Eze 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 (Eze 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 Eze 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
3. The chapter falls into two great parts:
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 (Ps 66:18; Pr 28:9; Joh 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
5, 6. The thrice lifting up of God's hand (the
sign of His oath, Re 10:5, 6; Ex 6:8, Margin; Nu 14:30; to which passages the form of words
here alludes) implies the solemn earnestness of God's purpose of grace
made myself known unto them—proving
Myself faithful and true by the actual fulfilment of My promises (Ex 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
8). See Da 8:9; 11:16,
41, "the glorious land"; see
Margin, "land of delight," or, ornament"; "the pleasant
land," or "land of desire," Zec 7:14,
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
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)
32:4), which makes it likely
they had worshipped such idols in Egypt. Also, in Le 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. Ex 6:6, 7 and
Jos 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
of his eyes—It was not fear of their
Egyptian masters, but their own lust of the eye that drew them
to idols (Eze 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 (Eze 20:14,
22; 2Sa 7:23; Isa 63:12; Ro 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
18:5; Ga 3:12). "By them" is
the expression indeed in Ro 10:5; but
there the design is to show that, if man could obey all God's
laws, he would be justified "by them" (Ga 3:21); but he cannot; he therefore needs to
have justification by "the Lord our righteousness" (Jer 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 De 30:15, 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 (Ge 2:2, 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
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 (Ex 31:13-17; Isa 58:13,
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 (Ps 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 (Nu 13:32, 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 (Ps 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
(Ps 78:38; Jer 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. (Jer 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" (Jer 2:2, 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 (Nu 25:1, 2;
23. It was to that generation the threat of
dispersion was proclaimed (De 28:64;
25. I gave them … statutes … not
good—Since they would not follow My statutes that were good,
"I gave them" their own (Eze 20:18)
and their fathers' "which were not good"; statutes spiritually
corrupting, and, finally, as the consequence, destroying them.
Righteous retribution (Ps 81:12; Ho 8:11; Ro 1:24;
2Th 2:11). Eze 20:39 proves this view to be correct (compare
63:17). Thus on the plains of
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" (Eze 20:24). This Eze 20:26 is explanatory of Eze 20:25. Their own sin I made their
caused to pass through the
"In their presenting (literally, 'the causing to pass over') all
their first-born," namely, to the Lord; referring to the command
13:12, Margin, where
the very same expression is used). The lustration of children by
passing through the fire was a later abomination (Eze 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
20:31, see on Eze 20:31. They made all their children pass
through 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" (De 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" (Eze 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 (Eze 20:28; De 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 Eze 20:4,
"Are ye not polluted … ? Do ye not commit?" &c.
Or, connecting this verse with Eze 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 Eze 20:26,
Fairbairn represents the generation here
referred to (namely, that of Ezekiel's day) as attaining the climax of
guilt (see on Eze 20:26), in making their
children pass through the fire, which that former generation did not.
The reason, however, for the omission of "the fire" in Eze 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 2Ki 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 (Eze 20:38),
and so to prepare them for the restored possession of their land (Ho 2:14,
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 (Eze 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 (Eze 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 (Eze 20:34), "I will bring you out." In contrast to
the literal "wilderness of Egypt" (Eze 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" (Eze 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" (Eze 20:38; Da 12:1); and then the remnant (Zec 13:8, 9;
14:2, 3) shall "all serve God
in the land" (Eze 20:40).
Thus the wilderness period does not denote locality, but their
state intervening between their rejection and future
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
2:9; Mic 6:2).
36. (Nu 14:21-29). Though God saved them out of Egypt, He
afterwards destroyed in the wilderness them that believed not (Jude 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
(Le 27:32; Jer 33:13). Whether you will or not, ye shall be
counted as Mine, and so shall be subjected to My chastening discipline
7:14), with a view to My
ultimate saving of the chosen remnant (compare Joh 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, Ne 9:8,
26, 32-38; 10:1-39; fully
hereafter (Isa 54:10-13; 52:1, 2).
38. (Zec 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"
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 (Zec 13:8, 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" (Am 5:21, 22, 25, 26; compare 1Ki 18:21;
2Ki 17:41; Mt 6:24; Re 3:15, 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 (Ps 81:12; Re 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—(Isa 2:2, 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 (Isa 2:2, "all nations;" Ro 11:26; Re
with—rather, "in all your holy
41. with—that is, in respect to your
sweet savor (literally, "savor of rest," see on Eze
16:19). Or, I will accept you (your worship) "as a sweet savor"
[Maurer], (Eph 5:2; Php
4:18). God first accepts the
person in Messiah, then the offering (Eze 20:40; Ge
bring … out from … people,
&c.—the same words as in Eze 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 …
All the nations will acknowledge My power displayed in restoring you,
and so shall be led to seek Me (Isa 66:18; Zec 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—(Eze 16:61, 63). The humiliation of Judah (Ne 9:1-38) is a type of the future penitence
of the whole nation (Ho 5:15; 6:1; Zec 12:10-14). God's goodness realized by the sinner
is the only thing that leads to true repentance (Ho 3:5; Lu
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—(Eze 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
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 (De 32:2), sometimes violently (Am 7:16; Mic
2:6, Margin), as
forest—the densely populated country
of Judea; trees representing people.
47. fire—every kind of judgment (Eze 19:12;
21:3, "my sword"; Jer 21:14).
green tree … dry—fit and unfit
materials for fuel alike; "the righteous and the wicked," as explained
in Eze 21:3, 4; Lu 23:31. Unsparing universality of the
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 Eze 21:1-32 permits him to express the same prophecy