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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 20

Verse 12


‘I gave them My sabbaths.’

Ezekiel 20:12

‘I gave them My sabbaths,’ says God. It is a gift worthy of such a transcendent Giver.

I. For the Sabbath brings me relief and quietude.—Separate from the world for one day out of seven, my soul may duly take and strongly keep the print of heaven.

II. And the Sabbath brings us holy exercises and enjoyments.—It is a tranquil time, but not an indolent time. Now my heart is lifted up in praise. Now it is poured forth in prayer. Now it is awed and admonished and inspired by Divine truth. Now it is engaged in that service of the Lord which is liberty and joy.

III. And the Sabbath brings us the fellowship of the holy.—I cannot work and war alone. I must have comrades by my side, to ‘lift me if I totter down, to strengthen while I stand.’ And never am I more assured of their presence and good cheer than when I go up to the house of God in company with them.

IV. And the Sabbath brings us the love of the Father, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.—I listen again to the good news, I am admitted again to the presence-chamber of the King. Here I feed on the bread of God. Here I drink the royal wine of heaven.

Yes, this is a gift worthy of the glorious Lord.


‘As the Sabbaths of Jehovah are to be hallowed by Israel, and to be separated from the other days of the week, it would thereby be made evident that Jehovah sanctifies Israel, and separates them from the world-peoples to be His own peculiar people. This is the reciprocal relation of the Sabbath to Jehovah and Israel. Therefore the Sabbath was so characteristic for Israel. As the prophetic sense of the law, and of the Sabbath-law in particular, reaches far beyond a formal, outward observance of it, so the prophet is speaking not of the mere letter of the law as a whole, nor in Ezekiel 20:13 of merely external desecration of the Sabbath ( Isaiah 58:13-14).’

Verses 32-33


‘That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you.’

Ezekiel 20:32-33

These words imply a desire on the part of the Jewish people to shake off utterly the yoke of God. At first sight this seems almost incredible.

The difference between the chosen race, the specially favoured and endowed, and the common idolatrous mass of men—as it was not of their appointing, so it could not be by them wiped out. Into idolatry, into sensuality, into whatever iniquity they yielded to, they would bring a reproving conscience and a knowledge of better things. For while God left those others to a kind of impunity, He warns the Jews that they shall not thus be left—He will rule over them against their will, and it shall be with a mighty hand, and a stretched out arm, and fury poured forth. They could not wipe out the fact that in covenant relation, in God’s claim and right to them especially, beside His common right to all men, and in the gratitude they owed Him for all their privileges—their case was special: their guilt was special, and their punishment might well be special too.

Such is the plain meaning of our verse; and we have only to ask what lessons it conveys to us.

I. Can we fall into this wickedness, or need this warning?—Clearly we are in no danger of plunging into any form of idolatry, or perhaps of open apostacy. And yet we have heard of miserable men who took up infidel ideas, and denied God, Christ, eternity, the soul, and whatever else raises us above the level of the brute, not from any rational delusion, but simply to share the freedom from restraint, the recklessness, and the guilt of the unbeliever.

But even far short of this, the apostacy of these Jews may be imitated still; and perhaps is imitated to an extent that some of us do not suspect. I would ask young men and young women, has this temptation never crossed your mind? Have you never said or thought—‘Since I cannot be happy in religion, let me make myself happy as I can; and look to frivolity, to dissipation, to the pleasures that are just on this side of actual sin, and to the pleasures just on the other side of it, for such gifts as they have to bestow? Let me,’ says many a young man who has known better things, ‘let me ask the billiard-room, and the public-house, and the betting-list, and the lewd song with the questionable meaning, and the play, and the dancing-saloon, what they can give; or, if not these, let me plunge deep into the whirl of active life, make myself indispensable, and push myself on—not for duty, but for happiness.’ And you can always point to the example of some who seem, at least, to be well-enough satisfied. And many a young woman has sought her bliss in stimulants just as mischievous as these—in giddy sentiment, in admiration and vanity, in show, and fashion, and frivolity. And many who scorn all these, have inflicted upon their sad souls the same ruinous error, striving to develop and indulge the intellect as a drug to the complaining of the heart. ‘We will be as those around us, to serve wood and stone,’ said God’s people of old. Is it any better to say, We will be as those around us, to serve the world and the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life?

II. Let every one who ever felt one pulse of purer spiritual feeling, ever longed for purity, ever knelt in prayer that was not a mockery—every one who has waited for God as men who wait for the morning, let every such man be warned.—You cannot be as the disciples of pleasure, or as the idolaters of gain. If you will give yourselves up to these, so be it; but they shall not yield their sweetness to your taste, nor their fragrance to your smell. Such as these are, they are not for you. The desire of holiness may gradually die away; but the inner loathing and abhorrence of sin shall not die; the sense of dishonour and degradation shall still live; the shame of your illtreatment of your Benefactor shall linger on. And you shall not be able to forget death nor eternity; you shall see, as it were, the clear, deep eye that beholds and tries the children of men.

‘How often has the thought expressed in this come into the heart of men, who have borne the name of Christ, but have been caught in the snare of some unholy fascination: Why can we not live as we like, and do as the heathen, that give themselves up to lust and sin, without the grave consequences which are threatened to us? Ah, but that shall not be at all. The former relationship in which we walked with God counts for something. The other party to it has a right to speak. A wife cannot do as the unmarried.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.