Ezekiel 20:18
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:
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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. Ezekiel 20:18The Generation that Grew Up in the Desert

Ezekiel 20:18. And I spake to their sons in the desert, Walk not in the statutes of your fathers, and keep not their rights, and do not defile yourselves with their idols. Ezekiel 20:19. I am Jehovah your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my rights, and do them, Ezekiel 20:20. And sanctify my Sabbaths, that they may be for a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. Ezekiel 20:21. But the sons were rebellious against me; they walked not in my statutes, and did not keep my rights, to do them, which man should do that he may live through them; they profaned my Sabbaths. Then I thought to pour out my wrath upon them, to accomplish my anger upon them in the desert. Ezekiel 20:22. But I turned back my hand and did it for my name's sake, that it might not be profaned before the eyes of the nations, before whose eyes I had them out. Ezekiel 20:23. I also lifted my hand to them in the desert, to scatter them among the nations, and to disperse them in the lands; Ezekiel 20:24. Because they did not my rights, and despised my statutes, profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after the idols of their fathers. Ezekiel 20:25. And I also gave them statutes, which were not good, and rights, through which they did not live; Ezekiel 20:26. And defiled them in their sacrificial gifts, in that they caused all that openeth the womb to pass through, that I might fill them with horror, that they might know that I am Jehovah. - The sons acted like their fathers in the wilderness. Historical proofs of this are furnished by the accounts of the Sabbath-breaker (Numbers 15:32.), of the rebellion of the company of Korah, and of the murmuring of the whole congregation against Moses and Aaron after the destruction of Korah's company (Numbers 16 and Numbers 17:1-13). In the last two cases God threatened that He would destroy the whole congregation (cf. Numbers 16:21 and Numbers 17:9-10); and on both occasions the Lord drew back His hand at the intercession of Moses, and his actual intervention (Numbers 16:22 and Numbers 17:11.), and did not destroy the whole nation for His name's sake. The statements in Ezekiel 20:21 and Ezekiel 20:22 rest upon these facts. The words of Ezekiel 20:23 concerning the oath of God, that He would scatter the transgressors among the heathen, are also founded upon the Pentateuch, and not upon an independent tradition, or any special revelation from God. Dispersion among the heathen is threatened in Leviticus 26:33 and Deuteronomy 28:64, and there is no force in Kliefoth's argument that "these threats do not refer to the generation in the wilderness, but to a later age." For in both chapters the blessings and curses of the law are set before the people who were then in the desert; and there is not a single word to intimate that either blessing or curse would only be fulfilled upon the generations of later times.

On the contrary, when Moses addressed to the people assembled before him his last discourse concerning the renewal of the covenant (Deuteronomy 29 and 30), he called upon them to enter into the covenant, "which Jehovah maketh with thee this day" (Deuteronomy 29:12), and to keep all the words of this covenant and do them. It is upon this same discourse, in which Moses calls the threatenings of the law אלה, an oath (Deuteronomy 29:13), that "the lifting of the hand of God to swear," mentioned in Ezekiel 20:23 of this chapter, is also founded. Moreover, it is not stated in this verse that God lifted His hand to scatter among the heathen the generation which had grown up in the wilderness, and to disperse them in the lands before their entrance into the land promised to the fathers; but simply that He had lifted His hand in the wilderness to threaten the people with dispersion among the heathen, without in any way defining the period of dispersion. In the blessings and threatenings of the law contained in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30, the nation is regarded as a united whole; so that no distinction is made between the successive generations, for the purpose of announcing this particular blessing or punishment to either one or the other. And Ezekiel acts in precisely the same way. It is true that he distinguishes the generation which came out of Egypt and was sentenced by God to die in the wilderness from the sons, i.e., the generation which grew up in the wilderness; but the latter, or the sons of those who had fallen, the generation which was brought into the land of Canaan, he regards as one with all the successive generations, and embraces the whole under the common name of "fathers" to the generation living in his day ("your fathers" Ezekiel 20:27), as we may clearly see from the turn given to the sentence which describes the apostasy of those who came into the land of Canaan ('עוד זאת ). In thus embracing the generation which grew up in the wilderness and was led into Canaan, along with the generations which followed and lived in Canaan, Ezekiel adheres very closely to the view prevailing in the Pentateuch, where the nation in all its successive generations is regarded as one united whole. The threat of dispersion among the heathen, which the Lord uttered in the wilderness to the sons of those who were not to see the land, is also not mentioned by Ezekiel as one which God designed to execute upon the people who were wandering in the desert at the time. For if he had understood it in this sense, he would have mentioned its non-fulfilment also, and would have added a 'ואעשׂ למען שׁמי וגו, as he has done in the case of the previous threats (cf. Ezekiel 20:22, Ezekiel 20:14, and Ezekiel 20:9). But we do not find this either in Ezekiel 20:24 or Ezekiel 20:26. The omission of this turn clearly shows that Ezekiel 20:23 does not refer to a punishment which God designed to inflict, but did not execute for His name's sake; but that the dispersion among the heathen, with which the transgressors of His commandments were threatened by God when in the wilderness, is simply mentioned as a proof that even in the wilderness the people, whom God had determined to lead into Canaan, were threatened with that very punishment which had now actually commenced, because rebellious Israel had obstinately resisted the commandments and rights of its God.

These remarks are equally applicable to Ezekiel 20:25 and Ezekiel 20:26. These verses are not to be restricted to the generation which was born in the wilderness and gathered to its fathers not long after its entrance into Canaan, but refer to their descendants also, that is to say, to the fathers of our prophet's contemporaries, who were born and had died in Canaan. God gave them statutes which were not good, and rights which did not bring them life. It is perfectly self-evident that we are not to understand by these statutes and rights, which were not good, either the Mosaic commandments of the ceremonial law, as some of the Fathers and earlier Protestant commentators supposed, or the threatenings contained in the law; so that this needs no elaborate proof. The ceremonial commandments given by God were good, and had the promise attached to them, that obedience to them would give life; whilst the threats of punishment contained in the law are never called חקּים and משׁפּטים. Those statutes only are called "not good" the fulfilment of which did not bring life or blessings and salvation. The second clause serves as an explanation of the first. The examples quoted in Ezekiel 20:26 show what the words really mean. The defiling in their sacrificial gifts (Ezekiel 20:26), for example, consisted in their causing that which opened the womb to pass through, i.e., in the sacrifice of the first-born. העביר כּל־פּטר points back to Exodus 13:12; only ליהוה, which occurs in that passage, is omitted, because the allusion is not to the commandment given there, but to its perversion into idolatry. This formula is used in the book of Exodus (l.c.) to denote the dedication of the first-born to Jehovah; but in Ezekiel 20:13 this limitation is introduced, that the first-born of man is to be redeemed. העביר signifies a dedication through fire ( equals העביר בּאשׁ, Ezekiel 20:31), and is adopted in the book of Exodus, where it is joined to ליהוה, in marked opposition to the Canaanitish custom of dedicating children of Moloch by februation in fire (see the comm. on ex. EZechariah 13:12). The prophet refers to this Canaanitish custom, and cites it as a striking example of the defilement of the Israelites in their sacrificial gifts (טמּא, to make unclean, not to declare unclean, or treat as unclean). That this custom also made its way among the Israelites, is evident from the repeated prohibition against offering children through the fire to Moloch (Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 18:10). When, therefore, it is affirmed with regard to a statute so sternly prohibited in the law of God, that Jehovah gave it to the Israelites in the wilderness, the word נתן (give) can only be used in the sense of a judicial sentence, and must not be taken merely as indicating divine permission; in other words, it is to be understood, like 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ("God sends them strong delusion") and Acts 7:42 ("God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven"), in the sense of hardening, whereby whoever will not renounce idolatry is so given up to its power, that it draws him deeper and deeper in. This is in perfect keeping with the statement in Ezekiel 20:26 as the design of God in doing this: "that I might fill them with horror;" i.e., might excite such horror and amazement in their minds, that if possible they might be brought to reflect and to return to Jehovah their God.

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