Ezekiel 20
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 20–24 Further predictions regarding the fall of Jerusalem

These chapters pursue the same subject as occupied the prophet in previous chapters, the destruction of the state, though they appear to look at it from another point of view, and suggest another motive for it—Jehovah’s regard to his own name.

First, ch. 20. Review of Israel’s past history and emphasising of the principle which has given Israel a history and saved her from destruction, viz. Jehovah’s regard to his own name.

Second, ch. 21. But this same principle—regard to his name—requires Israel’s dispersion now. Therefore the sword of the Lord is whetted against her.

Third, ch. 22, 23. New exhibition of the sins of Israel.

Fourth, ch. 24. Final judgment on Jerusalem, under the figure of a rusted caldron set upon the fire to cleanse it.

ch. 20 has two divisions:

(1) Ezekiel 20:1-29. The principle that has saved Israel from destruction and given her a history—Jehovah’s respect to his own name.

(2) Ezekiel 20:30-44. The same principle will rule what of Israel’s history still lies in the future.

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 the LORD, and sat before me.
1–4. Introductory. Certain elders came to the prophet to enquire of the Lord, in the seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin and tenth day of the fifth month—Aug. 590 b.c., four years before Jerusalem fell.

Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying,
Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to inquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.
3. will not be inquired of] The proposed enquiries of the elders probably related to something in the present; to such men no answer will be given except to read the lesson of Israel’s history to them. For the history concerns them. They are one in spirit and conduct with Israel of the past, and the principles which have ruled the former history will rule also the history to come.

Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? cause them to know the abominations of their fathers:
4. wilt thou judge] The interr. seems to have the sense of an impatient imperative, and the repetition gives stronger expression to the imperative, cf. ch. Ezekiel 22:2, Ezekiel 23:36. “Judge” is explained by “cause them to know the abominations of their fathers.” To rehearse the history of the fathers is to hold the mirror up to themselves.

And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God;
5. when I chose Israel] The choice or election of Israel is referred to only here in Ez., and also once in Jeremiah 33:24. The idea is much insisted on in Isaiah 40-66. Already, however, Deuteronomy 7:6.

lifted up mine hand] i.e. sware, Exodus 6:8; Numbers 14:30. The thing sworn is stated Ezekiel 20:6.

made myself known] Cf. Exodus 3:6 seq., Ezekiel 6:3. He made himself known as Jehovah their God, whose nature his acts revealed, Psalm 103:7.

5–29. Review of the history of the fathers

The principle that has ruled this history is that all through it Jehovah has acted for his name’s sake. It is this principle that has given Israel a history, otherwise their sins would have cut them off. For his name’s sake he spared the people in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:9), again in the wilderness (Ezekiel 20:14), and again the second generation there (Ezekiel 20:22). The history is reviewed in these divisions: Ezekiel 20:5-10 Israel in Egypt; Ezekiel 20:11-17 the people led out into the wilderness: Ezekiel 20:18-26 the children of those who fell in the wilderness; and Ezekiel 20:27-29 the people that entered Canaan.

In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:
6. the day that I lifted] On that day I lifted … 7 and I said unto them. On “milk and honey” cf. Exodus 3:8; and on the idea of Canaan as the “glory” of all lands, a frequent judgment in late writings, cf. Jeremiah 3:19; Daniel 8:9; Psalm 48:2.

Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
7. abominations of his eyes] Those to which his eyes and desires were directed, the idols, cf. Ezekiel 18:6; Numbers 15:39. The prophet charges Israel with idolatry in Egypt (ch. Ezekiel 23:3). Though history as we have it says little of such a thing, it may be assumed as certain, considering the people’s receptivity to the worship of their neighbours throughout their history. The same view, Joshua 24:14; cf. Leviticus 18:3.

The question how far Jehovah was known and worshipped in Egypt is an obscure one. The name could not have been altogether unknown or the people could not have been rallied by Moses to his service nor induced to put themselves under his protection. That his worship, however, was mixed with impurities may be assumed. How far the people partook in the worship of Egyptian deities cannot be ascertained.

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 will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.
8. The history in Exodus narrates only the conflict of Israel with the Egyptians, being silent on internal struggles in Israel itself. The work of Moses in delivering his people must have extended over a period of time. His efforts in educating the people are entirely passed over in the history. The announcement, however, that Jehovah was the God of Israel implied casting away all other gods, and this principle, often expressed in his intercourse with the people, probably met with but slack acceptance. Psalms 106 follows Ezek. closely, cf. Ezekiel 20:7.

But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.
9. for my name’s sake] This idea, very common in this prophet, also in Isaiah 40-66, does not appear in the earlier prophets, except Isaiah 37:35. Cf. however, Deuteronomy 9:28-29; Jeremiah 14:7; Jeremiah 14:21; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 48:9; Isaiah 48:11. Jehovah’s name expresses that which he is, or has revealed himself to be, and the phrase does not differ from “for my own sake,” cf. ch. Ezekiel 36:22; Ezekiel 36:32.

should not be polluted] Rather: profaned. The words explain, “for my name’s sake,” viz. lest it should be profaned among the nations. Deuteronomy 9:28-29 suggests one way in which the name of Jehovah might be profaned among the nations. To “profane” is the opposite of to “sanctify.” The one is to cherish any thoughts of Jehovah or to attribute any deed to him inconsistent with his being the one true God, or derogatory to him who is so. To “sanctify” him is to recognise him in thought and in act, particularly in worship, to be the one true God; to assign to him attributes and operations befitting his nature, and to live in such a way as those who are the people of Jehovah ought to live, for the manner of the people is reflected on the character of their God (Amos 2:7). This is the way, at least, in which Ezek., with the conception of Jehovah which in his age he had reached, uses the terms “profane” and “sanctify.”

Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.
10. First half of the verse is wanting in LXX.

And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.
11. gave them … statutes] Reference is to the Sinaitic legislation. The fact of the legislation is, confirmed by the prophet, but his language “statutes and judgments” does not enable us to form an opinion how extensive it was, nor what particulars it embraced besides the law of the sabbath (Ezekiel 20:12), and of course the law that Jehovah was God alone of Israel, because he uses the phrase “statutes and judgments” very generally, for example of the conduct and principles of the people in the wilderness themselves (Ezekiel 20:18).

shall even live in them] Or, shall live by them. Obedience to them will issue in “life,” the word being used in its natural sense, Deuteronomy 4:40, “thou shalt keep his statutes … that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land,” Deuteronomy 5:16 (fifth commandment). The precepts of Jehovah given to the people were such that obedience to them would ensure prosperity and life, while disobedience would cause calamity and death, and this not only in the mere government of them by their God, but because the statutes were in themselves “good,” cf. Ezekiel 20:25; Amos 5:14; Hosea 8:3; Micah 3:2; Micah 6:8.

11–17. The people delivered from Egypt and brought into the wilderness. There also Jehovah wrought for his name’s sake.

Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
12. my sabbaths] The plural refers to the stated recurrence of the day; other festivals are not included.

to be a sign] The prophet does not speak of the Sabbath as an older institution than the exodus, though his language does not decide the point, as he refers merely to the connexion into which the day was brought with Israel’s redemption (as Deuteronomy 5:15) and made a “sign” to them of their relation to Jehovah. The people were commanded to “sanctify” the Sabbath, i.e. to dedicate it and keep it to the Lord. This dedication of a part of their time or life to Jehovah had a similar significance to the dedication of the first-fruits of the ground and the firstlings of their cattle; it was an acknowledgment that they were the Lord’s. It was the response on their side to the operation of Jehovah on his side in “sanctifying” them, or making them his own possession (end of v.) Thus the Sabbath was a “sign” or visible token that he was their God and they his people (Ezekiel 20:20); Exodus 31:13-14; Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 56:4. This meaning of the Sabbath as a symbol of the religion of Jehovah explains the importance attached to keeping it particularly in the exile; its observance sustained the feeling of the people among the heathen that they were the people of Jehovah, Isaiah 56:2 seq., Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:19, cf. Jeremiah 17:21; Leviticus 19:3; Leviticus 26:2.

But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
13. Provocation of the people in the wilderness. They rejected the statutes of Jehovah and “polluted,” better: profaned, his sabbaths, i.e. failed to dedicate and keep them to Jehovah. The profanation is to be taken in a wider sense than the special instances of neglect, Exodus 16:27; Numbers 15:32. This profanation of the Sabbath was oblivion of the covenant, cf. Amos 8:5.

pour out my fury] Cf. Exodus 32:10 seq.; Numbers 14:11-12; Numbers 14:29.

But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out.
14, 15. For his name’s sake Jehovah did not make a clean end of the people, nevertheless he sware that the generation that came out of Egypt should not enter into the land of promise, Numbers 14:22-23; Numbers 14:29 : Deuteronomy 1:35; Psalm 95:11.

Yet also I lifted up my hand 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 despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.
16. polluted my sabbaths] profaned.

went after their idols] Exodus 32; Numbers 25; Hosea 9:10. Amos 5:25 cannot be appealed to here.

Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.
17. Another motive besides regard for his own name moved Jehovah to spare Israel—pity for the sinners; cf. Psalm 78:38, “But he being full of compassion forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not; yea many a time he turned his anger away”. Numbers 14:20.

But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:
18–26. The second generation in the wilderness. These only imitated the sins of their fathers, Numbers 25:1-2; Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Deuteronomy 31:27.

I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;
And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.
21. polluted my sabbaths] profaned.

Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth.
22. withdrew mine hand] Lit. turned, or turned back his hand, outstretched to smite. The words are wanting in LXX., and in the other verses (Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 20:14) the phrase “I wrought for my name’s sake” begins the verse. For be polluted, profaned.

I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries;
23. I lifted up … also] Moreover I lifted up, lit. And I on my part, so Ezekiel 20:25.

scatter … among the heathen] The people entered Canaan laden with this heavy threat for their sins in the wilderness. Such threats were always conditional, Jeremiah 18, Jonah. This conditional character is expressed in other passages where a similar idea occurs, Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64. The prophet hardly means that the exile was due to the people’s sins in the wilderness, except in so far as the moral character of the people remained the same throughout down to the generation then living. But cf. Exodus 32:34.

23–26. Yet though he wrought for his name’s sake not to destroy them their sins could not be altogether passed by. In two ways they were marked: Jehovah laid a heavy threat upon the people of dispersion among all nations, Ezekiel 20:23-24; and he gave them laws that were not good, that by following them they might be destroyed, Ezekiel 20:25-26.

Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols.
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;
25. Wherefore I gave … also] Moreover also I gave, see Ezekiel 20:23.

statutes … not good] These statutes are of a kind contrary to those given before (Ezekiel 20:11) which were good. These points seem plain: 1. The practice referred to is that of passing the firstborn male children through the fire as a burnt-offering to the deity. 2. The law in Israel was that all the male firstborn of men and the male firstlings of beasts were the Lord’s. The firstborn of men were to be redeemed, as also the firstlings of unclean animals, but the firstlings of clean animals were to be offered in sacrifice to Jehovah (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12-13; Exodus 22:29, cf. Numbers 3:46-47; Numbers 18:15-16). The law requiring the sacrifice of the firstborn had become extended, so as to include children. The practice was one prevailing among the peoples around Israel, and probably it first crept into use in Israel and was then justified by the law or custom relating to cattle, of which it might seem a natural extension; but in Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5 Jehovah vehemently protests that to command it never came into his mind. The question to whom the children were offered, lit. passed over in the fire, is not quite easy to decide. In passages where the practice is condemned it is represented as a sacrifice to “the Molech,” Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10, or to the Baal, Jeremiah 7:31, or generally, to the idols, Ezekiel 16:21; Psalm 106:38 (idols of Canaan). Though the spelling of the name Molech is peculiar, the word probably means “the king” originally, just as the Baal means “the lord,” both names being descriptive of the same deity. In Isaiah 57:9 “the king” has the ordinary spelling. Though borrowing the practice from the Canaanites it is probable that in Israel the sacrifice was offered to Jehovah, particularly as the law under which it was made was considered given by him. On the other hand Jer., though repudiating this popular inference, speaks of the offering as being made to Baal. The name “Baal,” however, from Hosea downwards is used somewhat laxly, including the images of Jehovah, and all heathenish ceremonies in his service are called worship of Baal. 3. This law is described as not good, one by which men could not live. The effect of it was that men were polluted in their gifts (Ezekiel 20:26), and the purpose of it was to destroy them. This evil law, entailing this consequence, was a judicial punishment of them for their former sins, just as the “deception” of the false prophets was, ch. Ezekiel 14:9. Whether the people, familiar with the Baal worship, drew the false inference from the law of the firstborn, or whether false teachers set the idea before them, is uncertain (Jeremiah 8:8 appears to refer to written perversions of the law). The sacrifice of children was a practice that gained ground in the disastrous times before the exile (Hosea 13:2 has another meaning: men who sacrifice kiss calves; it is the irrationality of men kissing calves that the prophet mocks, not the enormity of human sacrifices). Ezekiel appears to regard the practice as ancient, as he connects it with the second generation in the wilderness. The instances noted in early history are transjordanic (Jephthah and king of Moab), and possibly, though the practice became aggravated only at a later period, the prophet may have considered that the people became acquainted with it on the other side of the Jordan.

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 the LORD.
26. might make them desolate] Or, destroy them; less probably: horrify them (ch. Ezekiel 32:10). The train of thought is the same as that expressed in ch. Ezekiel 14:9. The penalty of sin is further delusion and worse sin, the end of which is death. The last clause “to the end … Lord” is wanting in LXX.

Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.
27. Yet in this] i.e. the following act, Ezekiel 20:28, cf. Ezekiel 23:38.

have blasphemed] Past tense: blasphemed … they committed. The blasphemy is not in words, but in high-handed disregard of his commands, Numbers 15:30.

27–29. The people on their entry and in their abode in Canaan.

For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savour, and poured out there their drink offerings.
28. The prophet regards the worship on the high-places and under the evergreen trees as a Canaanitish usage adopted by Israel, as Deuteronomy 12. At the same time Israel usually employed the altars or chapels which they found for the service of Jehovah; but naturally many corruptions would creep into such service, and it might become little different from a service of Baal. In the oldest prophets, Amos and Hosea, it is the kind of worship at the high-places that is condemned, the revelry and heathenish merrymaking (Hosea 9:1) the sensuousness (Hosea 8:13; Amos 5:21), and the false conception Of deity implied in it (Hosea 6:6). The mere localities or multitude of altars do not seem assailed, except that the more there were of them the more sin was committed, because the whole worship was sinful (Hosea 8:11; Amos 4:4). Later this impure worship was perceived to be inseparable from the high-places and these themselves came under condemnation. Ezekiel does not go further in his condemnation of the high hills and green trees than his predecessor Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6).

all the thick trees] Evergreen and umbrageous trees appear to have been regarded as abodes of deity.

offered … their sacrifices] Four words are employed: offerings of flesh, particularly the peace or thank-offerings; what is called their “offering” or oblation, a general word used of bloodless sacrifices as well as of others, possibly first-fruits and the like; their “sweet savour,” usually said of the odour of the flesh or fat burnt upon the altar, but also of the odour of meal-offerings (ch. Ezekiel 16:19); and finally, drink-offerings. The clause “and there … provocation of their offering” is wanting in LXX. The term “offering” (Korban), found only in Lev., Numb., again in Ezekiel 40:43 (see there).

Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day.
29. The word bamah, “high-place,” has no certain etymology, though often used and at an early period, e.g. in David’s elegy on Saul (2 Samuel 1:19), and in Moabite (Mesha’s inscrip.). The prophet here introduces a punning and contemptuous derivation of the word. Jehovah asks “what (mah) is the high place whereunto ye go (ba),” and the prophet seems to consider the word composed of these two syllables. Some have supposed that “go” has the sense of “go in,” and that the allusion is to the immoralities practised on the high places (Amos 2:7; Hosea 4:13-14). This idea does not seem expressed in the words; neither is there much probability in the conjecture that the words are borrowed by Ezek. from some older prophet (Ew.).

The prophet’s view of the generation of the exodus differs from that of earlier prophets, e.g. Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 2:2. The generation in the wilderness was probably not a homogeneous one, and the narratives which we possess represent its conduct as various at different times. Two views might be taken of it, and Ezek. as his manner is takes the severer view.

Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?
30. Are ye polluted] do ye pollute yourselves?

30, 31. The Lord will not give himself to be enquired of by such men. What they desire to know about others or themselves they shall be left in ignorance of; but he has something to tell them regarding himself.

30–44. Jehovah’s regard to his own name will fashion the history of the people to come as it has fashioned the past

Having reviewed the past and shewn the elders their own picture in the doings of their fathers, and how the thing which has fashioned the history in the past has been Jehovah’s regard for his own name, the prophet now comes to read to them the history of the future as the same regard of Jehovah to his name will model it.

First, Ezekiel 20:30-34. The Lord will not give any answer to such enquirers who follow the ways of their fathers. But they may be assured that their resolution to assimilate themselves to the heathen and become like them worshippers of wood and stone shall not be permitted to have effect. Jehovah will assert his sovereignty over them, and will disentangle them out from among the heathen as he gathered their fathers from among the Egyptians.

Secondly, Ezekiel 20:35-40. He will bring them out from the nations into the wilderness of the peoples, as he brought their fathers into the wilderness of Egypt, and will plead with them anew as he pleaded with their fathers in days long ago—and with the same result that the rebels among them shall fall in the wilderness, but the remnant shall again in the mountain height of Israel serve the Lord, who will accept them.

Thirdly, Ezekiel 20:41-44. And from this restoration these things shall follow: 1. Jehovah shall be sanctified, seen to be God and acknowledged by the nations (Ezekiel 20:41). 2. Israel shall know what Jehovah is, when he fulfils his ancient promise to the fathers to give them this land (Ezekiel 20:42). 3. They shall then lay to heart their past doings and lothe themselves (Ezekiel 20:43). And 4. they shall see that not according to their evil has Jehovah dealt with them all through their history and in their restoration, but has wrought for his name’s sake (Ezekiel 20:44).

For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.
31. For when … ye pollute] Interrogatively: and when … do ye pollute yourselves unto this day?

And 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.
32. The prophet regards the worship on the high-places as Canaanitish heathenism; but probably many of the exiles to whom he spoke were drifting into complete conformity with the nations among whom they were. Their minds were losing hold of their distinctiveness as the people of Jehovah. This practical assimilation to the heathen the prophet represents as a deliberate one, which in many cases it may have been—cf. the answer of the exiles in Egypt to Jeremiah 44:15-19, also Jeremiah 2:25.

to serve wood and stone] The service of the heathen is a service of wood and stone, Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36; Isaiah 37:19. The images were often of wood, plated with some precious metal (Isaiah 40:20; Jeremiah 10:3; Isaiah 30:22), or of stone; often, however, of baser metal overlaid with gold or silver. It is the dead matter in opposition to Jehovah, the living God, that gives point to the antithesis. On “cometh into your mind” cf. Ezekiel 11:5; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Isaiah 10:7.

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:
33. This resolution of the people to sink themselves among the heathen shall not stand; Jehovah will assert his sovereignty over them, amidst terrible manifestations of his power and anger.

rule over you] be or, become king over you. The mighty hand (Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 5:15) and the stretched out arm (Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 11:2, &c.), were turned at the exodus against their enemies, here partly at least they are directed upon the disobedient people themselves (Ezekiel 20:35).

And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.
34. the people] peoples. Though Israel was in captivity in the Babylonian empire, this empire embraced many peoples, the world as it was then known (cf. ch. 17) Formerly Israel was entangled among the Egyptians, now it is entangled among all nations; it shall now be gathered out as it was in the former age.

And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.
35. of the people] peoples. This wilderness of the peoples is the Syro-Babylonian wilderness, adjoining the peoples among whom they were dispersed; as that into which their fathers were brought was the wilderness of Egypt, i.e. adjoining Egypt. Isaiah 40:1-11 also represents Jehovah as marching at the head of his people, redeemed from exile, through the wilderness from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezek. may follow Hosea 2:14-15, but cf. Jeremiah 31:2 seq.

plead … face to face] With no intermediaries, no heathen people on whose fellowship they could stay themselves, absolutely cut off from men and alone with their God (Hosea 2:4). Jehovah’s “pleading” or litigating is sometimes in terrible deeds (ch. Ezekiel 17:20), sometimes in words of reason (Isaiah 1:18; Micah 6:2 seq.). Gathered out from the nations and far from their seductive influences Israel will respond to the discipline of her God as in former days (Hosea 2:15).

Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD.
And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
37. to pass under the rod] According to the usage of the language (Leviticus 27:32, cf. Jeremiah 33:13) the rod or staff here is that of the shepherd, which he uses in counting his flock. “The shepherds carried a staff (Psalm 23:4; Micah 7:4; Zechariah 11:7) and used it in counting when they brought the beasts forth from the place where they were kept or made them go into it. It was customary to count the beasts every day (Jeremiah 33:23), usually at evening when they came home (Theocr. Ezekiel 8:16; Virg. Georg. iv. 436), sometimes twice, morning and evening (Virg. Ecl. iii. 34),” Dillm. on Leviticus 27:32.

bond of the covenant] The word “bond” is otherwise unknown. LXX. reads: and I will cause you to go in by number, i.e. probably in special or precise tale (Isaiah 40:26; 1 Chronicles 9:28; Ezra 8:34). This carries on the figure of passing under the staff, and is amplified in Ezekiel 20:38. The word “covenant” is possibly a duplicate of the next word “purge” (Ezekiel 20:38). The expression “by or, in number” hardly of itself means few (cf. ch. Ezekiel 5:3), neither is the idea of fewness suitable here. Cf. Jeremiah 3:14.

And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
38. Describes the other side of the process from Ezekiel 20:37, the separating of the unworthy from among the people, ch. Ezekiel 34:17; Ezekiel 34:20.

and they shall not enter] But they. They shall be brought out but shall fall in the wilderness of the peoples as the rebellious generation aforetime fell in the wilderness of Egypt.

As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols.
39. The present text must read: Go, serve ye every one his idols; but hereafter surely ye shall hearken unto me, and no more profane my holy name with your gifts (cf. Ezekiel 20:26), cf. Ezekiel 23:38-39. The ironical advice or concession refers to Ezekiel 20:32-33, cf. Amos 4:4.

For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.
40. Resumes Ezekiel 20:34-38, and carries these verses a step further—to the restoration (Ezekiel 20:41).

your offerings] Always rendered oblations in Ezek., except ch. Ezekiel 48:8. The idea expressed by the word appears in ch. 45 and 48, where it is used of the portion of the land devoted to special and sacred uses. “Firstfruits,” marg. chief, i.e. the best of your offerings.

I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.
41. you with your sweet savour] Lit. amidst, or, in sweet savour (i.e. when I smell it) I will accept you. The expression is used literally of the sweet smoke of sacrifice, hardly figuratively of Jehovah’s complaisance. R.V., as a sweet savour, is wholly improbable.

be sanctified in you] Lit. get me sanctifying in (through) you in the sight of the heathen (or, shew myself holy). On the idea of “sanctify” cf. Ezekiel 20:9—be recognised as God. The dispersion of Jehovah’s people derogated in the eyes of the heathen from his power (ch. Ezekiel 36:20); when they see his people restored the heathen will know that it was for their iniquity that they were cast out (ch. Ezekiel 39:23), particularly when after restoration and purification they see them protected against the countless hosts of Gog by Jehovah’s arm. Thus Jehovah will “through” his people, by his dealing with them in their restoration, approve himself as God—that which God is—in the sight of the heathen.

And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers.
And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.
43. The goodness of Jehovah in restoring them shall fill their hearts with abhorrence of their own past doings, cf. Ezekiel 16:61.

lothe … in your own sight] Omit in your own sight, ch. Ezekiel 6:9.

And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
44. And the final issue of all shall be that the people will know that he is Jehovah. Jew and Gentile shall alike know that the God of Israel is God alone. Cf. Isaiah 40:5 “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together,” Psalm 102:15-16; Psalm 102:22.

Ezekiel 20:45-49 belong to ch. 21.

On the prophet’s philosophy of history, his idea that history is Jehovah operating for “his name’s sake,” cf. Introduction.

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Ch. Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:32. The avenging sword of the Lord

The passage Ezekiel 20:45-49 belongs to ch. 21 (as in Heb.). The time to which the chapter is to be assigned is the early period of Nebuchadnezzar’s movements westwards. The prophet foresees the coming desolation of Israel by the conqueror, which he expresses under the figure of a devouring fire, consuming all indiscriminately. The passage has two divisions, ch. Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:27, and Ezekiel 21:28-32.

First division. Ezekiel 20:45 to Ezekiel 21:27.

-1Ezekiel 20:45-49. A conflagration shall be lighted in the forest of the south, which shall consume all, the green tree and the dry.

-2Ezekiel 21:1-5. Explanation: the sword of the Lord shall be on Jerusalem and her sanctuaries, and on the land of Israel. Righteous and wicked shall perish; and men shall know that the Lord hath drawn his sword.

(3) Ezekiel 20:6-7. Agitation of the prophet at the thought of the coming desolation: so shall all men be agitated and confounded.

(4) Ezekiel 20:8-17. Song of the sword—the sword of the Lord whetted and furbished against Jerusalem.

(5) Ezekiel 20:18-27. He who is the sword or wields it, the king of Babylon. The prophet returning to the point from which he started represents the king of Babylon hesitating whether to march against Ammon or Jerusalem. He consults the oracle and the lot comes out “Jerusalem.”

Ezekiel 20:45-49. Figure of a forest in which a great conflagration is kindled. The fire is unquenchable (Ezekiel 20:47-48), it devours all alike, the green tree and the dry (Ezekiel 20:47); all faces from north to south shall be scorched by it (Ezekiel 20:47); and all flesh shall see that it is the hand of the Lord which has kindled so great a flame (Ezekiel 20:48).

Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field;
46. the south] Though the reference is to Judah and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:1-5), the term “south” hardly means the south of Palestine; rather the whole land of Palestine from the point of view of the prophet residing in the north. The “forest of the field” hardly refers to Lebanon, but belongs to the figure, which, however, Lebanon may have suggested (Ezekiel 17:3; Jeremiah 22:23). The “scorching” of all faces from north to south (Ezekiel 20:47) is also part of the figure, though powerfully expressing the effect on all who behold the great judgments on Israel. There may be, however, a certain mixture of figures, those whose faces are scorched being no other than those who, regarded as trees, are consumed—viz. all flesh from the south to the north in Israel (Ezekiel 21:3-4).

the south field] the field in the south, the land of Israel (Ezekiel 21:3).

And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; 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 burned therein.
And all flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.
Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?
49. speak parables] or, similitudes—with the suggested idea that there lies no reality behind them (Ezekiel 12:21-28). The prophet, indeed, cannot utter a statement plainly, he must throw it first into a figure; the same is true also of Isaiah, though the figures of the latter prophet are brief and pointed, while those of Ezek. are overloaded with details. The words shew how the people took notice of the prophet’s peculiarities, and how he himself was conscious of the impression his manner made. Cf. Ezekiel 24:18.

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