Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 20

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL AGAIN INQUIRE IN VAIN OF JEHOVAH, Ezekiel 20:1-4. (Compare Ezekiel 14:1-5.)

1. The date given shows that the inquiry from the elders came some four years before Jerusalem fell August, 590 B.C.

Verse 4

4. Wilt thou judge “The interrogation seems to have the sense of an impatient imperative, and the repetition gives stronger impression to the imperative (compare Ezekiel 22:2; Ezekiel 23:36); ‘judge’ is explained by ‘cause them to know the abominations of their fathers.’ To rehearse the history of their fathers is to hold the mirror up to themselves.” Davidson.

Verse 5


5. In the day when I chose Israel That is, at the Exodus drawing the attention of the whole world to Israel “as a holy people unto the Lord” (Deuteronomy 7:6; see also Jeremiah 33:24; Isaiah 40, 66).

Lifted up mine hand The solemn attitude assumed in taking an official oath (Exodus 6:8; Numbers 14:30; note Daniel 12:7).

Made myself known That is, as Jehovah (Exodus 3:6; Exodus 6:3; <19A307>Psalms 103:7).

Verse 6

6. The glory of all lands This was a favorite phrase of the Hebrews to describe Palestine (Ezekiel 20:15; Psalms 48:2; Daniel 8:9; Daniel 11:41; Jeremiah 3:19).

Verse 7

7. Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt The animal worship of Egypt, with its unexampled multitude of “graven images,” ought to have been a most offensive abomination to the eyes of the Hebrews, but, instead of this, the people who had been especially chosen by Jehovah to champion the cause of monotheism on the earth fell headlong into Egyptian idolatry (Ezekiel 23:3; Leviticus 18:3; Joshua 24:14). It is a significant fact, illustrating the meaning of the “golden calf” in the wilderness (Exodus 32:0) that there has recently been discovered a hieroglyphic inscription stating that at Pithom (the frontier city built by the Israelites, Exodus 1:11, and probably the last city to be seen by them as they fled from Egypt) it was the custom to dedicate annually to the god of the city a silver statue of six hundred pounds’ weight (Brugsch, Steininschrift und Bibelwort).

Verse 8

8. Idols Literally, as constantly in Ezekiel, idol blocks, or doll images. The Hebrew, like every oriental, was intensely fond of plays on words, and showed his scorn of idols by a slight play upon the name. (See note Ezekiel 20:29.)

Verse 9

9. I wrought for my name’s sake The destruction of the Jewish state came from the same motive as its origination Jehovah’s regard to his own name. His “name” stands for all he had been revealed to be: “merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, yet; by no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:5-7). Not to punish sin would pollute (literally, profane) and stain the reputation of Jehovah for justice and holiness among the nations. Besides this, the people of Israel were so identified with Jehovah in the thought of the nations that no doubt the evil acts and unholy rites of the Jerusalem worship were thought of as having Jehovah’s sanction.

Verse 11

11. Shall even live in them Or, shall live through them (Leviticus 18:5). Obedience to the Sinaitic law would have saved them from punishment and death (Deuteronomy 13:16-18). Obedience prolongs both the individual and national life (Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:16; Amos 5:14-15; Micah 6:8; Hosea 8:3). Do the “judgments” refer to the Levitical ordinances or to the laws of justice such as are given in Ezekiel 18:5, etc.? Probably to the latter. (See Ezekiel 20:11; Ezekiel 20:21.) The ancient Chaldee paraphrase expands the last clause: “He shall live in them with eternal life” (Cowles).

Verse 12

12. My sabbaths The giving of a stated portion of the week, like the giving of a stated portion of cattle and fruit to the Lord, was an acknowledgment of their acceptance of the covenant of sanctification by which they were pledged to uttermost obedience, as the Lord’s possession, while he was pledged to them in all his fullness of protecting and sanctifying power. The Sabbath was the visible sign to the Hebrews and to the world that they were his, and that he was theirs (Ezekiel 20:20). It was the sign of a covenant in which God separated himself to the people and the people separated themselves to God. The Hebrew Sabbath was not derived from the Babylonian. Indeed, there is no proof, notwithstanding the guesses of Assyriologists, that the Babylonians observed a weekly rest day. Even the existence of the seven-day week among them is not demonstrated (Muss-Arnoldt, Journal Biblical Literature, 1892, part 1).

Verse 17

17. Nevertheless mine eye spared them So identified were Israel and Jehovah in the eyes of the nations that he could not have utterly annihilated the nation, as justice seemed to demand, without bringing dishonor upon his own name (Deuteronomy 9:28-29). Therefore, and because of his own special love and pity for them (Numbers 14:20; Psalms 78:38), he did not wholly cut them off, root and branch, in the wilderness; but, while he executed judgment upon that generation (Ezekiel 20:15; Numbers 14:28), he spared the children and exhorted them to do better than their fathers (Ezekiel 20:18). It is worthy of notice that Ezekiel knew the Hebrew history well and gave the same interpretation of it that orthodoxy has always given.

Verse 21

21. Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against me These sinned even as their fathers (Numbers 25:1-2; Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Deuteronomy 31:27).

Verse 22

22. I withdrew mine hand The hand which had been outstretched to execute judgment (Ezekiel 20:12) was drawn back because of the misunderstanding which the heathen would have of such an action. They would see in it not a proof of God’s holiness, but of his powerlessness to protect his people.

Verse 23

23. I would scatter them among the heathen Jehovah changes the punishment from annihilation to captivity. This decision was announced with solemn warnings, even while they were yet wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64). This bondage, of which the companions of Ezekiel complain as an inexplicable providence, and which almost drives them to a distrust of Jehovah’s power and goodness, is itself a proof of the fulfillment of prophecy. It has fallen upon the people solely because of their iniquity and their failure to repent.

Verse 25

25. Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good Does this refer to certain Mosaic regulations which were “permitted because of the hardness of their hearts?” (Matthew 19:8.) Or does it express the common Scripture truth that Jehovah is so fully the supreme ruler of Israel that when the people attempt to escape from his rule the edicts of evil kings (such as the “statutes of Omri” (Micah 6:16) and Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28-33), the utterances of false prophets (Ezekiel 14:9), and even the cruel statutes and ordinances of the heathen worship which they chose to obey, become really divine chastisements which Jehovah gives to them? (Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 5:10; Ezekiel 7:4; Ezekiel 7:9; Ezekiel 7:22; Ezekiel 7:26-27; see especially, note Ezekiel 14:9.) Or does it only mean that Jehovah has given up these willful transgressors to the unclean law which has been written by persistent sin upon the tablets of their hearts? (Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:11.) In either case the ethical principles justifying Jehovah’s action are nearly the same. Laws for the disobedient and criminal cannot be the same as for the obedient and pure. Such laws are not “good,” but they are the best possible under the circumstances. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), is just as truly a divine law as that which offers life through obedience (Ezekiel 20:11). It is God’s law that the man who willfully follows the false will finally lose the power to follow or even to know the true. Since God is the author of this law the New Testament rightly declares that it is God who blinds the eyes and hardens the heart of the impenitent. This does not mean that God desires any man to lose his spiritual eyesight. It simply means that, by refusing to obey God’s laws of mercy obedience to which might have saved him his sight he has necessarily become subject to God’s law of judgment under which he must inevitably, if unrepentant, suffer the penalty of blindness. (See notes Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Romans 1:21-28; Romans 11:9.) Because of willful rejection of the truth he has become unable to see and therefore unable to obey the truth. The very agencies which were intended to be to him a savor of life unto life have become a savor of death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:16; Exodus 14:4). He has brought himself under the dominion of the divine statutes which were ordained for the government of incorrigibles, and he finds them to be hard and painful.

Verse 26

26. I polluted them in their own gifts From these words certain expositors (Kuenen, Wellhausen, Smend, Toy, etc.) have drawn the conclusion that one of the statutes which were “not good,” and which Jehovah gave in the early days to Israel, was that of child sacrifice. Renan plainly says that Jehovah commanded this evil thing, “in order to avenge himself and punish the nation by prescribing detestable rites” ( History, iii, p. 260). This suggestion is a horrible one, and is opposed not only to God’s righteousness and to all that we know of the Mosaic legislation, but is in direct contradiction to the explicit declaration of Jehovah himself (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; see also arguments of A. von Hoonacker and Kamphausen). Bertholet, with his customary confidence that Smend and Duhm are far greater authorities than Jeremiah or Ezekiel as to the moral conditions of their times and as to Hebrew history in general, bluntly affirms that these were human sacrifices to Jehovah; adding “and the fact that Jeremiah is of a different opinion is of no importance to the decision!” But the fact is that Jehovah never asked this heathenish gift of human blood (Numbers 18:15). The so-called sacrifice of Isaac was to teach the great truth that, unlike some heathen deities, Jehovah wanted only the devotion of the heart and preferred their living rather than their dead children. It is, indeed, somewhat doubtful whether this verse refers at all to human sacrifice. Dr. Konig believes that it has sole reference to the sin of the people in failing to obey the Levitical distinctions between clean and unclean animals in sacrifice ( Religious History, 1885, p. 137, etc.). But granting that human sacrifice is referred to, which seems on the whole probable, there is no proof whatever that this was an original commandment of the God who said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and who was by nature “merciful and gracious.” Rather, in harmony with our interpretation of Ezekiel 20:25, we conceive the meaning to be that, having given up the service of Jehovah for the service of idols, the people found (in accordance with God’s eternal decree) that with such service came self-degradation and doubled hardship. The man who chose lustful idol worship instead of the pure worship of a holy God became brutal as the gods he worshiped and the idols required at his hands more awful sacrifices than Jehovah had ever asked. It was God’s ordainment that sin should be the punishment of sin, and that he who refused obedience to the good statutes of a good God should be controlled by the statutes of his own deities, which were “not good.” He who gave up faith in Jehovah and put Molech in his stead was soon called upon to offer his son as a burnt offering. This gift was never asked of him by Jehovah; rather, because of this gift did Jehovah count him “polluted,” literally, profane. (See Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10; compare also Orelli, in loco.)

Openeth Or, first openeth.

That I might make them desolate Or, amazed, or horrified (Ezekiel 32:10). Jehovah’s purpose in permitting the people to go into these depths of bestiality was that they might be shocked into an appreciation of their own folly and sin and thus be led to repentance.

Verse 27

27. A trespass Rather, unfaithfulness. The most awful blasphemy is seen, not in word, but, as here, in indifference and irreverence (Numbers 15:30).

Verse 28

28. They offered there their sacrifices They were enticed into the evil Canaanitish worship against which they were ever being warned (Hosea 8:11; Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:1; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6). It is now seen from the Baal sacrifice tablets (600-500 B.C.) recently discovered, that in many details the form of the ritual closely resembled that of the Hebrews. (See MacDonald’s Massera-Carthago, 1897.) This made it easier for unspiritual and sensually inclined Israelites to forget the essential differences between these sacrificial cults. (See also notes Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 8:14-15.)

The provocation of their offering Disobedient or heathenish offerings were an insult to the one true God.

Verse 29

29. Bamah Hebrews, “high place.” That there is intended here some contemptuous turn upon the word cannot be doubted. “What ( mah) is the high place ( bamah) whereunto ye go ( ba)?” Such puns upon names often given as serious explanations of their origin are not uncommon in the contemporaneous literature of Babylonia and Egypt. (See, e.g., p. 9, author’s Egypt According to the Monuments.) If we had a better knowledge of the Canaanitish dictionary we would probably see a sharp point here which is now hidden from our dull eyes. The name Bamah must, as Adam Clarke saw, be a veiled name of infamy. So the Church of Rome made fun of Calvin, who was bald, by calling him “Calvinus Calcus,” meaning either Calvin the bald or Calvin the schismatic. Ewald and Smend see in the word “go,” or “go into,” a reference to the literal as well as the spiritual prostitution indulged in by the Baal worshipers (as used also in Genesis 16:2; Genesis 19:31, etc.).

Verse 31


31. Shall I be inquired of by you These who have so polluted themselves (Ezekiel 20:30) have no claim upon Jehovah’s wisdom. He will not reveal to them what they wish to know of the future, but he will rehearse to them their national iniquities in the past and show that the same principles of divine government which sentenced the nation to chastisement then explains their present calamity.

Verse 32

32. We will be as the heathen Even while claiming Jehovah as their national God and expecting him to preserve them as a nation they had practically apostatized by also giving honor to other deities (Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 44:15-19), and now perhaps they felt that if the temple were snatched away nothing was left for them but to accept the worship of their conquerors. But Ezekiel declares that they cannot be as the heathen. Their sin and punishment had been peculiar and their deliverance should be equally and startlingly peculiar. On the wood and stone idols of the heathen see Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36; Isaiah 37:19.

Verse 33

33. With a mighty hand… will I rule over you Or, be king over you. The thought had come into their minds to forsake the worship of Jehovah; but this they could not do. Jehovah was king and would not let the idols usurp his place. He would show his sovereignty by regal punishment and an equally regal deliverance of his people.

Verse 35

35. The wilderness of the people The Israelites are now wandering among the nations as formerly their forefathers, because of their sins, wandered in the wilderness after leaving Egypt; but they shall yet heed the pleading of Jehovah, as did their fathers, and be brought to their own land (Isaiah 40:1-11; Hosea 2:14-15; Jeremiah 31:24).

Verse 37

37. I will cause you to pass under the rod Not an Israelite shall be forgotten. As the shepherd with his rod checks the flock at night at the entrance to the sheepfold, and numbers his sheep, and separates them from other flocks and from the goats (Ezekiel 34:17-20; Leviticus 27:32; Jeremiah 33:13; compare Matthew 25:0), so will Jehovah count his people and separate his own true followers unto himself. Adam Clarke takes from the rabbins the statement that in giving tithes the shepherd stood at the door of the fold with a rod, dipped in vermilion, with which he marked every tenth sheep as it sprang past him.

I will bring you into the bond of the covenant The Syriac version has it, “I will bring you into the correction of the covenant;” but probably the best reading is that preserved by the LXX., “I will bring you into the land by number” (Isaiah 40:26; 1 Chronicles 9:28; Ezra 8:34).

Verse 38

38. I will bring them forth These rebellious Hebrews, who think to settle down in Egypt or Babylon and adopt the religion of the country and make their home there, shall find it to be no pleasant home for them. They shall be forced to leave as the true Israelite will but they shall not find the same glad end to their journey. They shall remain outcasts from their native land, the scorn both of the heathen and of their own people.

Verse 39

39. And hereafter, etc. Rather, but hereafter you shall surely hearken unto me, and pollute my holy name no more with your gifts. Dr. Skinner prefers the Syriac, “but as for you, O house of Israel, if ye will not hearken unto me, go serve every man his idols. Yet hereafter ye shall no more profane my holy name,” etc. If they persist in mixing Jehovah with idol worship (Ezekiel 20:32), they shall be left to perish in the wilderness as their fathers did (Ezekiel 20:38); but the remnant of the nation, which shall include all the true house of Israel (Ezekiel 20:40), shall return to their own land and worship Jehovah, and him only, on the holy mountain. The one God cannot accept gifts from any who at the same time are hiding idols in their homes or hearts.

My holy name Ezekiel often used the word “holy.” Duhm thinks Bible holiness is ceremonial or aesthetic, meaning merely to be separated from something; but Alexander Duff has well shown that it means rather to be separated to something; namely, to “Jehovah’s holiness, his devoted love, his guiding, healing, and ever-forgiving grace.”

Verse 40

40. The first fruits of your oblations The best; the chief offerings they can give.

Verse 41

41. With your sweet savor Possibly, as a sweet savor (Keil, R.V.), but more probably, amidst your sweet savor. They will be accepted when they come offering the legitimate sacrifices, which they will bring then gladly.

I will be sanctified Or, shew myself holy in you (Leviticus 10:3). That is to say, the heathen, when they saw the Hebrews brought back from captivity, would recognize that the calamities which had fallen upon the chosen people were true punishments of sin and not due to Jehovah’s powerlessness to protect them (Ezekiel 36:20; Ezekiel 39:23).

Verse 44

44. Ye shall know that I am the Lord When the Hebrews are able to look back and see that every calamity was for their good they will loathe themselves for their sins (Ezekiel 20:43) and know that their God is indeed Jehovah, “long-suffering, and abundant in kindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18).

Verses 45-49


The last five verses of chap. 20 should be regarded as belonging to the opening of chap. 21. A conflagration is prophesied in the forest of the “south field” (that is, Palestine, Ezekiel 20:45-48). This is the Lord’s chastisement. The destruction shall be great and men shall know that it is the Lord’s sword which is made bare (Ezekiel 21:0:l-5). The prophet heaves bitter sighs and the hearts of all men melt before the sight of this drawn sword of the Lord (Ezekiel 21:6-17) which is held in the hand of the king of Babylon (Ezekiel 20:18-27).

Verse 46

46. The south Or, the south country. The land of Israel.

Verse 47

47. All faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein The heat of the flames that devour Israel is so great that all the surrounding nations are scorched by them. (See chaps. 25-32.)

Verse 48

48. I the Lord have kindled it These internal wars are controlled and directed and overruled by the King of the world.

Verse 49

49. Doth he not speak parables Declaim poems (Kautzsch). The interest of the people has been excited, but they profess not to be able to understand the meaning of this story of the forest fire without explanation. “Do these words have any meaning? Is the prophet not drawing largely upon his imagination?” There may be a touch of scorn in their question. Ezekiel proceeds immediately to explain his meaning by giving another vivid picture.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.