Ezekiel 20:18
But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk you not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:
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(18) Unto their children.—The prophet comes now to the third part of his historical retrospect (Ezekiel 20:18-26)—the generation which grew up in the free air of the wilderness, and under the influence of the legislation and institutions given at Sinai. At the same time, it would be a mistake to confine what he says exclusively to that generation. In this, as in the other parts of the discourse, he regards Israel as a whole, and while speaking of one period of their history especially, yet treats of national characteristics which may have come to their most marked development only at a later time. This generation was very earnestly warned against the sins of their fathers, and exhorted to obedience to the Divine law. The whole Book of Deuteronomy is the comment on Ezekiel 20:18-20.

Ezekiel 20:18-24. But I said unto their children in the wilderness — In the plains of Moab; Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers — Imitate not their superstitious usages, nor retain their foolish and wicked customs, but walk in the statutes of your God. This refers to the many pathetical exhortations contained in the book of Deuteronomy, particularly those in chapters twenty-ninth to the thirty-second, which were uttered after that rebellious generation were all consumed, according as God had threatened them. Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against me — Even that generation which I afterward permitted to enter Canaan, and which I rendered victorious over all the inhabitants of that land, was guilty of many instances of disobedience and rebellion. The chief instance of that generation’s contumacy and inclination to idolatry, was the iniquity of Peor, (Numbers 25:3,) as that of their fathers was the golden calf. Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel: then there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord, which, if it had not been seasonably stayed by Phinehas’s zeal, had cut them all off; and yet they owned in Joshua’s time that they were not cleansed from that iniquity unto that day, Joshua 22:17. Then it was that God said he would pour out his fury upon them, Ezekiel 20:21; that he lifted up his hand, &c., in the wilderness — When they were a second time just ready to enter into Canaan; that he would scatter them among the heathen — This very thing he said to them by Moses in his parting song, (Deuteronomy 32:20; Deuteronomy 32:26-27,) which explains this passage.20:10-26. The history of Israel in the wilderness is referred to in the new Testament as well as in the Old, for warning. God did great things for them. He gave them the law, and revived the ancient keeping of the sabbath day. Sabbaths are privileges; they are signs of our being his people. If we do the duty of the day, we shall find, to our comfort, it is the Lord that makes us holy, that is, truly happy, here; and prepares us to be happy, that is, perfectly holy, hereafter. The Israelites rebelled, and were left to the judgments they brought upon themselves. God sometimes makes sin to be its own punishment, yet he is not the Author of sin: there needs no more to make men miserable, than to give them up to their own evil desires and passions.The book of Deuteronomy contains the address to "the children" of those who perished in the wilderness. The whole history of Israel was a repetition of this course. The covenant was made with one generation, broken by them, and then renewed to the next.18. I said unto their children—being unwilling to speak any more to the fathers as being incorrigible.

Walk ye not in … statutes of … fathers—The traditions of the fathers are to be carefully weighed, not indiscriminately followed. He forbids the imitation of not only their gross sins, but even their plausible statutes [Calvin].

But, and, or then

I said. The fathers were refractory, and deaf, would not hearken, therefore God turns his advice to children. Though the particular place is not specified, yet among the calamities of that mournful age, and at the funerals of so many as then died, there were some that had piety, zeal, and courage enough to warn the survivors, and Psalm 90:7-11 affords us ground enough to believe Moses did warn and advise. In the wilderness; in that part of it where their fathers murmured, and where some were cut off by the hand of God, and in other parts through which they travelled and suffered.

Walk ye not: it is both counsel, as from love, and a command, as from power;

Live not as your fathers, for they walked contrary to reason, religion, and their own good, as much as they walked contrary to me.

Your fathers; though fathers, they may not command contrary to God’s command, nor be imitated in what they do contrary to God’s law.

Their judgments; it is observable, the prophet forbids them to imitate the customs, rites, and usages of their fathers, included in judgments, and thence passeth to forbid their imitating their fathers in their idolatry. Idolatry is fruitful when it so multiplied in Egyptian bondage, and in the desolate state of a people in the wilderness. But I said unto their children in the wilderness,.... Or, "then I said" (k); his judgments and statutes being neglected and despised by them, and good instructions and kind providences being of no use unto them, the Lord turns to their posterity while yet in the wilderness: what follows seems to refer to those directions, instructions, and exhortations given in the book of Deuteronomy by Moses, in the plains of Moab, a little before the children of Israel went over Jordan into the land of Canaan:

walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments; they were not only not to imitate their parents in their open sins and transgressions of God's law; but they were not to follow them in the observance of such rules of worship, which were of their own devising, and they had formed into a law: this makes greatly against such who think it a very heinous sin to relinquish the religion of their ancestors, or that in which they were brought up; but if this does not appear to be according to the word of God, the statutes and judgments of our fathers should stand for nothing, yea, should be rejected:

nor defile yourselves with their idols; idolatry, as it is abominable to God, is defiling to men, and renders them loathsome to him; and it being what their fathers practised will not excuse them; for, as it was defiling to their fathers, it is no less so to their children.

(k) "postea dixi", Piscator.

But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your {i} fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:

(i) By which the Holy Spirit confuses them that say that they will follow the religion and example of their fathers, and not measure their doings by God's word whether they are approved by it or not.

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.Verse 18. - I said unto their children, etc. The words can refer to nothing but the great utterance of the Book of Deuteronomy as addressed to the children of those who had perished in the wilderness. That utterance also, it is implied, as indeed the Baal-peor history at the close of the forty years showed, fell on deaf ears. Then also there was, once again, in the inevitable anthropomorphic language, a change of purpose, from that of a rigorous judgment to the mercy which prevailed against it. Election of Israel in Egypt. Its resistance to the commandments of God. - Ezekiel 20:5. And say to them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In the day that I chose Israel, and lifted my hand to the seed of Jacob, and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt, and lifted my hand to them, saying, I am Jehovah, your God: Ezekiel 20:6. In that day I lifted my hand to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into the land which I sought out for them, which floweth with milk and honey - it is an ornament of all lands: Ezekiel 20:7. And said to them, Cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am Jehovah, your God. Ezekiel 20:8. But they were rebellious against me, and would not hearken to me. Not one of them threw away the abominations of his eyes, and they did not forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt. Ezekiel 20:9. But I did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, in the midst of which they were, before whose eyes I had made myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. - Ezekiel 20:5 and Ezekiel 20:6 form one period. בּיּום בּחרי (Ezekiel 20:5) is resumed in בּיּום ההוּא (Ezekiel 20:6), and the sentence continued. With ואשּׂא the construction with the infinitive passes over into the finite verb. Lifting the hand, sc. to heaven, is a gesture employed in taking an oath (see the comm. on Exodus 6:8). The substance of the oath is introduced by the word לאמר at the close of Ezekiel 20:5; but the clause 'ואוּדע וגו (and made myself known) is previously inserted, and then the lifting of the hand mentioned again to indicate the importance of this act of divine grace. The contents of Ezekiel 20:5 and Ezekiel 20:6 rest upon Exodus 6:2., where the Lord makes Himself known to Moses, and through him to the children of Israel, according to the nature involved in the name Jehovah, in which He had not yet revealed Himself to the patriarchs (Exodus 6:3). Both נשׂאתי ידי (I lifted my hand) and אני יהוה are taken from Exodus 6:8. The word תּרתּי, from תּוּר, to seek out, explore, also belongs to the Pentateuch (compare Deuteronomy 1:33); and the same may be said of the description given of Canaan as "a land flowing with milk and honey" (vid., Exodus 3:8, etc.). But צבי, ornament, as an epithet applied to the land of Israel, is first employed by the prophets of the time of the captivity - namely, in Ezekiel 20:6 and Ezekiel 20:15 of this chapter, in Jeremiah 3:19, and in Daniel 8:9; Daniel 11:16, Daniel 11:41. The election of the Israelites to be the people of Jehovah, contained eo ipso the command to give up the idols of Egypt, although it was at Sinai that the worship of other gods was for the first time expressly prohibited (Exodus 20:3), and Egyptian idolatry is only mentioned in Leviticus 17:7 (cf. Joshua 24:14). Ezekiel calls the idols "abominations of their eyes," because, "although they were abominable and execrable things, they were looked upon with delight by them" (Rosenmller). It is true that there is nothing expressly stated in the Pentateuch as to the refusal of the Israelites to obey the command of God, or their unwillingness to give up idolatry in Egypt; but it may be inferred from the statements contained in Exodus 6:9 and Exodus 6:12, to the effect that the Israelites did not hearken to Moses when he communicated to them the determination of God to lead them out of Egypt, and still more plainly from their relapse into Egyptian idolatry, from the worship of the golden calf at Sinai (Exodus 32), and from their repeated desire to return to Egypt while wandering in the desert.

(Note: The remarks of Calvin upon this point are very good. "We do not learn directly from Moses," he says, "that they had been rebels against God, because they would not throw away their idols and superstitions; but the conjecture is a very probable one, that they had always been so firmly fixed in their abominations as to prevent in a certain way the hand of God from bringing them relief. And assuredly, if they had embraced what Moses promised them in the name of God with promptness of mind, the execution of the promise would have been more prompt and swift. But we may learn that it was their own obtuseness which hindered God from stretching out His hand forthwith and actually fulfilling all that He had promised. It was necessary, indeed, that God should contend with Pharaoh, that His power might be more conspicuously displayed; but the people would not have been so tyrannically afflicted if they had not closed the door of divine mercy.")

Nor is there anything said in the Pentateuch concerning the determination of God to pour out His wrath upon the idolatrous people in Egypt. We need not indeed assume on this account that Ezekiel derived his information from some special traditional source, as Vitringa has done ObservV. ss. I. 263), or regard the statement as a revelation made by God to Ezekiel, and through him to us. The words do not disclose to us either a particular fact or a definite decree of God; they simply contain a description of the attitude which God, from His inmost nature, assumes towards sinners who rebel against His holy commandments, and which He displayed both in the declaration made concerning Himself as a zealous, or jealous God, who visits iniquities (Exodus 20:5), and also in the words addressed to Moses when the people fell into idolatry at Sinai, "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax not against them, and that I may consume them" (Exodus 32:10). All that God expresses here, His heart must have felt in Egypt towards the people who would not desist from idolatry. For the words themselves, compare Ezekiel 7:8; Ezekiel 6:12; Ezekiel 5:13. ואעשׂ (Ezekiel 20:9), "but I did it for my name's sake." The missing object explaining what He did, namely, abstain from pouring out His wrath, is to be gathered from what follows: "that I might not profane my name." This would have taken place if God had destroyed Israel by pouring out His wrath; in other words, have allowed them to be destroyed by the Egyptians. The heathen might then have said that Jehovah had been unable to liberate His people from their hand and power (cf. Numbers 14:16 and Exodus 32:12). החל is an infin. Niphal of חלל for החל (cf. Leviticus 21:4).

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