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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Ezekiel 20

Verses 1-49

Ezekiel 20:1 . The elders of Israel came to enquire of the Lord, and sat before me. They still respected the divine καρισματα , or holy anointing of the Spirit; but they sought it for a reverse of their calamities, and with their idols in their heart, as stated in Ezekiel 8:1.

Ezekiel 20:12 ; Ezekiel 20:20 . I gave them my sabbaths. That holy day, though sanctified from the creation, had been almost lost in Egypt. It was restored by Moses as a sign of the covenant, in the encrease of corn on the year preseding the sabbatic year, and the year preseding the jubilee. And it is thought, from Deuteronomy 5:0., that the sabbath was anticipated one day on leaving Egypt, the Egyptians having been drowned in the morning watch of the fifteenth day. If otherwise, they must have marched on the sabbathday. In that view our Saviour has restored the sabbath by his resurrection to the very day of rest after the creation. The sabbath is a day of humanity, giving repose to servants, and beasts of labour. By consequence, the poor are not only wicked, but unwise to work on that day. They have always been at what they could do to earn their bread; and if the sabbath should be lost, they would have to work seven days in the week as hard as they now work six. The sabbath is holy, and we are required to worship God, and enjoy angelic delights in his house. It is connected also with covenant blessings, Isaiah 58:13; and is guarded by judgments, as in the seventy years captivity of the jews, for the idolaters had robbed the Lord of seventy sabbatic years. It is therefore blasphemy to say that the sabbath is a jewish ceremony, and not binding on us. Christ taught his followers to pray that their flight from the Roman armies, coming to besiege the rebel city of Jerusalem, might not be in the winter, neither on the sabbathday. By consequence, feasting, and journeys of pleasure are forbidden altogether on that day.

Above all, when the Lord says, I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign, he separated the precept of the sabbath from the ten commandments, and placed it at the head of all the divine code. Exodus 31:13. “See that ye keep my sabbath, because it is a sign between me and you, in all your generations.” It associates with their circumcision, the seal of righteousness by faith, or the faith which Abraham swore to God. Christian sacraments therefore must not be desecrated. Let us hear the most conclusive words of St. Paul, as in the version of the Mons testament, published with the highest sanction of Rome. “Let no man condemn you for eating and drinking, or the observance of festivals, new moons, and of sabbath days, seeing all those things are the shadow of good things to come, of which Christ is the body.” Colossians 2:16-17.

It follows that the jews, by violating this seal of their covenant, forfeited all its blessings, and lost the promised land. So it shall be with the profane christian; he desecrates this holy day, and forfeits all claims of admission into the rest which remains for the people of God.

Ezekiel 20:25 . I gave them also statutes that were not good. This text has many glosses among the critics.

(1) The ceremonial law is said by some, not to be good, because it was but a shadow; because it was expensive, and was not a ritual of choice, but imposed on the nation by a divine sanction.

(2) Not good, may imply not pleasant. This law was a yoke, and circumcision was a bloody ritual.

(3) But the true sense appears to be, that God turned against his people, and bade them in anger worship the hosts of heaven. He delivered them into the hands of their enemies, and ultimately gave them up to their own hearts’ lusts, as when he said, Ezekiel 20:30, “Go ye, serve ye every one his idols.”

Ezekiel 20:29 . What is the high place whereunto ye go? The name thereof is Bamah. This name, by Professor Cocceius is divided, בא מה Bo mah, he comes; alluding perhaps to the promise in Exodus 20:23. “In all places where I record my name, I will come to thee, and I will bless thee.” Oh, no; you may cry in all the extremity of anguish, as on mount Carmel, oh Baal, hear us; but Baal will not come. “There was no voice, nor any that answered.”

Ezekiel 20:35 . I will bring you into the wilderness there will I plead with you face to face. During the slow march of the jews from Babylon which lasted four months, the Lord spake to them by his prophets, and greatly consoled them on their return. Ezra did not ask a guard, because he trusted in the Lord.

Ezekiel 20:37 . I will cause you to pass under the rod. The allusion is to a shepherd who counts his flock, and separates those which are for slaughter. Thus the men who revolted at God’s paternal rod, should be disposed of by the rod of their enemies.


We have here a new scene of prophecy opened, which is comprised in this and the three following chapters. It opens with a body of the elders coming to Ezekiel to consult him on the aspect of their affairs. Perhaps they wished to know whether Zedekiah should succeed in his revolt; perhaps, whether all Judah should go into captivity, or whether there was any hope of their speedy return. What a scene! Carnal idolaters coming in their sins to ask counsel and comfort of the Holy One of Israel! He justly reproaches them for their own, and for their father’s sins. God would give them no answer of peace. So it was when Saul’s kingdom drew to a close. The Lord would not answer him either by prophet, by dream, or by Urim. We must therefore leave our sins and our malice, before we presume to pray. We must also seek the Lord while he may be found; for when a wicked man cries on his deathbed, or prays only for temporal good, God may justly shut his ears with high disdain.

Though there was no particular answer, yet Ezekiel preached them a good sermon, and a sermon often repeated in substance in the sacred writings. There is no need therefore to explain it here. But it shows that Ezekiel was mighty and learned in the scriptures, and that at all times we should derive edification from past experience, and from the Lord’s dealings with his church.

The sabbathday is here peculiarly enforced, as the religious observance of that day is intimately connected with the morals and the piety of a nation. And this day was not only honoured when God made the world, and when Christ redeemed it, and likewise by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of pentecost, but the seventy years of Israel’s captivity remarkably corresponded with the seventy sabbatic years, in which they had plowed instead of letting the land rest.

Now, though Ezekiel had no answer for the elders in regard to their obtrusive enquiries, he repeats the general promise of restoration, as Jeremiah had written; and then, as is usual with the prophets, he launches forwards into the times of the Messiah when Israel should be most happily restored, and enjoy the fullest blessings of the covenant; and this hope was heart cure for the church in all her troubles. He uses words, which if confined to the restoration by Cyrus, would not be strictly true; but when Christ was contemplated, the heart filled with joy, and the tongue uttered glorious things of the city of God. The prophets closed all their sermons by leaving the full splendour of the sun smiling on Zion, and in all the glory of the latter day.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.