writes: “I have taken from them the understanding, that in despising my laws they may make for themselves hard and death-bearing laws.” By way of example, the custom of sacrificing children is mentioned in Ezekiel 20:26. “I polluted them” ( Ezekiel 20:26): this means, according to Ezekiel 20:25, not as older expositors and Hävernick, evacuating the sense, explain, I declared them unclean, treated them as such; but that to God, who governs even in the evolution of sin, is attributed the polluting itself, which takes place according to a law beyond their power. “By their offerings,” which they presented to their idols, with the hope of obtaining, through their purification, forgiveness of sins and salvation. Wherein these gifts consisted, is intimated in the words, “in that they caused all to pass through.” “To cause to pass through” the fire ( Ezekiel 20:31; comp. Ezekiel 16:21, Ezekiel 23:37), is the current phrase for sacrificing children which were offered to Moloch. Into such a detestable custom did God in His righteous judgment permit them to fall, that the merited punishment might come upon them (“that I might lay them desolate”), by which they learn that their paternal God, whom they set at nought, is God in the full sense, whom to forsake is at once to fall into misery. That the presentation of children as sacrifices was already common in the time of Moses, is plain from Numbers 18:21, Deuteronomy 18:10.

Verses 27-29

In Ezekiel 20:27-29, the continuance of the revolt from the Lord during the sojourn in Canaan. Ezekiel 20:27. Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel, and say unto them. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Yet in this your fathers blasphemed me, in dealing treacherously with me. 28. And I brought them to the land, which I lifted up my hand to give them; and they saw every high hill, and every thick-leaved tree, and offered there their sacrifices, and presented there the provocation of their offering, and there made their sweet savour, and there poured out their drink-offerings. 29. And I said unto them. What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called High Place unto this day.

“Therefore” ( Ezekiel 20:27)—since ye are a people so utterly corrupt. “Yet in this your fathers blasphemed me:” every revolt from God, every departure from His commands, is a practical blasphemy, a denial of His righteousness and omnipotence; for where these are vividly realized, there a man will love God with all his heart, and not deviate a step from His commandments. The stricter designation of blasphemy follows in Ezekiel 20:28, after it was designated in general, at the close of Ezekiel 20:27, in the words, “in dealing treacherously with me.” “The provocation of their offering” ( Ezekiel 20:28)—the offerings to idols, whereby they provoked the anger of God; comp. Deuteronomy 32:16-17, “They provoked Him to jealousy with strange (gods); with abominations they made Him indignant. They sacrificed to lords which were not God, to gods whom they knew not.” God says to them in the tone of reproach ( 1 Kings 9:13), “What is the high place whereunto ye go?” ( Ezekiel 20:29): how can ye, instead of seeking me in my true sanctuary, turn to these miserable places, with their miserable gods? And yet these are named high places unto this day, in the sense of sanctuaries, and with the notion that they have something peculiar about them.

Verses 30-38

In Ezekiel 20:30-38, the punishment. Ezekiel 20:30. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Are ye polluted in the way of your fathers, and do ye go a whoring after their abominations? 31. And when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your abominations unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you. 32. And that which Cometh into your mind shall not be at all, when ye say. We shall be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. 33. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Surely with a mighty hand, and with outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you. 34. And I will lead you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye were scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I plead with you face to face. 36. So as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, will I plead with you, saith the Lord Jehovah. 37. And I will cause you to pass under the staff, and bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38. And I will purge out from you the rebels and the transgressors against me: I will lead them forth out of the land of their sojourning, and into the land of Israel he shall not come; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

First, in Ezekiel 20:30-31, the refusal of the grace sought; then from Ezekiel 20:32 on, the announcement of the continued punishment. The heathen stood under the divine long-suffering ( Romans 3:25); not so Israel, to whom God had so gloriously made Himself known. Wherein the heathen may prosper, therein Israel must decline. The designation of the heathen gods as wood and stone, alone sufficient to counteract the strange notion which attributed a real existence to the heathen gods, is taken from Deuteronomy 4:28, Deuteronomy 28:36. “Will I rule over you” ( Ezekiel 20:33): for the friendly and gracious government of God they have given Him little thanks, and have wickedly withdrawal from him. As God, however, must come to His sovereign rights, so His sovereignty now assumes a terrible form. The prophet speaks, in Ezekiel 20:34-35, to those who are already in exile, who can therefore no more be threatened with removal into exile. To those who fancied that with the removal into exile the judicial activity of God was already closed, and the dawn of the day of grace was immediately approaching. He announces a new phase of this judicial activity, similar to that which first came over Israel in the wilderness. If they are really led out of the former state into the new one, in which they underlie a second judgment, formally they are led into the wilderness, which here designates a state similar to that in which Israel was formerly in the wilderness. The wilderness is designated as “the wilderness of the peoples,” in contradistinction to the former wilderness, where was only the howling of wild beasts ( Deuteronomy 32:10), lions, serpents, and the like ( Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 30:6). The new wilderness is one in which Israel is in the midst of the peoples, and can therefore be no ordinary wilderness, for wilderness and peoples exclude one another. It must rather be a symbolic or typical designation of the state of punishment and purification. The interchange of type and thing is in Ezekiel 20:36 separated. From the defect of historical notices concerning the state of the exiles, we cannot show the fulfilment of this prophetic announcement. It is natural, how-ever. to suppose that the part taken by the exiles in the political intrigues of the home country brought upon them also severe sufferings. A short time before, Jeremiah, in ch. Jeremiah 29:21-22, predicted to Ahab and Zedekiah, the false prophets of the exile, who incited the people by their predictions against the Chaldean government, the downfall by Nebuchadnezzar. Besides, the threatening is conditional. Its fulfilment might be prevented by sincere repentance. Very many would take to heart this earnest warning of the prophet, and be thereby delivered from a participation in the threatened punishment. The staff in Ezekiel 20:37 is the shepherd’s staff, from the government of which they had withdrawn ( Leviticus 27:32; Micah 7:14). By the decree of punishment they are brought to submit themselves again to this staff. By chastisement also they are brought into “the bond of the covenant,” necessitated to yield to the conditions of the covenant, the laws of God; whereas they were heretofore without bound or bond, brothers of the free spirit ( Isaiah 46:12). “Let the wicked be favoured, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, and regard not the majesty of the Lord” ( Isaiah 26:10). As once in the wilderness judgment was held on the generation that came out of Egypt, and the greater part was condemned not to enter Canaan ( Numbers 14:28-30), so shall it be also in the exile. The dreams of those who announce that Jerusalem will not fall, but rather in the briefest space all the exiles after the immediately approaching fall of the Chaldean monarchy shall return thither in vast numbers ( Jeremiah 28:1-4), will come to a miserable end. From the land of their sojourning (that is, the state of exile) they shall be brought out, not, as they think, to return home, but to meet with an overwhelming punishment. “He shall not come:” the rebels are here collected into one ideal person. “They shall know that I am the Lord:” this is the painful experience that will sooner or later force itself upon all those who despise salvation.

Verses 30-44

In Ezekiel 20:39-44, the promise. Ezekiel 20:39. And ye, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Go ye, serve every one his idols, and hereafter surely ye will hearken unto me; and pollute ye no more my holy name with your gifts and your abominations. 40. For in my holy mountain, in the high mountain of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your heave-offerings, and the first-fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. 41. I will accept you as a sweet savour, when I shall lead you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified on you before the heathen. 42. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land which I lifted up my hand to give to your fathers. 43. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. 44. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways and your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah.

Though they now do what they cannot leave off ( Ezekiel 20:39), the Lord regards it with calm equanimity, because He knows that a time comes when, penetrated by the severity of the divine judgment, they will return to Him. [116] They wished, however, at present to adhere to that which the future will reject of itself with contempt. The first fulfilment took place in the time immediately after the exile; to the last Paul refers in Romans 11:25. The proper author of the great change here announced in the temper and tendency of the people is God, who gives them a new spirit, and takes away the stony heart (ch. Ezekiel 11:19). Yet they must and will do their own part (ch. Ezekiel 18:31): they must leave off their wicked opposition to the Holy Spirit ( Acts 7:51), and their sad unwillingness ( Matthew 23:37). Therein, along with the severity of the crushing divine judgments, will the love of God work, which displays itself gloriously in their redemption from their deliverance from the exile onwards, but above all in Christ. “Pollute ye no more my holy name:” every form of idolatry among the people of God was a desecration of the name of God, when the impotent and the abominable were preferred. “The height of the mountain of Israel” ( Ezekiel 20:40) is a spiritual mountain (comp. Ezekiel 17:23). “As a sweet savour will I accept you” ( Ezekiel 20:41): the people consecrating themselves anew to the Lord, appear as an acceptable offering. The practical explanation of this acceptance is, that God brings them back, and sanctifies or glorifies Himself among them before the heathen by the acts of His redeeming grace. To loathe in one’s sight ( Ezekiel 20:43), is to become oneself an object of loathing (ch. Ezekiel 6:9).

[116] אם לא is a particle of swearing. The preterite stands in place of the future, because the future is regarded as the present.

Verses 45-49

Ezekiel 21. In vivid terms the prophet now places before the eyes of the people, captivated by foolish hopes, a figure of the fall of the city and kingdom, which formed the bright points of their hopes. The endeavour is everywhere visible, to obtain by the clearness of the description a representation of the reality not yet existing, but already germinating, and in this way to withdraw the people from their delusions, and make penitence take the place of politics.

The prophet first, in Ezekiel 20:45-49, brings before the people in a riddle the catastrophe awaiting the mother country, to which all their longing was directed. Ezekiel 20:1. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, set thy face towards the right, and drop towards the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field. 3. And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it will devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched thereby. 4. And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it; it shall not be quenched. 5. And I said. Ah Lord Jehovah, they say of me. Doth he not speak parables?

Judea appears as the south land ( Ezekiel 20:46), from the standpoint of the exile. It is usual with the prophets to designate Chaldea, and in general the world-monarchy in inner Asia, as the north country, wherein the geographical situation is not so much regarded as the circumstance that the armies of this power entered the land from the north through Syria, and the captives were also carried away to the north. The forest in its density is a figure for the people. It is designated as the forest of the field, in opposition to that of the mountain, because it is here treated of a people of culture. The destruction of a people under the figure of a forest on fire appears already in Isaiah 9:18. “Green tree and dry tree” ( Ezekiel 20:47) are, according to the exposition in Ezekiel 21:3-4, the righteous and the unrighteous (comp. Luke 23:31). The faces represent, as often, the whole persons. This is the noble material which the fire has to consume. Even its non-extinction ( Ezekiel 20:8) shows that the Lord kindled the fire. If we see that all human plans and devices, even the most promising, come to nothing, we are led to the confession that we have to do with personal omnipotence and righteousness, against which the battle is unavailing. The riddle is easy to solve, and the prophet has to do with a sharpwitted people; but the hearers will not understand ( Ezekiel 20:49), because the truth is unpleasant to them, and retire with a certain irony behind the difficulty of the form, and make as if they did not understand. To take away this miserable excuse from them, to punish them for their ironical hardness of hearing, he expresses the same in clear and plain terms in the following passage.

Ezekiel 20:6. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saving, 7. Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel. 8. And say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I am on thee, and will draw my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. 9. Because I cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath on all flesh from south to north. 10. And all flesh shall know that I the Lord have drawn my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return. 11. And thou, son of man, sigh with the breaking of thy loins, and with bitterness shalt thou sigh before their eyes. 12. And it shall be, when they say unto thee. Wherefore sighest thou? then thou shalt say, For the tidings, because it cometh; and every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall dissolve into water: behold, it is come, and has happened, saith the Lord Jehovah.

“Drop toward the holy places” ( Ezekiel 21:2): to drop (comp. Ezekiel 20:46) is a term of art to denote the prophetic utterance, taken from Deuteronomy 32:2, to which passage the word, wherever it occurs, points as definitely as an express citation. Moses there compares his word, the primeval form of all prophecy, with a fruitful rain, though it is a sharp discourse of punishment and repentance, and holds forth the crushing judgments of God. The salutary effect is the point of comparison. What is bitter to the mouth is wholesome to the heart. The word of God in all its parts, even there where it is sharper than a two-edged sword, is like the quickening rain. Of the holy place (the plural refers to the glory of the one sanctuary) as a building the prophet does not speak in the following words. All applies there to the people. The holy place here, as often (comp. especially Jeremiah 7:4), can only be regarded as the spiritual abode of the people. The catastrophe, according to Ezekiel 21:3, comes upon the righteous and the wicked. This is not in contradiction with Ezekiel 9:4, according to which the righteous, amidst the impending catastrophe, are the object of the protecting and sustaining activity of God. For if two suffer the same, yet it is not the same. To those who love God must all things be for the best ( Romans 8:28). “From north to south” ( Ezekiel 21:9), from Dan to Beersheba, in the whole compass of the Jewish territory (comp. Ezekiel 20:47). In the sentence, “it shall not return” ( Ezekiel 21:10), the subject is, according to Ezekiel 20:48, not misfortune in its divine determination, but misfortune generally. That God has drawn the sword, will appear from the futility of all attempts to turn away the sword or the misfortune. The prophet laments in Ezekiel 21:6 not from his own soul, but as representative of Israel. [117] Michaelis writes, “Because thou art set as a type of the future misfortune of the Jews.” The loins of him are said to be broken whom acute pain robs of all power and strength. The tidings in Ezekiel 21:7 is the account of the accomplished misfortune which the prophet, representing his people, wrapt into the future, has already received. All knees are dissolved as water, or into water, so that they become water, like water in laxity and incoherence. The prophet represents in his own person this future condition of the people.

[117] Comp. Micah 1:8; Isaiah 20:3-4; Isaiah 21:3-4; Christol. i. 490 f.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-20.html.