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Deeper Commentary


Ezekiel 20:1 It happened in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that some of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Yahweh and they sat before me- At this time, Zedekiah was planning to revolt from the king of Babylon and under the influence of his mother (see Ez. 19) was planning to gain independent power through making alliances with other nations. The elders who come to Ezekiel may have been from within the community of Jewish captives already in Babylon, or from Jerusalem. The enquiry may have been because they wanted to know Ezekiel's take on how long they would have to remain in captivity, considering how the false prophets were speaking of an immediate return and victory against Babylon. It seems they came to Ezekiel wanting to hear this message, which is why God would not be inquired of by them (:3,31).

Ezekiel 20:2 The word of Yahweh came to me saying- Chapters 17-22 form an ABABAB structure. Chapters 17,19 and 21 speak of Babylon, and chapters 18,20 and 22 of Judah's sins which warranted the Babylonian involvement.

Ezekiel 20:3 Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and tell them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Is it to inquire of Me that you have come? As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I will not be inquired of by you- The allusion may be to Dt. 4:29, where the same word for "inquire" is used. Israel would find God if they "seek" or "inquire" for Him "with your whole heart". And their apparent interest in God's word was not wholehearted but like many today, they came to His word with their own already decided agenda as to what they wanted the answer to be. The word is also used of seeking other gods (Dt. 12:30; Jer. 8:2 and especially see on Ez. 14:3,7,10). Idolatry was clearly a problem amongst them; if they were 'seeking to' other gods then they could not expect a response from Yahweh, if they treated Him as just one of many options available. The elders who came to Ezekiel are in the same category as those in Judah who did not seek / inquire of Yahweh, although they did externally (Jer. 10:21). We can pray and come to God's word, when in reality we are not doing so from our whole heart and are doing this simply on the level of religious interest rather than wholehearted devotion. They would only 'find' God is they 'sought' with their whole heart (Jer. 29:13).

Ezekiel 20:4 Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers- Judgment is here paralleled with being caused to know the sins of their fathers which they were in denial of, and which they apparently were continuing in. For Ez. 18 had appealed for them to repent of the sins of their fathers. This is the purpose of judgment; to elicit in men an acknowledgment of their sins and thus coming to 'know Yahweh'.

Ezekiel 20:5 And tell them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: In the day when I chose Israel, and swore to the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, when I swore to them saying, I am Yahweh your God- "Swore" is 'to lift up the hand' as AV. It is fitting that the Lord Jesus Christ died with hands and arms lifted up above his head, rather than spread out in a crucifix form, seeing that uplifted hands is a symbol of God's promises being confirmed (Ez. 20:5,6,15; 36:7; 47:14), as well as intense prayer (Lam. 2:19; 1 Tim. 2:8; 2 Chron. 6:12,13; Ps. 28:2), which Christ was engaged in on the cross (Heb. 5:7). The covenant is described as being made in Egypt (Ez. 20:5) to heighten the similarity with the exiles now in Babylon, who were being offered a new covenant, and then the possibility of leaving Babylon / Egypt and entering the land again. Judah are also being reminded that the covenant was made with all Israel, the seed of Jacob, and not just Judah. For it was God's intention to regather them to the land together with Judah.

But although God had chosen Israel as His unique people, they had chosen other gods (Jud. 5:8), and at Ezekiel's time they were doing this in order to get political and military protection from those various gods and nations whom they were choosing. God's choosing of Israel is associated with God placing them in their own land (Is. 14:1; 41:8,9). At the restoration they would therefore be as it were chosen again (Is. 49:7). Yet by grace God restored them, even though they had not uniquely chosen Him again. And they still didn't respond to that grace.

Ezekiel 20:6 In that day I swore to them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands- Likewise our place in God's Kingdom will have been carefully prepared for us. Just as God "searched out" Canaan for His people. And yet the spies sent to search out Canaan were not in step with God's searching out of the land. Indeed instead of trusting that He had searched out Canaan, they insisted on sending their own spies to do so, and stumbled because of this.

Ezekiel 20:7 I said to them, Throw away every man the abominations of his eyes, and don’t defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God- This was apparently a condition of God saving them from Egypt (:8). Later when in the wilderness the command was required again because they had brought the idols of Egypt with them through the Red Sea, as Am. 5:26 states clearly. We too can smuggle the idols of the world through the waters of baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2). The parallel was with the exiles in Babylon, who were to quit idolatry before they could enter the land in restoration. Yet it seems God restored them anyway, so eager was He to restore them. The idols were abominations of their eyes in the sense of Ez. 14- they had placed their idols before their eyes and faces, they were a mental block to them, because the essence of idolatry is within the worldview and mind of people.

Ezekiel 20:8 But they rebelled against Me, and would not listen to Me; they didn’t throw away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt- And yet all the same God led them out of Egypt and He again led them from Babylon at the restoration despite the spiritual preconditions not being met. Ezekiel is told from the start that the exiles were 'rebellious', just as Israel from the start had been rebellious by not casting away their idols. The idols of Egypt may refer to the literal idols, and the abominations of their eyes to their mental blockage and obsession with these things; see on :7.

Then I said I would pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt- The cessation, accomplishment or resting of God's wrath is mentioned several times in Ezekiel, and nowhere else in this way (Ez. 5:13; 6:12; 7:8; 13:15; 16:42; 20:8; 21:17; 22:20; 24:13). The idea is not that God was so angry that He had to express that anger and only calmed down once He had as it were lashed out. He does have real wrath; the huge love He has cannot exist in a dimensionless vacuum, it of itself implies He also has wrath. Ez. 5:13 continues: "I will cause My wrath toward them to rest, and I shall be comforted", and the Hebrew there for "comforted" is literally 'to sigh', to be sorry, even to repent / change. Having expressed His legitimate anger, God knew that He would then be sorry and would then embark upon a process of restoration- by grace. For the objects of His wrath didn't deserve any restoration. "To rest" is the word translated "to place" in Ez. 37:14: "I shall place you in your own land" at the restoration from captivity. His wrath had to be expressed, and yet it was part of His wider purpose toward restoring His people and Kingdom. We would be quite wrong, therefore, to read these words as meaning that God was furiously angry and needed to lash out and get it all expressed so that He could as it were calm down again. His judgments are always ultimately constructive, and therefore "the wrath of God is the love of God". His wrath is therefore described in Ez. 5:15 as the rebuke of His fury / wrath; it was intended to rebuke, to achieve instruction, that they should 'know Yahweh'. The tragedy was that the captives for the most part refused to perceive it this way and respond.

Ezekiel 20:9 But I worked for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among which they were, in whose sight I made Myself known to them in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt- Time and again God's love made Him re-think and alter His plans. Ez. 20:9,10 explains that God intended to destroy Israel in Egypt because of their idolatry, and so He decided to bring them out into the wilderness and destroy them there so as not to do it in Egypt and give the Egyptians a reason to mock Him. And yet according to Jeremiah and Ez. 16:5-10, it was in the wilderness that God fell in love with Israel and gave them His covenant. He is attracted to us so easily; hence His anger when we abuse this and disappoint Him.

God's salvation of Israel from Egypt and Babylon was very public, in the sight of the nations. Our baptism and deliverance from this world is likewise intended to be a public declaration, intended to encourage others to come with us.

Ezekiel 20:10 So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness- This 'causing' to go forth was by grace, because they had not met the required spiritual preconditions- in that they had not in fact cast away their idols (see on Ez. 20:6-8). And it was to be the same in the exodus from Babylon. This Divine 'causing to go forth' was by the Spirit, for those who left captivity did so because their minds were stirred up by the Spirit to do so, even though they were not spiritually qualified for the restoration (Ezra 1:5). They had been commanded to "go forth" from Babylon (Is. 52:11 s.w.) but it was God who caused them to do this by the grace of His Spirit's operation on their hearts. The same is true of our exodus from this world through the water of baptism. It is all of grace and confirmation of the smallest desire to do so; and so this causing to go forth was by God's "mighty hand" (Ez. 20:34 s.w.).

Ezekiel 20:11 I gave them My statutes and showed them My ordinances, which if a man does, he shall live in them- The context here has been of God entering a covenant with Israel by grace. They had not quit the idols of Egypt, which was a condition of the covenant. So the gift of God's statutes and the revealing to them of His ordinances was far from a burden placed upon them, but rather a parade example of Divine grace in entering further into a relationship with a people who were not prepared or worthy of it.

Ezekiel 20:12 Moreover also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies them- The Sabbath was specifically "a sign between them (Israel) and Me (God), that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (Ez. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews). “... the Lord has given you [not all mankind] the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29); “... You [God] made known to them [Israel] Your holy Sabbath” (Neh. 9:14).

As noted on :11, this law was not a burden but a gift of grace, to remind them that they had been sanctified by grace, not on the basis of their works, but by God's grace. For He had entered a covenant with them despite their refusal to meet the vital precondition of having quit the idols of Egypt. This resting from their own works was intended to teach them that they were sanctified, counted righteous and able to enter covenant with God, by grace and quite apart from their works.

Ezekiel 20:13 But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness- Ezekiel's ministry began with the revelation that the house of Israel of Ezekiel's time were still a rebellious house.


They didn’t walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, which if a man keep, he shall live in them; and My Sabbaths they greatly profaned- The refusal to accept justification by grace and not by works was a great profanation. Keeping God's commandments is intended to elicit a way of life. They are designed and structured to be lived in. There was no promise here of eternal life in return for obedience, but rather the point is that the commandments were given in order to provoke an upward spiral of spirituality, life lived within them. When Divine commandments are singled out and analyzed alone, with tokenistic obedience to them demanded, then they will not achieve that which they are designed for. The sum of Divine commandments were intended together to produce a life lived within them. This is why partial obedience or obedience only in the letter was not going to be helpful.

Then I said I would pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to consume them- This surely refers to the time of the golden calf incident when God says He would destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation to replace them (Ex. 32:10).

Ezekiel 20:14 But I worked for My name’s sake that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out- This gives an insight into God's internal struggles. His grace as it were worked against His judgment. His mercy rejoiced against His judgment. But that struggle was motivated by the appeal of Moses for Him not to consume Israel. And that same struggle was ongoing over the question of whether to totally destroy Judah in captivity. Perhaps there is the implication that He would have done were it not for the intercession of a Moses like figure- perhaps Ezekiel and / or Jeremiah. God "worked" so that His Name would not be further profaned amongst the nations. It was His people who profaned that Name. But He worked through His Spirit to preserve them from further profaning His Name.

Ezekiel 20:15 Moreover also I swore 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 the glory of all lands- The swearing of a covenant now becomes swearing to destroy them by not bringing them into the land which potentially had been given to them. And so the exiles in Babylon were in a similar situation. Whilst their idolatry continued, they could not hope to be 'brought into the land', which is what the elders were presumably asking for (:2,3).

Ezekiel 20:16 Because they rejected My ordinances, and didn’t walk in My statutes, and profaned My Sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols- Typical of the prophets, the essential reason for disobedience is perceived as being that their heart, their mind, was elsewhere rather than with God. The phrase 'the heart going after...' is used by the contemporary Jeremiah of the heart going after its own imaginations and also of the heart going after idols; their heart walked after their own imaginations [literally, their own images] and also after Baalim (Jer. 3:17; 9:14; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12). The essential reason for their literal idolatry was in their lack of spiritual mindedness, their following of the mental images they allowed themselves to internally worship. And this is why the essence of idolatry is so relevant to us today, we who live as never before in an age of visual images and mental pictures and all consuming perceptions. Judah's heart went after their own covetousness (Ez. 33:31), and that was why effectively their heart went after idols which promised them material blessings and fertility, and political and military support from those nations identified with those idols.

Ezekiel 20:17 Nevertheless My eye spared them and I didn’t destroy them, neither did I make a full end of them in the wilderness- see on Ez. 7:14; 9:1; Ex. 34:9. There are passages which speak of how God's eye would not spare at Ezekiel's time, and also of how His eye would spare. This is not the meandering of an unstable God; rather is this God in passion, His pity and mercy struggling against the pole of judgment which is also within His same personality. He had gone through the same feelings with Israel in the desert.

The idea of two Angels being present with Israel is found here in Ez. 20:17,22; God’s “eye”, which is definitely Angelic language, spared them from being destroyed- by the destroyer Angel. And therefore God “withdrew mine hand”, also Angelic language, in order not to destroy them. The "eye" Angel limited the action of the "hand of destruction" Angel, just as on Passover night. Note too how it is the Angelic “eye of the Lord” which is paralleled with God’s mercy in Ps. 33:18,22.

Ezekiel 20:18 I said to their children in the wilderness, Don’t walk in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols- This call to radically break from their fathers' example was exactly that being made to the younger exiles who first heard Ezekiel's words. This is why this description of God's appeal to the young people in the wilderness is not a verbatim quote from anywhere in the Pentateuch; it is expressed in terms which are appropriate to Ezekiel's audience. We note that the historical record gives little clue that idolatry was such a major problem with the Hebrews; God's record is so gracious. For in Ez. 16 He says that He fell in love with these people- despite all their idolatry.

Ezekiel 20:19 I am Yahweh your God. Walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them- The conflict is between walking in the statutes of their human fathers (:18) and those of their Heavenly Father. And there was a radical difference. It was so difficult for people in such strongly family-based societies to reject their human fathers for another. But this was the call of God to that generation in the wilderness; and now the royal family and priesthood were in exile in Babylon, it was equally necessary that their children likewise broke from their fathers' ways.

Ezekiel 20:20 And make My Sabbaths holy; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am Yahweh your God- It was not that the Sabbath wasn't being kept. The issue was that the significance of it was being lost. The sabbath was to remind them that they had been sanctified by grace, not on the basis of their works, but by God's grace. For He had entered a covenant with them despite their refusal to meet the vital precondition of having quit the idols of Egypt. This resting from their own works was intended to teach them that they were sanctified, counted righteous and able to enter covenant with God, by grace and quite apart from their works. But the Jews in exile as well as those in Judah were madly scheming by their own works and device as to how to overcome the Babylonian threat and achieve a kingdom on their own terms rather than God's.

Ezekiel 20:21 But the children rebelled against Me; they didn’t walk in My statutes, neither kept My ordinances to do them, which if a man do, he shall live in them: they profaned My Sabbaths- The younger generation on the wilderness journey were assured that they would enter the land / Kingdom, although the older generation would die in the wilderness. Despite that wonderful assurance, and seeing the carcasses of their parents falling in the desert... they still refused to be obedient. Just as the younger generation of Ezekiel's audience were a rebellious house, despite all and every evidence and reason to live differently to their fathers. 

Then I said that I would pour out My wrath upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness- See on :8.

Ezekiel 20:22 Nevertheless I withdrew My hand- The idea could be that as Abraham withdrew his hand from sacrificing Isaac, so God relented. But "swore" in Ez. 20 is literally 'to lift up the hand', so to withdraw the hand could mean that God rescinded the oath which was the basis of the covenant relationship with Israel- because they themselves had broken the covenant.


And worked for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them forth- God had said He would destroy Israel and make of Moses a new nation. But He relented of that, and here in Ez. 20:22 we see the picture of His internal struggle, working for His Name's sake, for the sake of the principles incorporated within His Name. So it is an intrinsic part of His Name and essential personality that He changes His judgments from pity. When the Psalmist of Ps. 109:21 asks for God's grace, He asks God to "do" or "work" for the sake of His Name, and not bring about a threatened judgment. Jeremiah likewise understood this and asks God to still be gracious to Israel despite their lack of repentance- through working for His Name's sake (Jer. 14:7). To save by grace was therefore working or doing according to His Name's sake, rather than according to human merit (Ez. 36:22). Thus by working for His Name's sake, the repentant exiles would come to 'know Yahweh' (Ez. 20:44), they would come to see who He essentially is. And He is revealed as the very opposite of a stone faced, unchanging, insensitive God, which was then the standard conception of a deity.

We enquire why it was that God refused to destroy Israel for the sake of His Name, lest that Name be profaned and misunderstood. His Name included both gracious salvation and also judgment for sin. But there was a struggle within His very self, as a result of which the pole of saving grace came out as dominant. to simply destroy Israel would therefore have resulted in a misrepresentation of Him, as being merely a God of judgment. And for that reason, rather than Israel's repentance, He chose to not destroy them. The decision was for the sake of His Name, and we could say it was for the sake of His love and grace which are finally the dominant pole of that Name. Their salvation is therefore repeatedly presented as for the sake of His Name rather than anything on their side.

Ezekiel 20:23 Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries- The reference may be to this threat at the end of the wilderness journey (Dt. 28:64). But more likely it alludes to an unrecorded curse made during the journey. However, if indeed it does refer to Dt. 28:64, this was stated just prior to their entry into Canaan, on the last day of Moses' life. And yet despite this curse of being scattered, they then soon afterwards entered the land of promise. This grace would then have special relevance to Ezekiel's exiles, who were located spiritually although not geographically "in the wilderness", and whom God intended to restore to the land by grace even though they were unworthy of it.

Ezekiel 20:24 Because they had not executed My ordinances but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols- This is a sad commentary upon the real state of the Israelites in the wilderness. Truly they were saved and brought into the land by grace. And the restoration from Babylon was to feature a similar grace. The wilderness generation who entered Canaan were not as faithful as some think; if indeed the reference of :23 is to Dt. 28:64, then they entered Canaan still worshipping the Egyptian idols which their parents had worshipped in Egypt. They took them across the Jordan as their fathers took them across the Red Sea. And the law of Moses and Sabbath regulations were not observed by them in the wilderness. And we know that circumcision was also not practiced by them- thus they despised the covenant (Josh. 5:5).

Ezekiel 20:25 Moreover also I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances in which they should not live- In the Hebrew Bible, God is often said to do, what He only permits to be done. So it is here; He allowed them to be given bad laws from their religious leaders, which led them further into sin. God confirms people in the path they choose; this is the work of the holy Spirit positively, and negatively, an "evil spirit from the Lord" (1 Sam. 16:14) confirms sinners in the path they choose. It is God who is the dynamic in both these scenarios; there is no place for a superhuman, cosmic being called Satan.

Ezekiel 20:26 And I polluted them in their own gifts, because they caused their children to pass through the fire, that I might make them desolate; to the end that they might know that I am Yahweh- We marvel at how God does not turn away from sin but instead seeks to work through it, so that even through the horror of child sacrifice, people were intended to come to know Yahweh through their repentance. They desolated themselves by offering their children to their idols, the fire and smoke of the burning bodies supposedly transporting those children to the gods in heaven. But God worked through that to desolate them. He only did to them what they had done to themselves. "Their children" is as AV "all that openeth the womb", the firstborn, which were intended to be Yahweh's in memorial of how He had saved the firstborn at the Passover. They were willfully ignorant of their past salvation and the implications that should have had upon them for all time. We too can forget our spiritual past, and the grace shown to us then.

Ezekiel 20:27 Therefore son of man speak to the house of Israel and tell them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: In this, moreover, have your fathers blasphemed Me, in that they have committed a trespass against Me- Ezekiel now moves on as it were to a new subsection in this description of Israel's historical sins. They had sinned in the wilderness and now the history moves on to how they continued sinning once they entered Canaan. This surely gives us reason to reevaluate the idea that the generation who entered Canaan were the most faithful of all Israel's generations- an idea taught by Rabbis to this day. We note however the present tenses- the fathers "have committed a trespass...", as if to make the audience of Ezekiel realize that the essence of those historical sins was continuing in their literal fathers and in their own generation.

Ezekiel 20:28 For when I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them, then they saw every high hill and every thick tree, and they offered there their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering; there also they made their pleasant aroma, and they poured out there their drink offerings- Such apostasy apparently happened as soon as they entered Canaan. The great victories given to the people under Joshua were therefore given to a people who also worshipped idols.

Ezekiel 20:29 Then I said to them, What does the high place where you go mean? So its name is called Bamah to this day- The implication is that they should have renamed such places. But "to this day" they called their high places "Bamah" just as the Canaanites had. "Bamah" appears to be a Canaanite term for the high places; it is the term found for them on the Moabite stone. They ought to have immediately destroyed the Canaanite high places (Dt. 12:1-5) but instead they eagerly used them for worship, and still did. All the recorded reforms of the faithful kings of Judah had not therefore been that far reaching.

Ezekiel 20:30 Therefore tell the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Do you pollute yourselves in the way of your fathers? and do you play the prostitute after their abominations?- The emphasis is upon the word "you". Now the recounting of history ends, and the rhetorical question is asked- 'Are you really any better than your fathers?'. Ez. 16 and Ez. 23 clearly state that Judah were right then prostituting themselves to other gods- even the exiles with Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 20:31 When you offer your gifts, when you make your sons to pass through the fire, do you pollute yourselves with all your idols to this day?- "To this day" means that the exiles in captivity were offering their children to Moloch. And yet they came asking for Yahweh's word to be revealed to them. No wonder God refused to sympathetically respond.

Shall I be inquired of by you, house of Israel? As I live says the Lord Yahweh, I will not be inquired of by you- This is not so much God refusing to respond, but a function of their lack of 'inquiry'. The elders who came to Ezekiel are in the same category as those in Judah who did not seek / inquire of Yahweh, although they did externally (Jer. 10:21). We can pray and come to God's word, when in reality we are not doing so from our whole heart and are doing this simply on the level of religious interest rather than wholehearted devotion. They would only 'find' God is they 'sought' with their whole heart (Jer. 29:13). See on :3.

Ezekiel 20:32 And that which comes into your mind shall not be at all, in that you say, We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone- Their attitude was that they would leave Yahweh worship and be as the nations who worshipped idols. This was the thought which God perceived in them, even though they likely had not articulated this in so many words. For after all, they had come before Yahweh to hear His word (:31). But God wouldn't let His beloved leave Him so easily. Despite this, He wanted to have them as His own, still.

The theme of the new covenant is that God will mentally, psychologically almost force His love through with Israel. In their heart they didn't want His covenant, but He wants to make it work. Here He addresses their unspoken thought deep in their heart, that they wanted to just assimilate into the Gentile world and forget Yahweh. But God's love is such that despite judging them, He will change even that internal desire: "That which comes into your mind shall not be at all, in that you say, We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone". He will stop their idolatry. 


Ezekiel 20:33 As I live says the Lord Yahweh, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out will I be king over you- As explained on :32, the inner thought of the exiles was that they would just quit Yahweh worship and worship idols like the other nations. But God's mighty hand would rescue them even from that, and through His judgments He would still become their exclusive king- even if only of a remnant. We see here the same tenacity God shows with us, searching for the lost until He finds us. But to again be king over Israel, with them subservient to Him as His kingdom, under His Kingly dominion, He would have to first pour out His wrath. But there was a purpose in that wrath- to establish again His Kingdom over them.

To be king over Israel meant that they would be His people. As noted often in commentary on Hosea, to be "king" was a metaphor also for being a husband. God was intent on pushing through His plan to be Israel's husband, for the covenant to be fulfilled so that they would indeed be "His", His people, His woman, over whom He would be "king". He was going to force this through, despite "wrath" associated with judging their whoredom, and with huge expenditure of mental and personal effort to achieve this. The side of His saving grace had to struggle against and overcome the pole of His wrath and judgment.

Ezekiel 20:34 I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out- The mighty hand and stretched out arm of God was available to bring Judah out of Babylon- but most of them preferred to stay there. God was not sanctified before the heathen. The wonderful possibility of a new covenant went unrealized- to be deferred until the true Israel of God are gathered home in our last days. The scenario here envisaged didn't fully come about, because Israel were unwilling to participate. The idea was that He would with anger bring them out of Babylon, and then judge them (:35), and a minority would then form the remnant who would then be the kernel of His Kingdom reestablished in Israel under a Messianic ruler.

This language of bringing His people out and into the wilderness (:35) recalls the exodus from Egypt. There again, He did it by His initiative, by His love and grace, because He wanted them. But they took the idols of Egypt with them, and told Moses to leave them alone to serve the Egyptians. In this sense, as Jer. 31 says, they found grace in the wilderness. That most of Israel and Judah refused this massive effort from Yahweh to bring them out of captivity... is an essay in how stubborn man can be in refusing the most amazing power of grace. But that same huge will to save by grace is now extended to all who accept the new covenant and are willing to come out of Egypt. We note that this prophecy is in the seventh year after the first exiles had been taken; Jerusalem didn't fall until the twelfth year after the first exile, Ez. 33:21. So the idea was that the relatively few exiles who had been taken, along with Ezekiel, could have returned. All God's efforts were set up for this. But they preferred to mope by the Chebar river, refusing to take guilt and repent, instead blaming their situation on their fathers and justifying their "poor me" story (Ez. 18), just as so many do today. Worse still, it seems these exiles had taken the idols with them (:39), just as Israel did when leaving Egypt. The potential plan was to purge out the "rebels" from the group of exiles, purify the rest in the wilderness, and then they would triumphantly enter the land of Canaan. All this potential was wasted at the time. But Ez. 36 will show that God would force through that plan of salvation by grace, in the end; and if not with Israel, then with us who have accepted the new covenant. So we have here yet another carefully planned process of redemption that was refused, by short termism, sinking in the mire of mediocrity, refusal to seriously repent. The very things that stymy the same careful plans God has made for the redemption of... probably billions who have likewise refused it for the same reasons.

Ezekiel 20:35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face- . Ez. 20:30-33 contains God’s response to the elders in captivity wanting Ezekiel to pray for them. They were committing whoredom, idolatry etc. Ez. 36:20 likewise comments how they “profaned My holy name” during the Babylonian captivity. They were not enabling God’s plan of restoration to be realized. Ez. 20:35-40 therefore goes on to outline what was perhaps another possibility- that God would take the entire captive people into the wilderness at the end of the 70 years captivity, and purge out the rebels, and then bring them into the land, where they would have a temple and worship God (Ez. 20:40)- presumably in the temple outlined in Ez. 40-48. But it seems this alternative didn’t work out either. The "face to face" meeting recalls that when the old covenant was made in Dt. 5:4. The judgment was to not merely punish them, but to enter into another covenant with them. "The wilderness of the peoples" was not the same as the lands of their captivity (:34). Those lands were the equivalent of Egypt (:36), and the "wilderness" was a period in which they would be judged and yet again enter covenant with God.

Ezekiel 20:36 Like as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, says the Lord Yahweh- This judgment however was to result in a new covenant and a remnant entering the land (:34,35). The Hebrew for 'entering into judgment' is literally "to plead" (as AV). The experience of judgment was not mere punishment, but a pleading to enter totally into covenant relationship. This pleading or judgment of the exiles is likewise associated with their salvation and restoration in Is. 43:26; 51:5. God would plead with or judge the exiles "because you say, I have not sinned" (Jer. 2:35). This was the purpose of the judgment envisaged- to elicit in the exiles repentance. Ezekiel was trying to achieve that by his ministry, he was to judge them so that they recognized their abominations (Ez. 20:4; 22:2), but they were a rebellious house.  And so this idea of bringing them out of Babylon into some situation of judgment was envisaged (Ez. 20:34-38), so that they might repent. Zedekiah personally was to be judged or pleaded with in Babylon concerning his sin (Ez. 17:20), i.e. to make him recognize it and repent of it.

Ezekiel 20:37 I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant- This alludes to the custom of tithing the sheep. The shepherd stood at the door of the fold, where only one sheep could come out at a time. He had in his hand a rod dipped in red die [cp. the blood of Christ], with which he branded every tenth sheep as the Lord's tithe portion. This apparently was known as 'causing to pass under the rod'. The implication would be therefore that only a tenth would survive, and come into the new covenant relationship with God. The size and proportion of the projected remnant differs between prophecies; so many different potential scenarios were possible, all depending upon the freewill repentance of His people. The intention was that having been brought out of Babylonian captivity and judged, those who were repentant would accept the new covenant. But this didn't happen. Something similar will happen in the last days, when the essence of these prophecies will again come true.

Ezekiel 20:38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who disobey against Me; I will bring them forth out of the land where they live, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am Yahweh- The idea as explained on :34-36 was that the exiles would be brought out of exile forcibly, "the land where they live" (Babylon) into a "wilderness" situation, where they would be judged. The rebellious house would be purged; and thus Is. 52:11 would be fulfilled, which speaks of the purged ["clean"] exiles returning to the temple in Zion. Yet this scenario didn't quite work out, because the people were so unwilling to participate. Ezekiel told the captives during the early stages of their captivity that the false prophets and "rebels" amongst them would receive the condemnation and judgment of not returning to the land (Ez. 13:9; 20:38). And yet when the command came to return to the land, most of the people chose to remain in Babylon- and therefore they chose their own condemnation. They were a "rebellious house" (Ez. 2:3). For they were aware from Ezekiel's words that not returning to the land was God's condemnation. Those who will not be in the Kingdom will be those who chose not to be there- all who truly love the Lord's appearing will be accepted.

Ez. 20:38 says that the rebels in the wilderness “shall not enter into the land”, with reference to how when Moses called the people “rebels” and beat the rock, he was disallowed entry into the land. Because he called them rebels, i.e. unworthy of entry to the Kingdom, he also was treated as a rebel. If we condemn others, we likewise will be condemned. On another level, he was simply barred for disobedience; and on yet another, his prayer to the effect that he didn’t want to be in the land if his people weren’t going to be there was being answered; and on yet another and higher level, his offer to be blotted out of the book of inheritance for Israel’s sake was also being heard. Thus God works within the same incident in so many ways!

Ezekiel 20:39 As for you, house of Israel, thus says the Lord Yahweh: Go, serve each one his idols, and hereafter also, if you will not listen to Me; but My holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and with your idols- As noted on :25, God is often said to do, what He only permits to be done. So it is here; He allowed them to be given bad laws from their religious leaders, which led them further into sin. God confirms people in the path they choose; this is the work of the holy Spirit positively, and negatively, an "evil spirit from the Lord" (1 Sam. 16:14) confirms sinners in the path they choose. It is God who is the dynamic in both these scenarios; there is no place for a superhuman, cosmic being called Satan. God wanted to bring an end to the miserable situation whereby His people professed to worship Him but also worshipped idols. His plan therefore was to purge out the rebels, and only those who were repentantly dedicated wholly to Him would return to the land and restore the Kingdom. But the truth was that there were none of them.

Ezekiel 20:40 For in My holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, says the Lord Yahweh, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them, serve Me in the land. There will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your offerings, with all your holy things- God's vision for the restoration was that the ten tribes would also come out of captivity and join with Judah in repentant, acceptable worship of Him in the one and only high place He recognized, mount Zion. But they were unwilling to leave, and so this prophecy or project will have its final fulfillment in the last days. But such prophecies will be reapplied and only fulfilled in their essence, not in their detail. Hence we are not to imagine  them offering literal offerings. For the one acceptable offering for all time was to be that of the Lord Jesus, whom they will then accept.

Ezekiel 20:41 As a pleasant aroma will I accept you when I bring you out from the peoples- "Pleasant aroma" is the phrase often used for the "pleasant aroma" of sacrifices to Yahweh- three times in Exodus, seventeen in Leviticus, seventeen in Numbers. As a priest, Ezekiel would have been aware of this. But instead, they offered this to the idols (Ez. 6:13). The Divine hope (see on Ez. 6:9), the desperate hope of the unrequited lover for the beloved, was that a repentant remnant would realize this and then offer "pleasant aroma" again to Him alone. But they didn't. The idea of God ‘accepting’ Israel is found later in Ez. 43:27; when the temple was built and the sacrifices offered, “I will accept you”- if they passed through the program here envisaged, of coming out of Babylon and being purged by a meeting for judgment in "the wilderness". But this scenario didn't happen, and so neither was the temple vision fulfilled as planned. If Judah had later resumed building the temple according to Ezekiel’s plan in penitence, then they could have even then been accepted: “I will take pleasure” in it, God offered (Hag. 1:8).  

And gather you out of the countries in which you have been scattered- Consider the use of the word pus, 'scatter'. It was God's intention that mankind should scatter abroad in the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28); but it required the judgment of the tower of Babel to actually make them 'scatter' (Gen. 11:4). Thus even in judgment, God worked out His positive ultimate intentions with humanity. And this word pus is the same word used with reference to Judah's 'scattering' from the land into Babylonian captivity (Ez. 11:17; 20:34,41; 28:25). The intention, surely, was to show the captives that they had been scattered as the people had at the judgment of Babel / Babylon, but even in this, God was working out His purpose with His people and giving them the opportunity to fulfill His original intentions for them.

And I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations- As explained on :34-36, God's intention was to forcibly bring His people out from captivity, the ten tribes as well as Judah, into a "wilderness" situation, where there would be some kind of public judgment of them. The wicked would be purged (:38) and the remnant accepted into a new covenant. This would be done "in the sight of the nations", in the hope that Gentiles would also enter that covenant. But this scenario didn't happen in the form envisaged.

Ezekiel 20:42 You shall know that I am Yahweh when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I swore to give to your fathers- Their knowledge of Yahweh would be in terms of relationship, walking in covenant with Him, in awe at His grace towards them and their experience of salvation by grace. This was and is to know Yahweh; academic knowledge of theological propositions is not in view. The new covenant is based upon the promises to Abraham, hence the frequent reference to their receiving the land sworn to the fathers.

Ezekiel 20:43 There you shall remember your ways and all your doings, in which you have polluted yourselves; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that you have committed- It is the experience of grace and salvation by grace which elicits an awareness of our sins. The idea originally had been that the remnant would repent in exile and then be restored. But they didn't. And so the Divine hope was that by restoring them in impenitence, they would remember their sins and loathe what they had done. It's the same reason why Jesus broke His bread with as yet impenitent sinners- because He as a doctor was trying to bring sinners to repentance. We note that it was the exiles with Ezekiel who were to loathe themselves for their pollutions, or that was the intention. It was they there in exile who were still offering their children to their idols, "to this day" (:31). Their self loathing uses the word translated "grieve" regarding God's grieving for Israel's idolatry in the wilderness (Ps. 95:10). They would come to see their sins as God saw and felt them; that is part of repentance. But initially it had been God's plan that they would grieve or loathe their sins whilst in captivity in Babylon (s.w. Ez. 6:9). But now the plan was different; seeing they had not done so, they would be forcibly brought out from Babylon into the undefined "wilderness" situation, where God would purge the rebels from the rebellious house, and then the remnant would be allowed to return to the land; and only then would they loathe themselves for their sins. But then in Ez. 36:21 the grace was extended even further- it was after the restoration of the kingdom conditions in the land that they would be thus provoked to loathe their former sins. God's grace is such that He amends His plans if by any means He might save some. He has that same passion for human salvation today.


Ezekiel 20:44 You shall know that I am Yahweh when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, you house of Israel, says the Lord Yahweh- See on :22. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) but we see here how God's earnest passion to save people leads Him to devise means whereby He can all the same save from death (see on 2 Sam. 14:14). It is appreciating this breathtaking grace which is to "know Yahweh", rather than any cold assent to theological propositions, no matter how true they are.

Ezekiel 20:45 The word of Yahweh came to me saying- This final addendum may be an explanation of the otherwise mysterious "wilderness" situation into which God envisaged bringing the people when He had released them from Babylon and before He brought the remnant back into the land of Israel.

Ezekiel 20:46 Son of man, set your face toward the south and direct your word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the field in the south- "The south" could refer to the area south of the Chebar river where Ezekiel was located with the captives. This short prophecy may explain area the otherwise mysterious "wilderness" situation into which God envisaged bringing the people when He had released them from Babylon and before He brought the remnant back into the land of Israel.

Ezekiel 20:47 And tell the forest of the south, Hear the word of Yahweh: Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby- This may be the explanation as to how Israel would be released from captivity. "The north", Babylon itself, to the area south of Babylon which is in view (see on :45,46), would be burnt by the fire of God's wrath. It was that wrath which was to lead to Israel being able to leave Babylon (:33,34).

Ezekiel 20:48 All flesh shall see that I, Yahweh, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched- The wilderness in which Israel was to meet their God in judgment was to be observed by all the nations (:41). Hence the reference here to "all flesh" observing. This scenario didn't work out at the time because Israel were so utterly rebellious; had the rebels were purged from the rebellious house, there would have been no remnant. For Ezekiel's ministry began with the comment that all Israel were in totality a rebellious house. But something similar in essence shall happen in the last days.

Ezekiel 20:49 Then I said, Ah Lord Yahweh! they say of me, Isn’t he a speaker of parables?- It was tragic for the prophets that the people were so indifferent. They portrayed the tragic, passionate love of God to His people, they sung of it, wrote of it, made poetry about it [for much of the prophetic writing is poetry]. And yet they passed this off as mere “allegory” in a mocking way (Ez. 20:49), Ezekiel was “to them like one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice… for they hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ez. 33:32). They were like buskers singing songs in the subway, which we may listen to with half an ear, even admire them for a few moments, and then walk on in our busy lives. But the prophets were speaking forth the words of passionate love of God Almighty for His people… truly as Paul Simon put it, with an uncanny appropriacy to our train of thought, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”. They thought that “the Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill” (Zeph. 1:12); “the Lord does not see us” (Ez. 8:12; 9:9); “my way is hidden from the Lord” (Is. 40:27; 29:15). This of course is the attitude with which we daily live. The question is, will we perceive it as the prophets did?