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Verses 1-44

History Repeating itself

Some four years before the fall of Jerusalem the elders of Tel-abib again came to consult Ezekiel, who declared that God had no answer to give them. The reason was that their enquiry was insincere, and this passage is consequently an illustration of the principle of Ezekiel 14:3. The exiles were beginning to avow idolatrous tendencies (Ezekiel 20:32), with which the elders were in secret sympathy. Ezekiel recounted how God had dealt with Israel’s idolatrous spirit in the past, and announced that He would deal in the same way with those who still cherished it.

Israel had been idolatrous in Egypt and yet had been brought forth (Ezekiel 20:5-12). Suecessive generations had been idolatrous in the wilderness, and of these the first had been shut out of the Promised Land, while the second had been brought into it under a warning of exile and dispersion should they continue unfaithful (Ezekiel 20:13-26). They had not heeded the warning, but had adopted the worship of the Canaanites, and God’s threat had now been fulfilled (Ezekiel 20:27-29). In all this course of mercy and judgment God had ’wrought for His name’s sake,’ that His character might be truly known to Israel and to the world.

The present exiles were no better than their fathers. They too were resolving to be like the heathen (Ezekiel 20:30-32). But God would frustrate their purpose. He would bring them also into a wilderness, and would deal with them there as He had dealt with those who came out of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:33-36). The persistent sinners among them would not enter the land of Israel, but the others would again be brought into a covenant with God, and restored to their own country, where they would worship God acceptably in humble penitence (Ezekiel 20:37-43). In all this God would act from the same great motive as before (Ezekiel 20:44).

1. The seventh year.. the fifth month] July-August, 590 b.c.

5. Lifted up mine hand] i.e. sware, and so in Ezekiel 20:6, Ezekiel 20:15, Ezekiel 20:23, Ezekiel 20:42.

8. Ezekiel speaks more definitely than any other OT. writer about the idolatry of the Israelites in Egypt: see Ezekiel 23:8.

9. For my name’s sake] God’s consistent motive was that His character should be known to the world. When He was patient with Israel it was because sudden judgment upon them would have been misunderstood by the heathen: see Ezekiel 20:22.

11. Referring to the Law given at Sinai.

12. My sabbaths, to be a sign] Though Ezekiel attached great importance to the sabbath, he regarded it not as one of the moral ordinances, obedience to which brings life (Ezekiel 20:11), but rather as a special sign of God’s covenant which Israel was bound to observe.

15. The first generation in the wilderness was shut out of Canaan (Numbers 14:24-30; Psalms 95:11).

23. The second generation was warned that unfaithfulness would be punished by captivity (Leviticus 26:33-34).

25. Statutes that were not good] The reference (as Ezekiel 20:26 shows) is to the practice of child sacrifice, which might seem to be justified by such a law as that in Exodus 22:29. The firstborn of men, however, were expressly excepted (Exodus 13:12-13; Numbers 3:46-47) and Jeremiah declared that human sacrifice had never been commanded by God (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5). God did not impose sinful laws, but some of His laws could be perverted by sinful men and made an excuse for their wrongdoing. Both the ambiguity of the Law and the blindness which led to the misunderstanding of it were the penalty for previous sin.

29. A play upon words, ’What (mah).. go (ba)?’ Bamah is the Hebrew for ’high place,’ and by this punning derivation of the word (not of course the true one) Ezekiel expresses his contempt for the thing itself.

32. God’s zeal for His name is stronger even than the purpose of the human will to rebel.

34. People] RV ’peoples’: so in Ezekiel 20:35, Ezekiel 20:41.

35. Wilderness of the people] the desert between Babylon and Palestine, corresponding to the desert between Egypt and Palestine which had been the scene of Israel’s former discipline.

37. The rod] the shepherd’s rod, used in counting the flock (Leviticus 27:32). The bond of the covenant] The old covenant made at Sinai will be renewed. Ezekiel does not contemplate such a difference between the past and the future as is expressed in Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32).

38. Obstinate transgressors will perish in the wilderness like the first generation who came out of Egypt.

39. Pollute ye.. no more] RV ’My holy name shall ye profane no more.’ Those who wished to choose idolatry might do so, but they would no longer have any connexion with God and His cause.

40. In the land, serve me] RV ’serve me in the land,’ a promise of restoration.

44. When God does not deal with men as they deserve, it is for the sake of His own glory. This really means that His mercy is the highest aspect of His character, and that which He is most desirous to display to the world.

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