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Jehovah’s Faithfulness And Israel’s Unfaithfulness
Beginning with the first verse of this twentieth chapter and continuing through chapter 23, we have a series of prophecies which bear the general date of the seventh year of the captivity. The first one was delivered on the tenth day of the fifth month. In this series God continues His expostulations with Israel because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant into which they had entered; while on the other hand, He stresses His own unfailing adherence to the promises He Himself had made to their fathers.
“And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Jehovah, and sat before me. And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Is it to inquire of me that ye are come? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you. Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers; and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: In the day when I chose Israel, and sware unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I sware unto them, saying, I am Jehovah your God; in that day I sware unto 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. And I said unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am Jehovah your God. But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken unto Me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out My wrath upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I wrought 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 unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt”-vers. 1-9.
Upon the date mentioned above, an unspecified number of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel and sat down before him that he might inquire of Jehovah on their behalf. Outwardly they seemed to be subject to His word and ready to submit to His will, but it was very evident that there had been no real repentance or facing of their sins in the presence of God. Therefore, He said through His servant, “Is it to inquire of Me that ye are come?” He declared that He would not be inquired of by them: they were not on praying ground because of their wilful disobedience to His word, and their determined opposition to His truth. Therefore, as speaking for God, Ezekiel was to take the place of a judge among them, and to set before them in unmistakable terms the abominations of their fathers in which they themselves were also walking. God retraced their history from the day He brought them out of Egypt, when He revealed Himself to them as Jehovah their God, the Eternal One with whom they had entered into covenant. He had promised and sworn by Himself that He would deliver them from the land of bondage and bring them into a land which He Himself had selected for them-a land flowing with milk and honey, which He described as “the glory of all lands.”
One who visits Palestine today may find it difficult to see just how language such as this could apply to it, but when God brought His people into Canaan He strengthened them against their enemies and multi- plied them there, and enabled them to build great and beautiful cities. As they cultivated the hills and the valleys, His blessing rested upon their efforts to such an extent that they had abundance of all things. That which made Palestine the glory of all lands, however, was the fact that it was there that Jehovah manifested Himself, and there at Jerusalem He had set His name. From Jerusalem word had gone out into all the world that God the Creator of all things was there known and honored; and so those who desired to learn of Him came from distant places, like the Queen of Sheba, to be instructed concerning the name of the Lord. Though for centuries that land has lain desolate, the temple has been utterly destroyed, and an infidel shrine erected in its place, yet in a future day it will once more become the glory of all lands when the people of Israel shall be restored to the Lord, and He Himself will be manifested among them. Then the law shall go forth from Mount Zion, and all nations will flow unto it to worship the King who will reign in righteousness over a regenerated world.
The sins of Israel defiled the land to such an extent that the indignation of Jehovah had to be visited upon a disobedient and gainsaying people, even when they dwelt in Egypt and were specifically warned against the idolatry of that land. They had soon turned away from the truth revealed to them, and actually worshiped the idols of Egypt so that God’s wrath and anger had been poured out upon them before they left that place of bondage; in fact, one would gather from these verses that it was in judgment that God had stirred up Pharaoh to enslave them and make their lives so hard and bitter. Nevertheless, He had wrought for His own name’s sake, in order that that name should not be profaned in the sight of the nations; and so, in due time, He had intervened in mercy and brought the people forth out of the land of Egypt. We might think that from the days of Joseph until Moses they had lived as a separate people in the land of the stranger, but this passage throws a lurid light upon their behavior in those years and after, when a new king arose who knew not Joseph.
It is evident, therefore, that they had forgotten to a great extent the revelation God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that the message brought by Moses came to many as a new revelation of Jehovah, as the God of their fathers, who loved them still in spite of their waywardness, and had heard their cry and come down to deliver them.
One might have supposed that the remarkable signs given to them and the many wonderful evidences of God’s loving care would have turned them forever from idolatry and given them to honor Him alone, who had redeemed them to Himself; but, even after they left Egypt, they were ready at the slightest occasion to lapse into disobedience and idolatry.
“So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My statutes, and showed them Mine ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover also I gave them My sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they walked not in My statutes, and they rejected Mine ordinances, which if a man keep, he shall live in them; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I said, I would pour out My wrath upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them out. Moreover also I sware unto 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; because they rejected Mine ordinances, and walked not in My statutes, and profaned My sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless Mine eye spared them, and I destroyed them not, neither did I make a full end of them in the wilderness”-vers. 10-17.
It was the Lord Himself who brought them into the wilderness, and there at Sinai, gave them His statutes and showed them His ordinances, concerning which He said, “Which if a man do, he shall live in them.” There, too, He made known unto them His sabbaths to be a sign between Him and them, the weekly memorial that He was Jehovah, their Sanctifier. But even in the wilderness they rebelled against Him and refused to walk in His statutes. They rejected His ordinances and profaned His sabbaths; thus they had forfeited all title to blessing, and God, in righteousness, might have given them up to utter destruction had it not been that He was concerned for the glory of His own name.
Speaking anthropomorphically, He declared He would pour out His wrath upon them in the wilderness to consume them, even as we know He threatened to do when He proposed to Moses that the people should be destroyed, and a new nation should come from him who had brought them thus far on their way. But when Moses interceded for them God wrought for His name’s sake. He would not have the heathen around say that He was unable to bring His people into the land He had promised; and therefore, although He swore in His wrath that all those of adult age should perish in the wilderness, nevertheless He brought their children to that land flowing with milk and honey, as He had promised.
The real reason for Israel’s failure is given in verse 16, “Their heart went after their idols.” How mani- festly this was seen when they came to Aaron crying, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, this man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him” (Exodus 32:1). They preferred an image which they could see to the living God who could not be seen by mortal eye. So they turned to idolatry, rejecting God’s ordinances and refusing to walk in His statutes and profaning His sabbaths. But though He visited them from time to time with judgments because of their sins, nevertheless, as a nation He spared them, and did not utterly destroy them nor make a full end of them in the wilderness.
After pronouncing judgment on the older generation He called upon their children to walk in obedience that thereby they might enter into blessing.
“And I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am Jehovah your God: walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them; and hallow My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. But the children rebelled against Me; they walked not in My statutes, neither kept Mine ordinances to do them, which if a man do, he shall live in them; they profaned My sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My wrath upon them, to accomplish My anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew My hand, and wrought for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I brought them forth. Moreover I sware unto them in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries; because they had not executed Mine ordinances, but had rejected My statutes, and had profaned My sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Moreover also I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am Jehovah”-vers. 18-26.
One might have thought that the children would have learned from the folly of their parents that it is indeed an evil thing and bitter to turn away from the word of the Lord, but these soon manifested the traits of their fathers and denied themselves with idolatry. Again and again God pleaded with them to obey His word, to keep His ordinances and to do them, to hallow His sabbaths; but they rebelled against Him and spurned His testimonies. We have a sad example of this in their terrible failure at Baal-peor, when they mingled with the idolatrous people about them, and so sinned against God that in His wrath He smote them and would have destroyed them had it not been for the intercession of Moses and Aaron. He withdrew His hand and again wrought for His own name’s sake that it should not be profaned in the sight of the heathen.
But He warned His people that if they continued in their disobedience the day would come when they would be scattered among the nations and dispersed throughout all countries-a warning which has had a terrible fulfilment throughout the centuries.
Because they turned away from those statutes and ordinances which were meant for their blessing, He chose their delusions and gave them up to statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live; so He permitted them to sink to the degradation of Moloch worship and all its kindred abominations, thus going down to the level of the vilest of the heathen whom He cast out before them. Their behavior in the land was even worse than that which characterized them in the wilderness.
“Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: In this moreover have your fathers blasphemed Me, in that they have committed a trespass against Me. For when I had brought them into the land, which I sware to give unto 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 sweet savor, and they poured out there their drink-offerings. Then I said unto them, What meaneth the high place whereunto ye go? So the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day. Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Do ye pollute yourselves after the manner of your fathers? and play ye the harlot after their abominations? and when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, do ye pollute yourselves with all your idols unto this day? and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I will not be inquired of by you; and that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, in that ye say, We will be as the nations, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone”-vers. 27-32.
After Jehovah had fulfilled His word and brought them through the wilderness and led them into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, it was not long until they followed in the ways of the nations which they were commanded to destroy. They erected shrines to false gods and goddesses upon every high hill and under every great tree, and there they sacrificed to demons and not to God. By such conduct they polluted themselves after the manner of their fathers and were guilty of spiritual harlotry. They did for their false gods what they never would have been asked to do for Jehovah: they sacrificed their own children, causing them to pass through the fire unto Moloch, and so polluted themselves that God could no longer tolerate them. He would not be inquired of by them. They had sought to be as the nations around; and as the nations, He would deal with them in judgment.
Nevertheless He had not forgotten His promise to Abraham-a promise reiterated again and again to his descendants. And so in verses 33 to 44 Ezekiel was given to foretell Israel’s future restoration, when all their past failure shall be blotted out, and they shall be restored to the Lord.
“As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out, will I be King over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face. 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, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me; I will bring them forth out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah. As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Go ye, serve every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me; but My holy name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols”-vers. 33-89.
Despite all their wilfulness Jehovah was still their King, and in due time His authority shall be openly manifested. In that day He will bring them out from all the nations and countries wherein they have been scattered. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out upon those who continue in their apostasy, He will bring the remnant into what He calls “the wilderness of the peoples,” and there will enter into judgment with them face to face. As of old He had dealt with their fathers in the wilderness adjoining the land of Egypt, so will He in this coming day deal with the nation that is as a scattered people among the Gentiles, because He will own them still as His. He will deal with them in chastisement, causing them to pass under the rod like sheep being marked off by their shepherd. In that day they will be brought again into the bond of the covenant, and He will purge out from among them the rebels, and all that transgress against Him. From every land where they have sojourned He will bring them into the land of Israel, and they shall know in that day that He is indeed Jehovah, the Eternal One with whom they have to do. That the time had not come for this, however, was evident; and so Ezekiel was commanded to say to the elders who came inquiring, “Go ye, serve every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto Me; but My holy name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols.” Until the day of their redemption as a people they would be given up to hardness of heart and left to their own devices.
“For in My holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah, 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 oblations, with all your holy things. As a sweet savor will I accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I sware to give unto your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have polluted yourselves; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah”-vers. 40-44.
What a delightful picture the prophet here portrays! He speaks of a day when Jerusalem will again be recognized as the holy mount of God, “the mountain of the height of Israel,” when the restored people will be back in their land, there to serve the One from whom they had wandered so long. Once more they will bring to Him their offerings and the first-fruits of their oblations with all their holy things. He will accept their worship and their thanksgiving when He has gathered them out from the people and brought them back from the countries wherein they have been scattered; for then He will be sanctified in them in the sight of all nations. How near that day may be we cannot say. The present return of many of the Jewish people to Palestine in their unbelief may be indeed a preparation for the complete fulfilment of the prophecy. But when these words actually come to pass, the Jewish people will return not only to the land but also to Jehovah Himself. Then they will look back with shame upon their former evil ways, and will loathe themselves in their own sight for all the wickedness of which they have been guilty, as they realize that Jehovah has dealt with them, not according to their evil ways nor according to their corrupt doing, but according to the loving-kindness of His own heart.
The concluding verses of the chapter remind us of the Lord’s words to the daughters of Jerusalem as He was going out to die: “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” The green tree is that in which life is found; the dry tree is dead and fit only for the fire. So we read:
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the field in the south; and say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby. And all flesh shall see that I, Jehovah, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched. Then said I, Ah Lord Jehovah! They say of me, Is he not a speaker of parables?”-vers. 45-49.
Ezekiel was to set his face toward the south-that is, toward the land of Israel, having especially in mind the forests of Lebanon; and he was to declare, in the name of Jehovah, “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour «very green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burnt thereby.” In His indignation against the people who had so dishonored Him, He would pour out His judgments upon them as a whole, so that all flesh would recognize that it was He indeed who was thus visiting His people in His wrath and pouring out upon them the fires of judgment which could not be quenched until all those who persisted in their iniquities had been destroyed. But even after Ezekiel proclaimed this solemn message he recognized that the people were not taking in the seriousness of his words. To them he was but a speaker of parables-parables which they could not seem to understand.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12