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In the Early Days
v. 1. And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, about in the middle of the first period of Ezekiel's prophetic activity, that certain of the elders of Israel, who were their spiritual leaders also in the captivity, came to enquire of the Lord, as on a former occasion, seeking a special revelation, very likely concerning the speedy termination of their captivity, and sat before me, according to the custom of such delegations.
v. 2. Then came the word of the Lord unto me, saying,
v. 3. Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, giving them information which was verbally the expression of the will of God, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, the supreme Ruler of the universe, at the same time the God of the covenant, Are ye come to enquire of Me? Was their impudence such as to cause them to appear before Jehovah without previous change of heart, in an excess of bold hypocrisy? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be enquired of by you, this emphatic declaration being made chiefly on account of their inability, in their present moral state, to understand the will of the Lord. In connection with this inquiry, therefore, the Lord takes occasion to charge his servant with a message of earnest rebuke addressed to the disobedient and hard-hearted Jews.
v. 4. Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? the question showing the impatience of the Lord in pronouncing sentence upon the unrepentant sinners. Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers, this rehearsal having the purpose not only of presenting the greatness of Israel's guilt, but also of emphasizing the patience which the Lord had till now exhibited in dealing with His people.
v. 5. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, In the day when I chose Israel, selecting them, on the basis of His grace and mercy, from among the nations of the world, and lifted up Mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, in the gesture of a solemn oath to the children of His servant Israel, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, under the name of Jehovah, the God of the covenant, Exodus 6:3, when I lifted up Mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord, your God, Exodus 6:8;
v. 6. in the day that I lifted up Mine hand unto them to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, seeking it out and choosing it for them as the best of all lands for His special purpose, Deuteronomy 8:7-8, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, the most lovely and delightful of all lands, Daniel 8:9,
v. 7. then said I unto them, this being the gist of the entire message of Moses, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, that which was loathsome in God's eyes and should have been so in theirs, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt, for such. idolatry was still carried on in secret, Cf Leviticus 17:7; Joshua 24:14. I am the Lord, your God.
v. 8. But they rebelled against Me and would not hearken unto Me, being filled even in those days with the obstinacy which proved their undoing; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt, Cf Exodus 32. Then I said, I will pour out My fury upon them, having reached this conclusion concerning them even before they left Egypt, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt, to punish them even at that time.
v. 9. But I wrought for My name's sake, He refrained from executing His wrath for the sake of His own honor, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, who would have taken occasion to blaspheme if Israel had been severely punished by the Lord at that time, while the Egyptians were witnesses, among whom they were, in whose sight I made Myself known unto them, as by the ten great plagues, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt. That was the first stage of Israel's national existence, or rather the preparation for this stage. Even in those days the children of Israel had been so stubborn and willful that the Lord felt constrained to punish them severely, and only His great mercy had saved them from the well-merited punishment.
In the Wilderness
v. 10. Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, in agreement with His merciful intention, and brought them into the wilderness, delivering them from oppression and preparing them for entry into the Land of Promise.
v. 11. And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgments, namely, in the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, which if a man do, he shall even live in them, for a perfect keeping of the Law would indeed merit eternal life. Cf Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; Luke 10:28.
v. 12. Moreover, also, I gave them My Sabbaths, whose special observance was a distinction to the Jews, to be a sign between Me and them, in their ever-recurring celebration, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them, by separating them from the other nations of the world and by reminding them of the fact that the rest and contemplation of the Sabbath was a type of the greater and more wonderful rest prepared for the people of God. Cf Hebrews 4:9.
v. 13. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness, repeating the former performance; they walked not in My statutes, and they despised My judgments, the general ordinances as well as the specific commands, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and My Sabbaths they greatly polluted, by disregarding their proper observance, Cf Exodus 32:1-6; Numbers 25:1-3; Exodus 16:27; Numbers 15:32. Then I said I would pour out My fury upon them in the wilderness to consume them, as He repeatedly stated. Cf Exodus 32:10; Numbers 14:11-12.
v. 14. But I wrought for My name's sake, again working deliverance and refraining from striking in His wrath, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out, the Lord's explanation here agreeing exactly with the plea by which Moses effected the deliverance of the people whom he loved.
v. 15. Yet also I lifted up My hand unto them in the wilderness, in another solemn oath, Numbers 14:28, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands,
v. 16. because they despised My judgments and walked not in My statutes, but polluted My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols, as their fierce longing for the flesh-pots of Egypt indicated. Cf Numbers 15:39; Psalms 78:37; Amos 5:25; Acts 7:42-43.
v. 17. Nevertheless Mine eye spared them from destroying them, although all adults who had left the land of Egypt died in the wilderness, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness, namely, by a sentence of total extermination, as He had threatened.
v. 18. But I said unto their children in the wilderness, whom He spared by a special act of His mercy, Walk ye not in the statutes, the idolatrous customs and usages, of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, the manner in which they pretended to do justice and practice righteousness, nor defile yourselves with their idols.
v. 19. I am the Lord, your God; walk in My statutes, as opposed to the self-appointed ordinances of men, and keep My judgments, the manner in which He chose to exercise righteousness, and do them;
v. 20. and hallow My Sabbaths, by knowing them according to their spirit, not only in outward form; and they shall be a sign between Me and you that ye may know that I am the Lord, your God.
v. 21. Notwithstanding the children, the younger generation, whom His mercy had spared, rebelled against Me; they walked not in My statutes, neither kept My judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted My Sabbaths, showing that in every way they followed the stubbornness and wickedness of their fathers. Then I said I would pour out My fury upon them to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. Some of this is shown in the story of Israel's sojourn in the Plains of Moab, when they yielded to the wiles of the Midianitish women.
v. 22. Nevertheless I withdrew Mine hand, in sparing the sinners even then, and wrought for My name's sake that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth, who were watching the progress of Israel with a great deal of interest.
v. 23. I lifted up Mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, in a solemn oath concerning also this generation, that I would scatter them among the heathen and disperse them through the countries, Cf Jeremiah 15:4,
v. 24. because they had not executed My judgments, the decrees of His righteousness, but had despised My statutes and had polluted My Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols, in a continual desire to commit idolatry, in a strange eagerness to transgress the First Commandment.
v. 25. Wherefore I gave them also, in just retribution upon them, statutes that were not good, which brought them no deliverance, no blessings, and judgments whereby they should not live, which would, on account of their stubbornness, become stumbling-blocks to them;
v. 26. and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, thereby consecrating their first-born children to Molech, the abomination of the Moabites, instead of offering them to Jehovah according to the manlier prescribed by Him, Exodus 13:12, that I might make them desolate, visiting their obstinacy upon them in just this way, by letting the loathsome and revolting custom continue, since He had so emphatically forbidden it, Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord. It was God's judgment upon the stubborn Jews that He permitted them to be dominated by the spirit of idolatry to such an extent that they were helpless in its power. At the same time His intention was, if possible, so to shock the Jews by the reflection of their loathsome customs that they might feel the unnaturalness of their conduct and turn to the Lord in true repentance.
Israel's Behavior In Canaan And The Lord's Sentence
v. 27. Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, represented by the elders who had come to inquire of the Lord, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Yet in this, or, "In this again," your fathers have blasphemed Me, holding Him up to mockery and derision, in that they have committed a trespass against Me, becoming guilty of faithlessness and treachery.
v. 28. For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up Mine hand to give it to them, promising it to them by a solemn oath, then they saw every high hill and all the thick trees, places which were commonly devoted to idolatrous worship by the heathen, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering, for their sacrifices continually provoked the Lord to anger, since they were made contrary to His command and will; there also they made their sweet savor, said here of all burnt offerings, and poured out there their drink-offerings, thus including all bloody and unbloody sacrifices in their heathenish worship. This was the principal transgression of the entire people of Israel after they had reached the Land of Promise.
v. 29. Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah, that is, height, unto this day. In spite of the Lord's remonstrance, Israel and Judah continued to regard the high places as places of worship, persisting in their idolatrous treachery to the very last.
v. 30. Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, namely, the generation then living, Thus saith the Lord God, Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? in being guilty of the same idolatry as that which brought God's wrath upon Israel in the first centuries of its national existence. And commit ye whoredom, spiritual adultery, after their abominations?
v. 31. For when ye offer your gifts, as described above, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day; and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? whose representatives were even then sitting before the prophet. As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be enquired of by you, he would give them no hearing until they had done away with the wickedness which was now charged against them.
v. 32. And that which cometh into your mind, what they were now deliberately planning to do, shall not be at all, shall not come to pass, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, amalgamating with them in every respect, losing their identity as a separate people altogether, to serve wood and stone, and thus become the equal of the heathen also in this respect. It was an exclamation, partly of stubbornness, partly of despair, which they here uttered. Therefore the Lord gives them a fitting answer.
v. 33. As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with a stretched-out arm, by applying His almighty power, and with fury poured out will I rule over you, asserting His sovereign right over them in spite of their resistance;
v. 34. and I will bring you out from the people and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand and with a stretched-out arm and with fury poured out, so that they would have to acknowledge the rule of God, unwilling though they were.
v. 35. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, the spiritual wilderness which characterizes the great mass of the world, with its heathenism and wickedness, and there will I plead with you face to face, bringing the matter to an issue as in a court of law.
v. 36. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, upon the occasion of the giving of the Law, Deuteronomy 5:4, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God. Cf Numbers 17:5-6.
v. 37. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, as a shepherd does with his sheep, in order to determine their number and thus to prepare their benefits, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant, His chastising having prepared the way to a true sorrow;
v. 38. and I will purge out from among you the rebels, those who persisted in their opposition to His guidance and rule, and them that transgress against Me, those who were guilty of apostasy and treachery; I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, the land of their exile, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel, not partake of the blessings of the Lord's covenant; and ye shall know that I am the Lord, in His summary judgment upon the apostates. But now comes the Messianic promise to shed light into the intense darkness of faithlessness, rebellion, and idolatry.
v. 39. As for you, O house of Israel, those whom the Lord desires once more to gather as His Church, thus saith the Lord God, in an admonition calling them to repentance, not without a mixture of holy irony, Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, for open idolatry is better than hypocrisy, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me, since it is easier to deal with downright opponents of the truth than with such as are enmeshed in dead orthodoxy; but pollute ye My holy name no more with your gifts and with your idols, with hypocritical worship, with abominable sacrifices which they brought under the guise of true worship.
v. 40. For in Mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, in the Zion of the New Testament, there shall all the house of Israel, all those who belonged to the true, the spiritual Israel, all of them in the land, serve Me; there will I accept them, as His children by faith, and there will I require your offerings and the first-fruits of your oblations with all your holy things, that is, the worship which is done in spirit and in truth.
v. 41. I will accept you with your sweet savor, the believers themselves being a' sweet odor in the nostrils of Jehovah with the incense of their faith, when I bring you out from the people and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered, this being used in general for the separation of the believers from the great mass of those who are enemies of God; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen, for the very existence of the Church of Christ serves to spread the glory of God's holy name.
v. 42. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, Jehovah, the everlasting God of the covenant, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up Mine hand to give it to your fathers. The return of Israel to the Land of Promise after the Babylonian Exile was a guarantee of the greater and more wonderful restoration of God's kingdom through the Messiah.
v. 43. And there shall ye remember your ways and all your doings wherein ye have been defiled, in true sorrow over their past wickedness; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed; for such is the nature of true repentance.
v. 44. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, the one and only true God, when I have wrought with you, in effecting their deliverance, for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God. That is the remarkable, the marvelous thing about the dealings of God with men, that He does not deal with us according as we have deserved, but according to his grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.
The Picture of the Forest Fire
v. 45. Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, in a message of verbal inspiration, as always, saying,
v. 46. Son of man, set thy face toward the South, literally, toward the right hand, for the Jew always considered himself facing east, and drop thy word toward the South, in a constant dripping, more or less violently, and prophesy against the forest of the south field, where dryness and heat prevailed, namely, the southern part of Palestine, specifically of Judah,
v. 47. and say to the forest of the South, the densely populated districts of that section of the country, Hear the word of the Lord, Thus saith the Lord God, whose power and sovereignty is unquestioned, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, in the form of the various judgments which He would send upon them, and it shall devour every green tree in thee and every dry tree, fit and unfit, righteous and wicked alike, in an unsparing punishment; the flaming flame, the burst of fire kindled by His anger, shall not be quenched and all faces from the South to the North, all the inhabitants of the entire country included, shall be burned therein, struck by the punishment of the Lord in some manner.
v. 48. And all flesh shall see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched; no earthly power could stop the vengeance of the Lord, it would endure until it had accomplished His purpose.
v. 49. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! They say of me, Doth he not speak parables? Ezekiel thus complaining that his countrymen could not understand this form of message and therefore despised and rejected his warnings. When men do not want to understand the message of the Lord, they manage to find excuses of various kinds or, failing in this, ridicule His servants and their preaching.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany