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In this chapter we have a brief relation how the Lord had dealt with Israel through a long series of years, and how sadly they had requited His mercy. There are many sweet tokens of divine love here and there interspersed through the relation.
The Prophet is exact to state the time of those elders coming to him; perhaps it was the Sabbath day; and though ordinances were lost in Babylon, yet, no doubt, some kept a remembrance of the Lord's day. Reader it is blessed to any precious souls who are remote from means of grace still to keep up a Sabbath in the mind. It should seem, however, from what the Lord saith concerning these elders, that they did not reverence the Sabbath, for the Lord refused to be enquired of by them.
The Lord seems to appeal to the Prophet for his judgment to decide the equity of the Lord's cause; and, in order to enable the Prophet so to do, the Lord enters upon their history, from the servitude of Israel in Egypt, from the first moment of the Lord's forming them into a Church, when He promised them Canaan. There is great beauty in the expression of the Lord's espying Canaan. The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. But espying Canaan as the glory of all lands, means, that there the Lord would make known His more especial presence, and there fix His sanctuary among them. I pray the Reader to observe and take notice with me, of the several parts of the divine mercy. The very choice of Israel, and forming them into a Church as His people, resulted from His own free sovereign mercy. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 . And the manifestation which the
Lord made of himself to Israel was altogether originating in His own mind, no merit of theirs moving him to it. His entering into covenant with them, and the assurance He gave of His favor, all these were so many evidences of the divine mercy, and wholly to be referred into His own sovereign will and pleasure. Malachi 1:2-3 ; Romans 9:15-16 .
We see here the striking proof of Israel's rebellion, and the Lord's forbearance. Though Israel lost all sense of duty, the Lord will not lose showing all manifestations of His love. The name of Jehovah is interested in the salvation of His people, for the Lord will not suffer the enemy to triumph in the ruin of Israel. Sweet thought! the blood of Jesus pleads more powerfully for his people, than all their undeservings plead against them.
Here we have the history carried on to the wilderness dispensation. If, as some say, the direct road to Canaan might have been accomplished in a few days, the Lord's keeping them there forty years plainly proves, that it was for punishment and the trial of their faith. Here the Lord manifested that they were under his peculiar care, for he gave them Sabbaths as a sign between Him and them, and ordinances as a means of grace to keep up holy fellowship and communion all the way. But when the people polluted the Lord's Sabbaths, and defiled His statutes, the Lord seemed ready to enter into judgment upon them. But here again as before, that the holy name of the Lord should not be polluted and profaned in the sight of the heathen, the Lord suppressed the judgment, and His eye spared them in mercy. Reader! to preventing mercy, sparing mercy, and the mercy which forms itself in the heart of Jehovah before judgment goeth forth, who shall take upon him to state the amount in every man's debt-book before God?
Thus slighted and despised by the fathers, the Lord looked to their children, that the rising generation might not be rebellious as their fathers had been. But the sin of rebellion, like a chain of many links, the Lord found to run alike in father and son. The Lord therefore gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. This could not refer to the law of God given, on Mount Sinai, for the Apostle saith, that the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. Romans 7:12 . Nevertheless, in one sense, (and so the Apostle considers it,) such was and is the nature of the law, that no man could live by it or have life from it. But by the law is the knowledge of sin; and the knowledge of sin loudly proclaims Christ. Reader! it will be a blessed improvement of this scripture, if, from the perusal of it, such effects are wrought in our hearts to lead us to Christ.
Here seems a gracious pause, that the Prophet, having brought the many solemn things contained in the preceding part of the chapter, might stand and ponder well the divine forbearance in the midst of such contumacy as Israel manifested towards the Lord, both the fathers with the children.
The Lord is still expostulating with His people for their transgressions; and the Lord shows the folly, as well as the sin, of Israel in going to those high places for sacrifice, for what could any or the whole of those dunghill gods do in a way of comfort or help? All and everyone of them may well be called Bamah, an high place of vanity and disappointment; for where God in covenant is not, all is vanity. But I beg the Reader to mark the grace of the Lord in the midst of His people's undeservings. He will bring them into wilderness straits; but it shall be to give them mercies there. He will bring them to pass under the rod; but it shall be the rod of the covenant. Still in grace; all in mercy. The Lord's corrections of his children are all of this kind. Hence one saith, and saith very blessedly, Thy loving corrections shall make me great. Psalms 18:35 . See Hosea 2:14-15 , etc. Psalms 89:30-35 .
I detain the Reader at this passage purposely to beg of him to remark with me, the vast difference in scripture between rebels and rebellious. If the Reader will look, carefully over the whole Book of God, I believe that he will find, that while the Lord calls His children rebellious, and frequently complains of their rebellion, he never once calls them rebels. And though we find a woe pronounced upon the church, Isaiah 30:1-8 . and a dreadful woe in deed followed, when the Church was sent into Babylon, yet the sorrow was wholly temporal, not an everlasting woe, of being cut off from the Lord. So far from it, that in Isaiah 30:18 and following verses of that same chapter, the Lord declares that He waits to be gracious, and His people shall weep no more; so that though in many scriptures we find the children of God declared to be rebellious, yet never once are they called rebels. See Psalms 78:8 ; Isaiah 65:2 ; Ezekiel 2:3-5 . Hence therefore, rebels, in scripture language, means the seed of the serpent, of whom the Lord saith, as in this chapter, He will purge them out from among His people. So He did, by Korah and his company. See Numbers 17:10 . And though Moses did once in his haste call the people of God rebels, Numbers 20:10 as David did, upon another occasion, call the Lord's people, as well as the ungodly, liars, Psalms 116:11 yet it should seem by the history that the Lord was displeased for his doing so.
Nothing can be more striking in proof that love and grace and mercy are at the bottom of all the Lord's corrections to His people, than what those verses express. The Lord's holy mountain, namely, the Gospel Church, shall be the place where Jesus will bring all His redeemed, and where they shall all be accepted in Him. The sweet savour of His person, blood, and righteousness, will be the one gracious cause wherefore they shall all be gathered, and all blessed, and made everlastingly happy.
This seems a new discourse, or, if it be not, it is only as a postscript to a letter. The former was delivered concerning the Church in Babylon, and this is directed concerning the people at Jerusalem, which, of course, lay south of Babylon. Awful is the message: but it seems the Prophet himself entertained no hope, from the delivery of it, of any good. It was like the first account of the Lord Jesus's resurrection; the words seemed to them that heard it as idle tales, for they believed them, not. Alas! it is but too general a complaint with faithful ministers in all ages. Isaiah 53:1 ; Luke 24:11 .
READER! what an awful account is here given, and by the Lord Himself, of a congregation of worshippers. Are there any such in the present hour? Alas! it is to be feared but too many; for, in every age, there are multitudes who draw nigh to God to honour Him with their lips, while their hearts are far from Him. Thou art ever in their mouth (saith the Lord by the Prophet,) and far from their reins.
It will be no unprofitable improvement of this chapter, if, from beholding the deception of the heart, in this instance, of the elders of Israel before the Prophet, you and I, Reader, bring home the subject to ourselves. In how many ways, and by how many avenues, evil enters into the soul. Corruption within and temptation without, rob the soul of sweet communion and fellowship with the Lord, even where a work of grace hath passed upon the soul; so that every true believer in Jesus finds but too often cause to complain with the Apostle, When I would do good, evil is present with me. And if so, what must it be in the heart wholly unawakened by grace, unregenerated by the Holy Spirit, and uninterested by any sense of the divine goodness? Precious Lord Jesus! how eminently here, as in a thousand other instances of grace and mercy, is the recollection of Thy High Priestly office, in bearing away the iniquity of our most holy things! Thy one offering once offered, and the everlasting and eternal efficacy of it, pleaded in Thine unceasing intercession, become the only cause of Thy Church's acceptance. Yea, Lord our very prayers, but for this, would seal our condemnation, Reader! let us both beg of God the Holy Ghost to impress these soul-reviving considerations upon the mind and heart of each. While you and I but too often, in the great congregation, hear as though we heard not, and pray or sing as though we felt not, oh! what a relief to my poor soul is the conviction; that in the same moment there is one with the Father whom the Father heareth alway, and Who is the propitiation for our sins. His glorious person and His finished work become the security and sanctity of all His redeemed. And while the Lord Jehovah hath respect to Him, and the Church in Him, in all the purposes of grace, so the everlasting acceptance and joy of the Church will only arise out of the same, in all the manifestations of glory.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ezekiel 20". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany